Saving the Whales

Sixty of the 198 pilot whales that beached themselves in Golden Bay over the weekend have made it to safe water. Over 300 volunteers came from around the country to help stabilize the whales and keep them alive until high tide when they were re-floated.

One of those volunteers was Forest & Bird’s fundraiser, Adria Lopez Mackay. I asked her about the experience, what motivated her to train as a Marine Mammal Medic and the rewards of contributing to conservation as a volunteer.

When did you first hear about the stranding?

I saw it on Facebook on the Friday, but it wasn’t until 9pm that night when I got a text message from Project Jonah. They were putting out a call for trained Marine Mammal Medics to get down to Farewell Spit if they could.

What is a Marine Mammal Medic?

Project Jonah run a one day training course where they go through everything you might need to help whales or dolphins survive during a stranding. They go through the anatomy of marine mammals, the ones you will see in New Zealand, and what happens to them during a stranding. They talk about the reasons they may happen and how we can support them when it does. Part of it’s in the classroom, but then you go out to the beach and practice first aid on a blow up whale.

Was this your first time working on a stranding?

Yes – I did my training in November in 2013 and they told us that Farewell Spit was the most likely place we would be called to. This is the first time I received a call out text and I guess that’s because of the size of the stranding – there were so many whales. Usually, they might get all the help they need from Nelson and Blenheim medics.

How did you react?

Well, it was good timing! It was Friday night and I knew I had nothing on during the weekend, so it was just a matter of getting things together and finding transport. The InterIsland provides free transport for Project Jonah Marine Mammal Medics and you generally connect with other volunteers on Facebook to get rides from there. We went down and caught the 2.30am ferry then shared a van with a couple who had a few extra seats.

What was your first impression upon arrival?

Pouring water on whales

Volunteers work to keep the whales cool and calm (Photo: Adria Lopez Mackay)

It was pretty heart breaking and I felt a bit helpless at first, but then the adrenaline kicked in and it was all go. We were straight into it. A lot of people had been there all morning – since the whales first re-stranded at 5am.

It was the first time I had seen whales not doing what they’re supposed to do – being helpless, and not healthy. Some of them had some pretty horrific wounds.

The entire pod had originally stranded on the Friday. They were re-floated, but it was quite hot on Friday and there weren’t enough people to help them. They were badly blistered and some of them had open wounds. But luckily, on the Saturday that they re-stranded, the weather was overcast and so the wounds didn’t get any worse.

 What was the general feeling among the group? Was there hope?

Yeah – everyone was supportive and working together really well to make sure these whales got the best care. Everyone was just so focused on ensuring they were cool and calm. And looking forward to the possibility of re-floating them, which started at high tide about 4.30pm.

What was the process of re-floating like?

Well, we move everything around them away and take off the sheets they’ve spend the day covered in. We continued to keep them cool and calm and waited for the water to come in. I was working on quite a young whale and ours was one of the first to start to swim – just because it was so small. But for some of the bigger whales, high tide didn’t mean much, and they literally had to be pushed through the sand into deeper water.

Once you let go of a whale you join hands and create a chain along the shoreline to prevent the whales trying to come back in and re-stranding.

What was the biggest challenge of the weekend?

For me, it was just the emotional aspect of it. There’s no certainty that they would survive until the next morning when we could be sure they hadn’t re-stranded.

Did you form a bond with the whales you were working on?

For most of it, I was working on a juvenile whale. When I arrived, there were two young girls who had been looking after “her” for hours and they had named her – Lily. So I had to let them know I was going to do everything I could to get this whale swimming again.

It’s hard not to form a bond with them – part of keeping them calm is just speaking to them and counting their breaths to make sure they’re not stressed out. They don’t really open their eyes, but if you speak to them they’ll sometimes open one and look at you. It was really powerful.

In the end, I was exhausted. But waking up on the Sunday to hear that they hadn’t been seen again was a great feeling.

With "Lily" at high tide.

With “Lily” at high tide.


Otago Fish Floundering

This article was originally featured in November edition of the Forest & Bird Magazine. If you would like to receive a copy of your own, please consider joining us.

Otago’s native fish are in crisis. The latest Department of  Conservation-appointed review has found the region has the highest number of threatened native freshwater fish in the country. Of the 12 freshwater fish species under threat in the region, four are in the highest possible threat category.

Another six have been classified as nationally endangered and two are nationally vulnerable. Worse yet, three of these species are only found in Otago.

