Bream Head Reserve from Manaia

Translocations

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.

Bird and nature lovers are already enjoying the increasing sight and sound of native bird species on this iconic Whangarei Reserve since the Bream Head Conservation Trust’s habitat restoration programmes began there 15 years ago. That includes 40 North Island robins (toutouwai) translocated there in April 2016, and now up to 100 whiteheads, or popokatea, to watch and listen for.

Whitehead return to Bream Head – 2017

​​Whiteheads are returning to the Bream Head Scenic Reserve, bringing with them a bird song bonanza.

Bird and nature lovers are already enjoying the increasing sight and sound of native bird species on this iconic Whangarei Reserve since the Bream Head Conservation Trust’s habitat restoration programmes began there 15 years ago. That includes 40 North Island robins (toutouwai) translocated there in April 2016, and from mid-May up to 100 whiteheads, or popokatea, to watch and listen for.
These small, gregarious, white and brown birds are often heard before they are seen. Also known as bush canaries, they live in noisy, chatty groups that fill the forest with a tuneful cacophony of sound.

“Releasing these sociable songbirds onto the Reserve has been in the planning for several years and comprises the final component of the Trust’s first five-year restoration plan,” says Bream Head Conservation Trust Chairman, Greg Innes.
“They are part of a research project by Northtec environmental studies students who supported the Trust with last year’s toutouwai translocation which has already seen eight breeding pairs rearing 19 fledglings to independence.”
Bream Head Conservation Trust Head Ranger, Adam Willetts, says he hopes for an equally successful translocation with the whiteheads which haven’t been seen on the Reserve since they became regionally extinct around 140 years ago.
“Building on, and alongside the work of the Department of Conservation, we have spent many years restoring the Reserve to a healthy, almost predator-free environment and now look forward to having popokatea re-establish there,” he says.
A team of six Trust volunteers and rangers will travel toTiritiri Matangi Island off the Whangaparaoa Peninsula in the second week of May to collect up to 100 of the birds. They form part of a larger capture team consisting of Tiritiri Matangi Island supporters and experienced reintroduction biologist, Kevin Parker of Parker Conservation.
“The birds will be captured using audio lures to attract them into mist nets,” Adam says.
“They will then be carefully measured and selected for relocation, banded for identification and housed in the on-island aviary where they will be well looked after and checked on around the clock.” Depending on the weather and capture rates, the team aims to leave Tiritiri Matangi Island with the birds early on Saturday 13 May. The birds will be placed into boxes holding up to five in total and transported by air conditioned van to the Bream Head Reserve, hopefully arriving between 1pm and 2pm that day. “The public is welcome to join us in meeting the birds on their arrival at the Bream Head Trust’s Operational Facility at the start of the Peach Cove track on Whangarei Heads Road, although the time cannot be guaranteed,” Adam says.

“After a short ceremony and blessing, teams of volunteers will carry the boxes up the steep 40-minute walk to the release site which has spectacular views back to Mount Manaia and up the Whangarei Harbour to Limestone Island.
“The site will provide a great setting to watch these canopy flock birds released as a large single group, and to celebrate this achievement together as we watch them fly off to explore their new home.”

Photo and caption: A whitehead (popokatea) on Tiritiri Matangi Island (credit nzbirdsonline.org.nz).

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!!

Future Translocations …

In preparation and looking ahead to our 2020 gannet translocation, first steps are happening … Mahi tahi – conservation groups helping each other… The Rotoroa Island Trust (RIT – a fantastic private island restoration project in the Hauraki Gulf) has kindly offered our Trust vital equipment we will need to reintroduce gannet/takapu to BHSR. The RIT will provide amplifier, speakers and solar panel(s) from their gannet project that they no longer require. This is a very generous offer and is a great example of how conservation groups can work together for the greater good of conservation. The Bream Head Conservation Trust is therefore extremely grateful to the Rotoroa Island Trust for the equipment and we hope to keep a strong relationship with them, sharing ideas, knowledge and friendship going forward.

Natural Translocations … Grey Faced Petrels

Grey faced petrel chicks are in the band… On a beautiful day in mid-November BHCT volunteer and seabird handler Cathy Mitchell and Adam Willetts, our head ranger, went out to the GFP study site to check on the young chicks, reset predator traps and infrared cameras as well as add ID bands to the legs of any chicks that could be reached in the burrows. We are happy to report as at the 16 th of November they were able to locate five live and healthy chicks in the study area, and were able to band four of the chicks (one chick was too far along the burrow to reach). Cathy handled and banded the chicks in expert fashion, see photo of Adam holding one of the chicks, they are a ball of fluffy down, some with a few pre- light feathers starting to appear around the lead of the wing. Already they can pack quite a good nip with their stout, curve-tipped beak. We hope that in four to five years time we will be celebrating the return of  some of these banded birds back to their place of birth on Bream Head, completing the life cycle if they  successfully breed. Our cameras are working 24/7, with an eye on the burrow entrance of each chick. Hopefully through December and January we will get good footage of all the chicks emerging for their 10-night pre-flight. We believe the ongoing success of our GFP breeding has been, in part, the on- round 1080 operation we carried out in 2017. For more information on the use of 1080 read this report  from Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.