Someone didn’t pass the memo onto this kiwi that social distancing be applied between kiwis not in your ‘bubble’. But to be fair, communication channels are pretty hit and miss on Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island Nature Reserve, and this particular kiwi is of the actual ‘bird’ variety.
For resident rangers, Richard Walle, ecologist Dr Leigh Joyce, and their two children, Mahina and Liam (not forgetting ranger Chippy Wood!) lockdown doesn’t look that much different to most days on their island sanctuary. It’s also the norm for them to be surrounded by some of New Zealand’s most endangered species… tuatara are commonplace in the vege patch, and rowdy kōrora that nest under the bunkhouse frequently wake up visitors in the middle of the night. But even they were surprised when they heard a polite “tap, tap, tap” at the glass kitchen door, and a young kiwi peering in.
It was overcast and drizzling and the kiwi had walked upstairs using the external wooden ramp from the garden below, past the pond. It then proceeded to walk around the house on the upstairs wooden deck, gently probing with its bill. That bill found a void in the open ranch-slider door and this adventurous kiwi crossed the threshold.
The rangers did not want to stress the bird by attempting to catch it, so they quietly stood by and watched to see what this kiwi would do next. The kiwi casually made its way through the dining room and kitchen, before slowly heading out the kitchen door, down the ramp, and back into the forest… but not before it had passed within centimetres of the rangers’ feet, breaking the 2 metre social distancing rules required to reduce the spread of Covid-19. We’ll give it the benefit of the doubt!
Kiwi are normally nocturnal, but it is not uncommon to see them during the day. On Hauturu the rangers had recently seen kiwi drinking from their garden pond due to the recent dry conditions. Their observations concluded the kiwi was neither distressed nor dehydrated, just curious. A young kiwi (possibly the same bird) was seen foraging in the undergrowth the following morning, its bill probing the soil for a giant centipede…which it then proceeded to swallow whole.
“The behaviour of the young kiwi suggests that it did not feel threatened by humans – we were just part of the scenery – no different from any other species on the island. We often walk past kōkako and kererū feeding on the front lawn and they completely ignore us. It’s an amazing experience to feel part of nature rather than separated from it, and Hauturu emphasises the importance of predator-free sanctuaries,” comments Leigh Joyce.
It’s occurrences like these that highlight why Hauturu is considered to be one of the most important reserves of its kind in the world. Positioned at the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park/Ko te Pātaka kai o Tīkapa Moana, the 3083 ha island is a relic of ancient New Zealand. It is our first nature reserve, founded in 1896. Feral cats and kiore were the only predators to make it to the island, and they were eradicated in 1980 and 2004 respectively. With more than 40 species of birds permanently or seasonally present, two bat species and 14 species of reptiles, the island supports the most diverse assemblage of native fauna of any island in the country.
For these reasons, Hauturu is the benchmark by which the Park’s 46 other predator-free islands measure themselves by. Collectively, these islands provide safe havens for many of our most precious endangered species to survive and thrive, including wētāpunga, tīeke, tuatara and hihi.
Comments resident ecologist, Dr Leigh Joyce, ‘the role of the rangers on Hauturu is to support the strong ecosystems in place, as opposed to our newer predator-free islands where more active management is undertaken.’
Hauturu is a circular, mountainous island, heavily forested and flanked by cliffs and boulders. Cloud rests like a crown on the top of the island, which hints to the translation of its Māori name, ‘wind’s resting post’. The only area of flat land is on the south-western side, where the ranger’s two-storey house can be found, along with a bunkhouse that accommodates volunteers and scientists. Entry is by permit only and no landing is allowed. Strict biosecurity and quarantine measures are undertaken to prevent introduced pests from arriving on the island. The rangers live year-round on Hauturu, and Richard, Leigh, Mahina and Liam have lived here since 2011. Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island Nature Reserve is managed by the Department of Conservation in partnership with Ngāti Manuhiri.
The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park/Ko te Pātaka kai o Tīkapa Moana is celebrating its 20th year as New Zealand’s only national park of the sea. Its breadth encompasses the Waitematā Harbour, Hauraki Gulf, Firth of Thames, and the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. At 1.2 million hectares it is roughly twenty times the size of Lake Taupō, and contains a quality and diversity of species and landscape that is ‘outstanding’, nationally and internationally. Within these boundaries are 30 island groups and more than 400 individual islets. Of these, 93 islands are large – more than 5 hectares – and 47 of these are predator-free havens. Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island Nature Reserve is the jewel in the crown of the Park.