Helen Clark visits the Routeburn Dart Wildlife Trust
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.
Whio report from Klinky and Hoki
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.
Helen Clark is now our Patron
Late in 2015 Helen Clark, the former NZ Prime Minister and current administrator of the UN Development Programme accepted an invitation from the Routeburn Dart Wildlife Trust to become our patron. This is exciting news for our us as we plan our key projects for 2016 and beyond. We are currently planning a visit for Helen and partner Peter to visit the Routeburn valley in early 2016.
Rock Wren Report
DOC Biodiversity Ranger Ray Molloy has just given the trust a summary of rock wren numbers in the Routeburn catchment. Here’s Ray’s notes:
I ran a rock wren survey in the Harris Basin, summer just gone, numbers of wren were pretty good. There’s always a ‘but’ – another study over the hill showed a non trapped area to only have 14% nest success compared to 86% in the trapped area. Our trapping in the Harris surrounds is not intensive enough; I’m looking to place more stoat traps up in the alpine environment come spring. If funding allows I’ll add more the following season. Predictably our higher stoat catches this year were up in valley heads & alpine past the control boundaries of the 1080 operation. If you haven’t seen this video – it’s worth a peek:
New Projects Planned
The Trust is delighted to announce that we have two great new projects aimed at ‘Bringing back the Birdsong’ specifically targeting Rock Wren and Kaka.
The Rock Wren Project will fund the installation and monitoring of 60 new traps in the Harris Basin and regular population surveys. Rock Wren are ‘nationally endangered’ and like most of our native species, they are very vulnerable to stoats. Research done in the Gertrude Valley demonstrated that dedicated stoat trapping increased the nest survival from 14 to 86%.
The second, Kaka Project involves Kaka which are categorized as ‘nationally vulnerable’. Small numbers of Kaka are present on the Routeburn but their long term viability is under threat. Regular monitoring is required to assess the number of females since they are most vulnerable to predation and many remnant populations are almost entirely male.
If sufficient females are found, they can be fitted with radio transmitters and monitored for the next few years to establish nesting success. Once the results from the initial survey and ongoing monitoring are established, supplementing the Kaka population with captive reared birds may be an option.
This is all work that would otherwise not happen so they are great projects in our quest to ‘Bring back the birdsong’ . The budget for the next three years (excluding the reintroduction of Kaka) is $77,000 which should be achievable.
Please consider making a donation at www.rdwt.org so we can get on with the job.
Many thanks to Routeburn Canyoning and Camp Glenorchy for their recent generous donations to the Trust and thanks also to Glenorchy Motors who had the most money in their collection box, closely followed by Camp Glenorchy and Glenorchy Hotel.
Amanda (4429942), Helen (4412221), Kath (4427713)
Climb Supports Trust
Glenorchy boy Harry Hasselman recently raised $762 for the Routeburn Dart Wildlife Trust when he climbed the east peak of Mt Earnslaw as part of a school challenge. He said ‘it was good to get to the top of the highest local mountain and see as far as the west coast, Mt Tutoko, Mt Aspiring and Mt Cook way in the distance.’
The boys are expected to raise a bit of money as part of the challenge and Harry chose to give this to RDWT because it’s a great local initiative. ‘The Routeburn and Dart valleys are my backyard and it will be great to see the bird numbers improve.’