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

Pycroft’s Petrel chick feeding

Since the arrival of the 70 Pycroft’s petrel chicks three weeks ago efforts have been concentrated on feeding, measuring, and weighing the chicks in preperation for their fledging. Contractor Helen Gummer has been running this side of the translocation from the island, along with the help of volunteers.

The feeding process starts with the blending of a sardine smoothie

The chicks are then collected from their artificial burrows

Ngaire Skelton transports a chick to the feeding shed where the chick is weighed before being fed

The birds are held still by one person while another does the feeding

Kit Brown holds a bird ready to be fed

The chicks are crop fed small amounts of the sardine smoothie every few days. The amounts they are fed depends on their weight and how close they are to fledging.

So far 44 of the 70 chicks have fledged and all the remaining chicks have been out of their burrows at night.

Pycroft’s Petrel – collection and transfer

John Stewart with Pycroft’s chick of approximately 5 weeks old

Motuora Restoration Society has just completed a successful transfer of 70 chicks from Red Mercury to Motuora!

The chicks will fledge from Motuora and the hope and desire is that, when these chicks reach adulthood, after spending their first three years at sea, they will return to nest on Motuora and start a new colony there. Pycroft’s petrels have been recorded breeding on a few offshore islands along the east coast of NZ –  total population is around 2,000 to 4,000 breeding pairs.

It is important to select only those chicks at an appropriate stage of development for transfer to another location. Like many other burrow-nesting seabirds, this species normally returns to breed at the colony in which it was born. Young birds learn their home location before they fledge and leave the colony for the first time. They are thought to use a range of visual (star maps, local terrain features), odour, sound and possibly magnetic clues to find their way back to the colony. More advanced chicks may already have imprinted on the colony and so cannot be transferred. The removal of less advanced chicks might cause their parents to abandon their burrow for the next year’s breeding and also, it is more difficult to keep younger chicks in good condition at their new home.

For this transfer to Motuora chicks were selected on Red Mercury following Helen Gummer’s guidelines on measurement of weight and wing length as well as an overall health check to maximise their chances of successfully fledging from their new home.

Burrows marked with coloured flagging tape to help the collection team re-identify where chicks selected for transfer are

Vince Waanders carrying chicks to the helicopter landing pad. two chicks are in each box. There is a divider between each bird and the box has plenty of air holes.

Artificial burrows were installed on Motuora months before in preparation.

Boxes being loaded into the helicopter bound for Motuora

The transferred birds will be fed an artificial diet by crop tube until they grow full feathers and take off.  A delightful ‘sardine smoothy’ will be given each bird on alterative days, which is their normal feeding pattern, by trained volunteer feeders.  The feeders are last in the chain of volunteers overseen by sea bird specialists who have got this project off the ground.

If you’d like to help the project, the Motuora Restoration Society would be delighted to have donations towards the purchase of an outdoor sound system which will be used to broadcast recordings of a Pycroft’s colony every night for years to come.  This will encourage the birds to return and nest on the Island.

Liz Norquay, collection team.


More Duvaucel’s geckos for Motuora!

Motuora is the new home for ninety Duvaucel’s geckos. The lizards were released at three sites across the island in February and March 2013. Sixty geckos were collected from Korapuki and Kawhitu islands (Mercury Group), and the remainder were born and raised at the Massey University Reptile Facility. The new arrivals supplement a small resident population that was re-introduced to Motuora in 2006.

Duvaucel's gecko

Duvaucel’s geckos are long-lived and some individuals can reach 50 years or more of age
(photo: C. Wedding)

Lizards, such as these large geckos, used to be a major component in the food-webs of many of New Zealand’s terrestrial ecosystems. In addition, they were also important seed dispersers and pollinators.

The translocation and associated monitoring project are a joint endeavour between researchers from Massey University, the Motuora Restoration Society and the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi (which received the same number of geckos). The releases are part of ongoing ecosystem restoration efforts, which aim to re-establish viable populations of Duvaucel’s geckos on both islands that persist in the long-term.

collection boxes

Preparing gecko collection boxes on Korapuki


transport tubes

Individual transport tubes

The translocations also represent an exciting opportunity to compare the post-release behaviours and reproductive performance of captive bred and wild captured individuals. The information gained will help to assess the use of captive breeding for release as an option for restoration projects.

Several geckos were fitted with a “backpack” that contains a small radio transmitter unit. Massey University researchers are currently tracking the movements of these lizards to explore their dispersal patterns.

radio transmitter

Attaching a radio transmitter



Gecko with radio transmitter backpack

The population will be closely monitored by MRS volunteers and MU researchers for at least five more years to gain a better understanding of the species’ post-translocation responses, behaviours and population ecology.


For any project related enquiries please contact Manuela Barry (


until next time,

Manu Barry





A huge thank you to everyone involved in the planning, preparation and implementation of this community funded translocation project. Particularly, I would like to thank MRS, the Department of Conservation, Massey University staff and students, the Motuora Rangers, Iwi and all volunteers for their remarkable efforts and continuous support. This project is a great example of how restoration focused conservation work and research can be linked to gather valuable-long-term data that will benefit the conservation management of Duvaucel’s geckos. The involvement of community volunteers in post-release monitoring and research activities will provide fantastic opportunities for conservation advocacy, education and skill building.



Spring has arrived

Spring has arrived on Motuora with its characteristic burst of plant growth, continuous blustery westerlies, and birds nesting. In the last few days we have noticed a few new arrivals to Motuora’s bird population. These include five little paradise ducklings, two dotterel chicks, numerous little blue penguin chicks and one welcome swallow chick.

The first two dotterel chicks hatched at home bay this spring

We have also welcomed new arrivals from further afield. Seven kiwi chicks have been released already this spring, with more due to come. The kiwi eggs are collected from bush around the Whangarei area and hatched at Auckland Zoo. The young kiwi are then brought to Motuora as part of ‘operation nest egg’. Motuora is used as a ‘kiwi creche’, meaning the young kiwi will live on the pest free island until they are big enough to fend off predators on the mainland.

One of the seven kiwi chicks released on Motuora so far this spring