The wildlife of Whangamarino Wetland

Department of Conservation —  16/02/2015

By Jane Hughes, Partnership Ranger, Hamilton

I am staring into a tangled mass of harakeke, willow, sedges, raupo and other vegetation typical of the wetland edges. The vast expanse of Whangamarino Wetland stretches to my left.

Whangamarino Wetland.

Whangamarino Wetland

Stella McQueen at Whangamarino Wetland.

Stella McQueen

I am visiting these wetlands with Stella McQueen, a self-confessed “native fish geek” who has written two books on native fish.

Turning her observation skills to birds, twice a year she arrives in her campervan, to count fernbirds/mātātāa and spotless crake/pūweto for four hours every dawn and dusk.

“Did you hear that?” head cocked, jotting on her clipboard. “How many do you think are there?”

Hear what?  I notice a click and listen harder.

Distinctive chirping follows. Stella recognises the sounds as at least two pairs of fernbirds and she is quietly whooping with excitement. She hasn’t heard any fernbirds all week.

Since humans began draining wetlands, fernbirds have declined significantly and are now classed as globally at risk. We hear several this evening which is really exciting.



Next, Stella turns on a recording to draw out the secretive crake.

The Whangamarino Wetland is a nationally important site for spotless crake, another small freshwater wetlands bird. Breeding deep in the wetlands, and abundant when Europeans arrived, populations have declined dramatically.

DOC is developing methods, including ‘call counts’ for surveying spotless crakes, which is where Stella comes in. The data obtained from this visit will help develop management techniques for spotless crake and fernbird populations.

Spotless crake/pūweto.

Spotless crake/pūweto.

The recording loudly repeats three distinctive spotless crake calls: booking, gobbling, and churring.

In the ‘silent’ spaces, even I hear the ‘book book’ from amongst the wetland, which Stella gleefully notes on her spreadsheet.

Crake and fernbirds are rarely seen so we feel truly fortunate later in the evening to watch two pairs of fernbirds hopping around the low bush, calling to each other.

Stella McQueen listening for birds at Whangamarino Wetland.

Following the bird listener

Stella’s work monitoring these and species and the work being done to restore our beautiful wetlands will hopefully help stop the decline of these rare birds.