Archives For Blue Duck

Today, the Minister of Conservation, Maggie Barry, and the Chief Executive of Genesis Energy, Albert Brantley, will open the new whio rearing facility at the Tongariro National Trout Centre near Turangi.

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Then: “You’re good at killing things and saving things, but your information management is too hit and miss…”. Now: the project connected to that conversation is up for an award for its new information management app.

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By Jose Watson, Partnership Ranger in Hokitika

On a misty Thursday morning last week I headed out to the Kawhaka Creek to help retrieve eggs from two whio / blue duck nests.

Whio / blue duck. Photo copyright Sabine Bernert. Used with permission.

Whio / blue duck

whio-eggs-ranger-rodney-incubator

Ranger Rodney

The newly established West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail follows alongside this beautiful river and makes access to the site easy.

The Kawhaka Creek is good for whio. It’s fast flowing, clean—with plenty of invertebrates for whio to eat—and has good habitat either side for nesting. I myself have enjoyed plenty of nice swims in this creek.

It’s a bit of a walk with the incubator to the nest—definitely a job for two people—especially on the return trip when we want a smooth ride for the precious eggs.

Two people carrying the incubator.

Carrying the incubator

This is the first time ever that whio eggs have been taken from this site.

In 2012 Kawhaka Creek was added to the Central West Coast Whio Recovery Site. The support of Genesis let us grow this site, that was initially made possible with support from Solid Energy. The Central West Coast Whio Recovery Site now includes the Styx,  Arahura, Taipo and Kawhaka catchments.

The first nest at Kawhaka Creek was found a couple of weeks ago by Cloud the whio dog.

Ranger Ron Van Mierlo delves into the whio nest.

Ranger Ron Van Mierlo delves into the whio nest

The nest was quite a way up a hill beside the river—a good place for a nest as it was out of the reach of floods. In a forest, on a hill, did seem to be a peculiar place to see a duck though. However, I am assured this is quite normal for whio.

Ranger Ron Van Mierlo had to stretch his arm quite a way down a hole to retrieve the eggs.

The whio eggs being retrieved.

The eggs being retrieved

It was exciting to see the eggs being retrieved, and a bit nerve-raking  too—nobody wants to drop and egg, and the utmost care is taken.

Ranger holds the first whio egg friom Kawhaka Creek.

The first egg

We found 6 eggs at this first nest. I thought 6 was an epic effort, but apparently nests with up to 9 eggs are found!

There is a good chance that the duck who laid those eggs will now lay another clutch this season. In this way, whio breeding can be “supercharged”—the duck lays more eggs that can be successfully raised into adulthood.

Ranger Glen Newton with the egg in a protective cup.

Ranger Glen Newton with the egg in a protective cup

After the first nest we were feeling very chirpy—what a great start to the morning.

The next nest was located further up and across the river. We located the nest but, unfortunately, it was empty. The nest had been raided by some sort of predator. The mother duck was still hanging around the nest, on the other side of the pond. Here she is on her lonesome. Hopefully she will lay some more eggs and we will be able to safely retrieve them.

An adult female whio after her eggs were raided by a predator.

Lonely mother duck

After a commute to Christchurch, the eggs were taken to the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, a privately funded charitable trust specialising in captive breeding and release of endangered species.

Hopefully, all going well, these eggs will all end up as strong healthy whio that will be returned the wild and in turn lead to even more whio!

Whio eggs back at the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust.

Egg care at the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust

The Central North Island DOC Services team is working on an exciting project to bring captive bred whio/blue duck to the Tongariro National Trout Centre near Turangi and to prepare them for life in the wild.

Adult whio/blue duck standing on a rock by a river in the wild.

Adult whio/blue duck in the wild

A new whio hardening facility is being opened which will provide a safe environment for young birds from the whio captive breeding programme to develop their white water skills before they are released into the wild.

Sign for the  whio hardening facility at the National Tongariro Trout Centre.

Whio hardening facility coming soon

Construction of the hardening facility began in April and will hopefully be completed by the end of September. The project involves the conversion of an old water raceway into a stretch of fast flowing river complete with rocks and gravel to mimic a natural stream bed.

Conversion of the raceway at the National Tongariro Trout Centre.

Raceway conversion

Young whio need to develop the strength to tackle fast flowing rivers which will be their home in the wild, and this new facility will act as their gymnasium.

