With international travel off the agenda for now, it may be time to check out some of New Zealand’s public-access wetlands.
One such gem can be found on the Southern Scenic Highway between Manapouri and Tuatapere.
If you are heading south from Manapouri, take a right after the sign for Rakatu Wetlands and at the end of a 1km gravel road, there’s a car park with information boards.
There are four main walks, from 15 minutes long to two to three hours. It’s a spectacular setting with Fiordland National Park as its western backdrop, and no less impressive are the flush toilets up the track to the lookout. Complete with toilet paper and soap, they are an unexpected bonus to visitors expecting the usual pongy long drop.
The 270-hectare wetland complex was created for the benefit of fish and waterfowl as well as protected bird species to mitigate and remedy the adverse effects of the Manapouri Hydroelectric Power Scheme.
It is administered by the Waiau Fisheries and Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Trust.
To celebrate World Wetlands Day on February 2,
which marks the signing of the Ramsar Convention in 1971, Department of Conservation staff provide a rundown of Ramsar sites in New Zealand.
More than 10,450 hectares of Wairarapa Moana became a Ramsar site in August – including the Wairio wetland that Ducks Unlimited has been instrumental in restoring.
The designation highlights the importance of the large and varied wetland which is home to more than 50 threatened species such as tarapirohe (black-fronted tern), tuna (longfin eel) and panoko (torrentfish).
Though Wairarapa Moana has been getting most of the attention recently, there are six other Ramsar sites spread across Aotearoa – some of which have been recognised since 1976.
Some are accessible to the public and, with overseas travel curtailed because of Covid-19, it may be a good time to explore these special places.
Firth of Thames, Waikato
The Firth of Thames is one of two internationally significant Ramsar Convention wetlands in DOC's Hauraki District. The tidal estuarine environment is a biodiversity hotspot for a range of bird species: in peak season more than 20,000 birds can be found on the tidal flats and mangroves between Thames and Pukorokoro-Miranda.
Among the species found across the 8200 hectare estuary are godwits, knots, skua, oystercatchers and tern, plus dozens of others.
The Firth is a key location in the East Asia-Australasian flyway, the lengthy and internationally significant pathway for many migratory bird species in the wider Asian-America-Pacific region.
In fact, it’s the birds that are particularly vital to giving the Firth its Ramsar status, such is the site’s importance to the ongoing protection of the assortment of species.
DOC has a long relationship with the Miranda Shorebird Centre, on the western coast of the Firth of Thames, where visitors can learn about the various species before venturing to the shore to observe the birds for themselves.
DOC’s usual advice applies for visitors – enjoy the birds from a distance, do not get too close, take only photographs (or video) and leave only footprints. The Firth is suitable for more experienced and competent kayakers and canoeists, but those venturing into the area should go properly prepared – wear lifejackets, take communication methods, and advise someone of your plans for the day.
Conditions in the Firth can change quickly and visitors should check tides.
About a 45-minute drive north of Hamilton lies the internationally recognised wetlands of Whangamarino. The 7000-hectare mosaic of swamps, fens and peat bogs has been a Ramsar site since 1989. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for the public to get up close and personal to the raised peat bog as they are both treacherous and delicate – people traipsing through can damage sensitive plants, disrupt cryptic bird species and may introduce noxious weeds into a habitat where they are extremely hard to control.
Those wanting to catch a glimpse of the wetland can visit the Whangamarino Redoubt and Te Teoteo pa or the Meremere redoubt. While in some areas, there is a boundary of introduced willow, just inside this fringe are expansive native wetlands where you can see the endemic wire rush (Empodisma robustum) and tamingi (Epacris pauciflora), key species in the raised peat bog of Whangamarino.
Hiding beneath these are some very rare orchids such as the critically endangered swamp helmet orchid.
There are three rivers, the Whangamarino, Reao and Maramarua, on which kayaking and boating is permitted. If you move slowly and quietly, you may just glance the critically endangered matuku (Australasian bittern).
Whangamarino is home to a wide range of threatened flora and fauna including the swamp helmet orchid, tētē (grey teal), pūweto (spotless crake), black mudfish, North Island fernbird and weweia (dabchick).
