It's breeding season for the country's rarest bird - tara iti/New Zealand fairy tern - and the Department of Conservation wants Northland beachgoers to give them a wide berth to protect their nests.
The first tara iti / fairy tern egg of the 2021/2022 breeding season has appeared at Papakānui, one of their four nesting sites.
Once widespread around the North Island and on the eastern South Island, the New Zealand fairy tern now breeds at only four main nesting sites, found at Papakānui Spit, Pākiri Beach and Waipū and Mangawhai sandspits.
While the first egg from New Zealand's rarest endemic bird is good news, DoC rangers have expressed concern about some behaviour that occurred at another breeding site at the same time the egg was discovered.
"(Earlier this month) we came across a vehicle with an occupant and dog parked in the dunes at the base of the wildlife refuge at Mangawhai. The person had breached the Covid-19 alert level 3 border restriction to enter the area and had got her vehicle stuck in the soft sand and had to stay overnight.
''She was escorted out of the reserve and police were notified. This will also be followed up with our DoC compliance officers for entering a wildlife refuge (breaching the Northland reserves bylaws) with a vehicle and a dog. Both are prohibited and may result in a $800 infringement notice," Craig Deal, DoC operations manager Whangārei, said.
He said it was concerning to see such a blatant breach of wildlife refuge and Covid-19 border rules, especially with the tara iti / fairy tern breeding season just starting.
With fewer than 40 birds, the tara iti/fairy tern is nationally critical and, despite intensive management, has teetered on the brink of extinction since the 1980s.
Their plight is not helped by where they choose to lay their eggs.
Tara iti/fairy terns nest on shell and sandbanks sometimes just above spring high tide, leaving them vulnerable to stormy weather coinciding with very high tides and strong winds. Tara iti are also vulnerable to predation and disturbance by people and vehicles, so all nest sites are fenced off.
A dedicated team of seven fairy tern DoC rangers and numerous community organisations and volunteers have been busy since September trapping for predators near nesting sites, fencing off nesting sites and preventing nesting birds from being disturbed by humans.
The rangers and volunteers will continue to monitor the birds and nests during the breeding season.
DoC works closely with Patuharakeke, Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara, Ngāti Manuhiri, Ngātiwai and Te Uri O Hau, The Shorebirds Trust, The NZ Fairy Tern Charitable Trust, About Tern, Birds NZ, Armourguard and the Waipū Trapping Group to help protect the New Zealand fairy tern.
To protect tara iti at their nesting sites, please follow these rules:
■ stay out of taped-off or fenced areas and use designated walkways
■ follow dog and vehicle bylaws
■ remove bait and rubbish from the beach to deter rats and other predators.