“The Boss” and Edwin – a tale of two kea in Mt Aspiring National Park

above: "The Boss" of three kea resident near Aspiring Hut in the West Matukituki valley, Mt Aspiring National Park Mar 2017 ~  photo southern light
above: “The Boss” of three kea resident near Aspiring Hut in the West Matukituki valley, Mt Aspiring National Park Mar 2017 ~  photo southern light

A few weeks ago I was involved in the capture and subsequent banding of a young kea. Probably a male, but that is not a certainty with any youngster.

At the time while recording the banding with a camera, I was struck on how he took being held in his stride, and when relaxed started looking about the hut we were in, sizing it up with what seemed like a daunting intelligence.

The plastic band was coloured green and printed on this bling was the character “E” in white. So on the books he became “white E on green”. Since then he’s become quite my friend so I’ve named him Edwin. Time and again ‘tho he’s tried as one of a party of three, to enter the hut once more, perhaps feigning friendship to do so!

He showed his true colours for my camera on a rainy Sat. recently when three experienced trampers called by on their way out of the valley…

Edwin again
Edwin somewhat precociously approaches a tramper, and at this point he’s like a kid in a candy store challenged by many choices that engage his curiosity
Kea boss edwin 3
The game continues as the tramper moves off the deck
Edwin again 2
It’s game on – he knows all about hands (that held him gently and firmly), but these ones are different, and he’s not afraid to do a “beak” test on the consistency and texture
Kea boss edwin 2
Since the owner of the hand is well aware Edwin could draw blood, to Edwin’s satisfaction a wet boot and assisting lace is offered
Edwin again follows
As the trampers depart, perhaps fearful of their boot’s being eaten, Edwin decides to follow
Kea boss edwin 4
But Edwin returned! I think he knew his value as a “bad hair day” model! Either way he is an endearing character

So that’s an insight into Edwin’s personality, but what of the squadron of like minded kea he is a player in?

As it turns out the other two birds ignore him until his (superior) intelligence manifesting as curiosity finds him poking his nose into anything new.

Suddenly the others sit up and take notice and if the subject of his attention is deemed worthy, a much older kea brushes Edwin aside and takes ownership of the situation. Edwin is smart enough to back off from the aged and experienced beak of the bird I now call “the boss”. Anyway he (Edwin) has a greater purpose, and is soon off to the next phenomena demanding his attention.

The goal of a predator free New Zealand may sit uneasily with global warming and ensuing climate change

Mt Glengyle
above: Diverse weather with a rainbow on Mt Glengyle in Mt Aspiring National Park ~ photo Donald Lousley, Southern Light

This site/blog seems to have an organic destiny, and somewhere along a way lined with a steady growth of followers, I’ve not bothered much to publish my own photos, so here today I’ll use a few of my recent favourites made in the last two weeks to illustrate the need for an awakening, and action.

Over winter 2016 while trapping for the sake of our native birds I was reminded time and time again that our climate is changing towards the warmer end of the spectrum. This is backed up by data.

While personally we do not ignore this, at various levels of management, politically especially, it’s the elephant in the room.

Oh it gets a mention, because it’s hard to ignore over a cup of tea that occasionally spills into the saucer from the heavy foot-fall, or a few beers after work on a Friday. There is always tomorrow after all! If politicians think like the rest of us?

In July 2016, the Government announced its plan to make New Zealand predator-free by 2050.

This has given me much to think on, like can we do it? I think categorically “yes” – It seems possible given the current climate of willingness, and advancing technology, but my thinking has been based on the current climate not changing much.

It all gets a bit wobbly though when we take the climate factor to heart. And this is my point: at Govt. levels it’s not taken to heart. We need some seriously proactive leadership.

Wild weather, Mt Aspiring National Park
The glaciers under the main ridge will probably be gone in several years

We spend $60m to $80m already in predator control each year, but can someone tell me what we spend on counteracting climate change?

Our Govt. set up Predator Free New Zealand Limited to drive the programme alongside the private sector, and while this might work in a non changing climate, to my mind it’s got no foundation. We need to roll up our sleeves and base it on a solid base that recognises climate change and accompanying warming.

Should we have a programme here too alongside the private sector, or some real Govt. leadership?

After all there is a lot more at stake than our native birds verses vermin!

NZ falcon against snow, Mt Aspiring National Park
NZ falcon in a climate gone crazy [NZ’s prolonged spring time 2016-17]
The NZ Department of Conservation put it like this: “In a normal year, predators will attack up to 60 per cent of kea nests. On a mast year [when temperatures are warmer triggering profuse seed production in our beech forests], that number rises to 99 per cent”

kea on a roofUnfortunately kea do not nest on slippery roofs! 

Kea for example nest under the roots of large trees or rocks anywhere between sea level and the bush line, and so are very vulnerable to predators. With rising winter snow-lines giving stoats even more opportunity to predate on our clever playful friends, we’ll lose them forever unless we address and mitigate climate change. It has to start at the top to augment our personal efforts and desire to be predator free.