Whangamarino is one of two Ramsar sites being enhanced through DOC’s wetland restoration programme, Arawai Kākāriki.
Awarua-Waituna Wetland, Southland
Just a short drive from Invercargill is the 20,000-hectare coastal lagoon, wetlands and estuary system of Awarua-Waituna, one of the largest remaining wetland systems in Aotearoa. The dynamic lagoon periodically opens to the sea, changing its waters from freshwater to estuarine.
The area is home to a wide variety of rare and threatened birds, fish, lizards, invertebrates and plants, including matuku (Australasian bittern), tūturiwhatu (NZ dotterel), koitareke (marsh crake), giant kōkopu, tuna (longfin eels), and several threatened species of moth.
Several walking options ranging from 10 minutes to two hours are on offer. These start at the lagoon and head through the wetlands on a mixture of boardwalks and gravelled tracks and offer good opportunities for spotting wildlife. Kayaks and small boats can also be used on Waituna Lagoon during high tide or when the outlet is closed. Awarua-Waituna is one of two Ramsar sites being enhanced through DOC’s wetland restoration programme, Arawai Kākāriki.
Farewell Spit, Golden Bay
Found at the north-west corner of the South Island, Farewell Spit is the longest sand spit in Aotearoa at 25 kilometres long.
An area covering over 11,000 hectares was listed as a Ramsar site in 1976.
Both estuarine and freshwater wetlands occur and it supports an array of rare habitats in the dune system.
The area is an internationally renowned bird sanctuary with more than 100 species recorded in the area. In spring, it attracts thousands of migratory wading birds from the Northern Hemisphere. During summer, the immense tidal
flats can support more than 30,000 shorebirds, a magnificent sight.
Visitors can walk a short distance out from the base of the spit (but should
stay on the beaches and marked tracks to avoid possible quicksand), but those wanting to travel the full length to the lighthouse at the tip will need to join
a trip from one of the licensed tour operators.
Manawatu River Estuary, Manawatu
About five minutes’ drive from Foxton is the Manawatu River Estuary, which was designated a Ramsar site in 2005. The 200-hectare estuary is an important feeding ground for international migratory birds and offers diverse birdwatching opportunities, including several threatened species such as, ngutu pare (wrybill), matuku (Australasian bittern) and taranui (Caspian tern).
Much of the wetland is saltmarsh which is difficult to access but there is walking access from off Holben Parade near the picnic shelter to the sand and mud flats There are two bird viewing platforms in the area.
Kopuatai peat dome, Waikato
About 25km inland from the Firth of Thames, on the Hauraki Plains, lies the Kopuatai Peat Dome. The 10,000-hectare site is the largest raised peat bog in New Zealand, and is unique globally. Kopuatai is a highly sensitive ecological environment, and as a result, DOC asks wetland enthusiasts to respect requests not to visit the sensitive wetland areas. Access to Kopuatai is not straightforward: the site is surrounded on all sides by privately owned land, and so visits are by arrangement only and require planning.
DOC’s Hauraki District staff can work with researchers and scientists
to arrange visits to Kopuatai, but this takes time so early contact and detailed planning are required.
■ For more information on NZ’s Ramsar wetlands, please visit doc.govt.nz.
An ambitious predator control programme in and around the Aorangi Forest in the southern Wairarapa is delivering some impressive results.
The Aorangi Restoration Trust is working in partnership with TBfree NZ, which has carried out three aerial applications of 1080 aimed at controlling possums and rats, covering 33,000 hectares. The first 1080 drop was in 2014, with subsequent drops in 2017 and 2020. The trust, which was established in 2011, is encircling the drop zones with predator control measures to help reduce re-infestation and the flow of predators from the forest into surrounding land, including the coastal penguin zone.
Trap lines cover more than 140 kilometres, with traps placed every 100 to 200 metres up most of the major streams in the forest.
"Much of the land is in private ownership and we are very fortunate to have the support of local landowners. They and many other volunteers, both local and regional, help check and service the traps," the trust says.
