16 January 2023
Biodiversity Update - Dan Howie recounts his adventure below:
Dr Janelle Ward and Dan Howie recently had the amazing opportunity to learn about kakapo on a two-week trip each to Anchor Island in Fiordland.
In November and December of 2022, Biodiversity Team Leader Janelle Ward and I travelled to Anchor Island (Pukenui) in Fiordland's Dusky Sound. The purpose of this trip was to undergo training with Department of Conservation staff from the Kākāpō Recovery Team and volunteers from Auckland Zoo in locating, conducting transmitter changes, and conducting health checks on kākāpō. This training was essential in preparing the Sanctuary Mountain biodiversity team for the arrival of kākāpō in April 2023.
Anchor Island was a magical place. The bush reminded me of Maungatautari in many respects, but the prevalence of inaka, beech, and kāmahi (the biggest kāmahi I have ever seen), and the lack of supplejack meant you could not help but feel the difference. Also similar were the numerous south island kākā (with noticeably paler crowns), south island robin, bellbirds, and tīeke (the local's call is much gentler, more like a mew rather than a screech). But there were plenty of new animal species to see too, including mohua, kākāriki, kekeno and of course kākāpo. Kākāpō are an amazing bird, their charisma and intelligence were obvious, and their actions seemed more considered and deliberate than most birds. Although, kākāpō were also very capable of moving quickly, particularly when we were attempting to catch them.
The Kākāpō Recovery Team are an amazing group of people. They are extremely knowledgeable and work so hard. Some days in the field it was all I could do to keep up with them. But they were also super friendly and happily shared their knowledge. The training I received was invaluable, and there are very strict protocols for handling kākāpō and fitting transmitters which can only be mastered through practice. But probably my biggest piece of learning involved tracking kākāpō using telemetry (yagi and TR4). I certainly had a lot of practice at this over my two weeks on the island and I would like to think I got pretty good. Learning how to speak TR4 is a bit of an art form, and I learnt a lot from my mate "Murray the TR4".
Telemetry equipment used to help find kākāpō in the dense bush.
Preparations at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari for the arrival of kākāpō are now well underway. Many of you will have noticed the install of a barrier on the inside of the sanctuary's pest-proof fence which is being carried out by the new Kākāpō Fencing Team over the summer. This barrier aims to prevent kākāpō from climbing out of the sanctuary should they interact with the fence. The Biosecurity Team has also been busy refitting the sanctuary's DOC traps and bait stations to ensure they are kākāpō proof before their arrival.
Preparing for monitoring of kākāpō at Maungatautari is currently the focus of the Biodiversity Team. Anchor Island is about one third the size of Maungatautari and it was difficult at times (to say the least) to find birds there. To assist, the biodiversity team plans to purchase a drone fitted with a radio-tracking system. This system will improve our ability to detect kākāpō transmitter signals and understand their approximate locations. But, traditional telemetry will still be required to precisely locate birds, particularly those that hide away in difficult terrain.
The biggest takeaway from my experience at Anchor Island was how much everyone on the Kākāpō Recovery Team cares about kākāpō, and how much work has gone into their recovery over the years. It is a huge honour for everyone on the Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari team to make a home for these taonga, and it takes a great deal of trust for the Kākāpō Recovery Team and Ngāi Tahu to let these birds go. Despite the work ahead, I have faith in our team, I know that together we can make a great home for kākāpō!
Janelle and Dan holding a kākāpō during their training on Anchor Island.