Update on inland Otago bio diversity

kea; aspiring; hut

Tena koutou katoa

I’ve had it in mind for a wee while to do a sort of good news newsletter, so here it is.

The new year of 2012 has progressed into feelings of autumn in the air. Things were pretty hectic for me at the end of last year. Family and close friends stuff – mostly health issues (now resolved) and a couple of deaths.

So here is my news garnered from a few sources – people at the coal face doing the work. Two of which are retired DOC people. With a lifetime of experience in many responsible roles:

Ten years ago 25 Sth Island robin were bought back into the West Matukituki Valley and released near Aspiring Hut. Now they total an estimated 300 and have spread up valley and down to into the Rob Roy valley and the East branch of the Matukituki.

The initial instigator of this was my good friend Stu. He and Heather are still tracking the birds and are now close to saying the project is closed.

Prior to 3 poison drops since 2014 and the subsequent installation of nearly a thousand traps by the Matukituki Trust in partnership with DOC, the survival rate has gone up from 1 fledgling out of 4 surviving to 4 out of 4, estimated.

The buff weka project – another relocation by Stu. At least 30 years ago he bought a bunch of birds back from the Chatham Islands and established an aviary on Stevenson Island on Lake Wanaka. So each hatching had the best chance of success. Then they were re-estabished on other islands in the immediate area around Wanaka and Queenstown.

One way or another I’ve taken an interest in this project too, after doing work on the island long ago. I will soon be mooting for getting some up-to-data data on numbers and well being. And likewise I’m taking quite an interest in braided river species/locals. Over a decade I’ve helped on many of the surveys. Based on what we’ve learnt I think how they are done needs a reexamination. Work in progress – best done before next spring!

One of the locals – tūturiwhatu / banded dotterel strutting his/her stuff

Another old friend Paul has gone from advancing the Matukituki Trust plans to coordinating several trusts and organisations trapping between Wanaka and the upper West Matukituki and lower East Matukituki.

Here is a now out-of-date map showing the gaps to filled up the valley. Glendhu Bay being on the left. Last I heard over 1600 traps.
The Matukituki Trust has just installed a new trap line up to the top of Cascade Saddle at 1800 mts
And another up an old track to the right here of Shovel Flat. Again up into the subalpine. The track being a rough line, up to Glengyle, put in by our old friend Geoff who ran Mountain Recreation climbing instruction courses for years out of Shovel Flat.

While looking at the above photo note that is French Ridge in the shade above the trampers. There is another line up there also, to away above the winter snow line. And in the valley to the right of the ridge we have Gloomy Gorge. Home of a rock wren population and bunch of stoats. So there is another line in there as well.
All this is in extremely steep and rugged terrain.  A lot of the trappings is done with helicopter support. Groups being dropped off at the top, just like farmers now do mustering.

Incoming kea at Aspiring Hut. Right now there are several juveniles frequenting the facilities daily. Just like they did when I worked there for a few years.They’re doing a manic job of ripping apart anything rubbery on parked up mt. bikes. I so hope they are wise enough to not eat it!

Also up to 14 have been hanging about French Ridge – probably the same birds. And other good news has been 27 spotted on Cascade Saddle by a ski touring friend. On the weekend before Labour weekend last year.
Not in our area, but also an unprecedented 13 of, are now frequenting the Red Tarns track at Mt Cook village


Back in 2014 – 17 there were only two kaka in the valley. And then I found one dead near a trappinator [‘possum trap]. After much forensic work we decided both it and a stoat had taken an interest in a dead possum and the stoat pounced on the kaka.

Now it’s a similar story to the robins: there are several down valley and up the East Branch

On closing Wanaka/Matukituki news: other species are back in abundance, which means the dawn chorus is back – no more sleeping in at Aspiring Hut!

Also the potential hut rebuild decision-making with the Alpine Club and DOC is still fraught with tough calls. Geo technical in nature. Nothing will be a happening this season.

