Omaha Predator Fence Settling-In

The new predator-proof fence and “air-lock” gate

The new predator-proof fence and “air-lock” gate

The predator-proof fence at Omaha is settling-in well and trapping is helping to prevent “leakage” around the ends.  Two “air-lock”-style gates are provided for the public to access the bird reserve area on the end of the spit, where one of the main breeding colonies of the endangered NZ dotterel is established.

The Omaha Shorebird Protection Trust is hoping for a more successful breeding season now that the fence is in place.  In previous years dotterels, and other shorebirds like variable oystercatchers, have struggled to breed successfully because of predation of eggs and young by rats, stoats, weasels, and domestic cats.

Disturbance by people and sometimes dogs is also a factor which stresses the birds.  The area north of the fence is a no-dog area.  Dogs are not welcome, even on a leash, as for many of the birds even the sight of a dog is a serious problem for them, especially when they are looking after eggs or young.

People are welcome to visit the area, but please keep well below the high tide line and don’t venture into the marked areas where the birds are nesting.  You may also consider whether you really need to go north of the predator fence, as the less disturbance the birds get the more likely their breeding season will be successful.  If you are just going for a walk or a run, do you really need to go past the fence?  You can walk along the track outside the fence and get a good view over the bird reserve area from a high point half way along.

NZ dotterel on Whangateau Harbour flats

NZ dotterel on Whangateau Harbour flats

Godwits on their high tide roost on the west side of the bird reserve. (Photo: Frances Hall)

Godwits on their high tide roost on the west side of the bird reserve. (Photo: Frances Hall)

The bar-tailed godwit, an Arctic migrant breeding in Alaska, has just turned up in hundreds for the NZ summer.  They feed widely around the Rodney district but their main local high tide roost is on the western side of the Omaha bird reserve.  While in NZ these birds have to double their body weight for the flight back to Alaska next year.  Thoughtlessly putting them to flight by walking through that area at high tide wastes valuable energy they are trying to build up, and could mean that they drop out of the sky before reaching their northern-hemisphere destination.  There is less of a problem if you want to walk around the end of the spit at low tide as the godwits are away feeding in the Whangateau and other estuaries.

Shell trial to provide more secure cover for the underground skirt, exposed at left to show its appearance

Shell trial to provide more secure cover for the underground skirt, exposed at left to show its appearance

The design of the stainless steel mesh fence has an overhanging top to prevent predators from climbing over the fence. At the bottom the mesh penetrates the ground then extends as a skirt about 40cm wide on the outside. This is to thwart attempts by digging animals trying to burrow under the fence.

At present this skirt is covered by sand, but this sometimes blows out in the wind exposing the edge of the skirt and making it vulnerable to digging animals. OSPT members are currently trialing placing loose shell on the skirt, which may be less-inclined to blow away and may protect the skirt edge from digging animals. If the trial proves successful they may cover the skirt with shell along most of the fence line.

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