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Endangered bird thrives in Moana Wetlands

In an attempt to save critically endangered native bird populations through Greater Wellington’s restoration and predator control efforts, the matuku-hūrepo, or Australasian bittern, has been given a chance to spread its wings in Wairarapa Moana Wetlands.

The Australasian bittern’s status is classed as nationally critical – one tier down from extinction – with less than 1000 birds living in wetlands around the country.

A spokesperson from GW said the bittern are secretive, stealthy and difficult to spot due to their clever earth-coloured camouflage.

To count the birds, you must stand in the wetlands just before dawn or dusk and listen for the “booms and wooms” of the males’ call.

Meanwhile, the best time to hear them is between September and February, during their breeding season, the booming season.

Senior Environmental Scientist at GW Roger Uys said more matuku had recently been heard at Wairarapa Moana Wetlands than ever before.

“Not so long ago, there was serious national concern that the bittern population was going backwards,” Uys said.

“Now I can confidently say the bittern are thriving at Wairarapa Moana because of the predator control work we do.

“Hearing the breeding matuku is a special sign that all the restoration efforts are working.”

Wairarapa Moana Wetlands are one of the few wetlands in New Zealand recognised as a Ramsar site of international significance, the GW spokesperson said – an intergovernmental treaty for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

“In te ao Māori, the male matuku booms in loneliness and despair. The matuku and its calls were woven into waiata [song] and kōrero [conversation] to comfort people in their grief,” Environment manager at Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Rawiri Smith said.

Smith belongs to Wairarapa Moana Wetlands project, often sharing kōrero about the plants, pests, and place.

“The calls still hold that chilling feeling, as we grieve the loss of 97 per cent of the repo [wetlands] that surrounded Wairarapa Moana.

“We want to work collaboratively to expand the remaining wetlands, in Māori we call this mahi tūhono, the work of connecting.

“If we can reduce the introduced predators in our lands and forests, then we might have a chance to replenish, and a chance for manu [birds] like the matuku and pūweto [spotless crake] to grow and enhance the mauri [life force] of the place,” he said.

Greater Wellington’s Senior Biosecurity Officer Steve Playle was responsible for setting up the intricate network of 470 traps in 2013 around the wetlands.

“I’ve known the wetlands for more than 40 years,” Playle said.

“As a hunter and frequent visitor, I saw my role in leading the wetland’s predator control as an opportunity to give back to the land.”

According to Playle, it can take years of trapping and planting before seeing its positive effects.

“We’ve removed thousands of hedgehogs and rats, and hundreds of ferrets, feral cats and mice from Wairarapa Moana. And now, we’re seeing endangered wildlife flourish – it’s the wetlands telling us how effective long-term predator control is,” Playle said.

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