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Pest Free

Both Tammy Aldwin and Andrew Jenks at’ Wild About New Zealand’ help and support Pest Free Omokoroa, carrying out our annual, independent Trakka run that establishes the population of rats present inside the ‘protective’ bait line laid down around the Peninsula. Together with a separate Trakka line in and around the village, both lines have consistently returned very low figures-- between 4% to 6%-- for the last 5/6 years-- proving that the rat control program is working really well considering the huge amount of re-infestation that Omokoroa experiences from all surrounding areas.

Tammy also works with senior students and an environmental group at the Point School and asked me to come to tell the students about the Pest Free program-- which was most enjoyable. The children showed a lot of interest and asked many questions as I explained how the Trakka box and bait station worked and outlined the baiting program. Then I talked about how Pest Free was set up in 2005 because at that time Omokoroa had an extremely high rat population, and as these numbers dropped in the following few years there was a resurgence in the bird population. I touched on health hazards and the expensive damage rats have caused to water pipes and electrical wiring inside houses, and cars, especially within an engine bay. It was great to see the students’ enthusiasm. A follow up is planned, covering how to avoid attracting rats-- to discuss birds and how to help them survive through winter, choosing to plant trees and tall shrubs that are bird friendly and provide food, and why keeping the rat population at a low level helps birds during the breeding season.

Each July the annual New Zealand Garden Bird Survey takes place and results correlated over the past 11 years show that, across all regions, the birds are signalling there are significant changes occurring in our environment. Tui have increased at a low rate, but silvereye and sparrow numbers have almost halved over the same period. There has also been a decrease in blackbirds, dunnock, chaffinch, thrush and starling that feed on ground dwelling invertebrates. Happily, I could e-mail the organiser-Eric Spurr – with the news that although the silvereye and sparrow population had dropped significantly in Omokoroa during the past few years, this year their numbers have markedly increased. I observed this during the recent Persimmon season when I visited a local orchard several times and the sky and trees were alive with hundreds of birds. An estimated count gave 200/300 Tui and 50/70 silvereye plus blackbirds, sparrow and thrush and just recently I saw lesser numbers, but a definite increase, in another orchard where only citrus was ripening. Each day it’s also a delight to watch silvereye and Tui, together with other birds, enjoying feeding in my ‘bird tree’ and once again seeing Wood Pigeon return on their regular winter visit to Omokoroa.

The latest news: A new volunteer is already helping on an existing bait line and could be useful in the Prole Road area. Steve Ling, our local supermarket owner, recently cleared part of his property, disturbing rats, and with his input we have laid a new short bait line on some of the neighbouring properties along Western Avenue.

Any resident, young, older or just retired who is interested in our local environment and bird life and would like to spend just a little time helping in our band of Pest Free volunteers is most welcome to ring Jose---5480423.

The considerable rat problems that followed the large land clearing and development beyond the railway land, with loss of habitat and food sources, all outside of our normal baiting area, have happily now been resolved, with a great, rapid response from Western Bay District Council and B.O.P. Environmental Council together with the hard work of our volunteers. Our work in Pest Free has returned to the previous low rat population patterns which is reflected in the volume of bait being taken along our outside ‘protective line. In a small area along Omokoroa road where a problem developed we used a new pattern of laying down bait stations within this already protected area, quickly and successfully, heavily cutting back rat numbers there. With the bait take now at minimum or zero along these new lines we have begun to remove the stations. Patrick has the new Prole Road block up and running smoothly and we will correlate their first results shortly. All of these great results have been achieved by our diligent volunteers.

Mother thrush and babiesNew and existing residents regularly comment on the many birds and all the bird song we have on the Peninsula—I’ts been great to hear the Moreporks calling recently. The hard work done this Winter by the Pest Free volunteers achieved an excellent low population of rats in the Spring, providing a safer breeding environment to enhance bird numbers. With the loss of so many mature trees, inbuilding and no space for replanting, together with many new residents, having pets, especially cats, the bird population needs all our help to maintain numbers and there are simple, effective ways to achieve this:

Add your voice to the Community Board to lobby the District Council to have a plan to replant suitable bird friendly trees and tall shrubs along new streets and within reserves. Add small bells to your cat’s flea collar or, as I do, buy a stretchy collar with bells attached from a supermarket—this is non-intrusive and very effective in cutting down their hunting success. Help the birds through the Winter by placing feeders, in a safe place, filled with either fat, bird seed, sugar syrup or windfall fruit, it’s fun enjoying the bird’s antics as they feed.

In the ongoing Environmental Kaimai Protection Project, Omokoroa has become an “Ark” from which good numbers of native birds migrate between the Peninsula and the five great reserves that have been developed to control pests and provide rehabilitation in the Kaimais. These together with pest control being carried out on many private properties in the foothills are all strongly contributing to a growing movement within New Zealand to protect and enhance our native flora and fauna.

Following our annual Spring Trakka run, Andrew, our Guru, expressed his amazement and appreciation to all our volunteers whose consistent hard work has resulted in not only another very low rat population count, but importantly, the results also showed a high insect count proving that within our baiting area we now have a well-rounded, healthy environment. Which gives the residents the great privilege of enjoying, often within their own gardens, the return of many native birds together with a large population of other diverse species. For me it’s a joy to be down in the garden, surrounded by birds who have little fear, noisily coming to join me to feed and enjoy a cool bath.

