Day in the life of a whio ranger

Department of Conservation —  11/10/2017

Biodiversity Ranger Daniel Sawyers works in the Buller District, which is home to many of our native species, including whio/blue ducks. We asked Daniel about his work with the birds.

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Daniel with a captured whio

Where are the whio you work with?

I look after whio in the Oparara-Ugly whio security site, which was established in 2002 and now protects around 43 pairs of whio. The site goal is to have 50 pairs protected by 2019. The 95 kilometres of whio habitat is protected from predators by 156 kilometres of trap lines.


How long have you been working with Whio?

I first started working with Whio in late 2003 helping with stoat trap checks in the Oparara Basin in Karamea. Since then I have worked on all parts of the Whio program there including Whio surveys, capture and tracking, Whio nest egg (WHIONE) and maintaining and expanding the Oparara security site.

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Captured whio Sandy and Rocky

What other species do you work with?

NZ fur seals, Westland petrels, great spotted kiwi, Powelliphanta snails, some threatened plants to name a few. We often have people call up about injured penguins, morepork and weka that we catch and take to the vet too.

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Daniel tagging a seal pup

What does a typical day look like when you are working with Whio?

Driving 16 kilometres of winding gravel road into the Oparara Basin and walking the river searching for whio pairs. When we find a pair we catch them and attach radio transmitters to so that we can monitor their breeding success. We catch them using a mist net that is strung across the river, and kind of herd the ducks into it.

Or on another day I might get into a helicopter and fly into the Ugly river to check and re-bait stoat traps along a pretty rough and remote stretch of river that is 10 kilometres long.

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Using a TR4 and Yagi to find whio with transmitters on

Best moment working with whio?

Doing a whio survey after the breeding season and seeing all the fledged ducklings.


Worst moment?

Finding a transmitted female whio that had been predated by a stoat.

Any tips for spotting whio?

Visit the Oparara Basin in Karamea, there is a walking track to the Oparara Arch and it follows the river. We often see whio along this stretch of river. You need a keen eye as they blend in and when they’re feeding they can be hard to spot.

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Looking for whio

If you could be a whio for a day, what would you do?

 Evade the predators and those pesky whio rangers trying to catch me.

Have you got any conservation advice for the public?

 “Take only photos, leave only foot prints”.

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Daniel in the backcountry

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2 responses to Day in the life of a whio ranger

    Marcela Mathy 08/12/2017 at 10:13 am

    Great story, easy to read… well done!


    Great work being done there. I wish I was fit and young enough to help.