Predator research in the West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

I’m just back from some more delightful NZ Dept. of Conservation volunteer work near Mt Aspiring. You may recall a recent posting about setting out tracking tunnels. Well this time we used them to find out the nature and types of predators relentlessly decimating the native bird population.

Birds we met, and my lines…

The yellow around the eye of this Kea means this is a young bird – in about four years time it’ll be black…
Kea West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

We were just leaving Aspiring Hut on our tasks, when three Kea came to check us out. They’d already woken us at 5.30 am so we were not surprised…
Kea - West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

They posed and played with us for about 45 mins. Maybe they knew we were there to make the continuation of their species less fraught with risk…
Kea by Aspiring Hut, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

Kea - West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

Each morning before snow melt might have affected river levels two of us would cross the West Matuki to do some more remote lines, but the weather having turned from it’s recent unsettled patterns made for a playful river, meaning the day was hot enough for the river to be enjoyable and “at home”…
Cascade Creek, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

One of my lines would take me onto the hillside opposite Cascade Saddle and Aspiring Hut, and I always enjoy looking across at the more trodden valley side, from the remote one…
Cascade Saddle, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

Over there, a bit more remote from the normal tourist tramper track, I encountered three robins on different occasions. They’re quite rare so each was a treasured “find”. Each was difficult to photograph, but I did get close to another breed – a chirpy little fellow…
West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

And a happy oyster catcher…
oyster catcher, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

On my return one afternoon I found my friend Paul installing a new sign ordered by the Dunedin Coroner in response to yet another recent fatality on Cascade Saddle. Paul, not long ago the manager of the Wanaka office and wider areas was recently made redundant by Govt. conservation moves I don’t care for. He so impressed me this trip that he’s stepped forward for volunteer work. His knowledge and skill goes without saying!…
Cascade Saddle Warning Sign. West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

The old sign, now removed. The above mentioned latest victim of the Saddle [of himself really] apparently had a photo of it on his camera, so go figure… human nature being what it is, and I’m as guilty as anyone – nothing tends to save us from ourselves perhaps. However I can’t help but feel for the families, and the Coroner trying to deal with making a route safe that’s long been known as one that is difficult to traverse in less than ideal conditions even with skill and the right equipment. Fixed cables over a 20 mt snow section is often mooted, but trouble is snow accumulation is so deep in winter it’d take some serious engineering to keep it there as tons of snow tend to want to follow the laws of gravity…
Cascade Saddle Warning Sign. West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

Which leads to the People side of our work…

Gillian, Martin, Flo, Sharon and myself. It’s a joint venture between Gillian and her husband’s Matukituki Trust, that they both formed recently [Bear Grylls donated a cool $K10 too] and DOC, so Flo and Sharon are the organisers of resources and the restoration plan and Gillian, on top of keeping the bigger marketing picture happening, does a superb job catering…
Matukituki Trust, DOC and volunteers. West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

It was the hut warden’s birthday, so a cake came in and a few beers appeared…
Matukituki Trust, DOC and volunteers. West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

Yours truly and Rod in the best chairs for awhile with everything at hand…
Matukituki Trust, DOC and voluteers. West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

On our return to DOC headquarters in Wanaka, Martin and myself suddenly realised that the old Liverpool Bivy from across the valley from Aspiring French Ridge Hut is in their work yard so we stepped inside briefly for a walk down memory lane…
Liverpool Bivy,

Martin [Curtis] is a very well known folk singer from up the Cardrona, and his signature song long known by myself and others and now the huge US market is “The Gin and Raspberry”…
Martin Curtis

THE GIN AND RASPBERRY
(Martin Curtis)

While hunting for Fox, we first came this way
From Lake Pembroke township took many long day
To cut through the bush and we found a new rush
With a mine called the Gin and Raspberry

Chorus
Oh but it’s hard, cruel and cold
Searching Cardrona for nuggets of gold
An ounce to the bucket and we’ll all sell our souls
For a taste of the Gin and Raspberry

The rumours went out and the thousands poured in
A handful grew rich and many grew thin
They all hoped to find their own patch of tin
As rich as the Gin and Raspberry
Oh but it’s hard . . .

