Shakespear Regional Park includes three major bays, each with features offering visitors a range of experiences. Army Bay is sandy, north-facing and the most exposed of the three. The largest is Okoromai Bay, which faces south, is relatively sheltered and very shallow. Te Haruhi Bay also faces south, is sandy and offers deeper water than Okoromai. Depending on the prevailing wind direction and tides, visitors can usually find somewhere for swimming, sunbathing, barbecues or water sports.
The three bays also offer a range of facilities for birds and they, too will have their preferences. The bays host everything from very large black swans/kakīānau and Canada geese/kuihi to small waders like banded dotterel/pohowera and other species including lots of kingfishers/kotare. When the tide is out, Okoromai becomes a large area of mudflats with marine plants on the surface and shellfish, marine worms and other creatures buried in the mud. Night or day, this is when the shorebirds arrive and will be busy feeding until the incoming tide displaces them. Those with keen eyesight or binoculars will spot a wide range of low-tide feeders including pied stilts/poaka down from the nearby wetlands, New Zealand dotterels/tūturiwhatu, variable and pied oystercatchers/tōrea pango and tōrea, and bar-tailed godwits/kuaka which will be here for our summer but migrate to Alaska to breed. Herons, geese, swans, ducks and gulls will also be feeding. Each species will have its own preferred diet and what they can access depends on the length and shape of their bills and the length of their legs. Some will feed when the tide is in by diving or up-ending.
Army Bay seems less hospitable. Although there are often flocks of red-billed gulls/tarāpunga and black-backed gulls/karoro, which will happily supplement natural food with anything they can scavenge from human visitors, the waders, swans and ducks don’t seem so keen, probably because the sandy beach is steeper and doesn’t provide accessible food.
Te Haruhi Bay seems to fall between the other two in terms of low-tide feeding, but it does have sand and dunes at the top of the beach where tōrea pango and tūturiwhatu will build their nests. When the chicks hatch, and before they can fly, they are able to find sufficient food on the tideline. In recent years a pair of kakīānau have nested behind the beach and raised their family nearby.
It’s unfortunate that the bays are so attractive to both humans and wildlife and that we sometimes arrive in such numbers that the birds are displaced. However, if we are willing to share and to make allowances so the hungry birds can get enough time on the shore and space for their nests, they will survive and prosper, and we will be rewarded by opportunities to enjoy their presence.