Common Stuff

Author: Mike DyeDate: 22/05/23

My first venture down the slope behind the Fog Horn shed brought me to a little grassy patch where my tripod could stand. Peering through the telescope it was not clear whether all the squatting red-billed gulls were on nests, but this twin-peaked rock, just south of the bay, was obviously a favoured breeding site. Weaving a heavy tripod through a tangle of flax and cabbage trees was a bit cumbersome but, on reaching the northern side of this little promontory, a large curl-shaped rock came into view with a colony of gulls dotted along its ridge line and, below me, binoculars revealed a small rocky platform crowded with busy occupants and obvious nests.

I’d been invited to assess the breeding numbers of common inshore seabirds around the coastal fringe of the island. How do you view our coast from the land? So many steep bush-clad slopes and hidden gullies! Old hands will have known much of the territory but for me, it was an exciting new exploration. In that first year, I located a small colony of black-backed gulls on a handful of rocky islets just off the North-east Bay track. As I ate lunch, after counting those gulls a reef heron carrying fish flew into the bay. On landing, two juveniles came scrabbling out of the bushes to meet the parent – the only proof of its breeding in the ten years this survey has now run.

Carne Blandy, Oscar Thomas and Rachel Taylor each helped for a season in different years but for the last 5 years Roy Gosney and I shared this work together; making about 8 visits each season to gauge the build-up and peak of breeding numbers. Access to the two black-backed gull colonies, long established on the west coast, can be fun. Coprosma completely hides the access to the one below the Papakura Pa site, so I dread to think what visitors thought if they caught sight of two old buffers emerging from a dense thicket! And getting to the rocky outcrop at North-west Point has also become an adventure as the track dwindles and we two disappear into the ever-burgeoning flax and twiggery; but it’s well worth the scramble, to arrive in the quiet atmosphere of the little grassy plateau overlooking the breeding site and up the Tiritiri Matangi coastline northwards.

Left: Caspian TernPhoto credit: Martin SandersRight: Pied ShagPhoto credit: Simon Fordham

Whilst the two gull species are always present, their breeding numbers vary, red-bills between 100 and 350 pairs, black-backs between 30 and 45. The Pied-shag colony remains fairly static with 6-8 nests, but tern numbers are the least predictable with a single paid of Caspians in just 2 or 3 survey years and white-fronted tern ranging from none years to 120 pairs at best. Our Biodiversity Team wants to monitor these common birds as well as the rarer species our island hosts.

In July I move to Cambridge and have to leave Roy to do next seasons counting. I’m sure he would welcome a new survey partner. It’s been a joy and privilege to explore some of the hidden parts of Tiritiri Matangi and share that experience with others. For this wonderful place and the lovely people I’ve met here, I give thanks!

Left: White Fronted Tern Photo credit: Derek TearneRight: Red-billed GullPhoto credit: Derek Tearne