Liner laid down for the whio hardening facility.

Liner for the whio hardening facility

The facility will also be a retirement home for some of the older birds that have played an important part in DOC’s breeding programme.

Whio that are too old to breed or to adjust to life in the wild will have a safe home to live out the rest of their lives.

Rocks and gravel laid down to mimic a stream bed.

Rocks and gravel to mimic a stream bed

This project is part of the Whio Forever partnership between DOC and Genesis Energy to save New Zealand’s unique whio/blue duck.

Follow updates about the whio hardening facility on the Taupo Trout Fishery Facebook page.

Last month we told the story of the Nina Valley ‘Ecoblitz’ — a monumental collaboration involving scientists, senior high school students, university students, teachers, and helpers working together to discover and document the species of North Canterbury’s Nina Valley and surrounds.

Today, we’re happy to report of their recent (earlier this week) success at the Ministry for the Environment Green Ribbon Awards — taking out both the ‘Supreme winner’ and the ‘Communication and education’ awards.

Well done to everyone involved in this inspiring event!

Another exciting Green Ribbon win was the Genesis Energy Whio Recovery Programme, which took out the ‘Protecting our biodiversity’ award.

This five-year partnership between Genesis Energy, DOC, Forest & Bird and the Central North Island Blue Duck Charitable Trust is all about the protection and recovery of whio, which are rarer than some species of kiwi.

By working with Genesis Energy on this programme, we are able to do more work to protect the whio and provide practical and immediate on-the-ground benefits for these threatened birds.

Both these projects show what New Zealanders can achieve by working together to preserve our outstanding natural wealth.

Captain Whio on the computer.

Finger-clicking good, Captain Whio

Captain Whio (aka Biodiversity Ranger Tim Allerby) and his trusted side-duck, Duck Girl (Community Relations Ranger Moana Smith-Dunlop) have been tracking their arch-nemesis, Sinister Stoat, for some time. Thanks to their super powers, amazing whio tracking devices, and the sophisticated Stoat Proximity Alarm, the whiotastic superheroes have tailed the sneaky mustelid all the way from Fiordland, to Waikaremoana, Ohuka and eventually Ruakituri. They have the map with pins on to prove it!

Children at Waikaremoana, Ohuka and Ruakituri Schools first came to Captain Whio’s attention as passionate whio fans when they stunned the superhero judges with their entries for an art competition run in the Te Urewera Whirinaki Area as part of Whio Awareness Month. The competition, inspired by the Whio Forever project, a whiotastic partnership between DOC and Genesis Energy, showed such awesome awareness and creativity from the children in the three schools that the caped duo were keen to meet the artists themselves.

Captain Whio with Ruakituri students.

Ruakituri superheroes

The urgency of the superheroes’ mission meant there was no time to waste. The children watched shocking footage of Sinister Stoat stealing eggs from whio nests the length of Aotearoa.

Ranger-reporter Jane from DOC seized the moment (and a microphone) and, with the children’s help, interviewed the caped heroes.

Captain Whio and students tracking down the stoat.

How to track whio – at Ohuka School

Captain Whio was describing whio’s webbed umbrella feet, juju lips (beautifully demonstrated by Duck Girl) and prominent yellow eyes, when suddenly the Stoat Proximity Alarm on his Utility Belt went off.

Captain Whio and Duck Girl immediately hot-footed it outside. The fledgling superheroes swiftly followed their mentors to see where Sinister Stoat was lurking.

Captain Whio and students looking for Sinister Stoat.

Hot on Sinister Stoat’s trail at Ohuka School

Earlier, Captain Whio and Duck Girl had planted a couple of stoat traps in cunning places. The first trap was empty, but nearby was a perfectly formed stoat poo. Could it be from Sinister Stoat himself?

The children watched, aghast, as Duck Girl dipped her finger in the poo, sniffed it and stuck it in her mouth. After carefully savouring it, thanks to her specially modified taste-buds she identified the poo, and declared it as originating from…none other than…Sinister Stoat himself. (Gasp!)

Captain Whio and Duck Girl tasting the fake stoat poo.

Duck Girl taste tests

Stealthily, Captain Whio, Duck Girl and their duckling entourage advanced on the next trap.  There was a stoat in it! Yes! Thwack! Could it be Sinister Stoat? Could Captain Whio finally rest from his travails?

