Exploring Okura Bush Reserve.
The Okura Bush Reserve is one of Auckland’s last, large stands of native established coastal broadleaf and kauri forest. It is also described as a temperate rain forest. It is a very important eco habitat, part of the North-West Wild-link; Forest and Bird, Auckland Council, Friends of Okura Bush, Long Bay Okura Great Park Society and DOC all have an interest in its protection.
The main threats to the health of this reserve are
- Kauri die back – keep to the paths, clean your shoes at the disinfectant station, avoid standing on tree roots
- Invasive weeds like pampas grass, wild ginger, woolly nightshade, moth plant, Japanese honeysuckle
- Pest animals like rats, cats, stoats, weasels, ‘possums
- Human impacts
- Housing developments, land clearance, sediment pollution
In the war against introduced predator species the unsung heroes are the pest control volunteers. They regularly set traps, empty traps, rebait traps and keep records of numbers and species caught. As pests are controlled and eradicated, endemic species have a new opportunity to thrive and the reward for city dwellers is a place where young and old can explore the delights of this local habitat nestled between river, sea and ridge top.
To reach the reserve you must cross the Okura River, which is part of the Long Bay Marine Reserve. This protects the river, estuary and ocean eco systems next to the Okura Bush Reserve and provides a rich habitat for local sea birds as well as shore birds, which depend on the tidal margins for food, birds like kingfisher, dotterel and pied stilts. There are mudflats and sandflats, sandy beaches, shelly banks and rocky reefs, all supporting different ecosystems. The mangroves and saltmarsh provide safe havens for many species, mullet, flounder, barnacles, limpets, cockles, mussels, worms and crabs.
Sightings of sting rays and eagle rays, turtles, giant and banded kokopu (small native fresh water fish) and long-finned eel, red finned bullies, fur seals, leopard seals, dolphins and ocra have all been reported in this marine reserve. Being part of a marine reserve means you can’t –
- Catch fish or feed them
- Take or disturb any marine life, e.g. shellfish or seaweed
If the weather has been dry the water will be clear and as you cross the bridge you may be able to see eels, fish or rays in the water below. At low tide you may see white faced herons and other shore birds hunting and gathering along the water’s edge and exposed river bed.
A forest is nothing without trees. Some forests are home to one or only a few species of trees but Okura Bush is a forest filled with a rich diversity of trees. The life cycle of trees depend on reproducing and this may require animals and birds, insects or wind to carry seed from the parent to a new area where conditions favour growth. So as well as trees, shrubs and plants the reserve and surrounding area is home to fungi, invertebrates and vertebrates. Bugs and birds have found niche habitats amongst the foliage. Tree weta, four species of native lizard including forest gecko, a variety of native moths, spiders, cicada, stick insects, steel blue ladybirds and native land snails have been identified.
Did you know that life in the forest is a battle field? Plants compete with each other for sunlight, nutrients and space. Birds, insects and plants are linked together in the cycle of life. Sometimes this balance is threatened by a new disease, a new predator, virus or bacteria for which there is no resistance. Scientists are racing against time to find solutions and save species.
In Okura Bush the mighty kauri trees face just such a threat. Kauri dieback is a fungus, which lives in the soil and attacks kauri. It is spread by people, unaware that they are carrying the fungus in the dirt caught in the soles of their shoes. Some trees seem to have a natural ability to resist the disease while others die. This has inspired scientists to develop a vaccine to give kauri a fighting chance. We must do our bit to prevent the spread of this disease. So keep to the paths and disinfect the soles of your shoes.
At the start of the track near the Okura Bush sign, stop for a moment to admire the hundred year old kahikatea. As you climb up the track and then head down to sea level notice the forest changing. Different trees thrive as sunlight, moisture and soil quality create variations in the habitat. Where a tree has fallen and light reaches the forest floor other plants can take root and begin their life cycle, sometimes growing directly on the fallen giant.
You will hear different birds as you go from one ecosystem to another. Challenge yourself to stop for a moment now and again. Quietly listen to the birds’ songs and calls, try to identify then spot the birds near you. Look up for the kereru. One may be watching you from a branch above.
Notice the trees as you pass. Each species of tree has different bark, leaves, flowers and fruit. Look for those small, insignificant or camouflaged plants adding depth and interest to the ecosystem. They may be on the ground, growing on the tree or living up in the branches. Look for native orchids, cushions of milk moss, and check out the wide variety of ferns. Native and introduced fungi and lichens prefer damp, shady spots. Look for pink oyster mushrooms on tree trunks and orange pore fungus and shaggy mane on the forest floor. High in the branches of some big trees a completely different community of plants flourishes. Look for epiphytes (kahakaha and kowharawhara aka astelia grass, perching lily or widow maker) and vines like bush lawyer. Patches of rare pingao, our endemic golden sand sedge, can be seen in dune habitats.
|Nikau Palm||Tree fuchsia|
|Banded Rail||Morepork Owl|
|Black backed gull||Oystercatcher – variable, SIPO|
|Brown Quail||Paradise Shelduck|
|Canadian Goose||Pied stilt|
|Caspian Tern||Shag – little shag, little black shag, pied shag|
|Eastern Rosella||Shining Cuckoo|
|Harrier hawk||Welcome Swallow|
|Kereru||White faced heron|