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Native birds thrive in Wellington city

Native birds thrive in Wellington city

Paula Loader with sea spurge
Paula Loader with sea spurge on the Eastbourne dunes

Wellington city has seen a huge increase in native bird numbers over the past decade. Eight species have increased through effective predator control throughout the townbelt and from being brought in through the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

Around 150 participants from restoration groups throughout the Wellington region heard about this success during a restoration day event in Eastbourne on May 27.

The annual event is run by DOC and Greater Wellington to celebrate the efforts of restoration groups, providing them with opportunities to learn new skills, view successful restoration projects, and network.

Department of Conservation bird expert Dr Colin Miskelly said Greater Wellington's possum and rat control operations over 9000 ha in Wellington had seen an increase in numbers of tui and bellbird in the city and surrounds. There have been reports of parakeet, whiteheads, tomtits and kaka in the area.

Some endangered native species, such as stitchbird (hihi), jumping the Karori Sanctuary fence, stood a better chance of survival in the urban environment where they weren't under threat from stoats because of a larger predator- the pet moggy. There are an estimated 600 cats per square kilometre in our urban areas, but few stoats.

"Hihi spend most of their time in the canopy and are largely immune to cat predation," Dr Miskelly said.

More than a century after the first transfers - to save examples of New Zealand biota by taking them to locations like Kapiti Island - fauna transfers are associated with ecological site restoration.

"Since the mid-1990s there has been an increasing focus now on restoring sites to a predetermined goal, such as what it was like before human intervention, and moving it from solely being a government role to increasing community involvement.

"Over the past decade there has been a huge community involvement in fauna translocations and Wellington is probably the most active part of the country for this type of work," Dr Miskelly said.

This was highlighted by such community-driven restoration projects as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, and the release of kiwi into the Rimutaka Forest Park.

People involved with these initiatives were among the presenters at fauna restoration workshops throughout the day.

Petone artist and stoat trapper Phill Waddington introduced participants to the latest technology in trapping technology. He has been helping DOC develop traps for the humane kill of stoats, hedgehogs and rats.

Richard Romijn, Greater Wellington environmental educator and lizard researcher at Karori Wildlife Sanctuary highlighted how people could enhance their local lizard populations and identify the various species.

How restoration projects could accommodate the passage of native fish was the focus of a workshop by Greater Wellington Regional Council policy advisor Murray McLea and Jonathan Kennett from Otari-Wilton's Bush Trust. Most species of native fish in our region depend on being able to migrate between freshwater and the sea. Getting upstream can be a problem because barriers like culverts and weirs can restrict fish passage and reduce the available habitat.

DOC plant ecologist John Sawyer introduced some of the principles of restoration to attract wildlife. He explained how native plant life can be used in restoration projects to attract and sustain wild populations of animals including lizards and birdlife.

Native Bird Rescue Wellington Trust bird rehabilitator Karin Wiley explained how native birds get injured, and what people should do when they find an injured bird.

A workshop by Victoria University of Wellington senior research biologist Dr. George Gibbs focused on the transfer and establishment of weta species, and looked at other notable insects that could be used in restoration projects.

Ornithological Society of New Zealand member Reg Cotter showed participants how to set up and undertake bird counts, monitor birds and conduct bird studies.

There was a field trip into the East Harbour Regional Park to see the pest control being carried out by Greater Wellington and MIRO (Mainland Island Restoration Operation), a volunteer group working in co-operation with Greater Wellington, Hutt City Council, DOC and other volunteer groups the park.

Presenters from DOC and Greater Wellington staff took a group to a local stream to demonstrate simple tools for monitoring stream health and basic techniques to allow restoration groups to keep track of the state of their stream.

Freshwater ecologist Dr Mike Joy introduced people to the every day life of the freshwater fish of the Wellington region focusing on their habitats, distribution and threats.

And others tiptoed through the dunes with the Eastbourne Dunes Protection Group to see how their work is enhancing this popular natural beach inhabited by skinks and seabirds. They saw how remnants of native pingao and spinifex are being restored and beach plantings expanded with the enthusiasm of local volunteers and visitors.

Greater Wellington Take Care co-ordinator Paula Loader talked about the ecology of the Eastbourne dunes. She was pleased with thriving specimens of Euphorbia glauca (sea spurge) planted by the Eastbourne Dune Protection Group on the foredunes. This nationally-threatened species used to occur naturally around the Wellington coast, including Pukerua Bay, but it is now only persisting in the wild in the Wellington region on Kapiti Island. Paula says the plants at Eastbourne were doing "remarkably well" compared to others planted around the site. They are right in the splash zone which seems to suit them as a foredune species. These temperamental plants are also thriving on traffic islands in urban Wellington.

Participants praised the workshop presenters and event organisation.

"It's wonderful that all these (restoration) organisations can come together for the one day instead of trying to run their own show," said John McLachlan of the Kapiti branch of Forest and Bird.

He said the various displays highlighted how much the groups had achieved over the six years since the first Restoration Day.

Penry Putnam, a member of a group restoring the Greendale Reserve near Waikanae, said he enjoyed learning stream monitoring techniques.

"I think it would be worth doing in our Muaupoko Stream."

"The variety, dedication and enthusiasm of groups and projects has been an eye opener," another participant said.

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