Happy Little Feet

Amidst the menagerie of animals in the toy basket at Newtown Kindergarten my youngest daughter Sylvie (4) formed an attachment to a little blue penguin (aka korora). It’s one of those stuffed native birds whose tummy you depress and it makes the bird’s call: a kind of Tickle Me Elmo for wannabe twitchers.

Little Blue Penguin, Craig Mckenzie

Little Blue Penguin, Craig Mckenzie

Sylvie’s teacher let the korora come home with us for a few days, and as the return date loomed, I promised Sylvie — in a slack moment of parenting by reward — that I’d get her a replacement (if she e.g. ate her broccoli, tidied her craft desk etc).

Being an urban father in the shadow of jungle dad exemplars like Gerald (My Family and Other Animals) Durrell, I worried I was missing a link in the evolution of Sylvie’s nature education. If I was going to get her a stuffed penguin, I determined that she should experience the bird in the wild first.

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Re-wilding urban spaces

For the past few years, many city dwellers have been vigorously flying the flag for “Predator-free New Zealand” while, ironically, a scourge of pests have been running wild at their feet. Yes, in urban New Zealand, our pests are having a field day.

North Shore branch members take part in council-run training session.

North Shore branch members take part in council-run training session.

Throughout New Zealand there is no nationwide council-led effort to build on the good work of DoC and eliminate pests in the city.

Indeed, the vast majority of our urban parks and reserves are in fact faux sanctuaries.

As birds spill out from our pest-free Hauraki islands into the parks and reserves of our biggest city, Auckland, they quickly find these green spots are booby trapped with stoats, possums and large numbers of rats which keep birds at bay by munching on their young and competing for their food.

So for the past two years we have worked with our biodiversity officer at Auckland Council, Paul Duffy, to create a template, so community groups can control the pests in our city’s parks and reserves.

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Extending the Sanctuary, Part III

In my previous blogs I told you about my cat catching a waxeye (and the distress it caused me) and then the cat bib I bought her as a response. It’s now time for Cat Tales Part 3, since quite a lot has happened since then.


For the record, the cat bib appears to be working well for birds, as she hasn’t caught any since then. Skinks though, are still being hit, so that’s a problem still to be solved.

With the Halo project for motivation, and because there are lots of weeds here, I started doing some tidying up and planting near the street. It was pretty hard work, (and there is quite a lot of mess) so, I thought I would ask if any neighbours were interested in joining in.

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Extending the Sanctuary: Cat Tales

There’s nothing like a shock to spur you into action.

My cat Ruzz caught a bird yesterday. When I saw her with it in the front porch, I hoped it was a mouse or a sparrow, but as I bent closer I saw it was a waxeye. When I picked it up, its little broken body was still warm in my hand. I found myself crying as I buried it deep in the garden.

Tui will be one of the  feathery benefactors of the recently launched Halo project. Photo: Craig McKenzie

Tui will be one of the feathery benefactors of the recently launched Halo project. Photo: Craig McKenzie

A few moments later I saw a pair of bellbirds in the garden. These two had bands on their legs and were clearly visitors from Zealandia. What if she had caught one of these – a real native bird? Bellbirds are not common here in Kelburn – though we often have tui, kaka and ruru visiting us – and their numbers are increasing. I love birds – I’m a member of Zealandia and like few things as much as running, walking and taking photographs there.

Ruzz, our family cat, was bought as a kitten from the pet shop in Greytown when the children were small and we lived in Lower Hutt. Now we live close to the sanctuary, it doesn’t feel so good to own a cat. She catches skinks as well as the odd bird despite four bells on her collar.

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Treenauts Spy on Canopy Communities

Blogger: Forest & Bird’s Web Manager, Mandy Herrick

We touched down on the moon in 1969. We travelled 11kms to the sea-floor in 1960. We peered into living cells and discovered DNA in 1951.

