One Little Tern Deserves Another – awareness grows because of local campaigners

A ‘little tern’ mysteriously appears in a Sawtell fig tree.


Each year, when Little Terns arrive to breed on the Bongil Bongil National Park sand spit at the mouth of
Bonville Creek, other ‘Terns’ mysteriously appear in the fig trees in the centre of First Avenue, Sawtell.

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As well, posters materialise in village businesses and signs are erected at entry points to Bonville Creek to encourage both locals and visitors to be aware of the need to care for these nesting endangered seashore birds.

Two Sawtell citizens, who wish to remain anonymous, began their awareness-raising campaign eight years ago,
in the hope that the nesting site is better respected and protected by locals and tourists alike.

Little Terns spend Australia’s winter in eastern Asia then fly six thousand kilometres back to Australia’s coast line
to breed.

They are only slightly bigger than a budgerigar and lay their well-camouflaged eggs in a small scrape in the sand.

This leaves their eggs vulnerable to the elements, unsuspecting beachgoers and predators.

The newly hatched chicks initially shelter in the dunes amongst driftwood and beach grass then move to the
water’s edge as they grow ready for their first flight.

By February/March all of the Little Terns, adult and young, have left Sawtell on their way back to the northern

The Sawtell breeding site is one of the most important and successful in NSW, largely due to the care and
support of the local community and the National Park rangers who fence off the nesting area and monitor the
birds each summer.

For most years, the breeding has been successful, but, in the 2017-18 breeding season, no chicks were
observed, primarily because of a dog owner who ignored signs and was observed to let his dog run through the
fences around the nests on several occasions.

Domestic dogs, which are prohibited in all NSW national parks and nature reserves, remain the primary threat to
Sawtell’s threatened shorebirds.

In 2016-17, volunteers estimated that 45 chicks hatched, making it the most prolific breeding season on the
Bongil Spit for at least seven years.

After an absence of a few years Sawtell’s Little Terns returned during the 2019-20 summer and successfully raised
over 20 chicks.

The campaigners told News Of The Area that more people seem to be aware of the Little Terns because interest
in the ‘Terns’ in the trees sparks conversations and raises awareness.


By Andrew VIVIAN

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