Archives For Chatham Islands

Helen Murphy has done it all — a teacher, builder’s labourer, volunteer fire fighter and now Administration Officer for DOC on the Chatham Islands.

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DOC Director-General, Lou Sanson, gives us the run-down on happenings in the Chathams after his recent visit.

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Titi, or sooty shearwaters, have one of the longest migrations of any bird on the planet.

Department of Conservation sea bird scientist, Graeme Taylor, is on Rangatira Island, in the Chatham Islands, to find out where they go.

His team employ a novel approach to try to retrieve 16 geolocators in 10 days.

Have a watch…

Rangatira Island, is one of New Zealand’s premier sea bird islands. It is free of all introduced pests and it is riddled with sea bird burrows.

22 May 2014 International Day for Biological Diversity. Island Biodiversity is the theme for today’s International Day for Biological Diversity.

To celebrate, DOC ranger Tansy Bliss writes about her job protecting the biodiversity on New Zealand’s Chatham Islands…

It’s May and the busy season of species protection work on the islands of Mangere and Rangatira in the Chatham Islands is coming to a close.

Rangatira Island on the horizon.

Rangatira Island, the third largest island in the Chatham Islands archipelago

It is often hard to find time for quiet reflection, but our final day on Rangatira sums up what is has all been about.

Naomi Muhlbacher, Islands hold a Chatham Petrel chick.

Naomi Muhlbacher holds a Chatham petrel chick

Trainee Ranger, Naomi Muhlbacher, holds a Chatham petrel chick. It lives in an artificial burrow installed in the nineties to help protect one of the rarest seabirds in the world and reduce burrow invasion by broad-billed prions.

With an estimated 300,000 prion pairs on Rangatira, and only 150 known Chatham Petrel pairs, competition for burrows is high.

I am fitting the chick with a metal band, so when it returns to breed in 3-5 years time, its identity can be verified.

This island was farmed up until the late fifties and most of the burrowing seabirds lost their home to heavy footed cattle and wandering sheep. Now the ground is so pitted with burrows, we wear wooden boards on our feet to prevent us damaging them further.

A black robin comes in to take advantage of the loosened soil and insects I have scooped out of the plastic tunnel entrance to ensure the chick has free passage to come in and out when exercising its wings ready for departure over the next few weeks.

Black robin. Photo: Leon Berard | CC BY 2.0.

Black robin

Chatham Island red-crowned parakeets chatter above us in competition with the Chatham Island tūī, fluttering from tree to tree, with constant vocalisations.

A Chatham Island snipe snuffles through the leaf litter, totally unperturbed by our presence and a male Chatham Island tomtit, sounds his alarm as he wards off the black robin from the fresh feeding ground.

Chatham Island red-crowned parakeet.

Chatham Island red-crowned parakeet

Last month a team of highly skilled volunteers and I scoured the island searching for black robin—completing the annual banding and post-breeding census.

On an island with almost 200 hectares of potential robin habitat, it is quite a job.

Currently there are 229 known colour-banded adult black robins and 70 juveniles on Rangatira. The nearby island of Mangere is smaller and with less than 10 hectares of mature forest, and holds a population of 45 adults and 9 juveniles. With this being the entire population of black robin in the world, protecting them is high on our priority list.

Trying to catch black robin in a drop trap.

A young black robin inspects the drop trap looking for a meal worm

Before leaving Rangatira, we recheck all the coastal bait stations for sign of nibbling rodents and ensure all bait is fresh and ready for any unwanted arrivals. The rough seas around the islands and the rat free status of the nearest neighbour, Pitt Island, has probably helped keep the islands pest free. However bio-security is still the most important job I do and the responsibility of getting it right every time feels enormous.

Today, we pause to relax in the sun on the lichen covered rocks with the skinks and shore plover, all of us enjoying some unexpected late autumn warmth. Chatham Island warblers pick insects from the lichen and bull kelp thrown high on the coast during the recent storms. A Chatham Island fantail displays in the fringing Olearia trees and a pair of Chatham Island oystercatchers stand proud in the spray zone separated from the frolicking fur seals by a rolling ocean of breaking blue.

For us in the Chatham Islands, every day is an ‘Island Biodiversity Day’.

Antipodean wandering albatross chick atop Hapeka on Pitt Island

By Dave Houston

Remote Ranger

For 5 years Kenny Dix was DOC’s ranger in New Zealand’s most remote community – Pitt Island.  Situated 25km south of Chatham Island, the 6,000 ha Pitt Island is home to around 30 people – and one pair of Antipodean wandering albatross.

Now working on the “big smoke” of Chatham Island, Kenny recently took the opportunity to return to Pitt to band the wandering albatross chick atop Hakepa, one of the islands high points.   This is the sixth Antipodean wandering albatross chick to be raised on Pitt Island and the fouth for the Hapeka pair.  Taking almost a full year to raise, this chick will hopefully fledge in January and commence wandering the Southern Ocean.  It may be up to 10 years before the chick settles down and breeds for the first time.

Northern Antipodes?

As the name suggests, the primary home of the Antipodean wandering albatross are the Antipodes Islands, some 700km to the south.  Having visited the Antipodes myself, I can see why Hakepa’s windswept plateau,  tussock and fern vegetation and magnificent views seem like home to the albatross.

Kenny Dix and Albatross

Kenny with one of the proud albatross parents

Southern neighbours

Another pair of albatross at the Southern end of Pitt produced a chick two years ago, however failed to return this year to breed.  We’re hoping that they might show up next year so than Kenny can keep up his banding skills.

