In this edition of Behind the Scenes, we learn about a new project to bring back the birds to Milford township, catch sight of some mysterious beauties living on the Fiordland coast, hear an update on the battle being fought in the Murchison Mountains, and find out the latest news on a range of conservation activities taking place in Fiordland.
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Behind the Scenes - Spring 2012 (PDF, 2,247)
Slugs, beautiful slugs
If someone raved to you about ‘beautiful’ slugs you might think they were barmy. Slugs conjure up visions of slimy brown creatures slipping in to the veggie garden at night and eating all of the greens. However for the DOC marine rangers, sea slugs, or nudibranchs as they are properly named, are anything but ugly.
During recent trips to Breaksea Sound to eradicate the pest seaweed Undaria, a number of mysterious nudibranchs have been identified. Some of these have never been seen in Fiordland before and others are common, but equally as beautiful. The pictures show what a weird and wonderful group of animals nudibranchs are.
If you would like more information about the beautiful world under the water in Fiordland visit ‘Fiordland marine reserves’, or contact the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre.
Bringing back the birds to Milford township
Downer New Zealand Ltd and local guiding company, Trips and Tramps, are working with the Fiordland Conservation Trust and DOC to establish a stoat and rat trap line around the Milford township in the hope that this will allow more native bird species to successfully breed in the area.
Downer recently won a Southland Environment and Conservation Award for their work on the Cleddau River Flood Protection Scheme and have donated their $1500 prize money to be used for restoration work around Milford. This generous offer matched DOC’s plan to increase predator control around Milford Sound, building on the trapping already undertaken by Trips and Tramps in the Cleddau River Delta and along the Milford Road.
Controlling introduced predators, such as rats and stoats, in one of our most visited places will give people a chance to experience the benefits of conservation without having to travel to remote areas. Locals are already seeing an increase in birdlife around Milford Sound from the trapping programme already in place.
DOC will match the money donated by Downer and this will be used to purchase and establish the traps. Trips and Tramps will regularly check and re-bait the traps. This support is of huge value to conservation in Milford Sound and DOC would like to thank Trips and Tramps and Downer for their continued support to protect native species in New Zealand’s best known tourism destination.
Whitebaiting season is here!
Many Southlanders will now be enjoying the whitebait season which started on September 1st on the West Coast. Let’s reflect for a moment on the precious ingredient that goes into the delicacy known as whitebait fritters.
Whitebait are tiny transparent creatures found navigating our streams and are the young of some of New Zealand’s valued native fish. The five main species of whitebait you are likely to catch in your whitebait net are from the Galaxiid family (inanga, koaro, banded kokopu, giant kokopu, shortjaw kokopu). You may also catch smelt, bullies and juvenile eels. The main breeding season for our galaxiids is autumn. The eggs are laid amongst plants or on leaf litter, and stay out of water for several weeks before being re-immersed by spring tides or floods. The larvae then float out to sea where they live and grow over winter before migrating back upstream as whitebait in spring.
The species that make up the whitebait catch are a unique part of our freshwater ecosystems. Four of the five whitebait species are at risk and declining so it’s critical that we all play our part in ensuring this favourite kiwi pastime is there for generations to follow. If you are going whitebaiting, check the relevant regulations for your area and keep your catch small. Visit 'whitebait' to find the regulations.
DOC provides an advisory on avalanche risk in the Fiordland mountains for back country users every three days or daily in periods of high risk. Avalanche advisories are available in the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre and are posted on the New Zealand Avalanche Centre website.
Visit www.avalanche.net.nz and scroll to the bottom of the page for Fiordland.
Avalanches in the Fiordland Mountains
DOC ranger, Adrian Braaksma, who provides avalanche advisories for the Fiordland mountains, shares this glimpse into the complicated world of avalanches.
Rangers monitor avalanche risk
In a typical Fiordland winter, snowfalls in June and July establish a ground cover of snow that will remain throughout the winter at altitudes above 1200 metres. Snowcover is generally deep enough to cover undulations (e.g. rocks, tree stumps and depressions) and create a smooth surface that is well anchored to the ground. Further snowfalls build on this base layer to create snow-loaded slopes.
The layers between existing snow and new snow can be complex. Snow crystals falling from the sky are influenced by wind, temperature and humidity, giving them a different crystal structure. These crystals either get along with the existing snow pack or they don’t. Those that don’t get along, create areas of instability which can result in avalanches. Most avalanches release within the first 24 hours of snow storms,before the formation of bonds between the different layers of snow crystals.
