As far as anyone knew, kiwi were long gone from the Houto Forest near Dargaville, until a kiwi was found on farmland just 1km north of the forest. The kiwi – accidentally caught in a possum trap – was taken to the Native Bird Rescue Centre in Whangarei until its leg injury healed and it could be released.
While the trapping was unfortunate, the news was exciting. Not only were kiwi present, but the injured bird was a juvenile just out of the nest. Kiwi were back and they were breeding!
Meanwhile, Dargaville local, Graham Gallaghan, had seen the decimation of bush in the area while out goat-hunting and decided he wanted to do something to help. In Houto Forest Graham saw visible evidence of goat and possum browse. The last possum control in the forest had been 10 years earlier and when Graham did 5-minute bird counts the results were disappointing, but not surprising. Only wood pigeons and fantails were heard.
Along with mate Darren Jones, Graham formed the Kaipara Forest Conservation Charitable Trust with the aim of rejuvenating Houto Forest by trapping possums, rats and stoats. Graham’s newly formed Trust was awarded charitable status in September 2015. Now he could begin to apply for grants to buy much-needed traps.
Houto Forest consists of two blocks of around 400-500 ha each. The blocks are about 1km apart and classified as Category 1 bush, with at least two threatened species present. Northern rata grow in the forest and it is home to kereru (kukupa), tui, shining cuckoos, grey warblers, North Island fantails and kauri snails.
The Trust will focus its efforts initially on the southern block (Maungaru Range). Graham already has some rat traps up and going and has applied to his regional council for funding for 40 DOC 200 traps to cover the perimeter of the southern block where the DOC-owned forest borders farmland. He should know the result of his application in the next month or so.
For Graham, the discovery of a young kiwi on nearby farmland was exciting news. In late October 2015, he borrowed acoustic recorders from DOC Kauri Coast and set them up in the Houto Forest. Within a week he had recorded two male kiwi calling, confirming that kiwi had definitely returned to the Houto.
Graham hopes to get local landowners and his community involved in restoring the Houto. He’s had good feedback and support already and would like to see local schools getting involved. The pre-trapping monitoring to get baseline data has been done and the rat-traps are out. He hopes to start stoat-trapping within the next 6 months. For the Kaipara Forest Conservation Charitable Trust, the Houto Forest and its newly discovered kiwi its ‘Game on’ for 2016!