Archives For Mana Island

By Jeff Hall, Biodiversity Ranger, Mana Island.

The takahē population on Mana Island have had a few new pairings formed over recent months, as a result of the sort of behaviour that could only be likened to an episode of “Days of our Lives” or “The Young and the Restless”.

Fence around takahē home on Mana Island.

Takahē home on Mana Island

While it is not always a good idea to anthropomorphise a wild animals behaviour, the antics of one of our recent immigrants does seem to warrant it.

McCaw (named when she hatched soon after the All Blacks won the 2011 Rugby World Cup) came to Mana Island from Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds for an “arranged marriage” with one of our young lads.

McCaw spent three weeks in a large enclosure with her new suitor, Nohorua. They appeared to be getting along, but as it turned out she had other plans. The male from another pair that lived beside the enclosure had caught her eye. Within a couple of days of release McCaw left Nohorua, and used her youthful energy and good looks to split up the long established pairing of Kat and Santi.

Two takahē on Mana Island.

McCaw and Santi the takahē are nesting

But like all good day time television dramas these heart breaking acts had a happy outcome for some; McCaw and Santi have just started nesting. Kat – after licking her wounds and shaking her tail feathers has landed herself a younger man in Hori. But what of the jilted Nohorua you ask? His quest to find the perfect match continues.

Our takahē are well into another breeding season, with nine pairs nesting. The first nests of the season have started to hatch so hopefully we get a reasonable run of weather to help the chicks establish.

Three children coming face to face with a takahē on Mana Island.

Meeting a takahē

We had planned to do another egg transfer to Southland this year, but the birds had other plans. Our birds were a bit tardy in getting going while the southern “foster” pairs started earlier. The requirement for them to start around the same time was lost on the takahē, but at least they’re nesting!

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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 Jeff Hall, Biodiversity Ranger on Mana Island.

At work

Sirocco on Jeff's head.

Sirocco looking pretty happy with himself.

Some things I do in my job include… a long and varied list of all the jobs, big and small, involved in managing an island sanctuary.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… enabling the recovery of some of our endangered taonga (treasures) and showcasing what can be achieved when we work together. I also inspire mainlanders to enhance and protect what we’ve got.

The best bit about my job is… every day is different and filled with new challenges, and as a bonus my family are closely involved in my working environment. When I dreamed of one day growing up and becoming a “Park Ranger” this was it, doing it all – from mowing lawns, to talking to visitors to wrestling with endangered animals.

The strangest, scariest but ultimately funniest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… my first night out catching a kakapo as part of a small but specialised crack team of professionals on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island. Our target was a girl called Fuchsia, who had outsmarted many who had gone before by choosing to roost too deep for any arm to reach.

So on dusk we assembled to position ourselves around her burrow entrance in the hope of grabbing her for a transmitter change before she disappeared into the night.

I was on point, well actually I was perched on the limb of an old rata above the burrow out over a fairly steep slope, the bottom of which disappeared in the failing light.

Just on dark I picked up a movement outside the entrance, I noted there was no movement from anyone in the team, this was my moment! Quick as a wink and in gazelle like fashion…. Nay, my legs had gone to sleep, so I promptly fell from my perch and proceeded to roll down the steep slope, all the while wondering if I had just flattened poor Fuchsia, or if it would be her or I to the bottom of the hill first.

While regaining my bearings a flash of green in Phil Marsh’s torch light tore by (so I had indeed beaten her to the bottom, and she was alive!). Phil graciously paused from the chase to check on my welfare (more like yelled “You all right Jeff?”) as he galloped past and secured the ‘target’. I’d have been right up there with him, if only my legs had woken.

That was the first of many eventful captures of kakapo and other adventures on Whenua Hou, and Anchor Island in Dusky Sound.

Jeff in Anchor Island harbour holding a crayfish.

One of Tangaroa’s gifts from the bountiful Anchor Island harbour

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… hard to single out as the list extends to most of my like-minded colleagues past and present around the country. But a shout out must go to someone who’s got commitment, a strong work ethic and is just a damn good sort to work with. It also helps that she gave me the opportunity to go catch kiwi on the Milford track, opening the door to species work thereafter. She’s been known to also throw a damn good party. So cheers Hannah Edmonds, I know you’ll keep doing what you do best.

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is… well not wanting to upset those who know me…it’s really hard to go past just about anything from the 1980s/early 90s Bon Jovi back catalogue. From ‘Living on a prayer’, ‘Wanted dead or alive’ to ‘Always’. I’ve been known to belt out one or two of these classics in karaoke from time to time.

My stomping ground is… Eastbourne, Wellington was where I spent my early years. Which is lucky as I spent what you could call my formative years on the North Shore, and Harbour are playing some atrocious rugby at the moment – so go the Lions!

My best ever holiday was… my wife would want me to say that it was the time we sprung a surprise wedding while holidaying in Rarotonga with the rest of my whanau. But as I have just explained to her as she reads this over my shoulder that the best ever day of my life is not the same as my best ever holiday.

