Something special’s happening in the hills around Whangarei Heads and it’s spreading into pockets of forest north and south of there.
Kiwi are on the move and communities around eastern Northland are embracing their company.
Fifteen years ago, there were just 80 North Island kiwi on the peninsula north of Whangarei harbour and without coordinated predator and dog control their numbers were in decline.
Today there’s 880 and one of the leading causes of kiwi death is now traffic accidents.
There’s more kiwi than possums in the forest and scrublands between Manaia and the Whangarei Heads and a stoat or ferret in a trap is becoming a rare event.
That’s thanks to trappers like Todd Hamilton who treats his job like espionage, using every trick he can conjure with a range of baits, traps and toxins to help keep kiwi safe.
Through Backyard Kiwi he offers trapping, volunteer training, kiwi handling and education services, marshalling resources and motivating effort with the same passion he brings to his other job as coach of the Whangarei Boys High School First XV rugby team.
From a picnic table above McLeod Bay he swings an antenna to locate a kiwi called Pakipaki, nesting in pampas just 10 metres from the road.
When he picked up a signal that indicated she had laid an egg he visited the house across the road, asking what they wanted to call THEIR new-born chick. He noted the family’s dogs were all carefully tied up, now universally-accepted behaviour in the seaside settlement that has come to know and love their kiwi.
Ngaire Tyson coordinates Kiwi Coast and is building “corridors” between like-minded communities. She shows a map with a patchwork of reds extending from Mangawhai to the Aupouri Peninsula, marking community groups and landowners involved in predator control. She keeps a running tally of predator kills and the line for mustelids is over 7,500 in five years.
She works with Andrew Mentor to provide support to over 100 groups undertaking predator control on more than 146,000 hectares of land – “what-ever they need to get going – traps, training days, a health and safety plan for volunteers, paperwork for a translocation, catering at a release event.”
Northland Regional Council has read this wave of enthusiasm and identified High Value Areas like Whangarei Heads. Its latest Long Term Plan puts an additional $2.3m per annum into community-led pest control through a region-wide pest management rate averaging $50 per property.
The council’s Environment Fund has contributed to work at Marunui, a valley of regenerating forest on the southern side of the Brynderwyns near Mangawhai, destined for roller crushing and pine forest plantings in the late 1980s.
It was saved by private purchase, now divvied between 18 company shareholders who each have a right to build a house on the QE2-covenanted 423ha block. After years of conservation effort and predator control the owners satisfied Department of Conservation criteria for the release of kiwi.
Part-time residents John and Cathy Hawley tell me kiwi call counts have increased steadily since the first introductions in 2013, suggesting their efforts, helped by volunteers and a “ring of steel” – professionally-serviced stoat and ferret traps around 1350ha of surrounding forest and farm land – are doing their job.
In the Pataua North Landcare area, retired university professor John Craig has also helped organise the reintroduction of kiwi into forest around his home.
Their kiwi were collected as eggs then raised in creches on predator-free Motuora Island in the Hauraki Gulf or Matakohe-Limestone Island in the Whangarei Harbour until a year old and able to defend themselves against a stoat.
In 1982 John and another University of Auckland lecturer championed the restoration of Tiritiri Matangi island, an exercise many thought at the time was a pipe dream.
Now he, Ngaire and others are keen to explore how new tools and experience being developed through our projects might help Northlanders take their kiwi restoration aspirations a step further.