The start of September marked the beginning of the third monitoring season for the Fiordland tokoeka at Shy Lake. Today’s post comes from ranger Karen, who has joined the Shy Lake team for the season.
It’s been several years since I last visited Shy Lake and I’ve been looking forward to seeing what all the birds are up to. It is great to see how the project has developed. The addition of the two bivvies, (one even has heating!) and several cut trails has made field work easier and more comfortable. Being able to cover a bit more ground in a day and come home at night to a cosy hut and enter data, cook a meal, and sort gear without kea messing with it makes a huge difference to what we can achieve in our short trips.
Before leaving for Shy lake there is the usual prep work to do including sorting gear, booking transport and buying food – Tim has it down to a pretty fine art these days so we were able to prepare for the trip within an afternoon. Part of the preparation for this trip involved reviewing the Sky Ranger data from the flight the week before. Sky Ranger flights involve a fixed wing aeroplane with a receiver flying a grid over the study site. The receiver is able to pick up signals from the kiwi’s smart transmitters and give us information on the activity levels of the birds – which birds are alive, dead, or incubating an egg. It’s always quite interesting to get the results back. It’s a handy tool and allows us to have an idea of what is happening on the ground before we even arrive at the site – useful for planning what we will be doing on the trip and it saves a lot of time!
Tim and I set off on a beautiful sunny day and were dropped off by the helicopter on the northeast side of Shy Lake. We were lucky that the blanket of snow that the tracking tunnel team had encountered a few days prior had receded somewhat, making it much easier to get around. However, there were still some knee-deep patches of snow to challenge us. Our goal for this trip was to collect transmitter signals from the birds and start nest finding for those birds that we knew were already incubating. On our first day we found Bones’ and Cake’s new nests and set up trailcams to watch for the visits of predators and the arrival of chicks. Bones had picked a lovely spot that was convenient for monitoring while Cake had chosen his old nest from 2017. Feeling satisfied with our progress we began the long slog back up hill to the hut. After a few months with limited field work for both of us we were happy to finally be rewarded with the view from the Shy Lake bivvy site at the top of the hill.
It was a great feeling to sink into bed for an early night. It was amazingly calm and still with not a breath of wind… then the gang of six kea arrived. They quickly decided that the lid of the plywood boot box by the door of the bivvy was a great thing to play with and they spent many hours lifting the lid as far as they could, and then dropping it with a thud… then repeating. They sure got a buzz out of it! It’s hard to be grumpy when they are having such a fun time and its pretty special to see so many kea at once.
The next day we spent the morning recording a few more transmitter signals for the remaining kiwi. I found a comfy spot on a high point and settled down with my aerial propped in the fork of a tree above me to free my hands so I could easily write down the outputs. The transmitter outputs can take some time to write out, and if you miss a number you must wait for the whole sequence to complete so you can start again from the start. Mid-way through my last output the signal suddenly went fuzzy and cut out. I heard a noise above me and looked up to see a kea perched on the aerial with the cable of the aerial in its sharp beak. Luckily, I caught it just in time and learnt a valuable lesson about never taking my eye off anything when the kea are around!
Over the 3-day trip we found 9 nests and set up trail cameras at each of them. Several of the birds had re-used nests from previous years while others had found new more challenging places for us to get to. Shy lake has some steep cliffs which can ‘bounce’ the telemetry signal meaning it sounds stronger in the opposite direction to the bird – more than once we have headed off in the wrong direction only to realise we are following a bouncing signal – that, combined with some thick scrub and the odd bluff makes finding the nests easier said than done!
Now we have we have cameras on the nests it will be interesting to go back next trip and see what has been happening. Although knowing the impact of stoats from the past two years of monitoring the kiwi will be very lucky if their chicks manage to survive long.
This is the twenty-first in a series of posts about Tim’s work, follow the Conservation Blog to keep up to date on his progress.