Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sardine Smoothies Again! Feeding seabirds on Mana Island

Last year I blogged about my volunteer week on Mana Island helping with the Fairy Prion translocation. You'd think the long days, hot sun, and the smell of sardines might have put me off - but when the call came out for volunteers for the second year of this project I couldn't resist the opportunity to put my name forward. I convinced myself that it was a chance to use the skills I'd learned the year before, that the work really hadn't been that hard, the smell of sardines not too bad, and that the sun couldn't surely be as hot again - not in a Wellington January.

Holding one of the new arrivals
Before I knew it I was on Mana Island with other volunteers and the welcoming party of sponsors and Friends of Mana Island members awaiting the arrival of the helicopter and its precious load of chicks.
The helicopter arrives from Takapourewa - Stephen's Island
- volunteers as well as day visitors await the birds

The chicks are carried in 'pet boxes', sealed for the transfer,
but later used as carry boxes for the chicks

You can read about the day to day work in my 2015 blog here.
There are so many questions people have asked me since I wrote that, from the quirky "don't their parents miss them?' to more serious topics, here are the answers to some of these questions.

What do you feed them and how do you feed them?
We feed them a sardine smoothie mix which has various things added to it for their health. Their parents would normally feed them a diet of krill, but the scientists working on this project have found sardines work well.

We "crop feed" them. This means we fill a syringe with smoothie and gently insert a soft tube down their oesophagus into their crop. (See the interactive All About Bird Anatomy to find out more about bird's digestive systems.)
Crop feeding a fairy prion
Do they smell? Did you smell?
Yes, but not as bad as I expected. There are no adults in the artificial burrows so the seabird smell isn't strong in the colony. And you get used to the sardine smell, it's only visitors stepping into our feeding caravan who comment on it!
A volunteer doing dishes - hygiene is a priority

How old are the chicks when they arrive?
The chicks are over a month old, possibly even 6 weeks old. The aim was to have them fledge within two weeks of their arrival, so they are selected based on wing length and weight  by the team on Takapourewa - Stephen's Island. When they arrive some are still quite fluffy but they lose their down quickly.
This chick is losing its down, leaving just a fluffy hair-do

Don't their parents on Takapourewa - Stephen's Island miss them?
We assume that because the chicks are so close to fledging that when the parent birds return to the burrow and find it empty, they will think their chick has successfully fledged.

Do the birds peck you?
Fairy prions are very little, they weigh about 120g as adults, so even if they peck it doesn't really hurt. You can see in the photo above that their beaks aren't much longer than a finger width. We had one bird this year, that I named 'pecky' as it was pretty feisty and was always trying to grab our fingers in its beak and would chomp down on the tube if you weren't careful.

How do you tell the birds apart?
They all have numbered bands around one of their legs. The burrows are also numbered. Each chick is allocated to a burrow and is only taken out for its daily feed or to have its wings measured. We had to be very careful with our record keeping.
Checking band numbers in the shade
by the feeding caravan
Measuring wing length at the numbered burrows

Are fairy prions endangered?
No, according to NZ Birds Online there could be 4 million pairs of them on New Zealand offshore islands. NZ Birds Online.

So why bother to translocate them? Aren't translocations just for rare species?
Seabirds do an amazing job in creating an ecosystem. They dig and burrow, they use vegetation for nest material, they poo, they drop feathers, they die. These actions change the land and bring nutrients from the sea to the land. This improves the ecosystem for plants, for insects, for lizards and for other birds. Bringing more of them back to Mana will help restore the ecosystem to what it was before humans arrived.
An artificial burrow showing an accumulation of nest material, feathers
and guano - a gecko dashing away in the foreground

The artificial burrow area looks a bit bare but returning adult birds will work
wonders on the ecosystem

New Zealand is sometimes called the seabird capital of the world because so many different species live here. When humans arrived they brought pests such as rats and they the modified the land for farming. This has made it harder for seabirds to survive on the main islands or islands like Mana that have been farmed in the past.

