In this edition of Behind the Scenes we find out about a battle being fought in the Murchison Mountains, how you can get up close to Richard Henry (Fiordland's own very special kakapo), and all the latest news on a range of conservation activities taking place in Fiordland.
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Behind the Scenes - Winter 2012 (PDF, 2,512)
Behind the Senes - Winter 2012 (PDF,2,512)
Mistletoe monitoring in the Kepler Mountains
Walking the Kepler Track in the last 6 months, you may have come across Lynley King standing gazing up at the treetops through a pair of binoculars. Lynley is not seriously short-sighted, she has been searching for the threatened yellow flowering mistletoe/piriraki Alepis flavida.
Mistletoes are parasitic plants that grow high in the canopy of other trees, where there is more sunlight. They get water and nutrients from their host plant through root attachments called haustoria. Yellow mistletoe is found on mountain beech and sometimes on red beech, while the red mistletoes only grow on silver beech.
As part of her Royal Society Endeavour Fellowship, Lynley walked many miles, on and off track, in all weather, using a GPS to record the location of mistletoe. She counted over 3000 yellow mistletoe plants and also noted good populations of two species of red mistletoe, Praxilla colensoi and Praxilla tetrapetala.
The Kepler area is the largest of three national priority sites for yellow mistletoe conservation and Lynley’s distribution survey was the most comprehensive undertaken on an intact mistletoe ecosystem in New Zealand. The survey will provide data to aid the Department in implementing an integrated pest management plan to protect both mistletoes and the birds that pollinate them.
Lynley King searching for the threatened yellow flowering mistletoe
Possums are the main threat to mistletoe. The fleshy green leaves of the mistletoe are one of the tastiest treats a possum can find in a beech forest. Lynley’s monitoring suggests the yellow mistletoe population around Dock Bay may be the best in the country. However, elsewhere around the Kepler Track and surrounds, she found evidence of possum browse and the leafless ‘skeletons’ of dead mistletoe. Lynley has established mistletoe recruitment plots to monitor possum browse, which will help assess the benefits of any future possum control programmes in the area.
Small mammal indexing (SMI) was also undertaken by Lynley to assess stoat, rat and mouse abundance. This has provided data for both DOC and the Fiordland Conservation Trust to determine the frequency of control required in the rat control block of the Brod Bay / Dock Bay area of the Kids Restore the Kepler project.
Kids Restore the Kepler update
Hopefully you will have heard the news that the first knockdown of pests has been completed resulting in 48 stoats, 37 rats and 6 mice in the traps. Since this time, more trap checks have taken place. You can keep up to date on the catch results by visiting the Kids Restore the Kepler website.This website, designed and managed by students, is set to become the ‘information hub’ for the project. New on the website this month you can watch footage of the Kepler's unwanted residents. www.kidsrestorethekepler.co.nz
Richard Henry kākāpō
Don Merton holds Fiordland kākāpō 'Richard Henry'
A new kākāpō display recently unveiled at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre, features Richard Henry, the Fiordland kākāpō that played a crucial role in ensuring the genetic diversity of this critically endangered species.
Named after the pioneer New Zealand conservationist who first tried to protect kākāpō from predators during the late 1800s, Richard Henry the kākāpō was discovered in 1975 living above the sheer walls of the Gulliver Valley in the Darren Mountains. As the only known surviving mainland kākāpō he played a crucial role in the Kākāpō Recovery programme when he fathered three chicks in 1998.
Following his death in December 2010, at an age estimated to be at least 80, Richard Henry was sent to a taxidermist. Now he is home in Fiordland and you can call into the Visitor Centre for your chance to admire him and learn more about his history and the work of the Kākāpō Recovery team bringing these very special birds back from the brink of extinction.
Kākāpō Recovery Programme manager Deidre Vercoe Scott said Richard Henry’s contribution to the survival of kākāpō needs to be recognised and the display would ensure his story is never forgotten.
