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Not the Easter Bunny, but the Spotted Shag

On Easter weekend we finally got out to the Noises for some much-needed R&R on the little jewel that is Ōtata Island. After a slow journey out, dodging the recreational fishing armada we managed to disembark upon the pebbles and lug our gear up the beach to our respective camps. The loud squawking that immediately ensued on the Island, came not from the pied shag colony near our camp, but from my outraged uncle Rod, whose prized easter egg had mysteriously departed its last known location. Turned out the siblings were at it again and mum had sneakily stashed said egg, although not well enough to defeat Rod’s finely tuned chocolate sense that quickly led him to be reunited with his treasure.

While the large confectionary piece was indeed magnificent, the true treasures showed up on our last day as we were all preparing to leave.

Mum, having gone to commune with the seals one last time before departure looked up to see that there were no less than three Spotted Shags hanging out with the decoys. After a quick phone call, the rest of us piled into the boat eager to see this wonder for ourselves. Sure enough, there they were, three little Spotted Shags with their green eye patches and tufted mohawks blending in amongst the decoys. It’s a wonder that we didn’t frighten them off with the torrent of excited jabber that began issuing from both boat and kayaks. As far as I know, there had only been sightings of single spotted shags visiting the mock colony, so seeing three at once boded very well for the potential success of the experiment.

Having calmed enough to get the boat underway again we said our goodbyes to the three prospective tenants that perched on the white paint spackled rock, stoked to have witnessed their visit. Turning to go however we saw a whole squadron coming in for a landing, 16 more Spotted Shags, all descending on the same little rock. If three had caused a stir within our ranks, I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what the sight of 19 of these feathery wonders did to the mood on the boat. After several confusing attempts to count them all and having taken more photos and videos than tweens at a Beiber concert, we watched as the Shags took off together to continue with their day.

It was an amazing way to end a great weekend, out in the beautiful Hauraki Gulf.


Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland Museum, Curator of Land Vertebrates, Matt Rayner, says “The spotted shag project on Ōtata Island was set up as an experimental attempt to see if is possible to attract birds back to former breeding sites on The Noises using dummies shags and acoustic playback. See additional information here. An ultimate measure of success will be if we are able to establish a breeding population on the islands, though this could take many years and also require better protection of the marine environment surrounding The Noises. However, it is incredibly encouraging that the artificial colony appears attractive to spotted shags visiting the area, and even if the goal of establishing a breeding colony is not successful on The Noises this knowledge could prove very useful in the management of the endangered spotted shag population in the gulf into the future”. 


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