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New arrivals set up home in Waiatarua Reserve

17 June 2005

New arrivals set up home in Waiatarua Reserve

Two new visitors have made a home for themselves in Auckland’s Waiatarua Reserve prompting those involved with the New Zealand’s largest urban wetland restoration project to get excited.

A white heron or kotuku has found food and a place to roost on the edges of the wetland while scaup, a species of diving duck only found in New Zealand, have raised a family in the urban wetland park.

“As far as I know both birds are species that were not recorded in the area before the restoration work was done and neither are common in New Zealand,” says Dr Grant Dumbell, an independent ecologist who has been involved with the project for the past two and half years and is now monitoring the progress of the wetland. “The heron is a fish eater and the scaup is a weed eater and both have stayed for a long time. This indicates the ecological restoration is working.”

Dr Dumbell first sighted the heron in May while a local birdwatcher reported seeing it in April. The scaup were first seen in late summer.

“The wetland project is astonishing both in the number and range of birds that have made it their home. It is especially rare to see these birds in an urban environment. The heron is feeding on wild goldfish in the water so it is a double positive as this fish species is a pest,” he says.

Planning for the Waiatarua restoration project begun over 12 years ago with the production of a catchment management plan. Construction commenced on the new wetland in 2003, with the installation of sediment traps and large grass swales to help clean the water before entering the central area of the reserve. This included the creation of a natural wetland that provides a water filtering effect while creating an environment that supports a wider variety of fauna and flora than previously existed. Waiatarua wetland filters runoff from the Ellerslie-Waiatarua catchment then passes the water through a tunnel to the Orakei Basin.

Grant Ockleston, Auckland City’s coordinator of the project says,“Our aim for the reserve is to provide a natural amenity for the local area, a year-round habitat for native species, stormwater treatment and flood protection. These are sometimes competing aims and Auckland City needs to achieve all of these things in balance. The diversity and abundance of the ecosystem developing there gives us an early indication that the design team got it right.

“It is a dynamic environment that will continually change. Our job is to act as guardians during the establishment of the new wetland to ensure the new asset meets the wider communities’ objectives.”

The $5.9 million wetland restoration project was officially opened in September 2004. Previously, about 130 tonnes of sediment and contaminants were washed out of Waiatarua Park into the Orakei Basin each year, causing long-term environmental damage and poor water quality. The efficient ecosystem created by the restoration will remove more than 80 per cent of the sediments that enter the wetland.



The white heron is a rare bird in New Zealand with only one breeding site at Okarito in South Westland. Once hunted for its feathers almost to extinction, the numbers have now stabilised with a permanent population of around 100 to 120. It is entirely white with a yellow bill and black legs and feet.

Scaup, also known as black teal, is New Zealand’s only diving species of duck. They prefer large bodies of clean water in which they can dive to a depth of 2-3 metres for fresh water snails and aquatic plants. They are quite distinctive ducks, the males being black with a purplish, greenish sheen on the head and the rest of the body a brownish black with a green gloss. The eye is distinctly yellow. The female can be easily distinguished with her brown eye and brownish body. In breeding plumage, the scaup has a small white band on the forehead above the beak.

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