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DOC Ranger Kahurangi Cronin shares her experiences as an expert butterfly hunter based in Nelson.Continue Reading...
By Trish Grant, Communications Advisor, Nelson
The battle against the great white butterfly pest appears to be working with detections dropping by more than fifty percent in autumn this year, compared to autumn last year.
The species is only found in the Nelson/Tasman region and DOC has been leading a programme to eradicate the pest out of concern for the threat it poses to our endangered native cresses. Successful eradication of the butterfly would be a world-first.
The Nelson eradication team’s drive and determination will be a key factor in achieving that success. An example of that determination was on display recently when four of the team armed with nets chased a darting biggish white butterfly through at least five properties, across the road, and up and down hills, determined not to let it escape their clutches. Finally Ranger Maddie netted it. It proved to be an important catch: a female great white butterfly full of eggs that could have set up a new infestation in an area where butterfly finds had become few.
The team are not the only intrepid butterfly catchers. Team members searched gardens in one area for several days looking for a female butterfly suspected to be in the vicinity. It was duly presented to them dead by an elderly woman who in spite of poor eyesight had managed to trap the butterfly with a glass on the wall of her house.
This spring will be a pivotal time when the whole butterfly population emerges together from pupae, giving a good measure of its population status. DOC is working closely with the community to clear this major pest from the region and the country.
The Nelson DOC team will be holding a great white butterfly family fun day on Sunday 28 September.
By Kath Inwood, Partnerships Ranger, Nelson
The Motueka sandspit is an internationally significant site for shorebirds, providing roosting and nesting space for variable oystercatchers and banded dotterel, and temporary lodgings for the bar-tailed godwit. Being so close to town, however, it is a popular spot for Motueka dog owners to walk their dogs.
To improve awareness of the birds in the area, we got together with Tasman District Council and Birds New Zealand to try out an Australian idea – the Dog’s Breakfast. This event provides dog owners an opportunity to learn about the birds of the foreshore and sandspit over a bacon and egg butty (sandwich).
Around 50 dog walkers turned out to breakfast with their dogs over a two and a half hour period on Saturday 8 March.
With the smell of sizzling bacon in the background, David Melville from Birds New Zealand explained that variable oystercatchers and banded dotterel are key inhabitants of the sandspit area, along with the better-known bar-tailed godwits, who make the 11,000km flight between New Zealand and Alaska.
The purpose of the breakfast was to raise awareness of dog owners about the significance of this area for shorebirds, and to enable them to be more informed about how they can minimise the disturbance to wildlife, while enjoying the benefits of an area such as this to walk their dogs.
Last week saw the theatrical release of the second instalment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Filmed throughout New Zealand, these movies capture some of our most stunning landscapes.
Our photo of the week shows one of these landscapes: Canaan Downs, near the top of the Takaka Hill, in the Nelson region.
Canaan Downs campsite is a popular place to stay in the area — perfect for a Hobbit holiday! It’s located near the entrances to a number of tracks in Abel Tasman National Park. Mountain biking, walking and tramping activities are all nearby.
Last Sunday on a long and remote stretch of the Nelson coast, trampers encountered a stranded whale (or was it a dolphin) at the mouth of the Raukawa Stream. They managed to get it back into the water, but, due to a rising tide they had to leave it to fend for itself.
One of the trampers phoned the DOC hotline and the message was passed to me. We get a lot of stranded whales along our coast, especially around Farewell Spit. Most are pilot whales but we also get a fair mix of other marine creatures. After contacting one of the trampers his description of the creature, “grey, about three meters, had teeth, sort of had a dolphin head, but not really” piqued my curiosity. The report was unusual enough to act on – despite the two hour drive, three river crossings, limited vehicle access and possibility that it had just simply swum away.
The weather and tide were good, so I headed west with a quad bike on the back of the ute. The ute got me through the first two river crossings fine and then I took the quad bike down the beach as far as the Anaweka River. To check if I could ride the quad across the river I started wading in, but half way across with water mid thigh and current racing I decided there was no chance. Losing a quad bike in the Tasman Sea would not be a good move, so I parked it and started walking.
