Hidden from view

By: John Stewart

Seabirds, including gulls, terns, penguins, petrels, shearwaters and shags, are all regular visitors to Shakespear Regional Park and those of you with boats will have encountered them all in the Hauraki Gulf.

Gulls, terns and shags nest on the surface, or in trees (in the case of shags) and are visible during the day. Few, if any, of these species nest within the park.

Penguins, petrels and shearwaters nest in burrows dug into soft soil and only come and go from land at night. Their legs are set well back on their bodies so they are somewhat clumsy on land and would be vulnerable to predators if they came ashore during the day.

Digging and lining burrows cultivates the soil while droppings (guano), shed feathers, dead bodies and unhatched eggs add vital nutrients. In prehuman times, the ecology of New Zealand’s coastal forests and of the near-shore marine environment (by nutrient-enriched run-off) was driven by millions of nesting seabirds. The current near absence of these birds continues to impact on the health and diversity of our forests.

Since mammalian pests were removed from the Open Sanctuary, we have started to see a gradual return of burrow-nesting seabirds. Grey-faced petrels (ōi) and fluttering shearwaters (pakahā) now breed in natural sites and in nest boxes. Little penguins (kororā) nest around the coast and regularly appear on the park’s trail cameras, which are actually deployed to spot invading predators. Tiny diving petrels (kuaka) with their blue feet and easily recognisable ‘coo-aah’ call are probably also breeding.

Recognising their calls is the easiest way to identify the birds as they skirt the coast prior to landing. Just at dusk the kororā line up along the shore about 100 metres from land.

They sound like donkeys braying. Once it’s dark you can hear ōi flying overhead, making a squeaky-gate ‘oo-eee’ call, and pakahā with their long mad cackling noise. Remember, as you stroll along the clifftops, what is going on unseen under your feet.

And finally, this is a great time of year to organise a school trip to the park. SOSSI volunteers can provide talks, guided walks and other educational activities.

Info: www.sossi.org.nz

SOSSI volunteers are mourning the loss of one of their most stalwart members, Margaret Chappell. Margaret was in charge of the nursery and always encouraged the team to produce more plants than were ever asked for. So, if you have planted a tree at the open sanctuary, on one of the public planting days, it’s because of the work her team has done. Margaret also looked after the park’s dotterels along with a multitude of other tasks. Community ranger Bruce Harrison says Margaret will be greatly missed. “Because of her efforts the park is a much greener place,” he says. Margaret is pictured, in 2011, on the day the pest-free sanctuary opened.


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