Pitt Island panorama

Pitt Island

By Juzah Zammit-Ross

A long history of restoration

Mangere Island in the Chatham’s provides an important predator-free refuge to many rare and endemic invertebrates, birds and plants. Restoration first started on the island in the 1970’s with the Wildlife Service planting akeake shelterbelts in Douglas Basin and on the Top Plateau in an effort to expand the habitat available to black robins. Since the early 1990’s tens of thousands of akeake have been planted on the island thanks to the Tuanui and Moffet families and planting contractors.

Mangere plantings 1981

Plantings in Douglas Basin in 1981. Photo: Dave Crouchley

Diversification

As part of the ongoing restoration I led a team of seven people in a week of planting on the island in June.  Although the weather was a bit on the miserable side (gale force winds, very cold and hail most days), we kept warm carrying the heavy bags of plants from the boat landing up to the planting area in the basin.  We managed to plant 1850 plants under the emerging canopy, adding diversity amongst older plantings many of which are self seeding and spreading naturally in the basin.

Mangere and Douglas Basin

Looking over Mangere’s Douglas Basin towards Little Mangere

Local produce

The species planted this trip included Chatham Island nikau, kawakawa, hoho (Pseudopanax chathamica), ngaio, mahoe, ribbonwood and matipo. All the plants were eco-sourced, meaning the seeds were collected locally from Mangere, Pitt and South East Islands and were grown in the DOC nursery at Te One before being transported to Mangere and planted.

Tree planting

Filling in the gaps

But wait, there’s more…

As well as planting, we also cleared tracks, checked rat bait stations, ran rodent tracking tunnels and collected seed for future plantings. We also had the opportunity to visit Robin Bush to view the black robins and walk up to the summit  to enjoy the spectacular views of Mangere, Little Mangere and Pitt Island. Next year will be the last year of akeake planting on the island however diversification plantings will carry on for the next ten years as part of the long-term ecological restoration of Mangere Island.

Mangere planting team

Mangere Island winter planting team 2012: Pete Lusk, Nadia Thomas, Ryan Jones, Juzah Zammit-Ross, Mike Van Velzen, Colin Bishop and Denny Prendeville

 

By Dave Houston

Mid-winter opportunity to work on Chatham petrel burrows

In early July each year a small group of DOC workers head out to Rangatira or South East Island in the Chatham’s to undertake end of season work on the Chatham petrel burrows.  This year we decided to give Chatham Island school children an opportunity to join us and experience the magic of Rangatira.

Rangatira Island

Rangatira or South East Island

We were joined by Year 11 Correspondence School students Harriet Graydon and Mia Foley, both of Pitt Island, along with Chatham Islander Jacob Hill, a Year 12 student at St Bedes College, for the 4-day trip. 

After completing quarantine procedures designed to keep the islands pest-free, we caught an early morning fishing-boat ride from the main island to Pitt, to pick up Mia and Harriet.  After a brief stop and exchange of mail and supplies, we departed for the forty minute trip to Rangatira.

The landing

Landing on Rangatira

Rangatira residents

No jetty means a bow landing on the rock platform and a frantic passing ashore of the buckets containing our food and gear, but the team handled it flawlessly. 

As soon as we were ashore we bumped into our first special species, the shore plover.  Once abundant around the coasts of New Zealand, this plucky little shorebird was eradicated by rats and survived only on Rangatira.  Fortunately, it has now been returned to several mainland sites.

Chatham Island black robin

Chatham Island black robin

While hauling the buckets up to the hut we bumped into our next special resident – the black robin.  With around 200 birds, Rangatira is the stronghold for the species and over the next few days we got to see quite a few as they jumped out of the forest at us in anticipation of a mealworm handout.

After settling in we fitted everyone out with petrel boards – special footwear designed to prevent us collapsing seabird burrows as we walked around the island.  We then set off on our main task, checking 250 burrows of the endangered Chatham Island petrel

After checking that this years chicks had successfully fledged (and unfortunately a few didn’t), we did a bit of housekeeping and then put a barricade in front of the entrance to stop other seabirds taking up residence while the petrels are away over the winter.

Checking chatham petrel burrow

Mia, Harriet and Jacob checking a Chatham petrel burrow

While wandering around the forest for a few days we got the opportunity to see more island residents – including the Chatham Island species of snipe, parakeets, tui, tomtit, warbler and skink. 

On our first night we hoped to introduce the visitors to the many seabirds and abundant invertebrates that call the island home.  Unfortunately, the great weather and full moon kept all the seabirds at sea so we had to be content listening to blue penguins braying in the forest.

Petrel boards

Fancy footwear: Petrel boards reduce damage to the many seabird
burrows in the forest floor

Reluctant return

All too soon it was time to pack up, lug the gear back to the landing and await the arrival of our ride.  Our skipper Glen King treated us to the scenic route on the way home, travelling around the bottom and up the western side of Pitt Island, taking in views of Mangere and Little Mangere Islands on the way as well as taking us into an impressive sea cave.

Rangatira view

Harriet, Mia and Jacob enjoying the view from the summit of Rangatira.
Pitt Island in background

Mia and Harriet’s  families were waiting on the wharf at Flowerpot when we arrived, glad to see their kids home safe and just a bit jealous of the experience.  Jacob had to endure another hour-long crossing of Pitt Strait before he could head home, but the experience can’t have been to bad as he wants to come back when we open up the petrel burrows again in November.  I think he’ll have some competition, as the girls want to go too.

Trip home

Jacob and Harriet enjoying the trip home along with
Ranger Juzah Zammit-Ross