It's been a good summer so far for Ahipara's tiny resident population of NZ dotterels, but it was another species that gave Doug Klever what he reckoned was the best start to a new year that he could have wished for.
He was checking on the dotterels when he spied what he believed to be the first oystercatcher to have hatched there in decades.
"The same pair tried last year, but the egg failed, not sure why," he said.
"Just goes to show the necessity of the sanctuary [west of Kaka St]. We have been at this for 12 years now, and have had some amazing results."
So far this year four young dotterels had fledged, but the young oystercatcher is still being tended to by its parents.
"I'm not sure when it will fledge, but let's hope everyone maintains their distance and gives this little critter, the dotterels and all the other birds in the sanctuary the respect they deserve, as they have been doing in the past," Klever said.
Last week there were two more dotterel nests with eggs that had yet to hatch.
People were gradually coming to accept that the sanctuary was not the place to walk, exercise dogs or drive vehicles, he added, and while progress had been slow, the resident wildlife was clearly benefiting from largely being undisturbed.
"A big thanks to the Ahipara community, Te Rūnanga o Te Rarawa, Ahipara Coastal Patrol, Karen and Rob, the Northland Age and everyone else I forgot to mention. You know who you are," he said.
The variable oystercatcher is a familiar stocky coastal bird with a long, bright orange bill, found around much of New Zealand. They are often seen in pairs probing busily for shellfish along beaches or in estuaries.
Previously shot for food, variable oystercatchers probably reached low numbers before being protected in 1922, since when numbers have increased rapidly. They are long-lived, with some birds reaching 30+ years of age.
The existence of different colour morphs (black, intermediate or "smudgy", and pied) caused early confusion, and they were variously thought to be different species, forms, or hybrids.
Variable oystercatchers are very vocal; loud piping is used in territorial interactions and when alarmed, and they have a loud flight call similar to other oystercatchers. Chicks are warned of danger with a sharp, loud "chip" or "click".
Variable oystercatchers occur around most of the coastline of North, South, and Stewart Islands and their offshore islands. Strongholds are in Northland, Auckland, Coromandel Peninsula, Bay of Plenty, Greater Wellington, Nelson/Marlborough, and Fiordland.