Regional | Wairarapa

Rare native birds in Wairarapa Moana booming

The sound of the critically endangered matuku-hūrepo is steadily returning to Wairarapa Moana.

Years of restoration and predator control efforts have given critically endangered native bird populations the chance to thrive in the Wairarapa Moana wetlands, the Greater Wellington Regional Council says

Matuku are secretive, stealthy and difficult to spot due to their earth-coloured camouflage. To count the birds birdwatchers need to stand in the wetlands just before dawn or dusk, and listen for the “booms and wooms” of the males’ call.

Greater Wellington senior environmental scientist Roger Uys says recently more matuku have been heard at the Wairarapa Moana Wetlands than ever before.

“Not so long ago there was serious national concern that the bittern population was going backwards,” Uys says.

Restoration boom

“Now I can confidently say the bittern are thriving at Wairarapa Moana because of the predator control work we do.

“Both the bittern and spotless crake nest on the ground, where they’re vulnerable to predators, with nests in easy reach of stoats and hedgehogs.

“Hearing the breeding matuku is a special sign that all the restoration efforts are working.”

The Wairarapa Moana wetlands are one of the few wetlands in Aotearoa recognised as a Ramsar site of international significance. (Ramsar is also known as the Unesco Convention on Wetlands). Locally, Māori pūrākau and connection to the area run as deep as the lake.

Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa kaiwhakahaere taiao Rawiri Smith belongs to the Wairarapa Moana wetlands project, often sharing kōrero about the plants, pests, and place.

Lonely and despairing

“In te ao Māori, the male matuku booms in loneliness and despair. The matuku and its calls were woven into waiata and kōrero to comfort people in their grief,” Smith says.

“The calls still hold that chilling feeling, as we grieve the loss of 97 per cent of the repo (wetlands) that surrounded Wairarapa Moana.

“If we can reduce the introduced predators in our lands and forests, then we might have a chance to replenish, and a chance for manu (birds) like the matuku and pūweto (spotless crake) to grow and enhance the mauri (life force) of the place.”

Greater Wellington’s senior biosecurity officer Steve Playle set up an intricate network of 470 traps in 2013.

“I’ve known the wetlands for more than 40 years,” says Playle. “As a hunter and frequent visitor, I saw my role in leading the wetland’s predator control as an opportunity to give back to the land.

“It can take years of trapping and planting before we begin to see the impact of our work. We’ve removed thousands of hedgehogs and rats, and hundreds of ferrets, feral cats and mice from the Wairarapa Moana.

Decades of conservation efforts

“And now, we’re seeing endangered wildlife flourish – it’s the wetlands telling us how effective long-term predator control is.”

Decades of conservation efforts have fed into the Wairarapa Moana project, a collaboration between Greater Wellington, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Rangitāne o Wairarapa, the Department of Conservation and the South Wairarapa District Council.

Visitors to Wairarapa Moana may hear the booms as they bellow across the wetlands, or see a matuku standing upright with its beak toward the sky, imitating the tall rāupo.

Public Interest Journalism