FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Takahē on Tiritiri

Posted in Auckland, New Zealand by folkestonejack on April 13, 2019

Our visit to Tiritiri Matangi island coincided with Takahē awareness month. The critically endangered takahē, are flightless birds with a large red beak and feathers in a beautiful combination of blue, green and turquoise. It is astonishing that they have survived given that how easy prey they are for predators, particularly stoats which began to decimate the bird population in New Zealand not long after their introduction in the 1880s.

Takahē on Tiritiri

The Takahē were thought to be extinct until a small population of the birds was discovered clinging to life in the remote Murchison Mountains of Fiordland in 1948 by Dr Geoffrey Orbell. The difficulty of the terrain, not ideal for a bird that would be more at home in flat wetlands, played a key part in their survival. The predators which had wiped out most of the species had been deterred by the harsh mountains and unforgiving climate.

The Murchison Mountains were closed to the public in the wake of the discovery and a conservation programme initiated to help save the species. Predator free island nature reserves like Tiritiri Matangi play an important part in this process as safe places for breeding and also act as a safeguard for the species if something catastrophic should occur to the wild population in Fiordland.

The very real threat to the species was illustrated by a near catastrophic loss when stoats breached the natural and man-made barriers in the Murchison Mountains in 2007, resulting in a loss of nearly half of the Takahē population within a few months. The official takahē population count for 2017 recorded a total of 347 birds across the country, including 100 breeding pairs.

Tiritiri Matangi is currently home to eight takahē. On our visit to the island we were able to see the family that tends to stick around the Lighthouse compound, a place they associate with safety. It was an absolute privilege to see these beautiful creatures at such close proximity and appreciate just how lucky we are that they have survived.

The beautiful colours of the Takahē in the midday sun

Throughout April the Department of Conservation rangers are feeding the takahē at approximately 1:30pm each day, but they were easily seen long before this offering plenty of photographic opportunities (all taken at a respectful distance using a zoom lens). I took a fair few photographs and then put my camera down to watch these charming creatures, seemingly wandering with barely a care in the world. A joy to behold.

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