Archives For Blue Duck

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