Even as winter is not done with us yet, we’ve passed the shortest day and the first whiff of spring is not far away. Inland braided rivers of the Whakatipu provide the breeding habitat for 6 braided river species;
South Island Pied Oystercatcher (SIPO) | Tōrea – At-Risk – declining
Wrybill | Ngutu parore – Nationally increasing
Pied stilt | Poaka – Not Threatened
Juvenile black-fronted tern
Juvenile Banded Dotterel
These seasonal migrants spend their winters along New Zealand’s coastlines although some of our banded dotterels winter over in Victoria, Australia. All excep wrybill return to the Lower and Upper Kimiakau/Shotover River to breed, arriving from late July to mid-August each year. Wrybill nest on the Dart River at the head of the lake. Some have already sstarted to arrive, seemingly in sync with the rising of Matariki and heralding the change of season.
Braided river birds are adapted to high spring flows and when they arrive, they will gather together, feed to regain strength, pair up and find their nesting territories or colony nesting areas. The first nests can be seen from August to mid-September. The first speckled, camoflauged chicks appear in September of October. they have evolved without mammalian predators. Thier “freeze” response is a great defense against avian hunters, but no defense at all from mammals.
Juvenile Black-billed Gulls
Trapping protects the young of these species before or as they are learning to fly and forage by removing predators like rats, hedgehogs emerging hungry from their hibernation, and stoats. Cats and off-lead dogs, motorbikes and beach combers also pose a serious threat to these birds along with natural predators such as harriers and falcon.
Look for the signs along the rivers that let you know when the birds are nesting and please give them space. If you see or hear them, they’re probably already off their nests or worried about their chicks.
Thanks to KAPOW, Tucker Beach, Shotover Country and the Wakatipu High School groups for trapping the Whakatipu habitats of these species. If anyone wants to help with monitoring these birds, get in touch.
Meet a Trapper – Richard Shields
My trapping life started in 2018 helping Hans build the traps for Lake Hayes and was on the checking rotation for a year before helping Dawn get Tucker Beach Reserve up and running by building some of the traps and taking over one of the trap lines on the Shotover river. Currently we have 103 traps monitored by 5 volunteers. Rather than a rotation, we each have our own lines to check on a regular basis. As Robyn and I have two dogs that need regular exercise we are helping Mt Dewar- Treespace with some of the traps up there, and recently become part of the Quail Rise Trappers with a few traps along the Jim’s Way community planting area that we have been assisting Greg and the team with.
Outside of trapping I’m on the committee’s and help out with Wakatipu Search and Rescue, plus Southern Lakes Multisport Club which are both heavily involved in outdoor activities, something that has been an important and rewarding part of our lives. Also helped the Back Country Trust rebuild Mullins Hut east of Hokitika. That was an interesting challenge with the weather patterns they can have in the region.
When Jo asked why I do it, I guess helping improve the environment for people to be active and appreciate the outdoors, whether it be a short walk from home or a mission in the hills has got to be a worthwhile cause.
Richard checking traps on Mt Dewar
Secretive Little Marsh Crakes
The marsh crake (Porzana pusilla affinis), or koitareke as it is known to Maori, is one of the most secretive New Zealand birds, largely because it inhabits dense wetland vegetation, rarely ventures into the open and usually only calls at dusk and through the night.
Marsh crakes are small water birds (15-18 cm, 30-40 g). They are rarely seen and their exact population numbers are unknown.
The crown, upper parts and wings are rich chestnut-brown with flecks and streaks of black and white, the face and under parts are grey with black and white bars towards the flanks and vent. The eye is bright red, the beak green and the legs olive or yellowish-olive. Both sexes have similar plumage although the female is said to be duller. Juveniles are similar but have buff-brown instead of grey underparts.
Little is known of marsh crake behaviour and ecology. They are very secretive and most conspicuous from their calls at night in spring and early summer. Marsh crakes may migrate locally, as other subspecies do overseas.
Marsh crake’s territorial and courtship calls can make them easier to hear in spring, but they generally only call at night. A range of calls includes: “Kreeek”, “Trrrrrrr” (combing), “Krakrakra-gagaga” and “Krehehehe”.
