Topic: Fairy Tern Nesting at Te Arai Stream

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During November and December 2012 members of the Department of Conservation,Te Arai Beach Preservation Society, Te Arai Dotterel Care Group, About Tern and the NZ Fairy Tern Trust recorded the historic return of a nesting pair of fairy tern to Te Arai Stream. Whilst the stream has remained an important post breeding flocking site for fairy terns, this was the first record of a nesting in over two decades.


The return of fairy tern nesting at Te Arai Stream Mouth in 2012 was a significant milestone in the NZ fairy tern recovery programme as it raised the potential contemporary nesting sites from just four in the country to five.  The distribution of fairy tern has been drastically reduced over time, due in part to habitat modification.

Fairy Tern Distribution

Unlike other terns, the NZ fairy tern does not nest in colonies.  It also has very specific nesting requirements, from the shell/sand ratio of the site to the distance from fresh water.  They require remote open nest sites with distinct fishing territories and 360 degree views to guard its nest.   The provision of such sites, free of disturbance and predators, for the fairy tern to return to, is a key part of restoring its population.   For the past six years the Te Arai Dotterel Care Group, in conjunction with David Wilson at Warkworth Department of Conservation, have provided predator control and warden protection at the Te Arai Stream, helping to create an environment where the fairy tern can return to.  In 2012 that return was celebrated, though sadly the nest was abandoned/destroyed the night of the 6th of December, 2012. 

During the summer of 2013-14 the Mangawhai Wildlife Refuge, nine chicks fledged, including two chicks that were raised by the pair that nested at Te Arai Stream the year prior (their own eggs were infertile but they sucessfully raised two eggs transferred from Waipu) .  In successful breeding seasons such as this, issues of territory are intensified and rekindled sites such as Te Arai Stream mouth remain critical to the species population expansion. 

Audio Link - Johnny Kendrick discusses how the NZ fairy tern was historically found in large numbers at Mangawhai, Te Arai and Pakiri

Media Link- NZ Herald article on 2013/14 breeding season and disturbance of fairy tern by holiday makers.


The following volunteer diary log details the movements and behaviours of the NZ fairy tern pair at Te Arai Stream mouth, 2010, including incubating eggs, fish feeding changeovers as well as any disturbance the birds encountered. The pair made frequent use of the Te Arai stream and were relatively free of disturbance factors,  the 29th of November through to 6th of December 2012. 

Diary entries:

29 November, 2012


1400- Fairy tern female sitting continuously

1500- Male delivers fish

1503- Pilot Whales heading South

1510- 30+ gannet feeding frenzy south of ropes.

1615- Female still sitting has not gotten up since 3pm

1647- Male brings fish

1657- Female flys off

1705- Female returns to nest

1733- Male brings fish then flew off, female did 'housekeeping', moving shells around for 1 minute and then back on nest.

1735- Male aerial fight with swallow returned to nest site, rested 3 minutes then flew off.  Female did more housework and then settled on nest again.

1747- Male brought fish

1751- Male brought fish

1754- Male brought fish

1755- Male brought fish

30th November
0903- Female sitting, was fed fish
0908- Fish fed
0915-Fish fed
0916- Fish fed
0918- Fish fed
0922- Fish fed
0924- Fish fed
1022- Off nest to attack caspian
1025- On nest
1035- Dave [Wilson] checked for egg
1130- Change over
1238- Fish
1333- Off the nest- 2ft in flight
1340- Back on nest(possible change over)
1403- Fish
1430- sleeping
1526- mate arrived
1550- off the nest
1626- mate brought fish but sitting bird di not want it, ate it itself.
1638- possible changeover
1645- housekeeping
1655- white out with sand blowing, hard to see ft on nest
1715-1745 helped Reg, ft still sitting tight
1745- dotterel pair arrive from back dunes heading for beach with two brand new chicks.  One of three pairs we suspected nesting in the dunes.
1750- Male with fish, feeds female.  Nest changeover, mum moves north and preens.  Gone for flight over canal- fishing maybe.
1820- Reg has camera already to go out and will get Mark to help him carry it out.
1828- change over no fish fed- mate arrives straight back with fish, stands behind partner and gulps it down.
1850- Mark and Reg set up camera- ft's left nest, dive bombed and re settled after two  minutes.  Didn't move when Mark and Reg retreated.
1930-fish fed
1941- off nest for 1 minute due to gulls
1944- off nest for 1 minute due to gulls
2030- all quiet- heading home.

