Reports of sightings in the past decade point to a growing population of royal spoonbills in New Zealand. Te Papa bird expert Dr Colin Miskelly backs this up, saying there are signs that the spoonbill, kotuku ngutupapa, is "increasing at a rapid rate".
The first spoonbill sighting was recorded in New Zealand at Castlepoint in 1861.
Sightings increased through the 1900s, with breeding first recorded next to the white heron colony at Okarito, south Westland, in 1949.
Since then it has successfully colonised New Zealand from Australia and is now widespread, breeding on both main islands, and dispersing to coastal sites across the country after the breeding season.
In 1977 the New Zealand population was estimated at 52 birds. The most up-to-date estimate (in 2012) was 2,360 birds, though the population is now thought to have exceeded 3,000.
A colony and nest count during the 2013-14 breeding season found 19 colonies with at least 614 nests.
It breeds in the exposed canopy of tall kahikatea trees, on the ground near estuaries, rivers and harbours, in reeds, in low shrubs, and on steep rocky headlands, tending to breed near white heron and shag colonies.
It prefers freshwater to saltwater but can inhabit both. Royal spoonbill is one of six spoonbill species worldwide but the only one that breeds in New Zealand.
Source: Szabo, M.J. 2013 [updated 2017]. Royal spoonbill. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz.
The brown teal (pāteke) is one of three endemic teal to New Zealand and the only one to fly. Both the Auckland Island and Campbell Island teal are flightless.
Mainly nocturnal and half the size of a mallard, this shy, omnivorous duck spends time on land foraging for invertebrates, seeds, fruit, grass, and foliage. With dark brown plumage, the males are particularly distinctive from their female counterparts during breeding time in late winter.
The slightly larger males in breeding plumage obtain a green iridescence on their heads, a dark chestnut breast plus occasionally a thin white neck ring too.
Like many of our native birds, this small-necked dabbling duck has dramatically suffered from mammalian predators, loss of habitat and hunting, resulting in a plummeting population to only 700 birds in the wild by the 1990s.
Brown teal were once widespread, but thanks to brown teal species co-ordinator Kevin Evans and the Department Of Conservation brown teal recovery group, in the past 15 years, this population decline has not only been halted, but reversed, building up to about 2500 birds in the wild today.
Numbers are slowly recovering and there are several contributors to this success:
Captive breeding facilities across New Zealand that produce birds for release.
The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust (ICWT), which provides facilities for flock mating for other institutions, and breeding plus pre-release conditioning and processing (banding, transmitter attachment, worming, disease screening, etc). Every captive raised bird goes to ICWT as its aviaries have stream-fed waterways for foraging, plus special feeders where the brown teal learn to obtain food. These feeders are also located at release sites.
DOC together with community groups undertake intensive predator control at release sites.
There are generally four releases of brown teal a year and the latest release of 32 birds was in August in the Abel Tasman National Park in an area managed by Janszoon.
Preparing the birds for release is an exhausting but rewarding task for all those involved at ICWT (assisted by Kevin Evans).
All release sites are vigorously assessed to ensure pāteke are released into areas with adequate protection and habitat to support self-sustaining populations.[Ducks Unlimited was instrumental in early conservation efforts from 1975 with its ‘Operation Pateke’, New Zealand’s first large-scale co-ordinated brown teal breeding programme. – Editor]
The Department of Conservation has high hopes for the upcoming whio breeding season in Fiordland. About 64 breeding whio were found earlier this year in a survey of a security site for the blue ducks.
Senior ranger Andrew (Max) Smart says this means the northern Fiordland site is the first in the South Island to exceed the target of 50 breeding pairs.
“Security sites are the highest priority whio conservation areas in the country; there are four in the North Island and four in the South Island.
"The target of 50 breeding pairs is set for each security site through the Whio Recovery Plan. A couple of sites on the North Island have reached this target, but we’re the first confirmed site on the South Island to do so.”
