Makarore Cultural Heritage and Biodiversity ~ Completing the Picture

A rewarding and enlightening joint Aspiring Biodiversity Trust and Kāi Tahu Event was held at Makarore during December 2021, sponsored by Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand. The wonderful Kāi Tahu students and professionals joined Aspiring Biodiversity Trust at Makarora Wonderland Lodge for an exciting 3-day residential field course, aligned with Māori heritage world view, te reo Māori, endemic biodiversity and habitat restoration.

The event kicked off with an overview of ABT’s Ridge to River threatened species programmes with an introduction to forest bird calls, geophysiography and retracing the historic wetland vegetation of the locality. Out in the forest the amazing Puke Timoti talked of how his ancestors traditionally read the forest in terms of mahinga kai resources with particular reference to the kererū, forest regeneration, medicinal plants and bush skills.

Puke Timote, Rangi Mātāmua, Komene Cassidy and Kāi Tahu students (left to right)
An example of the Ngāi Tahu cultural mapping GIS database.

Paulette Tamati-Elliffe and Tumai Cassidy shared aspects of the important Ngāi Tahu Cultural  Mapping Project with specific reference to the Makarore and Otanenui Rivers and their historical place names where former ancestors once settled.

Rangi Mātāmua the legendary Māori astronomer, talked about Matariki (the Māori New Year) and his aspiration for the national holiday going forward, encouraging everyone to contribute to conservation activities rather than material gifts at this special time.

Everyone was looking forward to seeing more of Makarore’s true splender and the weather didn’t disapoint.

Jet boat tour on the Makarore and up the Otanenui (Wilkin) River – retracing ancestral footsteps with Tumai Cassidy narrating.

A jet boat field trip with Wilkin River Jets along the Otanenui (Wikin) to Kerin Forks helped facilitate a reconnection to lost ancestral roots for many of the participants. This is one location of former Māori settlement’s along with the head of the Makarore delta and the head of Lake Hawea where mahinga kai (natural resource) was plentiful. Harvested species that are now no longer present included kiwi, weka and kakapo with plentiful tuna (eel). This was back (pre-fire) when the Makarore valley (1860) had been described as: an entangled, impenetrable mess of cabbage trees, flax and fern, growing to a height of 8 feet to 10 feet and the ground a jungle of dried and decayed vegetation.

Tarapiroe (black-fronted tern) adult with fledgling at Wilkin Road, Makarore

Good viewing of breeding endemic braided river birds followed with adult tarapirohe (black-fronted tern’s) busy feeding their chicks (above image) along with dispersing tarāpuka (black-billed gull) and tūturiwhatu (banded dotterel) fledglings.

Setting the net for tuna at Makarore
A sample of tuna taken for traditional preparation during the event

To everyone’s delight we found that longfin tuna are still, definitely present in Makarore following the setting of an eel net at dusk, left out overnight. The following morning found over 60 good sized, healthy tuna! In fact, it’s possible that anymore would not have fitted into the net! What a delight! Most were released back where they were found, with a sample taken for traditional preparation which was later sampled from the BBQ on the last evening. What a treat!

Discussion on the sad reality of constraints to the breeding ecology of tuna (not being able to naturally reach the sea) within the Southern Lakes region was had and how – one day this will hopefully change for this important and iconic taonga. Rangi Mātāmua is keen to return to Makarore to monitor the eel population more closely and look at the current population age structure.

A final site visit towards the source of the Makarore River (which rises on the eastern slopes of Mt Brewster) formally known as “Whare Manu” (House of the bird). Unfortunately, recent survey results with a protected species detector dog (2022) did not find any signs of whio (blue duck), last recorded in 1980’s. However kea, titipounamu (riffleman) and  koekoeā (long-tailed cuckoo) were found to be present.

Kaka watch at dusk! Loving their calls!

The event finished with a fun and interactive quiz led by ABT’s Jackson Green, including pertinent questions from the three days activities and learning. It did get a little competitive but there was a clear winner of the latest bird guide by young ornithologist, Oscar Thomas. Around the same time kaka were about feeding on cherry’s just above the building.  A beautiful and emotional Waiata closed the evening!

