Posted by Lucy – Rowi Field Ranger
Thursday, August 26th, 2010 at 4:00 pm
The best bit about my job is that so often I get all buzzed-out by how fantastic it is – for so many reasons!
My office is the most beautiful forest in New Zealand (Westland lowland podocarp). I get to peek at a remarkable bird after scaling hills and pushing through forest to find that simple entrance and to see their ever familiar fluffy bums, long beaks and claws staring back. I get to observe them running around at night and, just about my favourite thing, I get to be out at night and hear them calling to each other. During transmitter changing season I get to see them up close and personal and observe their crazy behaviour, (blowing bubbles and pretending to fall asleep).
The familiar site of a kiwi bum down a kiwi burrow.
Yesterday was no exception… egg season is upon us, and myself, Anna and two very cool volunteers, Mark and Kristina, flew into the centre of the Okarito Kiwi Zone and got dropped at different locations…. That’s right, we were privileged enough to get to fly in on a helicopter and out!
Anna unloads the egg box from the helicopter.
I wasn’t the only one buzzing. We were all very excited about the flight that morning, particularly Mark who, when we dropped him and Anna at the first hut, was so overcome with helicopter excitement he undertook the most classic banana-peel slip onto his derrière in front of the hut. Kristina and I watched from the helicopter in stitches.
Mark in the chopper.
After dropping-off Anna and Mark, Christina and I flew into Company Creek Hut and set off up the hill to track down Callum and his partner’s egg.
Now the thing I don’t like so much about my job is when equipment fails in the field, and it occasionally does. Kristina and I had just got a nice strong signal from a ridge and were feeling good about our (surely?) close-by nest. We set off down the gully, but once I got onto flat ground the radio receiver just stopped working. It took a while to discover the cause – a few drops of water on the receiver – after which I dried it and straightened the aerial cord, turned my radio receiver on and off and suddenly it worked again. A relief and we soon found the entrance, said hello to Callum and his Mrs, carefully retrieved and candled the egg, and got out of there.
Rowi egg successfully located.
We made it back to the hut just in time for our ride (a helicopter – did I mention that already?). Anna, Mark and his sore derrière also successfully retrieved a beautiful big egg from their pair, Charger and Dawn.
Another brilliant day in the life of a kiwi ranger. ;)
Posted by Lucy – Rowi Field Ranger
Friday, August 20th, 2010 at 1:39 pm
Well, despite this being one of the busiest times of year for the rowi team, its been rather quiet here in the kiwi office…. I have been the only one around to ‘lady the fort’ and tend to those kiwi.
Iain and Anna have been away on Motuara Island for the week delivering our first round of eggs to Willowbank for the season… five in total! Jim our manager and Ieuan are on a training course in Hokitika, and Duncan, our team leader, is on a much-deserved holiday in India and Nepal.
I have been out in the field with Myles (who is usually tasking himself with weeds) but, as this is a quieter time for staff who aren’t in the rowi team and our breeding season is starting to kick off, he has been coming out with me.
Myles is a bullet in the bush, and is handy with telemetry so it’s been great. We went to do a harness change on a juvenile yesterday who gave me a nasty scratch – the bleeding stinging kind! That’s right its not all ‘fluffy ducks’ in this job, kiwis are feisty things – and they need to be with pests like stoats and rats on the prowl.
We have a busy few weeks ahead of us with skyranger detecting another 12 eggs yesterday – more on this next week.
Posted by Anna – Rowi Field Ranger
Friday, August 13th, 2010 at 3:41 pm
Things are very busy for the rowi team right now as the breeding season starts. Iain is off to monitor the birds on the islands in the Sounds this weekend and we’ll let you know how that goes in our next blog. In the meantime we’ve been working on some very different flightless birds in Okarito.
