Popokotea released to Moturua and Urupukapuka Islands
On Saturday 23 April, Project Island Song partners, supporters and volunteers celebrated the successful release of 80 pōpokotea/whitehead to two of the main islands of Ipipiri, in the Bay of Islands. The release is part of a bigger ecological restoration programme, with a vision to bring back the birdsong note by note until the ancient dawn chorus is revived.
This was the second release of pōpokotea, the first being their reintroduction to Motuarohia Island in 2015, and means that now there is a strong gene pool to ensure good breeding over the years. The pōpokotea were captured in Tiritiri Matangi in a meticulous week-long process that saw them carefully netted, cared for and then transferred to the Bay of Islands via helicopter. The release itself was a low-key affair, observing tikanga whilst ensuring that the birds held centre stage.
Observers were very much taken by the emotional impact that the release had on them, with the drama of a helicopter landing set against the peace of the islands and then the residual birdsong of the released pōpokotea as they explored their new terrain.
Kuia Marara Hook welcomed the birds with a karanga at Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island while Stella Kake gave a similar welcome on Moturua Island. Kaumatua Hiko Tauariki was so moved by the occasion that he sang a waiata with the birds as they were released.
Translocation specialist Kevin Parker was pleased with their condition on arrival, saying the the helicopter was quiet and comfortable, especially with the air conditioning – so much so that the pōpokotea were singing en route. Kaimahi from Te Rawhiti were involved in the catching week on Tiritiri Matangi and others were given training by DOC staff on the day to safely offload and deliver the birds to the release site.
The release was attended by a number of local conservation groups who work collaboratively with Project Island Song including Bay Bush Action, and their young Bay Bush Warriors, who had the honour of opening one of the boxes. Also present were Forest and Bird, Kerikeri Shade House volunteers, Te Tangi o Te Ata, Living Waters, Fish Forever, Puketi Forest Trust, Ornithological Society of NZ, Otangaroa Landcare and Bream Bay Coastal Care, along with island landowners and representatives from the Northland Conservation Board, Northland Regional Council and the Bay of Islands Community Board.
Blandy Witehera, hapū representative for Project Island Song talks of “chasing our dream of one day walking the islands of Ipipiri to the sounds that replicate the lovely birdsong of Tiritiri Matangi, to enjoy seeing our moko, the next generation, experience Aotearoa as it once was”.
Acknowledgment goes to all those who supported Project Island Song in their detailed work to make this translocation programme viable. That includes funders and sponsors Advance Flight, Air New Zealand Environment Trust, Foundation North, and Lottery Grants Board. Thanks are also extended to local operators Explore and Fullers GreatSights, and to the Department of Conservation for staff support with the release and the provision of their vessel.
Thanks also to the gifting tāngata whenua and Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi who volunteered their time to help catch and care for the pōpokotea.