All is well in the plover world, at least at the Waterworks Reserve.
A plover family I watched all summer survived a tortuous breeding season with their family intact. Four eggs were laid in September and by year’s end four juveniles were happily joining their parents on feeding forays on the grassy reservoir walls within the reserve.
Over two decades of visiting the reserve near my home in Dynnyrne, I have always been delighted by the antics of the masked lapwings, as they are more formally known outside of Tasmania. Near the end of winter I watched their elaborate courtship rituals, the male dancing and skipping around his chosen female. Nests buried in long grass were usually out of sight but soon tiny chicks on spindly legs appeared. The fluffy black-and-white offspring would hide under their mother’s legs when danger threatened, summoned to her side by screeching alarm calls.
At this time visitors to the Waterworks were also subjected to dive-bombing by the male, a common occurrence for people straying too close, often unwittingly, to plover breeding habitat during the spring and summer months.
The plovers – although they can look threatening – are more show and bluster than menace and, unlike magpies, never do damage with beak, claw or the spur they carry on their wings. The spurs are designed to provide the plovers with protection on the ground from predators like Tasmanian devils and quolls.
But at the Waterworks it became clear in recent years that the resident plovers had no protection against another foe – feral cats.
About three years ago I noted a dramatic build-up of cat numbers, sometimes seeing three or four cats around the BBQ stands after visitors had left in the late afternoon. It appeared the cats were feeding on BBQ left-overs and at the same time preying on the local fauna.
Suddenly brown and barred bandicoots vanished, along with bettongs. And the plovers also stopped breeding.
The toll mirrored the impact cats are having on wildlife across Australia. A team of researchers from Charles Darwin, Deakin and the National University of Australia in 2020 came up with an estimate that suggested cats killed more than a million birds every day across Australia.
When the scale of the cat predation at the Waterworks became known the Hobert City Council took action and carried out a cat eradication program. The wildlife bounced back and once again I could delight in the antics of the plover family.
Four eggs, four chicks, the plovers went beyond my expectations, because the loss to predators of a chick or two from a clutch is not uncommon.
By mid-summer there was a new generation of plovers to ensure that these eccentric birds with all their bluster and squawking will rule the roost at the reserve in years to come.