1st of December
0715- ft on nest, 1 fish feed. Settled when checked camera, not bothered. Change over, Female ft fishing and housekeeping, back on nest in 2 minutes. Male ft on nest. Off nest to chase dotterels, both birds..? Changeover . Male ft on nest.
1015- Male bird sitting on nest- all quiet.
1055- changeover
1105- fish feeding
1130- bird off nest
1140- returned to nest
1150- female (M-PgK) preening some way from nest.  Male on nest.
1155- changeover
1220- changeover she's off nest doing housework
1240- Male on nest. Dog on beach- other side of stream, Man with three dogs heading to the nest.  Sioux moved them off.
1255- changeover
1300- three people spoken to- quite interested.
1505- off nest for a few seconds
1600- bird on nest, not relaxed, looking about, mate briefly over by lagoon.  Gusty breeze, sand flying about at times.
1615- power nap(bird) shuffled right around, facing into wind.
1627- off to chase black backed gull.  Joined by mate.
1630- ? change over, other bird -> SE.  Shuffling, turning, very alert.
1640- 9 oz plovers wattled (9 too many)bathing, 2 pied stilts, 1 white faced heron in lagoon.
1700- 3 noisy oystercatchers did circuitf/t on nest alert.
1710- Off nest.  Mate arrived probable change over. 1 on nest(1 min), other flicking shells, then flew off SE to ocean.
1725- still getting white outs with wind gusts.
1730- off nest for 30 seconds. Flew up and back? chased dotterel, 2 peeps.
1742- Quick power nap.
1820- ft on nest
1840- fish fed
1909- changeover
1926- fish feed, partner flew off, some housekeeping.
1949- two young women walking beach- ft off nest and dive bombed- they unaware.
1950- ft back on nest
2020- ft chased off dotterel then flew off and around.  Dotterel moved over nest, ft returns, goes into a chase on dotterels and resettles.

Sunday 2nd of December
Weather- overcast, warm and windy.
0800- all well, f/t on nest
0900 - feed fish
0945- feed- large fish
1025- Jogger- off nest
1027- back on nest
1056- off nest- 3 ft in flight over stream
1057- back on nest
1231- off nest but immediately back on.
1320- both divebombing dotterels
1322- back on nest, mate resting 10m to left.
1335- both off nest over sea (dived maybe ?)
1336- back on nest
1402- ft fishing over stream, dived twice, came back with fish for sitting bird. Swallows attacking fishing bird.
1405- a second fish brought to the nest but eaten by fisher. Both then flew off to fish in stream, swallows hassling.
1406- back on nest, one bird still fishing in stream.
1415- Fishing bird came back to fight Black backed gull.  Other bird stayed on nest.  Then returned to preen near mate.
1416- off fishing again in stream then off to foreshore.
1422- VOC(Variable Oystercatcher) flew low over nest site. FT unconcerned but attacked a BBG (Black Backed Gull) soon after.
1430- alot of BB and RB gull activity at stream mouth.
1435- ft fishing in stream again.
1451- caspian tern fishing in stream
1500- 4 horses close to fence, even the tide low. FT stayed on nest. Dotterels perturbed.
1557- ft off nest for 30 seconds.  I think chasing a BBG
1619- ft off nest, hovering over nest.
1620- back on nest.
1638- changeover
1645- off the nest. 2 fts in flight, flying up to the dunes.
1648- 2 ft back on nest.  One flies off.
1728- off nest.
1729- back on nest.
1730- changeover.
1755- bird off nest, hammering a dot for approx 1 min, resettled in scrape.
1830- I very small dot chick seen- FANTASTIC
1834- changeover
1923-  sitting bird flew up calling, then flew in ESE (?) direction
1925- bird flew in from (?)west and settled on scrape.  I was looking through scope at the time so not really sure where the bird came from.
1942- 2 very small dotterel chicks in front of hide.
1947- 2 fts in air, calling, 1 landed and settled on scrape, could have been a changeover.
1950- 2nd ft back chasing dots, landed on big log, then both in air briefly, one back on scope.
1955- 2 extra ft being chased by resident bird.
2001-sitting bird up- blitzing dottie with x2 small chicks and/or the chicks.
2005- settled back on scrape.
2025- I quit- going home.

