Monday, 30 April 2012

Bird sanctuary needs help

ROSEMARY MCLEOD



Bob Dylan's nasal voice grates through the sound system, almost breaking through the cries of small children. The Rata Cafe in the Zealandia visitor centre has attracted a small mob of mothers, toddlers and pushchairs, and I'm waiting for the guided tour to start on a chilly, drizzly day.
I'm on my way to the group rendezvous point when I see the first of Zealandia's special species grubbing in the earth beside the walkway. They're humanis volunteeris, the backbone of Wellington's financially challenged ecological attraction, industriously ridding the path of introduced weed species like so many large, pecking birds with woolly plumage. There's a big job ahead, with 225 hectares of regenerating bush and 32km of tracks, but Zealandia's vision of creating a true pre-human environment covers an ambitious 500 years into the future. The androids will be grateful.

TOP BIRD: One of the star attractions at Zealandia is T2 the takahe.  Photo: Kevin Stent/Fairfax NZ


Like most Wellingtonians, I suspect, I've stayed away because (a) There's heaps of native bush that you can walk in for free; (b) I think native birds are so well camouflaged that I'll be lucky to see any, especially with excited children about; and (c) It's expensive to go there, much more so at night, when it's more than $60 to hopefully see spotted kiwis foraging.
My handbag has been examined for mice, incidentally, inside the great predator-proof fence that defines the sanctuary perimeter. Mice are the one pest and predator they haven't got rid of yet – which seems to contradict the claim that the valley has been pest-free since 1999.
I see blackbirds. I hear tui cackling and trilling, and catch a glimpse of one. I see a colony of pied shags on a collapsed tree in the former Karori Reservoir lake. They look, in the distance, like a Chinese painting. The ducks swimming about are the usual mallards.
I hear the distinctive cry of an invisible bird, or possibly a toddler, and then we're in the takahe enclosure, looking at two of the rarest birds now in existence. They have awkward-looking, long plastic tracking devices poking out of their backs, and are quite unafraid as they nibble the grass a metre away from us. No wonder they nearly died out.

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