Season looks bright for Surf Coast hooded plovers

There was cause for celebration at Whites Beach last month as we saw the first hooded plover chick fledge for the season.

It was a celebratory moment for the Friends of the Hooded Plover Surf Coast volunteers and the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee (GORCC) conservation team, who put plenty of work into giving the chick the best chance of survival.

What makes this such a rewarding occasion for those involved, is just how tough it is for these birds to fledge (take first flight) given the challenges faced in their environment. Hooded plovers have just a 2.5% survival rate, therefore having just one or two success stories over the nesting season through September – March is a great achievement.

A hooded plover scrape (nest), with two eggs, demonstrates how difficult it is to spot camouflaged hooded plover eggs on the beach. Note the shoe prints to the left of the scrape.

The shore-nesting birds, fondly referred to as ‘hoodies’, encounter many obstacles over the breeding season. Inclement weather and high tides can wash away nests; predators, such as larger birds, cats and foxes prey on the eggs and chicks; and disturbances from humans and dogs keep parents off their nests as they try to steer perceived threats away.

GORCC Conservation Supervisor Evan Francis said it was a hugely satisfying feeling and thanked all the volunteers and members of the public for playing their part in helping the chick survive.

Evan said it was “very rare” for an egg to make it through to the hatchling stage, which takes 30-35 days for incubation, while it takes another 30 days for a chick to fledge.

Given these factors, Evan was excited to have a much-anticipated success story.

“It’s rewarding, it’s hard to not get attached when you’re out there every second day, you get invested,” he said.

A young hooded plover chick. Photo: Glenn Ehmke.

“We just want to thank everyone for being such good friends of the bird.

“People are more understanding now, most locals are fully aware of them, I think it’s been a success.”

Local volunteers do a wonderful job wardening the nests and educating passers-by, and in this case Friends of the Hooded Plover Surf Coast, led by Jan Lierich, have contributed greatly.

Volunteers like Jan help keep the public informed, ensuring the birds’ safety and bringing plenty of passion to the cause.

Jan said it was heartening to see the chick fledge and said the volunteer group, consisting of roughly 12 members, were proud to play a role in the process but stressed it could not have been done without a number of supporting bodies.

“It’s a team effort. We just want to thank the community and the people who use the beach, because of their help we’ve been able to have a fledgling,” she said.

A juvenile hooded plover prepares to fledge. Photo: Glenn Ehmke.

GORCC has recently been implementing temporary exclusion zones, to help protect the birds and alert the public to nest sites.

The temporary exclusion zones have so far proved promising. Evan said there had been great cooperation from the public and from the two times temporary exclusion zones have been put in place two chicks have managed to fledge.

GORCC currently manages six breeding areas along the coastline at Whites Beach, Point Roadknight, west of Point Roadknight tip, Anglesea, Fairhaven and Moggs Creek.

The conservation team does weekly checks to identify new nesting areas and has found the introduction of fencing and signage over the last 5-7 years has made a big difference in giving shorebirds the best opportunity to thrive.

A pair of hooded plovers.

The breeding season continues to look positive with the news of two hooded plover chicks hatching at Aireys Inlet in late February. To give the chicks the best chance of survival a temporary exclusion zone has been erected at the nesting site, just to the west of Painkalac Creek estuary mouth. The exclusion zone will be in place until the chicks have fledged.

Until then, the team at GORCC and volunteers from Friends of the Hooded Plover Surf Coast have our fingers crossed for another hoodie success story.

About us
The Great Ocean Road Coast Committee is a State Government body responsible for protecting, enhancing, and developing coastal Crown land from Point Impossible to Cumberland River. All funds raised through the organisation’s commercial endeavours are reinvested back into the coast. www.gorcc.com.au