High Tide Wader Roost
A High Tide Wader Roost for the Whangamata Harbour
Progress Report Presented to the Whangamata Harbour Care AGM, July 2022
Some of you will already be aware that Harbour Care have a small sub-committee looking to construct a high-tide wader roost in the upper harbour area and have identified a potentially suitable site in Patiki Bay for this purpose.
Some of you may not know what or why such a site is necessary, or for that matter what a wader or a high-tide roost is. So, I would like to take a few minutes of your time to briefly explain and outline where we are currently at in the planning process.
Our sub-committee consists of Dr. Brian Coffey our resident ecologist and environmental consultant; Graeme Webb a foundation committee member of the Whangamata Harbour Care Society, Mark Drury a retired Engineering Consultant, and myself, now retired but contributing the knowledge gained from my working life in wildlife conservation.
What are the birds referred to as waders? A wader is the generic term for a group of small birds that feed almost exclusively on, in and around the margins of wetlands. That includes the freshwater as well estuarine and saltwater wetland varieties. Waders obtain their food by probing for small shellfish, worms, crabs, snails and other invertebrates located in the shallow waters and sandy inter-tidal substrates of estuaries, harbours and beaches. The most common examples of waders that can be seen locally are godwits, dotterels, oyster-catchers and stilts.
Wader roosts are a very important habitat component for these birds. They are sites which are used as resting places during high tide periods when the birds feeding sites are covered by water too deep for them to feed in. The sites most favoured for such purposes are low, flat, sparsely-vegetated sand and shell banks, and islands, situated close to their feeding grounds. Godwits and most other migratory waders tend to be very wary and easily spooked, so less disturbed roost sites are favoured.
Currently, the only high-tide wader roost remaining in the Whangamata Harbour is located adjacent to the sandy beach adjoining the Beach Road Reserve, upstream from the Harbour entrance. Other historic roost sites in the harbour have been either overtaken by the invasive mangroves or lost to a variety of environmental changes and land-use purposes. Due to the increasing amount of disturbance factors at the Beach Road site (people activities and dogs) and the greater expected frequency of what we call 'King Tides', this roost is rapidly becoming less attractive to waders and will almost certainly be abandoned before very long.
Our sub-committee is preparing a draft environmental report and proposing to meet with the local community, Iwi, DoC, TCDC and the WRC over the coming weeks to discuss our proposal and to seek feedback and support. All going well we will then finalise our Environmental Report, investigate funding sources and hopefully be in the position to submit a Resource Consent application to the WRC later this year, seeking the necessary approvals to proceed.
Just a quick few words on the special significance of this proposed roost site for the migratory bar-tailed godwits that spend half their lives each year feeding and resting-up in our harbour.
Arrive here in early Sept from their Alaskan tundra breeding sites
This is a 11,000 km flight, remarkably achieved flying non-stop in 8-9 days
They travel approx. 1200 - 1400 km/day at an average speed of 56 kph
In the process they will burn up half their body weight (300gm to 150gm)
Return to their homes in Alaska, departing NZ in early March
After such a momentous and exhausting two way journey annually, I think the least we can do is provide them with a minimally disturbed resting area here, to assist their recovery during this important part of their life-cycle. Without this essential component to their rest and recuperation requirements, and a rich and abundant local food supply, they would be unable to survive the rigours of their return journey.
Bar-tailed godwit current Conservation Status: At Risk - declining
John Adams, (Leader, Conservation Sub-Committee)