Ducks Unlimited NZ

Displaying items by tag: Conservation

Friday, 28 May 2021 21:20

New Year's honour for conservation

DUNZ member Mike Bourke has received the Queen's Service Medal (QSM) in the latest New Year's honours for his services to wildlife conservation. The citation for his award says Mike has developed large sections of his family’s farm in Rangiwahia into a wildlife reserve and habitat of more than 30 acres.

He began transforming his farm in the 1970s, fencing off waterways and, with a friend and nurseryman, planted more than 10,000 trees, shrubs and fruit orchards around the farm and surrounding wetlands.

He established Bourke’s Dam (now Mangahuia Wetlands) in 1997 in collaboration with Fish and Game New Zealand, and went on the create two more wetlands.

Mangahuia Wetlands is open to the public through a gate off Main South Road in Rangiwahia, northern Manawatū, but visitors are asked to call Mike on 06 328 2840 first. If he is unavailable, leave a message.

After releasing trout into the wetlands several years ago, he has become involved with Fish and Game’s Take a Kid Fishing Day, helping children learn to fish and providing rods and lures.

He has built several netting houses with the aim of breeding and protecting Carolina wood ducks, pheasants and Californian quail. He has carried out extensive predator control and successfully bred mute white swans, acquiring his first pair in 1973.
He has previously been recognised for his conservation of rare waterfowl and wetland habitat, winning the 2006 PGG Wrightson Habitat Environmental Award.

Congratulations, Mike.

Published in Issue 180
Friday, 13 March 2020 13:41

Good neighbours


A short drive from Christchurch Airport is a 1100-hectare block of land where construction, quarrying, concrete and asphalt companies, livestock and salmon farming co-exist with conservation in a unique business model.

The land is owned by the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, which was formed in 1977 to continue the conservation work of Sir Neil andLady Isaac, Diana, who had ownedand lived on the land. “Their intention was to leave the place in a better condition than they found it,” says trust administration manager Catherine Ott. 

In the early 1950s, Sir Neil and Lady Isaac founded Isaac Construction.

The tagline of combining construction with conservation demonstrates the construction company’s commitment to conservation.

Today the successful construction company is one of the leaseholders on the land which provide the income for the land rehabilitation and conservation activities. Catherine says this business model is really important because it means the trust is self-funding and can exist in perpetuity without the need to fundraise. The assured income also allows planning for the future with confidence.

The main focuses of the trust are the conservation of endangered native flora and fauna, conservation of heritage buildings and the study of conservation through education and research.

Peacock Springs, which covers 73 hectares, is the main conservation area where the endangered NZ species are bred for release into the wild. It is off-limits to the public.

The trust has a memorandum of understanding with the Departmentof Conservation who has requestedthat the trust currently focus on fivebird species – whio (blue duck), pateke (brown teal), black stilt (kaki), orangefronted kakariki and the New Zealand shore plover.

The orange-fronted kakariki numbers were desperately low, Catherine says, and though the DOC put them on predator free islands, they didn’t thrive as well as expected. DOC now release them in the south branch of the Hurunui in the Arthurs Pass region where intensive predator control is undertaken. At the time of writing there are thought to be 200 to 300 orangefronted kakariki alive there, however this population could crash at any time. “We have specialised knowledge

garnered over 20 years in the captive breeding for release. Another reason for our success is because we are not open to the public. The aviaries are not designed for display but for breeding, so you may never see a bird.’’

The kakariki thrive best in dense, dense bush. “Our aviaries are so densely planted, when chicks fledge, it can be very difficult to locate them.”
Catherine says Peacock Springs has also focused on waterfowl and wading birds because it has a good source of water running through the aviaries, 
encouraging invertebrates such as water boatman that assist the young birds to learn to forage.


The birds are being bred for release into the wild so some of the aviaries are 7 metres high, allowing the birds such as black stilt to build up strength to fly to escape from predators.

