Aongatete Forest Project began as an effort to bring awareness to the distressed state of the northern Kaimai ranges. In 2001, a search for the kōkako who once called this forest home turned up precisely zero birds. The bush itself was found to be severely degraded due to unchecked predator and pest animal pressure.

Thanks to the extraordinary commitment of a group of Forest & Bird Tauranga volunteers and supporters, pest control began in a small area of forest in 2006. They got on with the important job of restoration. When thoughts turned to the need for a logo to promote the work of the trust, a kōkako was selected, representing the genesis of the project and the aspirations of the founding trustees.

It may be many more years before kōkako return to our forest. Fortunately, the work of five organisations dedicated to kōkako conservation in the southern Kaimai/Mamaku plateau region gives us hope for the future of this bird.

Aongatete Forest Project’s efforts to suppress predators and protect habitat has created a remarkable and somewhat unexpected success story though. One which few know about.

Our special patch of bush hosts NZ’s smallest bird, the energetic titipounamu (rifleman). The first observation of their presence in our forest was only made in 2013. We had no idea how secure their numbers were but it was exciting when a breeding pair of these tiny birds was spotted in 2015.

Fast forward a few years and we have a flourishing population. Although frustratingly tricky to see and hear given their size and high pitched call, titipounamu are now well and truly at home at Aongatete.

Much of their day is spent chasing insects up and down tree trunks. We suspect our sustained effort to keep rat numbers low has contributed to a more secure invertebrate food source for these and other insectivorous species like toutouwai (robin) and miromiro (tomtit).

We even have our own titipounamu ‘housing scheme’. Dozens of purpose-built nest boxes have been scattered throughout the forest since 2018. It’s been hugely rewarding to find the birds using them.

Our motto is ‘Alive at Aongatete’. The tiny titipounamu is wonderful example of species recovery in our forest. We’ve chosen this bird to feature in our new Aongatete Forest Project logo to both showcase what can be done and encourage renewed support for our restoration work from the community.