Fairy prions will return to where they fledged (left their burrows and flew out to sea for the first time) when they are adults. So a good number of these chicks are expected to return as adults.

Information about seabirds for children in
Under the Ocean: explore and discover New Zealand's sealife

What do you mean by 'translocate', why don't you just say 'transfer' or 'move'?
Oops was I guilty of talking jargon?  With some relief I found the answer on the Department of Conservation website. "Translocation" refers to the whole process which may involve several "transfers" (this was the second of two transfers). The term also covers planning and monitoring.


Footnote: 100 birds arrive on 17 January and were cared for by 7 volunteers led by scientist Helen Gummer. The first fledged on the night of the 19th and by 24 January when I left the island, there were 62 birds left.  Volunteer groups stay a week at a time, overlapping the previous group by a few days.

Acknowledgements: This amazing project needed many people and organisations to work together for a successful translocation. A volunteer is but a small spoke in the wheel. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this and want to acknowledge the many others who have played much more important roles than mine. The sponsors OMV; Friends of Mana Island; scientists Helen Gummer and Graeme Taylor, Colin Miskelly; Jeff Hall, the resident DOC ranger; Ngāti Toa; Ngāti Koata; the Department of Conservation; and the other volunteers.

Related Links:
My volunteer experience in 2015: http://explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz/2015/01/feeding-fairy-prions-volunteers-week-on.html

Blogs by scientist Colin Miskelly on the 2015 collection of fairy prions and transfer: http://blog.tepapa.govt.nz/2015/01/27/a-box-of-fluffy-birds-moving-fairy-prions-from-takapourewa-stephens-island-to-mana-island/

Friends of Mana Island: http://manaisland.org.nz

Fairy Prions: http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/fairy-prion

Translocations: http://www.doc.govt.nz/get-involved/run-a-project/translocation/

Bird anatomy: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/all-about-bird-anatomy/

Friday, January 15, 2016

Summer Reading for Outdoor Parents and Kids - My Bookshelf Summer 2016

Being an active outdoor's person and enjoying books might seem an odd mix to some. But for many people some of the pleasure of getting outdoors is in planning trips and learning more about the places they're going to or have been, or reading about others outdoor adventures. For kids and teens who love the outdoors, these books will encourage reading and for the young ones that love reading they'll be encouraged outside!

Top Outdoor books from my Bookshelf (or selected to go under the Christmas tree):  

NZ Backcountry Cooking
New Zealand Backcountry Cooking: recipes for trampers, campers and other outdoor adventurers by Paul and Rebecca Garland was a welcome new title this summer. Full of ideas for quick meals and lightweight foods, this will be fun for families planning camping trips or picnics as well as trampers looking for a change from readymade de-hy packaged meals. I'm getting good ideas for my next tramp and the Date and Walnut Loaf has already been tried and met with approval. The only drawback is there is no index, just a list of recipes at the beginning of each section.

Safety in the Mountains

My tramping group has recently joined the Federated Mountain Clubs and through this I've discovered a little gem which became the 'must-give' present for my son, nieces and nephew. Safety in the Mountains: useful reminders for trampers, mountaineers, hunters, and others in the New Zealand Backcountry by Robin McNeill and available from FMC is in its 11th edition. It's full of important safety tips from river crossing skills to what to do in an avalanche, as well as useful facts about a whole range of topics from weather to bush medicine. Useful for anyone who is involved in outdoor adventure sports. Available from http://www.fmc.org.nz/sales/

The Beginner's Guide to
Adventure Sport in
New Zealand
A more commercial publication aimed at a younger audience than the one above, The Beginner's Guide to Adventure Sport in New Zealand by Steve Gurney also covers safety along with lots of useful 'how-to' information from nutrition to training. It is an excellent introduction to a wide range of adventure sport from kayaking to mountain biking. Those already out there doing these sports will be able to refine their skills, and other teens reading this should be inspired to give outdoor activities a go. Links to some 'how-to' videos on Steve Gurney's website.

