DOC seeks sightings of rare kakī / black stilt October 2016

One of the pair of black stilt/kakī that were recently sighted – the left bird is the more common pied stilt. Photo credit DOC
Above left: One of the pair of black stilt/kakī that were recently sighted – the left bird is the more common pied stilt. Photo credit DOC

This is pretty exciting and it rather amazes me that these birds have crossed the Southern Alps at presumably their highest point across Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, flying presumably against the predominant westerly winds and at considerable altitude that would average 2500 meters

A pair of New Zealand’s rarest birds the Kakī / black stilt has been sighted on the West Coast and DOC staff are asking the public to report further sightings.

The two kakī were spotted by a farmer on a dairy farm in the Arahura Valley. The farmer suspected they were rare and reported the sighting to the dept of Conservation, who confirmed the birds were black stilt/kakī.

Kakī are critically endangered, with less than 100 adult birds in the wild. Once common throughout New Zealand, kakī are now found on the braided rivers and wetlands of the Mackenzie Basin

Source: DOC seeks sightings of rare kakī: Media release 3 October 2016

Capable of flying at speeds over 100 km/h and catching prey larger than itself, the falcon / kārearea is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular birds.

This older male is engaged in courtship ritual and is perched on an old tree stump that at ground level has been used as a nest previously. The female a few hundred meters away was very aware of my presence, and at the time of taking this photo both were engaged in a rowdy discussion, probably about myself whom they know quite well, perhaps questioning whether or not I should be "warned off" in relation to nesting soon.

The photos in the gallery below are extensively captioned, so if you’d like to read more of “their”  falcon story, click on any one of them, and please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question. All photos by Southern Light..

Takahe – back from the brink | Our Changing World | Radio New Zealand

A few days ago I came across a FaceBook post by Radio NZ about the growing numbers of takahē [one of NZ’s rare flightless birds threatened by extinction] and was so intrigued by it I’ve gathered together some information, and included a link to their article below.

Takahē were rediscovered above the bush line amongst the snow tussock and sub alpine plants of Fiordland’s Muchison Mountains in 1948 by Dr. Orbell , who as it turned out was a neighbour of my grandparents.

Fiordland, Muchison mountains from Lake Te Anau. Photo by Southern Light
Looking southwards to the Muchison Mountains from Lake Te Anau. Photo by Southern Light. Takahē live above the bushline among snow tussock and sub alpine plants/scrubs

And so from a very early age some years after his significant achievement I was aware of his fame, but too young to recall meeting him apart from some hazy memories of him waving from a top-floor window.

Days like this are all the more magical in Fiordland because the norm is rain~ this photo by Southern Light is of a small lake to the north of the Muchison mountains

Once thought to be extinct their re-discovery was followed by decades of conservation effort, yet even today they remain on the ever growing “critically endangered” list. Amazingly they have clung to existence despite the pressures from hunting, habitat destruction and introduced predators.

The phrase “clinging to existence” belies an enormous amount of patient work over six decades on the bird’s behalf and also their habitat.

Why so long, you may ask? Well, the situation in this country where so many bird species evolved in an environment devoid of mammals [excepting bats] meant there were no defences when predators arrived.

We have had to implement the defences, and no one in the world has ever dealt with this scenario so unique. Which really means there has been a lot of experimentation underscored by the odd mistake. Fortunately we’ve been able to react lightly and move on to reach this amazing goal of 300 birds up from several!

Rain in Fiordland
This is more the norm in Fiordland. Photo by Southern Light

Takahē come from times when many large flightless birds were spread throughout the country. They do have wings, but are flightless and only occasionally use them for display during courtship, or as a show of aggression.

Photo from RadioNZ’s article

Takahe numbers have reached 300, for the first time in more than 50 years. It’s a milestone for the endangered bird, which has been the subject of a marathon conservation effort following its dramatic rediscovery in 1948.

Read more at the source: Takahe – back from the brink | Our Changing World | Radio New Zealand

The New Zealand whitebait season | A real and delicious Kiwiana experience

Some thoughts on the New Zealand whitebait, sea gulls and the health of our rivers – their habitat…

Last week en-route to visiting family in South Canterbury I stopped off at a few east coast beaches, and in one instance walked to the mouth of the Waitaki River to look at what was present in regards photography, and found [as hoped] some white baiters:

Waitaki river mouth white baiter
The Waitaki River mouth. With the river very rapidly flowing left to right in the foreground, and the swells coming in in the background and breaking from the right it’s an exciting, if not risky place, to take a stance!

