Posted on 18th August, 2018

The beginning of establishing the gannet colony on Taurawhata headland.

If there were any area on the farm one would choose to start to reforest it would be the headland known on modern maritime charts as “Green Hill”. The name no doubt given because when seen from the water it appears to be entirely covered in green grass. Fortunately, the steep cliffs on the inland side escaped the ravages of fire, grazing stock and still contain pristine coastal forest protecting threatened plants. Early records show the name Te Awhata as given to this headland. One interpretation is “protruding, standout”, which is certainly possible as it is the closest point on the main land to the Poor Knights Islands lying twelve nautical miles to the East.

It’s not hard to imagine Te Awhata and many other prominent headlands covered in nesting and burrowing seabirds before the first humans arrived on this coast. Two areas on the top, at either end have remained bare of vegetation which could indicate compacted soils of bird landing and launching strips. The historical accounts of birding on the headland and now the rediscovery of oi or Grey-faced petrel burrows helps confirm this theory.

In winter of 2017 restoration work got serious. Fifteen years of un-grazed Kikuyu was sprayed and mowed. A helicopter was used to transport 6,500 native plants on to Te Awhata and a small army of 120 volunteers turned up on an overcast wintery day and planted them in a few hours.

Melva Ward one of our volunteers positioning the decoy.

Returning birds to Te Awhata was also part of the restoration plans. The discovery that oi had returned on their own was confirmation that we were reaping the benefits of years of pest control on the property. Establishing a gannet colony had been on the radar for some time. Nan Pullman our local Queen Elizabeth 11 Trust representative suggested we apply for funding through the Stephenson Trust, that was successful. A trip with our core group of volunteers was organised to visit Motuora Island where society members took us to their establishing gannet colony.

Using the same successful systems (social attraction) as Motuora Island and Young Nicks Head our own gannet decoys have been set up around fake nests and recordings from the gannet colony on near by Sugar loaf Island, part of the Poor Knights Islands group is broadcast through a sound system.

Morus serrator the Autralasian gannet or Takapu can have a life expectancy of twenty years or more. Banded birds have reached an age of over thirty-three years. Most juveniles spend the first few years of their lives in Australian waters. By the time they are six years old most have returned to New Zealand.
Dayna Davis splashing paint on the artificial nests.

Gannet numbers are increasing and over the last sixty years estimated numbers of breeding pairs have doubled to over 50,000. As a rule, gannets’ mate for life and by the time they are eight years old most have started breeding. We are only likely to attract first time breeding pairs as older birds will have already established territory’s in existing colonies. With no adult birds to act as model’s mortality rates are a lot higher in younger pairs.

The experience of the establishing of a permanent gannet colony on Motuora is that it could take some time, even a number of years to establish a successful breeding colony.