Taiko

The Chatham Island taiko is a gadfly petrel endemic to Chatham Island. The population is estimated to be around 100 to 150 and it is classified as Nationally Critical, the highest threat classification. There are currently only 17 pairs and 15 single males monitored at the only known natural breeding site, in the Tuku a Tamatea river valley.

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Needle in a haystack- the Tuku. Photo: Steve Sawyer, Ecoworks

Current management for the Taiko involves control of cats and rats around known burrow sites and the establishment of a safe site by the transfer of chicks to a predator-proof fenced area. Finding burrow sites is the most difficult part; this has been largely achieved by capturing birds using spotlights at night, and then attaching transmitters in order to track them to burrows. The recent capture of new birds with new genetics suggests that there are unknown burrows that are not receiving protection.  Searches by trained dogs and aerial tracking may be the way to find these breeding sites and protect them.

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Petrel dog Tui. Photo: Steve Sawyer, Ecoworks

For two summers beginning in 2008-9, petrel dogs Tui and Tar, with their handlers from Ecoworks, searched the incredibly rough country around existing known burrows in Tuku Nature Reserve, and also the little-visited covenanted lands to the south.  In the first summer, an older burrow was found in one of the southern search areas, but with not too much evidence of recent occupation.

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Typical search pattern. Map: Steve Sawyer, Ecoworks

In the second summer effort was concentrated around the known natural burrows, the most positive result being a likely nest prospecting site close to one of the known burrow groups.

Sky Ranger equipment, developed by innovative New Zealand company Wildtech, can give an easy way of tracking birds like taiko from the air in much less time than other methods.  Jim Clarkson and his team at DOC Chatham Islands had funding for the hardware and needed to buy aircraft time, which is where we came in.

On only the second flight in late November 2011, one of the new transmittered taiko was picked up, rather ironically within 100m of the hut used as a field station in the Tuku.  Pat Liddy went in and found the bird immediately, in its well established burrow. The signal could not be picked up from the hut.  There are still various technical difficulties with the equipment, meaning a tighter grid has to be flown and so less ground can be covered per flight than hoped, but hopes are high.

Funded by Fauna Recovery New Zealand ($15,500).

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