Looking after the Little Guys

Tree Weta

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.

A number of weta (and an earwig) in one of Chris and Nerolie’s motels

Quick Facts

  • 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.

There are plenty of instructions on line for making your own weta motels – what a great project for the kids!!!  Have a look at DOC’s website that includes plans for both 3 and 5 star motels: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/toyota-kiwi-guardians/take-action/build-a-weta-motel/

Or you can buy the motels from Friends of Hunua Ranges for a donation of at least $30.00, or simply make a donation to help them put more weta motels in their area.   Go to: http://www.friendsofhunuaranges.co.nz/weta_hotels.php

In search of Boomers

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 – dawn.palmer@xtra.co.nz

You can listen to bittern booming and find out about these birds on www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz ; click the link for bitterns here  https://www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/australasian-bittern

Meet a trapping Group – Kelvin Peninsula Pestbusters

Colin Kelly reports as follows:

Colin Kelly check a DOC 200 trap on Kelvin Peninsula

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

Rock Wren or hurupounamu have been seen in the Remarkables area and would benefit from increased predator trapping

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.

The Potential

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 Proposal

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

Crested Grebe
Crested Grebe

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.

Features

Species.                 Southern Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus australis)

Breeding.               Usually October to February.

Eggs                       3-5 laid at two day intervals

Incubation              24-26 days

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

May be an image of one or more people, people standing and outdoors
The platforms before installing in Queenstown Bay with sponsors Mitre 10, John Darby, Hans Arnestd, penny Clark, Lisa Thurlow, Paul Kavanagh and David Penrose

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?”

to 

“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?”

to

“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 hello@whakatipuwildlifetrust.org.nz


New Zealand Rock Wren (hurupounamu)

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.

Cycle trail

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.

Predator Control

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.

Ongoing Work

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.

Rosemary Barnett, Friends of Tucker Beach