Over time, snow crystals buried within the snow pack can either come to form a strong bond (like a marriage), or grow to dislike each other (like a divorce). A ‘divorce’ in the snow pack can be infl uenced by air temperature, humidity, ground conditions, and the neighbouring crystals. The onset of a ‘divorce’ can be slow and drawn out, which is why we sometimes see avalanches on clear calm days even two or three weeks after the last signifi cant snow storm.
On an international scale, Fiordland avalanches are right up there in size, due to our high rainfall. Roughly calculated, 1 mm of rain is equivalent to 10 mm of snow. This means that over an average winter, when Fiordland receives approximately 2 metres of rain, the Fiordland mountains receive about 20 metres of snow. Plenty of fodder for avalanches!
This winter, snow has literally been thin on the ground and avalanche risk has dropped accordingly. El Nino has been responsible for a drier than normal weather system in Southland and fewer Westerly winds, the winds that tend to bring snow to Fiordland. This may be disappointing for skiers (and staff who sometimes get to bomb dangerous avalanches), but is good news for trampers on the tracks this spring.
Visitor Centre to take tourism bookings
From the 1st October, the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre in Te Anau will commence live bookings on TXNZ (Tourism Exchange New Zealand). This will allow the Visitor Centre to sell local transport activity products direct to walk in customers. This initiative has been driven primarily by local operator and customer demand and recognises the Visitors Centre’s need to be more customer focused.
Resolution Island update
Looking at Indian Island from Anchor Island
Stoat trappers working on Resolution Island have recently noticed a lot more Fiordland skinks basking around the island’s shoreline. The skink populations are not specifically being monitored, but DOC staff working on the island are confident skink numbers have increased since stoat trapping began in 2008. Fiordland skinks are coastal lizards that live on rocky shorelines and boulder beaches. They love to bask in the sun, but will jump into rock pools to escape danger; pretty clever lizards!
Stoat captures on Resolution Island are down this winter with 16 stoats caught in the July trap check compared with 26 stoats in January. DOC staff are pleased with the result and suspect that many of the stoats found in July were caught during the last months of summer when stoat numbers were still high.
The programme to eradicate deer from Resolution Island is now in its third year with 929 deer being removed from the island so far. There are no rats or mice on Resolution Island.
Indian Island pest eradication declared a success
The eradication of rats and mice from Indian Island in Dusky Sound has been declared a success following two years with no further evidence of them on the island. In 2010, the Fiordland Conservation Trust and former Fiordland business owners, Ruth Dalley and Lance Shaw, with help from a range of supporting funders, eradicated rats and mice from Indian Island. Pest control on Indian Island first began in 2000 when DOC established a successful stoat control programme.
However, mice and rats remained on the Island until Ruth Dalley and Lance Shaw and their extensive network of supporters came to the rescue in 2010. The Indian Island eradication was also supported by generous contributions from Lucy Bellerby, Ian and Jenny Willans, Ultimate Hikes and an overseas benefactor. This team of people have continued to be involved in the project, assisting with establishing and checking traps and tracking tunnels over the two year period.
Removing pests from Indian Island provides an opportunity to re-establish some of New Zealand's special threatened species as well as protecting the species that are already present. It also provides another buffer for protecting nearby Anchor Island, home to the kakapo,from pests. To find out more about the work and opportunities to support conservation provided by the FCT and DOC, visit www.fiordlandconservationtrust.org.nz.
Fiordland Wapiti Foundation calls for volunteers
The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation (FWF) is calling for volunteers to help with their stoat trapping work in the Glaisnock and Worsley Valleys. Volunteers need to be fit, have good bush skills and be confident to work in remote areas alone. FWF works in partnership with DOC and supports a wide range of conservation projects - from endangered species recovery programmes to control of introduced pests and managing the impact of deer within the wapiti area. For more information, contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fwf.org.nz.
Chamois numbers high this winter
Chamois in the snow
DOC staff have been surprised by the high number of chamois seen in northern Fiordland during this year’s annual chamois control. On a single day this winter, around 170 chamois were culled in the mountains between the Worsley and Milford Sound. DOC ranger Alastair Hay says there were still more chamois in the area, but weather conditions prevented them continuing that day.
