Archives For Blue Duck

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


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.

By Jane Dobson, Wellington-Hawkes Bay Conservancy

Fresh to the Wellington-Hawkes Bay Conservancy, I heard about the Oroua Blue Duck Protection Project in the Ruahines and an inspired volunteer team led by Janet Wilson. Needing to know more I contacted Janet and invited myself along on the January trap line check and rebait.

Oroua volunteers getting ready to head off.

Oroua volunteers with coordinator extraordinaire Janet Wilson: Jen James, Janet, myself, Henry Milne and Thierry Stokkermans

Janet arranged to meet us all at the Oroua River car park with equipment, advice and a refresh on DOC 200 traps. As beacons, maps, eggs and rabbit bait were split between packs, Janet told us about the previous weeks training where a man ‘just blanked’ and let his free hand slip and set off a trap. “That’s never happened before, he was lucky to get away with grazed knuckles. “Have fun and look after each other up there,” Janet looked at me. Apparently matching people with similar fitness levels is one of her many challenges.

Jen the Crossfit trainer, Henry the anaesthetist, and team leader/ mechanical engineer Thierry set off with me in tow. We planned to get to Iron Gate, split into teams to reach the Ngamoku Ridge tops and Triangle Hut, return to Iron Gate, then walk out the river line on Sunday. I reassured myself that I was fitter than I looked – for ‘a lady from the Wellington office.’ They’d been warned.

Olearia colensoi, leatherwood, below the Ngamoko tops

Olearia colensoi, leatherwood, below the Ngamoko tops.

Jen and I headed up the ridge. The thought of an evening swim in the Oroua’s emerald pools propelled us from trap to trap. Before long we had an efficient leapfrog system. The beech trees, lime green crown ferns, glorious leatherwood and tussock covered tops made up for any squeamish moments with the stoat and rat carcasses. I even imagined rabbit ‘jerkey’ could be tempting if you were in a tight spot.

Thierry and Henry walked upriver spotting several trout AND a whio/blue duck perched on top of a DOC 200 trap in the river, with three young ducks nearby. Was this cheeky whio mocking the stoats from its macabre pedestal, or alerting Henry and Thierry to the missing trap.

The girls didn’t see any whio but were rewarded nonetheless with Guiness at dinner (fantastic leadership Thierry) and choice bombs on Sunday. The low river, blue sky and cool and clear  river made for a stunning walk out.

Total count: 13 stoats, 13 rats. 

January 2013, Team Oroua in action.

January 2013, Team Oroua in action

Meanwhile, Janet spent her Sunday checking the self-resetting traps up the Tunupo Stream, a tributary of the Oroua. In May 2012 volunteers helped install 37 of these new A24 traps made by NZ company Good Nature. They were bought with funding from the He Tini Trust and Horizons Regional Council. These traps don’t need to be checked as regularly as DOC 200’s, but need re-gassing every six months or so. A down side is there is no clear pest count – the dead critter tends to breakdown or disappear from under the trap.

Jen James baiting for high-altitude stoats.

Jen James baiting for high-altitude stoats

Due to Janet’s nightly phone calls, training trips, constant advocacy and more, the project’s volunteer base is ‘committed and developing.’ Enthusiastic people are needed to prevent the situation the Manawatu Deerstalkers found themselves facing in 2011 with the same few people doing all the work. The coordination takes ‘AGES,’ Janet told me. ‘The Palmerston North tramping club is a great help, Manawatu Deerstalkers still help, the DOC newsletter Keep Tracking On advertises for volunteers. I also put notices in the huts with tear off numbers. We’ve got a committed but developing volunteer base. I’m investing in the training weekends, hoping it will pay off.’

Whio enjoying the view from a washed out trap.

Whio enjoying the view from a washed out trap

Janet won the 2012 Individual Manawatū Rangitīkei area Conservation Award, which recognised her on-going commitment to protecting wildlife through stoat control in the Te Potae o Awarua project, the Manawatu Gorge, and for rescuing the Oroua Blue Duck Protection Project from folding in 2011.

You’re an inspiration Janet Wilson – volunteer coordinator extraordinaire.

Click here to find out how to get involved.

Evidence of an ‘A24’ trap kill up Tunupo Stream.

Evidence of an ‘A24’ trap kill up Tunupo Stream

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Robyn Orchard, Communications and Engagement Advisor.

Name: Robyn Orchard.

Position: Communications and Engagement Advisor Tongariro-Whanganui-Taranaki (TWT) and East Coast Bay of Plenty).

Robyn and Mavis at the Sika Show in Taupō with a kowhai and weta painted on their faces.

Robyn and her ‘little sister’ Mavis (mentor with Big Brother Big Sister) at the recent Sika Show in Taupō, who both got face paintings from staff at the DOC stands. Robyn sported the kowhai and Mavis the weta!

At work…

What kind of things do you do in your role?

A male whio/blue duck on the banks of a river.

The male whio I got up close and personal with on a recent trip into Waimana Valley

That’s a really good question and not that easy to answer as I have only been in the role (one of the new ones) for less than three months! But here goes.

