Tuesday, 20 September 2011

First cuckoo of the spring

The first cuckoo (pipiwharauroa) I have head this spring was singing near the picnic area on the 18th September. Since then, and despite a southerly wind, several birds have been calling around the estate. I wish they had brought the warmth with them from their winter quarters in the Solomons and other islands in the Bismark Archipelago. Time for the grey warblers, the cuckoo's main host, to keep their heads down!
Bird activity has picked up noticeably in the past fortnight with kingfisher (kotare) calling and tui staking out territories.
Pigeon (kereru) are very much in evidence. They have been displaying around the house. They drop down from a perch, swoop up vertically and stall before diving down with their wings held out stiffly. These display flights often coincide with egg-laying and there is a fantastic crop of pigeonwood berries this year which should result in a good breeding season for the kereru. They time their breeding to coincide with fruit availability and in a good year may lay as many as three clutches, each with a single egg. Kereru feed their newly hatched chicks with cropmilk - a secretion from the crop wall. Pigeons and doves are the only birds that produce food for their chicks apart from Emperor Penguins (like 'Happy Feet') and flamingoes. To measure breeding success we need to watch for young birds from now on. These are smaller than adults and have conspicuously short tails - a test for observation skills!
Unfortunately, a good fruiting season will mean more rats and consequently more stoats, so pest control will be crucial this year. It is shaping up to be a fascinating summer in the forest.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Spring update

The wind has shifted to the north after an extended period of southerlies and tonight feels warmer as a consequence. We have had some lovely days but the nights have been cold. Temperatures for August ranged from a minimum of 0C to a maximum of 15C. The first few days of September have seen temperatures creep up to 16C. As I write this blog we are at last enjoying some rain!! With the warmth of spring there has been a burst of growth in the bush with puawhananga (Clematis paniculata) now appearing all across the estate. Rangiora (Brachyglottis repanda) and manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) are in bloom while the first of the epiphytic brachyglottis (Brachyglottis kirkii var. kirkii) flowers have appeared.
Unfortunately stoats are also enjoying the spring weather. At Bruno and Barbara's we saw a stoat near the top of a pigeonwood (Hedycarya arborea). It ran vertically face-down the trunk with all the dexterity of a squirrel. The speed at which it moved reminded us of what destructive and efficient killers these animals are - in the canopy as well as on the ground. All we can do is keep trapping and hope that enough of our native birds survive to successfully raise young.
The kiwi report prepared by Patrick Stewart of Red Admiral Ecology concludes that we have a relic kiwi population on the estate of a few birds. It is highly unlikely that they will successfully raise offspring due to predation. Sadly, his opinion is that, without intervention, the mature birds will gradually die out - as has happened in so many parts of the Peninsula. It is possible that new birds could move into the estate but this is dependent upon successful breeding elsewhere coupled with an avoidance of predation on the journey from places such as Moehau, Whenuakite or Kuaotunu. Consequently, he concludes that if we wish to have kiwi on the estate then our best option is to explore the possibility of joining Operation Nest Egg (ONE). Becoming part of this exciting initiative would mean that any involvement from the estate would contribute to the Peninsula-wide attempt to save the Coromandel Kiwi. It would be contingent on us having at least one breeding pair. Any nesting would  be closely monitored so that eggs could be removed and artificially incubated off site. The chicks would then be raised in a protected environment. I understand that there are plans to set up a breeding population of Coromandel Kiwi on the newly predator-free Motutapu Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Once the young birds reach a size that they have a chance of survival against stoats and other predators then some of our birds could be reintroduced  to Mahakirau to supplement the resident birds. This approach would depend on agreement from ONE, enthusiasm  from Mahakirau lot owners as well as the presence of breeding birds on the estate. I will approach the relevant players and keep you informed of any developments. However, if you have any comments or views please let me know.
Finally, Judy saw and I heard Paradise Shelduck on the estate. These birds are usually seen on farmland or in coastal,wetland and river environments. No doubt they were passing through as there is very little suitable habitat here. Nonetheless it is good to record a new species for the estate.