Four tiny but highly camouflaged eggs in two tiny scrapes on sand dunes at Waipu in Northland signal the start of another desperate breeding season for New Zealand's rarest bird, the fairy tern.
The distinctive fluttering and darting flight of the smallest New Zealand tern is now limited to fewer than 50 birds struggling to breed at only four sites in lower Northland.
They were once common around New Zealand shores from Golden Bay to the Far North but cats, ferrets, and stoats, habitat loss and disturbance during the breeding season have diminished their population.
Dedicated bands of volunteers guided by Department of Conservation rangers and ornithologists have for several weeks been monitoring the breeding sites at Papakanui spit on the Kaipara harbour, Pakiri, Mangawhai and Waipu.
Early last week the first two eggs were located in an area locally known as "North Crater" on the Waipu spit. On Friday the second pair were found further north in an area potentially more susceptible to tidal surge. DoC coastal advocacy ranger Matiu Mataira, who oversees the department's Whangarei shorebird programme, is encouraged.
Last year, despite intensive predator trapping and patrolling at all four sites, only four fairy tern chicks were fledged - two each from Waipu and Mangawhai. At least part of the problem was attributed to the birds themselves, as each of the observed breeding pairs produced only one egg. This season the first two nests have each had two eggs.
"Our wardens will be out in force now, they will be strictly enforcing dog bans in the wildlife refuge areas, but they will also be keen to pass on information about these amazing little birds," said Mr Mataira.
"Beachgoers are encouraged to approach our rangers. It may be possible that they will be able to provide a guided tour to see one of the world's rarest birds breeding."