Takahē and Lake Orbell, Fiordland National Park

Lake Orbell in the Murchison Mountains has long been a restricted area. It is the home of the Takahē Recovery Program. Run by New Zealand’s Dept. of Conservation.

Sure I have a personal interest in all things New Zealand native birds! But the re-discovery of takahē by Dr G. Orbell in 1948 has a link to my childhood. He must have retired to Oamaru from Invercargill in the 1950’s as he used to live next door to my grandparents.

As a little kid I remember him waving to me from a high up window, in his two story house in Reed Street. He always seemed a friendly sort. And by then was definitely famous. So I knew about the takahē from an early age.

Photo courtesy of a DOC interpretation board Te Anau

The Murchison Mountains is a restricted area in the Fiordland National Park. To get a permit would be difficult, as a member of the public.

I’d known this for years, but of course forbidden fruit always leaves room for hankering. It can manifest a sense of mystery. Then one day I discovered DOC in Te Anau run the occasional day trip.

And this is my story of such a day:

My son on the right, and an old and dear friend on the left get ready to embark on a Real Journeys boat.

The destination across Lake Te Anau takes about 30 mins. to reach. There is a wharf there used for the popular Glow Worm Caves trip.

The trip across reminded us of Dusky, Preservation and Doubtful Sounds to the west across the mountains.

After disembarking we are very soon on our way into some surprisingly rugged country. But the route is quite moderate, as far as such lines go in Fiordland.

The rock on the left is limestone. And as we’re traveling upward parallel to a creek called Tunnel Creek I realised it feeds into the glow worm cave system now below us.

Speleologists can get permission annually to explore 6 + km of caves.

There is predator trap at the bottom of the photo. To the left of the marker.

Taking a breather. The route is relentless. After about two and half hours we branched left off a broad ridge and down a steep descent to said creek.

Red beech is a predominant tree here abouts. And I saw a weka and a tom tit. Occasionally we heard bell birds and south island robins.

After the frustration of not getting a view, suddenly we knew we were close to the real sub alpine environment. So time for a very brief nibble and drink. And refill of drink bottles.

Next we were able to cross the stream dry-shod using some awkward, but thankfully short boulder hops. It took about 30 mins. to get to the nearby hut though. A series of frustrating wind-falls had to be overcome.

And suddenly there we were. The Takahē Heritage hut. And Lake Orbell to be seen on peeking around it’s corner, to the left.

A close up of Lake Orbell. With favoured takahē style habitat to the right.
Looking back at the historic hut
We did not see a takahē though. This was no surprise to me – 16,000 hectares of often boggy and difficult ground would take an age to search. However it’s pretty easy to get up close and personal with them at the Orokonui Eco Sanctuary near Dunedin.

All too soon though – we had to depart to catch the boat back at 5 pm. However not before a welcome brew at the hut.

We had a bonus on the descent.

An older kea followed us down almost all the way. Occasionally on the ground, And when flying – his shadow was constantly zooming over us. Sometimes he’d land on the most wobbly tree branch available, and gyrate about. Perhaps showing off!

This is not the kea though. We had no time to develop a relationship for a modelling session. But this bird is of a similar age.

We made it – bang on 5 pm. To my relief, as I was the slowest.

Looking up Lake Te Anau from the wharf.

For more back ground on the Takahē Recovery Program >>

And on Dr Orbell’s story >>

Unless otherwise above all photos by myself, Donald, or my son Red.

Many thanks for Te Anau Dept. of Conservation and Real Journeys for making this trip possible.

Today’s News: New Zealand native birds in a desperate situation, says Environment Commissioner

The takahē was once thought to be extinct, but in 1948 it was rediscovered by Dr. Geoffrey Orbell, [who incidentally I remember meeting as a child, when he was the next-door-neighbour of my grandparents]. He found it high in the tussock grasslands of the remote Murchison Mountains, Fiordland. Currently there are just over 300 left in the world - approx. half in the wild. photo Southern Light

The takahē was once thought to be extinct, but in 1948 it was rediscovered by Dr. Geoffrey Orbell, [who incidentally I remember meeting as a child, when he was the next-door-neighbour of my grandparents]. He found it high in the tussock grasslands of the remote Murchison Mountains, Fiordland. Currently there are just over 300 left in the world – approx. half in the wild. photo Southern Light
Today a very timely report was released by Parliamentary Commissioner for the environmentDr Jan Wright. It follows on from a very succinct series of non political reports including the use of 1080 poison to help our birds:

In a new report, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment says New Zealand’s native birds are in a desperate situation.

“Despite the efforts of many, most of our native birds are in trouble.” said the Commissioner, Dr Jan Wright.
“A third are in danger of becoming extinct. This includes the kea – the only alpine parrot in the world. Another is the wrybill – the only bird in the world with a beak that curves to the side. And another is the whio – a duck that paddles through rough water like a white water kayaker.”

Wrybill in the Makarora braided riverbed, Mt Aspiring National Park. photo Southern Light

The Commissioner’s report is based on a vision of restoring abundant, diverse, and resilient birdlife on the New Zealand mainland.
Dr Wright says the Government’s aim of eradicating possums, rats, and stoats by 2050 is good because it focuses attention on the most pressing cause of the decline of native birds – predators. But she says a plan of action is urgently needed.

“We need sustained control of predators over more large areas, so that bigger populations of birds can thrive. Small isolated bird populations can become inbred. We must not let our birds drift to the shallow end of the gene pool”, said Dr Wright.
The Commissioner also stresses the need for action on feral cats.

“These bird killers now almost certainly number in the millions in the countryside and along forest margins.”
The last chapter of the report contains seven recommendations to the Government. They include high priority research on controlling predators, increased protection of important bird habitats, and investigating new sources of funding.

“Ninety-three of our bird species are found in no other country”, said Dr Wright. “We must look after them. Our birds need help not only in national parks, but on farms, along rivers and coasts, and in cities. This is a battle for all New Zealanders.”

Source: Native birds in desperate situation, says Environment Commissioner

The whole document “The report, Taonga of an island nation” is available here as a pdf >>

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