Saddlebacks flown into sanctuary

Saddlebacks wasted no time taking to the air in Shakespear Open Sanctuary. They are expected to be popular with visitors.

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Photo, Bas Cuthbert

Saddlebacks or tieke are the latest species to be released at Shakespear Open Sanctuary (SOSSI), and may be the last birds introduced there for a while.

Forty North Island saddlebacks were released into the sanctuary on Saturday, May 26.

The birds were flown in from Tiritiri Matangi Island by helicopter, as it was too rough to use the ferry.
Four flights were needed to bring across the birds, catch team volunteers and gear. The cost is expected to be around $3500, which will be covered by Auckland Council.

There were around a dozen volunteers in the catch team. One of them, SOSSI’s Alison Wesley, says the process of catching the birds on Tiritiri was “phenomenal”, with 38 saddlebacks captured on the first day. A bit of sorting was required to make sure the balance of males and females – around 50/50 – was right. The birds adapted well to life in the aviary where they were held prior to transportation off the island, consuming large quantities of mealworms (around 28,000) and lots of fruit.

They were released into the sanctuary following a brief ceremony attended by invited guests. It included a welcome by Ringi Brown of Ngati Manuhiri, open sanctuaries senior ranger Matt Maitland and councillor Wayne Walker.

Most of the saddlebacks were quick to take to the air after emerging from their boxes to a volley of camera shots.

A cake was cut after the release to farewell a valued SOSSI volunteer John Stringer, whose contribution over many years includes building hundreds of nesting boxes.

The saddlebacks are the fourth species to be brought into the sanctuary, following the release of North Island robins, whiteheads and little spotted kiwi.

A further 10 saddlebacks will be brought in from Tawharanui in due course.

SOSSI chair Peter Jackson says that next in line is likely to be not birds, but giant weta, or wetapunga – New Zealand’s largest weta, which can be heavier than a mouse when fully grown. It is hoped that this species can be introduced to the open sanctuary next year, although the timing is not yet set.

Wetapunga are on Tiritiri Matangi, and the Department of Conservation’s recovery plan for this threatened species is to establish several populations around the gulf.


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