Essay and Pictorial
I recently picked up and re-read Molesworth: stories from New Zealand's Largest High Country Station by Harry Broad with photos by Rob Suisted, published two years ago. My interest was rekindled by recent trips driving through Molesworth and rafting the Clarence River. This book had influenced my decision to pay a visit, so it was interesting to pick it up again on my return. Much of the enjoyment in reading about 'place' comes from this interaction - either I'm reading about somewhere I haven't been and I'm encouraged to go, or my reading is revisiting somewhere I've been, seeing the place again from different perspectives. Books like these deserve to stay available in bookshops for many years as people discover and rediscover the book and its setting.

James Hector

James Hector: explore, scientist, leader by Simon Nathan does an excellent job of setting the record straight about James Hector's contribution to New Zealand exploration and science. A well illustrated and readable biography that doesn't dwell on minutiae at the expense of the bigger picture.  I marvelled at the kind of expeditions that Hector undertook, discovering mountain passes in Canada, as well as exploring New Zealand's rugged terrain.

Notes: These books were ones I chose to buy - not review copies.  Apart from Safety in the Mountains which is available from FMC, you should be able to find these books in all good bookstores in New Zealand.  

And my recommendations for Children:
Gifts for children this Christmas were easy, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to give my own books. The youngest got a copy of my book Whose Beak is This? illustrated by Fraser Williamson and older children (and some adults who I knew would enjoy a copy) were given my latest 'explore and discover' book In the Bush: explore and discover New Zealand's native forests illustrated by Ned Barraud.
In the Bush includes a pull-out
bird identification card

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Puriri Moths and Caterpillars - a secret to discover in the trees

It was a magical moment when I first touched the cover of the puriri caterpillar's hole. A soft membrane, like a skin, covers the hole the caterpillar has made. Inside it's turning into a moth. But to the untrained eye, the membrane looks like a brown mark on the tree trunk.
The membrane over a puriri caterpillar hole

Once the moth has emerged, a hole is left in the tree. These holes become home to other insects, such as weta. One species of tree that the caterpillars like is the putaputaweta tree, so named for the wetas living in the holes. A couple of days ago, I found a mahoe tree, that looked something like a puriri caterpillar motel, it had so many holes all in a row.
A row of puriri caterpillar holes - all empty

Perhaps given the name of the moth, it isn't surprising the one of the trees the caterpillar likes is the puriri tree! But this name is the common English name, a common Maori name is pepe tuna.

A puriri moth found in the bush

The moth is New Zealand's largest, like many moths its mostly active at night and only lives for a few days.

Although its only found in the North Island of New Zealand, I still wanted to include it in my book "In the Bush: explore and discover New Zealand's native forests" because kids and adults find them fascinating. If you live in the South Island, I hope you can find them when you visit the bush in the North Island.
page 12 of "In the Bush"
Searching for these secret holes is an interesting purpose for a bush walk with children.

Places you can find puriri caterpillar holes in trees around Wellington:
Zealandia, Nga Manu Nature Reserve, Butterfly Creek, Kaitoke Scenic Reserve, Porirua Scenic Reserve, Maungakotuktuku Scenic Reserve, Otaki Forks...

