Fiordland Kiwi Diaries: First check up of the year

Department of Conservation —  01/03/2018

We caught up with Tim, a ranger on the front lines of the Save Our Iconic Kiwi initiative. This is the tenth in a series following the work he’s doing to save the Fiordland tokoeka (kiwi). Tim and his team have been studying the population of kiwi at Shy Lake to find out how to best protect them from predators like stoats. They have captured a number of kiwi and put transmitters on them, and are now monitoring them through the breeding season to find out how well the adults and chicks survive without pest control. 

The kiwi were very considerate in the timing of their nesting efforts and gave me a good break over Christmas. A week into the new year, we’re back into Shy Lake for another check up.

Breaking out of the scrub above Breaksea fiord.

Breaking out of the scrub above Breaksea fiord

Ranger Em and I are dropped off on a small tidal beach in Breaksea fiord. Just inside the bush we find our stash of large plastic seed funnels and waratahs, to be installed on the tracking tunnel lines. We manoeuvre them through the bush for an hour, following strong deer trails, and install them under beech trees to collect and measure the falling seed. We are also installing some tracking tunnels: light plastic tunnels a couple of feet long, into which we can insert a tracking card with a patch of ink in the middle.

Ranger Em climbing up out of Breaksea fiord.

Ranger Em climbing up out of Breaksea fiord

There are now 150 tunnels spread over the Shy Lake area, and every three months they are baited and tracking cards inserted to give us a relative index of the abundance of rats and stoats. Each worker will run five lines of ten tunnels, with the tunnels 50 metres apart and a few hundred metres between lines. With no cut track, we are pleased to find more deer trails as we bush-bash uphill. We spend a bit of time finding a safe crossing for one of the area’s many gorged creeks. Finding a decent crossing below a waterfall, we GPS the spot. Last time round, one of our rangers had to backtrack several hundred metres downhill to find a way through, pretty demoralising when you have 1100 metres of off-track climb ahead of you.

It’s high summer and the sweat is flowing liberally as we finally pop out of the bush about 4 o’clock. A red fawn, looking a bit ribby in the dry conditions, is watching us but it can’t get our scent and stands there uncertainly as we pass. An easy climb through golden tussock bring us to the plateau around Mt Anderson and it’s time for an idyllic swim in the sun-warmed tarns before we drop down the other side of the hill to camp.

Time for a swim.

Time for a swim!

Back on the kiwi side of things, we visit Pegleg’s nest to check the trailcam footage. He’s getting more visitors than his first clutch at the start of the season, including, unfortunately, a few stoat visits. He’s also had a few kea hanging around. These wily birds seem to spend most of their time pulling apart all my infrastructure, but they do represent a real, though natural, threat to kiwi nests. Pegleg, however, is up to the task and proves his mettle as a father by kicking them out of the nest when they get too inquisitive.

Across the valley, Gulliver has had even more activity. The frequent weka invasions continue, but Gulliver too is having none of it and aggressively chases both weka and possums out of the nest. We’re hoping the chick will have hatched by now and when we get there, he’s on the nest, but although it’s just about reachable during the day, we can’t see either chick or egg. We turn to the trailcam and see that a chick did indeed emerge from the nest, just two days earlier. It explores the open area in front of the nest, probing with its bill with Gulliver nearby, before trundling off away from the nest. As we scroll through the footage on the camera’s tiny screen, we see that it appears several times the next night, but that is the last we see of it. It made it out of the nest for only one day before disappearing, and we missed getting a transmitter on by the same amount of time. Ominously, there are three stoat visits to the nest on the day of its disappearance.

The next day I go to check Filibuster and Fortuna’s chick. I have hopes for this one, as it’s the only chick from a nest with no stoat visits on the camera. But I’m disappointed: in a hole I find some leg bones, vertebrae, feathers and the small radio transmitter. Another textbook stoat predation, and from the decomposed state, it occurred not long after my last visit.

This is the tenth in a series of posts about Tim’s work, follow the Conservation Blog to keep up to date on his progress.