– By Neil Hutton, DOC Ranger.
Sometimes being a DOC Ranger can be a bit lonely with long days in the bush far away from the comforts of civilisation, family, and loved ones. Valentine’s Day is no exception. Luckily for DOC Ranger Jacob De Vries, this Valentine’s Day when he’s in the Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tane Conservation Park in the Central North Island he’ll be surrounded by hundreds of ducklings!
After an extensive survey by rangers, volunteers, and a detection dog, the 2019 Whirinaki whio count is in with at least 107 ducklings confirmed. “Considering there are only an estimated 3000 whio left in the world, over 100 whio ducklings in one security site is an outstanding result,” says Jacob.
Jacob wouldn’t have been able to count all those ducklings without some help. Six volunteers along with Beau the detection dog all spent long stints wading through the crystal-clear and ice-cold rivers. Volunteer John Black was so committed to counting ducklings he even spent New Year’s Eve at Central Whirinaki Hut: “Whio are masters of disguise who look just like stones in the river until they move. Seeing new ducklings is really rewarding – they are little fluff balls that never stray too far away from their parents.”
Because of how good whio are at hiding, the survey also included two trips from Beau the whio detection dog to ensure the results were accurate. With so many ducklings to count even Jacob’s family got in on the action with his partner and nephew both taking multiple trips to help with the survey. When asked if she minded him spending so much time with all these ducklings, Jacob’s partner Brooke responded: “Some people count sheep to fall asleep but I’m pretty sure Jacob is still counting whio ducklings.”
In total, the survey involved 370 volunteer hours and 30km of river surveyed.
Why are there so many ducklings in the Whirinaki Forest this year? There are currently 38 adult breeding pairs in the Whirinaki Whio Security Site. Whio face strong pressures from introduced pest species such as rats and stoats. During the nesting season, whio females are especially vulnerable while trying to hatch their eggs. Nest cameras show that nearly 95% of nests fail in areas without pest control.
To protect nesting mothers in the Whirinaki Whio Security Site hundreds of kilometres of traplines with 1800 DOC200s have been established with the support of Genesis. In addition to trapping, the Whirinaki also benefits from regular Battle For Our Birds operations. Because the Whirinaki Forest is an ideal environment for whio, when pests are managed the population grows rapidly. As these ducklings grow-up they may travel to adjacent forests and repopulate areas that no longer have whio further helping the species’ long-term success.
Genesis General Manager Corporate Relations and WhioForever committee member, Emma-Kate Greer, said that the results show real progress is being made in restoring whio numbers in predator protected security sites. “What an amazing Valentine’s Day present for this hard-working DOC team. These whio ducklings are living proof that the team’s diligence, care and energy in protecting this species is paying off.”
The Whirinaki Forest is one of the best places in the world to see whio. The majority of the park’s easy tramping tracks follow rivers and pass directly through the security site. In particular, the Whirinaki Track and the Moerangi Track offer overnight experiences, backcountry huts, and plenty of opportunity to see whio.
With over 100 notoriously cute and fluffly whio ducklings, for Jacob, no doubt Valentine’s Day in the bush will be a heartfelt-delight this year.
More information on the Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tane Conservation Park is available online including three new brochures which are downloadable as PDFs.