Archives For Twizel

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.

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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!

A DOC ranger removes a kakī caught in a net.

A DOC ranger carefully extracts one of the sub-adult kaki from a net

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!

Two kakī are held before being transported and released.

Smiles all round – these kaki look to be in good hands!

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!

DOC Ranger Liz Brown moving a kakī.

DOC Aviaculturist Liz Brown spends a lot of time looking after the kakī

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.

School students releasing kakī into the wild.

The kakī are released into the wild.


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.

Glen Currall on a quad bike while working in the Tasman Valley.

Trapping in the Tasman Valley on a good day. And yes that is a winch on my quad

At work

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.

Rangers holding kaki boxes ready for release.

Kaki release near Lake Tekapo

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.

Glen holding a brown trout by the Lewis River.

A solid Lewis River brown taken on the dry fly

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.

Glen changing a GPS tracking collar on a feral cat.

Changing a GPS tracking collar on a feral cat. I play the role of chief cat wrestler, which has it’s share of exciting moments

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.

A grizzly bear spotted by Glen.

A grizzly bear we were lucky enough to encounter near Lake Maligne, Jasper National Park. The wildlife for me was the highlight of our time in Canada

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 Dean Nelson, Programme Manager – Biodiversity Assets.

Name: Dean Nelson.

Position: Programme Manager Biodiversity Assets, Twizel Te Manahuna Area Office.

Dean Nelson sitting on top of the Dalser Pinnacles.

Lunch on the summit of Dasler Pinnacles, Hopkins Valley—Mt Ward in the background

At work

What kind of things do you do in your role?

I primarily manage the staff and the resources involved in undertaking the Biodiversity Assets programmes in the Twizel and Aoraki Areas. The key one is the kaki/black stilt recovery project and the associated Tasman predator control programme, but there are numerous others involving plants, fish, lizards and invertebrates. Examples include the delightfully named ‘fish guts’ plant (yes it smells), a fish only found in the Mackenzie Basin called bignose galaxiid (it has a bulbous ‘nose’) and the recently rediscovered knobbled weevil which hadn’t been seen since the 1920s.

Occasionally I still manage to get out in the field when the team needs someone to help out with bird surveys or something similar. I also enjoy doing a bit of fish work where we are having some excellent results with using weirs as trout barriers to protect the bignose and lowland longjaw galaxiids.

What is the best part about your job?

Working with some incredibly dedicated people who never stop trying despite everything that gets thrown at them. Also the chance to work with some really cool species and visit some stunning places.

What is the hardest part about your job?

Dealing with some of the decisions being made by people further up the line who seem to have a relatively limited grasp of the reality of operating at an area level.

What led you to your role in DOC?

I did the old Parks and Recreation Diploma at Lincoln College (now University) and got a job as a Park Assistant at Makarora where I had spent some of my practical year. Not long after I was offered a ranger job at Mount Cook National Park – this was back in the Department of Lands and Survey days. After about seven years of doing all sorts of stuff, I shifted to Dunedin in the middle of the 1989/90 yellow-eyed penguin population crash and got thrown into hand rearing orphaned chicks which led to the species management work I had always been keen to do.

Checking for a transponder in a yellow-eyed penguin on Whenua Hou Codfish Island

Checking for a transponder in a yellow-eyed penguin on Whenua Hou Codfish Island

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

A trip to Whenua Hou/Codfish Island to resurvey the yellow-eyed penguin population which is declining for some reason. This is my fifth trip to the island for penguin work and it is a very special little haven for biodiversity. I’ve been fortunate to have a few kākāpō encounters, including having Sirocco do his thing on my head—a painful experience. Have also met and worked with some special people down there.

I wrote a diary (probably should call it a blog or something these days) of this trip which was organised by the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust.

The rule of 3…

3 loves

  1. My family.
  2. Getting into the outdoors, walking, tramping, hunting, mountain biking, fishing …whatever it is as long as it’s away from built up areas.
  3. Holidays which generally involve the above two. I think it is really important to give the kids adventures and experiences that they will remember and treasure.
Family adventures. Arriving at Saxon Hut on the Heaphy Track

Family adventures. Arriving at Saxon Hut on the Heaphy Track

3 pet peeves

  1. Idiots who think that it is entirely appropriate to take their 4WD wherever they can, regardless of the damage it causes or the impacts it has on wildlife.
  2. So much of our beautiful Mackenzie Basin disappearing under pivot irrigators.
  3. The habit/fashion (whatever you want to call it) that people have of wearing their pants at half mast, exposing undies, boxers and/or bits of their anatomy that shouldn’t be seen.

3 foods

  1. Tasman Bay scallops fresh out of the water and quickly fried in a wee bit of butter – melt in your mouth, but unfortunately a bit of a distant memory now!
  2. Crunchy peanut butter and honey, spread thickly together on warm toast.
  3. Good quality boutique brewery beers – we have got some stunners down south but sadly, Emersons has sold out to Lion. Hopefully it won’t affect the quality and variety of the beer!