Catherine says that although the public are excluded from most of the conservation activities, an area is open to the public on the easternmost boundary except during lambing and other farming operations. The Isaac Loop track and Isaac Farm Walk are easily accessible from Clearwater Golf Course.

“We have retired a significant portion of land beside the Otukaikino stream and fenced it and planted about 50,000 natives along the loop track. We also have a planting programme across other areas of the Isaac site as part of
our quarry reclamation programme to provide stepping stones for birdlife and invertebrates,” Catherine says.

The trust employs 16 to 20 staff, with more needed during the breeding season. Most are skilled with aviculture experience.

Lady Isaac was not just a wildlife  conservationist, but also a conservationist of historic buildings.

The development of the Isaac Heritage Village is based around 14 relocated historic Canterbury buildings. Many of these unique and irreplaceable buildings (c1860 to 1940), were threatened with demolition. The village will eventually be open to the public.



Published in Issue 178
Friday, 13 March 2020 13:34

Let’s hit them with some tech

DU Director Dan Steele looks at another tool to help in the fight against predators.

The biggest problem with conservation in New Zealand is complacency and believing that someone else is looking after mother nature on your behalf.
So many people leave things to the Department of Conservation and believe that that’s enough.

It’s not, it’s going to take a huge combined effort from many New Zealanders and particularly landowners to slow the decline in our biodiversity caused by these introduced pests.

But it is not easy to start a conservation project, it is usually an extra job for already busy landowners and who pays, how is it going to be maintained and what should be done?

We ran a really good trapping demonstration for our local sustainable farming group last week, the Taumarunui Sustainable Land Management Group.

Mustelid expert Professor Carolyn (Kim) King, of Waikato University, gave a great overview of New Zealand pests, how we got to this point and whether pest-free New Zealand has any hope of success. The jury is still out on this.

But she believes future technology may well make it possible.

We’re trying to demonstrate that it’s quick and easy to set a few traps around the farm; knowing what to do is often the biggest obstacle with farmers. Then of course there is the capital cost to set up traps and the ongoing maintenance. Goodnature, a Wellington pest company founded 13 years ago, is certainly making the setup and the maintenance easy with their well thought-out technology.

The new Chirp feature on their traps provides bluetooth information from the trap direct to your smartphone.

You link your phone to the trap and it logs the GPS coordinates, and when you check the trap, it tells you how many strikes the trap has had and when.
Then once you’re back into cellphone reception or internet connection, the information is automatically uploaded to the cloud onto the Goodnature world map.

Your traps and kills can be viewed by anyone looking at the map – they show up orange.

Cunningly though, when people are viewing your traplines, they can only see to within 150 metres of where you have your traps placed, so people can’t turn up and steal or sabotage your traps. The owner of the traps can however have their GPS coordinates down to a metre or two.

We are finding the A24 Goodnature traps a good way for people to sponsor some traps, to be involved and stay in touch with how the conservation work
is performing.

It’s so important to be holding our ground against predators; this week at Blue Duck Station, we have had a kaka sighting and a report of a bittern booming.

The Goodnature A24 rat and stoat trap automatically kills 24 rats or stoats (and mice) one after the other, before you need to replace the CO2 gas canister. When the pest tries to reach the lure inside the trap, they brush past a trigger which fires a piston, killing them instantly. The piston retracts and resets ready for the next pest. The trap comes with a pump that refreshes the lure automatically for six months. Three different trap kits are available: a trap-only kit, a trap with a counter or a trap with Chirp.



Published in Issue 178
Saturday, 09 November 2019 22:21

‘The biggest conservation project on Earth’

Dan Steele, the man with the gavel at the yearly DU auctions, headed to Wellington the week after the AGM to play to a different kind of crowd – at Homewood, the home of the British high commissioner, as part of Wellington on a Plate, the city’s month-long celebration of good food.

Dan and UK chef Jack Cashmore teamed up to offer guests a 10-course degustation menu, finishing the meal with a discussion by Dan on conservation, sustainability and a better New Zealand.

