Great Barrier Island Environmental News
Bush Telegraph and Environmental News                    Back    Home

The Second Great Barrier Bird Count

Bittern - on their last legs

Spotless Crake - definitely spotted

Marsh Crakes - try again


Seventeen people took part in the second 5-minute bird count day in four parts of Great Barrier Island on 30/9/06. The group also searched for bittern, spotless and marsh crake, using recordings of their calls as ‘lures’. This activity, taking place at dusk and dawn, is reported below.

The late afternoon / evening bittern survey was to try to discover if resident/nesting bittern are present on GBI. Four groups listened for "booming" at locations around Kaitoke swamp and a further group from D.o.C listened at two locations in the Okiwi/Whangapoua swamp area. Two large brown birds spotted entering a ditch in Kaitoke Swamp caused a scramble for the binoculars! They were almost certainly bittern. A boom heard by Fenella Christian near the Golf Course was also probably bittern. So, a few are still about.

There are reports of bittern booming in recent years from the Police Station Swamp (where a bittern was seen in 2003 by Sandra Anderson), and from the Kaitoke estuary – Wiltshire Lane area, where a young bird was found dead in c. 2003. Cait Devey reported that bittern were calling in the wetland off the road beside Kaitoke estuary in 2004. Des Casey reported that Dave Harland had seen one on Speck’s farm at Windy Hill this year. Since the bird-count Amanda Yates and Emma Hunt have seen "a large brown shag-like bird" on the Kaitoke creek.

Bittern was formerly much commoner on Great Barrier (Bell 1976; Ogle 1981.) In 1980 it was seen or heard in March-April at five locations: Kaitoke swamp, Whangapoua Estuary, Motairehe, Oruawharua Bay and near Okiwi airstrip. It was present at Awana before the coastal swamps were drained and converted into pasture (M. Curreen). I know of no records from the northern part of the island since 1980, although at that time it was almost certainly breeding in the Whangapoua swamp and at Motairehe. Currently bitterns appears to be vagrants, with the last likely breeding in 2004 at Kaitoke. If anyone out there has further information about bitterns on GBI, please get in touch!

At dawn on October 1st groups were located at four locations around Kaitoke swamp and played recorded calls of spotless and marsh crakes (lures) on a motley selection of old tape-decks. The D.o.C-led group did the same in the Whangapoua area. Spotless crake responded positively to taped calls at three locations around Kaitoke swamp. At one site there was vigorous "churring" from two or three birds, and one came out of the reeds to inspect the tape recorder (and Emma Hunt) so identification was absolutely positive. Spotless crake was first recorded at Kaitoke swamp by Colin Ogle in 1980 and later by Anderson & Ogden (2003). The former also recorded it at Whangapoua, but noted its diminishing habitat due to swamp drainage there. No responses to our lures were obtained in the Whangapoua area (Halema Jamieson). Marsh crake has not yet been positively identified on Great Barrier island, and no definitive evidence was discovered this time either .


The work was funded from the Biodiversity Advice Fund of Department of Conservation (AV207). Des Casey, Halema Jamieson and Fenella Christian are thanked for help in local organization. Cait Devey, Peter Edmunds, Emma Hunt, Halema Jamieson, Ezra Kendall, Deborah Mayson, Hillarey McGregor, Chris Sullivan, Jenni Ogden, Steve Oxborough, Alan Phelps, Emmy Pratt, Bruno and Sue Reusser, Dale and Maioha Tawa, Bert Vowden, Duane Walker, Karen Walker and Amanda Yates are thanked for devoting a Saturday and/or Sunday morning to this work, and for keeping up observations in the interim.


The Report of the Second GBICT Bird Count can be obtained by communicating with the Trust or John Ogden directly.