The Trust’s vision is to reduce pests, weeds and predators to low levels allowing the Reserve to flourish and lost species to return. Translocation, in which animals are moved from one place to another, is a way to speed up the return of lost species. A large and sustained trapping effort in Bream Head Scenic Reserve has brought predator numbers down far enough for the Trust to begin species translocation.
North Island Robin Release 2016
During the week 3-9 April 2016, Bream Head Conservation Trust embarked on its first ever translocation of an endemic New Zealand species back into the Bream Head Scenic Reserve the first 20 birds came from Pureora Forest and the second 20 came from Tiritiri Matangi Island.
The Pureora Forest Birds
The birds were sourced from the North Western corner of the Pureora Forest from around 600m above sea level after two pre-feeding trips during the preceding months. A team of four BHCT ranger/volunteers were part of a larger team involved in the capture of individual robins using Potter Traps (a live cage trap) which were enticed with meal worms we had been using to pre-feed the birds. Once caught each bird was carried by dark cloth bag to a processing site in the bush where Kevin and Graeme Parker processed the birds for their weight and sex as well as taking blood samples before banding them with a four colour combination we will be able to use to identify them in our future monitoring of their breeding success.
The birds were then placed into a custom made wooden box with two perches and fine mesh windows. They were fed 10g of meal worms per day and had water available at all times. It was imperative that until translocation the birds were kept in a cool, quiet location without bright or flashing light so as to reduce the stress of the process as much as possible. When the birds were transported they were placed onto a custom made shelf in a van, and were driven through the night with air conditioning on full throttle to keep the birds at a cool temperature. Once we arrived at Whangarei Heads the birds were carefully placed in a cool, quiet and dark setting at Melissa Arsenault’s home by Peach Cove Track in Ocean Beach. Upon arrival (at 2am) two kiwi immediately began to call right by the house, a very fitting welcome to our new robins!! At 7am on the 8th April the translocation team fed and changed the water of the robins one last time, after a blessing by Ngati Wai Kaumatua Clive Stone the robins were placed back into the van and driven to Rupert and Wendy Newbold’s property where they handed to 20 awesome volunteers and carried very carefully up the long and steep climb to the release site.
The release site was a wet saddle just below the summit on the northern side of Te Whara/Bream Rock, this was chosen for its almost year round moisture and its ease of access for the birds into cabbage tree flat and other good valleys located close by. Two birds were released simultaneously by our volunteers by tilting the box carefully away from oneself and opening the lid on top of the box. Usually the birds flew almost immediately after the lid was opened, however a few took their time to get their bearings, take a few breaths and then fly off. Most flew a few meters to the nearest tree, stared back at the grinning crowd and then made haste for a good spot in their new home. For this particular translocation project the boxes were fitted with electronic processors hooked up to movement lasers located within the boxes. This was all part of a Massey University research project which Kevin Parker was leading, the aim of the research was to try and better understand the possible link between behaviour in the box and behaviour patterns post release. Basically, the theory is that birds that are more active in the boxes during a translocation are more likely to adventure further once released into a site, it is thought that these birds might carry a genetic disposition for this type of behaviour. If this is the case then future translocations may be able to select birds suited to their situation, for example a site that has lots of natural corridors leading away to a non-desirable location may want birds with less adventurous genes so they are more likely to stay put. This would have to be weighed up carefully as selecting based upon certain genetics could create a colony of birds without all the natural characteristics required for good diversity. The timing of the birds to fly once the box lid was opened was also gathered as part of this research.
A most important and huge thank you to the Department of Conservation for the provision of the Community Conservation Partnership Fund which was the funder of this and next year’s translocations. Arohanui also to our fantastic local DOC staff who do as much as they can to get in behind Bream Head – it is a great partnership and long may it continue!!