In an average year, a total of about 200 chamois are shot each winter in the Fiordland mountains. The control programme usually takes several days and covers the alpine area west of the Milford Road between Milford Sound and Puysegur Point. The high numbers of chamois seen in northern Fiordland this winter may be due to the poor weather conditions which thwarted control in this area during the previous two winters and allowed the chamois population to build up.
The animals favour steep, rugged terrain high in the mountains - treacherous conditions for ground-based control. Instead, a helicopter is used to locate and shoot the animals from the air. Effective chamois control requires a special weather formula – fine weather immediately following a big dump of snow. These conditions make for good flying and sighting and mean the animals’ tracks are fresh so they are easy to locate.
The cull is needed to keep the chamois population under control and limit their impact on the fragile alpine vegetation. If weather conditions allow this spring, Alastair will return to the Worsley/Milford area to finish the cull.
Kids Restore the Kepler website looking great
The Kids Restore the Kepler website, www.kidsrestorethekepler.co.nz, is proving a valuable tool for both the children involved in the project and the wider public. The website is designed and managed by kids to inspire Fiordlanders, New Zealanders and people from all over the world to get involved in the Kids Restore the Kepler project.
This website is now the information hub for everything about the project. You can find out how it all started, who is involved and what the education programme is focusing on. You can also see the latest catch results which right now show that rat numbers are spiking while stoat numbers are dropping off. This trend is the same as elsewhere in the park.
But it’s not all about the baddies. Want to ‘meet the locals’ living in the Kepler mountains? Birdcalls will be regularly added to the website as children learn about a new resident bird each week. Feel free to join Fiordland’s schools in this daily activity.
There are over 450 kids attending schools in Fiordland. That’s a lot of young imaginations, capacity and strength restoring birdsong in the Kepler mountains. You can follow their progress on the website and if you have any questions or feedback, please contact Caroline Carter, Education Coordinator for the project, at email@example.com.
Southland a favourite stopover for the right whales
Southern right whale
How lucky are we here in Southland to be able to catch a glimpse of southern right whales? During winter and spring they move in close to shore to breed and calve and this season sightings have already been reported from Preservation Inlet, Te Waewae Bay, Bluff Harbour, Port Adventure and the Catlins.
Southern right whales, or tohora, are so named because they were the ‘right’ whale to hunt during the whaling era of the late 1700s and early 1800s. The whales were prime targets as they are slow moving, approach close to the shore, and provided large quantities of oil, meat and bone. Research carried out by the University of Auckland over the past decade suggests that whales from the subantarctic islands are beginning to re-colonise mainland New Zealand, and are starting to use former calving grounds that may have been eliminated during the whaling era. This year, DOC staff have had the first confirmed sighting of a calf born in mainland New Zealand waters since pre-whaling days, a significant step in their re-colonisation.
Our use of Southland’s coastal area has changed dramatically from that of earlier times when whales frequented our shores, so it is important to ensure we are not an impediment to their return. If out and about on your boat and you see a whale, remember the rules you must follow. Stay 50m away from any whales, avoid the area in front of them, slow your speed and don’t make any sudden changes in direction or speed. DOC is keen to hear about any southern right whale sightings as soon as possible, so please contact the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre.
Coastal weed surveillance and control
Every spring, a small team of DOC rangers spend a week exploring as much of the Fiordland coast as possible, searching out and eradicating weeds. The inner fiords are surveyed using the DOC vessel Southern Winds whilst stretches of the outer coast, where landing a dinghy is not possible, are surveyed by helicopter. The two most common weed species found along the coast are gorse and marram. Coastal weed surveillance is normally conducted in September as this is the best time to spot flowering gorse.
Surveillance involves returning to known sites, spraying any seedlings found and searching for new weed infestations. Coastal weeds tend to arrive in Fiordland from the north, after seed or plants have travelled down the Tasman from the West Coast. If seeds or plants get washed up on a site favourable to them, then a new weed infestation can develop. The most likely spots for new infestations are beaches that accumulate a lot of driftwood and other debris.
So long as gorse plants exist further up the West Coast, gorse seed will continue to wash up on Fiordland beaches. Thankfully, it looks like efforts to control weeds in the fiords and on the outer coast are proving very successful. Last spring, very low numbers of seedlings were found at old sites and only a small handful of new infestations discovered. A number of sites where weeds had been widespread in past years also appeared to have been successfully eradicated with no seedlings found. Rangers are hoping that this spring’s weed surveillance will prove this trend is continuing.
