Annette Harrison, a student from the University of New England, keeps a watchful eye yesterday on pied oystercatchers at Wardel
Annette Harrison, a student from the University of New England, keeps a watchful eye yesterday on pied oystercatchers at Wardel

Spying on birds can be touchy business

By DAWN COHEN

MR and Mrs Touchy lounge on South Ballina Beach daily while Annette Harrison spies on them.

The over-stressed couple of pied oystercatchers is one of 18 breeding pairs at South Ballina watched for an hour daily by Ms Harrison, a University of New England PhD student.

"Some pairs with young are super cool," said Ms Harrison, herself the mother of a 14-monthold girl. "But others, like the couple we named Mr and Mrs Touchy, panic at the slightest disturbance."

There are only 250 of the longbeaked birds, a threatened species, in NSW. Ballina is home to 70 of them.

Ms Harrison's research will help the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) find how best to protect pied oystercatchers between Sawtell and South Ballina.

"When pied oystercatcher parents stress, they deliberately leave their nests to lure predators away from their young," she said.

"A few days ago, a nesting pair was disturbed by some kids playing on the dunes.

"The birds went right to the water's edge, flapping about, pretending they were injured.

"If the disturbance continues, they can stay away for an hour.

"The eggs may not hatch or a real predator may get the chick."

Last year only one Ballina fledgling survived to test out its new wings. It was, however, run over by a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

"People don't realise they are stopping a chick being born, just by going too close the dunes or the birds," Ms Harrison said.

Pest management officer for the DEC, Lisa Wellman, said a baiting program helped protect the coastal dwellers from another danger ? foxes.

"Before we started fox baiting between South Ballina to Broadwater in 1997, only one bird fledged in three years," she said.

"Since then we have seen nearly 79 fly off."

However, the annual fox baiting program, carried out during the pied oystercatcher season from August to December, is not foolproof.

Bob Moffatt, an environmental project officer contracted to carry out and monitor the baiting, said last year a fox avoided three bait stations to gorge on a nest of chicks and a rat.

"Some are very cunning," he said.

For information, call DEC, Parks and Wildlife Devision on 6627 0020.



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