3 favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Totaranui – I holidayed there as a kid for many years and we are now going back as a family.
  2. Nelson Lakes – my tramping playground as a teenager. Beautiful valleys, easy tops and the best shingle screes to run down anywhere in the country.
  3. Any backcountry hut at the end of a hard day’s tramping with the trusty pit laid out on a bunk and a brew on.
Family fun in the lagoon while on holiday at Totaranui

Family fun in the lagoon while on holiday at Totaranui

Favourite movie, album, book

  • Movie: showing my age here—Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A classic.
  • Album: Pink Floyd—Wish You Were Here
  • Book: there are heaps of books which could fit the bill however, for someone who has done a wee bit of climbing, an excellent read is ‘Savage Arena’ by Joe Tasker. He delivered the manuscript of this book on the eve of his departure for the British Everest Expedition 1982 where he lost his life. A dramatic tale from a guy who lived life on the edge. “Every step was dogged by a presentiment of catastrophe, as if, out of the mists above, a white wave of death would engulf us.”

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

Get out and do it—you are a long time old and decrepit or even worse—dead.

Who or what inspires you and why?

Our rangers. They are our unsung heros at the bottom of the heap, paid peanuts but they do some stunning work.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a kid, the usual list of suspects, but then in the third form at college, a mate and I wanted to be marine biologists. He is—working for NIWA—and I guess I ended up on terrestrial stuff.

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

I’ve always had a hankering to be a helicopter pilot or failing that, a photographer for National Geographic.

Talking to Otago University Wildlife Management Diploma Students about threatened fish and the trout barrier we are using to protect them

Talking to Otago University Wildlife Management Diploma Students about threatened fish and the trout barrier we are using to protect them

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

Turn down the thermostat on the hot water cylinder by a couple of degrees—they are often set too high. I’ve done it a couple of times and my wife who loves her hot showers hasn’t squealed yet.

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?

Get the compost working better and grow more veggies.

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

There are a whole lot of them that I really admire—the diminutive wee rock wren, the fearless falcon (I saw one trying to attack an Iroquois helicopter that came too close to its nest) the melodious kaka – the list is endless. However, imagine going back in time and being Harpagornis/Haast’s eagle. Now that would be something.

After 39 years working in conservation, Dave Murray retired at the end of February from the Te Manahuna Area Office in Twizel. A sociable character, you always knew when Dave was in the room! His lively presence will be missed in the office.

Dave spent the last 30 years working with critically endangered kakī in the Mackenzie Basin. Over this time he developed a huge depth of knowledge on New Zealand’s unique braided rivers, having worked within all major riverbeds from Godley river in the north, to Ahuriri river in the south.

Dave on his honeymoon. In Seaforth Valley, Fiordland

Name: Dave Murray.

Job position: Ranger – Assets-biodiversity, Te Manahuna Area office, Twizel.

How did you get into conservation work?

I started off working for the New Zealand Wildlife Service. The job was very diverse and I was one of the last people to get a job without a degree or the internal traineeship. There were only 200 employees in the Wildlife Service working in the field so you knew everyone—you could ring anybody for advice. It was far less formal, and more relaxed than DOC. There was not much money and you had to do everything on a shoestring.

I spent some time in Rotorua doing law enforcement work and then moved to the West Coast. I spent several years carrying out bird and vegetation counts in the beech forest. We worked from Westport through to Okarito, concentrating on areas that were likely to be involved in logging.

Early days looking after kakī in Mackenzie Basin for the New Zealand Wildlife Service

What was your role with DOC?

After a stint as the sole Wildlife Service officer in Hokitika, I was asked to come and look after the kakī/black stilts in Twizel in 1981. Since that time I have seen the kakī numbers slowly increase. Kakī would have been extinct by now if we hadn’t been doing what we have been doing.

How did the Kakī Recovery Programme get started?

In 1981 there were only 23 kakī left. Ron Neilson was working for the New Zealand Wildlife Service in Dunedin and he came up and realised there were not many kakī. Also, Ray Pierce was doing a thesis at Otago University on black stilts and pied stilts and he figured out that between the two species, there were not many left.

Dave on a kakī release near Lake Tekapo in winter

Have you any thoughts on preservation of our braided rivers and wildlife?

How do people use riverbeds without stuffing them up? It would be good to fence off riverbeds and allow people to walk around them and not be able to drive. I‘ve seen a huge increase in the number of 4WDs in riverbeds over the years. I have also seen people park in the middle of black-fronted tern colonies to go fishing and wonder why the birds are annoying them.

Most winters Dave would run away from the office… here, in Nepal on Chhukung Ri, 5830 metres

What was the best part of your job?

Walking the river deltas on calm, clear days in winter… then spotting banded kakī that I knew and seeing them survive in winter—it’s pretty encouraging.

What is your favourite place?

Okarito on the West Coastis a place that is special to me.

Dave in South Westland

What are your plans now?

I’ve got a lot of images to categorise. I’d also like to photograph new stuff—I have just been photographing saddlebacks and stitchbirds. I take pictures of birds doing things, I don’t like posed pictures.

Dave’s wife Liz, daughter Tara, and Dave after finishing the Kepler Challenge