Mossburn senior pupils and Black billed gulls

Taken by Paul Davey

Mossburn senior pupils were captivated by the information they learned about
their local environment with their overnight stay at the North Etal hut in
the Dunrobin Valley in their last week of school in 2006.

The highlight was the enthusiastic talk and power point by black billed gull
researcher Rachel McClellan who encouraged questions to enable the students
to appreciate the vulnerable situation these gulls are in regarding their
depleted numbers. She explained how she is very interested in finding out
about banded birds in particular, encouraging the students to report any
sightings to her to help with her research. Students along with farmers will
notice these birds as they follow behind tractors at ploughing time, getting
the freshly turned up invertebrates. The birds seem to be very dependent on
farmland so periods of cold and drought make these vulnerable times for
them, with the big freeze in 1996 being a particularly devastating time for
Rachel does not know why their numbers have declined so rapidly, so suddenly
but she hopes they are plateauing at present. Students were concerned about
the effect of predators on the birds and especially the chicks before they

Birds do not go back to their same nesting site each year so rookeries have
to be found every year.

The students were very pleased to be able to report to Rachel that they had
found a new colony of about 1400 birds further up the Aparima River when
they had gone on a walk to the Aparima hut on the previous day. This was one
not known to her so she was taken to be shown their discovery.

With their raised awareness these students are not only be better informed
about their local area, but they can also keep contributing to on- going
research in to these special Southland birds.