I’ve not mentioned the vast Makarora catchment. Good things are happening there also >>

And Forest and Bird, the old timers in the area, are still doing the work of unsung heroes. Trapping, trapping and trapping. Also trialing electronic means for traps to send info via satellite as to their status.

Ngā mihi

PS If you haven’t seen it already and have 4 minutes to kill then check out this attached link to the video taken by Crux on the Matukituki Charitable Trust a couple of weeks ago.

And on Radio NZ over the weekend – some very useful good thoughts during 27 mins. of:
Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler.

The News Central Otago interviewed me recently

The News, Central Otago interviewed me a couple of weeks ago because of this web site initiative. The paper and article will hit the streets today apparently. I’m wondering how it’ll present!

Simon the interviewer steered me into aspects of my history in a very professional manner. Then sooner rather than later, since the web site was born of the experience, my more recent Matukituki Trust involvement was the subject I warmed to.

The noticeable decline of birds in the valley, kea especially, over the last 20 years was the background.

Reversing this has come about due to significant efforts from the Dept. of Conservation and the huge volunteer effort that has gone into the project with over 5500 hours already. Not to mention a truck load of money!

The morning chorus is now a reality up the valley – more birds of several critical species abound, and it’s something that has been a wonderful recent aspect of my 18 months up there over the last 3 years, and now we expect to see even more improvements.

The latest strategy has been the installation of the Hells Gate Virtual Trap Barrier which with the assistance of 9 volunteers was completed 4 weeks ago .

Hells Gate – where the West Matukituki gets squeezed by the ongoing uplift of the Southern Alps due to plate tectonics
Matukituki Hells gate

Mt Aspiring Station landowners, Randall and Alison Aspinall had generously agreed to the Trust installing a tight grid of traps between the bluffs and the Otago Boys High School Lodge, to prevent animals migrating up the valley. Otago Boys High School students have expressed an interest in being involved in the project, which is great too.

106 traps of various types were installed to form a barrier at the entrance to the Matukituki Valley [Hells Gates, is just upstream from Cameron Flat – see photos]. Aim being to stop the movement of predators up the valley – cut them off at the neck, being an entry way to Mt Aspiring National Park, so to speak!

The view up the valley…
Matukituki Hells gate

With Predator Free NZ 2050 looking to support large landscape predator projects, the Matukituki Valley [Trust)] is well positioned to be part of much larger projects too.

This is very much work in progress though – with massive scope/potential
Lastly, in the season ending May 2017, we’ve recorded 780 kills, including 95 stoats, 117 possums and 130 rats. For the first time we have encountered a number of cats, with 12 caught.

Below are some more photos of the area…
Matukituki Hells gate

Matukituki Hells gate

Matukituki Hells gate

Matukituki Hells gate

Matukituki Hells gate

A year in the life of the Matukituki Charitable Trust operating in Mt Aspiring National Park

The Matukituki Charitable Trust which operates in Mt Aspiring National Park has just released a newsletter which is reproduced below, [unless otherwise indicated photos and italicised text are by Donald Lousley who btw is proud to have been involved trapping, monitoring and making photos towards assisting with the great results as outlined below]:

Kia Ora

The Matukituki Charitable Trust (MCT) was established by Gillian and Derek Crombie in 2013 to ensure that the natural attributes in Mt Aspiring National Park’s Matukituki Valley are protected and enhanced. In partnership with New Zealand’s Dept. of Conservation (DOC), the Trust are now well on the way to restoring the habitat and increasing the population of all native flora and fauna with the long-term goal of translocating other species to this unique valley.

Matukituki charitable trust news 888

2016/17 Season West Matukituki Valley

MCT has successfully completed its busiest and most challenging year due to the dedication and determination of Paul Hellebrekers and our team of volunteers (more later). The team has completed the installation of 657 traps in the valley, implementing the first phase of the Trusts trap installation efforts. The traps have already shown their worth with a record number of 780 kills this season (end of May) and of real impact 95 stoats, 117 possums and 130 rats. For the first time we have encountered a number of cats with 12 caught. MCT plan to install 40 cat specific traps next year.