“During the past two decades we have increased the kākāpō population from just 50 to 126. The Fiordland genes in his offspring will now be crucial in our continuing effort to help this species recover further,” she said.
For more information about kākāpō conservation visit the Kākāpō Recovery website.
New Great Walks packages launched at TRENZ
DOC recently launched a new series of Great Walks packages (non-guided) at TRENZ, held in Queenstown in early May.
TRENZ (Tourism Rendezvous New Zealand) is New Zealand’s biggest annual international tourism event organised by the Tourism Industry Association (TIA).
At TRENZ, New Zealand’s leading providers of visitor accommodation, transport, activities and attractions showcase their products to more than 300 international travel buyers.
Christine Officer and Jake Downing from DOC discuss the Department's Great Walks packages with a travel buyer at TRENZ
Christine Officer, from DOC Te Anau, met with more than 40 international travel buyers and presented six packages, including one, two or three nights on the Kepler Track and a one night package on the Routeburn Track.
“There was an overwhelmingly positive response with a lot of interest in the Great Walk packages,” said Ms Officer.
The packages were created to make planning and booking a Great Walk trip a whole lot easier, giving visitors an authentic experience of our rugged outdoors.
By working more closely with the tourism industry and business community DOC aims to engage more people in our special places. This will have flow on effects for achieving more conservation work, as well as benefiting communities and the wider economy.
‘As a first timer to TRENZ I was amazed to see that conservation featured in virtually every business or promotion represented at TRENZ. Investing in conservation is investing in the success of the tourism industry and strengthening our links is critical for both the future of conservation and tourism,’ Reg Kemper, DOC’s Te Anau Area Manager said.
Major award to DOC and URS NZ for Milford Sound redevelopment
DOC’s flood protection project at Milford Sound has scored a further coup with the announcement of a major award from the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI).
Jane Douglas of NZPI presenting the Rodney Davies Project Award
DOC and URS NZ are recipients of the prestigious Rodney Davies Project Award for the Cleddau River Flood Protection Scheme. Completed and officially opened in November 2011 at a cost of $13.1 million, the project was applauded at the time for being ahead of time and under budget.
The NZPI Awards Panel were impressed with the project’s considerable environmental sensitivity and considered it was an excellent example of cooperation between several agencies in what is a challenging physical and legislative environment and an extremely important location for New Zealand tourism.
In particular, the Awards Panel referred to the way the project had overcome a series of unique challenges, including: the World Heritage and National Park status of the area; various multifaceted natural hazards; issues relating to when and how consenting, design and physical works would take place; and ensuring that normal life and tourist visits were able to continue during the construction phase without a reduction in the quality of their experience.
Pateke/brown teal after releaseIts official! The pateke/brown teal in the Arthur Valley are breeding with three unbanded fledglings observed by DOC staff earlier this year. In February 80 birds were transferred from private breeders to the Arthur Valley.
That’s the good news! Unfortunately 9 of the 31 birds we had transmitters on were later found dead, presumably from predation. This has prompted Te Anau staff to suggest changes to the Pateke Recovery Group in order to minimise predation risk in the future.
Silky fan-fern found in Dusky Sound
Rare Fern find in Dusky Sound
Sticherus tener (Silky fan-fern) is a species of fern common in south east Australia but only recently confirmed as existing in New Zealand. Richard Ewans of DOC’s Southland Conservancy monitoring team found the fern in Dusky Sound, Fiordland. The collections were identified by an expert at Te Papa Museum.
Southland Lagarosiphon surveillance
The annual survey for the invasive oxygen weed in Southland’s lakes happened again in April with none found in the areas searched – the Te Anau basin lakes and waterways, Mavora Lakes, and Lakes Monowai and Hauroko. This programme is carried out by DOC with financial support from Meridian Energy and Environment Southland.
Undaria in Fiordland
The April and May surveys for Undaria in Sunday Cove were very successful with only 7 and 1 plants being found respectively on these trips. The response team are working on improvements to the programme to ensure these small immature plants don’t establish.