Moon-travel, deep-sea exploration, cell-research, we’ve done it all, and yet, we still know very little about the unexplored communities that live in the tops of our trees.

Although numerous botanists & entomologists have collected samples from these lofty forest communities, it was only in 1995 that scientist, Graham Dorrington, set off in a dirigible (airship) above the forests of Borneo that we really started to crack open this undiscovered world.

Still 15 years on and this tree-top world remains very much unstudied.  It’s a sad fact that we know more about what happens 20 metres underwater than we do in the tops of our trees.

However, that’s all changing.

In the past month, Ark in the Park, the New Zealand Geographic Trust, DOC and Auckland University have been building upon the scant research into our tree-top communities by launching insect-o-logists, tree-o-logists and reptile-o-logists into our trees.

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The Ultimate Pest-buster?

If asked to name New Zealand’s public enemy number one, the first thing that springs to my mind is our most reviled Australian immigrant – the possum.

European immigrants to NZ tried to introduce these critters not once, but twice (in 1837 & 1858) to establish a fur industry – and then voila, their population exploded.  Now, New Zealand is home to over 70 million possums. In Australia, they’re a protected species.

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All together now

Cane toad

Cane toad

As we wage war on our possums, stoats, rats to save our precious feathered friends, lets think of our Aussie counterparts, who are battling the menace that is the cane toad (Bufo Marinus).
Plucked from Hawaii and transported to Australia, these toads were used in agricultural pest control to wipe out cane beetles in 1935. They failed.

Now, Aussies have a poisonous killing-machine on their hands. An animal that breeds rapidly, eats voraciously and kills most animals that tries to eat it, including freshwater crocodiles, kangaroos and household pets.

Cloaked in the kind of jargon used to flog insecticides, Toad Day Out was an opportunity for Northern Queenslanders to collect up these remarkable predators, and win prizes (not big ones though, this wasn’t exactly a bounty killing).

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A day in the life of a pest-buster

Guest blogger:  Inaugural 2008 Pest-buster Winner, Bob Walkington.

To win the pest buster award means we have a pest problem. To lose the award I would say we are gaining ground over pests. My pest busting ‘career’ began 5 years ago, and I’ve realised to be a good trapper you need to go the extra mile. By that I mean, you need to check the trap itself adding more than just bait, using aniseed, and sometime a bit of eucalyptus to lure in pests. 1080 is a quick fix, but that doesn’t apply where I operate – Taranaki’s oldest covenant “Collier & Dickson” 360ha of lowland podocarp & hardwood forest filled with short-tailed bats, whitehead, kakariki, tomtits and fantail.

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A Clean Bill of Health? A forest doctor’s walk through the Kamai Mamaku Ranges

Browsed, milled, cleared & mined over the years – it’s not hard to see why one of our largest tracts of forest – the Bay of Plenty’s Kamai Mamaku forest – has been a key focus for several of our North island branches. So as the newly appointed central North Island field officer, my arm almost left its shoulder socket when asked to take a walk through parts of this 37,000 hectare forest land.

kamai_mamaku2This stretch of forest contains a unique mix of plant-life that encompasses warm kauri in the North and cool beech to its South. Its long, narrow shape and plant diversity is a very microcosm of Aotearoa. Over the week we would take in three very different forests – the northern Waitawheta forest, Aongatete in the middle and Otanewainuku to the south.  A snapshot of the forest’s health in one week! Donning some binoculars & channelling the spirit of a forest doctor, I set about on the walk.

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High country holidaying

Last year, on a dusty hot summer’s day, I decided to take the slow road from Blenheim to Christchurch.  Armed with my trusty little 4WD, a tent, lots of snack foods, a large swimming towel, binoculars, and a camera; I felt well prepared to enter the vast tawny landscapes of South Marlborough and explore the Molesworth Recreation Reserve – formerly a high country station – during the summer period the road is open to the public. 

The deep pools and convoluted geologies of the Acheron River

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