SOSSI – Conservation news mixed

As usual these days, conservation news is mixed at local, national and international levels.

The best news is that it is now five years since the first eradication of predators at Shakespear Open Sanctuary so we’re well established as a pest-free sanctuary for wildlife. The Hibiscus Coast branch of Forest and Bird has also been making great progress in getting the entire peninsula pest-free. All this takes constant vigilance and maintenance of trap lines and tracking tunnels – this work will need to go on forever. If you’re able to help with this please let us know!

With the advent of spring the wildlife is becoming ever more prominent. Two recent annual bird counts have shown significant increases in numbers in the most common birds, with tuis leading by quite some margin. The robins introduced in May are all breeding as we’d hoped – each pair should nest two or even three times and produce up to three chicks each time, so we hope that numbers will at least double each year.  Numbers of whiteheads introduced last year have grown to over 60. Cute pitch-black pukeko chicks are everywhere and you can easily see the stilts at Okoromai watching over their tiny and tottering offspring.

The bad news is that vandals smashed three dotterel eggs from a well-marked nest on Te Haruhi Beach. These birds have a hard time trying to nest on a crowded beach and so we’re grateful for the cooperation that most people show in sharing this space. But for the record all wildlife in the Sanctuary is absolutely protected with any wilful interference earning fines up to $100,000 or two years prison.

Another visit by the ‘petrel-sniffing’ dogs has located eight more seabird burrows, some with chicks, along the eastern cliffs – both diving petrels and grey-faced petrels. Unlike shorebirds, these seabirds live most of their lives at sea so they’re not readily seen unless you have a boat, in which case you can see hundreds at once. At some times of year they’ll sit on the sea in large flocks, forming ‘rafts’ big enough to make dark patches which can be observed from shore. Obviously they have to breed on land, but there are only a few known places where they do this on the mainland, so we’re excited to know that Shakespear is one of them.

While one parent is away feeding, the other stays to incubate the egg, sometimes for days or weeks. Parents then leave chicks for days while they go off to find food, leaving chicks vulnerable to other predators (bigger seabirds) and so the nests are deep underground in long burrows. Hence the specialist dogs and camera probes needed to find and identify them. We’re still trying to speed up the formation of a bigger colony with artificial burrows and seabird sound systems but this is a slow process, not helped by recent downpours which flooded some artificial burrows, as well as turning Waterfall Gully into Torrent Gully!

But the really bad news lately was the recent Living Planet report from the World Wildlife Fund, which shows a 58 percent decline in global wildlife abundance in the last 50 years. Not here? Head to the countryside to see ‘green deserts’ with grass, cows and the odd magpie. Or down to our local beaches to see only silt and snails in the rockpools where in my childhood I can remember finding shrimps, seaweed, anemones, fishes, sea-slugs and kina.