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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!