Marsh crakes are monogamous and breeding occurs within dense cover in wetlands. Aerial courtship flights occur at night. Nesting occurs between September and December. The nest cup consists of woven grasses generally concealed under sedges or dense reeds in water. The female lays 5-7 olive-brown eggs. Both sexes incubate and incubation takes 16-20 days. Chicks are covered with black down when they hatch.
Marsh crake primarily feed on invertebrates and seeds of aquatic plants.
They are a potential indicator of wetland health because they are dependent on the presence of high quality and ecologically diverse habitats and rich food supplies.
Similar species: spotless crake (general dark plumage and red eye) and banded rail (much larger) but these are not known to be present in the Whakatipu Area.
The main threats to marsh crake/koitareke are:
Habitat clearance and drainage has had a significant impact on marsh crake. Over 90% of lowland freshwater wetlands have been drained and cleared for agriculture since Europeans settled New Zealand. Degradation of the remaining wetlands continues with grazing, water pollution and taking of water for other uses being major threats.
Continued habitat modification including the loss of food supplies.
Predation by introduced mammals such as cats, dogs, mustelids and rats. Cats appear to be a significant threat to marsh crake, based on historic and current data.
Other factors which impact on the marsh crake/koitareke:
Road-kills and flying into power lines are also causes of death.
Nesting crakes are sensitive to disturbance by humans.
If you see a marsh crake, please do not disturb it. If you can, take a photo and send it through to us with the location day and time of sighting. This will help us build up information about where they are living.
Volunteers Marty, Liam, Audrey and Dawn monitoring for Crake, July 2023
Thanks to Marty Barwood for the photo!
They respond well to habitat restoration so help out with any projects you can to support these cryptic birds. Please keep dogs on a lead around wetlands.
Meet a Trapper – NZONE
My name is Sean Robertson I’m originally from the southwest of England, I have been in NZ for 13 years and just over 12 in Queenstown.
For the last 12 years, I have been working out near Jacks Point for NZONE Skydive as a Parachute Packer. When I can I like to get out and about in nature, Hiking and Fishing, and I guess this is where I first started to notice all the trap lines across different parts of the country. This was difficult to ignore as it was something I wasn’t used to seeing on my usual trips out, back in the UK, and like most visitors over for the first time, I would get down and see if I could see what they were for. This intrigued me and as such, I did a little bit of research to find out what the purpose was behind them all.
And to be honest, that’s as far as my initial interest went. The launch of “Predator Free 2050” in 2016, did raise the issue again in the public eye and made me more aware of the bigger picture that the NZ government was trying to pursue. Sometime later on watched the amazing Documentary “Fight for the Wild” on TVNZ that again sparked my interest, but it was not until Covid hit and my work duties changed to include the upkeep and maintenance of our grounds and I actually started to see Stoats and Ferrets at work, that I finally decided to try and help and set up my own line at work. With the help of the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust, I gathered some information about setting up a line, covering things like trap choice and placement. I was also lucky enough to be given trap boxes made by local schools, some did need a bit of a tweak here and ther, but we got them up and running. Eventually ending up with a line of 20, Doc 200s aimed at Mustilids, Rats, and Hedgehogs and 4 Timms traps aimed at Possums.
Our area is a plot of land squeezed between Jacks Point Golf Course and the main highway heading south. It is mostly short-kept grass that we use for our Parachute Landing area and our Runway. It is surrounded on all sides by farmland used for both crops and grazing. Unfortunately, this type of grassy area is very pleasing to Rabbits who are not only a constant problem with their digging but also a constant source of food for the local Mustilid population which is why I believe I see them so often in the area. I also believe the surrounding land has a direct effect on the line, as when the surrounding land is cultivated and ploughed over, giving less cover up to our boundary the hits seem to drop. The Doc 200s are usually baited with eggs (when available) and frozen rabbit meat from the local collection freezer. These were quiet to start with, but there was a lot of human contact initially with the boxes and the fields were ploughed shortly after set up, but once the weather had been at them and the fields grew back we started to see results. The Timms traps have been baited with a few different options, Apples, Carrots, and Possum Dough often with some Peanut butter and Cinnamon added. These seemed to hit straight away but not with the possums they were aimed at but with Hedgehogs! In fact, Hedgehogs are our most common find in all the traps. We have recently had a bigger hit with the Ferrets and If I had not been on holiday and the traps had been checked and reset, I believe could have been a much higher number of results. Since I set up the line in October we have hit all our target species, Ferrets, Stoats, Weasels, Rats, Hedgehogs, and Possums. With also a few unexpected results including Rabbits, Starlings, a feral Cat, and most surprisingly to me, a Magpie in a Timms Trap!