My best ever holiday was back when I had (relatively speaking) nothing to be responsible for or about, spending a few weeks in eastern Europe with two good mates in their Bedford campervan “Edna”. Every evening we had to find a reasonable slope (not too steep that we’d fall out of bed) to park the old girl on to give her a running start in the morning. Once we went to sleep in an empty lot on the edge of a small town in Lithuania and woke to find ourselves trapped in the middle of a huge farmers’ market for most of the day. The Oktoberfest in Munich: I recall my thought at the time being “Wow, this is like Disneyland with beer!”, which in hindsight may well have been the beer talking! We convinced plenty of people in Poland we were an eighties revival cover band called ‘Cougar’. And just getting to be young larrikins in a foreign land – without causing any lasting offence to those around us of course.

Fun times that we still reminisce over until tears of laughter pour down our faces.

Assortment of seafood and steak.

Surf and Turf Anchor Island style – the back steaks are from the last deer eradicated in 2008

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be… that alpine clown the kea, ridge skipping my way across the mighty Southern Alps and nimbly extracting double chocolate muffins from a hapless ski lift operator’s pack while he was busy putting bums on T-Bars.

Before working at DOC I… (amongst other things) was putting bums on T-Bars at Porter Heights ski field and missing my double chocolate muffin for smoko.

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees” – a quote from the song ‘Power and the Passion’ by Midnight Oil.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… “Effort brings reward”. Cheers Dad. Or then again, when I was contemplating a career in boxing, Dad chipped in with “Son, you’ve got to learn to take a punch before you give a punch.” Hmm…maybe I’ll become a Park Ranger after all!

In work and life I am motivated by… lately it has been seeing other peoples’ reactions to seeing the things I have grown accustomed to seeing on a daily basis on Mana Island, like their first takahe or gecko.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… get amongst it! Seeing is believing! If everyone just chips in we can ensure this land of ours remains the best living space on Earth.

Jeff and his children on Mana Island.

Mana Island – home for now

Question of the week…

If anything were possible, what animal would you most like to have as a member of your family is… the adult and purist in me says none, but my inner child says “Dad, can I get a Sirocco for Christmas?”

By Phil Marsh, Takahe Site Liaison and Relationship Manager

Takahē may look like ‘big blue chooks’, but try catching one and you will discover they are much faster and can out manoeuvre the most skilled bird wrangler.

A takahē watches on Mana Island.

A takahē watching the proceedings with interest

Enter Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue and some keen volunteers, a special island and an opportunity to help this iconic and critically endangered bird.

Takahē are critically endangered, and there are only 54 breeding pairs of takahē held at safe sites—mostly predator-free islands. Mana Island is one of these, and Jeff Hall is the ranger with 10 pairs of takahē in his care.

To keep the takahē population genetically healthy, birds must regularly be shifted between breeding sites, and therein lies the challenge.

Mana Island’s re-vegetation programme is looking good, but it’s making it more difficult to corner the wily birds. In 2011 things came to a head when visiting takahē rangers failed to catch all of the birds required. A new strategy was needed and a plan was hatched. The result—a 10 metre by 10 metre capture pen filled with something that most takahē can’t resist… takahē pellets!

The takahē volunteer team on Mana Island.

The volunteer team of Kim, Michelle and David, and takahē capture pen

Building the pens needed materials and labour, which is where Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue came in. Mitre 10 have partnered with the Takahē Recovery Programme for over seven years now. As well as providing financial support and helping to raise the profile of takahē, Mitre 10 staff also enjoy hands-on involvement with takahē conservation projects.

Bright’s Mitre 10 in Mana supplied all the materials required for four new capture pens. Mitre 10 MEGA staff, Kim Olsen from Masterton and Michelle Ledbury from Kapiti, joined DOC Ranger Jeff Hall and volunteer David Marsh—a farmer from Wairarapa—to lend a helping hand.

Three takahē looking for grubs. Photograph by Stuart McCaw.

A trio of takahē

The pen building team spent three days putting in the posts and netting needed to get the pens up and running. The pens are built with a front gate that is open for most of the year. The birds get used to walking into it and feeding from their hopper without feeling threatened. When it’s time for a takahē health check, a change of transmitter, or to band chicks, the front gate of the capture pen is closed. Once they’re in the pen they usually can’t jump high enough to get back out. The huge advantage is that the birds catch themselves in the pen and any management necessary can then be completed with minimal stress on the birds (and the rangers) involved.

And the Mitre 10 staff and volunteers? Well, they all know what it’s like to be marooned, as the day they were due to head off the island the sea was too rough for them to depart. Two days later they finally got off, but not without anticipating a return journey some time in the future to check out how well their pens are operating!

A takahē with transmitter.

A takahē with transmitter

Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue

The Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue works in partnership with DOC’s Takahē Recovery Programme and is committed to ensuring the survival, growth and security of takahē populations throughout New Zealand. Find out more about this partnership on the DOC website.