Whio have come a long way since 1999/2000 when only three pairs were found in this security site, Max says. “This year’s number is only a minimum and there could be up to another nine pairs.
“Extended trapping efforts and landscape scale predator control have enabled the whio here, and at key sites around New Zealand, to make a strong comeback.”
Whio are monitored using walk-through river surveys using specially trained conservation dogs. Two surveys a year are planned for each river.
The first survey, in November and December, counts the number of ducklings, as well the number of individual birds and pairs seen. The second survey, generally in January and February, counts the number of fledglings.
Exceeding this target is great news for whio, but according to Max, there is still a lot of work to do to secure a future for this species.
“We are only doing work over a relatively small area and this is where we are making a difference. Predator control has to be kept up and expanded for whio to have a chance to increase in number and spread over their natural range.”
Peter Russell keeps a watchful eye on Whio to make sure the numbers are kept up and they return as much as possible, to the areas where they started life.
The past year has been the best to date with 26 ducklings reared and released back into the wild. This was achieved by three pairs, the Auckland pair produced 11, the pair at Peacock Springs having 10 and the Orana pair five. These pairs had all been flock mated. Both the Auckland and Peacock pairs did double clutch which really helps with numbers produced.
Three pairs at Hamilton, Palmerston North and Staglands that I was hoping would produce, did nothing. I hope they do better in the coming season.
This season we have flock mated four more pairs that gives pairs to Otorohanga, Mt Bruce, Queenstown and another pair at Peacock. I was a bit disappointed with Mt Bruce who took so long in sending male birds to Peacock that the female in the new pair at Peacock laid a clutch of eggs without a male.
It was also disappointing that no wild clutches came in last season to keep on making up more pairs for captive population.
The first release of 10 was at Egmont National Park on the January 29 with Andrew Glaser of DoC coming over and taking staff through putting transponders in and a video team taking footage of this and the release. We had a group of school children who attended and Andy was in his glory.
The second release was on the Manganui-a-te-ao and it was good to see Alison Beath also of DoC come down to put the transponders in. We released a total of eight birds with two older birds which came from there as juveniles and have only bred once and hadn’t done anything for the last three years. It was a great day. Lots of school children.
The third release was on the Tongariro which also went really well with lots of people and Genesis staff involved. Six birds were released. The last release was back at Egmont on a Saturday so their volunteers could attend as most of them work during the week. There were four birds plus a duckling I had hand reared and then sent to Peacock Springs so it would be brought up with other birds.
It has been so much better now with Air New Zealand sponsorship for moving ducks about and saving costs on breeders and Peacock Springs when sending for release. It is a bit more work for me but it goes with the job.
Duckling quality is very good and I am sure that the matting’s we are doing with eggs that are coming in is paying off with a very good bird for release.
Deaths for the year
There were seven deaths during the year. Two were neonatal and one a 20-year-old male and another 19-year-old male. We also lost 15 males including one eight-year-old. These males were not in the breeding programme.
The breeding male from Auckland Zoo died after a very good first season. The female is now at Mt Bruce and has been flock mated with the surplus wild males.
Pairs still needed at: 1. Nga Manu, 2. Mt Bruce, 3. Peacock Springs, 4. Kowhai Aviary, 5. Willowbank, 6. Auckland Zoo, and 7. Ron Munro. We need to bring in more clutches this coming season. Releases for next year Egmont wants to carry on releasing next season though we still need to look for new sites. Also returning birds to areas were the clutches of eggs are from.
There is something majestic about Mute swans as they glide gracefully on the surface of a lake, no wonder they are in great demand.
Swan Upping* has been an annual event for Ducks Unlimited for about 28 years with some members travelling quite a distance to take part in “catching up the swans”.
Peacock Springs, now The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust donates Mute swans to DU, and the swans contribute a major amount to DU’s yearly fund raising.
