We’re on the front lines of the Save Our Iconic Kiwi initiative. This is the seventeenth in a series following the work being done to save the Fiordland tokoeka (kiwi). Our ranger 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.
Today’s guest post comes from Ranger Anne. She’s been helping with the fieldwork at Shy lake this spring, working to monitor southern Fiordland tokoeka nest and chicks through the project’s second season.
It has been brilliant to work in Fiordland again and for the first time with kiwi. Shy Lake does not disappoint! From dry bush and blue bird days when sunburn is the biggest concern to blustery blizzards and frozen feet. On the wet days, each step is often followed by a little slide sinking into unknown depths of mud. I certainly feel my muscles on each trip and fall to bed happily tired each night.
The work has been exciting and quite eye-opening to how staunch kiwi are and the perils they are facing. Through the nest cameras it has also been great to observe how species in the forest are linked. One of my favourite videos is a rifleman happily flying out of Nuts’ nest with a kiwi feather in its beak.
It will have such a fluffy-lined and warm nest. Kiwi feathers are unlike any other feathers: feathers are not connected by hooks or barbs, the tip is coarser and more waterproof, while the base is downy and soft. They are more like hair than feathers, perfect for living underground in cold burrows. Nuts’ nest was the first nest I found. It was dug in the side of the bank in open, tall forest and surrounded by small tree ferns. While Nuts was incubating the egg, he already had unwelcome visitors: by day, weka attempted a peck at his egg and by night, stoats and possums tried their luck.
Once the chick hatched, the stoat became more persistent and often had a look into the nest. Luckily while Nuts and his mate Bolts were around, they were able to drive off the increasingly bold stoat and the chick was kept safe.
About five days after the chick hatched, it made its first trip outside the nest. What a relief to see it on camera! The next night, ranger Sanjay and I plan our first night stake out. We want to put a transmitter on the chick to be able to follow it once it leaves the nest and ascertain its survival or cause of death. We get to the nest just as it gets dark. The evening birdsong has already finished, and it’s just bright enough to pull out more clothing and prepare for sitting quietly in the dark.
In the next 10 minutes, it’s so dark we can’t see our hands anymore. We rely completely on sound and hearing the chick walking down the nest entrance. After 20 minutes, I can hear a slight rustling. My heart starts pounding. I take off my gloves and try to turn on my torch as quietly as possible. The moment the light shines on the entrance, the chick runs back into the nest and with eyes adjusting to the brightness, my reflexes are too slow. I’m gutted I didn’t catch it. But surely, if it’s come out once it will come out again. We turn our torches off, sit back down again and wait.
More body parts become numb despite the nine different layers of merino and we become less and less hopeful. We quietly decide to wait until 10pm and then start our one and a half hour trudge home. Just in this moment, I hear noises again. This time I wait for a bit longer to be absolutely sure the chick has come completely out of the nest, away from the entrance.
Again, I take my gloves off and get ready to grab it. I turn my torch on in complete determination that this time, I will be successful. I can’t believe my luck when I hold it in my hand! Phew, we don’t need to come back the next night. The chick fits snugly into my hand and has so many fluffy feathers. It’s really calm while Sanjay fits the transmitter, weighs it and measures its bill. We put the chick back into its nest and hope that mum and dad will keep on defending it. The walk home feels so much less arduous after seeing my first chick of the season in the flesh. My frozen feet also come back alive after walking for the first 40 minutes. At Shy Lake the little things become more precious. Warm feet are definitely a bonus!
This is the seventeenth in a series of posts about Tim’s work, follow the Conservation Blog to keep up to date on his progress.