South Island robin
This South Island robin may well look askance at our behaviour as a species sharing the same environment.

Robins flourish, dawn chorus returns to the Mt Aspiring National Park | Stuff.co.nz

Over the last few months I’ve often posted about the work being done in the West Matukituki Valley [home of Aspiring Hut] in Mt Aspiring National Park.

Two of the key players are my old friends Stu and Heather Thorne, and I’m delighted here to repost an article by local journo Marjorie Cook of stuff.co.nz [who gives her blessing re this repost btw, which uses some of my images] about the great work they’re doing…

Two decades ago, Wanaka couple Stu and Heather Thorne would eat their breakfast porridge at Aspiring Hut in almost complete silence. Now, the dawn chorus is a noisy morning wake up call, with breakfast an extra rowdy affair if clownish keas decide to drop by and chew on the doormat. Birds are back in abundance, thanks to

Read More at the Source: Robins flourish, dawn chorus returns to the Mt Aspiring National Park | Stuff.co.nz

An overview of efforts to encourage native bird population numbers between Mt Aspiring and Wanaka, New Zealand.

top: Members of the Matukituki Trust planning trapping operations at Aspiring Hut 10 days ago

Many of you know that I’ve been involved with many others giving native bird populations a leg up via the Matukituki Trust for the last 4 or so years. Progress has been very steady and positive due a good base plan concept, followed up by proven methodology.

Taking a wider view the good news is that four Trusts inc. the Matukituki Trust, several landowners, tourism operators and DOC, are now working collectively in the area from the mid slopes of Mt Aspiring to Wanaka.

Trust maps 1
Traps [in green] recently installed from Wanaka on the left, to Mt Aspiring on the right. Plans are well evolved to fill the obvious gaps in the next few months
Data obtained is being entered into a centralised database that monitors approx. 1600 traps, [Matukituki Trust 620], which enables all to look at and plan for the bigger picture.

Trust maps 3
A high density of traps of all types around Aspiring Hut in the West Matukituki valley, Mt Aspiring National Park [map approx. orientated north]

Trust maps 2Traps of all types upstream from Aspiring Hut in the West Matukituki valley, Mt Aspiring National Park. Liverpool valley on the left, upper west Matuki. and Scott Bivy rock in the center, and French Ridge on the right.


Many traps are above the winter snow-line in these three areas, with many being of the self resetting variety

I can’t comment yet on all the “kills” but in the last 6 months the Matukituki Trust’s traps have caught 911 predators: cats, rats, hedgehogs, stoats and possums. Mice, despite not directly being predators, are included.

It’s estimated that each predator kills 2 wildlife per week [birds, lizards,, bats insects etc] thus the above kills amount to 47,000 wildlife saved to-date.

Possums do eats chicks and eggs, but this aside 20 of them will eat 2 tons of vegetation per year, so this means that 18 tons are not eaten. That’s 9000 full shopping bags that stay on the trees to benefit the birds.

Trust maps 5A new kid on the block – one of many of the south island robin reintroduced some years back. Breeding has been so successful last spring that it’s hard estimate if we’re talking scores or hundreds of birds that have been bred by about 20.

In the last few weeks contractors have been in the valley to set up transects for annual bird counts, but so far exactly how many has not been released yet.


A brief history of the Matukituki Trust:

First we installed about 170 tracking tunnels in the West Matukituki valley to establish what predators were about that have been compromising bird breeding numbers. Answer: too many opossum and mice.

And on another front the means to scientifically establish how much seed the resident silver, red and mountain beech forest produced every three months. Answer: lots!

So-much-so, on both counts that the valley became “eligible” if you like for the Dept. of Conservation, partners with the Trust, to schedule a 1080 poison operation. This was carried out about 2 years ago. Interestingly I literally lived in the midst of it I

Knowing it’d be successful like in other areas like the Routeburn in “buying time” for more native birds chicks to reach maturity, work began in earnest on installing what now amounts to about 620 traps or various types in the valley [mostly high quality DOC 250’s], so that as the predator numbers inevitably increased, we’d be ready with other means to make sure the balance of bird v. vermin, swung in favour of the former.

Variations on the New Zealand parakeet / kākāriki

top: Red Crown NZ parakeet on Codfish Island, photo credit Maggie Evans

There are five main species of kākāriki, and in a previous post about gains made in native bird populations I really only touched on the return of the yellow-crowned species to the West Matukituki valley in Mt Aspiring National Park.

Now thanks to Maggie Evans of Maori Point Vineyard I’ve been able to post a couple of her pictures [not had much luck myself] – one recently taken near Aspiring Hut in the West Matukituki Valley of a yellow-crowned, and another of the rare [on the mainland] red-crowned from Codfish Island taken a few days ago.

Yellow crown NZ parakeet
Yellow crown NZ parakeet ~ photo credit Maggie Evans