At the moment I am the only member of staff interested in running the line and have unfortunately even had other staff members feeding feral Cats and Hedgehogs on site. I am trying to explain and change the perspective of others around me and I do understand how they feel. I grew up in the countryside and went out with friends who owned and raised Ferrets for hunting Rabbits, also the Hedgehog is a much loved and increasingly rarer animal in the UK. so suddenly targeting them did feel unnatural at first to me. So that’s also why I believe trying to educate and change opinions is also a big part of the plan moving forward for everyone in NZ.
Meet a Trapping Group – Queenstown Climbing Club
The Queenstown Climbing Club conservation squad had a busy November with two planting days at both QEII Remarkables Station and Queenstown Hill. Not exactly trapping but creating habitat and biodiversity!
The early November a crew from the Queenstown Climbing Club teamed up with Southern Lakes Sanctuary, QEII National Trust and the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust in a new effort to re-establish Totara trees on the West face of the Remarkables.
Ten of us beavered away for the morning with the QCC team of Peter Nipper and Natalie Sharples clearing 5 large areas of high bracken. Phil Green with a bung knee supervised while the rest of the crew followed on preparing the holes, planting, staking and putting in some protective mesh.
While just a beginning it is pretty exciting to see the first Totara reintroduced to the Remarkables. We all enjoyed kicking back at the end for a flask of tea and Ma Boulangerie croissants.
A huge thanks to Nita (QEII), Daniel (WWT), Matt, Paul, Greg and Bonnie (SLS) and the QCC team for making it possible.
Also, thanks to Whakatipu Reforestation Trust for donating the plants.
And last weekend we carried about 15 Mountain Beech up to our secret ‘’Meadows‘’ spot high on Queenstown Hill to extend our Mountain Beech project. This is our third planting here and it is great to see our earlier trees from 2019 and 2020 becoming established.
New Trapline at Bush creek, Arrowtown
Written by Bonnie Wilkins – Whakatipu Hub Coordinator for SLS and WWT
It has been a bad few months to be a possum in Bush Creek, Arrowtown! The Southern Lakes Sanctuary have been carrying out a possum blitz. This location was chosen as it has the highest potential biodiversity gains in the area and plenty of possum signs around.
We started out by doing some possum monitoring, using wax tags, followed by deploying 24 AT220 traps. These traps are a self-resetting possum trap that can also kill rodents and mustelids. One trap has enough battery life for 100 kills or lasts around 6 months and then can be easily recharged.
Field crew have been checking these traps fortnightly to get a good idea of possum numbers over time and getting great results, the last check bought us up to 410 possums. As well as 410 possums, the traps have also killed 71 ‘other’ pests, likely to be rodents.
Last week marked 3-months for this project, so we did a second round of wax tags, which we will have results for early December, these stay out for a 7-night measure. As well as the wax tags we also put out 4 cameras to get a bigger picture of how many possums are left lurking. Watch this space for results!
Looking after the Little Guys
Nerolie and Chris Cook have lived at Drift Bay for 22 years where, along with their neighbours, they have created a beautiful haven filled with native trees and birdlife. Thanks to their trapping and planting efforts they see a plethora of birds including tui, piwakawaka, bellbirds, kereru and a pair of breeding Grebes.
Realising that weta were facing a range of threats, Nerolie and Chris purchased and installed three weta motels, and they now regularly see ground weta occupying their new shelters. They have seen 5 in one motel – the occupants seem to come and go at their leisure.
