Residents flock to bellbird release
Waiheke Islanders turned up in their droves at the weekend for a historic release of sweet-singing bellbirds, hailed as one of the most complex translocations ever undertaken.
More than 100 people of all ages gathered at Whakanewha Regional Park under grey skies on Sunday morning, ready to witness the release of a dozen birds at a site along the park's Nikau track.
The same numbers were being released simultaneously on Waiheke's Fenwick reserve, on Motuihe island, and at a Hamilton reserve.
The remaining 38 birds for each location were due to follow on Monday and Tuesday this week.
The original plan to release 50 birds at each site on Sunday was scuppered after fixing transmitters to a third of the translocated birds proved to be more fiddly than anticipated.
But all birds were expected to be at their new pest-free locations by today.
Each will have a mix of birds captured in Tawharanui Regional Park, north of Auckland, and from Tiritiri Matangi island - although the ones released at Whakanewha on Sunday all came from Tawharanui.
The crowd followed Auckland Regional Council park rangers Andy Spence and Dan Beauchamp as they carried the box containing the birds down the track to the release site.
Regional council chairman Mike Lee accompanied them at the head of the crowd into the tree-lined glade while, as if on cue, the sun came out.
After a 10-minute walk, the box was set up on a bank at the release site and people gathered round in anticipation of their first live sighting of the songbirds on Waiheke.
Children and media clustered around the box as the first release of six birds was completed by Gulf Islands' councillor Denise Roche and volunteer Tony Woodroofe, to cries of "ooh" from the crowd.
The next release by Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye and Labour list MP Jacinda Ardern drew a similar response, with the beating of the birds' wings clearly audible in the reverent silence.
A sea of upturned heads searched for sightings of the birds in the trees and cameras snapped furiously in a bid to record the event. Now islanders are being asked to help the birds survive.
Mr Spence told Sunday's gathering the park had 750 bait stations to keep it as rat-free as possible and give the
new birds their best chance.
He wants people to help monitor where the birds are and report back to park rangers.
Mr Spence advised islanders to look at pictures of the birds on the park's notice board and he played bellbird songs to help with recognition.
"We'll be collating sighting of the birds so we know where they are getting to and whether they are having a good time."
Mr Lee said he was delighted to see so many gathered to "share in this momentous day".
In a pre-release speech, he welcomed MPs Nikki Kaye Jacinda Ardern, and Kevin Hague, along with Waiheke Community Board chairman Tony Sears and fellow member Ms Roche.
Mr Lee also paid tribute to members of the island's branch of Forest and Bird, the park rangers, the Department of Conservation workers, and local landowners Rob Fenwick, Chris Reeve, Bruce Plested, and Bryan and Wendy Saward.
He said the landowners had taken significant steps to eradicate rats on their properties so the birds could benefit.
Dr Tim Lovegrove, who has been leading the translocation project, also came in for special words of praise.
"I'm amazed how supportive everyone has been," Mr Lee said.
He said the translocation had been the biggest and most complex ever undertaken and there were no guarantees of its success on Waiheke, due to rats around the island.
But he said rat-free Motuihe island would offer birds relocated there a safe haven, ensuring future flocks could breed nearby.
Mr Lee said he saw the release of bellbirds in their new locations as a parting present from the regional council before its demise in October, when the supercity takes over.