January 2023 Cyclone Gabrielle impacts grey faced petrels

Having grown up in Coromandel and spent the last ten years here, I have never experienced it to rain non-stop for 10 days and 10 nights and yet that’s what happened from the 2nd of January.  What a wash out for campers and kids on holiday.  January 2023 will be an unforgettable month, particularly for Annemieke Kregting from Kuaotunu Bird Rescue (a not for profit organisation that relies on donations).  By mid January her bird rescue centre had received nearly 100 birds in dire need of help.  That is a record like no other considering her rescue centre would usually handle between 450-500 birds in one year. 

Kuaotunu Bird rescue is the only bird rescue centre on this side of the north island and as the eastern coast of Coromandel was the hardest hit by Cyclone Hale, 4-5 ōi /grey faced petrels were brought to Annemieke each day and the centre quickly entered full capacity. The grey faced petrels are burrowing at Ahuahu/Great Mercury Island and other islands along the East Coast of the Coromandel such as Rapanga/Cuvier Island.  Cyclone Hale hit just at the wrong time for these beautiful birds, right on the first fledgling season where the fledgling seabirds have gained feathers necessary to fly and make their way to the sea.  The wind was so fierce, it blew them onto the Coromandel, often into odd places where they can’t wash, eat or preen themselves.  By the time they arrived at Kuaotunu Bird Rescue they were really under-weight, exhausted, bruised and dirty.   For the first 24 hours, they are fed fish broth soup followed by fish smoothies.  If their weight increases and their waterproof feathers return to peak condition, the rehabilitated birds are taken up the hill and released at 9pm each night.  Some don’t make it though unfortunately. While holiday makers hunkered down in the storm, or tried to leave on damaged roads, Annemieke and her dedicated crew of volunteers went into overdrive to deal with the  seabird emergency.

“We are now getting adult kororā/ little penguins coming in that are halfway through moulting, this means that their burrow would have been destroyed, washed away or flooded by the storm.  The adult penguins that are coming in now look pretty bad, they have not eaten for a while and are on their last legs. Penguin moulting takes a huge amount of energy. The adult penguin gets rid of fledglings at 4 months of age, goes to sea and eats as much as possible to get themselves fat.  They then come back to stay in their burrow, with enough energy to have a 2-week moult.  They are not waterproof again until their moult is complete.  So not only have their burrows been destroyed or flooded out by the storm but the sea temperature has gone up by 1 degree which has changed the ecology of the sea making the tiny fish that blue penguins feed on leave the coast and head to deeper waters.  This means that penguins are swimming for kilometre after kilometre without being able to find any small fish”, said Annemieke. 

So with all of this said, it’s no surprise that Annemieke had to cancel her workshop in the MEG Summer Holiday Programme which ran through January but we will be looking to reschedule her talk as part of the MEG Winter Lecture Series.   The Summer Holiday Programme was a great success keeping children entertained through the difficult weather.  The kiwi avoidance training sessions were fully booked with over 65 dogs trained.  We are super grateful to everyone who came out and got their dog kiwi avoidance trained and who attended the dog training workshop.

Kia kaha everyone! We have to remain vigilant and maintain our efforts to help save our birds.  If you want to help support the birds after such an event, setting up a backyard feeding station with a nectar feeder is one thing you can do.  Kākā, korimako (bellbird), tauhou (silvereye) and tūī are all native bird species that love drinking nectar from a feeder.  To make a sugar solution, dissolve half a cup of sugar to four cups of water and you can leave it in a shallow dish.  The more colourful the feeding station is, the more likely it will be to attract birds.