Saturday, March 31, 2007

Kapiti Island

Today I had the good fortune to finally make it out to Kapiti Island, despite waking to drizzle, and the certainty that the phone was going to ring any moment early this morning with a cancellation! One of the first birds I saw after hopping off the boat was this kereru (NZ wood pigeon), endemic to New Zealand. Usually when you actually get to see kereru, they are high in the trees. Here on Kapiti, with foreign predators removed, kereru are everywhere!

The sign says it all. Kapiti Island has had foreign predators such as stoats, ferrets, possums etc removed. The forest is rejuvenating and the bird life is booming.

Three kaka came to explore as our group was having a talk with a guide. 30 people, food they thought. Right over my head, photo I thought.

A total revelation to me was the Kohekohe tree (NZ mahogany). The "seeds" on it are growing out of the trunk itself, and flower with white flowers in winter. Significantly, I had never seen these buds before. They are apparently beloved of possums, and it is only since the removal of possums from Kapiti Island that they have come into prominence. In winter you can come to Kapiti and see a mass of white flowers on these trees, and they provide a wonderful winter food source.

There were numerous weka on the ground.
And I even saw this kereru looking for bugs etc in the grass. I was able to approach even closer than this to take a photo. With the removal of predators, some birds have become quite comfortable at seeking food on the ground.

Fortunately the sea was still reasonably calm for our departure. Here we are boarding the boat as we leave from Kapiti.

They run a highly practised manoeuvre, getting the boat in and out of the water. A specially raised tractor was waiting with the trailer for us in the waves back on the mainland. And as we disembarked on the sand, another group looked ready to board. Presumably they were going to stay at the lodge and go out kiwi spotting at night. Hmmm, something for another time. It would be a good 50th birthday activity in a few months time.... if only the weather could be guaranteed to cooperate!

How timely the Kapiti trip has turned out to be in terms of my Massey NZ fauna paper. We looked at some efforts at mainland ecosystem rehabilitation / restoration during our field trip last weekend. I had organised this trip to Kapiti Island some time back. But I have just discovered that the latest section in my study guide is all about ecosystem rehabilitation and restoration, as well as species re-introductions. And I had all that practical experience yesterday on Kapiti Island!
PS2: I have put a couple more photos from the trip on my photo blog (though two favourites are repeated from here.)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Boundary Stream "Mainland Island"

Sunday morning was an early start. 6.30am breakfast! All packed up and ready to go by 7.30am. We were to travel north of Napier, then inland to the Boundary Stream "Mainland Island", a remnant of native bush surrounded by farmland. One of the unusual features about the reserve is that it has a large altitude variation, and we headed to the top end, which has sometimes been covered with snow on previous field trips. There have been active measures taken to get rid of predators, though the island is not 'fenced'. The reduction in predators has had an amazing effect on the bird life. I saw species I have never seen before, and some of them were quite abundant.

On arrival we were greeted with the song of numerous tuis and bellbirds. For many of us, there was a 'long drop' stop before we started work. Some of the young ones were clearly not trampers and thought the 'long drop' was 'disgusting', but I thought it was a really pristine one! Waiting in the queue to use it was a wonderful bird experience. We had been told the night before that they had released North Island robins in this reserve, and that their numbers had really risen. A little robin was flitting around in the trees near the queue, and seeing it was a 'first' for me. (Thanks to the 'bird recognition' we had had to do prior to the field trip, we were actually able to recognise it as a robin.)

Our first field trip task was not as bad as it sounds...... we had to look in a 10m x 20m area for 'poo' left by various predators. The hope was that we wouldn't find any. We didn't find much, but a rabbit had clearly been active in our area. The pellets were quite dry and not like you would imagine. I need to get used to the fact that my eyes are older now, and take my glasses with me: it was really hard for me to distinguish the dry faecal pellets against the background dry leaf litter. However, I did the recording for this task, so I didn't then need to worry about missing things.

Next task involved looking for invertebrates, firstly on the surface of a 10m x 1m rectangle, and then in three deeper samples. What surprised me was that in this beech forest, we didn't find many. (And it wasn't just my eyesight: the others in the group also found hardly any.) It has certainly been dry lately, but I began to wonder what the birds ate.

