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

 

 

Monitoring the endangered rock wren within the alpine basins of the Makarora catchment

Focused on two alpine study sites; the Crucible Basin within the Siberia Valley and the Upper Lucidus/Castalia Basin within the north branch of the Wilkin Valley with extension into adjacent basins. Rock wren monitoring transects defined and surveyed initially for both sites during 2017/2018. The results of this survey work guided deployment of alpine invasive mammal traps and subsequent installation of Celium remote trap monitoring technology to improve predator control trap servicing efficiency and provide additional information on predator movements (first image above shows a male rock wren in moult, note abraided wing and tail feathers).

Following ABT’s initial rock wren monitoring transect surveys undertaken during summer 2017/2018 and observations during 2018/2019 breeding season ABT have now commenced colour banding of individual birds.

A newly colour banded rock wren at Lake Crucible

This bird monitoring method helps to identify individual birds, confirm rock wren territories and provide information on dispersal and survival of post-breeding juveniles whilst providing an indicator of predator control success. We can also learn about moult strategies for this unique alpine passerine.

Ornithologist Rachel Hufton taking morphological measurements during rock wren colour banding

Specialist mist nets are errected within know breeding territories and a audible lure is used to encourage individuals into the net. The mist net shelves are kept low as rock wren flight is limited and birds often forage close to the ground on terrestrial insects (spiders, moths, beetles and flies) and berries from low growing plants such as Muehlenbeckia axillaris (below).

Succulent fruits of Muehlenbeckia axillaris. Several rock wren have been noted foraging from this plant during February within the Crucible basin.

All birds are carefully extracted from mist nets by a NZNBBS certified bird bander. Three colour bands (two on the right leg, one on the left) are carefuly applied, biometric measurements taken and any observations on moult or body condition are recorded.

A mist net (9m) located within suitable rock wren habitat.

A combination of adult and juvenile birds have been banded during the 2019/2020 season. Images below show an adult male with a prominant supercilium and a weight of 14.6g. This bird appears to have gone through post-breeding moult (moulting is the periodic replacement of feathers by shedding old ones whilst producing new ones).

Male rock wren post- breeding moult (March 2020).
Rear of male rock wren showing new primaries and tail feathers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This monitoring work provides addition information on rock wren in an area which has not previously been investigated at this level, complementary to existing study sites such as in Fiordland, and Haast, contributing to overall knowledge to promote effective future conservation management for this nationally endangered species. We look forward to further progressing rock wren monitoring during the next breeding season 2020/2021.

Rachel Hufton
The Crucible basin, one of the Makarora catchment alpine study site for the endangered rock wren. During December a haze of ash and dust from the Australian bush fires could be seen on the top of the lake.

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 as referenced within ABT’s Community Agreement and in accordance 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.

With thanks to: Otago Regional Council, Perpetual Guardians Ltd, DOC Community Fund, Otago Community Trust, Backcountry Helicopters, Southern Alps Air and all amazing volunteers.

References:

Aspiring Biodiversity Trust (2018). Rock wren protection and enhancement programme. Helping protect and restore Makarora catchment threatened species.

Heath, S M 1989 The breeding biology of the rock wren, Xenicus gilviventris in the Murchison Mountains,
Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand Otago University

Melville, D S (2013 reprint). Moult in birds. British Trust for Ornithology. Guide 19.

Melville, D S (2011). NZNBBS Bird Banders Manual. DOC, Wellington.

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.

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