This year Ross Cottle and Jim Campbell brought seven swans north. Back in the North Island they collected all the birds that DU members have reared (in total 17) and they were taken to Ross’s place in Masterton to sort into breeding pairs for distribution to members who want them.
Catching the swans is called Swan Upping short for catching up the swans.
Two Cape Barren Geese were caught up in this event. They are Grey Geese native to the southern coast of Australia called Cape Barren. They have black feet, pink legs, a blue grey body and lime green beak. They have gone to long time DU member Mike Burke in northern Manawatu.
*Swan Upping is an annual ceremonial and practical activity in Britain in which Mute swans on the River Thames are rounded up, caught, marked, and then released.
Traditionally, the Monarch of the United Kingdom retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but only exercises ownership on certain stretches of the river and its surrounding tributaries. This dates from the 12th century, during which time swans were a common food source for royalty. Swan Upping is a means of establishing a swan census and today also serves to check the health of swans.
Photos: Catherine Ott, Peacock Springs.
Staff at Pukaha Mount Bruce were excited in late October last year with the arrival of the first whio (blue duck) to be hatched there in over 15 years.
The only one of four eggs to hatch, the duckling was raised with three other ‘exotic’ ducklings. The duckling’s mother was then put on another clutch of eggs and with hopes for a better hatch rate from the second clutch.
Staff are still unsure of the sex of this first whio. At approximately six months old a male whio will whistle when picked up and a female whio will grunt.
1. Flock mating/natural pairing of Pateke was the key to the highly successful captive breeding programme – together with the enthusiasm of participants. Flock mating is now being used in a number of rare waterfowl recovery programmes.
2. Captive reared brown teal adapt readily to a wild environment, natural or created.
3. In Northland captive reared Pateke released at Mimiwhangata, Whananaki and Purerua between 1986-1992 survived for long periods and produced offspring – in spite of little predator control, with predator control Pateke are doing well.
4. Where predator control programmes have been in operation at suitably selected quality release sites in Northland (and more recently on the Coromandel) Pateke have survived very well and have successfully reared many progeny.
5. In the absence of waterfowl hunting and predators, captive reared brown teal released into quality Pateke habitat have few problems adapting to the wild.
6. A gradual transition from captive bred to wild, using pre-release pens and a supplementary diet was successful.
7. Brown teal are by far the most predator vulnerable species amongst all species of waterfowl
8. Captive reared teal released on off-shore islands that have suitable predator-free habitat survive and breed well.
9. When the release of captive reared Pateke into quality habitat is coupledwith predator control, a pre-release aviary, supplementary feeding and with the site having an adequate area for a significant population increase (such as at: Mimiwhangata, Purerua and Port Charles), the recovery process is a very simple one!
10. Between 1969-1992 it was learnt that releasing captive reared Pateke at a large number of unsuitable and disconnected habitats, with 35 different sites being used, achieved little, was counterproductive and very expensive.
11. Since the 2000 Audit of the recovery programme steady progress has been made towards increasing the wild populations of Pateke.
• Lack of continuity amongst Pateke management personnel and others directly involved in planning the survival of Pateke.
• Sites used were poorly selected.
• No pre-release study to see if there was an adequate food source.
• No pre-release study to determine whether the habitat was suitable.
• Little predator control and little knowledge of the subject.
• Little understanding about the main predators to control/ eliminate.
• Until early 2000 no sites had ongoing predator control.
• Many sites were out on a limb, with no wild Pateke in the area. • Many sites had no adjacent wetlands for progeny expansion or to which adults could escape.
• Many sites had no loafing facilities or aerial protection.
• Insufficient supplementary feeding of released birds. The value of this is recorded in a paper published in 2013.
• Pre-release aviaries rarely used.
• Competing waterfowl were present.
• Hybridisation with mallards and grey teal occurred.
• Instant dispersal of released birds occurred.
• A lack of ongoing support.
• A lack of monitoring of released birds.