This has been a bad year for stoats following on from last year’s beech mast and the subsequent high rodent numbers in Fiordland. High stoat numbers on the mainland adjacent to islands has probably caused immigration of stoats to the islands this summer. There are no rodents on Secretary Island and no rats on Resolution Island.
Two stoat trapping checks have been carried out on Secretary Island since July 2011 with 1 and 35 stoats caught on each trip respectively. Two more deer have been shot on Secretary Island, bringing the total number shot to around 650 with numbers left on the island thought to be less than 10 individuals.
Measurement of alpine grassland plots on Secretary Island was completed in January. The monitoring team reports that signs of deer browse is no longer obvious, but they were delighted to see signs that takahē were feeding on the tussocks in the alpine grasslands. Six takahē have been released onto the island over the past few years.
Three trapping checks have also been completed on Resolution Island, with 2, 1 and 26 stoats being caught respectively. Over 800 deer have been taken off Resolution Island.
Vegetation Monitoring on Anchor Island
Measurement of forest plots has been completed by our DOC monitoring team and results will be written up over winter. Initial impressions from the team on the ground are that several years without deer has lead to considerable improvement in the condition of the forest understory.
Chalky Island's Orange-fronted Parakeets
Forty five Orange-fronted parakeets (Cyanoramphus malherbi) were released onto Chalky Island in 2005/6 as part of an attempt to save them from extinction by securing populations on some predator-free islands. Orange-fronted parakeets (OFP) are a nationally critical endangered species (the next step is ‘extinct’) with only a few remaining wild mainland populations in Canterbury.
The parakeets released onto Chalky were reared in captivity and though early on it was confirmed that they were breeding, it was not known whether they would successfully establish long-term on the island. A recent visit to the island by a monitoring team produced promising results. Juveniles and adults were seen throughout the island and are now considered ‘established’.
We can expect seasonal fluctuations in the OFP population density to occur naturally but expect that, long-term, the population will remain stable. Yellow crowned parakeets are also firmly established on the island.
Tawa the takahē chick
Its a girl!
It’s not easy to tell the sex of a takahē. It takes a well trained eye to notice the only visible difference between male and female birds; males are generally slightly larger birds and also have a slightly larger tarsus (that part of the leg below the thigh) and culmen (along the top of the bill) measurements. In the past a formula relating to these differences was used to sex takahē but, as there can be quite a bit of overlap between large females and small males, it was not reliable – even to that well trained eye.
Consequently takahē are usually sexed by taking 1-2 pin feathers once chicks are old enough, for blood DNA analysis. The pin feathers have to be sent to Massey University for this analysis. Recently we sent away feathers from our young bird ‘Tawa’ who lives at the Te Anau Wildlife Centre. It’s official, she is a girl!
Takahē lads find a new home near Dunedin
A couple of friendly, but not terribly ‘successful’ male takahē have found a new home at Orokonui Ecosanctuary near Dunedin. Both Te Hoiere and Quammen have spent years trying to breed, but due to ‘dud’ genes and despite multiple partners, neither has been successful. So, to make room for breeding pairs on Maud Island, with the support of Mitre10 Takahë Rescue, the boys have moved to Orokonui to become ambassadors for takahē conservation. For more information about visit the Orokonui Ecosanctuary website.
The battle of Murchison Mountains
Laying out traps in the Murchison Mountains
Every day throughout New Zealand the war on introduced predators continues as we fight to ensure the survival of many of our most precious and endangered native plants and wildlife. The battle in the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland has intensified this year, as rat and stoat numbers soar to plague proportions.
In 2007 the takahē population took a dramatic hit from an unprecedented stoat plague. Since then DOC has spread the trapping programme from the initial 15,000 ha to cover the entire 50,000 ha of the Takahē Special Area.