The Trust have also assisted DOC with rodent monitoring work, beech seed monitoring, and installing a rabbit proof fence near Cascade Hut – a great all-round effort.

The Trust has been very well supported by our volunteers and financial sponsors, showing that this effort to maintain and improve the valley does matter to people who are willing to give time, money and skills to make a difference.

We are winning and seeing great improvements in birdlife activity. With the current year being a beech mast event, we expect a real battle with predators in the spring and trust that DOC’s Battle for Our Birds campaign will be able to assist MCT work over this period.

Challenges and Triumphs

The year has been challenging in the valley with a semi beech mast event occurring last year but not enough to trigger an aerial predator control operation, so we have had to rely solely on the traps to reduce rodent numbers.

Matuki trust funnel
Beech seed funnel being installed to aid in the prediction of food amounts available to predators


To date birdlife has held up with a lot of anecdotal reports of good bird activity around the huts and tracks but fewer sightings of kea than a year or two ago. A few long term valley users reported that the morning chorus was amazingly better.

We are hoping that the trapping done over summer will allow a reasonable breeding season this year and avoid a population collapse. The high number of predator catches indicates a good breeding season for these species with the traps working and birdlife seems to be holding.

Over the last few years we have seen considerable increase in the numbers of South Island robin, kakariki and even a few kereru. This is very exciting for Heather and Stu Thorne who nurtured the small robin population which were translocated by DOC from the Dart Valley back in 2007 and 2008. Heather managed to catch and band 50 robins this year – a fantastic and patient result.

South Island robin in red beech forest
South island robin in red beech forest between Aspiring and Cascade huts


Overall birdlife is becoming more visible with confirmed sightings of kea, kaka, kakariki, bellbirds, kereru, native falcon, morepork, SI robin, fantail, tomtit, rifleman, rock wren, and Long Tail bats.

We are also noticing some strong regrowth in the undergrowth with the reduction in possum numbers. Overall the combination of poison and trapping has made a big improvement in the valley.

Paul’s contribution to designing and managing the work-plan is the primary reason that MCT have achieved its success and we are extremely fortunate to have Paul’s skills and knowledge.

Sponsors and Volunteers Support

The trust would not be able to achieve its progress without the help of our sponsors and volunteers.
This year we recognise the contribution from:

  • Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds (Tom Elworthy) who have again financially supported Paul’s position as Operations Manager.
  • Tait Electronics (Garry Diack) who provided radios to improve field safety.
  • Stuart and Coleen Landsborough who funded the trap eggs for the season. Over 300 dozen eggs!
  • Longview Environmental Trust (John May) who sponsored this seasons Forest Bird survey and the use of their 4WD vehicle when required.
  • Aspiring Helicopters Ltd who provided assistance with high trap line access to keep the “old volunteers” mobile
  • DOC Community Fund (Formerly CCPF) who have largely funded the cost of traps and installation costs excluding volunteer time. 2017 is the final year of a funding grant approved 4 years ago.
  • DOC Wanaka for assistance with transport, expert advice and accommodation for volunteers.
  • Gillian and Derek Crombie provided general MCT funding.

Matukituki charitable trust tait 454
photo by MCT of Tait Electronics (Garry Diack in the centre) providing radios to Derek and Gillian

Also, a huge thank you for general donations received from those interested in supporting our project. Your donations help the Trust to positively focus on our vision

What has the Trust Achieved in 2017.
2016/17 Catches:

Matukituki charitable trust kill sheet 768
data by MCT

MCT are four years into a 5 to 10 year programme to restore the valley and so far we have a total of 657 traps installed including:

  • 142 DOC 250 single set Traps
  • 343 DOC 200 single set Traps
  • 5 DOC 200 Twin set
  • 33 Goodnature Possum Traps
  • 10 Goodnature Stoat Traps
  • 119 Trapinator Possum Traps
  • 5 Timms traps
  • 16 Beech Seed funnels
  • 80 Tracking tunnels

Matukituki charitable trust tracking tunnels
Examining predator tracks left in tracking tunnels



Over the last year MCT has provided $37,000 to fund the project and, in addition, volunteers have contributed 2,636.5 hours. Total funding to date for the project exceeds $140,000 and over 5000 volunteer hours plus considerable DOC hours in support. To maintain all the activities long term we are budgeting around $50,000 per year which will enable us to engage some assistance to check and maintain the trap network as well as extending some of the key trap lines that provide protections to kea and rock wren.