Recently, trustee Joe Hansen, with Sandra Burles and Nigel Boniface, walked the true left of the Opouawe River from the sea to the Kaiwaka bridge to mark out trap sites at an average of 150 metres between sites.
"We marked 37 trap sites on the true left and also saw four dotterels en route,"
As well as predator control, the trust and its partners carry out monitoring, penguin recovery and education activities.
Victoria University has been tasked with monitoring the impacts of 1080 in the Aorangi Forest and part of this work is assessing birdsong before and after the 1080 drops. Research so far has shown that 1080 has not reduced the numbers
of native birds.
It involves monitoring six sites in the Aorangi Forest Park and two in the Rimutaka Range ,which are used as reference sites. Chew cards, tracking tunnels and wax tags are used to monitor pest abundance.
Bird recorders and observations are used to monitor native birds, while pitfall traps and weta hotels are used to monitor invertebrates.
Monitoring in 2016 also found an unclassified species of forest gecko.
The main areas of research, including that carried out by summer research students are:
▪ Changes in abundance and recovery of pest species
▪ The impacts of 1080 on native bird species.
▪ Does the forest go silent after a 1080 drop?
▪ The impacts of 1080 on invertebrates, with special emphasis on weta populations.
Bob Burgess, project manager for the trust, is a retired scientist. He trained in plant ecology and recently worked at Victoria University.
He continues to work closely with the university’s scientists.
He says they are already getting some interesting results. A frequent claim of aerial 1080 opponents is that “the forest goes silent after a 1080 drop”.
“The birdsong actually got louder immediately after the first drop – across all native species,” Bob says.
That finding was from 3000 hours of acoustic recordings, made at various times of day and night, by 24 automated sound recording devices which were on location for several months before and after the 1080 drop.
Other Victoria University research projects have looked at the relationships between the forest, seed masting and the effectiveness of 1080 in reducing rat numbers. “Rat numbers went down immediately,” says Bob, “but the rats were back to pre-1080 levels within six months. Possums too recovered, but at
a much slower rate. It took about two years for possum numbers to get back to pre-1080 levels.”
The scientific research has practical implications for pest control in the park.
“Pest control needs to be responsive, triggered by the results of monitoring pest and bird numbers.
And timing of 1080 drops,” says Bob, “needs to be in early spring, so there
will be low rat levels when the birds are breeding.”
Birds will then have a rat-reduced ‘window of opportunity’ in the critical period when eggs, nestlings and incubating adults are vulnerable to predation.
Ducks Unlimited Director Jim Law is one of the trustees of the Aorangi Restoration Trust, along with Clive Paton (chair), Anne Firmin, Chris Lester, John Bissell, Mark St Clair, Tony Didsbury, and Joe Hansen.
"The best bang for your buck" is how New Zealand Game Bird Habitat
Trust Chair Andy Tannock described Takitakitoa Wetland in Otago on September 19.
Trustees visited the wetland near the Taieri River during the annual meeting of the trust which was held in Dunedin.
It was the first meeting of the new board appointed by the Minister of Conservation in July. It consists of Andy Tannock, DU Board member Neil Candy, former DU president John Cheyne, Jan Riddell, Mark Sutton and Chantal Whitby.
The trust met to review 14 applications made to the trust for wetland projects across the country for 2020 – they subsequently approved 11 of the applications.
The award-winning Takitakitoa project has previously received funding from the trust.
Takitakitoa has been one of the largest wetland enhancement projects undertaken without extra funding help from non-Fish & Game sources. Otago Fish & Game was gifted the lower portion of the wetland in 1994, around 40 hectares, and later obtained the upper portion of the 70ha wetland, through a land swap deal.
The project was launched with a $50,000 grant from the Game Bird Habitat Trust which was largely spent on constructing a 350-metre bund so the valley floor,
which was drained in the 1960s, could be reflooded. This took about two years to complete. Otago Fish & Game Council also put funds into the project.
"It was basically taking 32 hectares of drained, failed farmland and turning it back into wetland," says Otago Fish & Game chief executive Ian Hadland. "Takitakitoa is a shining example of hunter funding being used for greater conservation benefit.
