Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Trials & Tribulations of Hooded Plover

I'm well aware of many of the conservation issues faced by Hooded Plovers while breeding here in Tasmania, but seldom "see" it in action. A family getaway over the Christmas break gave me an all too closeup of the problems facing them while breeding. We stayed at a resort South of Falmouth boasting 2 beautiful, pure white, typical eastcoast beaches and I took little time in sussing them out for bird life. I quickly found a pair of Pied Oystercatchers which appeared to be the only shorebirds occupying either beach. But during an early morning walk the following day, I photographed a single Hooded Plover (at right) among the beach wrack. While walking back up the track through the dunes, I flushed another and came within an ace of stepping on their 3 eggs in a shallow scrape, mid track. From my observations over the years, this is not their preferred site, but as you can see from the image at top left, ever increasing tide heights have produced "sand cliffs", and the beaches they prefer are no longer available to safely nest on. Since the bush track was wide and not used by most of the holidaymakers, I thought that it was reasonably secure. How wrong I was!
A few days later, while I was fishing off the breakwater, a series of fellow visitors were enjoying rides on a jet ski nearby. As I found the constant sound of the jet ski a little wearing, I wasn't exactly sympathetic when it broke down on the next beach up. I didn't see what subsequently happened, so I can only guess. But the upshot was that a 4WD vehicle tried to access the bush track, probably to 'recover' the jet ski, and while trying (and failing) to get to the beach, completely buried the plover's nest, something I only discovered the following day. I'm not apportioning blame here, I would probably have done the same myself in similar circumstances.
A few days later on a nearby beach, my son found another hoodie's nest, this time at the top of a considerably wider beach and on the slope of the dune. In the meantime, I was attempting to photograph a pair of hoodies feeding on the tide line, undoubtedly the owners of the nest. I was all lined up as they neared me, but, concentrating on the birds, I was unaware of an approaching runner with dog. I caught sight of the dog at the last minute and captured the image at left.
These kinds of disturbance are, sadly, all too common, and these eastcoast beaches are relatively undisturbed. It does not augur well for the hoodies future, especially with global warming and subsequently higher tide heights kicking in and in so doing, denying these and other shorebirds, feeding and breeding places.


Denis Wilson said...

Lovely post Alan.
You are too forgiving of your fellow Tasmanians?
Beaches must not be invaded by vehicles, or the birds will disappear.
I am reliably informed that the once isolated beaches of Fraser Island, Qld, are now driving tracks for 4WD enthusiasts. What about the birds - the Little Terns, and the Plovers and the Beach Thick Knees?
They are just being chased away by people with no understanding of what they are doing.
It is very frustrating.
Great photo of the Plover in flight.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Denis,
Thanks for your comments. I'm not that forgiving! Dogs in particular are a pain, or more correctly, their owners are. I chipped one on a "leash only" beach about their dog running off leash. Their reply was 'tell someone who cares"! I'm somewhat reluctant to throw the first stone as I'm aware that as someone who photographs birds, I too cause some disturbance, although I would like to think that it's "measured" disturbance and at least I know the issues.
It's up to birders to spread the message about these birds (and many others) plight and at present we're not getting through. We have to be far more pro active. Perhaps if we could harness the sort of energy that some "twitchers" use to see rare birds, we might just succeed! (No offence implied to twitchers, I was one once too).

Marj K said...

As someone who does much of their birding at dog off-leash exercise areas, I'd like to emphasise that the problem is with the people, not the dogs. Finches, pipits, grass parrots etc will continue feeding as my dogs calmly walk past them, but scatter if I take a step closer.

Groups of noisy children, motorised vehicles of all sorts, and 'rough' campers are much more of a problem than well trained, well managed dogs.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Marj K,
I did mention that I wasn't apportioning blame, and in replying to Denis, I did say that the owners were the issue. However, a survey conducted on a Mainland coastal area, showed that there was only 17% compliance by the public of notices. At many local parks here,I would suggest that compliance is less than that, and dog walkers are the main culprit. Notices do not differentiate between well behaved dogs and others. While up the Eastcoast, I witnessed a dog off leash running through an area roped off for shorebirds and suitably sign posted as such. This area is probably less than 1% of the entire beach! Why do so many dog owners fail to comply? An area that I regularly visit is an off leash area and only yesterday, dogs scattered Bluewing Parrots and other ground feeding birds, as they rummaged around as dogs do. I accept that, but not at on leash areas, when owners fail to comply. The most frequent reply when I have suggested that the area is on leash--"my dog wouldn't do any harm".