Kea on an electric fence
A kea, one of three now banded, on an electric fence – Cameron Flat, June 2017


The network of traps now extends on both sides of the river from Mt Aspiring Station homestead to the head of the West Matukituki at Scott’s Bivvy. Side trap lines include Otago Boys High School Lodge, Rob Roy Valley, French Ridge, Gloomy Gorge, Liverpool Track and above Cascade Track and Shotover Saddle route. The cost of traps purchased to date is almost $100,000.

Opossum in a Trapinator
One less predator caught in a Trapinator


Bird Monitoring

A big effort was made for the first time with bird monitoring. Three groups; Mainly Fauna (forest bird counts), Kea Conservation Trust (kea) and DOC (rock wren) carried out monitoring and banding programmes.

Matukituki Valley flock of kea
Matukituki Valley flock of kea above Aspiring Hut Feb 2017


DOC carried out a cat survey in May this year to determine the prevalence of feral cats in the valley. Low levels were recorded but control is recommended. Also, Patrick Stewart of Sound Counts brought a group of students from the North Island for the second year to monitor birds and long tailed bats with acoustic monitors. These surveys are the first so the results will be compared with the coming year to determine changes. Overall the survey indicated that bird numbers are fairly low. MCT are confident that there has been an increase compared to 5 years ago.

Mainly Fauna reported that estimated densities were high for rifleman (5.5 birds/ha), but considerably lower for bellbird, parakeet, robin and tomtit (≤1.1 birds/ha). Native species were encountered more frequently (54.0 birds/km) than introduced species (36.5 birds/km). Encounter rates were highest for chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs; 18.7 birds/km), followed by rifleman (17.2 birds/km), encounter rates for all other species were less than 8 birds per km.

NZ falcon
New Zealand falcon near Cascade Hut – March 2017


Anyone wanting copies of any of the monitoring reports referred to in the newsletter please contact MCT (matukitukicharitabletrust@gmail.com ) or Paul Hellebrekers.

Other Activities

As well as the active field work we have:

  • Held a well-supported Health and Safety induction course for volunteers
  • Continued our involvement in the Community Fund programme
  • Assisted other similar Trusts with resources
  • Played a key role in the wider Matukituki Catchment Animal Pest Control Project
  • Attended the Dunedin Conference- Inc – run by Yellow Eyed Penguin trust
  • Attended the inaugural Kea Conservation Trust conference at Arthurs Pass
  • Attended Predator Free NZ seminar in Queenstown

Matukituki Valley kea on a fence near a truck
Kea on a fence near DOC vehicle leaving Aspiring Hut

Partnership with DOC

MCT has continued its relationship with DOC Wanaka. Our thanks go to Mike Tubbs for DOC support and to the local team of Anita, Flo, Annette, Kerie and Dave for their practical support. MCT have nothing but full commitment from the Wanaka DOC team and this is a major factor in the continuing success of the programme.

Special recognition goes to Florence Gaud (Flo) who provides the technical expertise for the project and connects the various strands of work being done from trapping to monitoring to health and safety.

Volunteers -Hard Yards

The volunteer achievements of the Trust are credited to Paul Hellebrekers, Stu and Heather Thorne and Flo Gaud. This team have undertaken hundreds of hours work in the valley, much of it heavy lifting, cutting tracks and lugging traps through the forest. One new tough trap line was established through forest on the true left of the river, extensions to the Gloomy Gorge and ‘Wet Feet’ lines were also completed, along with replacing many of the older DOC traps. Trapinators have been added to most of the lower valley forest lines to target possum, with Goodnature A12 traps installed on some of the upper valley forested lines.

