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Birds of a feather . . . Hutton’s Shearwater flock of the Kaikoura coast before the 2016 quake. It is feared thousands died due to the destruction of their subalpine burrows. Photo: Nicky McArthur

 

By ROBYN BRISTOW

It is possible up to 200,000 Hutton’s shearwaters were lost in the Kaikoura 2016 earthquake.

A Ministry for Primary Industries-funded study wants to establish today’s population of the endangered seabird, endemic to the Kaikoura region.

The bird breeds only at two colonies in the alpine zone of the Seaward Kaikoura Range at elevations between 1200 metres and 1800 metres above sea level.

Based on an earlier study by Richard Cuthbert for the Hutton’s Shearwater Charitable Trust, about 15 percent of the colony land in the Kowhai Valley and a similar percentage in Shearwater Stream catchment was lost to the quake.

Deputy trust chairwoman Nicky McArthur says if the burrows on that land were all occupied on the night of the November earthquake, it was possible up to 200,000 birds died after being swept down the mountain under tonnes of dirt, rubble and rock. “This is a not an insignificant number,” she says.

The MPI study, the results of which should be known by the end of the year, is being overseen by Dr Paul Scofield, senior curator at Canterbury Museum.

Dr Scofield spoke to a full house at Kaikoura’s museum last week, giving insights into Kaikoura’s unique seabird – the only seabird in New Zealand
to nest in the subalpine environment.

The study has involved a team of six flying into the Kowhai Stream colony over two nights and catching 2500 birds on the snow.

Their underbellies were sprayed with red paint so they could be counted on the water around Kaikoura during the following days.

Volunteers from Kaikoura and beyond were tasked with counting both the
painted and unpainted “red breasted” birds at sea, helping gather
statistical information to provide a good population estimate.

The paint lasts for about a week and does not affect the birds.

There has been an education programme running alongside the MPI project in Kaikoura schools.

Year 6 and 9 children had the chance to go out on the water courtesy of
Encounter Kaikoura, an annual opportunity offered by Encounter each year.
Kaikoura is the “last place on earth” for Hutton’s shearwaters, and the trust, which is now in its 10th year, continues to promote the preservation,
conservation, research, education and sustainable management of the
Hutton’s shearwater.

Its vision is to see flourishing populations in the Kaikoura region and gain a greater understanding of their ecology to ensure their survival.

Nicky McArthur says the trust is keen to raise the awareness of “our
special taonga bird this year” and is calling for support for it to become
the Forest & Bird Bird of the Year.

“Please support Kaikoura’s unique¬†endemic bird,” she says.

“It is your bird. Tell your friends and neighbours to vote for the Hutton’s shearwaters by visiting birdoftheyear.org.nz.”

Voting has opened and closes at 5pm on October 14.