In the lead up to the titipounamu/rifleman nesting season, it’s not uncommon to find Barry Pethybridge in the forest sitting in a camping chair, camera and tripod in hand, waiting for the native bird to make an appearance.
He’s collecting data about titipounamu for Aongatete Forest Project by monitoring the 75 nesting boxes that he, and other Forest Project volunteers, have made and placed throughout the forest.
“I’ll sit out there for hours just observing them,” says Barry. “There’s very little, if any, research about them in the Bay of Plenty.”
This is because titipounamu weren’t seen in Aongatete, a lowland forest in the Kaimai Range, until 2013. The species is thought to have been living in the upper Kaimai for many years prior to their discovery in Aongatete.
“They must have been surviving in conditions so cold and dismal that even the rats and possums didn’t want to live there. After 14 years of predator control, the rifleman population in Aongatete has gone from zero, to an estimate of 85 birds.”
The tiny 12cm by 12cm nesting boxes provide titipounamu, their eggs and their chicks a safe haven from from predators. The entry hole is only 2.5cm so rats and other pests can’t get in.
Barry looks forward to when titipounamu are “in your face” when walking through the Aongatete Forest. “Rifleman have a very high pitched call, so I can’t hear them, but younger people can. Hopefully we’ll eventually be able to take school groups through and the students will be able to easily see them, not just hear them.
“The rifleman is our famous and precious little bird that no one ever really gets to see.”