Halo project succeeding in Hamilton

It's hoped the bellbird will be next to flourish in Hamilton.
NEIL FITZGERALD

It's hoped the bellbird will be next to flourish in Hamilton.

Tui are now flocking to Hamilton year round and bird lovers are greedy for more.

A new Landcare report proves what many have long known: Hamilton's gardens are aflutter.

It's the result of 10 years' worth of trapping in the city's halo. Now, attention is shifting from far-flung bush blocks to city backyards.

Landcare field technician Neil Fitzgerald is hopeful that continued work will see the native falcon, pictured here in ...
NEIL FITZGERALD

Landcare field technician Neil Fitzgerald is hopeful that continued work will see the native falcon, pictured here in Cambridge, nesting within the city's range.

Landcare field technician Neil Fitzgerald, ecology researcher by trade, bird photographer in his spare time, has spent the past 17 years researching birds - from Hamilton's streets to the remote Auckland Islands.

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"Whether it's in photos or in person … people aren't going to protect or try to preserve what they don't know about or don't care about."

His initial research counting birds in the city in 2004 kickstarted the Halo Project, to which Landcare is a partner.

Kemble Pudney, chairman of the Preditor-Free Hamilton Trust, will likely employ a coordinator for city trapping efforts.
CHRISTINE CORNEGE/ FAIRFAX NZ

Kemble Pudney, chairman of the Preditor-Free Hamilton Trust, will likely employ a coordinator for city trapping efforts.

"It is probably one of the most rewarding bits of work that I've done, because it's resulted in such a clear improvement in bird life and people really appreciate that.

"I give a lot of the credit to the Halo Project ... without that, essentially, we wouldn't have got the birds back to Hamilton."

A June 2017 report on Landcare's two-yearly bird count, noting the density of birds in five-minute periods around 200 inner-city spots, shows just how successful efforts have been.

Neil Fitzgerald, Landcare field technician and bird photographer captured this tui in a kowhai tree.
NEIL FITZGERALD

Neil Fitzgerald, Landcare field technician and bird photographer captured this tui in a kowhai tree.

The number of tui visiting Hamilton's green spaces for winter feeding has increased 25-fold since the first count in 2004, becoming the seventh most common bird in the August 2016 count.

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And the summer population has grown in the past three years, becoming the third most abundant native species from a nil count in 2004.

Silvereyes are in decline in green areas, attributed to a change in vegetation at Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park.

Silvereyes have decreased in numbers, attributed to a change in vegetation at Waiwhararake Natural Heritage Park.
NEIL FITZGERALD/SUPPLIED

Silvereyes have decreased in numbers, attributed to a change in vegetation at Waiwhararake Natural Heritage Park.

Seven introduced species, including blackbirds, starlings, house sparrows and chaffinches, are also showing consistent patterns of decline in both green spaces and residential areas. 

It's not of primary concern, the report notes, but could be if it marks wider ecosystem issues. The explanation is currently unknown.

"Maybe they're being out-competed by the birds that have been here a little bit longer," Fitzgerald says.

Landcare field technician and bird photographer Neil Fitzgerald says the next step to increasing Hamilton's bird ...
TOM LEE/FAIRFAX NZ

Landcare field technician and bird photographer Neil Fitzgerald says the next step to increasing Hamilton's bird diversity is likely to be inner-city trapping.

Green spaces are "strongholds", but native species are still missing in residential areas, where the introduced myna, greenfinch and rock pigeon densities have increased.

"We've made lots of gains, and I think we can make lots more," Fitzgerald said.

He hopes continued work will see falcon pairs nesting within range and both kereru and kaka growing in abundance.

The bellbird, an adaptable honeyeater like the tui, was first counted in 2016 (though spotted earlier) and will hopefully soon populate the city's green spaces. Earlier this year, Fitzgerald heard one from the tearoom at the Landcare building.

"We just need to keep at that one."

Just months into the job, Waikato Regional Council senior biodiversity officer Dr Andrea Julian is looking to nail down, refine and expand the Halo Project.

"I've been pretty impressed by the elegance of the solution … we get some very good bang for the buck."

The council has mapped out the "Halo recipe" - trapping in spring three-years on, two-years off, until 2025.

Kereru and bellbirds are the next focus, though the tui can't be ignored. 

"People are quite keen for it to continue, and I think we'll be sticking with it."

Julian has gone back to Landcare, asking researchers to put their thinking caps on.

"Do kereru, for example, only breed in years that there's lots of fruit on trees? Do we have to have a little bit more agility in respect to the control phases?"

Part of the answer is likely, unsurprisingly, to be more traps.

Fitzgerald said, "I think it will involve more predator control in places like town and trying to get the different groups to co-ordinate."

And Predator Free Hamilton is just the group for a concerted trapping push.

Named for the Government's ambitious Predator Free 2050 goal, the group aims to rid the city of rats and possums.

A recent Landcare study that radio-tracked rats and possums in the Onukutara Gully showed the predators moved and could be trapped in a similar fashion to that used in native forests.

Chairman Kemble Pudney says the trust is looking to hiring a paid staffer to co-ordinate trapping efforts around the city.

Then it's a matter of ramping up the effort. The focus will be August to December, when the birds are breeding and most vulnerable.

The group has begun monitoring the Hukunui Valley, taking note of footprints in tunnel traps and bite marks with peanut-butter impregnated chew cards, identifying what prowlers they're working with.

"It's not an absolute count, it's just an indication. Which is why the ultimate thing is the bird count, that shows how successful it's been."

What can you do to bring the birds back?

Waikato Regional Council, among other groups involved in Hamilton's native bird ecology, encourages the control of rats and possums in backyards by encouraging homeowners to clear any rubbish and scrubby weed areas and to keep a lid on the compost heap.

Traps, purchased at any hardware store, can be baited with peanut butter and should be enclosed in a tunnel if left outside.

Possum traps can also be purchased, or if you're restoring a gully, borrowed from Waikato Regional Council.

Planting native species can attract and keep native honeyeaters around. Tui and bellbirds are known to prefer native vegetation which provide a year-round food source.

 - Stuff

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