This is an ecological restoration project which has benefits for not just duck hunters, but anyone interested in enhancing or conserving natural habitat for the future."
As soon as water refilled the wetland, all sorts of wildlife turned up, species that had not been previously observed there while it was in its degraded state, he says. "There’s clearly conservation benefits there that even I didn’t expect. Some creatures turned up that I didn’t even know were in the neighbourhood … like the pied stilts. There are probably 30 to 50 that have moved in to live and raise their chicks."
Wildlife included species well outside of Fish & Game’s area of interest such as inanga (whitebait), fernbirds, grey teal and royal spoonbills.
However, Ian points out that mallard ducks and some other game birds have also colonised the area, and allowed for the wetland to be used for novice hunting in particular.
"Getting the next generation of hunters out there to appreciate wetlands and learn their value is important. Those young hunters will undoubtedly fund similar conservation efforts in the future." Takitakitoa is a project that Fish & Game can hold up as "a great example of a duck hunter-funded conservation project", he says.
For more about the wetland and how to apply for Game Bird Habitat Trust funding, go to: youtube.com/watch?v=JtpRBbp6t1w.
In December the Game Bird Habitat Trust was granted $360,000 over three years through the Government's One Billion Trees project.
The money will be used to establish plantings on projects that the trust
supports around New Zealand.
Trust chair Andy Tannock says this is a significant boost for wetland habitat projects and complements the trust’s goals.
Andy says the trust will be working on setting up a process to support the planting of natives such as flaxes and woody species at sites that have received the trust's funding support. Many of the projects are on private land.
Andy acknowledges the work of Dr Matt Kavermann, the senior fish and game
officer for Wellington Fish and Game Council who worked with the Ministry for Primary Industries to establish the grant.
The number of whio in the Tongariro catchment is growing, thanks to a recovery plan run by the Department
of Conservation from 2009 to 2019 and groups of volunteers who monitor hundreds of traps in the region.
Two Taupō Fishing Club members and dedicated trappers Chris Pritt – the sister of DU Patron Di Pritt – and Lesley Hosking are been doing their bit on the upper reaches of the Hinemaiaia River. Lesley says, "We have trapped mostly rats and other predators on the upper Hinemaiaia River for more than two years, starting in August 2018 with only eight trap stations. We now check 42 traps every week – these are 36 box traps with DOC 200 trap mechanisms and 8 Goodnature A12 or A24 gas operated traps.
"We took over this part of the river to assist and free up David Cade (aka Didymo Dave) who started the trapping with the aim of getting the native birdlife to flourish again. He now traps further upstream on a regular basis while we patrol the well-worn fishing tracks and three car parks."
Didymo Dave has been trapping on the Hinemaiaia for 10 years and in 2019 caught his 1000th rat. "To date we have trapped 328 predators which include hundreds of rats and mice, four weasels, two stoats, and one possum, which was in the DOC 200 trap," Lesley says.
Pic's Peanut Butter is their bait of choice and they use about 5kg every six weeks. The peanut butter is waste from the Pic's factory which sells it at a reduced price on the Predator Free website. It is not edible as it has a greenish additive.
"By trapping so rigorously, we now have the reward of seeing North Island robin, tomtits, kereru, fantails, tui, bellbirds, whiteheads, and two whio have moved in near Car Park 3; we hope they will mate and there will be more whio. The pair seem overly friendly and we think perhaps they have originated from the Tūrangi whio raising enclosure," Lesley says.
Lesley and Chris are unsure if the whio nested this season but say they have taken up residence on the far side of the river where there are no fishing tracks.
The Taupō Fishing Club originally became involved in vermin trapping because its members were sick of rats chewing newly caught trout laid out on the riverbank while they continued fishing.
The two women fish two or three days a week on Flaxy Lakes, the Tongariro River and river delta, Waimarino River mouth, and in summer, they boat fish on Lake Taupō.
In January, their volunteer work was nationally recognised by the New Zealand Sports Fishing Council which awarded Lesley and Chris its 2020 Volunteers of the Year award.
