During two weeks in May, seven juvenile shore plover/tūturuatu were translocated to Waikawa Island off Mahia Peninsula. This was the last of two translocation for the year. Local biodiversity ranger Helen Jonas explains what’s involved in keeping this population of rare birds going.
There are two key things about this translocation that you need to know before we dive in. Firstly, Waikawa is private, Māori-owned land and is farmed as part of Onenui Station. We would not have been able to do this work without the help, support and expertise of local iwi. Secondly, shore plover are unique to New Zealand and were first introduced to the island in 1998 – so it’s very important that these translocations go well. We carry out one to two juvenile shore plover transfers to the island each year. Birds are transported by helicopter from captive breeding programmes at Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre in the Wairarapa and Isaacs Wildlife Centre in Christchurch.
We head to the island a day before the birds are expected to prepare for the birds and to build an aviary. It’s a short helicopter trip from Mahia to Waikawa. May on Waikawa is starting to cool down. There is definitely more comfortable times to build an aviary, weather wise. The next morning on the island, the existing shore plover that can be found are counted and the traps checked.
Once the juvenile shore plover arrive from their helicopter flight, they are settled and fed a diet of milled cat food biscuits and double minced ox heart with wombaroo (a high protein insectivore supplement) mixed in, plus fat meal worms. Temporary coloured leg bands are removed and replaced with a combination of four coloured bands (two on one leg, two on the other).
The birds are weighed and the general state of their health is checked. These coloured bands last four to five years in this harsh environment of sun, sand and sea water. The existing wild shore plover are re-captured temporarily including one wild shore plover that missed banding. Coloured banding enables monitoring of individual birds and their integration into the breeding population. The birds are held in the aviary for five days.
The birds are released and take their first flight as the tide is going out into inter-tidal feeding areas. Three days on and all seven juvenile birds are still on the island which is encouraging. We disinfectant the gear then pack it away clean and dry. It’s been a successful transfer and potentially the final altogether depending on how many pairs are breeding next season. We need 20 breeding pairs established to cease translocation. It’s hard to complete the roll call with just over 70 birds. This season we had 17 pairs breeding and 11 Waikawa bred juveniles fledged. 18 juvenile birds were relocated over two transfers. It is great to see numbers building up again after the devastating rat incursion in 2013.