It's almost spring with days stretching out and temperatures starting to climb after a cool and often damp winter.
And soon there'll be the sounds of tiny talons in the Whakarewarewa Forest with native falcon or kārearea pairs nesting again.
Last year, three pairs settled in different parts of the forest and produced chicks. Sid Vicious and Bet nested in the Exit Trail area, but well away from traffic. Maia and Hatupatu left their first nest and found a new home close to the original near Windy Rd and the dual-use trail Te Pou Koropu.
Betty Shepherd and Heather Willis are volunteers who monitor their activity, every day, through the nesting season.
They described Maia and Hatupatu's nest as "a one bedroom condo with a super outlook".
A new, third pair, Sery and Ford, nested on a steep bank above the final climb on the way to Waipa on the Hemo Gorge Trail.
This will all kick off again in September, though locations of the nests may change.
When they do nest, they will become very territorial and likely to attack bikers and walkers, especially those with dogs. The falcon often nest on the ground and dogs are considered one of their predators.
Once the nesting areas are located, warning signs will be put in place to alert forest users.
Helmets may protect the riders, but the impact on the helmet can inflict serious injuries to the birds.
"If you come under attack, retreat and leave them alone, do not provoke them," Betty continues. "If their talons get caught in the air vents of a helmet they can sustain damage and this means they will be unable to hunt and will die."
Native falcon are rarer than our iconic kiwi. Whakarewarewa Forest is one area where they nest, providing an amazing opportunity for bikers to enjoy the beauty of these magnificent birds.
"Please respect all the signage and tape, not just for the sake of your scalp," says Betty. "The effort of defending their space puts a large amount of stress on these birds. The stark fact is that up to 75 per cent of young falcons die before reaching 12 months old."
Last year, she says the mountain biking fraternity and other forest users were fantastic.
"Mostly, they were aware of the presence of the falcons and just wanted to catch a glimpse of them."
How do you tell the difference between a falcon and a harrier hawk?
Falcons weigh about 300-550g. Males are smaller (about the size of a magpie) than females. In flight, their wings are held flat and they look straight ahead.
They only eat live prey, mostly small birds, mice and rabbits.
Harrier hawks weigh 650-850g. They fly with wings in a shallow V and they look down.
Their prey is mostly mammals and they will eat carrion and are often seen with road kill.
Please report any falcon sightings in the Whaka Forest over the next few months.
Contact Betty on firstname.lastname@example.org
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