Dan said in an interview after the event: “New Zealand could be the biggest conservation project on Earth.


“For me, the big picture is that New Zealand could lead the world in producing quality products which world-class chefs, like Jack Cashmore, want to use in the best restaurants in the world. We can also lead in the realm of biodiversity management and conservation.

“It’s a big ask to get the primary industries on board to work closely together, but if we can pull it off and be recognised as the biggest conservation project on Earth at the same time as continuing to farm, then every product in New Zealand will become more valuable,” he said.

Sharing in his philosophy is Jack, who has worked in two Michelin-starred restaurants and was head chef at Anglo in London. Since meeting almost 10 years ago, Jack and Dan have shared a vision for both the farm and New Zealand.

Their goal is for Blue Duck Station and its pop-up restaurant, The Chef’s Table at Blue Duck Station, which was open last summer, to be the best overnight and fine-dining experience in New Zealand – based on the philosophy of nature conservation and sustainability.

Jack said it was New Zealand’s array of biodiversity, open culture, and sense of community that kept him coming back. Now his second home, Blue Duck Station offers him the chance to build a small restaurant from scratch.



Published in Issue 177
Tagged under
Saturday, 09 November 2019 22:15

You win some, you lose some

In 2012 a wetland was created at DU Director Dan Steele’s property, Blue Duck Station in the Ruapehu district, but things haven’t gone exactly as planned. Water has tunnelled under the pumice layer – the hills are predominantly pumice – to the next hard layer, first creating an underground leak, which DU’s John and Gail Cheyne noticed during a visit.

Next came the washout: Dan says, “We first noticed pumice floating down the Retaruke River before we found the washout.”

As of publication date, the problem is still waiting for a solution.

Meantime Dan has not been idle but had to climb out of his gumboots for a day or two to head to the city, see The biggest conservation project on Earth.


Published in Issue 177
Tuesday, 02 April 2019 21:18

Trans-Tasman bittern knowledge exchange

Australian wildlife ecologist and bittern expert Matt Herring visited last year and took the time to catch up with his New Zealand counterparts.

“The best thing we can do for nature is simply spend more time in it. From there, reverence grows and action flows.” M Herring, 2013

What a wonderful trip. It was as if we spent a week compiling precious pieces of a rare, incomplete jigsaw puzzle called “Australasian Bittern Ecology and Conservation”. 

After several years of being in touch via email and phone, it was so nice to finally get together with the New Zealand bittern crew and see some of their sites first hand. 

There is some great work happening across the ditch and a strong sense of being united in working towards reversing the decline of this iconic waterbird that we share. It is affectionately known as matuku hūrepo in Māori, or matuku for short.

The knowledge exchange began with the biennial National Wetland Restoration Symposium in Napier where I was honoured to be a keynote speaker, focusing on the importance of community engagement, novel habitats and active management.

We then had a day visiting wetlands around Hawke’s Bay, including Pekapeka Swamp, followed by a successful bittern workshop day organised by Matt Brady from DOC. It was now crystal clear to me that there’s a lot of love for matuku in New Zealand. 

With much discussion about wetland restoration targeting bitterns, it was astounding for many folk to learn about bitterns in rice and how bare, ploughed paddocks ready for sowing are able to support nesting bitterns less than three months later. There was a range of inspiring case studies from around New Zealand at the workshop, and we got to visit some local work in Hawke’s Bay with Hans Rook.
After that, it was time to begin a broader tour of bittern sites across the North Island. First stop was Lake Whatuma, and thanks to John Cheyne and Bernie Kelly, we were able to track some bitterns while kayaking. 

We discussed key issues like willow control, raupo (cumbungi) harriers as bittern nest predators. 

This wetland has up to nine booming males, but far fewer females, perhaps only three. The apparent shortage of female bitterns across New Zealand is something DOC’s Emma Williams is very concerned about. We may well have the same problem in Australia. 

males in rice fields have up to three nesting females in a single territory, there is emerging evidence that would support a general shortage of females here too. It’s definitely something we should consider: a booming male may not be a sufficient indicator of breeding 
or site quality.

