Ōwhango is alive with bird chorus

Department of Conservation —  20/05/2022

The growing success of the Whio Forever Recovery Programme couldn’t be achieved without the efforts of our nationwide community partners. Ruapehu District conservation community group Ōwhango Alive is focused on the recovery of birdlife in the Ohinetonga Scenic Reserve and plays an important role in saving the threatened whio.

Concerned about the lack of birdlife in Ohinetonga Scenic Reserve, which sits on the boundary of Tongariro Forest Park, locals Mark and Sally decided to take action. The Tongariro Forest Park is one of five national kiwi sanctuaries, home to the threatened whio (blue duck) and weweia (dabchick), as well as pōpokatea (whitehead) and toutouwai (North Island robin).

Ōwhango Alive celebrates World Rivers Day with a community tree planting mission.

“We missed the birdsong in the area, it used to echo throughout the reserve. We’ve seen the destruction predators have caused, so we founded our conservation group Ōwhango Alive,” Sally says. The group’s mission is to protect and enhance the environment of the Ohinetonga Scenic Reserve, Whakapapa River and Ōwhango village for the benefit of the native flora and fauna and the enjoyment of locals and visitors.

Mark says when they started work in 2011 they were concerned people would dismiss their conservation efforts and label them as tree huggers.  However, the community’s response was quite the opposite. “We started as a group of just four local residents managing 20 traps, but we’ve grown to a group of 30 of us managing close to 300 traps,” he says. “The more volunteers we have, the more we can do. You can have all the money in the world, but without people, we can’t make anything happen!”

Whio release on April 22nd at the “Swimming Hole” in the Ohinetonga Scenic Reserve.

The threatened whio are thriving under Ōwhango Alive’s volunteer programme. Sally has nicknamed a group of 18 whio she’s seen speeding down the Whakapapa river together in autumn ‘the youth club’. An abundance of whio is a great sign – whio are indicator species, where you see whio you can be sure the river is clean, clear and healthy.

Trapping has proved hugely successful for the group in recovering native bird populations. Over 6,700 predators have been trapped in the bush by volunteers. “It’s great when you hear people say things like: ‘Wow, I haven’t heard birdlife like that before’, and start describing the birds that they’ve seen to you,” says Sally.

Ōwhango Alive and local DOC rangers host Ngakonui Valley School for some lessons on conservation.

Ōwhango Alive is active in their community, educating locals and visitors about predator control, identifying birdlife, flora and fauna, and encouraging enthusiasm for the cause. With numerous trap lines operating Mark and Sally are seeing (or we should say, hearing) the fruits of their labour: “Ōwhango is alive!”.If you’d like to get involved with Ōwhango Alive and their conservation journey they hold regular meetings and working bees. You can also sponsor a trap. Find them on Facebook, or contact them by email to volunteer: owhangoalive@yahoo.com