No matter the weather, local conservation and farming communities continue to astound me with their work ethic and determination. From busy farmers making time to set traplines with our predator control team, through to community groups of volunteers checking many kilometres of traplines across Rodney – it’s inspiring what we can do when we pull together.
In winter, communities involved in predator control spend their time rugging up against the weather, wading through mud and securing sources of bait. Logging numbers of predators caught is crucial, but monitoring the rise in native species in areas of effective predator control is just as important. Wildlife resurges in areas where predator numbers are suppressed.
One of our region’s endangered birds is a type of heron that NZ shares with parts of Australia and New Caledonia: Matuku-hūrepo, or the Australasian bittern. This elusive creature is stockier than the more common Matuku moana, or white faced heron, you’ll have seen stalking about in slow motion on your lawn or in waterways. In fact, the bittern is so cryptic you’ve probably never seen one, even though they live right here in our Rodney landscape.
The first reason that they are hard to spot is because of their incredible camouflage. Dappled brown and white plumage blends seamlessly with their reedy, grassy habitats. When startled, the bittern performs a superbly effective pantomime, pointing its beak to the sky either while still as a statue, or waving its neck in time with any surrounding reeds.
Sadly, the second reason they seem invisible is because since the 1980s (when numbers were already low), their population has been in sharp decline. In fact, nobody knows exactly how many Matuku-hūrepo are left in NZ. Wetlands store carbon, trap sediment and protect against flooding and yet, in the last 150 years, NZ has lost 90% of its wetlands – drained and reclaimed for urban development or farming. For animals like the bittern, this has been a disaster.
So, what can we do to help? If a river or stream runs through your property, investigate how to protect and restore it. Councils and organisations like The Forest Bridge Trust can guide landowners who want to restore wetland areas and the enormous biodiversity they support. Financial and logistical assistance is available for fencing and sometimes planting along your rivers and wetland areas.
If you hear the bittern’s distinctive ‘boom’ we want you to please tell us. The boom has to be heard to be believed and it’s easy to miss – you can hear an example of it in the video gallery on our website – www.theforestbridgetrust.org.nz. Finally, you can help raise awareness for the bittern by following and sharing our Bird Of The Year campaign – find it on social media with #votebittern or #oncebitterntwiceshy.