Hooded Plovers in NSW
Today less than 50 Hooded Plovers can be found on the South Coast of NSW. Although the Hooded Plover in NSW was probably never "common", the current trend indicates that if ignored, the species range will contract to the south over the next few years leaving very few birds in NSW. In the most northern part of their range between Batemans Bay and Jervis Bay, only three pair hold breeding territories. Between Batemans Bay and Narooma no birds have been recorded this season, where as in the recent past at least three pair roamed the beaches. The rest of the birds live between Narooma and the NSW/VIC border where the beaches tend to be more isolated and protected. There is a huge gap in the species distribution.
The threats to Hooded Plover nests are wide and varied including flooding, being trampled accidentally by beach users, 4WD, quad bikes, cows, kangaroos or eaten by foxes, cats, Ravens, Silvergulls, birds of prey and hungry backpackers (joke). A study in Tasmania by Lainie Berry showed that even where foxes are not present, predation by the Forest Raven was still high. Thus, the "natural" threats to nesting Hooded Plovers have always been high. Top that with a suit of new human induced threats and the population declines.
Because Hooded Plovers are a cryptic species (their best defence is not to be seen) it was with great trepidation that we decided to start placing signs and fences on beaches and sand spits around their nesting sites. But with the sheer numbers of people descending onto south coast beaches over the summer months (I have counted 250 people on the sand spit at Lake Conjola) it was decided that to continue "leaving them alone" would result in the rapid extinction of the species in NSW.
Since the program began three years ago many local people and holiday makers have banded together to help out the Hoodies. Some folk help with the construction of fences, others monitor the birds while many just talk to beach users about the birds and their predicament. We find that a large percentage of people are supportive of the program and even if people are indifferent towards the birds, they generally don't mind sharing the beach. Occasionally a local will get a bit cheesed off that we dare put a temporary fence on the beach, ("not more restrictions") and pull down the signs. These are usually put back up by more caring citizens.
On the NSW south coast "Plover lovers" have been observing the antics of 12 nesting pair of Hooded Plovers this season. Seven chicks have fledged. Eighteen nesting attempts have resulted in 45 eggs being laid. Only 15 of these eggs have survived to hatch. Two wire nest protectors were trialed this season over Hooded Plover eggs. The idea was to protect the nests from larger predators yet allow the adults to easily access their eggs as well as escape if attacked. Both nests hatched and three chicks fledged.
The breeding activities of three pairs of Hooded Plovers have been monitored between Jervis Bay and Batemans Bay this season. Our most northern pair in Australia at Berrara Beach attempted to nest twice. Janet Mackenzie spotted the first nest early in the season, however Australian Ravens predated the eggs a week later. A second nesting attempt within the fenced area was progressing well with the help of an electric enclosure around the immediate nest. Disaster struck again two days before the eggs were due to hatch when one of the adults mysteriously disappeared?? The single adult persevered by hatching both eggs but within two days the chicks were lost to the resident Ravens! We have applied for a licence to send these ravens on a long holiday.
As has occurred during the past three seasons, a pair of Hooded Plovers has attempted to breed at the entrance to Lake Conjola this summer. A two-egg nest was recorded on the sand spit on the 12th of November but was buried after strong northeasterly winds sandblasted the site. Not to be deterred the same pair moved slightly north to Inyada Beach and laid three more eggs. A temporary fence was installed on this busy beach along with signs and photos of the birds. Caloundra tern expert Barbara Dickson reported that two of the eggs hatched, however one chick went missing soon after. Joyously one chick has since fledged despite the people, foxes, ravens and dogs.
A pair of Hooded Plovers has been closely monitored between Wairo Beach and Merro Lake this season, but no nesting activity has resulted to date. Further south in Murramarang National Park, two adults nested in early October. The nest was located early by local "Friends of Durras" campaigner, John Perkins and promptly fenced by Ulladulla NPWS field staff. All three eggs hatched well before the Christmas holiday rush and Bawley Point local Jim Reeves regularly recorded the chicks until one disappeared a week later. The following morning Jim found dog tracks all over the beach from a dog taken into the National Park by a midnight fisher. Fortunately, the two surviving chicks have since fledged.
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