Te Henga wetland, which covers 160 hectares and is the biggest in Auckland, has the potential to be the ideal wildlife habitat with acres of reeds, raupō, sedges, open water ponds and the Waitākere River coursing through it.
Forest & Bird’s project Habitat te Henga was born from a desire to protect the
wetland. It started in 2014 with intensive stoat control, using 100 DOC 200 traps, several A24s and some cat traps.
Two trap lines totalling 30 kilometres were regularly checked and reset by a dedicated trapper. Scores of DOC 200s and A24s have been added since.
Effective predator control was required before translocation of pāteke could be considered and the first contingent of 20 pāteke was released in 2015, with a survival rate of 80 per cent, leading to another release of 80 birds in 2016. This has been covered previously in Flight magazine.
This success brought us closer to that ideal habitat and aroused interest and support from the local community and a range of other organisations.
Matuku Reserve Trust Board was established when the last block of bush and wetland came up for sale. The trust was able to buy it in November 2016.
The property, at the head of the Te Henga wetland in West Auckland, has raupō
and sedge beds, and open water ponds along the meanders of the former course of the river.
There are remnant pukatea and kahikatea at the foot of mixed kauri-podocarp-broadleaf forest from which small streams and seeps enter the flats.
With several other conservation projects including the Ark in the Park, Habitat
te Henga, and Forest & Bird’s Matuku Reserve alongside it, the 37-hectare property has been named Matuku Link. Here, a nursery has been established providing most of the plants that are converting the kikuyu-covered flood plain into a range of wetland habitats. An old barn has been transformed and provides not only a volunteer base but already does duty as a site for wetland education to the many school, service, business, and community groups that help with planting and bird releases. An aim is to have an on-site educator to work with schools.
Dozens of local residents have become involved as part of a buffer zone, collecting their traps or bait from the barn and local interest is really heightened when, as has happened in the past two years, pāteke have bred in their ponds or streams.
Also exciting for our neighbouring conservation group to the north was their discovery last year of a pāteke pair that had dispersed several kilometres into the forest-clad stream that disgorges into the te Henga wetland.
New ponds have been constructed at Matuku Link, with one of them sporting a family of seven pāteke ducklings. A more established pair on an existing pond are
so placid and accommodating that almost all visitors get to see them plus or minus their ducklings.
A further new pond was part of a survey for a PhD study on ponds and sampling from its inception over the year showed that it only took five to six months until
the Macroinvertebrate Community Index (MCI) matched that of established ponds. The MCI measures water quality.
Measuring outcomes for wildlife with predator control in place has involved
biennial audio recordings for matuku and pūweto. Pūweto are also surveyed annually. Goodnature A24 traps were deployed 18 months ago between an
existing DOC 200 array to see if a benefit to wildlife could be shown using pūweto as an indicator species.
The DOC 200 traps have been in place for six years and with the recording of fortnightly trap catch data and sightings or detections of matuku [bittern], pūweto [crake] or pāteke, we have a basis to see if change is detectable.
Rodent monitoring is undertaken three times a year by Auckland Zoo staff as part of its Conservation Fund outreach.
Native freshwater fish present include both long finned and short finned tuna, and one stream surveyed also had Cran’s bully, common bully, banded kōkopu and an unidentified galaxiid. These surveys have been done by Whitebait Connection which has also tested water quality parameters. Testing showed high health
of the river and streams.
A second forest-covered stream surveyed showed only eels and kōura but the
presence of a large overhanging culvert is the likely cause of the difference. With Whitebait Connection’s help, a fish ladder has been constructed and followed by
At other sites, galaxiids have wasted no time in colonising upstream once
impediments are removed and we also trapped a banded kōkopu upstream of
the culvert within a fortnight.
As well as continuing to use G-minnow traps, we will be taking water samples
to test for eDNA (environmental DNA). Multi-species testing of DNA in the
water will show what fish we have but it is also possible our streams have Hochstetter’s frog and Latia, the native limpet [the world’s only mollusc with bioluminescence].
The rest of the wetland is privately owned, but access to see wetland
habitats is now possible at Matuku Link. River flats make for easy walking but
accessibility for wheelchairs and buggies is being enhanced with good surfaces
and our first boardwalk has its official opening at our World Wetlands Day event in February 2021.
Building this boardwalk and other infrastructure was made possible by the post-Covid Jobs for Nature scheme. Our World Wetlands Day event is one of two open days we usually hold each year but now the barn is finally renovated, we
expect to open more frequently.