A Dusky Galaxiid (Photo by the Department of Conservation)

A Dusky Galaxiid (Photo by the Department of Conservation)

The news is not surprising given the barrage of threats: habitat loss, land use changes, water abstraction, degraded water quality and migration barriers. But according to DOC Otago freshwater ranger Pete Ravenscroft, it is the increased movement of trout into new sites that is having the most devastating impact.

“Trout habitat is still naturally expanding into new waterways, without human assistance … to the detriment of our native fish,” he says.

Unlike their whitebait counterparts, these galaxiids don’t migrate, which makes safeguarding their few habitats even more critical. Pete says it is even more imperative for the longer-living species, which can live up to 20 years. “They have big eggs and low fecundity. It doesn’t take much to impact on the species,” he says.

Otago has lost 20 per cent of its rare fish in the past 13 years. The Clutha flathead galaxias has been hit especially hard. Threats have reduced the population of this unique species by 60 per cent, and the survivors are limited to waterways across just 12 hectares of land.

Pete says if the current rate of loss continues, the Clutha flathead and the Central Otago roundhead galaxias could become extinct within the next 20 years. “Something has to be done now to prevent future losses,” he says.

One immediate solution for Otago’s endangered fish is to remove trout from galaxiids’ habitat and set up fish barriers to keep them out. Pete stresses this does not interfere with recreational angling. “We’re not talking about the wholesale removal of trout. Galaxiids are confined to the odd population in discrete locations. Most of these rivers are a metre wide … and have no value to recreational fishing.”

Six endangered Central Otago roundhead galaxias found in the belly of a brown trout. (Photo: Daniel Jack)

Six endangered Central Otago roundhead galaxias found in the belly of a brown trout. (Photo: Daniel Jack)

Fish and Game is working with DOC to create these trout free habitats. In fact, Fish and Game Otago region chief executive Niall Watson says the organisation has gone a step further and put forward its own proposals to DOC to reduce the possibility of reinvasion.

In addition, most of these streams pass through private land, which means rescue efforts cannot come from DOC alone.

Thankfully, word is getting around about Otago’s unique native freshwater fish and the increasing need to protect them. Community groups such as Otago Regional Council, water user groups, landowners and iwi are heeding the call to act.

Pete says without community support even more of our native freshwater fish would have disappeared, but insists a lot more needs to be done to counter the “biodiversity crisis going on in our rivers”.

DOC has proposed other measures such as protecting habitat, enhancing water quality and improving fish passage. The department has also undertaken a review of its three freshwater fish recovery plans and groups to pinpoint what is working, what is not and what can be done in the future.

Lan Pham, director of education and conservation charity Working Waters Trust, is keen to get more people talking about galaxiids. “These fish have their own unique stories and are found nowhere else in the world. The tragedy is we are losing these incredible species before we even get to know them,” she says.

A Good Year for Conservation?


Seabird of the Year (with chick): David Hallett

Working in conservation is invariably busy. New Zealand’s natural heritage is under such consistent attack on so many fronts that there’s never time to put our feet up. So much so that sometimes it’s hard to see the wood … you know the rest of it.

So given the year is all but over, and before Forest & Bird launches into battle for the new year, I thought it would be worth considering what sort of year 2014 has been in terms of conservation gains or losses. Are there any lessons to be learnt for the New Year?

We began 2014 with a crisis that had its roots in the warm summer of 2013. All the signs were in January that there would be a particularly heavy beech seeding in autumn 2014, which in turn was going to lead to an explosion in rat and stoat numbers. The scientists said there was a serious risk of losing at least some local populations of our most endangered birds.

The Department of Conservation responded by launching the ‘Battle for Our Birds,’ which amounted to a massive step up in their usual aerial 1080 programme. At this stage it looks like it’s been a success, with some great figures coming out of the programme. For instance, rat tracking numbers in Fiordland’s Iris Burn were tracking at an extremely high 72 per cent before the 1080 drop there. Afterwards they were at zero. It can be assumed that a significant number of stoats will also have died from eating undigested baits from the rat carcasses.

Around Easter Cyclone Ita blew over a large number of trees on the West Coast. This set the stage for something the logging industry had obviously been itching to do for 30 years – since logging was banned on conservation land. They wrangled themselves a law change that was introduced and passed through parliament in an afternoon. Now logging (in the form of removing trees that have been blown over) has started. That’s despite the irrefutable evidence that rotting trees are vital to forest ecosystems.