As well as their trapping work, the pair worked together to save the Taupō Fishing Club when it was facing physical, financial and administrative collapse.
Club president Shirley Fraser says, “Our clubrooms were in desperate need of maintenance after having been neglected for years. Extensive rat damage had resulted in major water damage."
The building was collapsing and needed repainting, the roof needed repairing and guttering, wiring, and plumbing needed replacing.
“Not only did they do much of the prep work, painting, cleaning and so on, they organised quotes, oversaw the tradesmen and brought the project in under budget. Now the rooms are a pleasure to call ours.”
Lesley and Chris also took on the job of implementing a new administration system and overhauling the club finances and reporting systems.
Victoria University student Shannon Bentley is the recipient of DU’s first Wetland Care scholarship.
Shannon, who is from Upper Hutt and Carterton, has a bachelor of science degree and is now studying for a master’s in ecology.
She is looking at facilitating effective wetland restoration in the Wetlands for People and Place research group.
“This project looks at wetland restoration in the Ruamahanga catchment, and my role in the project (in part) is to find the ecosystem services gained from wetland restoration,” she says.
“This project has been an amazing opportunity to contribute to the Wairarapa’s environment and clean up the Ruamahanga River.
“In the Wairarapa, farmers have been undergoing wetland restoration on private property. Farmers have used different restoration techniques to re-establish a wetland ecosystem,” she says.
“Wetlands produce services such as water purification, flood abatement, carbon storage, and species habitat.
“My master’s research asks how restoration, species diversity and ecosystem services interact.
“Specifically, I will ask how does restoration affect the biodiversity of plants and soil microbes? And how do biodiversity and restoration treatments affect the ecosystem services?
“With this information, I hope to be able to advise which wetland restoration techniques are effective at restoring ecosystem services.”
Her goal is to quantify the gain in nutrient retention, flood abatement, carbon storage, and plant and microbe diversity in 18 restored wetlands of differing ages in comparison to 18 unrestored wetlands.
“By measuring how wetlands are functioning (via ecosystem services) after they have been restored, and looking at what restoration treatments are effective, this project will be able to determine how effective our current restoration efforts are,
and which restoration techniques are working.”
DU Director Jim Law says, of Shannon: “She is exactly the kind of person that our scholarships are directed at. She is a bright, passionate young Kiwi.” Shannon’s supervisors are Dr Julie Deslippe, assistant director of the Centre of Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology at Victoria, Dr Stephanie Tomscha, head of the Wetlands
for People and Place project and a postdoctoral research fellow at Victoria, and Ra Smith.
Ra Smith is an environmental iwi liaison for Shannon’s iwi, Ngāti Kahungunu, and a whanaunga (relative). He is involved in the effort to clean up Lake Wairarapa.
Where are the swans?
Royal swans are on the wane and DU Director Will Abel wants suggestions about getting hold of some breeding stock. Please contact Will on 06 362 6675.
More Flights scheduled
DU rep appointed
Director Neil Candy has been appointed as a member of the Game Bird Habitat Trust Board, which distributes funding to develop and enhance the wetland
habitats of game birds and other wetland inhabitants. He attends his first meeting as a board member this month in Dunedin where 12 applications for funding will be reviewed.
What's on the telly
DU directors Dan Steele and Jim Law both appeared on TV in August. TVNZ's Matty McLean was given a tour of Blue Duck Station by Dan on the Breakfast show, and Jim and Marilyn Law's Palliser Ridge Station was featured on Country Calendar.
Rainy day reading
New Zealand Geographic has an extensive online feature on wetlands. Go to www.nzgeo.com/stories/wetlands.
Flight magazine asked Pukaha/Mt Bruce's captive breeding ranger Tara Swan how the wildlife centre coped
"Lockdown at Pukaha was lovely actually! Obviously businesswise, like everywhere, it was a bit of a big change, but for the wildlife, it was like a break for them. I think nature enjoyed it." she said.
The stand-out moment during lockdown was the arrival of a kōkako pair, walking the tracks daily and visiting the rangers.