Not just yet, Captain Whio.… After close inspection from Duck Girl, it was revealed that the lifeless body in the trap was one of Sinister Stoat’s henchmen and not the slippery egg-stealer himself. Sinister Stoat was still at large….

But, Sinister Stoat, if you are reading this, Captain Whio has a message for you:

“Be afraid, Stoaty, very afraid…. We superwhioheroes are not alone: we have the kids of Waikaremoana, Ohuka and Ruakituri, who are sworn whio fans, educated and dangerous … and they are out to protect whio from you!”

A whio swimming in a fast flowing river.

A whio safe from stoats.


Whio Forever

Check out the Whio Forever website to find out more about whio and the partnership between DOC and Genesis Energy to secure the future of the whio/blue duck, one of our most endangered birds ever

Last year Genesis Energy held the first Great Whio Adventure competition. The top prize was a family trip to spend a day catching and tagging whio with DOC Rangers. Communications & Engagement Advisor Robyn Orchard reports back from the day:

The Brand family from Wellington were the North Island winners of the Great Whio Adventure competition and arrived in Whakapapa Village in late January. Jürgen, his wife Sarah, and their sons, Joshua, 18, Heinrich 14 and Daniel 12, had already spent a day white water rafting, but this didn’t stop them from returning to the local rivers with the DOC rangers in search of whio.

Daniel Brand standing holding one of the juvenile whio.

Daniel Brand with one of the juvenile whio before they were released

DOC Rangers, Ali Beath, Dean Flavell, Andy Glaser and Malcolm Swanney, were joined by Bubs Smith from Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro (local hapu), conservation-dogs Neo and Fern, and myself.

We all got kitted up with wetsuits and raincoats before the rangers gave us briefing and then it was off in a convoy of vehicles to a whio site in the Mangetepopo Stream, in the Tongariro Forest.

After a steep and muddy descent the rangers showed us how they find and catch the whio for checking, tagging and releasing.

Two rangers tag a mother whio duck before release.

Ruapehu Biodiversity Rangers Ali Beath and Dean Flavell tagging a mother whio duck

With the help of Neo and Fern we located a group of whio upstream. The rangers unpacked and set up a fine net across the width of the stream. The whio were gently ushered downstream and into the net where the Brand family and I were hiding, ready to grab the strong-swimming ducks.

“Try and make yourself blend in and look like a tree or a rock,” said Ali. I’m not sure that any of us looked like trees or rocks as we stood in water trying to stay quiet and still.

A family of five whio were captured in the net and held above the water by each of the Brand family members until they were untangled from the net and placed in the holding bags. One of the juveniles staged a daring escape but was quickly tracked down and shepherded back upriver by Andy and Neo.

Whio dogs and handlers beside a river before the whio release.

Malcom, Fern, Jürgen, Andy and Neo. Fern was put through her paces that day to be certified as a whio dog… she passed.

With all whio accounted for, the Brand family then helped microchip the ducks and place colour bands on their legs for identification. All whio get micro-chipped as a permanent identification method. The microchip is inserted into the back of the neck using a needle and will stay there for life. Adult ducks then have three colour bands put on their legs with each bird getting a different combination of colours. This allows the rangers to recognise each duck individually.

This combined identification method also allows the rangers to read the microchips with a scanner and gather information on how old each duck is, who their mate is, the size of their territory and other details. This data is stored on a national database and is available through the Genesis Energy funded scanning tools.

Following the checks and tagging it was time to return the mildly inconvenienced whio back into their stream. The Brand family took one whio each and together, released them into the rapids.

The Brand family releasing five whio into the river.

Watched by the conservation dog handlers and dogs, the Brand family release the family of five whio back into the river

We then left the stream just as the rain clouds closed in, and as we trudged (some of us trudging more than others) back up to the vehicles with the rain bucketing down. I was exhausted and could hardly put one foot in front of the other as I brought up the rear (thanks to Joshua for taking my backpack off me and Dean for carrying my rain jacket). I think I will either get fit at DOC or collapse trying!

The Brand Family loved their adventure prize, especially the chance to walk in the wet boots of the DOC rangers for a day.


Enjoy your own family whio adventure!

Whio Forever are running the Great Whio Adventure competition again. If you know of a family that would enjoy this unique prize, encourage them to enter by 12 April on the Whio Forever website.