July Workday and more wetapunga

Panorama of Motuora from Home Bay beach at low tide

Waiting to board the Kawau Kat
Photo: Richard Hadfield

On Sunday July 27th 82 people took advantage of the large ferry to participate in the workday on Motuora. A large group of Bridgestone staff, some with their families, along with a Royal Oak scout group made up the bulk of the day’s working party.

Waiting for the sausage sizzle






As most of the pioneer planting on Motuora is complete only a small amount of infill planting and canopy trees needed to be planted. So, according to Vonny (the Island manager) 898 trees were planted in 4 infill sites including the planting of carrex grasses around the top pond and muehlembeckia at the top of the Home Bay track. The planting was supervised by Vonny, MRS committee members and 4 of the DoC volunteers who had been working for Vonny all week.

Shaun Trevan and Kerry Gillbanks manicured the storm damage on the large macrocarpa on the Home Bay camp ground. Shaun’s professional arborist and tree climbing skills were necessary to remove the large broken branches from the macrocarpa while retaining the majesty of this old tree. Thank you Shaun and Kerry.

Home Bay macrocarpa after aborist, Shaun Trevan, removed wind damaged branches.


Shaun and Kerry removing the willow tree branch

Shaun and Kerry also removed the branches of the willow tree overhanging the water tank of the manager’s cottage. This willow was infested with giant black willow aphids last summer and the honey dew produced by these aphids contaminated the tank water. It is interesting that these aphids are a very recent arrival in New Zealand and have spread suddenly and  widely over the country. How did they get to Motuora so quickly? Another puzzle is that they have disappeared earlier in the season than they do overseas. It’s not clear where they go when they vanish. Unfortunately the aphid honey dew encourages wasps which were a problem this summer.

A big thank you to the lads who did the dishes after the sausage sizzle!

Wetapunga News from Chris Green (DoC)

On 26th June during a brief break in the weather a further 231 wetapunga were released into the bush above Pohutukawa Bay.  While most of these (216) came from the captive colony at Auckland Zoo there were 15 from the Butterfly Creek colony.  This is very significant as they come from different parentage and this adds to the genetic diversity of the founding population. The site is the same as that where 150 were released from the Zoo on 3rd April.

Paparazzi attention focused on full-grown female wetapunga released on April 3rd 2014. Photo: Ray Lowe

Most of these weta are more than than half grown and will be maturing into adults over the coming 6 – 8 months. Monitoring of these released weta is planned for late this year to verify they have reached adult so egg laying could be expected over summer and autumn next year. Meanwhile monitoring of the first releases in Macrocarpa Bay is also planned for later this year.

Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery of the above photos plus some photographs taken on the July workday by Richard Hadfield as well as some additional wetapunga images captured by Ray Lowe and Liz Mair. All other photos by Bruce Ross. Click on each image to view full size.



New Island Managers Farewelled, New Manager Welcomed and AGM

During the April workday on Motuora the chairperson of the Motuora Restoration Society, Ray Lowe farewelled Sian Potier and Toby Shanley, island co:managers since 2012 and welcomed the new manager Vonny Sprey.

Sian & Toby previous Island managers with Ray MRS chairman and Vonny new Island manager

Toby Shanley, Sian Potier, Ray Lowe and Vonny Sprey

Ray Lowe with Sian and Toby after presentation of Raoul Island book

Sian and Toby came to Motuora after honing their conservation skills on Raoul Island in the Kemadecs. Their unique combination of skills enabled them to manage Motuora superbly. The Motuora Restoration Society delights in the accomplishments of these young professionals and the prodigious work that they have done on Motuora. We are sorry to see them leave but wish them well as they continue their conservation work and start a family. In appreciation for their work for the Motuora Restoration Society Ray presented Toby and Sian with a book on Raoul Island and the Kemadecs.

Vonny Sprey the new Motuora Island Manager


Remarkably the Society has managed to employ a new island manager, Vonny Sprey who has also honed her environmental skills on Raoul. Originally from a farming background she has much conservation and outdoors experience. Apart from Raoul and her Turangawaewae—Kapiti Island—her favourite places are Enderby Island and the diving around the Poor Knights but she suspects that Motuora will be added to that list. The Motuora Restoration Society is pleased to welcome another well qualified and capable person as the Manager of Motuora.

The Annual General Meeting of the Motuora Restoration Society was held on May 25th in the Silverdale St Johns Ambulance building. Originally scheduled to take place on Motuora the meeting was transferred to Silverdale because the weather forecast predicted winds that would make landing and leaving the island difficult.

Twenty-two members attended. Kit Brown, Treasurer, presented the Chairperson’s Report as Ray Lowe was unwell. (Click to download pdf copy of Report)

The following members were elected to the Motuora Restoration Society:

Chairperson: Ray Lowe; Treasurer: Lakshmanan Nataraj; Secretary: Kit Brown; Committee Members: Colin Cordes, Les Buckton, Kevin Hawkins, Helen Lindsay, Liz Norquay, Bruce Ross and John Stewart.

At the AGM John Stewart formally thanked Jill Thomas for her 11 years as the Society’s Treasurer. Her vital contribution ensured that the Society’s accounts were diligently and efficiently managed. After a vote of thanks, passed with acclamation Jill was presented with a small gift.

