Last Saturday, I volunteered to guard a pair of endangered Pied Oystercatchers (Haematopus longirostris) nesting on a beach in the Royal National Park, New South Wales (Australia). Before this, I had never heard of this species or neither did I know how they looked like. But that does not matter, does it? Google solved this problem fairly quickly for me. Ultimately, it was about giving this pair a chance to make it as this season’s new parents.
Please Note: The Pied Oystercatcher has been listed as 'endangered' under Schedule 1 of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 in New South Wales, Australia.
My shift was for two hours over a long weekend in Sydney with soaring temperatures welcoming the arrival of summer. Apart from a few blood boiling incidents, everything went pretty smoothly. I loved being there and contributing in this tiny way in the hope that 125 might become 127 at the end of this nesting season. So I put my hand up for another shift in the coming week Saturday. Before I go any further, here’s some background information.
While out on a walk, this endangered pair of Pied Oystercatchers were spotted by a local resident nesting in the middle of the beach. This was a defining moment as Pied Oystercatchers have not nested in this area in the last 20 years! Unfortunately, the location of their choice had some challenges. There are a handful of residential houses, a kayak hire outlet and a camping ground around the corner. Warmer temperatures over a long weekend meant a high influx of people from all over to frolic on the beach. Then, there was the problem with dogs. Dogs are not allowed in National Parks in Australia. So, what on earth were they doing here? Worst still, many were not even on leads. If you asked the owners, simple answer was, “Oh, I didn’t know!”. Most of them reacted well and took responsibility for their slight overlook, but not all of them did.
With help from the local council, a fence using metal stakes and strings had been erected around the oystercatchers’ nesting area. In addition, big sign boards and an interpretive signage were placed along the shoreline parallel to the fence line which politely asked for everyone’s cooperation to kindly refrain from standing and staring or getting too close. Well, this was not sufficient to keep away the over enthusiastic lingering photographers, curious dogs, or beach-goers stopping to take a closer look at the father oystercatcher braving temperatures as high as 35°C to protect his two precious eggs. This species are shy and avoid close contact with other species leading them to often leave their nest exposing the eggs to all sorts of elements.
Ever since my time at the beach last Saturday, all I could think about was the eggs. I often wondered what must be going through the pair’s mind. Do they know how important it is to make it, to have that fighting chance to remain just that much longer on this planet. I simply don’t know. I monitored their progress daily through the diary updates diligently provided by a dedicated local who single-handedly coordinated this whole show (including the volunteer rosters) watching the nesting pair from dawn to dusk. Each uneventful day met with the loudest sigh of relief from me, until three days ago.
I was at work when an email arrived in my inbox with the subject ‘Oystercatcher Diary – Final Day’. This confused me. Wait a minute! Final day? How could that be? I thought there were a couple more weeks to go. As I started reading the content, I could feel my heart breaking. Feral foxes got the last word. The diary update described how the oystercatchers called all morning, and then with one final call flew off into the horizon. Inconsiderate people, dogs running loose, high temperatures, bad location… but alas, it was a feral species that ended this watch.
Due to my previous work and studies, I am well aware of the problems feral foxes pose in Australia. It is not an easy problem to solve, neither is it cheap. Incidents like this only drives home the point of the absolute urgency of getting this problem under control before we lose any more precious wildlife. Because in my world, the word I hate most is ‘EXTINCTION’. Don’t you think it’s about time we make this word extinct?
Photo credit (Header): BotheredByBees / Foter / CC BY Photo credit (Pied Oystercatcher): Foter / GNU Free Documentation License