The annual kayak trip down the river offers visitors an intimate view of a large healthy wetland as well as being a great fundraising event. This year the event
will be on Saturday, April 27.
Our newest pond, made possible by Ducks Unlimited NZ, is slowly filling and once the plantings are established, we look forward to seeing pāteke and other wetland birds using it.
Proposed predator control is vital for Habitat Te Henga and for the reintroduction and survival of many birds including pateke. John Sumich , Chair, Habitat Te Henga puts the case.
Matuku, Forest & Bird’s sanctuary, is approximately 120ha of regenerating mixed kauri and podocarps that merges into West Auckland’s Te Henga wetland, the largest in the Auckland area.
Visiting a dozen years or so ago, Sean O’Connor and Ossie Latham declared to John Staniland, the resident guardian, that it was ideal for pateke although the whole valley would need predator control. Finally in 2012 the current Pateke Recovery group leader Tiff Browne and Nigel Miller agreed the blend of forest, swamp, and farmlands offered all that pateke desire. With the large dune-impounded Lake Wainamu just over the ridge it would also be part of the habitat any released pateke would utilise so that (area) also needed predator control. And while you’re at it they’ll (pateke) probably use the small estuary at the beach so include that!
Since 2002 the Ark in the Park project had been steadily expanding predator control to the current 2400ha and its north western boundary is conveniently the eastern boundary of the suggested predator controlled area.
The Ark has successfully introduced robins, whitehead and kokako and has an extensive mustelid and rat control program. Additionally a volunteer beach care group have been controlling predators for some years and have seen the return of New Zealand dotterel for their efforts. Other volunteers run a trap line at the north of the beach where on a headland there are five species of shearwater; the highest number cohabiting on a mainland site.
I was able to get grants from WWF, and Auckland Council Biosecurity to purchase traps both DOC200s for mustelids [the stainless steel model owing to the proximity of the wild West coast salt air] and also Belisle kill traps for feral cats.
Although the existing trap lines at the beach and at Matuku are fairly short and well managed by volunteers the new requirements have two long trap lines each over 12km and therefore too long for a sustained fortnightly trap checking by volunteers. Another grant gained from the Auckland Zoo Conservation fund is for a contract trapper who will alternate the long lines.
Fernbird sightings and perhaps territories are to be recorded, as they believe fernbird will be an indicator species showing a positive response to predator control. Over 100 traps were placed during September and between volunteers doing the shorter lines and a contract trapper doing the long lines we hope to maintain the effort year round. So far the perimeter traps enclose over 1000ha.
Robins from the Ark in the Park sanctuary have dispersed and have been seen around the lake; a kokako has also visited Matuku and tomtit are now being seen at Matuku so the original vision of the Ark in the Park, “ From the ridges to the sea” could become a reality with this new venture aimed at bringing back pateke. The potential then is for other waterfowl and rails to become established in the wetland and gradually disperse upriver toward the Ark.
Check it out at forestandbird.org.nz
As the end of the year approached, the Pateke at te Henga were still holding their own and week after week 17 birds were being detected, that is an 85 percent survival. Accordingly, the Pateke Recovery Group indicated that all would be on for a February release and could we please ensure that transmitters and harnesses were arranged and sent to Peacock Springs in readiness?
Again, as last year we would require 20 transmitters and harnesses while this year we would also have additional birds without transmitters and the success of this year would again be judged on the fate of the transmitter carrying birds. Expecting perhaps a total of 40 or 50 birds we were stunned to be told to expect 80!
Last year’s release took place on our Forest and Bird Matuku reserve and allowed only a brief glimpse of the Pateke as they rapidly scrambled across a couple of metres of water into dense reed beds rarely to be seen again.
Wanting a better spectacle this year and ensuring that the ducks would be released into the centre of our predator controlled area, the decision was made to renovate an old boardwalk that projected into a large pond so that most of the birds would be released here with a small number at a site offering easy access from a private property nearby.
Many days of activity followed with a couple of us clearing the old boardwalk and constructing a large deck at its far end. Pointed poles 3.6m in length were manhandled, forced through the weed mass then rammed into the muddy substrate below. Bearers, then joists were attached -often a tricky job as being without electricity, a brace and bit at or just below water level was needed. Of course, with the sea only one or two km away, all fittings had to be stainless steel to withstand possible wind driven salt exposure.
With four days to spare the deck was ready along with some under water weeding of the Eleocharis reeds done from kayaks.
