January 6th was an extraordinary day for the trust as Helen Clark, administrator of the UN Development Programme and former Prime Minister of NZ took time to visit the Routeburn and see the progress we are making to ‘bring back the birdsong’.
It was a good day to be in the hills with clear skies, a gentle breeze and stunning views as the chopper lifted us above the bush towards the Harris Basin, home of the NZ Rock Wren. Traps are soon to be installed above the bushline to boost their breeding success. Similar trapping in the nearby Gertrude Valley has increased nesting success from 14-86%.
Flying along the Hollyford Face towards Ocean Peak and MacKenzie Hut we were able to point out existing traplines along the track and the valley floor and the proposed extensions down connecting creeks which will provide comprehensive predator control throughout the Routeburn Track. Landing at Paddy’s Point above Routeburn Falls Hut with its stunning views around the Harris Basin and the valley below was a great starting point for our familiarisation with the area and the role of RDWT and was further enhanced by an overflying falcon and a curious kea.
Helen Clark and her husband Peter Davis are long term advocates for and users of NZ back country and they are at home in the hills. They have a natural interest and appreciation of our wild places and have an unpretentious, friendly manner that makes meeting them for the first time delightfully simple. They were keen to discover how RDWT is working with DOC, Air NZ and Genesis to secure long term predator control. Helen offered a unique insight to environmental issues around the globe and the need for all initiatives to be sustainable. Our partnership with DOC, commercial operators and the community gives us a robust base to ensure that predator control in the area will be ongoing.
Ultimate Hike’s generosity in providing morning tea at Falls Hut (and the helicopter) was much appreciated, especially by those of us who had skipped breakfast. As we headed down towards the Flats we were lucky enough to hear and see kaka. A close look at the beech trees confirmed the extent of this year’s flowering and it seems highly likely that this will be another ‘mast year’. A chance meeting with Lou Sanson, Director General of DOC, confirmed that this is on their radar and applications to government for funding have already been made. It was good to see him on the track and experiencing firsthand the delights of the Routeburn.
The first flats up the North Branch were a great place to have lunch and listen to the mohua in the canopy. Helen Clark (trustee) has been involved with bird protection for a long time and with a keen ear for everything that we can hear but not see, she interpreted for the rest of us. The success of whio releases locally and recent sightings in the North Branch encouraged us to head further into the valley in hope of glimpsing the ducks but time constraints were against us this time.
DOC started conducting whio surveys annually in 2013 as part of the Whio Recovery Programme. The best technique for surveys is to use a trained dog which can locate nests (& even a single feather) along the river. The photo is of Paul van Klink and his trained dog Hoki. Whio are hard to locate, being crepuscular (active at twilight) – they are often not out during the day. Without a dog you will see only a very small proportion of the ducks. Even with trained dogs birds can be missed due to the wind or the birds being off the main river up a side stream.
Funding from Air New Zealand , Real Journeys & Genisis Energy has supported translocation of ducklings from Fiordland to the Rockburn and the Whione project (incubating eggs and releasing the fledglings when mature). Our area has some very good whio habitat which is protected from stoats by using stoat trap lines on both sides of the Rockburn, Beansburn & Routeburn Rivers. Last year six ducklings were released into the Rockburn River and this year we have released eight with more likely to follow.
It’s early stages for our whio work but looking good with birds breeding and sightings of ducklings by the public becoming more frequent. A bird released last year has already produced four ducklings and moved to the Routeburn River from the Rockburn River where it was originally released. A further survey of whio will take place this year along the Beansburn River.