Wherever you are on the island, both day and night, there is no doubt that you are in the domain of the birds. Even as I sit in the lounge writing this, the resident Harrier Hawk glides outside the window, scanning for prey. Pukekos squawk from the across the fence, rosellas (unfortunately a pest species) chatter excitedly in the tree outside, and oyster catchers stalk the mudflats in the bay below. Some mornings the local takahe pair can be seen sneaking through the back garden and at night the distinctive call of a morepork often punctuates the silence. If you’re lucky, you might even hear the shrill whistle of a kiwi carried on the wind at night. Although the island has only been pest free for five years, the recovery of the birdlife in that short time is a ringing endorsement of its success.
Australasian gannet flying overhead.
As well as the famous native species, such as takahe and kiwi, Motatapu Island is home to several lesser-known birds such as the shore plover and pateke (native duck). Like many people, before coming to the island I had never heard of the shore plover, despite its endangered status. This is a slightly bizarre thought, as the national shore plover population sits at around 175 individuals, on par with the kakapo and considerably lower than the takahe, yet there is almost no public awareness about the species.
A large part of our time on the island has been spent monitoring these birds, an important task at this time of year as it is nesting season. A couple of times a week, Sophie and I head out to the isolated bays on the western side of the island and check that the resident birds are happy and healthy. This is also a good chance to carry out radio transmitter monitoring of the takahe and pateke, which allows us to pinpoint the where the birds are without seeing them.
Sophie holding two infertile takahe eggs.
Bird monitoring so far has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. We have come across three unsuccessful takahe nests, a tough pill to swallow knowing that the long-term fate of the species rests on the shoulders of a small number of breeding pairs scattered around the country. On the bright side, we have seen numerous dotterel and oyster catcher chicks and on Monday we spotted two brand new shore plover chicks. Although hatching on a pest free island has given the chicks the best possible start to life, they have a long way to go before they will be able to contribute to their population. Fingers crossed for this relatively unknown battler of New Zealand birds.
One of the only 175 or so shore plovers left in New Zealand, hunting sand hoppers on the beach.
BLAKE DOC Ambassador 2016