SUP021120NADdotterel2.JPG The dotterel resting in an energy heat pad after it was discovered on Ruakākā Beach. Photo / Supplied
MC021120NADDOTTREL3.JPG Robert Webb of the Whangārei Native Bird Recovery Centre with the dead dotterel that will be handed over to DoC. Photo / Michael Cunningham
By Imran Ali
The death of a dotterel, believed to have been attacked by a dog, in Northland has prompted an irate native bird advocate to call for better enforcement of bylaws in places where the endangered species breed.
A male northern New Zealand dotterel was discovered on Ruakākā Beach near the wildlife refuge on Sunday morning by local Greg Stansfield who popped him on the sand dunes nearby and informed fellow conservationist Ria Kent.
The bird was alive but he could not get up and was unable to turn around.
Kent said she put the bird on an energy heat pad that she always carried and took him to the Whangārei Native Bird Recovery Centre.
Sadly the bird died the same day.
Once widespread across New Zealand, the dotterel is a small shorebird now considered endangered, with an estimated population of about 2000 individuals.
There are two widely separated subspecies— the northern New Zealand dotterel is more numerous, and breeds around the North Island while the southern New Zealand dotterel was formerly widespread in the South Island, and now breeds only on Stewart Island.
Their breeding season is between October and December.
Just two of the many species found at the Ruakākā Wildlife Refuge include the bar-tailed godwit, a species that annually migrates all the way to Alaska and the Northern New Zealand dotterel, an endangered species with eggs and chicks so well camouflaged they are hard to see.
Native Bird Recovery Centre manager Robert Webb said the Department of Conservation (DoC), that manages the refuge, should hire someone to patrol the protected areas and to start
fining irresponsible dog owners.
"The thing that annoys me is when something like this happens, it's the dog that takes the blame not the owner but dogs don't hop into cars and take themselves to the beach.
"Some dog owners say 'Oh he won't chase a kiwi, he's never seen one'. Why can't the department just patrol the area a bit more given that it's the breeding season now?
"They've got rules, why is it too hard to enforce them? Genuine people abide by the rules but there are a few that ruin it for others," Webb said.
He said an autopsy would not take place as he was able to determine from the bird's droppings that turned green that indicated liver or kidney damage.
The dead dotterel will be handed over to DoC.
Webb said attacks on dotterels happened once every four to five years in Northland as they were generally well-looked after.
"It appears a dog has played with it rather than pick the dotterel up, chewed it, and spat it out. They normally try to catch them with their paws and that can cause internal damage.
"It's frustrating because dotterels are not a hard thing to protect. What's more frustrating is dog owners' lack of respect for the protected areas. Even if they're caught, they are told to take their dogs away.
"What's the point of having patrols if the rules are not going to be enforced?" Webb queried.
DoC spokeswoman Abigail Monteith said it was a timely reminder on how vulnerable our shorebirds were, particularly to dogs, and that the organisation has the ability to fine or prosecute people for not obeying area bylaws.
"This attack on an endangered dotterel Ruakākā is deeply saddening and we will be increasing our presence in the Bream Bay area over the summer period to assist with enforcement of bylaws including dogs and vehicles on beaches."
The bylaws give DoC staff the ability to warn, and where necessary, take enforcement action which may result in a maximum fine of $250 for breaches.
She said the refuge— a unique habitat and a very special place— has bylaws designed to control such things as drunken and disorderly behaviour; unruly meetings and gatherings; unauthorised camping, vehicle use, noise, lighting of fires; water wastage and bringing domestic animals on to reserves without authorisation.
Monteith said there were full-time rangers to protect fairy terns that were in the same area as the dotterels.
Development on the coastal habitat of the dotterels, introduced predators and disturbance during their breeding season are factors which have caused a gradual decline in their population.
Kent said the injured bird bred at the Ruakākā Wildlife Refuge where no dogs were allowed.
"There are plenty of signs and a map that clearly identifies the area where the dotterels breed. I don't know how we can get over to people that these birds are so precious," she said.
Northland Regional Councillor and chairman of NRC's biosecurity and biodiversity working party, Jack Craw, has written to the mayors of Whangārei, Kaipara, and the Far North regarding better control of wandering dogs.
NRC had previously written to the Three District Council Mayors seeking meetings to discuss these councils creating stricter dog control bylaws, dog-free beaches and other areas, and (in conjunction with NRC) an educational programme for dog owners.