22nd March 2019

Pūkorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust’s intensive campaign to catch 10 Pacific Golden Plover – or Kuriri – to fit with satellite tags has come to a halt for now with three birds successfully processed and poised to head for their Arctic home under the watchful eyes of the Argos Satellite Network some time in the next 2-4 weeks.

The 3 Kuriri fitted with transmitters this year

Active preparations for this began six months ago with a team of volunteer observers, led by JoJo Doyle, recording the birds every movement they made after arriving back in New Zealand.

The catching began on 18 February with the arrival of the world expert on Pacific Golden Plover, Wally Johnson from Montana State University, and a team of expert plover netters from Brigham Young University Hawaii. They were joined by a team of New Zealand’s most experienced banders led by Adrian Riegen.

The first day we didn’t quite succeed in luring any Kuriri into the canon-net catching area on the Stilt Ponds though around 40 hovered on the edge until they were spooked by a young Kahu. But that night we set mist-nets at the Limeworks and caught two birds.

And that, for a long time, was that. Different canon netting sites were promising at times but the wary plovers stayed clear of the catching area. Mist-nets caught a few Wrybills, godwits and even swallows but no plovers.

Eventually the Americans had to go home. Wally, who has studied these birds for 40 years, expressed amazement at how wary our Kuriri are. Their behaviour is, he said, nothing like what he has found in the rest of the Pacific. To illustrate the point he showed us photos of one plover sitting on a man’s arm and feeding from his hand, and another of a bird being caught by a net gun fired from a car while it was roosting on a traffic island in front of a shopping centre.

The New Zealand team kept going and eventually, on the very last night, caught a Kuriri in a mist-net at the Limeworks. The volunteers were willing to keep going but Adrian felt everyone was emotionally and physically exhausted and in need of a rest. In addition, he was reluctant to put the birds through the stress of being caught and tagged too close to their migration date.

The first bird caught, a small male, was named Jim after project co-ordinator Jim Eagles. The second was called JoJo after volunteer co-ordinator JoJo Doyle. The third was called Amanda after this season’s summer shore guide Amanda Hunt who put a huge effort into find out about the birds. All three have been tagged, released and seen looking in good health.

Wally commented that he has noticed physical differences between birds from Siberia and those from Alaska and, based on those, Jim may come from Siberia and the two females from Alaska. So, as Jim commented, ‘if we’re extremely lucky and all our tagged birds complete the migratory cycle we should have some very interesting information from both sides of the Bering Strait.’

The remaining seven satellite tags will be kept alive, by recharging and re-setting them each month, and the catching will resume next summer using tactics which have been revised as a result of this year’s experience and the data gathered by JoJo, Amanda and the other volunteers. The reports from the tags on Jim, JoJo and Amanda will be collected by Lee Tibbitts at the US Geological Survey, passed on to us and, as soon as the data has been analysed, the results will be posted on this website.

Visit the Where’s Goldie? main Pacific Golden Plover Project page for more information.

Catching efforts over for the season