The South Coast Shorebird Recovery Program began in 1999 in response to a dramatic decline in native beach nesting birds. Little Tern numbers were reduced to only 110 breeding pairs on the entire NSW coast and Hooded Plover's (Hoodies) had become extinct in the northern part of their range, with less than 50 birds remaining south of Jervis Bay. The Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers were also added to this list of rapidly declining shorebirds. Something needed to be done before we lost these beautiful native birds from our coastline forever.
All four species were listed under the Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995) and protected by state legislation - the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) took action. Recovery teams were formed and recovery plans were written, identifying the key to recovering these dwindling populations – improve breeding success. The plans listed the specific threats to breeding success and the recovery actions required to manage them. Overall, the aim was to increase the survival rates of eggs and chicks on the beaches, so these little ones would develop into breeding adults and increase the size of the NSW populations.
These shorebirds nesting on our beaches face a growing number of threats to their breeding success. Their nests are a simple scrape forming a shallow depression in the sand between the high tide mark and dune vegetation (the birds won't nest in the denser plants of the dune revegetation areas). Consequently, most nests are in the clear sandy area just above the high tide mark where people and dogs are walking.
The shorebird eggs and chicks are both camouflaged to avoid predation by their natural predator – the raptor. These birds of prey such as whistling kites and sea eagles find food by sight, so the best strategy to avoid being eaten is to not be seen – camouflage. This means the eggs and chicks are light yellow, beige and grey in colour with darker flecks, to blend in with the sand. They are very difficult to see but therefore very easy for us to step on.
The main threat to shorebird nests and chicks was being trampled by beach goers and dog walkers who did not even realise they were there! The tiny eggs and chicks were so easily stepped on and killed, yet we do not mean to do it. On top of that dogs were also trampling eggs and chasing the little birds.
The best solution is to find the nests first and protect the eggs and chicks by installing temporary fencing and signage on the beach around their nesting area. Now each season when the birds start nesting in spring, the NPWS and community volunteers survey the beaches along the south coast, monitor the breeding pairs of shorebirds, identify the best nesting sites and keep watch for signs of nesting.
(Click the images on the left to enlarge them, then click again to reduce them)
In addition to this threat of being trampled, shorebird eggs and chicks also have a new predator to deal with – the introduced red fox. This predator has been detrimental to Australia's native ground nesting birds and small mammals. Foxes are found throughout our towns, in the bush and on our beaches looking for vulnerable wildlife and scavenging for rubbish. Sadly the fox especially likes shorebird eggs and chicks. NPWS undertakes as much fox control as possible to protect the shorebirds.
Raven predation has also become a major threat to the shorebirds with raven populations increasing due to the food provided by people - trash, bait bags and road kill and being especially elevated around caravan parks. This predator also likes shorebird eggs and chicks.
So on top of dealing with people and dogs on our beaches, shorebirds now have foxes and ravens threatening the survival of their eggs and chicks, as well as the natural threats of raptor predation and nests being washed away in king tides and big swells. Nesting on the beach has gotten a lot harder for shorebirds, and they need our help to survive.
Since 1999 numerous interested community groups and volunteers have come on board to help NPWS protect their local beach nesting birds. On the south coast there are now more than 100 caring and dedicated locals watching over the shorebirds and helping protect their nests and chicks. These wonderful people spend hours each spring and summer walking the beaches looking for the shorebirds, finding threatened nests and chicks and working with the shorebird recovery coordinator on installing fencing, signage and other protective measures.
NPWS provides training courses and workshops for the volunteers so the birds receive the best protection possible on our beaches. We also give community talks, media releases and beach education sessions throughout the season to raise awareness in beach goers, dog walkers and visitors. Recently we started a school education program.
From humble beginnings the South Coast Shorebird Recovery Program has become an amazing example of community based conservation and has attracted a number of state and federal grants to support the efforts of NPWS, local councils and the amazing shorebird volunteers.
We are dedicated to protecting the local beach nesting birds and it has started working! The endangered Little Tern population is now up to around 500 breeding pairs along the NSW coast and the critically endangered Hoodies have doubled in numbers on the south coast, with fourteen breeding pairs now nesting between Jervis Bay and Batemans Bay. This is a great reward after all our hard work. Thank-you to all the shorebird volunteers and supporters in the community.
If you would like more information about the program or would like to join us in watching over your local shorebirds, please call Ulladulla NPWS on 4454-9500 or email the Shorebird Recovery Coordinator at – firstname.lastname@example.org.