Rock Wren Recording in Siberia and Upper Wilkin ~ Tiritiri o te Moana

aspiring biodiversity trust rock wren

The Aspiring Biodiversity Trust (ABT) rock wren/ pīwauwau monitoring programme commenced during 2017/2018 summer season with focal alpine basin sites at Lake Crucibel and Lake Castalia/ Upper Lucidus, east of the main divide (Southern Alps/ Tiritiri o te Moana).

This season (2020/2021) the ABT bird monitoring team have been progressing rock wren/ pīwauwau monitoring, branching out into extended alpine habitat (from the two original monitoring sites) to determine if rock wren are present. This important data is essential to gain a better understanding of current residual populations of this endangered alpine passerine within the project area and measure population changes over time to better inform and guide appropriate conservation management.

Wonderland Valley – view from upper basin

This season the team were fortunate to be able to investigate the North Siberia and Wonderland Valley.

ABT are pleased to report that breeding populations of rock wren were recorded for both the upper Siberia basin and for Wonderland Valley with family groups and fledglings noted.

The upper Siberia and Wonderland Valley have now been identified as new breeding sites for this endangered species, which is promising as Wonderland Valley was not covered by the last aerial pesticide application (during October 2019) as part of the Department of Conservation Battle for our Birds. 

Rock wren fledgling, Feb 2021 Wonderland

Survey methods involve 250m fixed transects identified within suitable rock wren habiatat where all birds seen or heard are recorded (as per DOC survey method based on a 2012 – 2018 rock wren study) and any behavioural observations noted.

Male rock wren with lepidoptera prey item.

At this time of the year rock wren are busy feeding up on plentiful invertebrates (including spiders, moths, butterflies, larvae, flies and some berries) before the winter draws in. At which point they are thought to remain in torpor. Individual birds during March were noted knocking their captured prey items against rocks to make them easier to consume. This could potentially explain some of the bill abrasions noted on a few of the colour banded birds previously captured.

Female rock wren colour banded (med blue, light blue over orange), Lake Crucible March 2021. NB: handling only by NZNBBS L3 Certified bird bander.

This female rock wren was in great condition with a good body weight of 19.5 grams and almost finished post-breeding moult. The females are known to be larger than the male birds which tend to weigh around 15.8 grams. Colour banding assits with identifying individual birds, their territories and provides information on fledgling success and dispersal. We hope to see this female with lots of fledglings next summer!

Upper Siberia home to rock wren and whio

ABT installed and manage a programme of invasive predator control from ridge to river for protection of reminant populations of threatened species such as rock wren and also blue duck/ whio where habitats interconnect. This includes the application of Celium Remote Technology within alpine/ upper river areas to aid trap servicng efficiency in remote areas and provide information on predator activity during the winter. This work is ongoing with improved connectivity of trapline coverage as per funding allows.

Makarora/Wilkin Catchment Threatened Species Project area ~ Ridge To River

The Aspiring Biodviersity Trust threatened species programmes from ridge to river depend on a range of multiple funders, supporters and volunteers and are only viable through positive multi-collaboration (particularly locally but also national and international), dedication and passion for New Zealands indigenous biodiversity.

If you would like to help suport species like the alpine rock wren and see them flourish, please get in touch. We would love to hear from you!

ABT’s rock wren protection and restoration programme forms part of a broader threatened species project for the Makarora Catchment from “ridge to river” and is complementary to the Department of Conservation Predator Control Plan for Makarora and in alignment with NZ Biodiversity Strategy i.e. to maintain and restore viable populations of all indigenous species across their natural range and maintainance of their genetic diversity.

Reference

McNab, B K, Weston, KA (2020). The energetics of the New Zealand rockwren (Xenicus gilviventris): could a passerine hibernate? Journal of Experimental Biology 2020.

Monks J. M, O’Donnell C. F. J, Greene T. C, Weston K, A (2021). Evaluation of counting methods for monitoring populations of a cryptic alpine passerine, the rock wren (Passeriformes, Acanthisittidae, Xenicus gilviventris)

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. International Journal of Avian Science. Vol 160, Issue 4.

The First Makarora Field Course – A Success!

The first  Makarora Field Course was held from the 10 – 16 January 2021. This was the successful result of a partnership between Aspiring Biodiversity Trust and Operation Wallacea (Opwall) with support from LINZ, Birds New Zealand, Makarora Wonderland, local landowners and Wilkin River Jets.

The purpose of the field course was to promote the indigenous biodiversity of the Makarora catchment, create a valuable learning opportunity for students interested in careers based around wildlife management and conservation, contribute to good biological recording, whilst encouraging the future caretakers kaitiakitanga of the natural environment.

Students arrive at Makarora Field Course – yey!
Makarora Field Course Base Camp

Students from Wellington, Auckland and the Coromandel were met at Queenstown Airport, then joined a scenic coach trip over the Crown Range via Wanaka and Lake Hawea to the field course base camp at Makarora. Here the students and teachers were met by the ABT Science team and a representative from Operation Wallacea. The event commenced with a welcomming karikia before entering the learning facility for a welcome presentation and briefing. Students were then  shown to their tents before the first group meal was served at the main Makarora Wonderland Lodge.