Monday 3rd of December
0745- f/t on nest
0810- f/t flys in by nest
0815- f/t flys away
0947- f/t back
0948- off nest fly around
0949- back on nest
1000- Male f/t feeds female f/t on nest, flys out to sea
1020- Male f/t returns. Female f/t on nest, flys out to sea.
1021- Both f/t fly away
1022- Both f/t return, one settles on nest, 1 leaves.
1028- Both f/t at nest
1030- Male f/t leaves
1031- Female fairy tern on nest. Adult dotterel comes near, chased away by Male f/t.
1035- both f/t present
1036- changeover on nest
1055- one came back, both flew away, one came back to nest- this was repeated a couple of times within a couple of minutes (several dotterels running about nearby)
1105- changeover on nest
1111- f/t left nest- f/t returned in about 1 minute
1238- changeover on nest
1310- f/t landed and preened for 5 minutes before a change over
1332- f/t disturbed by BBG x 2 flying over, flew off nest but returned in seconds.
1334- 2nd f/t flew in, said hi, then was off again.
1341- f/t off nest to chase dotterel that came close
1345- 2nd f/t returned and preened
1353- changeover
1416- f/t left nest. Saw two flying around, then one returned to nest ?Changeover.
1422- f/t flew in. Fish feed them off.
1430- Watched f/t fishing in canal.  Returned with another fish.
1442- f/t returned with quite large fish which was gobbled down.
1450- Another large fish delivered, about twice the length of her beak.  An interested bird watcher walking along the beach said he had been watching him fish in the sea, up and down by the canal mouth, in the shallow water.  Also up behind the hide, in the canal, where we can't see him.
1520- (Must have been mistaken about changeover as there have been three fish feeds in quick succession) A couple from the canal but didn't see where the 3rd one came from, she must be nearly bursting.
1535- Another fish!
1541- Another fish!  The female must feed the male as well.  How could one little bird eat all those fish?
1600- changeover
1725- off nest 2 f/t in flight> swallow and oystercatcher crossed nest site on foot, f/t dive bombed x5
1726- back on nest
1810- housekeeping, VOC nest 3 eggs well left of the hide looking out to sea. Dott nest 3 eggs 10 metres from the VOC nest
1930- changeover

Tuesday 4th December

0715- f/t on nest
0805- 2 f/t flying around, possible changeover
1020- bird off nest- flying with other f/t
1025- Bird back on nest- changeover?
1125- changeover
1200- David (Wilson) arrived and Chris (Wild)- f/t flew up.  Bird on nest stayed put.
1202- Changeover

