The Department of Conservation has high hopes for the upcoming whio breeding season in Fiordland. About 64 breeding whio were found earlier this year in a survey of a security site for the blue ducks.
Senior ranger Andrew (Max) Smart says this means the northern Fiordland site is the first in the South Island to exceed the target of 50 breeding pairs.
“Security sites are the highest priority whio conservation areas in the country; there are four in the North Island and four in the South Island.
"The target of 50 breeding pairs is set for each security site through the Whio Recovery Plan. A couple of sites on the North Island have reached this target, but we’re the first confirmed site on the South Island to do so.”
Whio have come a long way since 1999/2000 when only three pairs were found in this security site, Max says. “This year’s number is only a minimum and there could be up to another nine pairs.
“Extended trapping efforts and landscape scale predator control have enabled the whio here, and at key sites around New Zealand, to make a strong comeback.”
Whio are monitored using walk-through river surveys using specially trained conservation dogs. Two surveys a year are planned for each river.
The first survey, in November and December, counts the number of ducklings, as well the number of individual birds and pairs seen. The second survey, generally in January and February, counts the number of fledglings.
Exceeding this target is great news for whio, but according to Max, there is still a lot of work to do to secure a future for this species.
“We are only doing work over a relatively small area and this is where we are making a difference. Predator control has to be kept up and expanded for whio to have a chance to increase in number and spread over their natural range.”
This year’s Ducks Unlimited New Zealand’s 45th conference was held at the Collegiate Motor Inn in Whanganui, with just over 50 attendees. The weather was kind and, after a bitterly cold, wet and windy Friday, turned on the sunshine in time for the field trip on Saturday, 3 August.
President Ross Cottle opened proceedings at the AGM by saying it had been a reasonably quiet year, with only three members’ wetlands being developed, however work at Wairio Wetland was going well and good progress had been made.
He paid tribute to long-time DU supporter and Wairarapa Chapter Secretary/Treasurer Joyce Brooks who passed away shortly after the previous AGM.
Treasurer John Bishop, after his traditional warm-up joke, presented his report. He confirmed and reviewed the requirements of being a charitable trust, which include providing a mission statement, entity structure and a yearly report of income, expenditure, activities and volunteer support.
The information for the Charities Register notes DU is reliant on volunteers, with about 8000 volunteer hours a year spent on wetlands assessment and building, swan collection, and advice, education, field days, bittern project, supplying magazine content, Wairio planting and education, supporting schools, fundraising, auctions and dinners.
After running through the financials, which show a slight deficit for the year, John concluded:
“We are remain solvent, through support from membership subscriptions, auctions, grants from the Wetland Care Trust, and donations from Treadwells, Pharazyn Trust, Muter Trust, South Wairarapa Rotary and one-off grants.”
Election of Officers
The DU Board remained unchanged, with the two directors whose two-year terms were up, Jim Law and John Dermer, being re-elected unanimously.
Waterfowl and Wetland Trust
David Smith reported that the trust was in good shape thanks to the sharemarket, and despite paying out $40,000 to DU, was in a similar financial position as it was at the end of 2017.
He said the trust was doing exactly what it was set up to do: provide money to enable DU to carry on its work.
Will Abel said that in line with the previous couple of years, there had been few applications for new projects, with most of the wetland creation activities centred on the Wairio Wetland.
A large wetland in Pahiatua that DU committed $5000 to three years ago had been completed, and in Masterton, DU had helped created another large wetland, to which it contributed $4000.
Will Abel said it had been a disastrous year for the royal swan, with no cygnets available and even the wildlife centre at Peacock Springs, Canterbury, the usual source of swans, was looking for some new breeding stock.
“We have no idea why really, but anecdotally I suspect it is because it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing,” he said, tongue in cheek.
“If it improves next year, my supposition will be proved correct, and I will present a paper at the next conference on it.”
He said it was fortunate that there had not been many requests for swans.
Peter Russell reported that the breeding programme had had a good season, with 65 whio reared from captive pairs and 15 reared from wild clutches. A total of 72 were released.
In the North Island, 30 were released. Three older birds from last season were released on the Whakapapanui in December, and 12 birds, six males and six females, were released at Blue Duck Station in January.
The third release, on the Manganui a-te-Ao, was in early March, with eight males released at the Ruatiti Domain and four females released down the river where there was a surplus of males. Three male birds were released on Mangawhero stream on 20 March.
Peter said it was always a great thrill to take part in the releases out on the river. He has been doing them since 1997 and it has changed so much. In 2000 they released seven, compared with 72 in the past year.
In the South Island, 20 birds were released on the West Coast in January in the Wainihinihi, Arahura, Styx and Kawhake rivers; 12 birds were released on the Taipo River in March; in Tasman 10 birds were released.
Paul Mason reported that DU currently had 280 members, with 57 of those unpaid as at the AGM.
He said a second subs reminder would be sent out, following email and postal reminders subsequent to the initial subs mailout.
He noted that in the past three years, payment preferences were moving from cheque to internet banking. Credit card payments remained about the same and PayPal transactions were increasing.
More members were responding to the suggestion that DU communicated with them more by email, he said.
Paul said new articles were added as events occur, with the most recent being the planting day at Wairio Wetland. Flight magazines, from No 155 to the current issue, have been loaded on to the site. Issue 29 has also been scanned and added as a PDF file.
Articles from more recent Flight magazines are being transcribed and loaded as searchable items – so far back to issue 159. Old issues are being scanned and loaded as PDFs.
He noted a drop-off in website visitors in the past three months and in response had upgraded the site-mapping software and re-registered the site with search engines.
The main files being downloaded were Flight magazines and people were also accessing the educational resources files (from Quack Club), he said.