In May we learnt that after years of campaigning to save Fiordland’s Snowdon forest from having a monorail and accompanying service road pushed through it, the then Conservation Minister Nick Smith had declined permission for the project (it would have used conservation land, which is also part of a World Heritage Area, no less).

In June the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment said in a report that it is easier to get permission to mine DOC land than use it for tourism – an unintended commentary on the times we live in if ever there was one.

In the same month we also celebrated the incredible work our branch members do all around the country in June, when Forest & Bird held its annual prize-giving for those members whose contribution went above and beyond. The Pestbuster award is a case in point.

The thousands of people (included many Forest & Birders) who put their name to the petition calling for a ban on shark finning managed to force the government to change the rules for the better in September. They’re still not perfect, but they are a lot better than they were.

The election came and went in September, during which conservation issues did not feature highly, mainly because of the focus placed on the relationship between the prime minister and a certain blogger. Forest & Bird’s activities in the run up to the election included the On the Block campaign, during which ‘for sale’ signs were put up in areas where the rights to mine, drill and frack were being sold off, and our well-attended ‘meet the candidates’ events, which branches hosted throughout the country.

On a lighter note, we had the best ever Great Kererū Count in September and November, during which flocks of up to 170 birds were seen.

As of November, Forest & Bird and several others – including Federated Farmers – are now officially working towards creating a Predator Free New Zealand. We marked the launch with a joint media release. The Predator Free goal may be ambitious, but it is just the sort of co-operative, nation-wide conservation campaign that is needed to compliment the intensive conservation work that already goes on in isolated pockets of the country.

In late November New Zealand’s first ever Seabird of the Year was found. The fairy tern took the title, perhaps on the strength – if you could call it that – of being fewer than 50 birds away from extinction.

In December the rights to drill and frack for oil and gas across even more of New Zealand’s farmland, conservation land, and deep-sea seabed, were sold off. You can view the maps of which areas are involved here. It’s a shocking to see the extent of the sell-off, especially when you consider this is just the latest batch, and that the process has been underway for several years.

Throughout the year Forest & Bird has been a part of the formation of a ‘marine spatial plan’ for the Hauraki Gulf. This will bring together all the various interests in the Gulf, with the aim of developing a management plan that works for all – including, for example, the extraordinary resident population of Bryde’s whales. We think the spatial plan approach has the potential to work all around New Zealand.

Sadly, work began on digging an open cast coal mine on the unique and precious Denniston Plateau this year. But there are serious questions around whether Bathurst will survive to see the project through.

It’s an obvious question, but would we have undertaken the huge job of trying to protect Denniston if we had known the outcome? Indeed Forest & Bird, and its branches, spent a lot of time and resources on the campaign. So the accountants might say no. And standing in for something DOC should have – and normally would have – done itself was a bruising affair. But if we hadn’t been involved, Bathurst Resources would never have had to commit as much as they did to predator control, or to protecting parts of the plateau as part of an exercise in offsetting (given the Denniston Plateau was the last remaining intact example of that particular ecosystem, this ‘offsetting’ is actually nothing of the sort).

Then last Friday we received what is undoubtedly some great news. Forest & Bird (the national organisation and our Hastings-Havelock North branch) had joined up with Fish and Game and the Environmental Defence Society to appeal the consent given to the Ruataniwha irrigation dam. We did this because the regional plan change that would have allowed the dam to be built was flawed, as it didn’t lay out the methods for ensuring the water quality standards it set could actually be achieved. The High Court agreed with us – we had won the appeal. The ruling creates an important precedent for the setting of water quality standards by regional councils across the country.

So is there anything else we would have done differently in the last year? Of course, we can always do things better. But it is clear that all the conservation issues we picked up on were vitally important ones. There are so many emerging all the time that arguably it’s impossible not to choose issues that are of real importance. But we will only ever have the resources to take on those that pose the greatest threat.

The next 12 months could well be the most important yet for the work we do. Every year we see an increased interconnectivity between the issues we campaign on; I am certain this will only continue to be the case.

On that note, I wish you and your family all the best for the summer break and the New Year. Hopefully you will be able to get out and enjoy some of what makes this country such a great place. And when you do, remember just how important those places are to what it is to be a New Zealander, and how their protection is something that must always be of the highest priority.

Ngā mihi

Honē McGregor
Chief Executive – Kaiwhakahaere Matua
Forest & Bird

Hunua inspiration

In late October a trio of Wellingtonians went on a three-day inspiration expedition to the Hūnua Ranges south-east of Auckland.