John Tongue said...

Hi All,
While there are undoubtedly some responsible dog-owners, the MAJORITY we come across are doing the wrong thing in SOME way or other - dogs off-leash, in dog-exclusion zones, etc. The most common reaction is that which Alan has described here - "they just don't care". How can anyone expect me to RESTRICT what I allow my dog to do?

Marj K said...


My point was that owners of the range of vehicles that are driven on beaches, the adults accompanying large groups of children, and the people who set up camp on any attractive spot (there were two tents on the Stockton Sand Spit for four days last week) do as much damage as dog owners but attract much less criticism. And don't get me started on fishermen :-)


Boobook said...

A fantastic photo highlights the dog problem beautifully Alan.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Marj,
It's interesting that dog owners usually defend their inability to conform with "no dogs" or "on leash" restrictions by pointing to others. In Tasmania 4WD vehicles do pose a threat in some areas, but I've yet to come across conservation issues associated with "noisy children". I'm sure "well managed" dogs aren't much of a threat, but, from observation over many years, the majority of dog owners seem incapable of conforming to limitations on dog walking. I could list, with photographs in some cases, hundreds of breaches. I have witnessed dogs killing Pied Oystercatcher chicks and ducklings, and disturbing wader roost sites. Many of the breaches have been in areas set aside for conservation (ie not dog walking). Over the holiday period, there certainly is considerable pressure in some areas from camping, but this presence is over a relatively short period, whereas dog walking is all year round. It's a pity that those dog owners who do the right thing don't apply pressure to the majority that seem incapable of limiting their activities, especially in areas of conservation value, or where there are other beach users, particularly children. We all have a responsibility to get this message out to inform the public on the issues--that's where "we" (and I include myself) fail.

BirdingTas said...

Thanks for your comments,Boobook.
As I mentioned in the blog, I wasn't trying to apportion blame, only to highlight some of the perils for birds that breed on our beaches. We all need our recreation leave and beaches are a favourite. But the birding population needs to better inform the public of the conservation issues, in particular the plight of the dwindling numbers of breeding Hoodies and small terns on our beaches.I often see birding publications highlighting this issue (and have contributed to several), but generally speaking, they're talking to the converted. We need to shout louder! There is also a real need to see that bye-laws on public land use are enforced.

Robin M said...

Dog owners have to be held accountable for the actions of their dogs, and the custodians of the particular area should protect their charges i.e. patrolling, educating and fining offenders. It is as simple as that. Beach users should also be encouraged to “Dob in an Offender” so the custodians (who usually lack the manpower) will have eyes and ears everywhere.
The dog pictures seems content on running along the hard sand with stick in mouth, and have minimal affect on HP nests.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Robin,
I did mention that I wasn't apportioning blame to any beach user, merely reporting the events. You're quite right about the lack of "custodians" policing these areas, so much so that some dog owners take full advantage and flout the regulations.
While you might think that a solitary dog apparently minding its' own business is no threat to Hooded Plovers, however this is not so. The plovers leave the nest/eggs on the approach of potential predators (from the birds' perspective), human or canine, and leave eggs or young prone to predation. In this instance, in the relatively short period we were there, the eggs were significantly covered in blown sand, and we, as much as the dog and runner were responsible!

Anonymous said...

Yes this highlights an issue I've noticed too - a huge blind spot when it comes to the impact of dogs on wildlife in Tasmania!

I was recently gobsmacked to find that the draft National Recovery Plan for the Tasmanian devil (comments close today) contains NO strategies relating to dog control! Despite the Plan stating that dogs kill devils! (and the department's own website stating that the dingo is the most likely cause of the Devil's extinction on the mainland!)

alex said...

Nice pictures.