The weta is only found in New Zealand and is so old it has outlived the dinosaurs.
Weta are large by insect standards. Some of the giant weta are enormous and are amongst the heaviest insects in the world
The weta is sometimes called the dinosaur of the insect world
The weta is more primitive than the tuatara. The weta has changed very little in the past 100 million years.
Weta have their ears on their front knees and can feel the vibrations of noises around them.
You can tell a male and female weta apart because females have a long ovipositor, which looks a bit like a stinger, which they use to lay eggs.
There are over 100 species of weta, many of which are endangered, so why not give them a hand. They like a shady area, but even a small grouping of trees will do.
NZ Birds – Otago, with sponsorship from ORC, and technical support of DOC and a University of Otago PhD candidate, have embarked on a regional survey and monitoring program for Australasian Bittern/ matuku-hūrepo and marsh/ spotless crake.
Fun facts about bittern:
They’re endangered; we think there are less than 1000 but we fear we may have been double counting.
They rely on a lek breeding strategy (ladies choice) therefore males boom to attract a mate.
Females nest around the booming platform.
Males may travel between nearby and even more distant wetlands during the breeding season booming on several platforms.
The peak in booming occurs between the last week of September and the 1st/2nd week of November so its breeding season NOW!
The best time to listen for booming is 1.5hr before sunrise and 1.5hrs after sunset.
Surveys (Active listening) for these species will occur on calm evenings with 3 repeats per site.
Trustee and local ecologist Dawn Palmer is leading the local effort to inventory our wetlands and will be undertaking active and passive listening surveys using Acoustic Recording Devices.
If you are interested in helping to survey our local wetlands for these secretive and cryptic species please get in touch with Dawn – firstname.lastname@example.org
Meet a trapping Group – Kelvin Peninsula Pestbusters
Colin Kelly reports as follows:
The Kelvin Peninsula Pestbusters trapping team consists of five energetic and willing volunteer workers who between them manage 104 mostly box traps. We are lucky in the respect that most of our traps are beside the Lakes edge walking and biking track which stretches from the Hilton Hotel to our boundary with the neighbouring Jacks Points Pest group – which is a distance of 15 kms. Our trapline is divided into five sections and each trapline manager has about 20 plus traps each to service.
The district’s six-year trapping programme was started in May 2016 with 12 traps and now have a total pest kill to date of 1572. This includes nearly 600 possums 82 stoats,31 weasels, 23 ferrets and 436 rats’ other kills include hedgehogs and 43 feral cats. When we first started our project there were absolutely no small birds, no morning birdsong and very few of any of the larger birds like tuis and bellbirds. There is still a long way to go yet but it’s great to notice the recent build-up of the flocks of small birds and a much healthier population of the larger species. We are chuffed to be receiving lots of positive feedback from the locals on the recovery. It’s not as much fun these days rebaiting trap after trap that hasn’t caught anything – but we are constantly reminding each other this nil catch regime is the ultimate aim of our project.
Our outlook for the future has been greatly enhanced in recent weeks when we were loaned one automatic AT220 trap from the guys at Southern Lakes Sanctuaries for two months to trial. Our best catch was five possums in one night on one tree. The manufacturers of the trap suggest 3 monthly visits to the traps are adequate but it’s really hard to stay away – even for a few days – when there is so much happening out there. Our parent body, The Kelvin Peninsula Community Assn have given us permission to buy four of these traps for our own use.
Queenstown Climbing Club Remarkables expansion
Queenstown Climbing Club initially worked with DOC in 2013 to put in a single line of 35 x DOC 200 traps in Wye Creek. Since then, the club has added more traps, then the project expanded further thanks to an ORC EcoFund grant in 2019 acquiring an 8 extra traps and funding to ensure consistent and regular rebaiting of traps was possible, in addition the local Girl Rangers donated another $1800 to buy traps after spending December 2020 wrapping Xmas presents to raise money for conservation.