In addition to our kiwi work, this week Ieuan and I started some new work which will be ongoing until the end of December. With us were Kayla and Leila, two students from South Westland Area school who will be helping us for the duration of this project. We will be monitoring the burrows of blue penguins/korora in two different colonies on the West Coast to determine breeding success over the breeding season. One of the colonies borders Okarito Kiwi Zone and Korora are an important part of the amazing diverse ecosystem of this beautiful area.
Kayla and Leila help us to monitor these little birds.
We are continuing the work of the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust in this area. The population of blue penguins on the West Coast has been little studied and many aspects of their ecology are still unknown. Blue penguins are classified as a species of ‘least concern’ and are not believed to approach the threshold for population decline. Despite this, blue penguin (Eudyptula minor) colonies are believed to be declining in many areas in Australia and New Zealand.
In parts of New Zealand, including predator-free offshore islands, penguin populations have also declined, which suggests that declines may be linked to events in the marine environment and are not due solely to on-land threats. Anecdotal evidence suggests that one of the areas of declining population is the West Coast of the South Island. We want to monitor the long-term population and breeding success with the aim of conserving the blue penguins on the West Coast.
Ieuan and I prepare to look in some penguin burrows!
To monitor these penguins we use a burrowscope and small video screen. Once we have identified a penguin burrow we move the burrowscope slowly up into the burrow to look for the penguins nesting – usually right at the end. The burrows can be found quite far inshore and sometimes up steep hills – it’s amazing to see the hills these tiny penguins can tackle! We can tell when we are at the end as we usually see a pile of sticks that the penguins have dragged in to make a nest.
We were very excited the first week to discover a few penguins were beginning to nest already! We watched on a small black and white screen as we moved the burrowscope into the burrow. Once the penguins are nesting and breeding, we should see them sitting in the burrow each week together. It is quite a treat to see a penguin face staring back at you as you reach the end of the burrow! Sometimes they growl when they see the end of the burrowscope, so we disturb them as little as possible. We quickly try to determine if there are two adults in the nest and if we can see any eggs or young chicks that may have hatched.
We will continue to observe the nests each week until all of the chicks have ‘fledged’, which means they leave the safety of the burrow and head out to sea to begin to feed for themselves.
We’ll let you know how their breeding season progresses!
Posted by Anna – Rowi Field Ranger
Wednesday, August 4th, 2010 at 2:39 pm
Three weeks ago Ieuan and I took a busman’s holiday—helping out a team of students with a group of North Island brown kiwi on a remote island haven.
There are several Massey University student projects happening with the unique kiwi there. Due to the unusually high density of kiwi living on the island, the birds are not as territorial as kiwi typically are.
Ieuan holding one of the North Island brown kiwi.
On our arrival we met the team who are currently working on various studies including investigating the unique reproductive traits and behaviours of these kiwi. They have found a few instances of a female with two males and want to investigate if both males help to incubate an egg that is not related to them. It would be very interesting to ascertain why an unrelated male would put energy into incubating an egg that is not his own. They will also be following chicks to investigate factors such as dispersal and parental care.
On the first evening we donned our head-torches and warm jackets and went out for a walk to do some kiwi spotting. We tramped quietly up through the bush in an area called Red Stoney Valley where there are a big group of kiwi living. Unfortunately there were none feeding in this area so we were not able to see any our first night out, however we could hear lots of kiwi in the distance calling to each other which was amazing to hear!
Gathering blood samples.
The next morning we headed out for a big day of tracking kiwi in the same valley, taking blood samples and weighing the birds. It was very exciting for Ieuan and I to find so many birds in such a small area of bush as we are used to walking for at least a couple of hours to find just one pair of rowi back home in Okarito! I wonder if this is what the whole of New Zealand would have been like before man, dogs and stoats arrived?
We were lucky enough to spend five days in total assisting the students and loved our time working with the kiwi and exploring their home. It was also wonderful to see an abundance of other native birds and also a change in native forest from South Westland—highlights being nikau palms and mighty kauri trees!
Many thanks to the students and landowners for accommodating us.