"I think the lack of visitors walking around inspired the birds to come and check out what we do every day.
"We had a stunning orange- fronted kākāriki clutch raised and fledged during the lockdown (actually due for release in
September, depending on how this new Covid update plays out)", Tara said.
During the first week of lockdown, four kākā juveniles from the centre's Aviary 3 pair were released into the forest.
This was ideal timing as it meant they could get used to the feed stations and other kākā without the distraction of
people too. They still hang around the feed stations so are easy to spot.
"Once lockdown was over, we sent two kiwi chicks to Sanctuary Mountain for release and four red-crowned kākāriki juveniles were released at Cape Sanctuary.
"Nine yellow-crowned kākāriki went to Nelson, where some stayed for some new captive breeding pairs and the rest were released on Puangiangi Island. "So yes, it was a bit mad! During and after as so many bird transfers were delayed due to the travel restrictions. Thankfully it was during the quiet season," Tara said.
Mr F.N. Hayes outlined the year's highlights - among them the first official recording of captive reared Brown Teal in the wild on the mainland; and the outstanding figure of 101 birds reared to maturity by DU members — expressing thanks to all concerned and particularly the N.Z. Wildlife Service and Messrs J. Gill, 5- Bronger, J. Campbell, J. Glover and W. Clinton—Baker. of the 101 birds reared, 64 were released on Matakana Island, 22 were retained for flock mating and 15 kept fcrrelease in August at Puke Puke Lagoon. Including the 25 birds reared by the N.z. Wildlife Service, Brown Teal reared in New Zealand last breeding season numbered approximately ten per cent of the estimated world population.
In the United Kingdom the Wildfowl Trust has reared 30 birds in the two seasons since Ducks Unlimited sent two females for its collection. It would be some time before the target of 50 breeding pair would be reached but the group was confident this figure would be achieved. The objective for the coming year was 40 pair held by 20 Ducks Unlimited members.
Mr Hayes advised that the Wildlife Service had paid Ducks Unlimited $ 5 for each bird released to the wild - this was passed to breeder members, together with a further $ 5 as a token reimbursement of cost for rearing to maturity. Favourable comments had been received concerning the Brown Teal booklet produced following the Brown Teal seminar in 1980 and thanks expressed to Mrs C.L. Pirani for assistance with production and Dr M. Williams of the Wildlife Service for technical assistance.
Mr Hayes concluded by stating Ducks Unlimited was confident the current season's record would be exceeded in the coming year and that the group was searching for further release sites. He answered questions concerning publicity on television and in scientific journals; population levels; fundraising for the project and stated that the aim was to maintain a stable population level for Brown Teal in the years ahead.
Brown Teal released at Puke Puke Lagoon:
On 9 August 1981 DU released 12 Brown Teal at Puke Puke Lagoon, Foxton — 8 females and 4 males. This is the first time DU has released birds at this time of year and the resident Wildlife Service technician at Puke Puke Lagoon will be keeping a close watch to see how the birds adapt. All 12 birds were those reared towards the end of last breeding season, too late for release during last summer. Thanks to Mr J. Glover for holding most of the birds during the winter. The latest release brings to 76 the number of Brown Teal released during 1981.
Brown Teal at the Wildfowl Trust, Slimbridge: The Wildfowl Trust reports an excellent 1981 breeding season. Slimbridge reared 25 and the two other centres, Martin Mere and Peakirk, have also done well but no figures are available as yet. Overall this indicates that over 50 Brown Teal have been reared in the United Kingdom since DU sent two females in 1979. The Trust now plans to distribute pairs to their other two centres, to leading aviculturists in the United Kingdom, Europe and possibly the United States. The Wildfowl Trust and Ducks Unlimited feel that this is a very important safety aspect should anything unforeseen occur with the species in New Zealand.
1981/82 breeding season: Several breeders have reported eggs being laid during August and hopes are high that DU will break last season's record of 101 Brown Teal reared. This season we will have 40 pair of Brown Teal held by 18, possibly 20, members — well on the way to the 50 breeding pair target. The Wildlife Service will have 10 pairs for the coming season.