As Communications and Engagement Advisor for DOC across both the Tongariro-Whanganui-Taranaki and East Coast Bay of Plenty areas. I provide communications, marketing and engagement advice.  I also work with DOC looking for new opportunities to grow, support and increase the value of conservation.

As well as working on some major national projects such as Whio Forever and the Great Walks, I am also involved in other projects such as Conservation Management Strategies and  Engagement Growth Plans. In Tongariro-Whanganui-Taranaki I work on the strategic direction, Destination planning for Taranaki, Tongariro and the Great Lake and in ECBOP on Central Park, Te Urewera Rainforest route, the Community Volunteers conference and the Tarawera Trail.

As you will have gathered, mine is a shared role, so it is lucky I am a middle child and am used to sharing :)

Tuhoe Waimana Kaumatua Paki Te Pou and Robyn crossing the stream on a horse.

Tuhoe Waimana Kaumatua Paki Te Pou and me (the one nearly falling off into the river) on Raven doing one of our many river crossings

What is the best part about your job?

They say that variety is the spice of life and that’s what I love about this new job. Every day is different and I am constantly learning new things.

I am very much a people person so meeting the many people throughout my conservancies who are so passionate about what they do, that it rubs off on you, and is one of the bonuses of my role!

Whio Recovery Group Leader Andy Glaser crosses the stream on horseback.

Whio Recovery Group Leader Andy Glaser on Ziggy Pop and Neo the Whio dog during our Te Urewera Whio adventure

What is the hardest part about your job?

Learning the DOC-isms and all the DOC systems.

What led you to your role in DOC?

Right time right place! An ad in the local newspaper just at the time I was looking for a new challenge. And I think this role is definitely challenging but rewarding.

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

A trip into Te Urewera National Park, Waimana Valley for an up close whio encounter with staff from DOC, Genesis, a film crew and some media.

What better way to start a week than jumping up behind Tuhoe Waimana Kaumatua Paki Te Pou on Raven the horse, and trekking back and forth across the river to check traplines, walking with Whio Recovery Group Leader Andy Glaser and his Whio dog Neo seeking out the distinct endangered blue duck.

I wasn’t so keen on Andy’s Whio wake up whistle at around 5am but overall it was one of those memorable experiences, the kind that I am looking forward to having working for DOC.

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. Family – husband Dave and daughter Hannah 21, and also the extended whanau which includes our ten international host sons and daughters from around the world who lived with us for their year at school here in New Zealand.
  2. Travel – with sons and daughters (and two host grand daughters) in France, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, USA, Italy, Argentina, Greenland and Iceland, international travel takes on a whole new light. Staying with ‘family’ you see the real culture and taste the real cuisine.
  3.  Good Friends – I love to get together and socialise with good friends.
Robyn and her family with the family of her "host son" in Argentina.

Christmas and New Year in Argentina with our host son Leo was an amazing experience – eating a very meat based Christmas dinner at 11pm on Xmas Eve meant dessert wasn’t started ’til well into Christmas Day!

Three pet peeves

  1. Lateness.
  2. Lack of, or bad, manners.
  3. Nana drivers!

Three foods

  1. Real Italian gelato.
  2. Central Otago Christmas Black Dawson Cherries.
  3. My Italian host son’s chocolate tiramisu.

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Great Lake Taupō (that’s why we live here).
  2. Alexandra (where I grew up).
  3. Mt Ruapehu (isn’t that why we live here).

Favourite movie, album, book

  • Movie: I Love musicals – so classics like The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and Mama Mia.
  • Album: The classic movie soundtracks that I can sing along to in the car.
  • Book: I can’t really admit to being a Harry Potter fan so it will have to be anything by Lee Childs or David Baldacci (physcological thrillers)
Jenny Burke, Corporate Brand and Community Investment Executive Genesis Energy, me,  Sarah Murray from Sunday magazine (Sunday Star Times supplement) and Sophie Barclay from Element magazine (NZ Herald supplement) .

Jenny Burke, Corporate Brand and Community Investment Executive Genesis Energy, me, Sarah Murray from Sunday magazine (Sunday Star Times supplement) and Sophie Barclay from Element magazine (NZ Herald supplement)

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

You can do it reach for the moon, achieve all your dreams. But remember a perm in curly hair makes you look like Janet Frame.

Who or what inspires you and why?

I am inspired everyday by smiles. By those people that overcome adversity, challenges and incredible obstacles but continue to throw themselves into life and smile.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A primary school teacher or a nun (such a cool outfit), but when I heard they didn’t get paid that well I went off that idea.

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

Rich – having won lotto first division I would be travelling the world visiting family, friends and that 3-year-old boy (that I sponsor) and his village in Malawi!

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

Turn it off and recycle.

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?

Leave the car at home – ride or walk more. I’m really looking forward to moving into our new office so I can walk to work. And the bike in the garage won’t ride itself!

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

It would have to be the kea – they are so cheeky I think I might be a human kea already!

Robyn's smiling face.

Yep, people say I have the personality of a kea

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

Take care of the environment today so it is there for our grandchildren tomorrow.