Weka surveys at Kawakawa Bay and Orere Point 2015
by Ian Southey
Weka counts to monitor the population at Kawakawa Bay have been carried out since 2005 and this year we carried out the 11th count. The three main counts at Kawakawa Bay were on March 28th, April 11th and 18th, with a final count on May 1st to complete five counts that had been missed on the main counts.
Since 2012 we have conducted a single count at Orere Point which was done on April 25th but due to a shortage of people only one count site, rather than usual the two or three, was done on Richardson’s block. Weather was generally good for all counts so the results should be fairly good.
This year 67 Weka were recorded, 48 positions with 18 pairs (38%) and 31 singles. It should be noted that counts are approximate and there is scope for some underestimation, especially when birds are close, and some for over estimation when birds, far from observers, are not placed accurately.
The numbers have clearly improved since 2014 when 42 Weka called from 35 positions and only in 7 of these did they call as pairs (20%). This is a 150% increase in numbers overall and, more importantly, two and a half times as many pairs were present. Interestingly several observers recorded apparently single females calling which suggests that the number of pairs, and hence the potential productivity of the population could increase still further before the next breeding season.
There is a wide scatter both pairs and singles throughout the core block but there is clearly a higher density of birds in the same places more birds were recorded in 2014, especially between Te Papa Road and Tuturau Bay. Within about 500m of the coast there were 10 pairs and 9 single birds recorded in this stretch. Weka numbers remain low behind Tawhitokino Beach but have picked up a little to the south.
Weka numbers at Orere Point (6) were similar to the previous count in 2014 (5) but included two pairs this time rather than none in 2014 so this can be regarded as an improvement too.
After two years of drought Weka numbers at Kawakawa Bay fell from a high of about 130 birds recorded between 2010 and 2012 to just 42 in 2014. Fortunately the early prediction of a drought in 2015 proved inaccurate and although January was particularly parched rain began to fall during February and increased through the autumn. This seems to have helped the Weka at Kawakawa Bay survive so that numbers (67 birds) have increased to about the levels we saw in 2007, the third year of counting, rather than becoming perilously low as we had expected.
During the period we have counted Weka they have expanded to Orere Point where there now appears to be a small, perhaps stable, nucleus of birds in the town with some in the hinterland between there and Kawakawa Bay. These birds may have increased too but with fewer counts and fewer birds recorded it is harder to be sure. Like the population at Kawakawa Bay there seems to be more birds, and perhaps more pairs close to the coast, and especially near the houses, while the numbers of backcountry birds have fluctuated much more. These hill country birds may in fact be the edge of the Kawakawa Bay population as there is not always a clear connection to the Orere Point birds.
At present we have a situation where Weka seem to do best close to people although the extent of bush adjacent to the houses may also be important. At present it does not seem to be a coastal effect as there are many fewer Weka along Tawhitokino Beach where they have been quite common in the past but numbers fell dramatically and they do not seem to have increased yet. This shouldn’t be regarded as a definitive conclusion as the areas are small and the count methods are crude. These are the places where the bulk of the Weka population survived during the drought, where recovery is most advanced and the dispersing juveniles will presumably bolster the hill country birds and aid further recovery.
I am grateful to all of the people who turned up to help, especially the experienced ones who now seem to know what they are doing. It is hoped that the people who came for the first time will return as experienced counters next season as we still have trouble completing the workload.
The following people have helped with the counts this year. Joyce Frost, Ian Southey, John and Rosemary Cotman, Janie and Kevin Vaughan, Gillian Vaughan, Linda and Noel Knight, Barbara and Helen Kay, Trish and Graeme Simmonds, John Oates, Phil and Nova Coory, Gerry Romley, Warren Turnwald, Ans Bloem, Ralph and Miranda Davidson, Tony Beauchamp, Mags Ramsay, Nathan Cox, Tony Habraken, Haylee Wilde, Denise Moyle, Ruth Matheson, TaymarieYorston and Michelle Hollings.
Our local hosts deserve thanks for dealing with the logistics, and particularly Rosemary and Trish for hosting the debriefs. We are especially grateful to the landowners who allowed us access to count on their land.