This past summer the wingbeats and calls of adult tītī (Cook’s petrel) and kōrure (mottled petrel) filled the night air at Maungaharuru – ‘mountain that rumbles and roars’ – as they returned to New Zealand’s most inland seabird translocation site.Continue Reading...
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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.
It is often hard to find time for quiet reflection, but our final day on Rangatira sums up what is has all been about.
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.
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.
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.
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 Sarah Matthew, volunteer and artist based in Wellington
The memories I have of Raoul Island are going to keep me smiling for a long, long time. Being a Department of Conservation (DOC) volunteer for six months was a fantastic opportunity to learn about and explore the remote rock, and meet some awesome people in the process.
From bird life to hostel life, there were loads of wonderful and inspirational things to stimulate creativity. There is a lot of history in the hostel and library, and also in the books and relics that can be found in the huts dotted around the island.
Weeding was our core purpose, and the biggest chunk of our week was spent in the bush hunting for rogue plants.
The weekends allowed us free time to go adventuring and enjoy our own activities.
I really appreciated being so far removed from the mainland and the sense of freedom it allowed. The absence of shops meant we were able to embrace the good old kiwi mentality of making the most out of what was at hand and, for once, money was not an issue!
The bush and the bird life are glorious on Raoul, and a trip to weed the Meyer Islands was a treat, as there are a large number of birds nesting there, including tropicbirds, petrels, terns and boobies! It was a delight to be able to get so close to such magnificent creatures.
There are tui, kakariki, and also a few families of cheeky pukeko living around the hostel. They graze the lawn and wake the entire population of the island with their lovely call—sounding something like a seagull getting strangled with a potato chip still in its mouth.
I took to walking around with a stick during nesting, not so that I could whack them, just so I could scare them away when they decided to attack!
From an artist’s perspective, being surrounded by nature and not a lot else, gave me the space to be creative and think about the relevance of my work and the way I produce it.
Using my camera to document, I enjoyed taking photographs of things as I found them—or of things that I had made, that did not permanently alter or harm the environment.
Humour has always been a big part of my artwork and I have fun placing things out of context to create alternative meanings, sometimes using playful imagery to discuss more serious ideas.
An environment such as Raoul makes it impossible not to see the inevitable impact that we humans have on nature.
It was hard to leave the Island the when the time came, but I am extraordinarily grateful to be able to have gone, and to have gained the knowledge and experience it gave me. I hope very much to go back there someday.
More photos of my time there can be seen on my artist page on Facebook.
Raoul is the largest island in the Kermadec Islands Nature Reserve—a chain of islands lying some 1000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand.
All the islands of the Kermadec group are part of the specially protected reserve. It is the most remote conservation area managed by the Department of Conservation.