In February this year a decision was made to increase the number of trap checks in the Murchison Mountains from four to six. It had become clear that four checks were insufficient to control to the stoat population to low enough levels.
Unfortunately following on from a mast year stoat numbers still continued to climb toward plague levels. However, thanks to additional funding from Mitre10 Takahē Rescue and the diversion of money from other DOC projects the number of traps has been increased in some critical areas where takahē are known to spend winter. Additional traps will be located in these areas so that the inter-trap spacing along an existing trap is 100m rather than 200m.
In May, the frequency of trap checks below the bushline (and including the lake shoreline) was increased to fortnightly. Checks will be continued at this frequency until there is some confidence that stoat numbers have stabilised at non-plague-year levels (i.e. two consecutive trap checks with non-plague stoat levels).
In a non-plague year in the three months of June, July and August we have historically caught around 50 rats over 15,000ha. This year, in the first two weeks of June we caught 270 ... that's a problem!
The good news is that we are able to monitor the survival of takahē very closely as over 50 birds have transmitters fitted. By listening to the signals transmitted we are able to tell whether the bird in question is alive or dead. So, in addition to the extra trap checks, takahē numbers are also being monitored by fortnightly sky ranger flights. (For more information on sky ranger see the March 2012 edition of Behind the Scenes).
Since summer no takahē wearing transmitters have died, which is a great start to the winter. This gives us a degree of confidence that despite high numbers of rats, the number of stoats may be under control enough to give the beleaguered takahē a break. In fact, in the last 17 months since the bulk of the transmitters were fitted, no birds have been killed by stoats. While it's probably too early to make any firm conclusions, it would seem that the stoat trapping currently in place is benefitting our special takahē population.
Track and hut update
Key Summit Track
Looking for a way out of the winter fog that’s a bit more earth-friendly than a flight to Australia? Key Summit is a great option for a family adventure above the bush line and frequently offers a clear sunny day when the whole of Te Anau Basin is fog bound. Furthermore the trek up to the top viewpoint just got a little easier.
During April and May, this side track off the Routeburn has under gone a major upgrade. The top section has been realigned to make the climb to the top view point easier and to help prevent erosion of the track. The channels keeping water off the track have been cleaned out, but the most obvious sign of work is the 90 tonnes of crushed gravel that has been use to resurface and re establish the crown of the track.
Key Summit Routeburn Track - photo supplied by Destination Fiordland.
Milford Foreshore and Lake Marian Short Walk
Both the Milford Foreshore Short Walk and the Lake Marion Gantry Short Walk have had the track surface replaced with 60 tonne each of crushed gravel. Neither of these tracks have not been resurfaced since there construction and upgrading 10 years ago.
Routeburn Track trapping - update
In the March issue of Behind the Scenes we told you about the proposal to find sponsors for a trap line along the Routeburn Track from the Milford Road to the Harris Saddle.
The support from Routeburn trampers has been overwhelming with one individual sponsoring six trap boxes! By the end of the Great Walk summer season and with only two months of promotion by hut ranger Evan Smith, the project had raised $5,500 enabling the purchase of 70 of the 160 traps needed to complete the line. Some of these traps are in place with the remaining traps to be flown in and set by next spring.
The opportunity to sponsor the Routeburn trap line will continue next summer with further opportunities for community and business to be involved in the continued trap checking and baiting. To find out more about this project, or to donate a trap, please contact Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre tel; +64 3 249 7924 email; firstname.lastname@example.org
Kea kea keaaaaaa…..talk
Friday 29 June, 7.30pm, Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre
Have you always wanted to know more about kea and how well they cope with life in the mountains of the South Island? Would you like to hear about communities like yours working together to help save kea? Would you like to hear about the plans of the Kea Conservation Trust for education, advocacy and research and how you can be involved? Do you have information that you think would help us better understand the needs of your community and the kea?
Come and join the Kea Conservation Trust for a great picture show, video snippets, and lively discussion about our cheeky mountain parrot, the kea.
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