A rare endangered bird described as ‘Tauranga’s Bigfoot’ has been sighted by Tauranga City Council contractors working in the Kopurererua Valley.
The Australasian bittern, or Matuku as it is known in Maori, was seen near an area of maturing re-vegetation planted by the Kopurererua Valley Rotary Centennial Trust in the wetlands near Judea.
Full Circle Arboriculture managing director Brian Rickey says they were undertaking restoration works in the Kopurererua Valley when one of his staff spotted the bird.
“About three weeks ago Logan Cowley spotted the endangered bird right at the end of the wetlands near Birch Avenue.”
At first Logan thought the bird was a hawk but then realised it was much larger.
The bird then spotted him and picked up a big eel in its beak before flying off with the eel wriggling around in the air, says Brian.
“The bird flew up in the direction of what we call the Koromiko wetlands.
“Last Friday we were all working in the Kopurererua Valley doing a planting day when low and behold the bird was again walking along the paddocks.”
Brain believes there may be two Australasian bitterns in the wetlands.
“Because we saw one in the paddocks and it flew up and back to the Koromiko wetland and about 35 minutes later another bittern was walking along quite close to us and we hadn’t seen the other fly back and it looked a little bit smaller.”
Brian hopes one is a male and the other is a female in hopes of baby bitterns.
“In our opinion, we think the level of restoration works in the wetland in the last five to seven years is supporting the environment, which can support a large predator.
“We were very encouraged by it - it gives us some encouragement that we are doing our job properly.”
Trust chairman Ian Wilson says this is a great milestone and a real boost for those involved in the restoration work in Kopurererua Valley.
“The benefits of more than nine years of native planting and other work are really starting to show, it’s just fantastic.”
There are fewer than 1000 of the birds left in New Zealand and the Department of Conservation says they are a potential indicator of wetland health as they are dependent on the presence of high quality, ecologically diverse habits and rich food supplies.
DOC says the Australasian bittern inhabits wetlands throughout New Zealand, but is rarely seen because of its secretive behaviour and excellent camouflage.
“It is most active at dawn, dusk and through the night.
“Matuku have declined dramatically since humans began draining wetlands and is now classed globally as endangered,” says DOC.