Two weeks in dense Great Barrier Island forest isn’t everyone’s thing, but for the nationally vulnerable seabird, the takoketai/black petrel, this is where they hang out to breed. This is also where Sir Peter Blake-DOC Ambassador James Ranstead is studying them.Continue Reading...
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By making a pledge for Conservation Week last year, Gisbornites Robyn and Peter went into a draw to win a trip for four to Great Barrier Island — a prize they were lucky enough to win.
So, thrilled and excited, they took their seven year old twins Jake and Lucy on the ‘trip of a lifetime’. Peter tells us about it:
The alarm buzzing at 5:30 am signalled the beginning of our Great Barrier Island adventure, after weeks of anticipation.
I was allowed to be in the co-pilot’s seat for our commute to Claris Airport on Great Barrier Island, where DOC Ranger, Fenella Christian, greeted us.
Our vehicle was waiting and we headed up the drive to settle into our accommodation — The Lookout Homestead.
On Friday we drove to Okiwi Station to help rangers George and Adam monitor pāteke ducks. This involved creeping up to the verges of the reserves and carefully counting and recording the number of residents. It’s obvious that DOC staff have gone to great lengths to re-create a habitat that offers the ducks a place to breed away from predators.
On Saturday and Sunday we drove on to Whangaparapara and Blind Bay. I pointed out the Old Whaling Station and we were entertained with gannets and shags diving for fish right next to Whangaparapara Wharf.
Sunday’s calmer weather allowed for a swim at Gooseberry Flat beach, touring around and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of the island.
On Monday, we met Fenella and her husband Peter at the track entrance to the Kaitoke Swamp, and walked to the hot springs. We all enjoyed a swim and lunch in this amazing location and on the return walk noticed an eel swimming under the bridge.
We were introduced to the shoe-cleaning stations to stop the spread of kauri dieback. We commented on the work done by DOC with the elevated walkways, and the excellent maintenance of the tracks.
The next day we were up early to prepare for a tramp up Mount Heale. Ranger Becs met us and we were off to the track entrance via Windy Canyon. This is a walk not to be missed!
With Becs’ encouragement we all set off to Mt Hobson Lookout. Becs’ ability to keep us all motivated, made the long hike enjoyable, but physically demanding all the same.
While we stopped for a rest and bite, we were told of DOC’s concerns with cats and rats killing black petrel. We came across a number of traps.
We all lost count of the many steps, both man-made and natural, and the elevated walkways are testament to the efforts made to protect the natural habitat for breeding success of the petrel.
Having made the final fork in the track, we dropped packs and climbed the final steps to the summit – wow, what a view!
After the obligatory photos we descended more steps to arrive at the Mt Heale Hut for the night.
Wednesday dawned fine. As we had a plane to catch, we had to return to the track and made good progress back to the summit fork, where we met Claudia, monitoring black petrel.
We were all given the unique experience of cradling a young, fluffy bundle of black petrel chick.
We were cautioned the only damage that this chick would do to us was to be pooed upon, or have a belly full of fish-meal spewed into our laps.
This was a highlight for us all! Fortunately neither poo nor spew happened!
We made good progress down the track and got back to the road with an hour to spare. We ate a farewell lunch at The Lunch Box, then took our flights home.
Jake’s and Lucy’s favourite part of the whole trip was getting the chance to hold the baby black petrel.
Thanks to all involved who conceived, planned and executed this “trip of a lifetime”.
To the team at DOC, please keep up the great work you are doing to preserve New Zealand’s natural indigenous species, so that Jake and Lucy and future generations have the ability to retrace these trips.
By Lisa Hamker, Visitor Centre Ranger at Paparoa National Park.
Last month I shared a photo of one of our newest, cutest, and fluffiest additions here on the West Coast — a one month old Westland black petrel chick in its burrow just south of Punakaiki.
One month later and look what the fluffy petrel chick has turned into!
Like all children, this one grew up very fast, and has turned into an almost adult looking Westland black petrel. He has kept his handsome smile though, as well as some fluff on his belly.
His parents fed him well but, when he got too chubby to fit through the tunnel to get out of the burrow, they left him to get back into fighting fit shape for his next big adventure — flying practice!
