Monday, 9 May 2011

Bird counts are dangerous!

Well the recent floods have, as widely publicised, caused a lot of damage along the Hawkes Bay coast.  And Cape Kidnappers certainly got its fair (or perhaps unfair) share.  Today spent the day out at Cape Kidnappers within the Preserve doing the Autumn bird counts I have been doing out there since 2007.  The changes in bird populations have been immense during that time, but today was a sobering experience (no I wasn't drunk) as we drove out to the middle of the Preserve.  The Maraetotara Stream was obviously a raging torrent with massive pine trees uprooted and now high and dry on the banks.  As we headed up the stream bed along the paved road there were uncountable slips, with massive trees down all over the place.  They have obviously been working flat out since the rain to get the road clear and provide access to the Golf Course and Lodge, and have done a great job.  Surprisingly, given the extensive nature of the damage to trees, cliffs, and sloping grassland, the road has stood up to the massive flow that must have passed along it and down the stream bed.

Vantage points along the road towards Te Mata Peak and Mt Kahuranaki show the devastation the rain caused to the farmland here with slips on every face.  The predator proof fence was also not spared with a number of sections of the fence being breached, and they are working quickly to restore these sections.  Even within the kanuka dominated 'Rough Block' the slopes have not been spared with massive Titoki and Rewarewa trees down all over the place and countless kanuka washed into the stream beds.  A real mess, but of course all part of Mother Nature showing exactly what she can do.  It has been rumoured that 800mm of rain fell in just those few days.

But other than flipping the quad bike today everything else went really well!  Good numbers of birds around, with more tomtit singing and counted than ever before.  A testament to a really good breeding season I suspect.  Also quite a few North Island robin, whitehead, and the usual good numbers of bellbird and tui.  A really beautiful sunny Autumn afternoon to be out in such a spectacular place.

The quad in the stream within the 'Rough Block' with kanuka trees strewn around the stream-bed (pre-almost-flip).

I wrote a short blurb on the Cape Kidnappers Preserve a few weeks back for and thought I would just post it here.

Cape Kidnappers Sanctuary is actually a pretty incredible private restoration project initially driven by local landowner Andy Lowe, and funded jointly by himself and other local landowners. The speed with which things are happening out there is incredible and a testament to the incredibly hard work being put in by those on the ground. The fence was erected only about 3 years ago (around 9.6 km) and was always designed as a 'leaky' fence with no complete eradication within the fence ever proposed. This is largely due to the geography (being a peninsula around which predators could always swim) but also due to the land use there - farmland, golf course, and lodge. The entry point currently doesn't have a gate, but is intensively trapped, as are the ends of the fence, and a gate is expected at some stage. To attempt a complete eradication would be doomed for failure with such land uses, so predator trapping and poisoning are being conducted to reduce predator populations to very low levels. This is clearly working in that young kiwi being reintroduced into the reserve shortly after hatching are surviving well. I have been conducting six-monthly bird counts out there since Spring 2007 and the increase in bird populations is significant.
The total area is around 2400 ha and includes around 110 ha of lowland kanuka forest that has essentially gone unlogged. It represents one of the largest remnants of such forest on the East Coast of the North Island. Although it has been grazed lightly over the years, it has a great diversty of lowland plant species, and with the complete removal of stock, and goats and possums is now set to regenerate into something pretty special. Adjoining this are several areas of pine forest which also provide useful habitat for introductions. A coastal dune system is also rather intact and being restored, several large ponds have been present for many years and are being revegetated in places (as are many of the farm dams), the coastal cliffs present are amazing, and many important archaeological sites also exist. So there is definitely more than meets the eye!
So, as far as introductions go, the list is considerably longer than the total years the project has been running. NI robin and NI tomtit were amongst the first (although very low numbers of tomtit still survived and really only became evident after predator control was initiated). Brown teal and NI kiwi were released fairly early on, and since then rifleman, whitehead, and banded rail. Upcoming in the next few months are NI saddleback. However, as a seabird buff, even more exciting are the seabird introductions, with several years of grey-faced petrel and Cook's petrel now having been cared for and fledged from a seabird colony established on the coast. Little penguins have also been provided with a large number of 'burrows' throughout the coastal zone. More birds and non-bird species are planned for the future.
Perhaps I'm a little biased, as this is an area I love, and I have been involved with several of these reintroductions and bird counts at in the area since the project began, but it has to be one of the most exciting ecological restoration projects around. It's size, the combination of forest and seabird species, and the diverse land uses, make this a very unique and exciting project. I take my hat off to Andy and Liz Lowe, the Robertsons and Hansens, John McLennan, and Tamsin Ward-Smith for their vision and incredibly hard work. Not to mention the teams of volunteers and other people who have helped along the way.

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