Haven for lizards
New Zealand is internationally famous for its range of breeding seabirds but perhaps less well-known is that we support the most diverse range of skinks and geckos in a temperate climate. We have 106 species, without counting the closely related tuatara. All but one of our native lizards produce few live young, take several years to reach breeding age and are relatively long-lived – characteristics which make them vulnerable to mammalian predators.
In other countries lizards may mature earlier and reproduce by laying large numbers of eggs each year. This is the strategy of the accidentally introduced Australian rainbow or plague skink which most of us on the Hibiscus Coast can see in our gardens or basking in the sun on our decks. The relative success of rainbow skinks may be a threat to local native skinks if they can outcompete for food and other resources.
We might expect our native lizards to do better in predator-free areas like Shakespear Open Sanctuary where only mice present a threat. It turns out that is indeed the case. The park has seven species – four skinks and three geckos. There are copper, moko, ornate and shore skinks, and forest, Pacific and elegant geckos. SOSSI has been monitoring numbers and population trends. There have been only a handful of sightings of elegant and forest geckos but there are healthy populations of copper, moko and ornate skinks and Pacific geckos and a moderate number of shore skinks.
It's not easy for visitors to see lizards in the park. Some are only active at night, they are small and usually well-camouflaged. Many of them are beautifully patterned and it's worth searching the internet for photos.
With their slow reproductive rate, it will likely take many years for populations in the park to reach their peak, but there is no doubt that protection of these precious species is another significant achievement.
At this time of year our New Zealand dotterels are nesting and several pairs are resident along the beach at Te Haruhi Bay.
Dotterel nests are often destroyed by marauding gulls but you can help by looking out for the fenced-off nest sites and giving them as wide a margin as you can. This will mean the adult birds can sit tight on their nests and protect the eggs and chicks.