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Friday, 16 February 2018 08:18

Project Bittern (Matuku) Report

Written by John Cheyne
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Risk taker: Out in the open, but being cautious. Risk taker: Out in the open, but being cautious. Emma Williams

Ducks Unlimited NZ AGM (23 July 2016)

Emma Williams has continued working on the bittern project assisted by me and other volunteers. 

Key points are:

  1. Emma graduated with her Doctorate  Degree at Massey University which was based on bittern research. A huge thank you to DU for helping fund a major part of her work to learn more about this iconic critically threatened species.
  2. A total of 10 male bitterns (six 2014 and four 2015) were captured at Lake Whatuma and transmitters attached. Of these 10 birds, nine left the lake over summer with one bird remaining on the lake. The bird that remained on the lake was found dead in late April in raupo and cause of death unknown. Four of the birds have returned to the lake in July and one other is being monitored at a  wetland 10kms away. In spite of extensive  searching the location of the remaining four birds is unknown, but it is most likely they will return to the lake in time for spring like birds did last year. The DU funded transmitters have contributed significantly to our much increased knowledge of this secretive bird.
  3. Emma travelled to Christchurch earlier this year to place transmitters on two bittern chicks that had been found abandoned not far from Travis wetland on the outskirts of Christchurch. These have been monitored by local people. One bird is still alive near the mouth of the Waimakariri River north of Christchurch and the other was found dead in mid May near the mouth of the Opihi River over 100kms south of Christchurch. This bird was examined and appeared to have died of starvation which is not uncommon overseas with bittern. Very interesting results plotting the movement of this juvenile bird and proves that bittern can move considerable distances.
  4. We held a very successful meeting on April 6 for the local Waipukurau community, landowners and Iwi to up-date them on the bittern project. Over 50 people attended and DU received well deserved acknowledgment for their significant contribution to the project.
  5. Emma has done no further school talks in the Wairarapa but will complete others this spring organised jointly between her and Gill Lundie. She has spoken to a number of schools in Hawke’s Bay. Emma continues to provide written articles for Flight.
  6. Bittern are a species under severe threat from wetland loss, predation, poor food supply and human disturbance. Population trends are negative. The Department of Conservation operate a conservation threat classification system of bittern and last month bittern were upgraded to the highest level of Nationally Critical Threatened Species. Kakapo and takahe  share the same ranking which highlights  the plight of this iconic wetland bird.
  7. It is important that DU continue to support  the bittern conservation programme and encourage others (DOC, Forest & Bird) to commit to the preparation of a national bittern recovery plan.
  8. In 2015 DU Directors agreed to support the bittern project to the level of $25,000 to enable Emma Williams to continue her research work and purchase transmitters. Expenditure to date is (Emma Williams $7322) and (transmitters $9211.25). The remaining $8467 will be utilised this coming spring/summer.

John Cheyne

Coordinator Project Bittern (Matuku)

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