Day 117: Help save the Banded Rail

This was the first time that I have experienced Christmas outside the UK.

I’ve spent most of the last few months feeling a little disorientated by the weather.

It couldn’t possibly be Halloween when it was this warm, could it? A bad time to visit Vietnam in November because it’s cold you say? Is it really November? What do you mean it’s nearly Christmas? It’s 25°C outside.

I’ve found it remarkable how much I am guided by the seasons for noting and preparing for important dates. (My nieces have no idea how close they came to not being sent birthday cards. Of course, I have NO IDEA whether the cards got there, kids!)

What has been nice is doing something completely different to what I would normally do for Christmas. Something similar would make me, I don’t know about anyone else, miss the usual Christmas approach. Doing something utterly different makes it a new experience.

Example, pizza cooked in the garden while everyone is messing about in the outdoor pool is not a a typically Northern English experience in December… unless you’re undertaking an endurance feat for charity.

It’s what I did this year and it was great. Thank you to Tenzing’s sister for this.

On Boxing Day, the gang gathered to plot the day’s activities.

New Zealand would be on the move and, actually, there were already clear signs that people were up and about, loading up trucks and trailers to head off for their Summer Holidays.

The biggest clue was the queue of traffic outside the entrance to our motel. While moving quickly, it was the local equivalent of gridlock… it’s amazing how quickly your perceptions of usual change.

We headed down to McGregor Bay and the Coromandel Wetlands because there had been a report of a dead banded rail.

What a difference low tide makes to the view of the Bay.

Why does this matter?

Banded Rail are rare birds, having virtually disappeared from New Zealand since the 1970s.

Banded rail. Adult. Great Barrier Island, January 2014. Image © Bartek Wypych by Bartek Wypych

More information on the birds is available here.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is focusing on developing methods for surveying banded rails systematically such as ‘call counts’.

These take place with either an observer listening for set times at dawn or dusk using call lures, or with new automatic recorders (electronic recorders developed by the DOC Electronics Lab) recording calls remotely.

The Wetlands and the ‘Save the Wetlands’ sign

Volunteers from Coromandel Town and the surrounding town are taking part in this.

When a dead bird is reported, the body is collected for an autopsy to learn more about it and to find out what killed it… though it’s often a result of being hit by a car.

The rails spend their time prowling the mangrove plants in the Bay. They provide cover for the birds, protecting them from hawks.

As the tide rises, they have to return to the wetlands. The only route is across this road.

Why did the Rail cross the road?
Because safe passage beneath was blocked.

The birds risk two dangers – the cats and the hawks circling above.

We wondered why a safe crossing beneath the road hadn’t been created. In the UK, crossings have been created to allow hedgehogs to scuttle safely under rather than over the tarmac.

Ironically, there is a safe route.

It’s a water outlet from the wetlands to the Bay. It would be perfect but an unlisted gate has been placed across it blocking the birds’ potential escape tunnel.

It’s also restricting the flow of saltwater into the wetlands.

As I noticed throughout my time in Coromandel community environment action groups are not unusual in this area.

And the McGregor Bay Bay Wetlands also have a local group lobbying for greater efforts to conserve the area.

They have highlighted concerns about the unlisted gate but they’re also pointing out that this area could be a resource that would support the local economy and create jobs.

Wetlands so close to a town are unusual. This could be an accessible route for children, older people and for those with disabilities if a wooden boardwalk was built – which would also protect the ecology.

It does seem like a missed opportunity.

Categories: Environment, Nature/Landscapes, New Zealand, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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