by Chris Tobin
Coming upon a scene of carnage at a Rangitata River mouth bird colony after last Wednesday’s hailstorm was devastating, Department of Conservation ranger Ian Fraser says.
“I’ve been with Doc for 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In less than 10 minutes around noon last Wednesday, hundreds of nesting tara/white-fronted terns and black-billed gulls were either killed or severely injured and an unknown number of eggs smashed in the storm.
A Rangitata reserve resident, who was one of the first on the scene, told The Courier the destruction stretched for about 1.5km along the beach.
Mr Fraser said Doc was advised dozens of birds had been affected by the storm but when he and two other staff arrived on the scene they were shocked to find the number was in the hundreds.
He and the other rangers then spent Thursday afternoon and Friday euthanasing about 250 terns and 20 gulls.
When they approached the birds, those that were able flew away but others could only hobble.
“Their wings had been smashed.
“A rough estimate is that [before the storm] there were 1500 white-fronted terns and a smaller colony of a couple of hundred black-billed gulls.
Not counting the nearly 300 birds which had to be euthanased, Mr Fraser estimated more than 400 white-fronted terns and more than 100 black-billed gulls were killed in the storm.
Euthanasing so many birds had been a “brutally hard business”, Mr Fraser said.
“It’s awful for wildlife when you have a colony exposed like that and a storm hits.
Many eggs were smashed, while the eggs of birds killed had been left unprotected.
Three hundred and fifty of the dead birds had been put in a freezer.
“They will be gifted to Arowhenua marae to use the feathers for cultural purposes.
“There are still a couple of hundred out there that will float out to sea,” he said.