The wind was strong, but the sun was shining as the first 19 juvenile kaki/black stilt were released onto the Tasman River last week.Continue Reading...
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DOC’s conservation dogs have interesting jobs. Learn more about the role Jazz plays in locating some of our precious native bird species.Continue Reading...
There are far mightier braided rivers in Canterbury, but the modestly sized Ashley-Rakahuri is a taonga of a value disproportionate to its size.
Keen tramper, ornithologist, and photographer Steve Atwood takes us to this ecological gem, just a stone’s throw from Christchurch city…
For the most part the Ashley-Rakahuri weaves through highly modified rural farmland where indigenous natural New Zealand has almost been scrubbed from existence. But the braided river channels of the river itself are a largely unmodified natural environment that has been a unique feature of the Canterbury plains for eons.
Braided rivers are rare in the rest of the world, with New Zealand considered a hot spot, and Canterbury the centre of that, with 59% of the country’s braided river surface area. They are the home of highly adapted braided river specialists, chief among them being the birds.
Among its labyrinthine waterways, dynamic shingle islands and stony banks breed some of the most endangered birds in the world.
In a relatively short span of riverbed quite close to the township of Rangiora nest three of the principle and most threatened braided river specialists: The black-billed gull (the most endangered gull in the world), the unique wrybill (under threat and the only bird in the world with a bill that bends sideways), and the beautiful black-fronted tern (also an endangered species).
Where the Ashley-Rakahuri reaches the sea, just 25 kilometres north of Christchurch, it spreads out into a large, generally unmodified estuary that is ranked as an internationally important wetland with a host of resident and seasonally visiting birds.
It is a vital stopover site for birds migrating up and down the coast, and beyond; including the iconic kuaka (bar-tailed godwit) and other Arctic migrants that live out their winter in our summer.
Unfortunately, the ecological values of these braided river systems are increasingly threatened; most have been invaded by introduced weeds and introduced mammalian predators, and are further degraded by a wide variety of human activities.
From its gorge—a popular swimming picnicking and fishing spot—to its mouth, the Ashley-Rakahuri, being so accessible and so close to Christchurch, is particularly vulnerable to these pressures.
The numbers of birds along the river have declined and its ecological rating downgraded accordingly, from ‘outstanding’ to ‘nationally important.’
But, being so small in comparison to the bigger braided rivers, the Ashley-Rakahuri also offers a unique opportunity for effective intervention; initiatives to protect the river in places where the most threatened of birds are known to feed and breed—predator trapping, weed clearance, public education, vehicle discouragement and monitoring—are showing signs of at least stopping the decline of the endangered species, perhaps even reversing it.
While the protection efforts at the Ashley-Rakahuri focus on the wrybill, black-billed gull and black-fronted tern, many other bird species benefit.
The braided river is home to such other key native species as the tuturiwhatu (banded dotterel – Charadrius bicinctus), the poaka (pied stilt – Himantopus himantopus) and the torea (pied oystercatcher – Haematopus ostralegus).
The very rare kaki (black stilt – Himantopus novaezelandiae) has bred occasionally on the river in recent years (mated with a pied stilt) and over-wintering kaki are regularly seen in small numbers on the estuary.
Migratory wading birds are the spring through to autumn stars of the estuarine environment. Here I have seen godwit, knots, whimbrel and turnstone.
The number of resident species at the estuary is also substantial. Along with the mudflats, dunes, sand and shingle banks are freshwater ponds and creeks, reed and raupo beds, scrublands and grassy flats, providing a multitude of environments for birds to live, breed and feed in.
The native birds I have seen along the Ashley-Rakahuri include: the shags (pied, little, spotted and black); the large waders (Australasian bittern, royal spoonbill, white heron and white-faced heron); the intermediate-sized waders (spur-winged plover, South Island pied oystercatcher and variable oystercatcher and oystercatcher hybrids); the waterfowl (black swan, grey teal, New Zealand shoveler, paradise shelduck, New Zealand scaup and Australian coot); the terns (black-fronted, white-fronted and Caspian); the gulls (red-billed, black-billed and southern black-backed); and the birds of the forest, air and riverbank (harrier, welcome swallow, kingfisher, grey warbler, silvereye, and fantail).
