A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of joining a small group of Friends of the Hooded Plover volunteers to observe Meghan Cullen and Dan Lees from BirdLife Australia catch and flag the newly fledged Point Lonsdale chick – or juvenile as it is now called. A real highlight in my Hoodie experience, that’s for sure! To see the bird up close as they measured and weighed it before placing the silver band around its leg and the white flag BD was a quite a thrill. From now on this Hoodie’s movements will be able to be tracked and monitored, providing valuable information to BirdLife Australia for their campaign to increase the endangered hooded plover’s numbers.
Special too to watch on as Brett Diehm, Barwon Coast officer and local Hoodie volunteer, released the bird back onto the beach to re-join its parents.
I’ve also been privileged, over the past week or so, to spend time wardening the remaining chick of the Hoodies that inhabit Raaf’s beach on the Ocean Grove Spit. This is the pair that lost their chicks last month but were successful in hatching three more chicks around ten days ago. We don’t know what became of two of the three chicks in this latest clutch. (That makes six chicks lost this season for this pair).
On the morning of day seven the volunteers were celebrating the fact that the chicks had made it to a week, but by the time I arrived on the beach in the afternoon, I couldn’t find the family anywhere and later it became apparent two had come to grief. We can only offer theories about what might have happened. Maybe an off-leash dog caught them – even though on this section of the beach dogs are not permitted during the day. It wouldn’t surprise me as I have witnessed two very close calls with dogs chasing Hoodies in my short time as a volunteer. Every day during our wardening shifts dogs are reported on the beach, outside of the regulations.
Or perhaps they were snatched by an avian predator such as a silver gull. Plenty of gulls frequent the area and I’ve witnessed the parent birds ward off many a potential attack. They may be small, but the Hoodies are feisty when it comes to protecting their young.
My own theory is that a kite surfer – I saw one leaving the beach when I arrived – may have unwittingly freaked the birds out and caused them to flee, and in doing so exposed the chicks to avian predators. When I arrived on the beach that fateful day, the one adult and one chick that I eventually found were about a kilometre east of their normal territory. On many occasions during my time monitoring the Hoodies on the beach between Ocean Grove and Point Lonsdale I’ve witnessed how frightened the birds become at the approach of a paraglider. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was the scenario that played out. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
It’s heartbreaking to lose a chick. Not only for the survival of the species, but for the volunteers who invest so much of themselves in protecting these teeny weenies. Especially when you’ve been made privy to their world, watching their antics through the lens of your camera or binoculars. They are mini Road Runners, zooming across the sand while the parents try to keep watch. Zoom, stop, zoom, stop. After expending all that energy, they collapse to the sand and shelter behind a clump of seaweed, eyes closed to have a nap. Or if it’s cold or windy to nestle under Mum or Dad. Then it’s off again, zooming down to the wet sand to forage. Maybe back again to the dry sand for a bit of preening and to stretch out those two tiny appendages that one day they will discover have the capacity to lift them into the air and to safety.
Twenty-five days to go. Fingers and everything else crossed for this little one.