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February 2017



February 4th 2017

Godwits were this week's highlight. Only a month to go now before the exodus begins & it feels like they're in Summer holiday mode... just chilling out!

I monitored just after they had left their single high tide roost site in the lagoon & scattered out into 3 main groups across the receding tide line.

Perhaps 100 birds in total. Not so easy to count now, unlike in earlier months when they were much more regimental. New behaviour observed was of individuals & small groups in flight, rather than the full flock en masse.

First male godwit in red breeding plumage observed, just a few. Likely a few females too showing more dappled red plumage. Appearing uniform up until now, this has got me thinking now about individual dynamics in the flock.

Plus a leg flag! Single yellow on right hand leg, though sadly I could not get close enough with the binoculars to see any more detail.

It's going to be quite poignant when the godwits leave!


1 Caspian tern (settled on a gravel spit)
3 northern dotterel (quite vocal)
1 white-faced heron (always near the lagoon entrance)
1 red billed gull
2 black backed gull (wading in the tide edge)
11 oystercatcher (our constant species)

Do juvenile oystercatchers quickly develop adult plumage? If so then the 3 oystercatchers I saw close together near the nest site would have been parents with their teenager.

No pied stilts evident & dotterel numbers were down. An away day?

High tide almost 3m, so lagoon had recently flooded right up to the highest point, which is where I took the photos of mud snails & bird prints (godwits are my guess).

The shells on the spit had been pushed right up. Haven't seen this before, revealing the weeping sands of the draining lagoon, as one sees on Onetangi beach after rain.


February 12th 2017

11am warm & overcast, slight breeze, access via the main shellspit today, not via Cyril's small spit.

2hrs past a spring tide of 3.2m, which meant the lagoon was still distinctly wet, even though the tideline was 20 m out from the base of the shellspit. Plenty of mud crab & mud snail activity in the main lagoon still.

2 white-faced heron
1 caspian tern

118 godwits: the formation was too close to be accurate but there appeared to be about 8 in breeding plumage. No sign of the yellow flagged individual but as many were in single leg roost position perhaps it was hidden from view. Now that's an interesting thought - does the flag affect the birds behaviour at all? Such as favouring the non-flagged leg for roosting?

34 pied stilts: last observation was 20 on Jan 27th, with none in residence last weekend. A main group, a small secondary group plus one ostracised(?) individual. They seem to favour wading into the tideline above their ankles, unlike the godwits which remain firmly on the water's edge

4 northern dotterels: 2 made the usual friendly play running towards me cheeping before moving on once they had made their introductions. No sign of more, interestingly there were no bird species at all in the lagoon today, usually there are some at this tide level.

5 oystercatchers only: these guys have always been constantly around the 10 mark all season. I'm wondering if this is another change in species' seasonal behaviour.

Have I mentioned my interest in longshore drift before? And how that has formed the shellspit? Measuring the current status of the shellspit would be another interesting intertidal monitoring topic - shell sizes at various GPS points, species (shell) present, high tideline widths & a guess as to where the historic chicken grit excavating took place.


February 13th - Just after high tide

I saw 30 dotterel (I kid you not) at Cyril's yesterday, in the grass area in front of his house. I'm going to ask the Dotterel experts why we have this increased cluster happening at Te Matuku, it's very interesting..... As I was writing this email I got the below response from a colleague about the increased dotterel numbers at Te Matuku

"Post-breeding NZ dotterels flock in large numbers in different cells across the Auckland region. This is also the time when they go through their moult after the breeding season. One of the largest cells is in Omaha where 200+ birds flock together after the breeding season. This usually happens in early March, which is a good time for minders and Birds NZ to do flock counts when they're all congregating together. The best time for flock counts this year is 4th or 5th March on the East Coast, so you may want to mention this to your Te Matuku minders to do a count during this time."

If you have time on these dates I would recommend you check the spit and also the grass in front of Cyril's to do a flock count. It would be good to speak to Cyril about the importance of his place for the birds and also the pest control work to protect these birds - Miranda


Saturday February 18th
3:30pm, 2 hours after high tide (2.73m)

Am still learning more about this habitat. Tides are currently not that high & noted that godwits, pied stilts & dotterels were jointly congregated in the high tide roost site in the lagoon, an area where only godwits have been spotted previously.

Am guessing that this area is more sandy than surrounding parts. Slightly elevated & not currently inundated, so sand is likely dry & warm.

All species were facing into the gentle Easterly breeze. More interesting was that over 2/3 of each species were not roosting on 1 leg but instead lying down. First time I've noted that.

Each species continued to exhibit their own distinct behaviour, oblivious to their shared company. Dotterels were distinctly playful.

Overall numbers:

40 dotterels approx, possibly a few more than that. I did see one banded dotterel.

31 pied stilts - I disturbed one close by which ran off, ungainly when not in elegant flight. These birds distinctly chatter amongst themselves.

22 godwits - have the balance already departed? Plenty of breeding plumage evident.

9 oystercatchers - the group of three still present

1 white-faced heron - it only calls in flight

No caspian tern today

Eva's comment about post-breeding socialising amongst the dotterels fits my observations. While the roost flock was too far away to see detail, there were a number of juveniles close at hand on Cyril's lawn edge which were very friendly, until an adult flew in & did some serious scolding!

Just as I left, the dotterel roost flock flew over the shell spit in 2 parts to settle near the tide edge. Over 35, it was quite a sight. Perhaps the dotterel stragglers not part of this group (between 5 & 10) are still developing their social confidence?


Saturday February 25th
9am, 2 hours after high tide (2.7m)
Accompanied by Katherine, Head of Science at Waiheke High School

Birds observed:
110 godwits
39 dotterels
26 pied stilts
8 oystercatchers
1 white-faced heron

Godwit numbers back to seasonal norm after drop observed last week, breeding pulmage even more evident. Dotterels spread around lagoon high tide roost site in playful mood. Stilts scattered, on both sides of shellspit.


Images of lower Te Matuku Bay are intended to provide a sense of place
rather than show specific conditions on monitoring days

Binoculars used for monitoring:

Barr & Stroud, model CF43, specification 10x42, central focus, serial number 118156
Purchased circa 1954, specifically for birdwatching

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