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Birdlife hints at predator progress

A recently launched predator control initiative at Castlepoint appears to already be having a positive effect, with anecdotal accounts of an increase in birdlife in the area, including welcome appearances by blue penguins.

Castlepoint Ratepayers and Residents’ Association Member Philip Sutherland said that before an agreement was signed with the Department of Conservation [DOC] last October, there was no predator control in the area.

The organisation aims to facilitate to increase all bird numbers and native wildlife at Castlepoint and has observed a high number of quail returning to the area since beginning a local trapping programme.

Each trap is mapped on the Trap.nz website, whether it’s set on either public or private property, to measure the work being done.

According to resident Helen Welch, who lives on Castlepoint beachfront, “We have noticed a big increase this year of birdsong,” something she attributes to is “a fantastic combination of work” done by predator-free.

“Wildlife is thriving out there, and the bird wildlife is actually increasing,” she said, and there’s hope that includes the “blue penguin colony living in the rocks at Castlepoint”.

Previously, “the penguins that were looking to breed would get hammered by stoats,” Sutherland said.

Castlepoint resident Kim Aperloo said she was recently shocked – in a good way – to see two little blue penguins swimming in the channel between the lagoon and the sea, before they waddled to the beach.

“I was really excited and squealed. I think the penguins heard me and ran very quickly under the rocks,” she said.

Welch is a big fan of the aquatic birds – “We love them, our little blue penguins” – and has had a number of encounters with them over the years, including a blue penguin that would hop on her husband’s board when he went surfing near the lighthouse.

But she’s also seen a few dead penguins in the past few years, including one near the camping grounds on the beach with no visible signs of damage just two weeks ago.

However, it’s uncertain how the blue penguins – which breed from August to March and usually come ashore at dusk and depart at dawn – are currently faring.

DOC doesn’t hold any monitoring data for the little penguin [or kororā] at Castlepoint, senior biodiversity ranger Paul Gasson said.

“In general, numbers are only stable or increasing at sites where predators are controlled or absent.

“Little penguins can also be locally impacted by prey shortages.

“We have received several reports of dead penguins in Wairarapa this summer where starvation was the likely cause of death, but not in unusually high numbers.

“Little penguins at Castlepoint may be benefiting from community-led predator trapping and habitat restoration, but the local population appears to be sparse, and this means that recovery would be slow even if all the threats were alleviated.”

If you see a penguin is clearly injured or in immediate danger, contact the emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT [0800 362 468]. Try and give the exact location and take photos to help DoC make an assessment.

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