Jim Law reported that the wetland was in good heart, benefiting from continued restoration work, albeit at a more modest cost to DU ($4455 versus $9500 in the prior year). Work focused on more bund wall improvements ($1700), tree planting ($2000) and noxious plant control ($755).
At last, significant progress was made by the Greater Wellington Regional Council to reticulate water from Matthews Lagoon and Boggy Pond to Wairio. Earthworks have been completed but after a “weather event”, remedial work is required. This will be done this summer.
“We had provisionally budgeted to fund a portion of this work but GWRC assumed full responsibility,” he said.
Total expenditure by the Wairio Restoration Committee, not counting volunteer time, since inception 14 years ago, now stands at $220,000.
The Victoria University of Wellington School for Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology remain focused on their research at Stage 3.
The Restoration Committee is still holding funds (lodged with DU) from fundraising efforts totalling $10,807. A further $15,000 grant was recently received by local donors. These funds are also being held by DU on behalf of the project committee.
As mentioned last year, Wairarapa Moana, which includes the Wairio Wetland (administered by DOC on behalf of the Crown), has been included in a Treaty of Waitangi settlement with Wairarapa iwi. “Whilst the settlement has been delayed, the local iwi has assured us that they want us to continue our good work restoring the Wairio Wetland.
“We remain of the view, though perhaps slightly biased, that DU members should be proud of this project,” Jim said.
Jim Law reported on DU’s new initiative offering scholarships to students doing research in a relevant area. A trial offering a total of $25,000 over three years in grants of $5000 per student so far had had little response to date.
Four universities had been approached and it was likely the first recipient of one of the $5000 grants would come from Victoria University working on the Wairio site.
Peter Russell keeps a watchful eye on Whio to make sure the numbers are kept up and they return as much as possible, to the areas where they started life.
The past year has been the best to date with 26 ducklings reared and released back into the wild. This was achieved by three pairs, the Auckland pair produced 11, the pair at Peacock Springs having 10 and the Orana pair five. These pairs had all been flock mated. Both the Auckland and Peacock pairs did double clutch which really helps with numbers produced.
Three pairs at Hamilton, Palmerston North and Staglands that I was hoping would produce, did nothing. I hope they do better in the coming season.
This season we have flock mated four more pairs that gives pairs to Otorohanga, Mt Bruce, Queenstown and another pair at Peacock. I was a bit disappointed with Mt Bruce who took so long in sending male birds to Peacock that the female in the new pair at Peacock laid a clutch of eggs without a male.
It was also disappointing that no wild clutches came in last season to keep on making up more pairs for captive population.
The first release of 10 was at Egmont National Park on the January 29 with Andrew Glaser of DoC coming over and taking staff through putting transponders in and a video team taking footage of this and the release. We had a group of school children who attended and Andy was in his glory.
The second release was on the Manganui-a-te-ao and it was good to see Alison Beath also of DoC come down to put the transponders in. We released a total of eight birds with two older birds which came from there as juveniles and have only bred once and hadn’t done anything for the last three years. It was a great day. Lots of school children.
The third release was on the Tongariro which also went really well with lots of people and Genesis staff involved. Six birds were released. The last release was back at Egmont on a Saturday so their volunteers could attend as most of them work during the week. There were four birds plus a duckling I had hand reared and then sent to Peacock Springs so it would be brought up with other birds.
It has been so much better now with Air New Zealand sponsorship for moving ducks about and saving costs on breeders and Peacock Springs when sending for release. It is a bit more work for me but it goes with the job.
Duckling quality is very good and I am sure that the matting’s we are doing with eggs that are coming in is paying off with a very good bird for release.
Deaths for the year
There were seven deaths during the year. Two were neonatal and one a 20-year-old male and another 19-year-old male. We also lost 15 males including one eight-year-old. These males were not in the breeding programme.
The breeding male from Auckland Zoo died after a very good first season. The female is now at Mt Bruce and has been flock mated with the surplus wild males.
Pairs still needed at: 1. Nga Manu, 2. Mt Bruce, 3. Peacock Springs, 4. Kowhai Aviary, 5. Willowbank, 6. Auckland Zoo, and 7. Ron Munro. We need to bring in more clutches this coming season. Releases for next year Egmont wants to carry on releasing next season though we still need to look for new sites. Also returning birds to areas were the clutches of eggs are from.
Staff at Pukaha Mount Bruce were excited in late October last year with the arrival of the first whio (blue duck) to be hatched there in over 15 years.
The only one of four eggs to hatch, the duckling was raised with three other ‘exotic’ ducklings. The duckling’s mother was then put on another clutch of eggs and with hopes for a better hatch rate from the second clutch.
Staff are still unsure of the sex of this first whio. At approximately six months old a male whio will whistle when picked up and a female whio will grunt.
Queenstown pair did have one but it died at seven-weeks-old which was a shame. The pair from Auckland had infertile eggs but the female had been flocked mated not long before at Mt Bruce after losing her mate. The pair at Hamilton did nothing as well as the pair at Staglands. The pair at Palmerston North Esplanade did lay three eggs and one being fertile but died in the shell. The pair at Otorohonga did lay a clutch but nothing came from them.
Egmont met a milestone with 100 known birds on the mountain.
6 Captive breed.
Release Egmont March 13, 2014
14 Captive breed
Release Manganui –a-te-ao March 20, 2014
13 Captive breed birds
Released Birds to Date from 2000 to 2014
141 released Egmont National Park
25 released Manganui –a-te-ao
12 released Tongariro area
Deaths for the year 3.1
1 male Auckland Zoo 14 years
1 male Staglands 13 years
1 female Hamilton Zoo 18 years
1 male Otorohanga 3 years