While these results are promising, DOC would like to encourage fishermen, pilots, tourism operators and recreational users to report any weed sightings, preferably with GPS coordinates, to the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre.
Coming Soon… Mitre10 Takahe Rescue Chick Picnic
Mark the 20th November in your diaries! As part of Mitre10 Takahe Rescue’s nationwide takahe birthday celebration, we’ll be holding our second annual Chick Picnic at the Te Anau Wildlife Centre. Hopefully, we’ll also be welcoming a new chick or two to Tumbles and Kawa’s takahe family.
Did you know that the 20th November 1948 was the day Dr Geoffrey Orbell rediscovered takahe in the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland?
The Battle of the Murchison Mountains continues
Changing a transmitter on a takahe
Tension is mounting as the battle to protect the Murchison Mountains continues. The number of rats caught in traps this winter has peaked and stoat capture rates are climbing. Hopefully, spring will warm temperatures sufficiently for takahe to move up into the alpine areas and away from the hungry jaws of stoats lower in the valleys. If not, our stoat trapping efforts will be critical to protect the takahe. To try and control the impact of high stoat numbers, an additional 500 trap boxes have been put in place in the Murchison Mountains, with the remainder due to be placed in the next couple of weeks. This work is thanks to DOC’s partnership with Mitre10 Takahe Rescue and the diversion of funds from other DOC projects.
The Battle of the Rats
Rat capture rates this winter are the highest on record and increasing captures until late June suggest rats were still breeding and increasing through the early winter. At their peak in late June, rat catches were four times the previously recorded maximums. The last trap check in July fortunately showed a decrease in rat capture rate, hopefully indicating the beginning of a steep decline in rat numbers.
The Battle of the Stoats
Stoat capture rates were high in summer to early autumn, probably reflecting the pulse of young stoats produced during the 2011/12 breeding season when there were a lot of rats to feed on. The number of stoats caught declined in autumn and then remained steady until late June. By the July check however, stoat capture rates had increased. We don’t think this reflects an actual increase in the number of stoats as they don’t breed during winter. Instead, we think we are catching more stoats because the baits in the traps have become more attractive to stoats now there are fewer rats around.
When rat numbers drop right down, there may be a short period (until stoats numbers drop) when the risk of predation of takahe increases, as the hungry stoats switch prey to much bigger, bluer and more fearsome targets than mice and rats. If rat numbers remain high into the coming spring and summer it will mean stoats in the area will be in good condition for a productive breeding season and this could result in two consecutive stoat plagues. Watch out!
And the Battle for the Takahe
To keep a close watch on the impact of the rat and stoat plague, we’ve increased the number of takahë carrying transmitters in the Murchison Mountains. We’ve also increased the number of Sky Ranger flights to monitor takahë survival. The good news is that thus far, none of our monitored takahe has been killed by stoats.
Takahe family to grow?
Our takahe family at the Te Anau Wildlife Centre is doing really well and hopefully the family will soon be growing in size. Even though we know they can’t breed successfully, we’re hoping Kawa and Tumbles will attempt to nest this season. If they do, we’ll provide them with fertile eggs from one of our Burwood takahe pairs.
By removing eggs from a fi rst clutch, we can encourage breeding takahë to nest again and produce a second clutch. This means that even infertile birds like Kawa and Tumbles can play an important part in the Takahë Recovery Programme. Tawa, Kawa and Tumbles’ foster chick from last summer, will remain with them as a ‘juvenile helper’. This is something that commonly happens with takahe in the wild and we think it may be a key part of learning the skills to successfully rear chicks as adult birds.
Fiordland Kindergarten leads the way in re-connecting kids with nature
Nature discovery kids experiencing nature
By guest contributor Caroline Carter, Education Coordinator Kids Restore the Kepler, www.kidsrestorethekepler.co.nz.
Congratulations to Fiordland Kindergarten for winning the schools award category of the 2012 Southland Environment and Conservation Awards with their Nature Discovery programme.
Many adults and children lack a meaningful, regular connection with the natural environment that sustains us. In an increasingly urbanized world - with TV, computers and extracurricular activities competing for time - fewer children have the opportunity to enjoy playing in nature. Getting in touch with nature has many great benefits. Those who know and love nature will also want to protect it. Fiordland Kindergarten is part of the Kids Restore the Kepler project and the first theme of the project's education; programme is all about connecting kids to nature. 'Nature Discovery' at Fiordland Kindergarten is an exemplary programme that is doing just this.
