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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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 Donald
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.
There are cautionary things to be learnt from being under a bird – things that can come back to haunt us from childhood:
I was about four years old when hand-in-hand with my mother, like my hand in hers while my other held a flavoured and much savoured ice cream. All was good I recall, until suddenly with a plop, a passing sea gull dropped a deposit on it. I was gutted, but perhaps it was good start to training for life!
Fast forward a few too many decades to when I was recently working 6-7 months a year up the West Matukituki Valley in Mt Aspiring National Park looking after huts, and also monitoring birds and doing some trapping; all in an ice cream free zone.
It was the beginning of a relationship of sorts with four NZ falcon / kāreareas. The two parents had accepted me so it became the norm for them and their fledglings to hang out nearby, notably in the early autumn when there would be some serious training going on that was all about catching mice in the long grass by Aspiring Hut. It became a fascinating privilege to have them around me albeit ignoring me in a sort of aloof way.
A juvenile learning to hunt for mice, using hearing more than sight, but make no mistake they’re very aware of the slightest movement in the grass even when airborne and 30-40 mts away…
This juvenile failed to find a mouse for lunch so flew up into a nearby tree and made such a racket hoping the nearby parents would supply some food – none was forth coming however…
Adult NZ falcon / kārearea with a fresh lunch at Aspiring Hut…
Three years on and the family had shifted a little down valley, but I was remembered as I awkwardly squirmed under this alpine shrubbery, and then even more awkwardly got the camera activated and pointed upwards. The bird literally yawned and then got on with dealing with an itchy ear, while I’m less than two meters away!
So that was one thing going on in the West Matukituki Valley near Wanaka, where predator control is on-going after a significant upscaling of same back in 2014 by the Dept. of Conservation [DOC] and the Matukituki Charitable Trust.
In a nut-shell it’s working with an increase of all bird species, to the point that people staying in the valley at Aspiring Hut this summer past of 2017-18 reported that the dawn chorus woke them up too early!
Amongst an impressive line up of New Zealand song birds the melodious bellbird / korimako takes line honours in the “what a lovely day for singing my best tunes” stakes. They are also very clever at being able to mimic other sounds they encounter, even other birds, or noisy plumbing pipes in a lodge…
The flighty tomtit is one of the indicator species that signals that the bird habitat is getting back in balance to their advantage. The other being the rifleman and south island robin / toutouwai. All are increasingly evident in the area…
For two years now we’ve delighted in the valley to hear again the haunting calls of the morepork /ruru at night. We’ve seen them with fledglings too, and even hanging about Aspiring Hut catching moths drawn to the light, where they delight with their ability to arrive in a ghost like manner with absolutely no wind noise. Gentle souls! This one I got to know quite well after discovering him with a badly damaged wing. Sadly it’d been fly-blown, and the injury was not survivable despite vet intervention and antibiotics…
And of special note, because they’re such an expensive species to help, is that kea numbers have increased – the valley is indeed still a nursery…
To get to this happy point required much planning and thousands of hours of work by volunteers and DOC staff.
What gave the birds a real “leg up” in the initial stages was an aerial application of 1080 poison, one that I was actually present for, as in living in the area and monitoring results. Then the installation of hundreds of new traps got fast forwarded by getting a large DOC Community Fund grant to buy them, and when done the bird populations got the most significant boost ever when the valley qualified again [based on gathered data] for another 1080 application in the spring of 2017.
And while we don’t know so much about numbers of predators that have died of poison, we do know that 3958 have been trapped by various trusts and DOC in the seasons 2016-17 and 2017-18 between Wanaka and the West Matukituki operation, as discussed here. The information is very detailed now as well, so hot-spots can be identified [relative to species of predator], and the choice of lure and trap types refined.