The Hūnua Ranges — a key water catchment for Auckland — had been in the news due to the confirmation of an upcoming 1080 drop in the ranges. The reason? To suppress introduced predators like rats and possums and help protect the last remnant kōkako population in the region.

The handsome bird (Zorro mask, blue cravat, grey cloak) with the torch song tunes had cast its spell  on Tim Park and me, and we were keen to introduce Geoff Simmons to the kōkako Kool Aid.

Our guides were scientist Dr Tim Lovegrove, ecologist Shona Myers and ranger Scott Kusabs.

We three Wellingtonians wanted to experience the results of 20+ years of manu-saving mahi. It was a great opportunity for us to see the bigger conservation picture as we carry out pest control in our Wellington backyards as part of the Enhancing the Halo project.

Hunua kokako in lancewood

Hunua kokako in lancewood

For ecologist Tim Park, it was a chance to catch up with colleagues and get the lowdown on Hūnua conservation. For me it was a chance to thank Tim Lovegrove for spurring a nature boy obsession with birds ’n’ bush. (I had spent a school holiday on Kapiti Island in the late 80s, tagging along with Tim trapping and releasing saddlebacks.) As for Geoff? He didn’t know his kōkako from his kākāpō, so he was in for an education.

By the early 90s the once-common Hūnua kōkako (around 500 birds in the 1950s) were in perilous decline (25 kōkako were surveyed in 1994, with just one breeding pair). At the 80s pub where early kōkako surveyors had weekly drinks, there were still kererū raffles. One Friday a ‘sick-looking kererū’ turned out to be a kōkako. When local iwi learned about the state of their spirit bird, a rāhui (ban) was put on hunting.

In 1994 the then-Auckland Regional Council and Department of Conservation banded together for a kōkako search and rescue mission. A kōkako management area was established by staff and volunteers, and a network of bait stations and traps now covers nearly 1500 hectares. About 1600 hours a year are contributed by 50-60 volunteers.

In the bush the botanists buzzed, name-dropping Latin tags on miniature orchids and giant mosses (traveling with botanists makes for slow progress). A disturbing sight throughout the forest was mass defoliation of mature lancewood trees — an autumnal brown pocked the evergreen hillsides. However, the many healthy young lancewoods and the weed-free interior offered encouragement that the forest was diverse enough to be resilient.

From the trig we scoped a panorama of Coromandel, Firth of Thames, Manukau Heads and Sky Tower. Lovegrove reeled off islands of the Hauraki Gulf, gave us a précis of the human (manganese mining, marines) and natural history of the area.

The next day a thigh-burning tour of gnarly traplines generated more respect for the dedication of their volunteer operators. We posed for photos with a freshly caught stoat in their honour. There was plenty of pig signs — a Hunua hog raffle wouldn’t go amiss — but there was evident birdlife.

Kererū and tūī were reliable company and the pīpīwharauroa/shining cuckoo made its spring call, signalling to the grey warblers that they’d better make room for a summer house guest. Kākā parrots were a glorious sight, screeching and flapping high above the widescreen Hauraki Plains. At dusk, a morepork sentry attended a perch by our campsite.

But with only a glimpse of kōkako over two days, Geoff was getting the vibe that he was a blue-wattled crow deterrent. On the third morning we tracked the dawn chorus along the Kohukohunui ridge to deliver Geoff his wild kōkako encounter. The magpie-sized bird lived up to its ghostly nickname: high in a lancewood bough surrounded by a lei of clematis flowers.

We hoped it was a wahine. Early on in the kōkako rescue effort it was noticed that there were many male-male pairings (the lady drought was thought to be a result of predation on the nest). Breeding birds were translocated from other kōkako strongholds and ‘anchored’ through playing recordings of their local dialects. Via this assimilation innovation the reinforcements soon felt at home in the Hūnua Ranges and hooked up with the locals.

Our necks were happily strained (a necessary antidote to urban smartphone stoop). After lunch and closing in on the dam, Geoff surely shed the curse: At Piggot’s Campsite, while watering the wharepaku, he nearly tripped over a kōkako foraging on the ground. The $50 note cover-bird graced us with a quarter of an hour hangout, before it ascended to a rewarewa stage to show off its plangent call. Choice.