At first it was summer, and we all thought it grand
No shirts on our backs as we sluiced and we panned
But then came the snow and the southern winds blow
And there’s ice in the Gin and Raspberry
Oh but it’s hard . . .

(Young) Billy McGrath, he worked hard and worked long
(Always) ready to smile and to sing us a song
But then he struck gold and was found dead and cold
Down in the Gin and Raspberry

So I’ll work out my time and I’ll stay out of strife
I’ll save all me tin to send home to me wife
And when the job’s done, I’ll leave at the run
And to hell with the Gin and Raspberry.
Oh but it’s hard . . .

Come and drink up your Gin and Raspberry.

Listen to a sample by Martin>>

The task – tracking tunnels…

My thoughts on how more native birds can find a home in this valley is fairly simple and based on what I’ve learnt from Flo:

As data comes in from the head of the valley [lines established for monitoring every three months from Pearl Flat down to the where the Rob Roy stream flows into the Matuki] we’ll probably find that the prevalence of predators decreases from the head down.

Therefore since the valley is somewhat “enclosed”, species could be reintroduced into the head of the valley first and with trapping lines in the right places downstream, stand a very good chance of flourishing. Indeed robins have already been released near Aspiring Hut, and they seem to be holding their own.

Sure stoats could traverse Cascade Saddle, but trapping lines there too could help. By contrast trying to reintroduce species in the likes of the Makarora area is almost doomed to failure as the highway will always be an easy access corridor.

It’s better I think to use an area like the Matuki watershed and the expand it outwards down valley

After having laid the tunnels a few months back, we now had to find them again using memory, maps and GPS. The lines are straight so finding the 1st tunnel was ideal and sometimes elusive. Once on the trail our pink ribbons help, but of course the keas will eventually destroy them all in play…
Matukituki Trust tracking tunnels, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

A blue triangle we nailed above each each tunnel helps identify it’s number…
Matukituki Trust tracking tunnels, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

To wander quietly alone in these rarely visited places is a privilege, but we do share it with a very busy sometimes fascinating eco system…
fungi on a silver beech tree, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

Tracking tunnel in situ…
Tracking tunnel in situ, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

This time round we anointed the centre section of a cardboard with ink that won’t dry quickly, and place a dob of peanut butter in the center, then place it on the wooden base inside each black plastic tunnel. Over night as critters big and small are lured to the bait, they leave foot prints when backing off, and the next day we collect the cards. There are wires at each end to discourage weka getting in, but this does not always dissuade opossums…
Tracking tunnel in situ, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

Gillian and Flo examine some tracks…
Tracking tunnel tracks, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

Mice! You might think they are not big enough to harm native bird chicks and eggs, but they do compete for food. The relationship between mice, insects, rats, stoats and opossum and the beech “mast” that varies the amount of food per season from Silver, mountain and red beech trees is complex and I believe not yet fully understood…
Tracking tunnel tracks, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

On the way home I took yet another photo of what is probably New Zealand’s most walked bush path to look at a glacier cirque, typical of many in our Southern Alps. The Rob Roy Valley and Glacier…
Rob Roy Glacier, West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

About this Like Minds Blog Donald Lousley

  2 comments for “Predator research in the West Matukituki Valley Mt Aspiring National Park

  1. B Mathews
    November 15, 2013 at 7:23 am

    Love it. With I could have been there and got a chance to do that. Always wanted to go on a DOC volunteer trip.

    • Donald Lousley
      December 6, 2013 at 8:28 pm

      Hi Bindu, could be a good goal for in a few years time. They go by pretty quickly to the sound of little feet! xx

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