Newly-opened Tara Iti course in NZ already helping bird conservation

Newly-opened Tara Iti course in NZ already helping bird conservation
Tara Iti (photo: Joann Dost)
Adam Lawrence
By Adam Lawrence

The new Tara Iti golf club on New Zealand’s North island recently celebrated its official opening. On the day, endangered shore birds outnumbered golfers on the property by nearly ten to one, according to the club – a fact of which it is very proud.

Developers Legacy Partners say their plan for the property has always been about slow, careful development of what is a very sensitive ecosystem, one of just four places in New Zealand where the critically endangered fairy tern continues to breed.

Avian references abound at Tara Iti. The club is named for the fairy tern – deploying the local Maori term, Tara-iti. The club logo features a fairy tern in flight. Upon acquiring this property, club founders established the Te Arai and Mangawhai Shorebirds Trust to conserve and protect fairy terns in addition to other at-risk shorebirds on the Mangawhai Wildlife and the Mangawhai Marginal Strip. In addition to sourcing and providing funds necessary to the preservation, protection and fostering of these shorebirds, the Trust is charged with actively promoting growth in the number of threatened shorebirds.

According to David Wilson, a Department of Conservation ranger at the Mahurangi/Warksworth Office, that effort is paying off. Thirty-seven fairy terns were assessed here at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. That figure has grown to an estimated 40 -- a small but appreciable increase for such a critically endangered species. A new breeding season has begun, but progress can be painstaking and highly variable.

“We are only aware of nine live females which are old enough to breed,” Wilson said. “This gives a maximum of nine breeding pairs that could breed this summer, compared with 11 last summer. The remaining 30 or so birds are either adult males, or birds which are too young to breed – most are probably capable of breeding in their second summer after fledging. Good progress with predator control in the last year or two means that storms during the breeding season are the other major threat to breeding success. Last season, storms killed five out of 11 chicks.”

The Tara Iti property (indeed, the entire shoreline stretching north from Te Arai Point) has long been home to dense, non-native tree cover that provided shelter to all manner of fairy tern predators. The clearing and development of Tara Iti GC, in addition to selective clearing for housing sites, has played a major role in aiding what Wilson calls ‘predator control’.

“We're all hoping for a healthy breeding season,” said Legacy's Michael Pleciak. “But it does appear our cleaning up the forest has, as we'd anticipated, removed many of the fairy tern’s predators. For that we must thank the diligent work of local rangers in helping to make this happen.”

The conservation effort at Tara Iti extends beyond the borders of Te Arai. According to club GM Matt Guzik, Auckland-based Parkland Products – a distributor of golf course equipment – recently donated a Toro Workman vehicle to the cause. Golf cart manufacturer EZGO donated yet another all-terrain vehicle. Both will be dedicated to Trust activities.

“These small, four-wheel drive utility vehicles are a huge help,” Guzik explained. “Prior to their donation, Department of Conservation wardens had to load all their monitoring equipment onto kayaks and paddle across the estuary to the breeding ground -- or walk 90 minutes to the nesting sites. Now they can quickly reach the breeding ground over land and the club can store all their equipment and materials on site, including the vehicles.”


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