Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Some random info....

A while back some friends and I organised a Mountain Marathon (a two day tramping navigation event). We hoped with this to raise some money for Tuke conservation. In the end we didn't raise anything, but we had fun and so did the competitors exploring the beauty of the new Hakataramea Conservation Park.

For their interest I chucked out a couple of little articles about Tuke and the New Zealand wrens in general with some links. I have reproduced them below.

The NZ Wrens in History(16 April 2008)

Bush wren, the only colour photo that will ever be taken. Don Merton

Ok. So according to Kerry-Jane Wilson's catch-all of NZ conservation "Flight of the Huia" there were six species of New Zealand wren and they were all adapted to their own ecological role and often existed side by side.

There were the Stout Legged Wren and the Long Billed Wren, who existed sometime in the past and are known by the fossils. Then theres the Stephens Island Wren whose final population was famously exterminated by a lighthouse keepers cat, for a slightly more elaborate story check out this:

No4 into the eternal grave of extinction was the Bush Wren, which I would like to briefly elaborate on.

In 1963/64 an ecological cataclysm, in the form of rattus rattus, invaded Big South Cape Island (now known as Taukihepa) and neighbouring islands. Muttonbirders reported a rat plague and wildlife officers were sent quickly to investigate, despite their findings and recomendations to act, scientific and political inertia led to delay and the extinction of three unique species; the greater short tailed bat, the Stewart Island Snipe and the Bush Wren.

The greater short tailed bat, people don't really know that much about, and much the same can be said for the Stewart Island Snipe, although its aerial displays are thought to be the basis of the Maori legend of the Hakawai.

Interesting following rat eradication snipe have been reintroduced to nearby Putauhinu island. However these are Snares Island Snipe, which have not been observed following this aerial display. The Hakawai has been silenced.

But to get onto the bush wren. The wildlife serice team managed to relocate six individuals to nearby Kaimohu island where they were unable to re-establish. The last was seen in 1972. The team which included well known conservationist Don Merton had successfully saved the South Island Saddleback at the same time and used this experience most famously in the subsequent miraculous campaign to save the Black Robin.

But couldn't do anything to help the bush wren. So now theres two NZ wrens left the rifleman and the rockwren, so we better keep an eye on them!

Introduction to the Rock Wren and its conservation issues (9 April 2008)

The New Zealand wrens family...only two left.

As a New Zealander mad keen on the outdoors I have always been aware of the rock wren or "Piwauwau"(or Tuke..ed). They tend to pop up in the most beautiful places; the Darrans in Fiordland, high above the Matukituki in Aspiring, Mueller Hut in Mt Cook. I remember being surprised on a circumnavigation of Kahurangi in 1999 to see the study site mentioned further on, on the Mt Arthur Tabelands.

However, it was not until a short time spent working for DOC helping manage the subantarctic and offshore islands that I became aware of the potential threats facing this amazing little bird; lack of information, apathy/transferrance of risk, and predator invasion of tussocklands and alpine areas.

Now firstly I'm no ecologist, strictly an enthusiast, and I don't claim any scientific credibility whatsoever. My goal for this website is to bring some information together from the best sources I can find, chuck around a few whacky ideas and hopefully be informative and amusing at the same time. The information may not always be coherent or structured but it will be on this site all together for everyone to see. I plan to use the information to publish appropriate articles to a wider audience via the mainstream media.

LACK OF INFORMATION: The first thing you become aware of when you are working for DOC is the quality of information decisions, or more importantly strategies, are based on. Population numbers and trends for even many bird species are virtually non-existent, the blue duck springs to mind, but so to does the rock wren (I haven't found any yet apart from the small study in Kahurangi although further research may throw some up). DOC is simply not resourced enough to do this work.

There is also a lack of information for advocacy, looking on the internet I found a brief introduction to the rock wren: which quotes the eminent, but pre World War 2 naturalist, Herbert Guthrie Smith writing "the rock wren may be considered as relatively safe". Chronologically that was followed by a reference to a Notornis article of 1954 describing the species as "common".

