Ruth Bollongino / Fern Photos
Pāteke Brown Teal Ducks were reintroduced to Anchorage Bay in Abel Tasman National Park last week through the Janszoon Project.
The last 21 of more than 350 pāteke ducks have been released in the Abel Tasman National Park, a four-year success story for the rare native birds.
Project Janszoon, in collaboration with iwi, the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust and the Department of Conservation, has been releasing pāteke (brown teal) into the Abel Tasman since 2017.
The fledglings, around five or six months old, were raised across the country before being screened by the Isaac Wildlife and Conservation Trust in Canterbury and then sent to Project Janszoon for release to their new homes.
Pāteke were once a species of duck widely distributed across the country, but introduced predators such as cats and rodents have significantly reduced their numbers and are now only found on the South Island in the Fiordland and after their reintroduction in the Abel Tasman.
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Bruce Vander Lee, director of Project Janszoon, said their successful reintroduction to the park was due to the intense pest control efforts of volunteers and DOC staff, and now the birds have exploded in the surrounding areas.
Most of the releases took place in the north of the park, but the latest and final release of 21 birds in Rākauroa (Torrent Bay) was intended to “anchor” a more southerly population.
“You’re not afraid to move,” said Vander Lee.
“At least one, maybe two, were seen except for Rabbit Island.”
The reintroduction of Pāteke to Abel Tasman began with the Kaitiaki (Guardian) of Pāteke, North Island iwi Ngātiwai, who transferred the guardianship of the birds to the Rohe of Te Tauihu (top of the South Island), iwi Ngāti Rarua and Te Ātiawa, who transferred to the Reintroduction process.
In 2017 it was planned that around 300 pāteke would return to the raw (Area) when the initial introduction of 20 juveniles has gone well. Just over four years later and with an unexpected record year 2018, 358 birds have now been brought back.
Pteke populations can be difficult to monitor, but wildlife cameras had seen Pāteke pairs with chicks and fledglings almost at the beginning of the reintroduction program, and over the years, untied (wild-born) adults have emerged with their own chicks.
“If the numbers are what we think we don’t have to release them, we just have to protect them from cats and ermines,” said Vander Lee.
Much of this work is done by the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust volunteers. Volunteer coordinator Abby Butler said there were about 80 active volunteers monitoring trap lines in the area every two weeks.
She said the numbers of pests caught in the extensive voluntary trap net are currently very low – a good sign of the very low populations of rats and ermines in the park.
The Birdsong Trust volunteers would also check out the temporary bird feeders that have been set up for the released pāteke to bypass them while they accustomed to fend for themselves.
Darryl and Julie Thomas, who have lived in Torrent Bay since the 1970s, said the work done by Project Janszoon and the Birdsong Trust volunteers has been tremendous.
“The kākā can be heard a lot now, they have started to spread their wings a little. There are many tūī and weka, ”said Darryl.
“Some have become very friendly, they will rush past you from the trees.”
Julie said the birds were especially noticeable in the early morning with the dawn or sometimes before dawn choir.
Bruce Vander Lee said it felt “amazing” to possibly reach the end of the reintroduction journey for Pāteke.
Vander Lee said the birds are “mysterious” and might be difficult to spot, but with high numbers and potential climbing, “people will see them and understand their conservation history”.
“We see them move around the park, move to places outside the park, they have now been seen in the Otuwhero wetlands … a species that has been eliminated is back.”