Taking the bait

After a weekend doing ground-based pest control, I can better appreciate the value of aerial 1080. Mapara_Marina_r

I slid down a muddy bank with nothing to grab but a soggy tree fern stump that lifted from the soil like a mushroom. Through the rain and the supplejack lassoes I could see Ian and Merryl a few metres ahead. If they could hang on to the hillside, so could I.

And in truth I probably wouldn’t have died if I’d tumbled 20 metres into the stream below. Though it wouldn’t have been a good look.

Ian Flux and Merryl Park are as nimble as goats. They’ve skipped across hundreds of hillsides far trickier than this one in Mapara forest, near Pureora.

We were in central North Island kokako country and our job was to rid the forest of rats before they had a chance to feast on kokako eggs or chicks. We were the advance party of a rat control programme that kokako scientist Ian is rolling out on private land. Neighbouring DOC forest has pest control but the endangered kokako found there venture further afield so Ian is extending their pest-controlled haven.

Mapara_Andrew1_rWe had to staple to trees 50 metres apart small paper bags of cereal pellets for rats. The first afternoon four groups of Hutt Valley Tramping Club members worked across the hillside, each following a different line on a GPS screen. It should have been a doddle for anyone who likes to get outdoors and who can work a couple of buttons on a handheld GPS unit.

Mapara_John-Ian_rThis is the jolly alternative to dropping 1080 from the air, according to some. Kit out a directionless unemployed person with a GPS, some bait and a good raincoat, send him or her into our back country and our pest problems will be solved. Sounds simple.

And so it would be in a nice flat piece of forest – one not intersected by streams or steep gullies and without boulders or vines or inconveniently placed tawa trees.

Following a GPS line in terrain like our Mapara hillside was not like the usual tramping I do. Not only was there no track, there wasn’t even the option of taking the easiest route through the forest. We needed to stick as closely as possible to the GPS line to evenly space the cereal baits through the forest. Rats have small territories and we wanted them all to have a paper bag of pellets to sample.

Our cereal pellets were like the ones you’d feed a guinea pig. They were flavoured with cinnamon, which birds and insects don’t like, but they didn’t contain any poison.


Rats are notoriously wary of new food. They can’t vomit so they will nibble only a tiny amount of a new food to be sure it won’t make them sick.

Our paper bags of bait were put out to introduce the rats to a new food. A month later Ian led a second team of trampers to put out another series of paper bags, this time filled with bait laced with cholecalciferol and pindone toxins. The rats would this time tuck in to the familiar cereal pellets and swallow a lethal dose of poison.

After a lot of planning and hard work by volunteers – and a bit of luck – the rat numbers in this patch of Mapara forest should be low enough to give a few kokako pairs the chance to raise some chicks this summer.


Finally caught up with Ian and Merryl – well, they waited – before we made our final, steep climb out of the forest.

Mapara_Andrew_rSome people might wonder how I contributed to the pest control expedition to create a haven for kokako. I didn’t. I succeeded in not falling into the stream and not getting hurt. Baits and GPS co-ordinates were peripheral features for me.

Bring on the aerial 1080.

Photos show Marina, Ian Flux, John Simes and Andrew Robinson. Photos by Marina and Michele Lythgoe.

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.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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).

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

Next Entries »