Bittern in Kiriwai Lagoon

On Saturday while visiting the Spit with seven members of the Wairarapa branch of Birds NZ we sited a bittern flying from the jointed rushes near the carpark and over the Kiriwai Lagoon. This was very exciting as just 2 days previously we had been at a meeting with bittern expert John Cheyne who told us that the Australasian bittern is extremely endangered here in NZ as well as in Australia. It is estimated that there are only approx 700-800 birds in NZ at present. So what a thrill to see one at Kiriwai Lagoon and then later in the day we saw another bird at the Pounui Lagoon. These birds are magnificent in flight, very graceful with an enormous wingspan. Dougal did try to take a picture, but the quality was poor as the bird really surprised us.
The following picture is of some white faced heron fishing around the waters edge – much easier to capture at the time!
LIMG_0123  WF herons at Kiriwai lagoon

Weeding on Onoke Spit

Last Saturday we made the most of a windless day and shot down to pull out a patch of pink senecio or holly-leaved senecio. While this is a very pretty pink daisy like flower it is a foreign garden escapee and we don’t want it to get established on the Spit. It is relatively easy to pull out mainly because it is growing in sand and has a long tap root, but after about an hours work we were ready to load up the trailer and head home for a cuppa!
We will go back and pull some more soon before it sets it’s seed. Thanks for your help Sara Uruski.


The Shining cuckoo are back


Yesterday I heard the call of the shining cuckoo or pipiwharauroa which heralds the beginning of summer at Te Rakau.
These birds are very important in Maori mythology as they played an part in the discovery of Aotearoa. It seems likely that early Maori explorers found their way here not simply by navigating by the stars, but they also watched the direction taken by migratory birds such as the shining cuckoo. Indeed there is a tradition that the captain of one of the first canoes released pet birds as it approached New Zealand to help in locating land.
The name pipiwharauroa can be translated as “little bird of the long journey”.
The grey warblers, who usually host these birds, hopefully have already reared a clutch of their own before having to foster these latest arrivals offspring. We will be listening and watching with interest here at Te Rakau.

The kereru are back

After an unusually long winter absence the kereru have finally returned to Te Rakau. We presumed that they have been feasting elsewhere as they are very in very good condition! One flew into our ranch-slider the other day and made a loud thump – it almost felt like an earthquake.IMG_0011
Tui are also in abundance and protecting their patches vigorously. In fact all the birds around us are in mating plumage and behaviour. The first banded dotterel’s nest has been sited on the Spit indicating that a new season has begun.

Planting Day at Onoke Spit

On Friday June 27 we finally planted another 750 plants at the start of Onoke Spit.
Many thanks to all who turned up to help. Special mention must go to the year 5 & 6 Kahutara School children, Palliser Estate workers and of course all DoC personnel.
The weather was kind to us and the Lake stayed open so the plants were planted in just 2 hours – well done team a truly great effort.
The site is really beginning to look good now that we are four years on with our planting programme. Eventually we hope to change what was a sea of gorse into a more attractive area covered in native plants.
Hope you are able to go and visit sometime soon and admire the work and efforts so far. We’re not finished yet and hope to continue planting for a few more years yet!

Time to get planting

It’s that time of year again. We’ll be planting at Onoke Spit on Friday May 16 starting at 10 am.
Everyone is welcome to come and assist our local Kahutara School friends with this years planting.
This will be our fourth year of planting on the Spit and so far we’ve been pretty pleased with the survival rates of the plants given that this is such a challenging site. Conditions are favourable again as we have had enough rain and hopefully the plants will get established over the winter and be ready to grow when spring arrives.
Without frosts to worry about on Onoke Spit plants need just moisture and not too much wind to get established. Summer, when its hot and dry, is the most challenging time.
In fact even here at Te Rakau we have always found late autumn the best time to plant out as generally there is less wind in the winter and rain can be almost guaranteed. I have a number of small native plants in pots ready to be planted around our property to supply more food for our birds.

Dabchick watching

On a recent walk along the stopbank below Te Rakau we were delighted to spend some time watching a pair of NZ dabchicks. These charming little birds are most entertaining to watch as they dive down to the bottom of a pond or drain searching for food. They can make quite long dives and totally surprise you just how far they can travel underwater. Dougal and I spent nearly an hour watching them on a lovely warm autumn day. Enjoy Dougal’s pictures.IMG NZ Dabchick 2

IMG_0029 NZ Dabchick

Planting Day & Pest Control Update

The traps have been reset along Onoke Spit to continue to control the various mammal pests that prey on our nesting birds. When we checked the traps on Sunday we had caught 3 hedgehogs and 1 feral cat. This is a good result and should make a difference for the birds next nesting season. Fresh bait nearly always brings a good result.

Planting Day 2014 will be held on Friday May 16. I will post more details closer to the date but in the mean time put this date on your calendars and come and help us put some more native plants in the ground.


We try to be vigilant here at Te Rakau to control all pests both plant and animal.
I have a rat trap permanently set quite close to the house and I regularly catch rats – on average about 3 per week.
However last Sunday’s catch was one to remember. It was the biggest male rat I have ever seen. He weighed in at 188gms! He immediately became named “Big Daddy” and I’m really pleased he won’t be fathering any more babies in the future. Of course this is the best time of year to be catching rats and mice as the bird nesting season is over and the pests are hungry. We find peanut butter the best bait for our traps. Of course we know it will be impossible to completely eradicate these bird pests from our property, but at least we can keep them controlled and our eels are getting well fed with the carcases!
I urge everyone to do their bit and try to control pests in their gardens. I’m not able to offer any rewards like other famous environmentalists, but the rewards will be yours with more birds to enjoy in your own backyards.
So get down to your local hardware store and get trapping.

Penguin Boxes

On Sunday Dougal and I put six Penguin boxes between Onoke Spit and the Wharepapa River. You can see what they look like below.

The initiative to encourage the Little Blue Penguin to nest in these boxes is being driven by Clive Paton from Ata Rangi Vineyard. Many of our senior locals tell us that they used to see these delightful little birds ashore much more than today, so by providing suitable nesting boxes we hope to give the population a boost.

Of course we will also need to continue to control the relevant pests and continue to educate visitors about keeping dogs under control during nesting time, which for Little Blue Penguin can be from July – December.

We would appreciate knowing of any sitings in the area in the future.