'Visit the local park midweek in Te Anau and the bush will not only ring with the sounds of birds but the excited chatter and laughter of a small group of children exploring nature’ says Claire Maley-Shaw, Head teacher at Fiordland Kindergarten. Two mornings each week, come sun, wind, rain or snow, twelve kindy kids meet in Ivon Wilson Park, together with their teachers and parent helpers, to just 'be' in nature. The Kindergarten teachers recognise that by the children experiencing nature on a regular basis, not just walking through it but actually 'being in it', they become 'nature-literate'. The success of this programme is evident from attending just one session.
The children are issued parkas, over-trousers and backpacks for their regular nature connection which often sees them immersed in mud and fallen leaves. Parents are also attracted to participate in a setting where a lack of knowledge or confidence is a benefit: the park is a familiar place where no one knows all the answers and the joy of discovery is infectious. Children see the seasons unfold and teachers can add an extra resonance to a fungi popping up here, or a skink being under a rock there. A feeding frenzy of fantails circling a ‘singing log’ spot where bark has been peeled back is just one of many magic moments!
The affirming message children have received from the Nature Discovery programme is that nature nurtures us – physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually, says Claire. ‘If we want the best possible future for our children and our environment we need to give them the opportunity and time to connect with nature.... they need to love the earth before we can ask them to want to care and protect it’.
The experience of attending a Nature Discovery session has led Mararoa School to introduce a similar programme in its own school grounds. Known as 'Outdoor Adventurous Play', the school is seeking to ensure the enthusiasm and awareness for nature developed at Fiordland Kindergarten is not lost but progressed as students move up through the school. Visitors to Nature Discovery are always welcome. Please contact Fiordland Kindergarten, ph 03 249 7585, if you would like to participate in a session.
Chasm Track upgrade going to plan
Installing the summer toilet at Key Summit
A major upgrade of the Chasm Track has been happening over winter. The Chasm Track, a popular short walk on the road to Milford Sound, has been closed since early July so improvements to the site could be made. The track attracts over 400,000 visitors each year. As DOC Ranger Ken Bradley says ‘this is the only wilderness walking experience for a lot of visitors to New Zealand, so we want to ensure it is a good one’. Donald Sutherland, the original ‘Mayor of Milford ‘ took visitors to the Chasm in the 1890s, but the fi rst ‘formed track’ wasn’t built until the Milford Road reached this point around 1936. The track was built with trunks of punga laid as surface material to keep walkers off the mud. In the 1960’s the National Park Board formed the current concrete track, but other than a few bridges built in 1984, no other major works had been undertaken on the track.
This winter’s upgrade is a major tidy-up of the structures to bring them up to building code standards and replace the old concrete track surface. Compacted crushed gravel has been used to create a more ‘natural feel’ track surface and steep sections removed to make it more wheelchair friendly. The team have experimented with new water control ideas, e.g. the use of swales instead of water-tables, to better handle the high rainfall in the area. Good winter weather means the project is running on time. The bulk of the track work has been completed and over the next six weeks, contractors will be upgrading the bridges. The track should reopen in November.
Great Walks season soon to begin
Spring is a busy time for DOC staff as they prepare for the summer season on the Great Walks. This season, hut rangers are being given a new name and a wider role as ‘Conservation Rangers’. There’ll be some familiar faces with most of this season’s staff returning from previous years. There is a lot to do to get the Great Walks ready for summer walkers: ordering hut supplies; organising helicopters to fly in gear and back flight the ‘honey pots’ (sewage tanks); and preparing training for the Conservation Rangers.
The Great Walks Season runs from October 23 to April 30 next year. Spaces are still available on the Kepler and Routeburn tracks, and just a few spaces are left on the Milford track. To book go to booking.doc.govt.nz.
Air NZ and DOC take Great Walks to the World!
DOC and Air New Zealand have officially joined forces to get more people out enjoying New Zealand’s Great Walks and involved in recreation and conservation. A new set of Great Walk brochures have been produced and high quality, fun videos and webisodes have been made for all of the Great Walks. Highlights of the videos will be shown on all Air NZ domestic jet flights and some international flights. Check out the new Great Walks website www.greatwalks.co.nz or ‘like’ the new Great Walks facebook page – www.facebook.com/GreatWalks.