The Trust is fortunate to have a wide and capable pool of volunteers to the extent that we
seldom have a shortfall of people for work days.

Matuki trust heli
Aspiring Helicopters picking up volunteers


The teams generally fall into two groups: days trips to clear the lower valley traps – generally 4 or 5 people for a day a month, and overnight groups to install or clear the upper valley traps- usually 3 to 4 people. Anyone interested in joining the team are very welcome. MCT have work available for every level of fitness and experience from clearing traps alongside the road to high alpine traps requiring good back country experience.

Volunteers who have made it happen this season include:

  • Paul and Tess Hellebrekers
  • Stu and Heather Thorne
  • Gillian, Derek Crombie and the Crombie family
  • Rod MacLeod
  • Donald Lousley
  • John Hogg
  • Jane and Ian Turnbull
  • Murray Burns
  • Neil Sloan
  • Grant Morgan
  • Roger Brash
  • Henry Aubrey
  • Kris Vollebregt
  • Jane James
  • OBHS Students
  • Sandy and Stephen Mattingly
  • Roy Borgman
  • Randall and Alison Aspinall
  • Patrick Stewart (Bird and Bat Count Acoustics)

Mt Aspiring Station muster
Mt Aspiring Station muster – Randall and Sue Aspinal


Planning for 2017/18 season

We will be clearing the traps through the winter period where this is safe and from that we will get an indication of the number of predators present. The clearing of the traps will then ramp up again in spring. A recent Tracking Tunnel survey indicated very high levels of mice (100%) and rats (10.08%) over 16 tracking lines, so it looks like we will have a busy season ahead.

A significant project planned for in October, is the installation of 100 traps of various types to form a “Barrier” at the entrance to the valley near Hells Gates. Mt Aspiring Station landowners, Randall and Alison Aspinall have generously agreed to MCT installing a tight grid of traps between the bluffs and OBHS Lodge to prevent animals migrating up the valley. The traps will be placed at 50 metre spacing in several lines perpendicular to the river. Otago Boys High School students have expressed an interest in being involved in the project which is great.

Planning is also well underway to continue the monitoring programme (Kea, Rock Wren, Bats and forest birds) along with the monitoring of the current beech mast impacts.

MCT has engaged Mainly Fauna Ltd to carry out a repeat bird monitoring survey in the valley.

The Kea Conservation Trust obtained funding to research the kea population in the Matukituki Valley. This project has 3 main aims to support kea conservation initiatives:

  1. run an initial catch trip to enable attachment of transmitters and bands to adults and bands to fledglings and juveniles,
  2. monitor kea nest productivity and predator impact through the breeding season,
  3. run a kea survey and combine with all other data to provide a baseline for the local kea population. While their initial catch trip was thwarted by bad weather and had to be postponed until next spring, we support and encourage this work as it will help determine whether we are targeting predator control for kea as effectively as we can.

Join us in this quest for a unique valley experience.

The MCT Trustees and volunteers are ready for the coming season and looking with trepidation on the task of clearing and resetting over 700 traps up to the snow line. However, when we see the rewards of birdsong and activity and it all makes sense.

For further information on the Trust or the project please contact us:

Trust Website: http://www.mctrust.co.nz/ or email matukitukicharitabletrust@gmail.com
Or donate to: Matukituki Charitable Trust (Bank Account) 03-1594-0586292-000
Trustees: Gillian & Derek Crombie and Mark Pizey.


NZ falcon with a mouse
NZ falcon with a mouse by Aspiring Hut


NZ falcon landing in a tree
NZ falcon landing in a tree by Aspiring Hut


Matukituki Valley tomtit
Matukituki Valley tomtit


Opossum – one not caught, but encountered during trapping. The sore eye maybe the result of a scrap with another possum


South Island robin feeding
South Island robin feeding at Aspiring Hut


Matuki trust french 2
Looking across Gloomy Gorge from French Ridge Hut – some of the highest altitude areas The Trust traps.

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.