The first count of wading birds at Orewa Estuary turned out to be an exciting one for local enthusiasts, who spotted some rarely seen species.
A dozen people took part in the Orewa Estuary count on June 10. This was enough for the volunteer counters to form groups so that novices could learn from more experienced people. The count was conducted close to high tide, when the birds gather on the sand islands where they can be more easily seen.
The count has been conducted around the country by The Ornithological Society of NZ for around 50 years, providing valuable information that is shared with scientists and the public, increasing knowledge about shorebirds.
Data from the first count of waders on Orewa Estuary, led by Richard Chambers of Hibiscus Coast Forest & Bird, will be fed into the national bird count.
Richard says that the biggest group of birds was 116 oystercatchers on the sand island near Crocodile Island. Forty eight of these were variable oystercatchers which are permanently resident in the area and the remainder South Island pied oystercatchers which nest in the South Island over summer and winter on the estuaries and harbours of the north.
The most exciting sightings were banded rails and spotless crakes. These have been seen at Stanmore Bay, Shakespear Regional Park and other nearby inland places, but appear to be infrequent visitors to the estuary.
“Rails have been seen infrequently for a few years but this is the first sighting I know of for spotless crake on the estuary,” Richard says. “Three or four people saw it. Neither of these species had been seen at Shakespear Park before it became pest free but there are now increasing numbers of both there which will provide a source of birds for repopulating local wetlands and river/estuary edges.”
He says the pest control being set up around Orewa Estuary will allow them to increase in numbers. “The mangrove forests provide them with great habitat once the rat numbers are reduced and local residents may start to see banded rails coming out onto the grass alongside Te Ara Tahuna/ Estuary walkway,” he says.
Good numbers of both black backed and red billed gulls (around 50 of each), 25 geese and six black swans were also noted. Non-wading birds such as ducks, pukekos and garden birds were also counted.
The next count will be in November when there will be few South Island pied oystercatchers and lots of godwits will have returned from the northern hemisphere.