Little Tern progress, NSW south coast Part 1

Subject: Little Tern progress, NSW south coast Part 1
Date: Thu, 6 Feb 2003 16:17:50 +1100

Greetings to all interested in our feathered friends! The 2002-2003 season of the South Coast Shorebird Recovery Program is almost over with about 400 Little Terns seen hovering above their favoured south coast nesting locations this season.  In terms of the success of individual sites, we have had mixed results, however so far 138 chicks overall have fledged and many are still running around the sprawling sandspits. This is the best result for the far south coast that we have had since the program began three years ago and considering that the estimates of breeding Little Tern numbers in the whole of NSW were as low as 110 pair in the 1970s they seem to be well on the road to recovery.  The program would not be possible without the dedication of many volunteers who give up their time to protect and monitor these angelic birds.  

NSW NPWS has employs Jillian Keating and myself on a temporary basis over the summer months as South Coast Shorebird Recovery Coordinators under the NSW Fox Threat Abatement Plan.  Our area covers from Wollongong to the NSW Border where we are concentrating on nesting shorebirds including Little Terns, Pied Oystercatchers, Sooty Oystercatchers and Hooded Plovers.  Here is an extract from our newsletter on the success of Little Terns on the south coast of NSW.  We hope you enjoy…      

Lake Wollumboola

Once again about 70 Little Terns returned to frolic in the shallow waters and breed on the shell-covered sandspit at Lake Wollumboola this summer.  Early in the season the colony was progressing well; a fox baiting campaign in the nearby scrub resulted in 12 fox takes, the electric fence was charged and zapping, and the majority of the 39 nests recorded on the 20th of December were within the fenced area. That is until Christmas Eve when fierce northeasterly winds dumped sand against the electric fence's live wire causing the battery to totally discharge. The foxes took immediate advantage, consuming about 30 nests and almost obliterating the entire colony.  This was a devastating situation with many of the eggs just days from hatching. Despite fence repairs, these red devils now knew of the tern treats within the enclosure and persisted by squeezing through the electric fence despite the 12-volt shock.

Some pairs attempted to renest on the edges of the colony well away from the electric fence in early January with little success. Of the total 81 nesting attempts, foxes have consumed 73 nests, Australian Ravens have predated one, and seven have hatched.  John Symonds reports that some chicks may still be surviving and a single fledgling was recorded on the 10th of January.  Where did it come from?  A tern beating the odds or a colony elsewhere?      

Unfortunately the foxes living near the Lake Wollumboola Little Tern site are familiar with the area, the terns' nesting activities and how the electric fence operates. This season's breeding results highlight the importance of a continuous and multifaceted fox control program. The recent gazettel of the lake as part of Jervis Bay National Park creates a greater opportunity for an integrated management approach to conserve all shorebirds at this site.

Lake Conjola

Early this season, the Little Tern colony at Lake Conjola was shaping up to have its most successful season in three years with 18 nests recorded in late December.  Nests were scattered across the entire site and all were protected within an enormous fenced area. However, a visit by Darryl McKay just before Christmas was totally heartbreaking as apart from two nests, all that remained was a trail of fox tracks weaving around the site. It was a terrible shock as this is the first time that foxes have caused mortality at Lake Conjola in three years. A third nest was laid in early January and as of the 22nd January at least a dozen birds were still buzzing around the site, one nest remained and several chicks were suspected to be hiding amongst the sand dunes. Four fledglings have also been recorded so far…. On another more positive note, Andrew Miners of the RLPB has eliminated two foxes in nearby Narrawallee Nature Reserve, and no further tracks have been located on the sand spit.

South Tuross Head

This season's Little Terns decided that the numerous sandspits, sand islands and sand dune swales of South Tuross Head would be their first south coast stop-over point. Although the 7th of October marked George Rayner's first report of 10 individuals, these birds did not commence breeding until about one month later when adult numbers increased to over 50. The initial eight nests appeared on 'Middle Island', a large sand island located on the northeastern side of the estuary. However, it is suspected that the high winds and associated sandstorms swept the 13 eggs from their nests in the proceeding few days. Not to be deterred, the birds switched their laying efforts to the low-lying sandspit opposite and in the following three weeks, new nests continued to appear at a rate of approximately 20 per week. By late November adult numbers exceeded 130 and the colony had built up to 64 nests scattered throughout the expanses of sandflats and sand dunes.

Despite such enormous potential, grave concerns were held for this nesting colony based on past years' 'flooding fate'. The extreme low-lying nature of the nesting habitat has seen countless nests lost to tidal inundation and yielded little breeding success at this site. So the dedicated team of Tuross volunteers commenced frantic efforts to elevate as many nests as possible before the 1.94 metre tide scheduled for the 5th of December. Over 40 nests were raised on mounds constituted by up to 6 sandbags each!… and happily success resulted with all elevated nests rising above the king tides!  This period also coincided with the hatching of our first chicks.  Many sandbag mounds were thus modified to include ramps which eased the drop from these 'Penthouse' nests. Over the following few months, an additional 54 nests appeared and the number of chicks hiding amongst the vegetation, sandbags and extra branches (placed on the sandspits

for chick protection) continued to rise. Although many fledglings have since dispersed, we are now waiting to see if we can increase the total count of 46 fledglings seen chattering over the estuary's waters.  So it seems that last season's 'Brou Lake Disasters' have resulted in lessons well learnt as the added sandbags and modified designs (yet to be patented by Nilsen, Christie and Dredge Inc.!) have resulted in the sky being the limit for these Tuross Little Terns!


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