One of ABT’s core purpose is the collation and updating of threatened species records within the Makarora Catchment to help facilitate and inform appropriate application of invasive predator control.
ABT have been updating records for whio/ blue duck Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos to help ascertain the current status of this ancient endemic waterfowl species within the upper reaches of the Makarora Catchment. No formal inventory has been completed for this species since the work of the late Peter Child during 1970’s/1980’s.
To date a specialist contractor Paul van Klink and his protected species survey dog (Hoki) has been commissioned to undertake walkover surveys for the upper Wilkin, the Siberia and the Young Valley.
From the results of these walkover surveys and the addition of recent incidental records it is promising to see that there remains a remnant population. Numbers are low and in some cases are limited to just male individuals, a high prevalence of unpaired males on rivers without predator control is often common as nesting females are more vulnerable to mammalian predation. However, evidence of breeding success has been recorded with observations of pair bonds and a fledgling bird.
This valuable survey work continues to expand for the region with the future aim of restoring viable, sustainable populations of whio/ blue duck within the upper river catchments of the Makarora for future generations.
Child P, (1981). Birdlife of Mount Aspiring National Park. Scientific Services No.4. Department of Lands and Survey. Head Office, Wellington, New Zealand.
Classified as nationally endangered, the rock wren (Xenicus gilviventris) is New Zealand’s only true alpine specialist remaining in the mountains above the treeline for most of its life. Following the results of ABT’s rock wren survey transect monitoring during Jan/Feb 2018 the team have been installing invasive mammal predator control within two key focal alpine areas. Areas include, the Crucible basin within the Siberia Valley and the upper Lucidus/ Lake Castalia, North Branch of the Wilkin.
Invasive mammalian predator traps (DOC 200 and 150 models) were transported in to both sites on a suspended sling from a Hughes 500 helicopter. The traps were then distributed to designated locations extending and complementing existing predator control efforts within the locality.
Site locations within the Makarora Catchment can be seen from the topograph image below. The North branch of the Wilkin and the Crucible basin are situated to the west of the Makarora River.
Rock wren are at risk from invasive mammalian predation particularly from stoats and rats but also mice. There is increasing recognition that invasive predators are widespread within New Zealand alpine zones. Recent work has found that humane kill trapping of invasive predators can increase rock wren breeding success within the alpine environment (Weston et al 2018).
The national population of rock wren is currently unknown but thought to be around 5,000 mature individuals (IUCN) with severely fragmented populations due to particular habitat requirements. The rock wren belongs to a unique ancient lineage of eight New Zealand wrens now only two species survive. The alpine rock wren and the rifleman Acanthisitta chloris, generally a forest passserine.
During both trips it was encouraging to observe a number of adult rock wren present busy foraging on invertebrate prey. Particularly, at Crucible basin following the late November snowfall. Most birds were male which may indicate females occupied on their nest sites.
Remote trap monitoring
With the aim of optimising alpine trap servicing efficiency and improving understanding of temporal and climate influences on predator trapping ABT have partnered with Encounter Solutions Ltd to install remote trap monitoring technology. The equipment will be installed in January for both alpine sites. This system has been applied to other trapping habitats but will be a first for the alpine environment. If successful other remote rock wren habitats could benefit from use of this technology to aid predator control programmes.
With dedicated effort it is possible that focused rock wren recovery at these sites could result in potential “source” populations of rock wren and expansion/ migration of numbers/ pairs into unoccupied habitat (Weston 2014).
With thanks to Otago Community Trust, Otago Regional Council, Oceana Gold, Backcountry Helicopters Ltd, Tony Zimmerman trap supplies, Central Otago Hunting and Fishing, DOC Wanaka, Backcountry Saddles Expeditions, volunteers Nick Beckwith and Andrew Shepherd.
Aspiring Biodiversity Trust (2018). Alpine predator control plan for rock wren. Makarora Catchment Threatened Species Plan.
IUCN Red List of threatened species
Weston K.A. 2014. Conservation genetics of alpine rock wren (Xenicus gilviventris). Doctorate thesis.
Weston K.A., O’Donnell C.F.J., Van Dam Bates P. & Monks J.M. 2018. Control of invasive predators improves breeding success of an endangered alpine passerine.
ABT’s rock wren transect survey monitoring programme for the 2017/2018 survey season includes the Crucible Basin situated within the Siberia Valley. Monitoring surveys aim to provide an updated baseline on threatened species and allow repeatable monitoring for rock wren within the Makarora catchment to help guide appropriate future conservation management in relation to invasive mammalian predators.
A number of rock wren pairs were recorded present within the bolder-field and moraine habitat and evidence of adults foraging invertebrates for nestlings was noted. During rock wren surveys the Crucible Basin was also noted as an important site for kea as well as rock wren. On both survey occasions seven kea were observed, mainly this years juveniles with their characteristic yellow ceres, eyelids and pale crowns. Kea parents were observed feeding young fledglings regurgitated food and a rock bivi frequented by kea was found close to Lake Crucible.
ABT are collaborating with DoC to extend current mammalian trapping efforts for rock wren within the alpine environment of the Makarora catchment.
All kea records in relation to ABT’s survey and monitoring have been forwarded to the Kea Conservation Trust to help inform a national kea database.
Generally our time at Crucible Basin was positive however, we did note an aerial drone trying to film kea and artificial feeding by visitors. These are two national issues where continued awareness raising is crucial for New Zealand’s threatened species. Image below shows a hunkered down kea looking up at the drone buzzing above whilst others disappeared beneath boulder habitat.
The Aspiring Biodiversity Trust are pleased to report the confirmed presence of rock wren at the north branch of the Wilkin River following the undertaking and setting up of a recent (Jan 2018) transect monitoring survey.
Rock wren Xenicus gilviventris is the only true alpine New Zealand bird species and is currently classed as globally endangered under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Peter Child’s (1980) work was the first comprehensive bird survey of Mt Aspiring National Park for rock wren.
The main threat to this species is predation from invasive mammals such as stoats and rats now known to be present within alpine environments. The results of the survey will help inform and guide existing and future conservation management for rock wren. Monitoring transects will also be repeated in subsequent years to allow more informed decisions to be made in relation to this indigenous alpine specialist.