By Jose Watson, Communications Advisor
Whio are New Zealand’s river surfing blue duck. Despite surviving death defying rapids on a regular basis, they are considerably less robust on land. The female whio, her eggs and young are all very vulnerable to predation from stoats.
To counter the threat of stoats, and to build numbers of breeding pairs on our rivers, DOC along with our Whio Forever partner Genesis Energy are raising awareness of whio and what people can do to help them.
One of the ways Genesis Energy is helping us is by supporting our efforts to establish ‘Security Sites’ for whio on river catchments around New Zealand. These are the places where we look after whio intensely.
March is Whio Awareness Month, to celebrate we’re sharing some of the work completed this season at one of these sites — the Central Southern Alps Security Site:
The season starts with a good sniffing of rivers in the Central Southern Alps Security Site. Without dogs like Hoki, we’d have a hard time finding whio nests.
Once the nest has been located and all the eggs laid, we head in to retrieve the eggs. Here Eigill Wahlberg gets ready to abseil down a small bluff to retrieve some eggs.
This mother whio duck is not pleased that she has been disturbed, but is likely to lay another clutch of eggs this season once we have taken her eggs for safe hatching.
Beautiful whio eggs. It is exciting to find the eggs. Whio are good breeders – they lay plenty of eggs and do a good job looking after their chicks, but sadly, they can’t defend them from introduced predators. That’s why we get involved!
The eggs are packed carefully into an insulated, heated carrier.
And carefully walked out to the road end. The eggs are transported to the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust where they are incubated, hatched and reared at their facility. A whole lot goes on there….but that’s another story…
As well as assisting with the breeding side of things, we have to address the formidable threat posed by introduced predators. Whio nest in holes, under logs, and near river banks. These make the females, eggs and ducklings an easy dinner option for stoats, who are our main concern at the site. There are 1,100 double traps boxes across the wider site that need to be checked once a month.
Part of our site runs along the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail, so we use the trail to check those traps. We are assisted in this task by a great group of volunteers from Hokitika who maintain the 220 trap boxes on the cycleway.
Being a volunteer on the cycleway section of the trapline is a great way to get some exercise while helping whio. It’s also pretty social. Here is Dave Waugh, from Hokitika, showing a couple of passers-by on the trail what he’s doing. They got a surprise when Dave demonstrated the strong action of the traps!
This is what we want, double banger stoat trap action!
A year or so after we remove the eggs from the wild, we return young adult whio to the river. Emma Cournane, from the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust is pictured here with Antje Wahlberg. Emma works with the eggs and ducklings, so it’s great that she can come to the Coast to help release the ducks.
Hamiria Hutana and Nelly Mason from Ngati Wae Wae say a karakia to wish the whio well…we open the boxes ….and they’re off! These whio will spend time travelling up and down the rivers, hopefully finding mates and territory…and we’ll keep working on breeding boosting and stoat patrol so that they can have the best chance possible.
March is Whio Awareness Month – celebrating and promoting our endangered blue duck. Find out more about whio and how you can get involved on the DOC website.