The arrival of the first bar-tailed godwits at the Omaha Shorebird Sanctuary this week has led to renewed calls for residents to keep their pets under control.
Around 40 birds were spotted on Tuesday (Sept 7) at the sanctuary on Omaha Beach after flying 11,000km from Alaska.
Their arrival coincides with an upsurge in dog and cat invasions of the sanctuary, which threatens the lives of the godwits, along with endangered dotterels and oystercatchers.
Omaha Shorebird Protection Trust chair Marie Ward says it appears a number of people have moved into Omaha to wait out lockdown and are allowing their dogs to run freely.
Trust volunteer Denis O’Callahan says the trust has ample evidence from its trail cameras and paw-print tracking that dogs are running loose in the sanctuary, and cats are hunting at night.
One recent video posted on Facebook shows a “beagle type” dog scrambling up a sandbank within the sanctuary.
Denis says cats must be kept inside at night and dogs are not allowed within the sanctuary nor on the main beach north of Walkway 2, nor on the estuary beach north of the car park steps.
He adds that it is critical that residents are especially vigilant during lockdown as trust volunteers are unable to continue normal conservation efforts and could be sanctioned by Auckland Council for doing so.
Denis says the sanctuary is protected by an animal-proof fence. However, on its western side the fence only reaches as far as the high-tide mark and can be circumvented by cats and dogs at low tide.
Denis says people must also take care in the sanctuary as birds are extremely vulnerable to any disturbance – this means no running around on that part of the beach, and no games, picnicking or camping.
He says dotterels and oystercatchers don’t feed their chicks, but instead lead them to the water’s edge where the chicks start catching small bugs to feed themselves.
“If people are running around on the beach, the parent birds won’t take their chicks to the water’s edge and they will starve to death,” he says.
Marie says last year the dotterels fledged only four dotterel chicks from 25 breeding pairs.
“This is shocking, considering each bird lays three eggs per nest and may nest up to four times in a season if their eggs are lost,” she says.