Forest vegetation plots
Bird banding and mist netting with NZNBBS certified bird bander

The week was divided into a series of applied learning activities focused on biological (fauna and flora) recording survey methods and monitoring with classroom sessions on data analysis, reporting and the use of the R Stats application via an overseas connection with Opwall lecturer’s in the United Kingdom.

Evenings were filled with lectures on geophysiography, protected species detection dog aided surveys (for whio), ABT’s Ridge to River Threatened Species Programme, a forest by night walk and concluded with a session on career’s in conservation and wildlife management with an inspiring and motivational finish for the future from Aspiring Biodiversity Trust patron – Lydia Bradey, recently awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit.

Braided river session including fluvioglacial processes, aquatic inverts and avifauna.

An awesome week of incredible weather and biodiversity concluded with a splendid Wonderland BBQ and a certificate presentation to students on their completion of the field course, plus the awarding of prises (including a NZ bird guide) for various notable achievements over the duration of the weeks activities. A farwell karikia and celebratory cakes completed a most memorable week for all involved.

Protected species survey dog, Hoki.

Thank you  to all funders and supporters who helped enable the first pilot Makarora Field Course. The next Makarora field course dates start from 7-14 January 2022! Get in touch to find out more about the latest itinerary, we look forward to hearing from you 🙂

Lydia Bradey motivational talk following career’s panel.

Commentary from student, staff and parent post 2021 field course:

I would like to thank the team for providing an amazing experience for my son Aditya. He is very grateful to get this wonderful opportunity of working with the best in their fields at such a young age. The communication, management and service has been great fro this trip. Thanks again. Jyoti

Thanks for running such an awesome course here in such a beautiful place. You and your team have provided invaluable insight into the real world – science and ecology. Hope to be back in the future. Dylon

By seeing the banded dotterel chick and other amazing sights, I felt like I was learning in a real meaningful way. Thanks, Fiver

Rachel, we did it! Congratulations on puttng together such an amazing field course you should be very proud of what you have achieved. It has been a real pleasure working with you! Hopefully we can do it again. Jihan

 

 

Threatened Species Protection Expansion with assistance from Bill Day of Seaworks

The Aspiring Biodiversity Trust were out in full force on Tuesday and Wednesday (11 & 12 August), determined to increase the protection of our important threatened Taonga species in preparation for the upcomming breeding season. Bill Day of Seaworks kindly offered his assistance of considerable helicopter time; thanks to Lydia Bradey, ABT’s Patron recently awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM).

A crisp early start at Makarora; Bill Day arrives for the initial health and safety briefing before take off into the backcountry. Left to right: Andy Longman, Lydia Bradey, Bill Day (pilot) & Anthony Coote.

Invasive mammal traps fitted with kea proof fixings were assembled locally then transported to Makarora by vehicle. Here the team (Anthony Coote, Lydia Bradey, Rachel Hufton, Karen Day, Andy Longman) were met by Bill Day (Director of Seaworks keen to contribute to indigenous biodiversity protection) in his B0105 helicopter, equiped with plenty of space for transporting predator traps into the backcountry.

The endangered alpine rock wren (juvenile) or pīwauwau, Crucible Basin.

Traps were droped at a number of locations including the upper Siberia, Crucible Basin,  upper/lower  Lucidus and Wilkin Valley. The locations are of particular importance for remnant populations of the alpine rock wren, the ancient blue duck (whio) and kea (as indentified by ABT surveys and monitoring) and will intensify current predator control regimes.

Trap drop at lower Lucidus – where the habitat of rock wren overlaps with blue duck/ whio territories.

Existing traps identified as triggered from Encounter Solution’s remote monitoring Celium technology were serviced.  The new traps will be fitted with detection nodes extending the alpine remote monitoring network. Stoats are currently active within the alpine environment (where rock wren are likely to be particuarly vulnerable in their current state of torpor durung the winter) and down to the river valley (where blue duck frequent whilst foraging for aquatic invertebrates or grazing from algae clad boulders).

Adult blue duck or whio within the upper Siberia Valley (Credit: Nick Beckwith)

The stoat Mustela erminea is a small mammalian carnivore native to Eurasia and North America. The Wilkin was one of the first New Zealand introduction sites back in 1885’s in an attempt to control rabbits. Usually the fur is chestnut brown with a white underbelly; the tail has a black tip and is the most distinguishing feature of this mustelid. Some stoats undergo a white moult during the winter in alpine New Zealand, the tail tip remains black as shown in the example below from our last trip.

An upper Wilkin alpine stoat (a varacious predator of indigeonous wildlife) displaying its pale coat aiding camouflage during the winter months. Note: animal captured humanely with DOC 200 trap.

Lydia Bradey and Bill Day discussing the importance of the work Aspiring Biodiversity Trust have been doing to date and taking a moment to appreciate their incredible homeland in what was optimal weather conditions. 🙂

Lydia Bradey and Bill Day expressing the importance of indigenous biodiversity protection and restoration (Upper Wilkin Valley), fundamental to New Zealand’s cultural heritage.

Aspiring Biodiversity Trust actively contributing to the goals of Predator Free 2050 and working towards local and national Biodiversity Strategys through collaborative engagement.

Acknowledgements

With thanks to all our funders, volunteers and incredible supporters particuarly Perry Brooks and Rich Raynes for predator trap assembly, the Department Of Conservation (DOC) for validation of landing sites and Backcountry Helicopters for remainder of team pickup on Wednesday.