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.

Torea-pango (Oyster Catcher) Chick Killed by Dog on Otama Beach

Sadly, our Torea-pango (Oyster Catcher) chick – the first surviving one in 5 years was killed by a dog on Sunday the 2nd of February. This is very disappointing as the ORG and DOC put a lot of time and effort to protect the area’s native bird’s  fledglings from predators in the sand dune, lagoon area and wetland. An extensive trap line is set up and monitored regularly along the sand dune and reserves including the wetland, and DOC has a designated ranger Lisa Kearney who monitors the birdlife on the beaches in the area.

The dog involved is known to the authorities and DOC sent the dead fledgling for DNA testing. We are hoping that the owners will be prosecuted to send out a message to dog owners that they must keep their dogs under control at all times on the beach.

Changes to the TCDC Dog By-Laws have seen a significant increase in dogs at the eastern end of Otama Beach chasing and endangering bird life in the lagoon / sand dune area despite DOC signage. The ORG is bringing this matter to the attention of DOC and TCDC.

Traps Stolen from Otama Trap Line

The ORG is extremely disappointed to see that 5 of our traps
have been stolen from our predator trap line near the lagoon entrance.
A lot of effort by community members has gone into setting up an extensive trap line to reduce the predators of the native bird species living in the lagoon, wetland and sand dune reserves and we are beginning to see an increase in bird activity in the area.
This initiative has resulted in the trapping of 348 predators to date since its inception in 2018.

The ORG had to apply for funding from DOC to purchase these traps and it is very disheartening to have them stolen. We are considering asking DOC to limit access to that area of the reserve to stop freedom campers staying overnight illegally.

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.

Article in Informer: “Degraded” wetland unacceptable for Otama Reserves Group

“Degraded” wetland unacceptable for Otama Reserves Group

In addition to looking after several reserves in the Otama Beach area, the Otama Reserves Group (ORG) is also working on restoring the health of the wetland in the area. “In a relatively recent Environment Court decision, the Otama wetland was described as ‘degraded,’” says Paul Kington, chairman of the ORG. “We don’t really know who decides when a wetland is degraded and what the requirements are, but it was an unacceptable comment and we just couldn’t let it go.

“There’s a lot at Otama that’s still pristine. The dunes, for instance, are number two in Australasia insofar as their natural condition is concerned. Everything in nature is interconnected and if the wetland isn’t healthy, the dunes and other parts of the area will ultimately be affected.”

The ORG was established approximately two years ago and has a committee of 11 members. More than 50 people are on the group’s database.

Since it’s establishment, the ORG has focused on predator trapping and the weeding of invasive species. “All our volunteers enjoy helping out,” says Paul. “We’re receiving a lot of support from Project Kiwi as well. They’re undertaking quite a lot of their kiwi conservation work on land adjacent to the Otama wetland.”

The Otama wetland is owned by the Department of Conservation. Since the ORG has received consent from DOC to access the wetland, a trapline has been set up and the manual removal of invasive weeds has started. Saltwater paspalum is the major weed targeted at the moment.

“Spraying for weeds isn’t an option for us,” says Paul. “We do whatever we have to do by hand. Waikato Regional Council has given us some funding to drone map the wetland boundaries, identify native plant species and get a better understanding of the hydraulics of the wetland. This work is completed and a report has been provided to WRC. The results are really helping us with what we’re trying to achieve.

“In addition to the physical work we do in the wetland, we’re putting a lot of effort into our relationships with DOC, WRC, Thames-Coromandel District Council, local iwi and neighbouring landowners. It’s important that all of us are on the same page.”

Paul hasn’t had much experience with wetlands prior to the ORG gaining access to the Otama Wetland. “I’ve learned a lot about wetlands and their importance in the way nature works in a relatively short period of time,” says Paul. “They harbour a myriad of treasures. Despite the fact that the Otama wetland is apparently degraded, in my first time in the wetland, I found a bittern nesting site. Since then, we’ve discovered five pairs of fernbird, a banded rail and 15 pāteke. It’s quite astonishing. Just imagine the paradise the wetland will be once it’s restored to it’s natural glory.”

The ORG hopes to have a website up and running in the next two weeks. “The KEA Group has helped us to obtain funding from the Len Reynolds Trust to develop our website,” says Paul. “People should have a look at our website and be in touch if they want to become involved in what we do.”