There was also excitement in the Spring with the news from our local Ornithologist that he had identified, both a pair of Dotterell and Plover nesting near Peach Point – the Plover had produced chicks and he was waiting to see if the Dotterell egg would hatch. Now that nesting is over we plan to ask District Council or DOC to erect signage for dog exclusion and asking people to respect and avoid this nesting area.

As the Summer has progressed the overall numbers of bait taken has decreased, as is normal, before the high Autumn spike. We are still aggressively working to lower the rat population between the Soccer ground and Topz, -- created by one person’s ignorance and determination not to listen to facts. The rats in the area have been actively chewing on water pipes and electrical wiring, impacting on houses, creating water damage and other problems. We are on track to reduce these numbers as much as possible before the properties from the Skate Park down along the left side of Omokoroa Road are cleared for development which will just force the rats to rapidly move to nearby properties causing an inundation – as has recently happened in Prole Road.

There is a probability that with all the recent land development the rat population could become even lower, but this will definitely be offset by the large re-infestation we experience from all the areas surrounding the Peninsula, and it is certain we WILL have to maintain our strong outside line along the foreshore, and our bait usage will not markedly diminish.

With the present tree felling and stripping of land for development our usual low rat population within the Pest Free baiting area has been squeezed into smaller habitats with much lower food supplies, creating some problem areas where we experimented with closely spaced, massed baiting—which from the latest reports has worked well—the bait take having fallen considerably. The rats were naturally forced into survival mode and appeared to be breeding rapidly even though it was winter, consequently we have been busy dealing with complaints of rat presence and damage within houses, mostly caused by new residents being unaware and providing good food attractants and warm nesting sites.

A new subgroup of Pest Free has been established and stations laid out on a block of properties in Prole Road to deal with the rat influx there, we will soon have a report on progress.

There is good news in the areas of Lynley Park, Margaret Drive, Golf course and from the Estate up to the Point where the outside ‘protective line’ continues to work well against the strong re-infestation from areas surrounding the Peninsula and we appear to be holding our normal low rat population levels inside this line. The annual, independent Trakka run which establishes our actual rat population will be run in August—dependent on weather.

Further good news concerns the birds-- -There has been several sightings of Wood Pigeon, together with an increase in the numbers visiting, a White Heron has also been seen by residents. In our garden, there are overwintering Monarch butterflies, resident Fantails, 6 Tui (with 2 established pairs) Grey Warblers and a good flock of Silver Eyes, together with the many common birds which enjoy my bird feeding tree and keep me company while I work in the garden.

Josephine Law

The bait take records for Autumn this year have once again shown the highest spike in our seasonal numbers. The continuing ‘summer like’ temperatures provided the opportunity for an extra birthing cycle, which together with the ongoing problem of re-invasion was clearly reflected in the bait take, producing the highest we’ve ever experienced, those numbers only beginning to decrease later in the winter. Despite this, the annual, August, Trakka Run performed to establish the level of rat population, returned another very low, 8% result, proving once again, the continuing, consistent and amazing work of our volunteers which achieves the real success of the program. At present we have reports of a few Norwegian rats being seen along a stream near the Golf Course and we are trialling a slightly bigger bait station to attract these. Along the beginning of Kaylene Place, where all the clearing and subdivision is occurring, we have had to remove all stations, leaving that area open to reinvasion from the big rat population present beyond the railway line-- - hopefully the rats will not be attracted to bare land, delaying a problem developing until rebuilding occurs.

Some of our new volunteers are happily sharing their knowledge and new technologies. We now have access to a personal night camera which is providing great video footage of rats and a possum investigating/entering a station. This has resulted in our acquiring 2 extra Timm’s traps to successfully kill more possums. Also we are pleased to welcome a keen Ornithologist who will really help us with bird sightings, identification and counts. Another ‘practical hands on’ volunteer noticed a problem with the only reasonably priced skewers we are able to purchase-- -these often being too short and lightweight to hold the station into the ground firmly- -- through his personal knowledge, he sourced stainless steel rods and made up heavier, longer skewers. Pest Free is a large, complex program and I am grateful for all the help the volunteers so willingly give me. Yes, many hands do make a lighter load.

We continue to share knowledge with the 3 local, Kaimai conservation reserves, it is also interesting to read about and research the many established or developing pest control/forest restoration projects that are now present in New Zealand. Many of which are using Andrew Jenks idea- -that has been so successful-- of laying out a ‘defence line’ of bait stations to encircle and protect our peninsula. We keep abreast with the ongoing development of new bait stations with different technologies that use attractants, not poisons, that can reset and even count kills-- initially these are really expensive but big savings can be made in the numbers of traps that can be checked and man hours required for trappers walking bait lines in difficult terrain. In the future this will be important in managing large remote conservation areas.

Pest Free has joined Pest Free New Zealand and Omokoroa is now on their map showing many of the pest control projects that can be found throughout N.Z. We are also present on the Western Bay District Council and Bay of Plenty Environmental Council maps.

Josephine Law