Not the best tern breeding season

DESPITE hopes of a record breeding season for little terns at the Willis Creek Flat Top nesting area at Hearnes Lake Beach, the final tally of fledglings was just 16.

“With over 200 individual little terns arriving at the beginning of the season, there were high expectations of a bumper season, but unfortunately the birds suffered a series of disruptions that saw numbers drop to around 60 by the end of the season,” said Nigel Cotsell, council’s senior biodiversity officer.

“Next season council will look at closing the area at the first sign of little tern activity to ensure the birds settle and stay around to breed. It’s critical that the birds are able to establish themselves at a site without the additional stresses associated with vehicles, dogs, kite boards and people,” he said.

Little terns travel from Asia to breed locally in the sand flats along the east Australian coast at specific sites. The species is listed as endangered both statewide and nationally with threats including loss of breeding sites, disturbance and predators. The Willis Creek site has previously been identified as one of the most significant in NSW.

“Programs to protect threatened species in high public use areas are very difficult and can only be effective with the support and assistance of the community and other beach-users. But the measures are essential to ensure the survival of these birds,” said David Nalder, local National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger.

“NPWS, council and the community volunteers involved would like to extend their thanks to all beach users during this season.

“A special mention needs to be made of kite boarders who generally observed exclusion areas and kept outside these zones while still enjoying the surf and wind around Flat Top area.

“We are also all very appreciative of the work of the volunteers that assisted in this year’s program and look forward to their continued support over the coming seasons,” he said.

NPWS established a predator control program again this year to protect the nesting birds from foxes and cats.

“Part of the operation involved the establishment of ‘sand pads’ to detect the presence of predator tracks,” said Mr Nalder.

“While the predator tracks were useful in the study, several other interesting tracks were observed on the ‘sand pads’ over the duration of the program including a koala, bandicoot, goanna and possum.

“The predator program will run again next year when newly arrived birds are looking to select and establish themselves in areas that meet their ecological requirements for breeding. We are lucky that Hearnes Lake offers those environmental conditions.”

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