Air New Zealand delivered even ahead of their ETA so we had a good start back from Mangere airport to te Henga. A large crowd was waiting and our PR representative had really done her job well with TV and newspapers both national and local all present. Volunteers helped move the boxed ducks across the river on the raft then walked them 500m to the deck where 60 birds were let go, five at a time.
Then it was all back to the more public site where after karakia and speeches, several people, old and young, had the opportunity to release a duck. My speech included a call to pass the hat around, as at this stage we still hadn’t obtained funding for the monitoring required of us- the handful of dollars received wasn’t going far but fortunately Auckland Council Biodiversity had decided to fund this aspect.
And what has happened since?
Big numbers certainly have made the difference in the number of sightings with groups of 8 or 9 having been seen. Again as last year, one or two birds absconded early on. Pateke Point we call it, is a site where pateke routinely seem to enjoy fluffing around protected by the overhanging willow canopy. What a dilemma, as I have been hell bent on getting rid of all the willows in our reserve. Perhaps we’ll leave just these few until replacement planting is mature enough. A transmitter carrying bird has perished cause unknown, while a non-transmitter carrying bird was killed by a car but apart from 3 or 4 adventurous birds, most seem to be sticking close to the release site.
Working back from the deck is a wide elevated boardwalk finished thanks to materials and some labour supplied by Henderson Rotary. A seat and information panel midway will give an opportunity to read about the serial vegetation starting from the cabbage trees, then flax then raupo and other increasingly water requiring sedges, and swamp millet etc.
Hopefully before winter arrives we will have had some nights monitoring where the Pateke forage. With a borrowed radio receiver we’ll have two teams attempting to get fixes from two different sites and follow a small number of Pateke at regular intervals for a few hours. An opportunity also to access some night vision glasses may give some insight as to the ducks movement or if nothing else will give the local mosquitoes a picnic. Then there is the planned pest monitoring using chew cards attached to stakes placed through parts of the swamp. Seems like an interesting project in theory but as always there’s plenty to do at te Henga.
Long seen as a logical extension of Forest & Bird’s Matuku Reserve, the property adjacent to Habitat Te Henga became available after many years.
Although a large donation was received nine years ago, from a generous benefactor, with the rising cost of Auckland property more fundraising was needed, and three of us from the Native Restoration Trust and the Waitakere branch of Forest & Bird started on a roller coaster ride to reach the $2 million target.
The 37ha property has a maturing mixed podocarp Kauri forest and a wetland edge on the Waitakere River. This wetland aspect has even more importance, with the development of the Habitat Te Henga project and its effective predator control, leading to pateke releases over the last two years.
The forested portion was seen as the last link in the ecological chain of the corridor from the predator controlled Ark in the Park and its buffer zone to Makutu Reserve.
Tomtit, not seen for over 30 years since the purchase of the reserve, have become established. Robins, whiteheads, and even a kokako, from those translocated to the Arc have made their way through. But it isn’t just one way traffic – pateke have dispersed upriver and when the importance of the river’s edge as a foraging and commuting corridor for long-tailed bats is added, the value of the property to conservation is irrefutable.
With the wetland, the biggest in the Auckland region with no public access, creating easy access to a river edge and wetland could give further value, and a house has scope to accommodate the many overseas and local students studying at Makutu or Arc in the Park. A small barn has potential as a wetland education and display centre.
We obviously just had to succeed!
Many trials and tribulations later, and many disappointments, when organisations we felt would be supportive were not, we came to the stage where we had sufficient support to make an offer that has been conditionally accepted. That support included some loans, which we are confident of repaying over several months. Purchasing the property is just the first step as the house will undoubtedly need some changes to make is suitable as a field base and student accommodation. The barn, likewise, will morph more slowly as a wetland display centre, and the 2 – 3 ha of buttercup filled
paddocks will require planning and plating to return them to alluvial sedge land and forest.
Fundraising will be ongoing and our Givealittle Appeal ran to October 27, but more support will be welcomed at any time. (See www.Givealittle.co.nz/project/makutulink)
An important part of our presentation to raise funds has been an excellent video shot from a drone operated by local drone company, X-craft. Experimenting with drones to receive the multiple signals from our transmittercarrying pateke has been one part of X-craft’s assistance,
but this easier task of videoing shows aspects of our wetland and forest that make this area a special one for conservation and education. The video can be seen on www.matukulink.kiwi.
Habitat te Henga; and the Forest & Bird reserve, Matuku so we called our newly purchased property, Matuku Link. Some of you may have helped our GiveaLittle appeal to purchase it and we took possession on November 1st late last year.
