The fledging — or flight away — of a seabird chick from Matakohe-Limestone Island is a success story that has been 15 years in the making.

Friends of Matakohe-Limestone Island (FOMLI) and local hapu Te Parawhau were thrilled to see the first island-bred grey-faced petrel chick, also called oi, fledge from the island last Tuesday, January 8.

It is the first time in living memory a grey-faced petrel has been hatched and raised on the island in Whangārei Harbour which also serves as a kiwi creche.

In 2004 the first of seven translocations of groups of juvenile oi/grey-faced petrels was made from Taranga/Hen Island in an effort to bring the species back to a long past habitat.

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Chicks are independent of parent birds as soon as they can fly, when they begin their oceanic life. Birds begin to return to the site they hatched at around 3.

Two of the translocated birds which returned to Matakohe-Limestone Island after taking off to sea paired up and, after two failed breeding attempts, produced a third egg last season.

Island ranger Emma Craig discovered the egg had hatched on Father's Day in September 2018. The bird began its night-time emergence from the burrow on Christmas day. Coming out of the burrow usually occurs every night for a couple of weeks so the chicks' wings can stretch and flap to build up flight muscles before they take off to sea.

Former Matakohe-Limestone Island ranger Cathy Mitchell, centre, with Emma Craig, right and Craig's son Quincy Carpenter with the chick Ahi Kaa Tuarua before it fledged.
Former Matakohe-Limestone Island ranger Cathy Mitchell, centre, with Emma Craig, right and Craig's son Quincy Carpenter with the chick Ahi Kaa Tuarua before it fledged.

By early January, Craig knew the chick was almost ready to fledge. She was particularly worried a stoat might kill the chick before it could fly.

"We know that the island is close enough to the mainland for stoats to swim here, and they do turn up occasionally", she said.

"We have had two caught in traps over the past few weeks, as well as other sign they have made it to the island. We had to pull out all the stops to ensure the safety of the oi chick, including sitting near the burrow at night to chase away any unwelcome visitors".

When the chick left, Craig said she couldn't quite believe it at first.

"After checking on the egg and then chick regularly for almost six months, it seemed a bit surreal to see an empty burrow.

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"So many people have been involved with this project, and it was an absolute pleasure to be able to let them know all of their hard work has been rewarded".

Fred Tito of Te Parawhau and others had travelled to the island when the egg hatched and named the chick Ahi Kaa Tuarua.

"The very first kiwi hatched on the island was given the name Ahi Kaa, so it was fitting that this new oi chick was bestowed with the name Ahi Kaa Tuarua as part of the ritual and blessing, and to acknowledge the significance of the first oi chick to hatch on the island in living memory," Tito said.

Ahi Kaa means "keeping the home fire burning", and Tuarua refers to the island conservationists' second successful bird programme.