Counting whio in Fiordland – A Genesis experience

Department of Conservation —  18/01/2022

Over the past 10 years Genesis has partnered with DOC to support whio recovery through the Whio Forever Programme.

Last year David Haydock, a Generation Controller at the Huntly Power Station, had the chance to represent Genesis on a DOC whio survey in Fiordland.

David, who has worked for Genesis for 37 years, leapt at the opportunity. “I was hosted by Max Smart of the Te Anau DOC Office and his colleagues Kate Clapshaw and Emily Chirnside. 

“The survey was supposed to go ahead in late November.  It had to be put off twice due to too much rain but in mid-December we were good to go.”

“Along with Max’s Conservation Dog Falco and a Milford Track hut warden we were flown in by Southern Lakes Helicopters.

“The survey area was the Clinton Valley of Fiordland National Park, famous for the Milford Track before it heads up over McKinnon Pass and down the Arthur Valley to Milford Sound.

“Given the highly remote nature of the rivers being surveyed, this was an overnight adventure staying in small DOC worker huts.

“Emily surveyed the Neale Burn River staying overnight in the bivi there before finishing at the Milford Track, a distance of about 14 km. She saw two whio pairs, one with three ducklings, and a single whio.

“Kate surveyed the north branch of the Clinton River to Clinton Forks Hut then up to Hirere Falls the following day, also a distance of about 14km. She spotted five pairs with two both having two ducklings.

“Max and I started at Mintaro Hut then surveyed down the Clinton River to the Little House where we stayed the night. Next day we went through to Hirere Falls, about 13km in all. Over that distance we saw 13 pairs, one of which had a single duckling, and four single whio.

“The numbers counted in each river were what was expected to be seen.

“We did about six to seven hours of travel each day mostly in rivers scrambling over rocks, often slippery. We made countless river crossings, the volume and velocity of the water increasing with each crossing. The water was up to hip-deep in places, and I’m 1.8m!

“If we weren’t in the river, we bush bashed round tricky sections which weren’t for the faint-hearted.

“The picture of Falco shows him doing exactly what he should – standing still and looking in the direction of the whio with his tail pointing. Above Falco’s head is a juvenile Paradise Duck in which he showed absolutely no interest.”

“There are several trap lines for stoats and feral cats in the area. There are also motion sensor cameras mounted on trees along the Milford Track to help identify pests not being caught by the traps.”

“It was great to get to see what Genesis’ efforts in predator control have done to protect whio, the number of breeding pairs has tripled in the last decade.”