It was now October and time to visit the 7200-hectare Whangamarino Wetland, between Auckland and Hamilton. This Ramsar site was once the world’s most important wetland for the Australasian bittern, with more than 140 booming males in 1980. 

Nowadays, there’s only about a dozen. I learnt about the many issues that are implicated in the decline, such as introduced species and water quality, but I think the huge water level fluctuations are central.

Near Tauranga, we visited the Lower Kaituna Wetland, and were lucky enough to spot a bittern feeding in the eleocharis. Part of the restoration work in the broader area is starting from scratch, essentially constructing new wetlands. 

And on the edge of Tauranga itself, right on the coast, we visited a bittern breeding site that was tidal. This was quite perplexing. The vegetation is low and we wondered where they build their nests without being flooded. 

Unfledged chicks have been found in land nearby, including a recreational park. We talked about how this site would be suitable for a thermal drone in locating nests and monitoring breeding success.

All in all, a wonderful trip, with special thanks to all who made it possible. I’m looking forward to returning the favour! 

The love for matuku in New Zealand is admirable, and the conservation work being done is inspiring



Published in Issue 176
Tagged under
Sunday, 20 January 2019 18:35

DU directors in the news

DU directors in the news – for good reasons

Two DU directors, John Dermer and Dan Steele made the news this year, 
both appearing in mainly rural papers, and both for very good reasons.


Dan Steele - Conservation and tourism with farming 

Dan Steele is the main driving force behind Blue Duck Station, central North Island, with the Retaruke River close by and Whanganui National Park on the boundary, it is the ideal place for a conservation minded man and his family.
The 1440ha station the cattle and sheep are important, but looking after the environment is always foremost in the running of the property. As a committed conservationist and a committed Ducks Unlimited member birds, particularly Whio (Blue Ducks), receive special care. 
By allowing 800ha of land to regenerate,  the bird life is returning along with the regeneration of the bush. There are 450 predator traps in use, water quality in streams and rivers has improved, and bird numbers continue to increase. Kereru and tui in particular, plus there are brown kiwi, native bats, and native fish.
Dan and his family, and his parents living next door, are all keen on seeing the conservation side increase. Young visitors from around the world are welcome at Blue Duck Station, where they are known as Eco Warriors, helping with the conservation programme jobs that take time and they get educated along the way.
But it is not only the backpackers who head for Blue Duck Station, Dan has built accommodation, and tourists are welcome. Hunting, horse-trekking, kayaking, hiking and even bush safaris are offered.
Dan has been a director of DUNZ for some time now, and has recently taken over the important role of auctioneer for fund raising at the annual DU AGM. 

John Dermer – the ultimate Farm Forrester

John and Diny Dermer were this year named as the North Island’s top farm foresters. They both love trees, and their farm at Cheltenham near Feilding reflects the attention that has been put into enhancing the landscape with a wide variety of native and exotic trees.
Selected as top forester in the North Island, John received a Husqvarna chainsaw. The foresters are tested on their tree knowledge, along with how well their trees are planted and managed.
John, a long time director of DUNZ, is obviously also keen on the birds. Ponds and nesting places are available around the farm. He is always on the lookout for yet another spot to be turned into a haven for water fowl. The trees, radiata pine, cypress, redwood and eucalyptus are mostly planted on land that would be difficult to farm effectively. Many older trees including large oaks and several large fruit trees in the original old orchard show the love of trees was encouraged long ago.
The Dermers also grow cereal cash crops, do bull finishing, lamb finishing and run a small ewe breeding flock. Oh – and there are turkey’s that have the freedom of the farm.
Diny also maintains a large number of hens, and several Peking ducks. Diny keeps the garden in order and has several citrus trees including an orange, grapefruit and several lemon trees always covered in fruit. They do well around the house. There are also several camellias. But Diny is also the extra farm hand, and is often to be found out on the tractor or helping in the wool shed.


