Bugs, birds and fauna returning

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    Bluff Hill Motupohue Environment Trust trustee Annichje Riemersma (left), chairwoman Estelle Leask and trustee Peter Leask.

    KIWI may one day return to Motupohue.

    The forest is regenerating, birds are returning… and Motupohue is flourishing, thanks to a dedicated team of predator hunters.

    The sound of tui, kereru and red-crown kakariki [parakeet] have returned to a forest which was once described as dying.

    Bluff Hill Motupohue Environment Trust trustee Peter Leask said because of ongoing pest control, the bush had regenerated well and was now thriving with bugs predators used to eat.

    “You didn’t use to see any native birds along the track…

    “It’s something you wouldn’t see 10 years ago… birds are flying above the canopy.”

    Trust chairwoman Estelle Leask agreed, saying, “when you compare this forest to Rakiura (Stewart Island)… when we recently walked 32km of tracks over there… it was a dying forest… silent… completely silent.”

    Instead of death, the cycle of life has reconnected on Motupohue, and the future is bright.

    Mrs Leask said one of the goals was for kiwi to return to the reserve.

    Ambitious?  Achievable? She believes it is.

    In partnership with Te Runanga o Awarua, the Department of Conservation and Environment Southland, it’s been a decade of hard work, the 40 volunteers – including five trustees and chairwoman, and a hill full of traps which need checked regularly.

    Introduced by Government, Predator Free 2050 aims to eradicate possums, stoats and rats by 2050.

    Mrs Leask believes Motupohue was on-track.

    Part of the success had been the increase in the number of chicks in the mainland protected titi colonies in the reserve.

    Trust members have been monitoring the two colonies for about seven years.

    This year, they found chick occupancy of the burrows had increased by 50%.

    “This year, we found 45 titi chicks in the burrows at the two colonies we monitor. In the past seven years, the highest occupancy rate we had seen was 30 chicks.

    “This is an incredible turnaround as we traditionally have lost so many chicks to predators.

    “Nesting success is our main measure of the survival of these colonies, so to see the chick occupancy of burrows up from 30 chicks to 45 is a fantastic sign.”

    Mrs Leask said this was partly because of the installation of 80 new type of traps – Goodnature A 24 rat and stoat traps – throughout the reserve last year, thanks to a donation of $20,000 from Ka Mate Nga Kiore Incorporated (Death to the Rat Incorporated), a sub-committee of the Rakiura Titi Island Committee.

    The automatic traps were laid out on Bluff Hill to provide additional defence to the native flora and fauna, alongside the variety of other traps which were traditionally used.

    Titi only laid one egg per year, so had a low annual productivity. The chicks and eggs were vulnerable to predation by rats and stoats, especially when they were still in their burrows.

    “Titi are a cultural taonga to Ngai Tahu, so having a population thriving is an awesome cultural conservation goal.”

    However titi chicks were still being preyed on, with evidence of feral cats the most likely culprits.

    “Of the remains we have found, it is most likely cats, as their [titi] heads had been ripped off and bodies left,” trustee Annichje Riemersma said.

    Mainland titi colonies were protected by law, and as part of the ongoing protection of titi on the hill, the trust installed cameras along the trail to identify further potential threats to the birds.

    Another celebration for the trust was the dramatic reduction in possum numbers. Environment Southland had surveyed the peninsula a month ago using a Residual Track Catch (RTC) system to monitor the numbers, Mrs Leask said.

    The result – only .3% of possums.

    Considering in 2009 the RTC was 35%, that was another statistic to celebrate.

    “We are a whisker away from being possum-free… and are moving towards being predator-free.”

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