In the 2 years preceding the 2019 ORC grant we caught 278 predators, with funding and community contributions we saw that increase by 70% to 473 catches in the following 2 years. There is now significant evidence of healthy numbers of forest and sub-alpine bird life – Tomtits, Bellbirds, Grey Warblers, Fantails, Silver Eyes and Chaffinches with one spotting of a Ruru in Lower Wye Creek.
We now have 139 traps in the Lower Wye Creek that form a barrier for predators moving into the upper catchment. When we consider the high alpine ridge lines on either side of the Upper Wye Creek, that form a natural barrier, we in essence have the beginnings of a mainland island.
‘The potential benefits of mainland islands are enormous for habitats and their unique ecosystem processes, for the survival of individual species (flora and fauna) on the mainland, and for New Zealanders in being able to experience first-hand a unique New Zealand habitat containing a diverse range of native and endemic flora and fauna.’ Department of Conservation
Our main target species is the stoat as they encroach further and further into the alpine zone, we will also have a secondary target of rats and hedgehogs.
Our trapping plan is to install 70 x GoodNature A24 traps, one every 100m, covering the 7km to Wye Saddle. These are self resetting traps capable of 24 kills before replacing the gas compression bottle and will use a specialist Stoat Lure that is effective for 6 months. They will be installed on a 0.8m Waratah and 400mm fence baton and include the new Bluetooth Chirp which will allow us to monitor actual catches with date, time, and temperature. This will give us valuable information for rebaiting strategies in future years.
In addition, we will build 35 x Kea Proof Double DOC 200 traps and install and locate these every 200m and stabilise them with rods of reenforcing bar baited with Eggs and dried rabbit meat.
Given the remote location it is intended the traps only get checked 3 times a year – October to install fresh bait and install fresh gas, then January and April to rebait.
The building of the DOC 200 traps will be done partly by the climbing club and also the local Men’s Shed in Arrowtown. Installing the traps and in the High Alpine section will be done by volunteers from the local section of the NZ Alpine Club and NZ Ski staff. Locating and installing traps in the mid valley will be done by Queenstown Climbing Club volunteers.
In addition, we intend to have the youth members of our club help with fund raising using the local Mitre 10 community BBQ facility.
Crested Grebe Nests in Queenstown Bay
In September the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust installed 3 Nesting platforms in Queenstown Bay.
Crested Grebe are a rather rare and unusual species of water bird that is barely able to walk on land. It creates floating nests made of weeds and sticks. Nests are attached to underwater debris, but when lake levels change, nests can be lost.
Some of the birds in Queenstown have found an interesting floating alternative. It’s on the back of boat engines that are partly underwater (mostly Jet Boats) that are anchored on the lake. Clearly a risky choice, so we are helping with the conservation of this species by building floating platforms on which they can build their nests. We also help them by building the nest.
Breeding takes place October to February. Three to four eggs are laid and incubated for 24-26 days. As soon as all the eggs are hatched, birds leave the nest with the chicks on the backs of the parent birds. They will be piggy-backed for the first two to three weeks and then swim freely and feed with the parents for about 3-4 months.
Post hatching Chicks are carried on the backs of parents for the first 2-3 weeks. Parents may stay with the chicks for up to four months.
Courtship: Spectacular and complex
Distribution. South Island, Australia
Status NZ Rare and vulnerable (500-600 birds) extinct in the North Island
Many thanks to the sponsors of this programme Mac Todd law and Mitre 10.
Citizen Science Trapping Project
Whakatipu Wildlife Trust was awarded a grant through the Curious Minds Initiative funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to undertake a Citizen Science Project with a number of our community trapping groups over the next year.
The purpose is “To Use Technology to Engage Community Trapping Groups in Inquiry Based Biodiversity Study”. So what does this mean? Trapping groups identify a problem or question and our coordinator can help develop the question into a science project and then support the groups to complete their investigation. It includes a small budget for equipment such as camera’s and sound lures.
We would like to involve a number of groups over the year and are keen to share the library of equipment out so many groups can get involved. We have started working with the first 3 groups to tailor their science project to their own unique problems and questions.
These range from: “I’d love to eventually have native species reintroduced to our area. What kind of monitoring would we need to do to really see how effective our trapping is?”