Published in Issue 161
Sunday, 20 January 2019 18:27

Conservation Week

Conservation week November 1-9

New Zealand is full of great places and hidden treasures. DOC knows because they manage over 1400 great places, each with its own special appeal.

This Conservation Week DOC is making it fun and easy to get out and explore the great outdoors. They are hosting activities and events around the country. Even if you can’t make it to an event you can encourage some mates to join you in an adventure, tell your friends about somewhere you love to go, or get your kids to be creative.

There is a range of things to do and see so head out with family and friends and explore the great outdoors – it’s fun and easy! Go to for more information.

Published in Issue 161
Tagged under
Thursday, 12 April 2018 16:29

Captive Whio and new facility

It is looking like another record year of ducklings being produced with hopefully 39 being released. Peacock Springs with 18, Mt Bruce with 16 and Orana with five. Could have been more but you can never count your ducklings till you have them on the ground.
It is really great to see more ducklings produced each year and could be more if all the breeders had new pairs.
This facility has been build at the Tongariro National Trout Centre in some of the trout runs. I did go up earlier in the year and with helping Andrew Smart did the shaping of what you can see in the photos.
There were 12 ducks in the enclosures doing well and a lot flying around and diving into the water. Another 11 birds were put in the other side.
New Hardening Facility
This new facility will make it easier for  North Island breeders to send their birds there, rather than the South Island for hardening.
On December 4 last year I took six birds, that came from Peacock Springs, up to the Trout Centre for the opening of the Hardening Facility by the Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry and the CEO of Genesis Albert Brantley, as this was a joint project between Genesis and the Department.
At the opening there was a welcome from Haukainga for the visitors and then a welcome from Mihi/Whakatau to manuhiri/ visitors - Ned Wikaira followed by a reply on behalf of the visitors -Pou Tairanghau. We had refreshments by the new facility and heard speeches from Albert Brantley, Maggie Barry and then the National Whio Recovery Group Leader Andrew Glaser.
The Minister and Genesis CEO then cut the ribbon to declare the facility open. This facility was funded by Genesis and the Department of Conservation.
The birds were released into the new enclosure which was great.
Peter Russell
Whio Captive Co-ordinator  