Dams and wilderness are not the most ‘natural’ bedfellows, but due to their utility in capturing water, forest ecosystems in catchment areas (Hūnua, Karori, Wainuiomata, Waitākere) have been comparatively well protected. Partnerships like those between Auckland Council, DOC, and many volunteer kōkako acolytes (iwi, students, locals, bird nerds) have built on this contingency to provide a compelling conservation example.

There are now (as of Oct 2014) at least 55 kōkako breeding pairs in the ranges: already achieving the project’s 2020 target — we’ll have to get their scroggin recipe. Long may the grey ghost continue to haunt the Hūnua Ranges … and long may Geoff be able to trip over it.

Paul Stanley Ward

For more information:

Hunua Kōkako Recovery Project
Enhancing the Halo


Not all meetings are equal

Cobb2_Craig Potton_free to use

Cobb Valley, Golden Bay. Photo: Craig Potton.

Short meetings beat long ones. I’m probably not alone in thinking that. So the thought of a three day meeting would normally leave me cold. But having just returned from one of Forest & Bird’s “Island Gatherings”, I can say there are exceptions.

The gatherings aren’t the usual tea-and-biscuits, spend 10 minutes waiting for Skype, let’s talk about how we should all be “moving forward” – type affairs that many of us may be used to.

Gatherings are held for the North and South Islands every year. They are attended by Forest & Bird members, branch committee reps, staff, and board members. These meetings almost defy description. They’re where ideas are thrashed out and knowledge is shared. They remind people why we care so deeply about conservation. And yes, there’s never any doubt about what people think about the more controversial topics. That’s to be expected in a room full of people dedicated to the protection of our natural heritage, at a time when it is under serious threat (although when has it not been?).

But to use my favourite cliché, the gatherings are more than the sum of their parts. You would have to be pretty indifferent not to have come away from this year’s South Island Gathering in Golden Bay without grave concerns around the extent and urgency of the conservation work that needs to be done. But at the same time, it would have been hard not to be buoyed by the determination and thoughtfulness of the people doing that work.

The highlights this year?  Some of these were also lowlights, like the story of the bar-tailed godwit. Every year the birds fly from New Zealand to Alaska. They layover in China for refuelling.  But something – a giant reclamation project, or DDT perhaps – is decimating the small marine animals the godwits eat while in China. This is going to have serious impacts on the species –they’re not about to just start using another beach.

Fortuitously, the story of the battle with the Trifford-like pest vines of Golden Bay proved no conservation challenge is too great. And a talk on what is known – and not known – about Golden Bay’s incredible aquifers was uplifting, despite the warning that only a small change in the characteristics of the water entering the system could make it all go haywire.

It’s a shame more people won’t get to hear Graeme Elliot’s talk on the science of 1080. It left me in no doubt that it’s high time that the money that goes into trying to find the mythical and elusive “alternative” to 1080 should be spent instead on just getting on with the job, with the best tool we have. .. before it’s too late.

Project Janszoon, which is made possible by the extraordinary generosity of just one couple, is doing great work in restoring the Abel Tasman National Park. But what I found particularly interesting is that Janszoon is using new communications technology to bring the park alive for those who can’t be there in person.

This year’s South Island Gathering was notable in one other respect. The catering. Gingernut fans would have been disappointed. Instead, there were mussel fritters and cheesecake, courtesy of the Onetahua Waka Ama Club, and wine, courtesy of Yealands.

The 2014 North Island Gathering  will be held at Forest & Bird’s Ruapehu Lodge between October 31st and November 2. Take a look at the programme. If you’re not a member of Forest & Bird, then it’s worth joining just for the sake of being able to go. Your idea of what a meeting can amount to will never be the same again.




How to watch whales

I remember going on my first whale watching trip seventeen years ago: dressed up in a red survival suit, travelling off the coast of Vancouver Island (Canada) in a small zodiac. No other boats around but us. The sight and sound of the 14m Gray Whale surfacing beside our small boat shortly after have stayed with me ever since. It was overwhelming experiencing such a charismatic giant! Four years later, I was standing on a clifftop on nearby San Juan Island conducting fieldwork for my Masters degree on whale watching.

Southern right whale, courtesy of DOC

Southern right whale, courtesy of DOC

In the distance I noticed the flotilla of boats approaching. Shortly after we counted 25 orca whales and 125 boats (commercial and private) around them! What was going on? We had only just brought whales back from the brink of extinction from hunting and now it looked like we were ‘loving them to death’ instead!

