Night counts

I have been counting a lot of birds lately trying to build a solid picture of how the shorebirds use the Tāmaki Estuary. In addition to regular wader counts I decided to try and also count them at night as they might use the roosting areas differently. After testing various devices including long exposure photography Pieter and I decided on expensive gear to do the survey, I bought a Luna Optics LN-DM50-HRSD Digital Night Vision Monocular (example image above) and Pieter purchased a Pulsar Helion Thermal Imaging Handheld XP38. Using these devices helped us count the birds without disturbing them which was quite important to us. Details of the trial here Tamaki Estuary shorebird survey – Wildlands.

The feeding observations were really interesting. Tho in regards to extra light – it was disappointing not to find shorebirds at Mt Wellington War Memorial Reserve where I found banded dotterel and flocks of SIPO at night last year. The reserve now has large lights for playing sports in the dark.

I think the trial study has given us enough data to understand how the shorebirds use the estuary at night. More detail would be interesting but is unlikely to affect future management decisions. Here is the Raw data. I plan to keep a better eye on the Pakuranga Sailing Club and include the data in a report to Council on roosting in the Tāmaki Estuary.


Access to viewing points was limited because we wanted to do the survey without disturbing the birds. All the waders identified were more easily scared at night with the exception of the mixed flock at the Pakuranga Sailing Club that was unusually calm in our presence (both day and night). Day counts followed the limited routes of the night counts for consistency, however a few birds were often seen during the day that would have been hard to see at night from the same vantage point.

No variations in flock shape were observed between day and night. The main thing that correlated with flock shape was if the SIPO were feeding. The SIPO flock spread out over 100m in diameter when feeding at Point England both on the sportsfeilds (at night) and the paddocks (during the day). The pied stilts were always grouped closely together.

I think the roosting patterns look like waders are primarily avoiding disturbance. Wide open spaces with no obstructions or light were preferred… maybe close to the water too – especially for the smaller waders? Seaside park a good example – I was surprised to see SIPO there at night. The lack of birds at Mt Wellington both Day and Night in 2018 vs 2017 is odd. Maybe the addition of the lights has also reduced the sites daytime roosting function.

I totalled the counts for SIPO and Stilts to see if there are variations in the total day vs night numbers. We are short 22.5% on SIPO, I feel like we would not have been that far off and some birds are heading elsewhere to roost, it’s not a huge number tho. I am sure we missed some birds tho, for example during the day the NNZD at Point England are so much easier to spot than at night.

A decoy dotterel

I have been working with Northern New Zealand dotterel (NNZD) for nearly five years now. I know this bird really well but I had to look a lot closer when I decided to try and make a decoy. Southern New Zealand dotterel (SNZD) are in big trouble with a small and declining population. I decided to see if a decoy would work to help capture SNZD which have been difficult to catch outside of breeding season. A well placed decoy could help position one or more birds near a leg-hold noose-mat trap or in position for a canon net.

I put the decoy about 20m away from some NNZD at Point England and on both occasions each NNZD walked over to the decoy (with head bobs) in less than two minutes. They stayed just less than 1M away for two minutes before I removed the decoy.

I need to fix the beak, refine the plumage and add spikes to the removable legs but so far it looks promising.

UPDATE: I have made a small flock of them. They are not quite right but should do the job.


The population of any given species needs to be strong enough to handle destructive natural and made made events. Without this resilience one event can wipe a species of the face of the planet forever. In New Zealand our rarest endemic breeding bird is the New Zealand fairy tern. With a population of only 40 birds this is the breakdown for the 2017-18 season.

  • 3-4 of last seasons surviving chicks which are too young to breed
  • 1 menopausal female
  • 1-2 ‘engaged’ couples who behave like they are breeding but do not lay eggs
  • 11-14 unpartnered males (the population is short on females)
  • 20 breeding birds (10 pairs)
  • It’s a fragile population with too many males (1:2 ratio). The other major concern is that during breeding season 80% of the population is on the same 40km stretch of coast. Here is where the breeding happened in 2017-18:

    East coast:
    Waipu 2
    Mangawhai 5
    Pakiri 1

    West coast:
    Papakanui 2

    The fragility is particularly exposed when we think about the threat of an oil spill from the RMS Niagara. This wreck is a time bomb just off the coast from this critical breeding habitat. Even a small amount of the submerged oil could easily cover the fairy terns breeding grounds for weeks, starving the birds to death in a matter of days.

    Pray mantis identification

    New Zealand has two praying mantises, the invasive South African praying mantis and the native New Zealand praying mantis. The easiest way to tell the two species apart is the shape of the head. The thorax (bit that connects their heads to their abdomens) is much wider on a New Zealand mantis so by comparison the South Africans look like hammerheads.