1244- Both birds in air.  One returns to nest, the other flies to sea.
1304- Bird arrives at nest with long pale fish.  Both birds in air.  The female is led c. 5m from nest.  Both birds fly to river.  One returns to nest, the other bathes then preens near the nest.
1310- preening bird flies low over the water out to sea.
1329- Bird returns from ocean, dips bill in river then flies to nest.  Changeover.  Sitting bird walks away "gardening" then flies to river, bathes, preens.
1341- Bird at the river flies out to sea, high.
1350- Reg visits.
1400- Other bird returns, flies over nest, flies back out to sea.
1415- Sitting bird briefly off nest to chase a black-backed gull.
1425- Bird gets up, flies around over nest, stis back on nest.
1433- Changeover, relieved bird flies out to sea.
1457- Helicopter flies over. f/t stays on nest.
1511- Bird arrives with long, pale fish and eats it beside nest. Preens on beach.
1525- changeover.  Relieved bird "gardens" and then flies to river. Another changeover.  One bird on nest with the other preening beside it, until it flew away c 1530.
1615- 2nd bird flew in and sat a few metres away. No changeover, flew over to lagoon to bathe.  Preened a few metres from nest.
1625- changeover
1715- changeover
1730- f/t left nest to dive bomb dotterel that was too close.
1550- 2nd f/t returns and preens nearby.
1752- changeover
1805- extra f/t chased off towards refuge
1813- returned camera f/t divebombed through the 3 minutes it took me to do it. Then returned to nest as I retreated.
1905- f/t left nest to hassle dotterel.
1925- Two teenage boys came and played at stream.  Went into fence and threw stones at VOCs for 2 minutes then left.  f/t undisturbed but dotterels on nth side upset.

Wednesday 5th December
1945- alls well. f/t fishing in canal.
2115- Off nest 40 sec.
2138- changeover.
1000- Lyn takes over - strong northerlies
f/t hunkered down, showers, nothing else happening visibility nil.
1120- f/t flew away and straight back.
1135- f/t flew in both preened no fish feed, weather cleared a bit.
1230- 5 horses from north to south.  Very compliant.  Kept moving and stayed outside roped off areas. f/t flew off nest for a few seconds, flew over them and returned to sitting. f/t mate flew over them for awhile.
Horsey people did stop at canal and looked up canal, saw Reg's ATV and then our hide- not sure if that is why they were compliant or whether they would have anyway, gave them the benefit of doubt.
1330- f/t fed by mate, I think from stream.
1430- One on nest, Northerly sprung up and heavy rain.
1445- Cleared, mate returned, no changeover, gone again. Gulls chased away by f/t.
1455- Both there- one on nest still - preening.
1540- Jane (Vaughan) arrived- both birds down.
1550- One on nest.  One preening to left. Preener waddled to nest.  Changeover.
1615- Heavy rain.  Bird shaking rain off beak. Wings stood up, shook.
1618- fish feed and changeover.  Rain stopped.
1625- peeping to the right. birds off nest, absent for less than one minute. Changeover.
1635- Peeping.  Off nest? Changeover .
1648- 10 white fronted terns preening after fishing in sea 20 metres to the right. f/t not fussed.
1655- f/t mate flew by no changeover
1715- A f/t flew over nearby calling, sitting bird looked up briefly then went back to sleep.
1718- Flew off? same one returned within 30 seconds from high- another f/t not seen.
1722- all white fronted terns flew off. f/t on nest looked up, back to sleep
1725- mate landed 20 m away calling preening.  Sitting bird doing housework, stood to do more. Shuffled eggs.  Sat again. snoozing.
1735- sitting bird off. Changeover.
1755- Snoozing 2 dotterel chicks under Mum---> R
1800- mate came in with extremely long fish, which it ate then flew off.  No changeover. 2 ps, 4 VOCs, 3RBG 5 KT onshore, 26 WFTerns resting at stream mouth, 4 caspian 9 BBG.
1805- ft on nest, ft fishing in stream- raining
1808- fish, small brown, fed to ft on nest- both off to check out Jane who is leaving.  Fish caught on the 4th dive.
1809- Back on nest- don't know if changeover or not.
1810- ft fishing again, rain easing, rain stopped.
1811- ft relieved, both off again.
1812- ft back on nest.  Bird sleeping beak underwing.
1830- Both birds in air to word off BBG.  The one off to sea.  Other on nest.
1840- 2 paradise duck in stream, both ft by nest.
1845- wind dropped turned NW.  One ft sleeping on nest, other preening.
1850- Change over.  Relieved bird housekeeping moving shells 3 minutes then flew off to coast.  Nest bird sleeping head underwing.
1859- Shag flew low over nest non-sitting bird came calling and attacked then back to coast.
1923- nest bird off to attack dotterel then back on.
1940- bird off nest to attack two other fairy tern heading north along shore.
1945- light rain again from NW.  Non nest bird flying around the area like it was checking area out then back to nest.  Called to mate but didn't land.
1950- 2 BBG cruising.  Saw 2 newly fledged dotterels have short flights.  Saw two dotties with 2 and another with 3 bumble bee chicks.
1935- shower over.
2000- ft came in from south, fed fish to ft on nest, long silver fish.  Flew off to sea.
2002- returned and chased off VOC.  Then divebombing something on shore out of sight, calling.
2010- bird off nest. back on one minute.
2030- VOC and dotterels in dunes by Norfolk.