There are 37 hectares with three or four of those being alluvial flats including several scattered dock and buttercup ridden paddocks, irregularly divided by old riverbed meanders. In the meanders is a mix of tree lined open water with emergent baumea, extended raupo and swamp millet beds and carex, cyperus and juncus sedge patches. Peppered on the flats are remnant pukatea, kahikatea, kaikomako and totara.
Wasting no time, we held several working bees. Several truckloads of junk were taken away, scrap iron to the metal merchant, and the house made liveable for our new resident caretaker. A boundary line of poplar was felled and about a hectare of blackberry sprayed.
All internal fences were removed with the help of an obliging neighbour and the posts set aside for some future use – which manifested a mere month later. A group of 30 students from the Culver Academy, Indiana, touring through New Zealand wanted to be part of a conservation project. With a labour force that big, and four magnificent local carpenters, we constructed in two days 40 metres of boardwalk over a stream outlet on the Matuku Reserve.
Carrying tools, timber and a large generator almost a kilometre along the riverbank to the site, these energetic teens and their tutors helped finish a project that had been on the to-do list for four years. Some of them also helped plant kahikatea, the first of many trees, shrubs and sedges that will convert the paddocks to an alluvial forest resembling that which once existed. Other intrepid travellers had arrived the week before and, unfortunately, their arrival coincided with Auckland’s mid March weather bomb. With the river some 3-4m higher than usual, turbulent and silt laden, the never-saydie elvers (young eels) all the way from Tonga were seen flick flacking over the flooded bridge.
The desire to enable this property, which has easy access, to become a site for a wetland education centre has also rocketed ahead. The Trusts Community Fund Million Dollar Mission was opened on March 1 with several selected community groups competing to get votes from supporters for their projects. By the time the million ran out, Matuku Link had gained over 17,000 votes with each vote worth $5. The money will go toward material needed for the conversion of the barn while design and build will be a real=life project for Unitec students from the schools of survey, architecture landscape, and construction.
Matuku Link trustee
Having just returned from trip to Southern Africa where brown was in fashion, I was glad to visit our wetland and rejoice in the green of all the wetland and surrounding bush flora. A good year for white also with heketara and clematis splashing through the canopy.
Making my way quietly to the oxbow where I was hoping to see the [almost] resident pair of Pateke I was quite satisfied to instead observe a pair of shoveler, the male in his ruddy breeding colours.Circling upstream to check on some of our plantings of 2-3 months ago I was annoyed to see the billy goats Gruff , all three enjoying the lush spring grass but also no doubt the culprits that had ravaged some of the over 3,000 plants we have planted so far.Especially annoying was the loss of some maire tawake, but perhaps with Myrtle Rust now in New Zealand they are in jeopardy anyway.
Sedges and rushes, flax, kahikatea, the wet loving kaikomako and many other species all planted over several days by school groups, Junior Forest & Bird, Brownies, and volunteers. A group of Rotarians fulfilling Rotary International’s call for every Rotarian to plant a tree to mitigate against Global Warming, managed to do far better including 20-30 large sized kahikatea and pukatea
A large area of flax was planted where the previous owner had allowed a dump of some soil that unfortunately had gorse seeds. This was the only part of our almost year old purchase that had gorse and although sprayed out last summer, seedlings will spring up. However flax is impervious to the spray we can use to steadily eradicate the gorse seedlings and will ultimately shade out gorse.
Special plantings: Sedges and rushes, flax, kahikatea, the wet loving kaikomako and many
other species planted over several days by school groups, Junior Forest & Bird, Brownies, andvolunteers.
Earlier in the month behind the newly planted flax in the small seep curling around to the oxbow, a bittern was seen so they are certainly utilising all of our Matuku Link property from west to east.
Good progress has been made on the nursery that will be providing the many plants needed to revegetate the 3-4 hectares of alluvial flat and that task will probably take 3-5 years. Downstream in the main part of the te henga wetland our trapping contractor often sees Pateke – but a more exciting report has just come through of another missing species.
With an invasion of Salvinia weed tackled by MPI two years ago, follow up monitoring on the water by kayak is ongoing. No Salvinia weed was seen in the latest monitoring but among the birds noted banded rail was listed. We are investigating this further as that species has not
been noted for decades following the collapse of the fitch industry and the local fitch breeder
merely releasing his animals into our valley.
If confirmed this will mean that all the rails are present as last year our audio monitoring picked up marsh crake in almost the same area. As a consequence of that we have beefed up our predator control with a line of Goodnature A24 traps along the shore line.