Fluffy seabirds with a bite

Department of Conservation —  23/04/2018

This is the second blog post in a three-part series following the translocation of up to 100 intrepid seabirds from Whenua Hou Island to the Maungaharuru Range in the Hawke’s Bay.

Kia ora. We’re now well into the work here on predator-free Whenua Hou and the changeable Southland weather has made working to plan challenging.

The team consists of Rachael Sagar, Jemma Welch, Estelle Leask and me (Kelly Eaton, Department of Conservation Biodiversity Ranger from Hawke’s Bay).

The Team – Rachael Sagar, Jemma Welch, Estelle Leask and Kelly Eaton.

The Team – Rachael Sagar, Jemma Welch, Estelle Leask and Kelly Eaton

We arrived safely in Invercargill, having travelled from all over New Zealand to assist in getting the kōrure chicks up to the Maungaharuru range.

After going through a strict quarantine before flying out to Whenua Hou – everything right down to pens and pencils had to be cleaned and checked for things like unwanted seeds, invertebrates and myrtle rust – we loaded up a van and headed out to the helipad.

Once we touched down and unpacked, we went to the hut where we moved in and shut the door before unpacking our gear, in case there was a mustelid or rat stowed away amongst our belongings.

There were no such discoveries, so we prepared to be flown to the top of Whenua Hou Island, loading up a lot of our heavy and large gear to save us from lugging it up the track.

Once we were at the top, we were into it, checking designated burrows to see which had chicks.

Working with one of the kōrure chicks,

Ranger Estelle working with one of the kōrure chicks

These kōrure chicks did not let us down – they gave the team cheek at every opportunity!

We spent the day on our stomachs in the dirt with our hands down burrows fumbling for kōrure so we could measure their wings and weigh them to see which ones met the translocation criteria.

Almost as if on cue the vomiting started.

Vomiting is the chicks’ disgruntled way of letting us know our presence in their colony is not all that welcome.

Kōrure chicks are renowned regurgitators, and since their diet is mostly regurgitated fish from their parents you can imagine the smell.

That would have to be the most unpleasant part of this job. Not only do the birds vomit, we have to clean it up to ensure that what they bring up doesn’t destroy the waterproofing of their feathers.

To add to this, the little guys have a nasty habit of scratching and pecking your hands (often in the same spot over and over again). While this is not something you generally want to happen when you put your hand into a dark hole, in this instance, it helps the team gently remove the birds from their burrows.

Through all this, we persevered and after wiping the vomit from our notebooks and patching up our hands, we carried on measuring their wings and weights.

After a successful day at the colony, I got to experience one of my favourite parts of this trip which was listening to the short-tailed bats high-pitched calling on the walk back to the hut after a long day. It’s a magical sound to hear.

A bellbird the team cam across on their travels on Whenua Hou.

A bellbird the team came across on their travels on Whenua Hou

If we are lucky over the coming week we may come face to face with a kākāpo or a critically endangered hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin. That’s if the weather clears up.

As I write this, I am sitting in the hut trying to avoid a thunderstorm that has descended on the island. However, we are persevering in no small part due to Rachel’s amazing cooking – I am about to tuck into a piece of succulent carrot cake smothered in cream cheese icing.

Hopefully, the sun will shine again tomorrow, because we like to measure the chick’s twice before we make the final list of who’s going on an OE to Hawke’s Bay.

Stay tuned for our translocation day post – a 1,131-kilometre journey with 100 boxed kōrure.

This is the second in a series of posts about the translocation of kōrure to Hawke’s Bay, follow the Conservation Blog to keep up to date on the progress.