Flying practice involves jumping off a cliff, launching into the air and, most of the time, a not so graceful crash landing. Good luck petrel, we’ve got our fingers crossed for you!
Thanks to Bruce Stuart-Menteath from Paparoa Nature Tours for the photograph.
By Lisa Hamker, Visitor Centre Ranger at Paparoa National Park.
The chick’s parents still come in for feeding time in the evenings by doing an “elegant” crash landing in the canopy. They then drop to the ground, looking slightly disorientated for a few minutes, before regaining composure and waddling off to their burrow to have a noisy and somewhat reproachful chat with their partner. A bit like: “Did you actually forget to bring the Hoki? Do I now have to fly ALL THE WAY back to Hokitika to get one!”
In the morning mum and/or dad petrel will have to jump off the cliff to get airborne as their legs are too short to get them going on even ground. And off to another day at sea. Isn’t it amazing what these guys take on to raise their chick?
But let’s be honest – who wouldn’t, looking at a fluffy thing like that?
Today’s post was provided by the Southern Seabird Solutions Trust. The trust is a partnership between the commercial fishing industry, WWF and the government.
At this time of year there is plenty of night time activity at the top of Mt Hobson/Hirakimata on Great Barrier Island. Black petrel chicks, with new glossy adult feathers, are coming out of their nest burrows and furiously flapping their wings. When they feel strong they waddle to a prominent rock and launch themselves, flying off towards South America where they stay for a few years before returning to find a mate and nest.
Black petrels used to breed on high points throughout the North Island and top of the South Island, often flying far inland to nest. They played an important role in the health of the forest, bringing rich nutrients into the ecosystem from the sea. Their droppings, eggshells, and dead chicks were deposited in the forest and they aerated the soil with their digging, acting like little composters.
This annual foray inland went on for millions of years. After the arrival of people the mainland colonies slowly disappeared as habitat destruction and predation by rats, cats, stoats, and pigs got the better of them. There are now about 15,000 black petrels left in the world, and of these only around 2,000 breeding pairs.
Whitianga and Leigh longline fishermen Adam Clow, Wayne Dreadon, Gavin Perry, Clayton White, and Mark Dellow, along with Leigh Fisheries employee Angela Cole, and boat builder Mitch Pascoe, recently joined Biz Bell, Seabird Researcher, on top of Great Barrier Island to help band black petrels before they flew off.
“Five minutes after meeting Biz I was up to my armpit in a black petrel burrow, carefully pulling a bird out then holding it while she banded it,” Gavin says.
“They’re smart birds and have an extraordinary homing sense. On land the path they use is like a bird highway at night, as black petrels from nearby burrows waddle to the rock they take off from. After the chicks have left for South America the parent birds fly there too and, the following spring, they fly back to their burrows and meet the same old partner.”
It was also an amazing day for Adam: “The biggest thing for me was the realisation of how special and smart these birds are and how rare they are. I learned that they have a low survival rate and that fishermen here and in South America play a part in their decline.”
Gavin says that no fishermen like catching birds and he and others in his fleet follow the Leigh Commercial Fishermen’s Code of Practice, developed by Leigh fishermen over 20 years ago.
Wayne, Adam and Gavin agree the dangerous time is when they’re setting gear before dawn and birds want to dive on the baited hooks. They use tori lines to keep the birds out of the danger zone and weights to sink the baited hooks fast so the birds won’t dive on them. They make sure the deck lights point in inwards to minimise the visual presence of the boat at sea. And they hold scraps onboard when there are hooks in the water – tipping a bucket of fish scraps overboard is like a dinner gong for seabirds.
“This experience hammered in the vulnerability of these birds and their importance as a species. It gave me a totally new respect for them. It would be great if all fishermen did this trip to the colony at least once,” Gavin says.
“Our fleet has been aware of the risk to seabirds for many years and we will continue to do our bit to protect them, and to help others. A few years back a Leigh fisherman went to Peru to talk to fishermen over there about ways to avoid catching seabirds.”
Wayne agrees that helping band black petrels was a primo experience. “Watching them waddle to their take-off rock and fly off, into the night, was a primeval experience. These birds have been doing this, from this place, for thousands of years. All fishermen are obligated to work as a team to look after black petrels so they will continue to have a place, here, for thousands of years to come.”