Here are some photos of some of the stages:
Finding out which species of predator needed to be knocked back in numbers meant installing tracking tunnels – an awkward task at best, but very necessary…
When the line is set up then at regular intervals during the year an inked card is placed in each tunnel overnight. What hungry critters are about are attracted to a lump of peanut butter in the centre and after a nibble they leave tracks on departing. By contrast an opossum will simply pull the card out and partially rip it up…
Carrying these slick funnels designed to catch beech tree seeds [so as to be able to predict how much food in advance will be available to predators] was another memorable job, especially in dense bush and up and down steep banks – not one I’d like to repeat often! The stakes are used to support the funnels, which are fitted with some panty-hose at the bottom…
DOC staff and volunteers counting beech seeds – a fun evening. Each handful, which were shot down in this instance with a shotgun/large calibre bullet, was host to about 100 seeds…
Traps now totalling almost 800 have been installed from way down the valley by Mt Aspiring Station to above Liverpool and French Ridge [pictured] huts, even in terrain that is snow covered in the winter. At this altitude the at risk species is the amazing rock wren, which hibernates under the snow for the winter…
Training up fit and competent teams to safely service the traps and tunnels in this typical southern alps terrain was another step along the way…
Installing a virtual barrier of traps to stop the migration of predators wishing to enter the valley was carried out at Hells Gates just a few Km upstream from Mt Aspiring Station’s homestead it is comprised of about 110 traps offset at 50 mt spacings, across this gap…
Here are a few thoughts on some of the details and relationships that need to be considered and planned for in any “big picture” project like this one:
Of all predators the cat is the hardest one to entice into either a live catch cage, or the likes of a DOC 200 trap, and has to be lured in, often by laying food outside until trust is established over a number of days. Also cats apparently have a range of 20kms. It’s a fickle and time consuming exercise.
Education is critical for cat control, political or not. Education of children is very effective, then they go home and pester the parents, and simultaneously hopefully talk them into back yard trapping and home moggie management.
Meanwhile targeting the rabbits for miles around is known to be effective. Stoats for one will also travel vast distances for a tasty rabbit, and when they get scarce the stoat then targets birds. I imagine the same applies to ferrets and cats. Eliminate rabbits and the problem diminishes.
Dead stoat and eggs used for lures…
Mice are another critical species to get under control, and that’s a challenge all over NZ!
Since a rat plague usually follows on from a mouse one, [which follows a prolific seeding of trees, which follows warmer seasons].
It’s been a definite advantage in the valley to have 4wd access, but every now and then after a severe rain event, the road has to be repaired…
The opossum numbers have to be quantified also, and appropriate strategies worked out to get their numbers down, and then the quality of the forest habitat soars in favour of the birds.
Baby opossum near Wilson’s Bluff. A little usual to see one like this in broad daylight, but it was sick I think, as it had a damaged eye and was very sluggish…
Lastly hedgehogs seem to hold a special place in the heart of NZ gardeners, but are known to be as efficient as a stoat at eating eggs and killing fledglings. More education required here too, and despite their tiny legs they’re now found and trapped at relatively high altitudes in our remote high country and even in damp environments such as braided river deltas.
Tools of the trade, a DOC 200 trap and lures used such as rabbit paste. I think the local robin / toutouwai knows the benefits of good gear – actually while trapping it is quite normal to become friends with the locals, and to cement the relationship scuffing up some moss and dirt to reveal grubs is good form….
South Island robin / toutouwai
Frost in the valley. I’ve included this to illustrate that on the clearing on the right, called Butlers, the south island robin / toutouwai is now regularly seen. About a doz. were translocated to Aspiring Hut [2 hours walk up the valley] about a decade ago. We’ve known for sometime that they’ve been doing well especially of late, but I’m now very pleased that they’ve migrated this far away from the area they were released, which by-the-way is also by the mouth of the Rob Roy Glacier valley/walk, and quite close to the carpark/trailhead.
Kaka – apparently 5 of were spotted several months ago at the Aspinall Family’s old Mt Aspiring Station Homestead at the mouth of the east branch of the Matukituki river, [donated to Dunstan High School and converted into a comfortable Lodge]. The observer was my friend Eric who has taught school courses there for many many years, and he said it’s the first time he’s seen more than one there. This good news will be due to what is known as the halo effect, DOC’s efforts, and to trapping by my late friend Sam Mcleod who sadly passed away just a few weeks ago. We’re looking forward to knowing more about what is in this valley quite soon – some trips are planned!
Lastly a heads-up about a new project I’m involved with for the Makarora catchment – the Aspiring Biodiversity Trust. I took on the building of the web site >>
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]:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
One less predator caught in a Trapinator
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 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.
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
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.
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
Jane and Ian Turnbull
Sandy and Stephen Mattingly
Randall and Alison Aspinall
Patrick Stewart (Bird and Bat Count Acoustics)
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:
run an initial catch trip to enable attachment of transmitters and bands to adults and bands to fledglings and juveniles,
monitor kea nest productivity and predator impact through the breeding season,
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:
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.
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!
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”
Unfortunately 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.
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