Second Nature: An update from Nicola Toki

Department of Conservation —  29/03/2016

By Nicola Toki, Threatened Species Ambassador.

This month has been an inspiring whirlwind of activities in the world of threatened species.  The warm weather has inspired many of our partners to host events all over the country, and I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to many of them.  The recurring theme for me has been a series of very passionate communities who are going above and beyond on behalf of our native wildlife.

Pukaha Mt Bruce Bioblitz

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This keen Bioblitzer has discovered a native stick insect and a giraffe weevil for identification.

In late February I attended and participated in the Pukaha Mount Bruce Bioblitz, along with my mate Ruud Kleinpaste (the Bugman), where we assisted with getting a bit of a ‘snapshot’ of the kind of flora and fauna found in the Pukaha bush, along with 85 schoolkids, a dedicated team of scientists (including our own passionate DOC scientists), a number of families and other keen community members.  I was especially impressed with the schoolkids, who between them identified some fantastic finds, including peripatus, cave wētā and freshwater crayfish/koura.  Top nature sleuthing all ‘round.

In addition to the Bioblitzing during the day, Ruud and I hosted a joint talk in the evening for interested locals on “Our Wonderful Wildlife”.  Having two extroverted nature nerds delivering a presentation together was a new experience and a bit of a challenge, but one we thoroughly enjoyed, and we think the crowd might have too.

After our talk, we took the crowd out for a night-time nature walk, which included getting our feet wet with the local long-finned eel population.  I’ve already raved about how much I love our native eels or tūna, but standing in the river at ten-thirty at night with a bucket of meat in one hand while these metre-plus long sinuous creatures bump and wriggle into you is quite the experience!

During the weekend, there were a range of additional talks and acitivites for people to join in on and learn more.  Pukaha Conservation Manager Todd Jenkinson and I gave a talk on trapping predators and demonstrated how to use a Goodnature A24 trap (hint: it’s easy peasy).

The overall results for the Bioblitz are not in yet, but it was fascinating to watch kids and adults alike ‘tune in’ to the natural environment, and quickly begin pointing a huge range of birds, plants, trees, invertrebates and fungi.  I also loved watching scientists interacting with families and individuals as they tried to figure out which plant or animal they were looking at.  This is a great example of how citizen science can contribute to our wider knowledge of what’s happening in our backyards.

Hutton’s Shearwater Fly Safe and Hutton’s Hub opening

In March I also attended the opening of the “Hutton’s Hub”, which marked the start of “Fly Safe” month for Hutton’s shearwaters in Kaikoura.

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Members of the Hutton’s Shearwater Charitable Trust (including the awesome and still mountain-climbing nonagenarian Geoff Harrow, who rediscovered this species, in the pink shirt front row, second from right).

Hutton’s shearwaters (Kaikoura titi), are seabirds that nest high in the mountains behind Kaikoura.  The colonies were rediscovered in 1965 by Geoff Harrow, who had heard of seabirds being spotted up there from hunters and farmers, and heard tales of titi from iwi, which piqued his curiousity enough for him to find them at over 1200m above sea level.  The breeding colonies are unique to Kaikoura, although they spend most of their lives at sea, much of that time beyond New Zealand waters, but despite their globetrotting nature, the Kaikoura community has taken these birds to heart.

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This volunteer is putting the first crash-landed Hutton’s shearwater into the ‘Hutton’s Hub’ for safekeeping until it’s time to release. Photo: University of Canterbury.

After realising that the number of colonies had dropped from eight to two over the last thirty years the community created a third colony on the Kaikoura Peninsula.  A predator-proof fence was added after and a luxury life of no predators, ocean-views, and being hand-fed sardine smoothies made a great start to the new colony.

“Fly Safe” is a month long event to assist new Hutton’s shearwaters from the mountain colonies.  These newly fledged chicks fly directly over the town of Kaikoura to head out to sea for the first time, but unfortunately on misty nights especially, the lights of the town can disorientate the birds, which end up crash-landing on the road or in people’s yards, and become ‘sitting ducks’ for cats and other predators, as well as not being able to get up and out to sea again.  “Fly Safe” encourages the local community to keep unnecessary lighting to a minimum, and particularly watch out for any stranded birds, which they can now collect and return to the brand-new “Hutton’s Hub”, a purpose-built facility (think shed!) that is a temporary area where the birds can be left safely until volunteers can return them to the ocean.

It is a wonderful idea, a practical solution to a very serious problem, and I was very impressed at the event to see local rūnanga, schools, local businesses, DOC and the council all working together to address a tricky situation for Hutton’s shearwater survival.  This is truly a community that has taken on the challenge of living alongside a threatened species, and it was inspiring to see such dedication.

p.s. A huge thanks to local rangers Dave and Keith, who invited my husband and our hot and tired 2.5 year-old to the DOC staff room and gave Hunter (Mr 2.5) not one but two enormous pieces of chocolate cake!

Maui dolphin day

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Maui Dolphin Day, an annual event hosted by the Raglan community.  The Whaingaroa Environment Trust asked me to attend and say a few words about our rarest dolphin, and I was lucky to be able to help launch DOC’s brand new children’s book “Meet the Maui!”

It was the 14th annual Maui Dolphin Day, and I was really blown away by the passion of the community who led every aspect of the event, from the Zero Waste nature of it, to the local musicians who entertained us, the great local food, and the awesome activities.  A highlight for me was watching the “Recycled Raft Race”, a hard-fought local water race in boats made from recycled materials.  I was itching to get in and give it a go, so I’ve talked the DOC crew (I hope!) into entering a DOC team in next year’s one (to be fair, DOC did enter last year, but I reckon we should give it another crack!).

My afternoon duties included commentating the children’s obstacle course, the “Maui Dolphin Survival Challenge” in the afternoon, but there were so many keen children who wanted to have a go, I talked for an hour and a half before declaring myself beaten by the kids’ enthusiasm.  It was a first for me to run out of the ability to talk!

Thanks to the Raglan community for having me, and for your infectious enthusiasm for protecting your species in your patch!

Project Wild Thing

Last but not least, I joined UK producer David Bond and some keen kids not to mention “Big Boy” the tuatara for a visit to Quail Island near Lyttelton.  David produced the fantastic film “Project Wild Thing”, which is all about reconnecting kids to nature.  I’ll let the trailer of the film speak for itself.

So it’s been a HUGE month.  During this time, I’ve hand fed long-finned eels in the dark, been spat on by a peripatus and (accidentally) nipped by a tuatara.  Badges of honour on any nature-nerds bucket list I reckon!  There is never enough room to fit in all the events and activities I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with, so please feel free to follow me on Facebook and Twitter for timely updates of what I’m doing with threatened species.