To find out more about puriri moths: 
Terrain (Taranaki Educational Resource) is a great site for information about New Zealand natives, plants and animals www.terrain.net.nz/friends-of-te-henui-group/moths/puriri-moth-aenetus-virescens.html
Landcare Research have a fact sheet http://nzacfactsheets.landcareresearch.co.nz/factsheet/OrganismProfile/Puriri_moth_-_Aenetus_virescens.html
Nga Manu Nature Reserve has amazingly been able to record the emergence of a puriri moth from its hole www.ngamanuimages.org.nz

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Signs of Spring and Summer - and the first cicada

The white star-shaped flowers of the clematis vine hung across the green trees across the valley, were the very first signs of spring.  
Native clematis
Then there was the first call of the shining cuckoo. Through October and November flowers have been appearing on vines
Native jasmine

and trees, 

on epiphytes
Spring orchid

on the ground 
Orobanche minor

and on bushes. 
Native gloxinia

Nesting birds are discovered, fantail's nest high above the garden path, a silver eye's smooth bowl of a nest hangs outside the kitchen window. The tramping group treks further afield despite the likelihood of wind and rain in the spring months. 

This is the cabbage tree's year, laden with flowers, its strong scent fills the gardens and parks.

Cabbage tree or Ti Kouka

In two days, summer officially begins, but today I heard the first cicada. 

So for me summer has already begun.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Geckos in the Spotlight: volunteering on Mana Island

A trip to Mana Island, which is free from mammal predators and pests, is enough to show how incredible the lizard life of ancient New Zealand would have been. Mana is not only free from rats, cats, hedgehogs and stoats; there are also no mice here.
Mana Island is a DOC scientific reserve
On a sunny day, skinks dart across the path, slip in and out of bird burrows, sun themselves on rocks. Geckos meanwhile are hiding somewhere warm and dark waiting for the night. Special 'lizard lounges' provide a warm spot which allows visitors to see large gecko families hanging out together.

Mana Island is therefore ideal for projects that aim to save remnant or rare lizard populations. A translocation of Ngahere or bush geckos from a mainland quarry is a recent project. (Read more about the transfer of the geckos here.) I was part of a team of Friends of Mana Island volunteers which went over to monitor the Ngahere geckos and see how they are getting on in their new habitat.

We found a good number hiding in special gecko hides. Scientist Trent Bell from Eco Gecko was happy with the numbers found. Each was measured and weighed as well as photographed for identification purposes. It seems the pattern on each gecko is unique, which means they can be identified from close-up photographs.
Ngahere gecko
Also hiding were many weta and native leaf-veined slugs. I had never seen a leaf-veined slug before! According to Te Ara: the encyclopedia of New Zealand there are about 30 different species of leaf-veined slugs, I don't know which species we found.
Weta disappearing out of sight & lower right a leaf-veined slug

Leaf-veined slug
We went out later at night when the geckos are active to see how many we could find. This involved using spotlights and paying close attention. This is a common gecko caught in the spotlight.
Raukawa or common gecko

Hands on with geckos
This is the second project I've worked on involving lizards. They are fun to work with because they are small and reasonably easy to handle. Although the first time I worked with them I was too hesitant handling them and got bitten quite a bit. Geckos look so soft and delicate you wouldn't realise they have such sharp needle-like teeth! I soon learned to be a bit more decisive! At the same time of course, you have to be gentle as these are protected species.
Looking soft and innocent, geckos have sharp teeth
Some Gecko facts:
  • Geckos and skinks are types of lizards.
  • Along with tuatara, they are the only native reptiles that we have in New Zealand.
  • Geckos have baggy looking skin and a distinct neck, but skinks are smooth and shiny and have no obvious neck.
  • Reptiles are ectotherms which means they need an external heat source such as sunlight to warm them up. 
  • The green gecko is active during the day, whereas the various brown geckos are active at night.
Transfer or translocate? Which word to use?
A friend asked me why I was using the word 'translocation' to describe the Fairy Prion Project I volunteered on. 'Was it scientific jargon?' she asked. Why not say 'transfer' or even more simply 'move'?
I found the answer on the Department of Conservation website. 'Translocation' refers to the whole process which can involve several 'transfers'. The term also covers planning and monitoring. So the gecko monitoring work I did on Mana was part of the translocation process, although the geckos had already been transferred there.