Published in Issue 163
Tagged under
Thursday, 12 April 2018 16:10

The secret life of male bitterns

Finally revealed by DU transmitters

Last issue I introduced Australasian bitterns, a rare, secretive wetland bird that often lives within a stones’ throw of people’s houses – yet only the lucky few who spend time in wetlands know this species exists!
As our  bittern is the rarest in the world, we have  several reasons to be concerned about the population here in New Zealand.
In the last DU issue I discussed several threats known to limit bittern populations overseas - threats that are unfortunately also present in New Zealand. These threats include habitat loss (here in NZ this loss amounts to a shocking 90 percent!), introduced predators, modified water levels, poor water quality and inconsistent food availability. Unfortunately, despite knowing this, we still have little information about what’s happening with the bittern population here in New Zealand.
This is mainly because bitterns are almost impossible to find and study due to their camoflage plumage and elusive behaviour. Not being able to find this species also means conservationists can’t tell if their efforts to save the species are working.
To solve this problem we’ve been developing several monitoring methods that can be used to detect and count breeding male bitterns. This year we wanted to measure how well these methods work.
To do this we needed to catch and ‘mark’ as many male bitterns  as possible on Lake Whatuma, in Central Hawke’s Bay. We knew this would be tricky because to-date few bitterns have been caught.  However, as a team we collectively had several years of bird catching experience using a variety of methods…knowledge of two methods that had been used successfully to catch bitterns overseas…an ability to adapt as we went…and a ridiculous amount of dogged determination… And it worked!
Since September we’ve been able to catch six  male bitterns at Lake Whatuma. We caught all six birds by luring them into cage traps using a combination of calls and mirrors.
Playing bittern booming calls within a bird’s territory worked because it tricked the resident male into thinking that a rival male is challenging it. The resident male tries to creep up on this fake rival male intending to see it off. Eventually it sees its own reflection in the back of the cage trap, which it mistakes for the intruding bird, causing it to enter the trap. As soon as the resident male steps on the treadle plate inside the trap, it’s weight releases a catch, dropping the cage door shut, and capturing the bird.
Once caught, we banded each bittern with a metal M-band to make them uniquely identifiable in the hand. 
We also attached the radio transmitters provided by Ducks Unlimited sponsorship to help us locate and  identify the bird even when it was hidden from  us in the thick vegetation.
Before releasing the bird we weighed it, took a range of measurements (such as length of tarsus, bill, wing and tail), and some photos of its bill and feather patterns.
Photos and measurements can be used to crudely determine the health of the bird and as a general guide to help us confirm its age and sex. Each captured bittern was named in the honour of a deceased crooner – so by November we had caught Barry White, Bing Crosby, Tama Tomoana, Prince Tui Teka, Howard Morrison and Elvis Presley.
Once we’d finished processing each captured bird we released them back into their territories.
After that we regularly located birds using the signals emitted from their transmitters. Locations of marked bitterns were plotted to map their territories. We also checked where birds were located during our monitoring sessions and noted if a bird called during monitoring periods, and for those birds that did call we looked to see if observers had succeeded in detecting them. 
The results of our monitoring trial are still being analysed but preliminary results already show that breeding male bitterns have high site fidelity during the breeding season, meaning they always boom from the same area.
This is good news for our monitoring methods as it allows us to assume that booms heard at the same location at different times during the breeding season were produced by the same bird.
There was one exception. Bing Crosby, a bird caught in the northern end of the lake, permanently left his territory in October (midway through the breeding season). However, we have reason to believe that Bing was not as popular with the opposite sex as his namesake – and therefore does not count as a breeding male. Indeed we suspect he left the lake because he was single and  wanted to try his luck at wooing a female  elsewhere. There are several reasons why we suspect this. Firstly, the quality of Bing’s booming, something that’s associated with mate attraction, dropped steadily throughout the breeding season. This was not observed with the other marked males. Secondly, we had fewer observations of unmarked non-booming birds (females?) within Bing’s territory compared to some of the other booming males. This causes us to suspect that any visiting females were not staying for long. 
Thirdly, in the final days leading up to Bings disappearance he became more transient, often appearing in places that seemed well outside of his usual territory.
For example, two days before his disappearance he was found in the heart of his neighbour’s territory cavorting with two unmarked non-booming bitterns. His neighbour was booming within 100 metres of these liaisons - A final desperate attempt at securing a Lake Whatuma female perhaps??
Finally, after Bing’s disappearance we searched his territory for evidence of nest  attempts and were unable to find anything  to suggest he had attempted to mate with a female. We believe he was a single male trying his luck, but still can’t say this with certainty because many of the birds interacting with Bing were still unmarked and the sex of bitterns is difficult to determine from plumage alone.
Still, if we had not had the transmitter on him we would have never known that about these behaviours. Interestingly we observed similar transient behaviours with the other five marked bitterns. Although for them these observations occurred much later in the season and coincided with the time when we were expecting bittern chicks to fledge.
At this time of year (December/January), it makes sense for males to be more mobile, as chicks are supposed  to be relatively independent after fledging,  leaving few reasons for males to invest time and effort in maintaining their territories.
As you can see we still have much to learn about bitterns, their needs and behaviours. However, just in these last six months, through the use of the transmitters provided by Ducks Unlimited, we’ve been able to associate some of our observations with individual birds allowing us to put these observations into greater context.
All six of our marked bitterns have now left Lake Whatuma – again something we did not (and could not) have known would happen if our marked birds were not carrying transmitters.
We plan to continue following these six bitterns over the next six months. Hopefully the more we learn about them, their movements and habitat requirements, the more these observed behaviours will start to make sense.


Published in Issue 163
Page 1 of 4