Bream Head’s long lost birds are back, and they’re breeding.
Two species of bird only recently returned to the Bream Head Scenic Reserve after predators drove them from it, are now thrilling rangers and Bream Head Conservation Trust (BHCT) volunteers by taking the next big step of breeding successfully.
The grey-faced petrels and North Island robins haven’t been seen at the Reserve at the tip of the Whangarei Heads Peninsula for decades. Now they are not only back, they are establishing nests and producing chicks.
“A colony of self-reintroduced grey-faced petrels has been discovered in an area of the Reserve that has recently been targeted for an extensive pest eradication programme,” says Bream Head Conservation Trust chief ranger, Adam Willetts.
“Six burrows were found in the same area last year, the first time the large grey sea birds, known to Maori as Oi, had established burrows naturally on the Northland mainland since introduced animal pests and humans wiped them out decades ago.
“Unfortunately no chicks hatched due to predation by a small number of remaining rats or stoats.”
Fast forward a year’s worth of intensive trapping by the Trust and the situation is looking very different. Adam says he was out checking last year’s burrows for any sign they might be occupied when he found three further burrow sites nearby that were not there a month earlier.
“The strong sea bird smell and abundant faecal matter indicated they were being used, and there appeared to be over 20 burrows in the colony,” he says.
“After a little quiet fist pumping I marked the burrow sites and returned with the Trust’s ecologist, Ben Barr, to use a burrow scope to check the contents of each burrow.
“Amazingly, there were at least nine live chicks in the 15 nests we could locate and access, which means our work to rid the area of predators had paid off.”
The second discovery is equally as exciting and involves North Island robins, or toutouwai.
Forty robins from Mangatutu and Tiritiri Matangi Island were released in the Reserve in April and May of this year as part of a long-standing Trust programme to return the Reserve to its natural state and bring back the dawn chorus. The toutouwai were the first part of a translocation programme that required extensive predator control and habitat restoration and will also see whitehead introduced in 2017.
“We were very excited to find a nest with a female robin sitting on a brood of small chicks,” Adam says.
“We have identified which female and male have paired up by the bands on their legs, but haven’t yet had a good look at the tiny chicks because we don’t want to disturb the parents at this crucial stage of their first nesting.”
People using the Bream Head Scenic Reserve are encouraged to report sightings of robins to the Trust’s Facebook page, ‘Bream Head Robin Monitoring’.
“This helps us keep track of the birds, their condition, and now whether they are nesting,” Adam says.
“Obviously we don’t want anyone going near a nest, but a photo or report of band colours and locations of individual robins would be appreciated.”
Likewise, people hoping to catch a glimpse of one of these endearing birds can go to the Facebook page to see where they have been seen recently.
“Or they could check out the Trust’s new website for information about the robins, grey-faced petrels or any of Bream Head’s other remarkable species,” Adam says.
The discoveries follow a massive increase in the bird population on the Reserve in recent years, the discovery of a new skink species in 2013, and the self-reintroduction of other native bird species such as bellbird and kaka.
“These nesting birds are just another sign that the Trust’s programmes are working,” Adam says.
“We are creating an environment in which the birds obviously feel confident raising young, and that’s a huge victory for the Trust’s rangers and volunteers who have worked so hard to make that happen.”