More information on Mana and Geckos:
Friends of Mana Island http://www.manaisland.org.nz
Eco Gecko Consultants (includes image gallery of geckos) http://www.ecogecko.co.nz
Department of Conservation http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/wellington-kapiti/places/mana-island-scientific-reserve/
News Release about the lizard transfer http://www.doc.govt.nz/news/stories/2015/july/ngahere-geckos-transferred-from-belmont-quarry-to-mana-island/

Another blog post about volunteering on Mana Island
Feeding Fairy Prions

Information for young children
"In the Garden: explore and discover the New Zealand backyard" includes information on geckos and skinks and the difference between them.
"In the Bush: explore and discover New Zealand's native forests" has information about geckos and tuatara.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Weekly Walking Groups Growing in Numbers

What's driving the growth of walking groups? Intrigued by the increasing numbers in my group, I interviewed a cross-section of walking and tramping group members for an article in the most recent Wilderness magazine (October 2015) .  I hope the article inspires people to find a walking group that fits their style and join in.

The Wellington Regional Tramping Group - Forest and Bird has provided me with fantastic experiences over the last 6 years, taking me to parts of the region I hadn't explored before. Many of my blogs are about things I've seen or learned on various walks and tramps around the region and also further afield, but few have been about the walking group itself. It's time to remedy that with a quick photo essay to supplement the article in Wilderness.

Our tramping group takes us to spectacular views - from city walks...
...to the Tararuas, here we are on Table Top above Field Hut on a glorious day.
The sun doesn't always shine - we're wet through and ready to feel sorry for ourselves, when Philippa says "don't you just love it when the bush is silhouetted like that against a grey sky". 
There's always time for morning tea. The leader has usually planned the trip down to the fine detail of where morning tea and lunch can best be enjoyed.
Sometimes there's an accident, we're waiting for a helicopter here to lift out an injured person, but considering how many tramps we do and how many trampers we have, there are relatively few serious incidents. 
And there is always that wonderful discovery to be found on each tramp, whether its a tree or a new friend. And if you weren't in a group you couldn't measure a rata tree circumference in trampers!

To read more about tramping in Wellington, see my other blog posts:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Just in time for the Great Kereru Count - New Book Launched

My favourite place  - the New Zealand bush -  is the topic of my latest book. It's a book for children, informed by many walks in the bush with botanists, bird lovers, and those steeped in bush lore.

Many of the plants and animals featured are those I've discovered as I walk by myself, with other trampers or with children. From the delightful hen and chicken ferns to the mysterious, membrane-covered puriri caterpillar holes found in certain tree trunks. I hope the book will encourage children to get up close and touch tree trunks and ferns, as well as to know what to avoid - bush lawyer and onga onga!
Opening scene of In the Bush

The book wouldn't be complete without some of the rare and endangered species that can only be seen in bush sanctuaries. Like the other scenes in the book, our sanctuary is one we've made up to suit the animals we wanted to show. I'm not sure there is any mainland sanctuary that has all of tieke, hihi, kokako, tuatara, robins and kaka. 

It was a pleasure to work with illustrator Ned Barraud again and see the images unfold. He's captured the look and feel of the bush, from the magic night-time scene to the mossy filtered sunlight peculiar to beech forests.

Publishers Potton and Burton have added a pull out laminated card in the back of the book, dedicated to native birds, this will be handy when you are off to the bush with children to take part in the Great Kereru Count (19-27 September). Perhaps they'll spot other birds too.  
In the Bush has a laminated card in the back

Need other ideas of things to do with kids in the outdoors or a rainy day at home? There are ideas to accompany the book for parents and educators that will be soon be available at www.pottonandburton/store/in-the-bush

This year we've not planned a book launch, more a virtual launch. In the Bush will be in all good bookshops from 21st September. If you want to buy a hardcover version of the book order it online at www.pottonandburton/store/in-the-bush

Watch this blog or Facebook for book events closer to Christmas.

Book launch last year at the Children's Bookshop.