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Robin Kapiti to populate Matiu/Somes Island

31 March 2006

Robin Kapiti to populate Matiu/Somes Island

North Island robin (with food in beak), Kapiti Island. Photo/DOC.

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People visiting Wellington’s Matiu/Somes Island to check out the wildlife may find the tables turned from next week when an inquisitive native bird takes up residence.

Twenty North Island robins from Kapiti Island will be taken to Matiu/Somes Island, in Wellington Harbour, as part of the ongoing restoration and rejuvenation of the island.

This iconic bird, renowned for its bold and curious approaches to humans, joins kakariki, tuatara and weta previously transferred to this scientific and historic reserve through a restoration programme involving the Department of Conservation, community groups, iwi and a huge volunteer effort.

The project was made possible through the support of the Lower Hutt branch of the Forest and Bird Society through the Matui/Somes Charitable Trust which raised $5000 towards the transfer and ongoing monitoring costs. The transfer is being carried out by a team of highly skilled volunteers, mostly members of the Ornithological Society of NZ and Department of Conservation staff.

Kapiti Island robins have already been successfully transferred to the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary and Mana Island. They are expected to also thrive on 25 ha Matiu/Somes Island, where native vegetation planted by Lower Hutt Branch Forest and Bird Society members over more than 20 years is maturing to provide habitat for the birds.

Department of Conservation biodiversity programme manager Rob Stone said while Matiu/Somes was not suitable for species requiring larger areas of habitat, it was ideal for robin which tended to stay in a small area, feeding on insects, grubs and worms on the forest floor.

He said people visiting the island shouldn’t have any trouble spotting the newest inhabitants.

“They have a distinctive call and can be easily seen up close as they search for grubs in the leaf litter. They will approach people with curiosity.”

Matiu/Somes Island is one of the most easily accessible islands in New Zealand, attracting a large number of visitors.

“Being able to experience up close some of our rarer wildlife such as tuatara, kakariki, and now robin, will help people appreciate what we have lost from mainland New Zealand through predation and habitat loss,” Mr Stone said.

Matiu/Somes Charitable Trust chairman Mark Te One said the project combined a number of “special” elements.

“ The North Island Robin is a rarely seen native bird presently well established on Kapiti Island. Its re-introduction in to the harbour region will further enhance our natural environment and provide the Wellington and Hutt Valley communities with easy access to experience these special creatures.

“This project also is a partnership between a government department, community and iwi.”

Other than in the sanctuaries, robins are extinct from the Wellington region.

Once widespread throughout the North Island, there are now only isolated populations across the centre of the Island from Taranaki to Bay of Plenty, but they are plentiful on several mammal-free offshore islands.

They are abundant on Kapiti Island where they occur naturally and breed relatively quickly without being threatened by mustelids, possums or rats.

The robin will be caught on Kapiti Island by using special “clap traps” – attracted by a feed of meal worms in front of a spring loaded net.

Iwi from Wellington and Kapiti Island have supported the project. Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai will bless the birds as they leave their Kapiti Island home and Te Ati Awa will welcome them onto Matiu/Somes Island.

Background:

North Island robin

The North Island robin is a sub-species of the New Zealand robin, a different species to the well known and extremely rare black robin found only on the Chatham Islands. It is coloured dark slaty grey above with a white spot above the bill and a pale grey lower breast, and has long thin legs and an upright stance. The female is generally lighter coloured than the male.

Robin are strongly territorial, feeding mostly on the forest floor, on a diet of invertebrates supplemented with small fruits. They build their bulky nests in the forks of tree trunks or even on top of old nests made by other birds, using twigs, bark moss and cobwebs, and lining them with tree fern scales, moss and grasses. Their eggs are around 2.5 cm long, and coloured cream with purplish spots.

They mature at a year old and their breeding season extends from August to February. During this time each pair may raise three broods. Robins are found mainly in mature native forests, common in beech or podocarp forest, and in manuka or kanuka scrub. They usually mate with the same partner year after year.

Robin will approach humans with curiosity. Because of their fearless nature and ground-feeding habits they are extremely vulnerable to mammalian predators.

Matiu/Somes Island Charitable Trust

The Matiu/Somes Charitable Trust was established in 1998 as a partnership between tangata whenua and the general community to help protect, nurture and enhance the island by raising funds for projects that increase biodiversity and enhance visitors’ enjoyment of the island. Through its active arm, “The Friends of Matui/Somes” it encourages community participation in work on the island. It also works closely with the Department of Conservation and community groups such as Forest and Bird.

The trust’s major conservation project to date has been the successful transfer of red-crowned parakeets from Kapiti over two years. This is already adding considerably to the attraction of the island to visitors.

The trust is committed to restoring the mana of Matiu/Somes and making it a showplace the region can be proud of; not only because its ecological and historic values, but because it provides a practical demonstration of what a real partnership can achieve.

Future species transfers will include the bellbird and fluttering shearwater as well as a range of reptiles, invertebrates and rare and endangered native plants. The trust also intends to help the department implement a comprehensive interpretation plan to enhance visitors’ experiences on the island.

ENDS

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