Jill Thomas, Treasurer of Motuora Restoration Society 2002-20014

Stephen Wallace, a masters student at Auckland University,  presented the initial findings of his study of the insect population in the newly planted forest compared to established remnant bush on Motuora. This is a follow up study on the work done by Robin Gardner-Gee 10 years ago. Watch this space for a blog by Stephen outlining his findings.

Stephen Wallace presenting at AGM

Apart from farewelling Sian and Toby and welcoming Vonny the 14 volunteers and members worked during the April workday on Motuora to clean the gannet site and decoys, tend to some track clearance and weed nursery seedlings. Below is a gallery of photos taken during the April workday. (Click on each image to see full size)

Island Minding

Pycroft’s petrel burrows prepared for chicks

Sian and Toby are away on Red Mercury helping with the collection of  Pycroft’s Petrel chicks for translocation to Motuora. Later this week some 100 chicks fly by helicopter to specially prepared burrows on Motuora. The chicks are fed by an experienced team of bird feeders until they fledge in about a fortnight. Last year all the 70 Pycroft’s Petrels translocated to Motuora fledged.

While Sian and Toby are away various members of the Motuora Restoration Society volunteer as substitute managers. It was my turn last weekend (7th-9th March). The weather was perfect so the camp ground was full.

Home Bay camp ground full of tents 8th March 2014

Decoy gannets set up 6th June 2010

I didn’t manage to see kiwi this time but did spend some time near the new gannet colony where  two juvenile gannets (taakapu) are  only days away from fledging. These are the first juveniles to mature on Motuora since the decoys were set up in 2010.

It took me 40 minutes to photograph a juvenile flexing its wings.

Juvenile gannet flexing wings. Only days away from fledging. (2nd juvenile in lower left)

These are large birds with a wing span of about 2 metres and weigh about 2.3 kg. They keep their juvenile plumage for about a year and over 3 years progressively get more white and the distinctive yellow head reaching maturity after 3-4 years.

The Maori name Taakapu comes from taa ‘to strike’ and kapu ‘hand’ which means ‘to strike with hand’ an action that produces a splashing noise a bit like the sound of a taakapu hitting the water.

Gannets dive for fish and often dive vertically from 30 meters so they hit the water at a tremendous speed. Just before they hit the water they fold their wings back over their tail and a third opaque eyelid closes to protect the eye. Inflatable air sacs beneath the skin on their breast and lower neck cushion the entry shock. The image below shows the juvenile practising the backward movement of a wing.

Juvenile gannet stretching wing. When gannets dive they stretch their wings behind them as they enter the water so this is preparation for diving.

It was interesting to watch these young birds as they stood for the hour or more I was at the site as they were constantly grooming and transferring their weight from one large webbed foot to another. It seems they are plucking up courage to fly. No adult birds were present as this was between 2 and 3:30pm. When these juveniles fledge they will most likely end up with other juveniles in the coastal waters of Australia returning when they are mature birds.

Dried up pond March 2014


Motuora is very dry with the water tanks at their lowest since the new tanks were installed. The pond adjacent to the water tanks has dried up and the camp ground has little green grass.



Home Bay camp ground after campers departed, March 9th 2014 (note brown grass)


Schofield, Paul & Brent Stephenson (2013) Birds of New Zealand: A Photographic Guide. Auckland University Press pp. 216-217

Heather, Barrie & Hugh Robertson; Illustrated by Derek Onley (2005) A Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. Penguin Books. pp.238-239

Photo Gallery

Click on image to see full size

Essential Weed Control on Motuora

Each year since 1998 the Motuora Restoration Society has organised and funded weed control programmes, initially focussing on areas we could get to on foot – the interior of the island and gentler cliff slopes – and more recently attacking the steeper cliffs as well.

Toby abseiling over the cliff to check for weeds

Control of yucca on sand dunes

This year we have taken advantage of Toby and Sian’s extensive abseiling and weed control experience to have a major push on dealing to the weeds on the steeper cliffs, where most of our remaining weeds are located.  At the same time we have carried out our regular grid search of the interior of the island to locate the odd plant we have missed and new weeds grown from seed delivered by birds or the wind from plants on the mainland or nearby islands. 

This year’s weed control programme has not been cheap, but we have been fortunate to have obtained generous grants for the work from several sources, notably the Becroft Foundation, the Lion Foundation and WWF, and herbicides donated by Agpro NZ Ltd. 

The photos taken by Sian of Toby in action on the cliffs show that it’s not a job for anyone nervous of heights.

Text by Kit Brown

Photos Sian Potier


Toby abseiling towards the cliff

Cutting bone seed at top of cliff

Cutting bone seed at top of cliff

Toby with bone seed cut from cliff face

Toby abseiling to cut bone seed on cliff face

Flowering moth plant found in bush

A flowering moth plant found on coastal bank

Climbing asparagus dug out


Gannet update

On observing the gannet site yesterday we discovered that there are now 17 gannets incubating eggs at the gannet site. With still more birds building nests we are looking forward to seeing plenty of gannet chicks hatching in the coming weeks and months!!