The estuary is also home to large number of introduced game birds such as mallard and Canada geese; and introduced field birds such as skylark, chaffinch, yellowhammer, redpoll, sparrow and goldfinch.
The above lists are by no means exhaustive as they are only my observations; other species are recorded as regular, occasional or rare visitors.
Thanks Steve for letting us share it here on the Conservation Blog.
By DOC Ranger, Cody Thyne
As a ranger based in Twizel the main part of my job is supporting the Kakī Recovery Programme.
Kakī/black stilts are one of New Zealand’s rarest birds and the mission of the Kakī Recovery Programme is to increase their population in the wild and ensure this special bird is not lost for future generations.
As part of a small team of four permanent and a few seasonal staff, my responsibilities involve managing kakī in the wild. This includes counting how many adults are out there; traipsing up and down numerous braided rivers in the Mackenzie Basin searching for breeding pairs; observing and interpreting behaviour; finding their nests; reading leg bands; and collecting eggs from the wild to bring back to the captive rearing facility in Twizel.
Walking up and down large braided rivers isn’t for everyone, particularly if you don’t like uneven ground, stumbling around, getting your feet and other body parts wet, super hot days with no shade, howling winds, abrupt temperature changes, long periods of time staring through a spotting scope with one eye, and your lunchtime sandwiches turning to toast upon being exposed to the dry alpine air. However, the alpine views are breathtaking, and the chance to see wildlife that manages to scrape out a living in this environment, is definitely worth a trip to this part of the country.
The eggs I collect are brought back to the captive rearing facility in Twizel which is also home to a number of kakī pairs for captive breeding.
The facility is where kakī eggs are artificially incubated and the young chicks are raised in captivity.
At 3–9 months they are released into the wild. Rearing them in captivity significantly increases their chances of survival by preventing predation when they are most vulnerable and it also gets them through their first winter, which can be tough for young birds in the wild.
Nick Tomalin was a volunteer with at the captive rearing facility last summer while on sabbatical from The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the United Kingdom.
Nick’s help was hugely appreciated at the busiest time of the year, and he managed to film a great short video about the work that goes on at the facility.
Watch Nick’s video of an average day in the life of a kakī aviculturalist:
By DOC’s Kiersten McKinley, based in South Canterbury
Fingers went numb and noses turned bright red as DOC staff caught kakī/black stilts this morning. It was the first fine day after a southerly blast and the birds were off on an adventure!
Nine staff were needed to catch 43 sub-adult kakī from the Captive Breeding Centre aviaries located in Twizel. The birds were being released today into the Tasman Riverbed near Lake Pukaki – but first they had to be caught!
Armed with large soft nets and a slow, purposeful stride each ranger waited patiently for a young bird to rest on the aviary floor. It’s unhurried and cautious work – one fast or sudden move and these fragile birds could end up with a serious injury. Some of the birds managed to get their bills poked through the soft capture nets so another ranger was flagged to assist in the delicate extraction operation. The long, slender bill of a kakī actually has tiny, fine serrations on it which makes it fabulous for getting caught in nets!
Once caught each bird underwent a thorough health check and was carefully weighed. A sub-adult bird is nine months of age and the majority of birds weighed around 200 grams – less than half a tub of margarine! What they lack in weight though they more than make up for in spirit. These are feisty birds and they were certainly ready to spread their wings!
All the kakī were placed into sturdy plywood boxes and then transported to the release site where they were set free by local school children and interested members of the public.
Take part in a kakī release:
Two kakī releases are scheduled every year around August or September. If you would like to attend the next one email DOC Ranger Cody Thyne. It’s a wonderful experience and a chance to see these rare birds up close.
Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Today we profile Glen Curral, Biodiversity/Assets Ranger in Twizel.
