Bittern Sighted at Otama Wetland

A large female Australasian Bittern (Matuku Hurepo) has been spotted nesting this summer at Otama Wetlands. This is exciting because Bitterns are rarely seen and their conservation status is nationally critical.

Bitterns are large birds with light and brown streaks in their plumage which helps them blend into the raupo wetland grasses and reeds. If approached they exhibit secretive behaviour and are known for their distinctive “freeze pose” straightening themselves up and pointing their beaks into the sky which lines up with the raupo and makes them difficult to spot. When it is windy, they may sway to make themselves blend in more with their environment or flatten themselves on the ground to disappear from view.

The male bitterns have a distinctive booming call during the mating season and these booming sounds can be heard at Otama Wetland during the breeding season. The female birds build their nests from reeds hidden among the wetland vegetation 20-30 cm above the water and lay 3-5 eggs which they incubate for 25 days and raise alone. Bitterns feed on eels, small fish and frogs in the wetland. The ability to see and stab their prey is important for foraging and survival. New Zealand’s Bittern populations have declined by 90% since the 1980s due to the destruction of wetland habitats to create farmland and towns, predators, and poor water quality reducing their food supply.

It is wonderful to experience the Bitterns surviving in our wetland which is also home to other endangered bird species including Fern bird, Pateke, Banded Rail and Skaup. Our ongoing predator control program is helping these species survive.

New Fence is Up At Otama Wetland Boundary!

We are very pleased to announce that after lease renewal negotiation with DOC and the local farmer a new boundary fence has been erected at the wetland boundary.

This is a very important step forward for our wetland restoration as it will keep stock out of the wetland. This will prevent further damage to estuarine vegetation from trampling and grazing and improve water quality by eliminating pollution with faecal matter. It will also reduce the effect of pugging which creates habitat for mosquitos which is in line with the mosquito eradication programme on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Restoring riparian vegetation is one of our organisation’s goals which will enhance the health and ecological value of the wetland. This will benefit the wetland bird life including the endangered bittern, fernbird, banded rail , Pateke ,white-faced heron, kingfisher, pukeko, three species of shag, paradise duck, mallard duck ,skaup and shore skink. 

Wetlands improve water quality, with vegetation acting as filters which is important as wetlands are the breeding ground of many native species of birds and fish, eel and inanga whitebait species. Some of our endangered plant species rely totally on wetlands, and a healthy wetland helps stabilise riverbanks and shore lines.The overall health of the wetland benefits all of us who enjoy using the beach and sand dune areas.

The ORG is planning a community replanting programme on the wetland boundary with the assistance of Jim Dahm and Meg Graeme wetland ecologists. The contribution of the new wetland fencing is greatly appreciated by the ORG as it represents a huge step forward in our conservation efforts.

Many thanks to Murray Eden for his contribution.

Kua Tupu Te Pa Harakeke – The Flax Plantation is Growing

With the help of the Kuaotunu and Otama communities an area on the demain at Otama has been cleared of agapanthus and blackberry and has been replanted with various varieties of heritage Harakeke to establish a Pa Harakeke – a flax plantation which will be utilised by local weavers.

Harakeke is the Maori name for swamp flax, the species Phormium Tenex. Heritage varieties of Harakeke were donated by the Auckland Botanical Gardens and include Meneene, Ngaro, Te Mata, Makaweroa, Mawaru and Raumoa.

These flaxes are all part of Te Kohinga Harakeke o Aotearoa, the National New Zealand Flax Collection. Each flax has a record for the region that they are originally from and what they are best used for. We plan to plant more varieties from this collection this winter. There are more that 70 different varieties of Harakeke with varying uses from weaving baskets, containers and mats to utilising the strong fibre muka to make fishing nets, traps, rope, cloaks and footwear. 

Volunteers helped plant and mulch the Harakeke back in September 2018. Local trained weavers are tending the plants as they require regular maintenance and need to be cut back carefully to keep the plants healthy.  Many thanks to Lizzie Leckie who teaches the art of weaving, for her assistance with this project.

These plants attract native birds in Spring particularly Tuis who feed on the nectar of its tube-like flowers aiding the production of Harakeke seeds in their distinctive long pods. This native plant is important to help protect the environment and restore plant biodiversity. It was once widespread but has been reduced by the drainage of wetlands and the clearing of land for farming and housing.

Harakeke is symbolic in Maori culture, often used as a metaphor of family relationships. “Kua tupu te pa harakeke” literally means the flax plantation is growing but metaphorically means that the family is being well raised. 

As a community we are proud of the establishment of this Pa Harakeke on public land and acknowledge its historical connection to Ngati Hei on this historic Waiotapu site.

New Stair Access at Otama Beach

New stair access to Otama Beach on the demain has been built by the local community and ORG in collaboration with DOC. The purpose of the new stairs is to improve access to the beach and to redirect foot traffic away from the roots of one of the large pohutakawa trees on the bank which was on the previous access path. We are hoping that our efforts will prolong the life of this very old tree.  

One of the many reasons that Otama is so beautiful is that pohutakawa trees grow along the cliff area, fringing the beach and providing shade from the sun. They are particularly beautiful in full bloom at the beginning of Summer.  

Bank erosion has seen the steady decline of the pohutakawa trees along the bank on the Otama Domain and the ORG has erected signs to try to direct foot traffic off the roots  of the trees which have historically been the access route to the beach and onto designated beach accesses, in the hope of preserving this unique beach environment for everyone.

Thanks to everyone who helped out with this project.