Mana Island midnight bird banding

Department of Conservation —  25/11/2016

Mana Island ranger Chris Bell made the most of the rude awakening last Monday morning, when the tsunami warning drove him and his fellow rangers out of their coastal digs and up to higher ground.

When the earthquake hit all three of us were in bed (myself and seasonal rangers, Leon Berard and Jo Chambon). It woke me up but didn’t rouse me enough to get out of bed, and as soon as it stopped I went back to sleep without another thought. Then about 2am my phone rang; it was the duty officer passing on a tsunami warning for Wellington. I got up and roused Leon and Jo, and within another 10 minutes the warning was extended to Porirua and Kapiti so we were on the move.

Mana Island. Photo: Leon Berard.

Mana Island. Photo: Leon Berard

I grabbed a packet of Tim Tams and some water, and the three of us took off on foot up the hill – the houses are at sea level but the island climbs steeply to a maximum of 150m. Luckily the night was calm and clear and half way up it occurred to me that we could go and check the kuaka/diving petrels.

Rangers search burrows at the petrel colony on Mana Island. Photo: Leon Berard.

Rangers search burrows at the petrel colony on Mana Island. Photo: Leon Berard

Diving petrels were transferred to Mana Island in 1997 after the eradication of predators. Their success at establishing a breeding colony has been closely monitored ever since. Jo and I had been at the colony earlier that night to locate some adults. They have small chicks right now and spend their days foraging at sea, returning after dark to feed them. On our earlier evening visit (about 10pm) we’d found one of the birds, but were looking for two more. I still had the bands and pliers in my pack…not usually part of my emergency kit!

It was a spectacular night at the colony with the huge nearly-full moon and sooty shearwaters flying all around making a lot of noise.

We checked two burrows for our missing birds and there they both were, one unbanded which we soon put right. The divers are a real success story on Mana, spreading out from the artificial burrows that the original birds were placed in, increasing their population steadily and now breeding in their own natural burrows over a wide area.

Once the exciting part was over we made camp by the colony, ate the Tim Tams and waited for the all clear which came at about 4.30am.

The next day we checked the island infrastructure. Thankfully we got off lightly with just a few things fallen off shelves in the workshop. The other resident animals didn’t seem bothered by the earthquake; the takahē where back plodding about the grass as usual.

Kuaka/diving petrel. Photo: Dick Veitch.

Kuaka/diving petrel

My colleague Jo is from France; he has only been in New Zealand for six months and this was his first earthquake. Hopefully he’ll remember it fondly as the night we banded kuaka under the super-moon and safely evaded a tidal wave.

2 responses to Mana Island midnight bird banding

    Colin Ryder 25/11/2016 at 3:47 pm

    It’s good to see a bit of multi-tasking. Enjoyed meeting you last Saturday on the island. It’s looking really good.

    Jane Hughes 25/11/2016 at 8:41 am

    Great story, well told 🙂 What a travel tale for Jo!