Bellbird move on hold

SONGBIRD: One of the bellbirds captured in mist netting at Tawharanui for the translocation.
DAVID BRYDEN
SONGBIRD: One of the bellbirds captured in mist netting at Tawharanui for the translocation.

AN HISTORIC relocation of 200 bellbirds had to be postponed last Sunday after testing showed some of the birds were a bit under the weather.

The birds are part of an ambitious conservation project undertaken by the Auckland Regional Council, the Conservation Department, Landcare Research, Massey and Waikato Universities, the Motuihe Trust, Hamilton Gardens, Environment Waikato, and Fenwick Reserve.

The project aims to restore the delicate olive-green birds, with their bell-like song, into Whakanewha Regional Park and Fenwick Reserve on Waiheke Island, Motuihe Island and also Hamilton Gardens in the Waikato – 50 birds for each site.

The birds are coming from sanctuaries at Tawharanui Regional Park and Tiritiri Matangi Island and were captured by staff and volunteers using mist netting.

But when some of the birds from Tawharanui failed disease screening to make sure only healthy birds were released, the relocation had to be postponed.

The captured birds are now in aviaries at the park. They are being given a course of antibiotics and are expected to be released this Sunday.

The birds have been absent until recently from the northern New Zealand mainland, including Auckland and the larger islands of the Hauraki Gulf since the mid-1800s when ship rats and stoats arrived in New Zealand.

They only survived in the Auckland area on pest-free islands such as Hauturu-Little Barrier.

Five years ago they were able to re-establish themselves naturally at Tawharanui, flying in from Hauturu-Little Barrier after the completion of the predator-proof fence at the park, turning it into a mainland island.

Their numbers have since soared to around 800, making them the second most common native bush bird at the park.

Bellbirds flying in from Tiritiri Matangi are also expected to re-establish at Shakespear Regional Park in the same way once the predator-proof fence there is completed next year.

Once the birds are established on Motuihe Island, they are expected to fly the short distance to Rangitoto.

"With Rangitoto and Motutapu well on their way to becoming pest-free, and many other islands in the Gulf already pest-free, there will be plenty of suitable habitats for these bellbirds to thrive.

"In fact we've already seen bellbirds make their own way to Motutapu," says Conservation Department Auckland area manager Brett Butland.

Auckland Regional Council natural heritage scientist Tim Lovegrove says the birds, while much loved for their melodic singing, are also an important part of the native forest ecology in their role as plant pollinators and seed dispersers.

"The releases will increase the genetic diversity of our Auckland populations as well as providing opportunities for research into feeding patterns and bird dispersal." Dr Lovegrove says.

"If rat management and pest control continues, over time we will see the colonisation of bellbirds throughout northern New Zealand," says ARC chairman Michael Lee, a long-time campaigner for the restoration of the bellbird.

"They will once again be common sights in marine suburbs and visitors to suburban backyards."

While disappointed at the delay, Mr Lee says the bellbirds will be in top condition after their stay in the avaries.

"I've worked for this for nearly 30 years so I can certainly wait another week."

Rodney Times