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

 

 

Wrybill (Ngutuparore) For Bird Of The Year

There is a strong case for Wrybill Anarhynchus frontalis as Bird Of The Year.

The wrybill is an incredible bird with considerable resilience that enables it to survive and breed within the harsh, exposed and dynamic environment of New Zealand’s braided rivers. This unique species, then migrates to the food-rich tidal flats of the North Island where flocks of wrybill congregate for the winter. Both sites instrumental to the survival of this species exhibit considerable threats (invasive mammal and avian predation, damage and disturbance of nest sites from recreation, declines in water quality, avian botulism, flooding of nest sites, climate change increasing severity of flood events, loss of habitat and lack of awareness at breeding sites) to survival rates which accumatively contribute to an overall population decline.

Vulnerable nest site of the cryptic wrybill, two blue-grey eggs within a hollow of braided river gravels (centre of image during incubation swap over). An area often used by vehicles on the Makarora.

Currently the wrybill is listed as Vulnerable under New Zealand and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Threat Classification, however should this species be re-evaluated and its threat status increased?

Currently the global population is estimated at around 4,500 – 5000 individuals but how current is this figure and does it take into account the current threat status. The last published demographic figures are based from 1999 Trend justification.

IUCN Trend Justification: Analysis of wintering flocks indicates a slow decline over the last 40 years (Veitch and Habraken 1999), which is supported by preliminary results from a long-term demographic study (J. E. Dowding in litt. 1999).

The wrybill is the only bird in the world with a laterally curved bill (always curved to the right) which allows it to feed on aquatic insects around the edges of rocks and crevices and also from aquatic biofilms. It relies on cryptic adaptation upon its braided river breeding habitat to avoid predation from invasive mammals and avian predators such as Southern black-backed gull. The wrybill’s neck is able to tilt upwards to the side enabling awareness of preadators from above but also downwards when foraging for invertebrate prey. Typically they lay two blueish-grey eggs within a hollow amongst riverbed gravels (as above image) and incubation is for a period of 30 days.

The characteristic call of the wrybill is integral to the onset of spring on New Zealand’s braided rivers.

Wrybill female at nest site battling sandstorm conditions on the Makarora River

Please vote WRYBILL For Bird Of The Year 2019 along with Pūkorokoro  Miranda Shorebird Centre and Braided River Aid (BRaid).

With thanks 🙂

Rachel Hufton is an ecologist and ornithologist fortunate to have experience of monitoring wrybill at both their wintering (Firth of Thames) and (more recently) braided river breeding sites.

Update: Two days after this article the nest site was washed away by rising flood water due to snow melt and rainfall. Both adults remained at the nest site, showing sign of distress searching for their nearly hatched chicks. Further highlighting the need to raise the profile of this endangered shorebird.

Male wrybill (female close by) looking for the nest recently (8 November) lost to the rising waters of the Makarora River. Eggs would have been due to hatch about now after 30 day incubation.