Doing a five minute bird count here brought another 'first': I saw a rifleman on a tree trunk. (This was another bird we had learned to recognise.) There was also a harrier flying overhead. Apparently there are kokako in this forest as well, with chicks having recently fledged, but today was not to be our day for seeing one.

We repeated most of our tasks in a piece of kamahi forest, and again we found few invertebrates. But our sampling the whole morning was accompanied by the sound of numerous tuis and bellbirds.

By 1pm we needed to start heading homewards. (They usually do this further away task on Saturday, but this year it was the 10th anniversary of the place, with 100 visitors and no room for the buses. So it had to be Sunday.) We called in to see a predator fence that the local community is in the midst of building to make a safe nursery area for kiwi. Then we did some more electro fishing. With hardly any time for this, Ian found quite a variety of animals.

Back in Palmie around 6pm, my brain was full of all the varied things I had seen on the weekend. It was a wonderful field trip, that opened my eyes to a lot I had never seen or thought about.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

NZ fauna field trip Pt2

Next on the field trip agenda was a drive up to Napier. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed relaxing on the beach eating our lunches. We extramurals had already formed quite a bond and I enjoyed some quiet convo with a group as we ate. It was a real highlight of the whole weekend for me, meeting all the other extramurals. We all have this passionate interest that has led us to enrol in this paper, and it was wonderful to meet some of the others who are also studying in isolation at home.

We had a visit to the Napier Aquarium, and our huge group divided into 3. We had a talk with question time about how the place is run; we got a 'behind the scenes' tour where we got to see the suction and water squirts from the lovely wee creature below! and we also had a quick viewing of the exhibits. The kiwi were having an active day. The fish etc were really well displayed with useful information panels, and I hope to get back sometime to see it all at a more leisurely pace.

Our main 'work' for the day was sampling in the Ahuriri Estuary, and we couldn't start this until 3pm, as we needed to wait for low tide. It was great fun working with a wonderful tutor and a very cooperative bunch of extramurals on this. Our sampling represents the fifth year this has been done, so there is now quite a large dataset built up. It will be interesting looking at the data soon to see whether there have been any changes over time.

Here our tutor has gone out with a student to set up our line for sampling. We then had to split the distance to take five sample points.

On our surface sample, the easier kind, we had to count everything living over the size of 5mm, using this square grid.

We also had to do a sub-surface sample, with two wire meshes so we extracted all the bigger stuff first. Despite our best 'gold-mining' technique, the lower mesh had shells etc covered in sticky estuary mud, so the count of the animals there took a lot longer. I guess what surprised me the most was the huge number of cockles present, and the relatively low numbers of the other species.

Back at camp, there was a rush for the showers before dinner as people wanted to get rid of the mud they had acquired at the estuary! We had a wonderful roast meal, with a yummy coleslaw as well.

After dinner Murray showed us a powerpoint display about the concept of a Mainland Island, as we were to visit the Boundary Stream Mainland Island in the morning. I had never heard of such a thing before. Basically, NZ's conservation efforts have in the past been largely addressed at offshore islands. With a "Mainland Island" efforts are made to stop predators getting into a reserve area, so that the bush and wildlife can become re-established. The Boundary Stream Reserve covers quite a huge altitude range, and we were to be climbing to the top end by bus. (Snow was experienced a few years ago on the field trip, and one year snow stopped the buses even getting there.)

Next instalment will be about Sunday's exploits at Boundary Stream. (Sorry, no more photos though: we were too busy on Sunday!) Our bird recognition task was about to be put to some practical use.

Monday, March 26, 2007

NZ fauna field trip

The Massey field trip I went on for New Zealand fauna was just wonderful!

We extramurals, about 17 of us, met at Massey at 2pm Friday, and met Murray the paper coordinator who made us all feel welcome, before we had to sit our bird recognition test at 3pm. (The wisdom of learning these birds became really apparent on Sunday when it was a great feeling to see a few native birds for the first time, and be able to confidently identify them.)