Since the ‘Save the Whales’ movement of the 1970s whale watching has grown into a multi-billion dollar global industry, widely recognized as the antithesis to whaling, and a harmless commercial activity that is equivalent to whale conservation. ‘The Whale’ has become a human passion. People want to observe cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in the wild and the demand for close and personal experiences fuels an ever-expanding industry worldwide. With close to half the world’s whale and dolphin species occurring in New Zealand waters, Aotearoa is a popular destination for whale watchers from around the globe. Whale watching in Kaikoura is among the most popular tourist attractions in this country.

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Snapper’s grassy beginnings

Snapper are one of New Zealand’s most popular fishes, and are highly sought after – both recreationally and commercially. They are found around the shallow waters of the North Island, making them an ideal fishing target.

Snapper, photo by Kirstie Knowles

The Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland, is one of the largest harbours in the world. It is a large estuary, and supports fish, oysters, mussels and scallops. Seagrasses play an important role in these estuarine ecosystems.

They provide a nursery habitat for fish, help to stabilise the sediment by trapping sand and mud around their roots, and transfer nutrients between the seabed and the ocean above it, as the grasses grow.

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Boomerang birds

In New Zealand annually, between 10 -30 of transfers take place each year in an effort to re-colonise our mainland islands with threatened birds – however some birds, just prefer home and will go to great lengths to return to their forest, island or wetland base.

Fairy prion, bellbird and kaka often boomerang back to their source site. Photos: Nick Talbot, Craig Mckenzie, Brent Bevan

Fairy prion, bellbird and kaka often boomerang back to their source site. Photos: Nick Talbot, Craig Mckenzie, Brent Bevan

There’s the story of the weka who legged it back to Gisborne from Whakatane, the spotless crakes that beat their catching team back home and the little tomtit that was transferred to Tiritiri Matangi only to wing it back to the Hunuas.

Indeed, our wandering kokako “Duncan” – who became a media star in less than a week – strayed almost 31kms from his transfer site in the Waitakere ranges into suburban Auckland.

Since Richard Henry attempted to save kakapo from extinction in the 1890s by transferring several hundred of these gregarious green parrots to Resolution Island, hundreds of translocations have taken place across New Zealand.

Transfers have saved many species, including our little spotted kiwi, buff weka, black stilt, kakapo, South Island saddleback and black robin.

Initially, these were almost solely done by NZ Wildlife Service (later DOC) however since 2000, community groups have taken a lead role, with DOC providing best practise guidelines and some supervision for endangered birds.

Indeed, with all number of community restoration groups putting their hands up for threatened birds, reptiles and frogs the number of translocations has swelled. In 2010, 71% of the translocations were undertaken by community groups either solely or with the assistance of DOC.

We have come a long way since Richard-Henry’s one-man mission. Since then, we’ve transferred 70 species of birds – and steadily, the success rate went from just 15.3% in the 1960s to 66.6% in the 2000s.

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Successful mountain rescue

In a few months’ time, Kaikoura residents will celebrate the return of their nationally endangered Hutton’s shearwaters from Australia’s fishing grounds with a raucous street party.

Volunteers feed a 'sardine smoothie' to one of the chicks on the new site.

Volunteers feeding ‘sardine smoothies’ to the some of the chicks on the new site.

Indeed, these welcoming parties are becoming quite a tradition amongst birders in NZ.

Church bells toll and cake flows when our godwits return from their marathon flight from Alaska.

And although the celebration is just as lively in Kaikoura, emotions run a little higher because locals are hoping some of the returning shearwaters will choose their fenced man-made site on the peninsula.

The good news is that more and more birds are coming back to this site each year. In 2012/13, twenty one birds returned and two chicks successfully fledged from this 2.1 hectare predator-proofed sanctuary.

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Our amazing flat-faced patiki

In lakes, rivers and estuaries throughout New Zealand, groups of aquatic flying carpets are mobilising and moving downstream towards the sea.  Late autumn marks the time when a special species of New Zealand flatfish – the freshwater black flounder or patiki – embarks upon a spawning migration to the sea, with juveniles re-entering freshwater and migrating back upstream a few months later.

Despite their cute appearance, black flounder are ferocious predators of small fish. Photo: Alton Perrie

The black flounder (Rhombosolea retiaria) is a truly fascinating native freshwater fish species.  They are found mostly in freshwater, in lakes and streams close to the coast, although they have been known to travel as far as 250km inland!

They also complete migration-like movements in marine environments, some of which can be astonishingly large – one flounder that was tagged during a research study in the Wairarapa turned up in Taranaki a number of months later!

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