Titipounamu/Rifleman have a new home at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari thanks to help from another Waipā mountain – Mt Pirongia.
Pest control since 2006 by Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society has seen the population of this smallest of native birds at Pirongia maunga increase substantially.
Last week teams of volunteers from both maunga were assisting ecologists Dave Bryden and Amanda Rogers with the catching 40 Titipounamu to begin the process of re-establishing them at Maungatautari, which contains 3240ha of native forest, protected by a 47km long pest-proof fence.
Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari species co-ordinator Janelle Ward gave some background to the project.
"Titipounamu were previously on Maungatautari but disappeared from much of the Waikato, largely due to mammalian predators such as rats," she said.
"They were identified in our restoration plan as a key species to be returned to the maunga, with Pirongia and Pureora being the most suitable source sites."
A total of 80 birds will be re-introduced to Maungatautari over the next few weeks, and then their progress monitored.
"We are thrilled to be working with Pirongia Restoration Society on the first stage of this important reintroduction," said Janelle.
The catching process began with a karakia from Ngati Apakura and then teams set up mist nets at five sites on Pirongia maunga and used recorded Titipounamu song to entice the birds into the nets.
Catch team leaders from Tiritiri Matangi and the Hihi Conservation Trust led this work and their experience was invaluable.
A group of Te Pahū School students were able to shadow the teams to see the whole process and saw first-hand the care taken with the birds.
Clare St Pierre, the chairwoman of Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society, had the privilege of releasing one of the first Titipounamu at Maungatautari.
"This is the first species sourced from Pirongia to benefit another site. We're incredibly proud that our mahi is delivering benefits across multiple species and that our neighbouring maunga is the recipient," she said.
"When we first began annual pest control, titipounamu were in very small numbers, in just a few pockets.
"A survey to confirm numbers here in 2019 showed they were plentiful across the mid-altitude range of our 1030ha pest control grid, so we are absolutely stoked we can be a donor site to get them re-established at a new site."
Further captures and transfers will take place this week, with the intention to transfer 40 more birds from Pureora.
This will complete the translocation and the next step will be to survey in the next six months to find the locations of titipounamu and evidence of breeding success.
"We are delighted to welcome one of New Zealand's tiniest birds to the maunga and look forward to hearing their sweet song included in the native bird chorus at Maungatautari," said Janelle.