However I remember from my time in DOC that they were trialling a rock wren transfer to Anchor Island (something you do when you recognise a species is in danger). This was confirmed by a 17th Feb 2005 news article on "having a population of rock wrens on predator-free islands is an extra safety measure for the species, just in case something major happens to populations on the mainland". But then checking out Te Ara, our online encyclopedia I find that "a 2005 attempt to establish a population on predator free Anchor Island in Fiordland was unsuccessful".... Mental note contact DOC Te Anau and find out what prompted this attempt and why was it unsuccessful.

Two more leads to follow up were, - NZ National Parks and Conservation Foundation: "S.O.S" fundraising campaign, launched early 2007, focused on six species including rock wren.
- November 2003, Forest and Bird magazine article on fast disappearing rock wren.

APATHY/TRANSFERRANCE OF RISK: As a nation we have delegated our moral task of protecting threatened species to DOC. We largely pass them the burden and forget about it, this is especially true for species, such as the rock wren, that exist only on public land. At an individual level the typical reaction in DOC is to do as much as they can. For political reasons what they can't do tends not to get noticed or publicised. DOC's advocacy role in promoting the needs of these species or indeed eco-systems is also compromised by politics, prioirities and mainstream media policies.

In a Global Economic Forum Report I was perusing recently "Travel & Tourism: Competitiveness Report 2008” (thanks to for the link). New Zealand ranked 130th in the world for its care of threatened species. Now this is probably due to the sheer number of threatened species on our books and our inability to improve their status in the face of continuing predation. But it is also a reminder of the great responsibility we have as a nation to focus on this work.

PREDATOR INVASION OF TUSSOCKLANDS AND ALPINE AREAS: Through the Tenure Review process huge areas of tussocklands are being returned into public ownership, including significant parts of the mountain marathon course for this year. I love these areas but walking through them you sometimes wonder, what is the point of protected areas if by the day they are becoming more and more devoid of biodiversity. If the interest at a macro scale of light interplay on broad ridges and snowy mountains isn't matched by bird song or invertebrate activity at a micro level.

I still have a "Biological Conservation" article I found while working for DOC "Introduced house mice: a significant predator of threatened and endemic birds on Gough Island, South Atlantic Ocean”. It gave me the heebie jeebies. We lay people tend to think of predator/prey relationships as stable but this is far from the case. In the article above scientists observed the adaptation of mice to direct predators of seabirds and their eggs. For me that was relevant at the time as mice are still present on some of our most precious nature reserves, such as Antipodes Island, and it remains relevant now as a more dynamic way of seeing conservation.

There’s some more serious science done on alpine invasion, this report:

Focuses on the potential of a good flowering season for tussock allowing predators like stoats to go to higher altitudes because of the increased presence of mice etc, which could obviously impact the food supply and life expectancy of the rock wren. While predator trapping work done on the Mt Arthur Tablelands has coincided with a recovering population of rock wren see (I now know the accuracy of this last statement is questionable...ed).

A Measurable Goal.

I'm happy now, I have a purpose and a measurable goal to help the Tuke. In 2009 I am going to run a campaign to attempt to have the Tuke elected as New Zealand's Bird of the Year.

The bird of the year has been run since 2005 by Forest and Bird and I checked in yesterday with Helen Bain, their communications manager in Wellington, to check on Tuke's voting history. Helen wished me luck, and told me I would need it.

"In 2008 (the Tuke) got 10 votes and in 2007 it got four. (I don’t have the figures before that.)"

So there is definite potential for progress!

I came to this goal the long way round, and it is only an intermediate step, because being more widely known in itself will not improve the endangered status of the Tuke. I originally was thinking about a predator trapping program in Arthurs Pass, specifically the Otira Basin, but there are complications with that, which need to be worked through, principally the effects of mice, which may be exacerbated, if stoats are trapped for - but that project is lurking in the background to be thought about and discussed more.

But its important to have a measurable goal and this is it for the meantime. Any strategies or ideas welcome that may ensure Tuke's election, but I have a few up my sleeve.