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Rare birds return to Ashley-Rakahuri River

Endangered native birds, including the wrybill, black-fronted tern and black-billed gull have started to return to the Ashley-Rakahuri River for their breeding season.

The birds only nest in weed-free shingle areas along the river which leaves their eggs vulnerable to predators and four-wheel drive vehicles driving along the river bed.

The Waimakariri Zone Committee has provided over $18 000 of funding to the Ashley Rakahuri Rivercare Group (ARRG) over the past three years for river island creation, predator trapping and weed removal.

ARRG chair Nick Ledgard says public awareness of the importance of protecting the unique birds has increased over the last few years with most people understanding the need to refrain from driving near nesting areas.

“We’ve put signs up along the riverbank and out in the riverbed explaining why we have blocked off the major entrances until January to allow the birds to nest undisturbed along the river.

“People and their dogs should also keep away from the nesting areas as the eggs look like stones and are almost invisible amongst the stones.”

Nick says the season is off to a good start with more birds turning up earlier in the season compared to last year.

“They are here a bit earlier than usual and that includes BW-BW, the only banded wrybill left on the river. We have been following him since he was banded as a two-year-old in 2009 so it is wonderful to see him back again.”

BW-BW, the only banded wrybill

Nick regularly fields calls from overseas visitors asking where they can see a wrybill; the only bird in the world with a sideways beak.

“We’re starting to see a rise in the awareness of the importance of protecting these rare birds, not only from overseas visitors, but also from local residents. I enjoy visiting schools to inspire the next generation to continue to protect these birds for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”

Eight pairs of wrybills nested along the river last year, Nick hopes to see more this year, but each season is unpredictable.

“We never really know how many chicks we’ll get, although thanks to the floods last winter which took out a lot of the weeds and the funding from the zone committee to keep the area weed free, we are in a good position in terms of creating a favourable environment for the birds to nest in.”

North Canterbury Zone manager Andrew Arps says the Ashley-Rakahuri River remains a key priority for the Waimakariri Zone Committee.

“We’re committed to ensuring the continuation of the excellent work that Nick and the ARRG are doing to protect our rare braided river birds so future generations can also enjoy these unique birds.

“We’re lucky to have such special birds nesting in our backyard so we want to do everything we can to create the best environment for nesting, which will in turn encourage the population to grow.”

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