Some things I do in my job include… trapping cats and mustelids etc. As time allows I get involved with electric fishing, kaki (black stilt) work, and anything else I can help with.
The best bit about my job is… working outdoors with views of Mt Cook, and the variety my role allows.
The funniest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… when I was in a hurry to get a block of traps checked ahead of the forecasted snow later that evening and the quad bike became stuck. And when I say stuck I mean it took me five hours of digging to get out. I kept myself motivated with the thought of avoiding the dreaded office shout and the shame that goes with it. What I didn’t know at the time was that my workmate trapping in the next block had got his quad stuck as well, but had to abandon it as there was no way he could dig it out on his own, so had legged it back to the truck. I guess you could say it was just one of those days. The upside was the forecasted snow never came so we were able to winch out his quad the next day.
The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… as I haven’t been with the department for that long I am yet to meet this person.
On a personal note…
The song that always cheers me up is… definitely Bob Marley “Three Little Birds”.
My best ever holiday was… recently when my partner Melanie and I travelled to Canada, Austria, Germany, Italy, Denmark, England, France, and for the grand finale, two days at Disney Land, LA. I’m still in that place where you think about it every day and smile. It was such an awesome experience that I can’t wait to travel again.
My greatest sporting moment was when… I ran the length of the field side stepping and fending off players to score under the posts in a high school rugby match at the tender age of 14. When I walked off the field at the end of the game, one of the 1st fifteen boys said, “You looked like John Kirwan the way you scored that try”. I was stoked.
In my spare time I… have just started down the long road of becoming a “Master bow hunter”. I am now consumed by how many game points I need to gain the next award. I see animals as points (rabbit 2, hare 5). You are probably thinking ‘Is this an illness?’ The short answer is yes. Damn you Rhys Garside! Lol.
If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be… a Falcon, without question…. Just think: no boundaries, total freedom. That’s what I’m talking about.
By Kiersten McKinley
Assistance from private land owners helped create a record breeding season for the nationally critical threatened kakī/black stilt this year, but not before giving DOC’s Twizel staff the run around.
Each year rangers collect kakī eggs from the wild, and up to six captive pairs, for safe incubation at the Captive Breeding Centre in Twizel.
Last spring, when it came time to find nests in the normal riverbed and wetland sites, staff couldn’t find many. Either the population had declined or they had nested elsewhere. Luckily it was the latter: A particular rainy start to the season saw many wet areas and ponds form on private land. These made attractive nesting sites for this threatened wading bird.
“We put the word out that we needed help to locate adult breeding pairs and got a fantastic response. We had one farmer who rang up to say he had found four eggs and he’d wait until we picked them up before moving his sheep into the paddock,” said Biodiversity Ranger Simone Cleland.
“Another farmer spotted a likely nest from the seat of his tractor. He called up straight away so that we could rescue the eggs and he could carry on working!”
“The farmers I dealt with were very in-tune with their environment and knew exactly what birds they were looking at,” said Biodiversity Ranger Cody Thyne.
“Some people have trouble distinguishing kakī from pied stilts or even oystercatchers, but these farmers were extremely observant and reliable informants.”
It wasn’t only farmers that responded to DOC’s request for help. Sam Staley, the caretaker stationed at Lake Tekapo Military Camp, rang up on several occasions during the season to report the location of juvenile kakī.
Soon the eggs were rolling in; 172 all up, and that put extra pressure on Aviculturist Liz Brown and her team at the captive rearing centre.
“We managed to successfully incubate and hatch 134 chicks, of which 125 survived to fledge – well up on our previous best of 111,” says Liz.
Nearly half of all the wild eggs collected over summer came from eight high country stations in the Mackenzie and Waitaki basins. And, while we’ve always had good ongoing communication with these landowners, the cooperation this season has been excellent and we hope to maintain and develop this relationship in the future.
31 of the chicks were released near Tekapo in January, as the capacity of the aviaries to hold birds had been reached. The remainder of the young kakī will be held over winter and released in August this year. If they can survive the first few years then rangers may be collecting their eggs in the future too.