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More exciting news from Porirua Scenic Reserve

13 January 2005

More exciting news from Porirua Scenic Reserve

Visitors to Porirua Scenic Reserve this summer might be lucky enough to spot some very special native birds for the first time. Just weeks after rare red-crowned parakeets (kakariki) were sighted at the reserve, there have now also been confirmed sightings of the native whitehead (popokatea).

Local members of the Ornithological Society of NZ, Ian Armitage and Barry Dent, have recorded sightings of at least three of the sparrow-sized, insect-eating native birds since Christmas.

Experts believe this is the first time these birds have been seen in this area for more than a hundred years. "Whiteheads have survived in large areas of deep forest such as the Tararua and Rimutaka ranges," said Dr Colin Miskelly of the Department of Conservation. "But this is the first time they have been seen so close to Porirua."

At least one of the birds is banded, which indicates that it is one of the birds released at Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

"Sixty-three whiteheads were released at Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in 2001/2, but up till now the furthest from the release area they have been seen is Wilton Bush (two and a half kilometres from the Sanctuary) while Porirua Scenic Reserve is at least 21 kilometres from Karori Wildlife Sanctuary. As whiteheads are not known to cross open country, it is likely that they reached the reserve by travelling through the outer town belt and through Redwood Reserve in Tawa, making it substantially more than a 21 kilometre trek," said Dr Miskelly.

According to Dr Miskelly, these sightings confirm the importance of the Porirua Scenic Reserve. "There are now three bird species in the reserve that have previously not been seen there - bellbirds, kakariki and now whiteheads."

Greater Wellington began controlling possums in and around the 318-hectare reserve in March 1996, in a programme jointly funded with Porirua City Council.

"Keeping possum numbers at low levels has allowed native forest and birds to flourish," said Greater Wellington biosecurity officer, Ken Wright. "We thought whiteheads might be the next arrivals but not so soon. The pest control work done in the Porirua Scenic Reserve and other areas in the Wellington region seems to be enriching the whole ecosystem. The recovery of both forest and bird life has really exceeded our expectations."

According to Mr Wright a key factor in the success of the control operation is using bait that not only controls possums but also keeps rat numbers low. "We refill bait stations on three month cycles and also have 30 traps that are spread through the area to target mustelids (ferrets, stoats and weasels)."

Other reserves in Wellington, Porirua and Hutt cities and the Kapiti district are also possum controlled as part of Greater Wellington's Key Native Ecosystem (KNE) programme, aimed at protecting and enhancing native plants and animals at selected sites in the region. It is likely that this regional programme to reduce possums has improved the overall health of the bush remnant network for birds to immigrate or colonise through.


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