Upper catchments of the Makarora

Upper River Catchments – The Essence Of Life

Upper Siberia – breeding habitat of the endangered South Island whio/ blue duck.

Target threatened species: Whio / blue duck (Southern) an ancient endemic waterfowl species of New Zealand – Nationally and Globally Endangered (IUCN Threat Classification Sysytem).

Blue duck
Blue duck (adult male)

Focus areas include: the Blue, the Young Rivers, the Siberia Valley, the north branch of the Wilkin, the Tiel, upper Makarora and associated areas.

Surveys undertaken to ascertain the current status of whio/ blue duck within the Makarora Catchment commenced this survey season (2017/2018) with the aid of an experienced whio surveyor and his protected species survey dog.

whio survey
Protected species survey dog (Hoki) in action on whio walkover survey in the Siberia Valley, Makarora

A breeding pair was confirmed for the upper Siberia Valley and two adult males were recorded on the Young River. Several moulting sites were also noted during February surveys. This is when whio moult their feathers and are most inconspicuous and vulnerable. Further walkover surveys are planned for 2018/2019, 2019/2020, 2020/2021, 2021/2022.

fledgling whio Makarora
2017/2018 Makarora fledgling whio (Paul van Klink)
Whio primary feather,  moult field sign
Whio feathers field signs

Whio occupy a unique ecological niche being well adapted to fast flowing water and bolder habitats. This freshwater environment also support a variety of other wildlife such as eels, fish, aquatic plants and aquatic invertebrates.

Whio are considered an indicator of environmental quality with their presence confirming a clean and healthy water body able to support macro-invertebrates such as mayfly, stonefly  larvae and caddisfly which sustain the diet of this species.

Current and future invasive mammalian predator control concentrates on locations where remnant populations persist, often overlapping with rock wren habitat within alpine basins. The aim is to restore and enhance whio populations within the Makarora catchment in line with other successful catchments identified within the DOC national whio restoration plan.

Whio ducklings, Siberia Valley 2019

**As of December 2021, we are sad to report that *Hoki * passed on to canine heaven following her retirement. Hoki has made a huge contribution to whio conservation by enabling essential monitoring of this endangered ancient tonga species throughout the catchments of New Zealand’s South Island. She has also helped raise awareness of whio through featuring in multi-media productions and doing guest appearances at presentations with her experienced handler and trainer Paul van Klink.

Hoki doing what she loves – finding whio/ blue duck in the Makarora/Wilkin area.
Hoki with owner/trainer Paul van Klink on arrival at the ABT Makarora Field Course (Jan 2021) where students learnt about whio ecology and survey detection.
Kip (protected species survey dog) with Cody Thyne (owner/trainer) in the upper reaches of the Makarora River.

Following in Hoki’s footsteps; we are pleased to welcome *Kip, our new whio detection dog and her handler Cody Thyne to help complete the picture of what the remnant whio distribution and population status looks like for the Makarora and Wilkin catchments. Kip and Cody have been investigating the Tiel, Wonderland Valley, upper Makarora and recently the Siberia to locate this years surviving fledglings. Many stoats have since been caught within the Siberia Valley by traps installed by ABT for whio protection during 2019.

More to report soon…. 🙂


Testing the effectiveness of integrated pest control at protecting whio (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) from stoat (Mustela erminea) predation in beech forests (Nothofagaceae). Kate E Steffens, Jason P Malham, Rebecca S Davies and Graeme P Elliott. New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2022) 46 (1) : 3470.

Birds as Biodiversity and Environmental Indicators (2017). Journal of Natural Sciences Research. ISSN 2224-3186. VO7, No. 21.

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