Thursday 6th of December

0730- alls well. 1 ft on nest.
0810- white out, sea fog.
0815- alls well f/t on nest.
0825- white out.
0832- alls well, ft on nest
0838- ft off nest
0840- back on nest
0845- mate flying in two metres away
0850- flys off nest
0851- ft on nest, mate gone.
0913- flys off nest
0914- back on nest
0925- mate back
0926- mate gone
0930- chased off dotterel
0931- back on nest
0940- mate flys in
0941- mate flies off
0942- mate flies back
0943- can't see a thing
0944- mate feeds fish
0945- still on nest, sand white out.
0948- mate chasing some bird? can't see -sand
1020- shuffling eggs and body rearranging self on nest
1025- male arrived sitting beside
1027- flew off nest towards sea- male straight on nest
1037- looking at eggs rearranging body
1038- sitting tight
1050- left nest- can't see- back on nest- was telling off a dotterel
1051- off again
1051- on nest again- dotterels have left
1101- dotterel back, left nest to chase dotterel
1101- back on quietly
1136- male back.
1137- both flown off, BBGulls are circling area.
1137- back on nest- and male arrives- standing beside.
1138- changeover male flown off.
1145- two backpackers walking past- flew off nest
1145- straight back on nest.  Back packers had walked up to the rope, thought about it and then lifted up rope and walked under.  I stood up and  made my presence known.  They immediately retreated and went on their way down beach toward quarry end.- 1F and 1M.
1200- moderate NW  breeze, overcast.
1218- attendant bird flies out to sea.
1243- sitting bird gets up and flies with incoming bird, incoming bird gets on nest.  Relieved bird dives into river a few times and then rests on the beach.  Preens.  Flies away.
1249- sitting bird up briefly to chase a passing white fronted tern off the beach.
1252- Other bird returns from river, chases a white fronted tern off the beach.  Flies to sea.
1300-1400 Attendant bird fishing in stream or resting on beach.
1420- Both birds in the air chasing a third fairy tern which flew past from the south, heading north.
1440- Changeover.  Relieved bird bathes in river and preens.
1459- Changeover- Relieved bird bathes in river and preens, then preens on beach
1510- relieved bird flies to sea.
1600- warm overcast slight drizzle
1613- two horse riders threatened to cross the tape if high tide.  Yelled abusively about space nest fences taking up.  Bird stayed on nest.
1623- changeover
1718- Sitting bird rotated 360 degrees,  egg turning.
1730- More egg turning and preening
1735- off nest briefly to fly with other fairy tern.  Returned oceanward- may be fishing at sea also.
1742- change over - no fish.
1746- back on nest
1748- briefly off and on nest- unclear as to disturbance factor- perhaps BBG in stream mouth.
1751- 3 ft in air, male arrived- ft off nest- 2 ft after vehicle.
1752- back on nest.
1830- changeover
1853- flew off nest after BBgull.
1854- another ft chased by resident.  Back on nest but two still fighting mid air over canal.  Mate flew in with fish, which was refused so he ate it.  Sun out- he fishing in canal.
1950- Nothing to report.  One snoozing other preening and having the odd fishing trip.



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Fairy Tern Nesting at Te Arai Stream by Te Arai Kete is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License