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

Coast Guardians twitch for Aussie Backyard Bird Count

Last month, the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee’s Coast Guardians from Geelong Lutheran College took part in the “Aussie Backyard Bird Count”, an annual citizen science project now in its sixth year run by BirdLife Australia.

Students learned to identify a few common species before the tally and used bird ID books, binoculars and the app field guide to identify as many birds as they could in a 20-minute period. With iPads in hand, ears and eyes ready to get twitching, students worked in groups to log their bird sightings into the app.

Year 9 students from Geelong Lutheran College logging their bird sightings into the Aussie Backyard Bird Count app.

The Coast Guardians submitted a total of 11 checklists, identifying 25 different species between the Gap and the wetlands in Torquay. Geelong Lutheran College has helped to make this location a great area of biodiversity with the revegetation of the Whites Gap car park area over a seven-year period participating in the Coast Guardians program.

The most common sighted bird at this location was the Welcome Swallow as there were a lot of insects buzzing around for them to snack on. The Red Wattlebird and New Holland Honeyeater were also in abundance. One special bird we were pleased to see was the Yellow-rumped Thornbill feeding on the ground beneath the bushes.

The Yellow-rumped Thornbill is the largest and probably the best-known
thornbill, with a striking yellow rump. Photo: BirdLife Australia.

We discussed where the data went to and its value in assisting scientists to spot indicator birds for change, which were most common, and which are declining in numbers. The students were amazed at how many birds they could spot, once they had practice in getting their eye in. This was a great lesson in patience and well-being in nature. The students found it relaxing and were keen to do more surveys.

As of publication, the count for Australia was over 106,000 lists submitted and over 3.6 million birds sighted across 680 species. What a brilliant opportunity for Coast Guardians to participate in a community activity and contribute to science and understanding of nature! Thanks to the app, anybody can contribute as a citizen scientists at www.aussiebirdcount.org.au/submit-a-count/.

Learn more about the Coast Guardians program and how your local school can become involved in this immersive environmental education program for year 9 students at www.gorcc.com.au/education/.

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. Visit us at www.gorcc.com.au.

Warmer weather brings hope for hoodies

Our much-loved Hooded Plovers have been busy with nests located at Point Impossible, Point Roadknight and Moggs Creek, all with three eggs.

The vulnerable beach-nesting shorebirds have one of the lowest survival rates of any species with only 1 in every 100 chicks reaching flying age. Read more