By Michael Szabo

I’ve aspired to visit Te Hauturu-o-Toi since reading, three decades ago, that plans to transfer huia to the island failed to eventuate after the last pair captured in the lower North Island in 1893 was acquired by Walter Buller, sent to Baron Walter Rothschild in England, and died en route.

My aspiration was renewed with the publication last year of the book “Hauturu”, edited by Lyn Wade and Dick Veitch of the Trust. After reviewing it for Birds New Zealand magazine, I asked Lyn how I might visit the island. She and Dick kindly arranged for me to get a permit from Te Papa Atawhai Department of Conservation (DOC) and join a trip in January 2021 after a spare place came up.

During the calm journey out we passed increasing numbers of toanui (flesh-footed shearwaters) rako (Buller’s shearwaters) and tïtï (Cook’s petrels) and a few takahikare-moana (white-faced storm petrels), but no New Zealand storm petrels.

Arriving at Te Maraeroa Spit we found abundant korimako (bellbirds) warou (welcome swallows) and kererū and kākā flying near the ranger’s house.

Walking up the Valley Track the bush was alive with korimako and tīeke and it wasn’t long before I saw my first Hauturu hihi (stitchbird) – a sub-adult. Further on I also saw a smart adult male. As I watched him, red-crowned kākāriki chattered above and koekoea (long-tailed cuckoos) whistled from trees up the slope. A kahu drifted over the canopy causing the forest to fall silent but after a few minutes, one of the koekoea flew over the valley and a second sped off through the trees.

Feeling lucky to have seen hihi and koekoea, I set of f back to the rangers’ house. I’d only walked a few metres when I heard the rustling sound of a dark brown bird with pale brown streaks casually walking towards me – a North Island brown kiwi. I stopped and took a few photos as it probed the dry ground and crevices between tree roots, audibly snapping its long pale bill between each probing. After ten minutes, it continued up the slope and I lost sight of it.

Later on, while chatting with Dick near the house, a kōkako jumped out of a tree onto the ground in front of us, giving us sublime views of it for several minutes as it hopped around feeding before bounding off.

Seeing Hauturu’s magic birds close-up was an unforgettable experience. If you have the chance to visit I would highly recommend it.

Michael Szabo is editor of Birds New Zealand magazine.

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