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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’.

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.

The amazing view from the track on Great Barrier Island.

Peter and Robyn with Lucy and Jake

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.

Plane to catch to Great Barrier Island.

The Fly My Sky chariot

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.

Counting pāteke on Great Barrier Island.

49 pāteke in one pond

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.

Twins Lucy and Jake beside a pāteke sign.

Lucy and Jake watching out for pāteke

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 view from The Lookout Homestead on Great Barrier Island.

The view from The Lookout Homestead

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.

Lucy holding a black petrel.

Lucy holding her new black petrel friend

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 Amy Brasch, Partnerships Ranger, Wellington

An island biosecurity hui was recently held on Matiu/Somes Island to review the best island biosecurity management practices, current biosecurity procedures, and to discuss methods for increasing awareness and participation.

Local iwi, DOC rangers, relevant community groups, island associates and media gathered on Matiu/Somes Island to review the importance of island biosecurity and discuss opportunities for strengthening procedures.

Emma Dunning (DOC) welcoming the visitors to Matiu-Somes.

Welcoming the visitors to Matiu-Somes

The hui was not only a great opportunity to hear biosecurity ideas and improve our practices, but also to share those ideas with our partners that help us care for these incredible islands. The reality is there will always be biosecurity risks to our islands.

Attendees of the biosecurity hui on Matiu/Somes Island.

Biosecurity hui

DOC Island Services Rangers and other DOC staff work hard to keep these islands pest-free by putting considerable effort into removing and controlling pests and carrying out appropriate quarantine measures on islands.

Pest plants and animals can have detrimental effects on native biodiversity, so it was great to partner up with local iwi and businesses to figure out ways to keep pest animals and plants off the islands together.

Matiu/Somes Island.

Matiu/Somes Island