Friday evening, in two buses (for 80 students plus eight tutors and two lecturers), we drove up to Riverbend Christian Camp, in the rural Hastings area, which was our base for the weekend. Breakfast was to be at 7am, so it wasn't a late night! I bedded down with a few of the other extramurals in the 'villa' out the back, marae style on a mattress on the floor, which appealed to me much more than the top tier of three tiered bunks!

Saturday morning we headed out towards Cape Kidnappers. We crossed a farm station to reach this predator fence. A US billionaire controversially was able to buy a huge tract of land at Cape Kidnappers, and has established a top flight golf course there for the wealthy. He is also engaged on a (less well known) major ecological project, and we had come to see the predator-exclusion fence that is in the process of being erected.

This fence truly is amazing. It is designed to keep out most introduced predators (except mice), plus there is intensive trapping and poisoning as well. The fence is not all 'closed' as people retain the right to walk along the beach, hence the trapping etc. They are already having success with native species returning to the dune area. There have been blue penguins nesting on nearby offshore islands: they have put out nesting boxes on these dunes and some are already being used by blue penguin.
Here is a small portion of our group giving some idea of the size of the fence.

And here you can see how the fence winds its way over the hills. There are some forest remnants nestled in the hills that they hope will be restored somewhat as well. It reminded me a little of the "Great Wall."

It was an idyllic sunny day, so the occupier of this farm cottage seemed to have his own little piece of heaven, despite the isolation!

We headed back inland again and stopped at a stream to try bird counts and electrofishing. The waterfall on the stream was beautiful.

The stream itself was beautiful too, but there wasn't a lot of fishing success, apart from this elver. Apparently the calcium carbonate ions in the stream made the electro-fishing not a suitable technique here. It was exciting to see the elver though, having just read in the Study Guide all about their migrations back from the spawning grounds at sea.

OK lots more to tell you but it will have to wait for another day. I am somewhat tired after my weekend of adventuring, plus "Desperate Housewive starts in five minutes time!

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Rangitikei Active had a brand new cycling event on today, an "achieve-a-bull" one, leaving from the fire station in Bulls. There were two lengths of course, 28km or 50km. I know I can cycle 50km, but wasn't sure if I could do it easily in the time available, so opted for the 28km. Good choice! (It turned out to be quite a warm day and I easily finished the one water bottle I took.)

Here are the entrants lining up for the 50km ride, which started first. As you can see there are a few of us bigger ladies waiting for the 28km ride. I am sure that the series of Women's Triathlons that Shane started have a lot more women out confidently cycling.

Here you can see more of the line of entrants for the longer ride. They all looked suitably competitive! As I found out later, a former pupil was in this bunch, and he has turned into quite a keen cyclist. He came in second in the men's longer ride.

The longer ride headed down to the beach at Bulls, but we only went a few km down that road before doubling back and heading down Brandon Rd, which had a few more hills than I had been expecting, though nothing too exhausting. This farm building was at the turn-around point on Brandon Rd, and I gave myself a drink stop here. Everyone agreed that the trip back along Brandon Rd seemed a lot shorter than the way up, maybe because we knew we were in the home straight.

The finish line was fun: lots of people stood there cheering and clapping as we finished. Also, I was really glad to find that I managed to finish before the first of the 'long' riders came in, as it was great to feel that I hadn't been 'lapped'!

At registration we got this water bottle, which I can now add to the one I got at the Bikewise breakfast. Then I won the chocolate as a spot prize at the end. And yes, I was pleased..... too bad about losing weight.... tomorrow is another day...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Makairo Track

Today I was part of a party of four who enjoyed the Makairo Track. This involved a steady but very gentle ascent up an old road track on the side of a gorge, passing a lot of regenerating bush.

Near the top end of the track were a few signs of the area's former farming life such as this decaying fencepost which took my fancy.

Rangiora, also affectionately known as 'bushman's toilet paper' was prominent along much of the route.
Nearer the top of the track there was quite a bit of flowering toetoe. Fiona and I spent quite a few minutes observing an iridescent emerald green bug sitting on one of the flowerheads. It did not seem able to fly well. By the time the boys got down from their higher ascent, there was no more sign of this bug, and they accused us of finding mushrooms over lunch. But we kidded them not!