Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ō Tū Wharekai wetlands – an important high country refuge for the nationally endangered Australasian Bittern.

Ō Tū Wharekai wetlands – an important high country refuge for the nationally endangered Australasian Bittern.

Peter Langlands


19 July 2010

The Ō Tū Wharekai wetlands, otherwise known as the Ashburton lakes, are one of three large scale wetland restoration projects undertaken by DOC in New Zealand (the other two being Awarua Bay and Whangamarino swamp.) Yet Ō Tū Wharekai is the only high country site. The wetlands in a large basin area between the Rangitata and Rakaia River catchments are one of the best examples of high country wetlands in the South Island, with a good representation of tussock, sedge and rare wetland plant communities. Amongst these diverse wetland communities, adjoining scenic high country lakes, the wetlands form the last stronghold (outside of the Mackenzie basin) for the Australasian bittern or Matuku in the central South Island high country. In the last six months birds have been sighted at Lakes Heron and Emma, in addition to the bird’s distinctive booming call, heard at the Maori Lakes. These lakes form an important network upon which this high country bittern population depends. The most recent sighting in July 2010 confirms that bitterns stay in these high country lakes throughout the year – even when most wetlands are frozen over in the region! Small inflowing creeks are likely to provide a foraging area for the birds.

The bittern is one of our rarer birds and is listed in the second highest threat ranking as being a nationally endangered bird. Bitterns once thrived in New Zealand but their numbers have rapidly declined since the 1950’s as the vast majority of New Zealand’s wetlands were drained. It is estimated that now only 750 birds remain in New Zealand (with most birds in the Northland and Waikato regions- where large wilderness wetlands remain). Now bitterns are scattered in very low numbers throughout the South Island. With only around 50 birds remaining in Canterbury. The Ashburton Lakes form one of three known important populations of bittern within the Canterbury Region, the other two being at Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) and in wetlands scattered throughout the Mackenzie Country. In addition a few birds are also found along smaller wetlands along Canterbury’s coast from Wainono Lagoon in the south to the Amberley wetlands in the North.

The bitterns are very much a bird of our wilderness wetlands preferring undisturbed and remote wetlands. They are large birds with a striking pointed bill, used for feeding on a wide range of prey items from small eels, fish to frogs and small birds. Yet most strikingly bitterns have brown and buff stripes on their breast to camouflage in amongst reed beds, and in particular- raupō (or bullrush) – a much favoured habitat of bitterns in the South Island. Bitterns are in the heron family and are the only group of birds having evolved to merge in with reed beds. From August until March bitterns have a distinctive booming call, similar to that of the endangered kakapo, which resonates eerily across our wilderness wetlands. Like the kakapo the bittern is sadly an endangered species and habitat enhancement and creation combined with predator trapping may be required to save this enigmatic bird.

Photograph caption- Bittern, or Matuku ( as they are known as in Maori culture) photographed at Ō Tū Wharekai wetlands in winter 2010 - in the Ashburton Lakes- one of few high country strongholds left for these birds (and now protected under the Arawai Käkäriki Wetland Restoration Program-DOC).

Key words –

Arawai Käkäriki Wetland Restoration Programme.

Ō Tū Wharekai (Ashburton lakes/Upper Rangitata river, Canterbury).

Australasian bittern - Botaurus poiciloptilus – Matuku


Friday, August 27, 2010

Bittern in flight- Lake Ellesmere region

Striking outline. Bitterns are now starting to boom. Any records of booming birds would be appreciated.
Peter Langlands-

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bittern foot print

Note- length of hind claw ( voice recorder is 10 cm in lenght)- so an impressive footprint. Found deep insidea raupo bed in the Lake Ellesmere region on 22 august 2010. So next time you are around any wetlands have a look for this type of print. Perhaps a useful way, at times, of monitoring the presence of bittern.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bittern on utube movie production

Bittern on utube movie production

produced by Martin Langlands for the 2010 biodiversity utube movie competition.
Thanks Martin

The Matuku is a native bird living in New Zealand's wetlands, a bird in great danger of extinction indicative of the poor state and destruction of our once pristine wetland ecologies - However there is hope , all people's of Aotearoa need to act. Images are by Peter langlands and original music-video by Martin Langlands

Talk about conservation of Bittern in Canterbury

Hello fellow bitterners I will be giving a talk on 27 September at 7.30 pm to the Canterbury Branch of the Ornithological Society . The talk will be held at the Department of conservation's Maahanui Office- Sockburn. For more information contact Jan Walker- Regional represenative- Jan Walker


Bittern image available- to help fund further bittern work

A rare image of this nationally endangered bird in flight. taken by Peter Langlands in 2010. Photo available at full file size - suitable to poster size. A striking image of the Australasian bittern or matuku. All funds from sale of image will go into doing further research to assist with the conservation of this species.
Image supplied on disk with a gift card of the image for $10- if interested please contact me-