The exact location of the stranding was a bit vague and it wasn’t until I ventured well up into the Raukawa estuary that I could make out a pale outline amongst rocks. Unfortunately it was clear to see that the creature had died. But this was certainly something we hadn’t seen before. The first oddity was the scratches covering nearly every square centimetre of its skin. The next obvious feature was the forehead – there was long vertical cleft running up it. There was no sign of recent trauma around the cleft, or old scar tissue. Proportionately it also had a very large dorsal fin for its size.
I started flicking through the identification book. Dwarf sperm whale looked close, but the mouth was the wrong shape. The book had suffered from a few of its own strandings with lots of the pages were stuck together so I left it at that.
I quickly took a skin sample for DNA, snapped some standard stranding photos, took a GPS waypoint and tied the mysterious creature to a tree.
At home that night at home, flicking through another identification book, I found it! All the features added up, the toothed mouth, lots of obvious scarring, the narrow tail stock, large dorsal fin and the clincher – a cleft forehead. Not a birth defect, or boat impact – they all look like this! It was a dolphin – a Risso’s dolphin. Rare this far south, this would be the first record for a stranded Risso’s dolphin in the South Island.
I soon found the story of “Pelorus Jack” the famous Risso’s dolphin, who just over 100 hundred years ago was the first dolphin in the world to gain legal protection. And he had lived just around the corner in Cook Straight.
By Wednesday interest in the dolphin had grown and Otago Museum was keen to have the specimen. The museum staff consulted with Manawhenua ki Mohua and gained their approval to take the dolphin.
The plan was to drive as close as practical to the Anaweka River, walk south from there across river to dolphin, tie a rope around it and float it two kilometres back to the vehicle over high tide. In the summer two of us had floated a two tonne sei whale a kilometre across an estuary. So how hard could it be for one person to float a little 300 kilogram dolphin?
I got to the dolphin about 11 am, fortunately still tied to the tree and only just out of the water. After dragging it into the Raukawa Creek it floated well and I headed for the estuary mouth. Soon the dolphin grounded in a shallow part of the estuary. A bit of digging sand by hand got it to the next bit of deep water. After ten minutes we were on our way to the estuary mouth. The Anaweka is quite large at high tide. Looking across the river mouth I wondered what my career prospects would be if I lost a dolphin in the Tasman Sea.
Discretion is the better part of valour, so I waded about 200 metres up the estuary away from the mouth before attempting to cross. Across the channel I climbed, waded and swam, then over a rocky headland before I finally emerged at a rock shelf 100 metres from the vehicle. Here, once the tide had receded, my colleagues helped me roll the dolphin onto the ute. Our day was done, and the dolphin was on its way to Otago Museum. Now science could have its day.
By Trish Grant, Communications and Engagement Advisor, Nelson
DOC is renowned for its island pest eradications, now we are leading a pest eradication programme that is focussed on home gardens to wipe out the great white butterfly in Nelson Tasman, which if successful, would be a world first.
The pest butterfly was first found in a Nelson garden in 2010, and has since then been spreading in the city and into nearby Richmond in Tasman. It is a significant pest of brassica plants in numerous parts of the world and is thought to have entered New Zealand as a pupa on an item shipped into Port Nelson.
The aim of the programme is to stop the pest butterfly in its tracks and prevent it spreading to other parts of New Zealand.
With an autumn surge in great white butterfly breeding now underway, around 25 DOC staff are scouring gardens in and around Nelson city searching for the butterfly’s distinctive caterpillars and tiny yellow eggs clustered on host plants. Beating this breeding surge and knocking down the caterpillar numbers is critical to the success of the eradication programme.
The DOC team have initiated a ground-based attempt to eradicate the butterfly in November out of concern at the serious threat it poses to our native cresses; of the 79 species, 57 are at risk of extinction. We need a lot of people on the ground to find and remove all the butterflies, caterpillars and eggs we can to beat the butterfly and stop it becoming a widespread major pest.
The public support has been fantastic. The people of Nelson Tasman have been out looking for and reporting eggs and caterpillars and have been heeding the call to help kill the butterflies to stop them laying eggs.
The programme is due to continue until 2017 and if it succeeds, it will be the first ground-based eradication of the great white butterfly achieved in the world.