It was such an *honour to host Kāi Tahu participants, their presence in Makarore was amazing and really completed the picture for us (on a spiritual level) and in terms of integration of cultural heritage and biodiversity within conservation and the essential importance of embracing Mātauranga Māori. We look forward to building on this collaboration going forward.

One of the Makarore kererū (often seen in flocks during the spring) busy feeding on ripe cherry’s (along with the resident kaka). Historically, the most fruitful bird harvested in the forest by Māori and an indicator of wellbeing and ecosystem health.

Acknowledgements

With thanks to: Kāi Tahu especially Paulette Tamati-Elliffe, Komene Cassidy and special guests Puke Timote and Rangi Mātāmua, Wonderland Makarora Lodge, Wilkin River Jets and Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand for enabling this special event to take place in Makarore, particuarly under Covid 19 circumstances (all participants/ science staff double vaccinated).

 

Return of the kaka at Makarora

This season has seen the return of the South Island kaka (Nestor meridionalis) in the Makarora valley as recorded in the early days by local residents and as documented partly by the work of the late Peter Child (1980’s).

ABT’s baseline forest bird survey was undertaken on four occassions for the Shrimpton/ Charteris beech/ podocarp forest during 2018/2019. Results recorded a total of 24 species; 14 endemic, 2 native and 8 introduced. A pair of kaka was recorded utilising the forest habitat in spring and summer during the survey. Kaka are seasonal specialists, moving from food source to food source as different fruits, seeds and nectar become available.

South Island kaka
Aspiring Biodiversity Trust 5 minute bird counts undertaken during December 2018 for Shrimpton/ Charteris Forest

Regular sitings of a flock of up to 13 kaka were first reported during this spring by local residents and have been seen and heard reguarly since, by many people including myself during several stays in the valley. Historically the highest total in any one valley within the region has been documented as 14 (Child’s 1981).

Their jurassic like raucous sqawks and melodic social calls can be heard most evenings and mornings and are often seen flying between areas of forest, residential gardens, the motor camp and commuting over the highway to further foraging habitat.

Long term resident Gary Charteris “It’s like how it used to be 15-20 years ago”.

Gary a keen nature enthusiast observed all 13 kaka in one of his mature trees on the 11 December and noted the characteristic white head of many, a feature of the South Island kaka. Sarah Forder a more recent resident observed up to 10 kaka feeding on her cherry trees. They have also been noted striping away the the bark of forest deadwood whilst feeding on insect larvae. The local school below the forest have been enjoying the commuting activities of these remarkable birds.

Local resident Gary Charteris sharing his thoughts on the latest kaka sightings in the valley with Linda Hufton an overseas visitor.

The magnificient endemic scarlet mistletoe (Peraxilla colensoi) present in the beech forest is another favourite of the kaka, who enjoy the nectar and the flowers along with small flocks of yellow-crowned karkariki (Cyanoramphus auriceps). Remanent parts can often been seen on the forest floor below where birds have been feeding.

Discarded floral parts of the endemic scarlet mistletoe grazed upon by kaka and other forest birds
Field signs of kaka foraging on insect larvae burrowed within forest deadwood

All though little is know about the kaka population in the area, it is thought that they commute from the West Coast. Numbers appear to have reduced to 3 or 4 since recent sightings so parhaps the remainder of the flock have commenced their journey back towards Haast after the summer forest food peak. More information on the range of kaka and their breeding habits within the region would be beneficial to the future conservaton of this species.

It’s now mid January and the sound of the kaka seems to have simered down. The characteristic dry-thrill call of a long-tailed cuckoo or koekoea noted flying overhead is another species recorded in January for this area of important biodiversity value. Lets hope with the help of ongoing community predator control programmes and forest bird monitoring next spring continues to see the return of the kaka and resident forest bird species continue to flourish!

A yellow-crowned kakariki, a parakeet which appears to be doing well this season with small flocks (3-5) frequently observed.

With thanks to support from the local Makarora community and funding from the Speights Award (2018) supporting the local environment.

 

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