Out on the shellbank discussing cannon net placement. Image credit: Jim Eagles

As 2020 came to a close, and holiday plans and last minute work pressures consumed many people’s thoughts, the Pacific Golden Plover team had their minds on more ornithological matters – another attempt to catch some PGPs and fit them with transmitters. A plan was hatched for a weekend with favourable tides and preparations began.

Satellite transmitters were charged and scheduled, cannon netting gear cleaned and repaired, and a group of willing volunteers assembled. Jim Eagles spent the days leading up to Tagging Day making multiple trips out to the foreshore to plot the PGPs’ movements with the hope of predicting the movements of these most unpredictable birds. On Friday evening Jim pinpointed the area on the outer shell bank where the birds had roosted and this became the planned site for the weekend’s tagging attempt.

Saturday morning dawned fine but windy. The PGP team trekked out through ankle-deep mud to the shell bank, taking a load of cannon netting gear with them, but the wind from the south west was varying between unpleasant and downright brutal. There was a good chance that firing the net in these condition would have resulted in the net being blown backwards or coming down too slowly, either way leading to all the birds escaping, and spooking them for subsequent attempts.

With the wind not expected to ease for a month or so, the decision was made to put a net in the PGPs’ second favourite place – at the Limeworks, about 500 metres away. This site was slightly more sheltered and easier to manage, so the net was laid out here and the team retired to the Shorebird Centre for lunch and to wait for the evening high tide.

Setting the cannon net at the Limeworks. Image credit: Jim Eagles

Late afternoon, back in situ, the team carefully counted 10 PGPs hunkered down exactly where Jim had said they would be – on the shellbanks. Tony Habraken went out onto the shell to flush these birds out. He successfully flushed 39 (I know! they must have been hunker hunkered down) out onto the mud just in front of him. They showed no inclination to go anywhere else, especially not towards the Limeworks so the net was left for the morning and the team went off to the Fish and Chip shop in Kaiaua.

On Sunday at 5am the sea was a millpond and there was barely a breath of wind. The PGPs were in the bay in front of the shell bank and in spite of being asked politely to go to the Limeworks they stayed put. Even Jim advancing on them didn’t bother them. The tide turned and any chance of catching the birds was lost. The team was prepared to stay for the evening’s tide but the wind was predicted to be back to full force – and it was, so everything was packed away it was back to the Centre for fresh muffins. All except Adrian who could not get his van started. The key would not turn in the ignition. Phone calls and Google searches to see what the problem might be all suggested a worn out key. Adrian’s wife searched the house in West Auckland for the spare key and arrived a couple of hours later with said key. Would it work? Yes it did, which was a huge relief.

Trying to persuade the PGPs to visit the Limeworks. Image credit: Jim Eagles

No PGPs were caught or harmed in the making of this story but let’s be honest who really thought we would catch any at the first attempt. After all, these are elite PGP not your Hawaiian traffic island, McDonalds car park sort of PGPs. We will be back. All in all a memorable weekend but not in the way we had hoped. Thanks once again to the great team effort and Olga’s jokes, which will cheer up the bleakest day.

Adrian Riegen

The Great PGP Miss
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