Then on my return home and getting into writing here I asked myself: “What are whitebait?”

whitebait nz
Usually translucent in the water and then tending to take on colour post being caught

Turns out it’s not a single species, but five species of the fish family Galaxiidae. All around 4–5 centimetres long and delicious to eat in more countries than just good ‘ole New Zealand.

In spring, often after a flood clears they swim upstream usually near the edges of rivers big and small, on a rising tide and during daylight hours

Waitaki river mouth white baiters

So what’s environmental photography got to do with little fish?

I’ve known for some time that what I thought of in my magical childhood as the common seagull being more a pest than anything [at age 5 poos from one landed on my ice cream!], I now realise the black billed gull is in the sad state of being the most threatened gull species in the world!

Black bill gull NZ

So too are white bait declining in numbers!

Is there a link?

Probably! Gulls feed in rivers [see below], and even more so since open “rubbish dumps” have turned into sanitised “transfer stations” thus denying gulls scavenging rights, and easy food during breeding times.

All over New Zealand the water quality of rivers has declined due to run-off from intensifying agriculture, and other reasons less obvious. And as it does so, “runs” of whitebait decline, no doubt due to spawning grounds being compromised.

The largest whitebait runs still occur in South Westland though. And guess what? There is very little or no intensive farming going on upstream – no coincidences here!

Cook River South Westland
Near the headwaters of the Cook River in South Westland – no room here for agriculture
 house at Ross South Westland
It can be wild and rough living in Ross, South Westland!

But lets get back to the Waitaki River on the east coast and ponder the health of the river bed between the river mouth as above and the Waitaki Dam upstream near Kurow – a distance of about 60 Km.

The Waitaki hydro scheme is a series of interconnected lakes and canals used to generate electricity. It’s made up of eight hydro stations on the Waitaki River the oldest and one closest to the sea being the Waitaki Dam.

A promise was made before the flow of the river was managed by Meridian Energy that river flows would be maintained in such a way as to ensure the river bed stayed in it’s natural state pre dam building. This has sadly never been honoured by any of the managing bodies.

Waitaki poppy
Although very pretty these Californian poppies would not get a foot-hold if the occasional flood were allowed to “clean up’ the river bed here just a few kms downstream from the Waitaki Dam. Note too the various grasses. Unfortunately also all stones under the water have what is commonly known as didymo or rock snot covering them. None of these interlopers are going to help our rare braided river bed birds breed.
Paua shells at the river mouth of the Waitaki River
Paua shells at the river mouth of the Waitaki River

New Zealand’s three native species of päua are distinctive because of their amazing multi-coloured shells. Päua are very important for Mäori. I’m not sure why there were so many piles of them as above scattered all over the stones.

Waitaki river mouth surf
I would not have thought the high energy nature of the beaches by the mouth of the Waitaki River would be a good habitat for paua, so maybe this could be addressed in a future blog post.

Lastly writing this has made me aware that there are many laws to be honoured by fisher people in regard to paua and other delectable water and river based life forms that can be caught, cooked and eaten.

If the laws are broken and the perpetrator is caught they’ll be up for a heavy fine and even jail, yet big businesses such as the dam owners are not held accountable for operating procedures that do worse by destroying the habitat!

Run the above images as a galley slide-show, click any thumbnail below:

Skink population quadrupled | Otago Daily Times Online News

View of the Upper Clutha Valley from the Grandview Mountains
top: View of the Upper Clutha Valley from the Grandview Mountains

Very happy to hear this news. A group of us volunteers trap an extensive steep rocky area in the Grandview Mountains between the Lindis, Tarras and Wanaka to protect the same species. Recently about 80 were captured and translocated to other areas in Otago.

The eradication of a “suite” of predators has quadrupled the Otago skink population within pest-proof fences at Macraes Flat. Department of Conservation ranger John Keene said it was difficult to estimate the total number of Otago and grand skinks in the area. However, five pest-proof fences around […]

Photo Otago Daily Times

Source: Skink population quadrupled | Otago Daily Times Online News