“We’ve never caught a stoat in our trap lines. Are there really no stoats in our area or are we just not catching them?”
“We have threatened species such as Kea and recently sighted Rock Wren living in our area, and our overall goal is to have a really effective trapping system. We want to use technology and science to understand things like the best trap placement, the predator movements, and what works best with pre-baiting. We want to improve our trap lines and make the network even more effective.”
This project will run over the course of the next year, and as we get the first groups up and running, we hope to learn and inspire other groups to get on board. We also hope it might be a way for more volunteers to get involved and inspired. If your group has a question, or wants to do some science monitoring in their area, then please email email@example.com
Tucker Beach Wildlife Reserve Project
The Tucker Beach Wildlife Management Reserve covers 150 hectares of Department of Conservation land straddling a large bend in the Lower Shotover River. For many years the 60 hectares on the true right of the Reserve was completely degraded It was overgrown with conifers, broom and lupins and used as a dumping ground for cars, household furniture and rubbish. People felt unsafe walking, cycling or picnicing there.
Threatened migratory birds such as banded dotterels, black fronted terns and black-billed gulls lost important nesting habitats in the braided river gravels due to the invasion of woody noxious weeds and human activity.
In June 2017 a small number of local residents formed the Friends of Tucker Beach Wildlife Reserve. Our vision is to restore the biodiversity of this special area. An Ecological Restoration plan was prepared by Dawn Palmer, (Natural Solutions for Nature), Neil Simpson, (Conservation Consultancy) and Anne Steven Landscape Architect. It contained the specific objectives of managing noxious weeds, pests and predators. We hope to protect the habitats of nationally endangered bird species and create native vegetation areas and wildlife corridors to attract native birds, insects, lizards and other invertebrates back to the area.
DoC helped with the removal of 7 car wrecks from the Reserve and other commercial and household rubbish was cleared in a community clean-up day in September 2017.
The Rotary Club of Queenstown formed at he Tucker Beach cycle trail at the Eastern end of the reserve. Supported by the Queenstown Trails Trust, it was opened in October 2018. This trail proved to be a popular walking and cycling trail but remained heavily overgrown with noxious weeds.
In 2019 DoC funded work to clear larger areas of broom and buddleia adjacent to the river. In 2020, a Workforce Alliance crew cleared large tracts alongside the Queenstown trail and adjacent to the western car park area. 1400 natives were planted over three community planting days in September 2020, with generous support from both the local community and the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust and volunteers.
A Friends of Tucker beach sponsored a programme of predator control, monitoring and trapping in September 2018 with 45 traps. The trap network was doubled in the winter of 2020 with the help of the Workforce Alliance crew. A total of 87 traps now protect the fauna of the Reserve on both sides of the River.
The Tucker Beach trapping efforts have so far removed a total of 56 mustelids, 130 rats, 30 hedgehogs and 3 cats.
In May 2021 the Friends of Tucker Beach Wildlife Reserve received Department of Conservation “Jobs for Nature” funding, to accelerate the biodiversity restoration in the Reserve. We created 14 full-time equivalent employment roles during the 3-year project. GSD Workforce Ltd, a subsidiary of Bungy New Zealand, is managing this project. 18 hectares of weeds will be cleared and 5 hectares alongside the Queenstown Trail will be reinstated with native planting.
A tapu Nohonaga site within the Reserve is to be managed in the future after consultation with local iwi.
The birds are now back. Banded dotterel and blackfronted terns and the world’s rarest gull, the black billed gull are preparing to nest in this braided river habitat.
During the nesting season from August until February, the birds are easily disturbed. Dogs off leads and people walking and riding in the river gravels disturb the birds and threaten their successful breeding. We are respectfully asking people to keep away from the river gravels. Please stick to the well-marked trails and keep all dogs on leads during the nesting season.
The Friends of Tucker Beach are very grateful for the Jobs for Nature funding and Doc support. We are looking forward to building ongoing community support that enables us to continue with planting and clearance work for many years to come.
It’s great to see so many people now enjoying the amenity of the Reserve. It is an area of special ecological importance and a valuable community conservation area.