It is with great pride and happiness that I can announce our 2021/22 grey faced petrel (gfp) protection and monitoring a complete and wonderful success! All 10 monitored chicks survived being predated upon by introduced mammalian predators, nine of whom successfully fledged between early December and Mid-January. Seven of the nine chicks were banded with permanent identification bands which is the highest number we have been able to band since monitoring the birds from 2016. In a season with high rodent and stoat numbers being observed around Whangarei Heads the Trust is particularly stoked, and proud that the very intensive protection and monitoring activities at the breeding sites has proved successful and worth the effort!
What a great way to start 2022. We hope that you have all had a brilliant summer thus far too, it has certainly been a lovely festive/holiday season weather wise, with good pre-summer rains recharging the ground water table and beautiful (mostly) calm, warm, sunny days allowing for some great rest, recreation and relaxation. Most of our amazing volunteers have had a good break over January, and some of our rangers too. I am looking forward to some time off in early February with a trip to the South Island.
December 2021 and January 2022 have been just as busy as normal for the ranger team and some of the volunteers with routine mahi still needing our attention, as well as some increased pest plant control too. Predator control during these months have returned some interesting results with our December tracking tunnel survey resulting in a higher than average rat index of 5.48% (+/- 3%) (although still very low compared to most other areas). The index for mice came in at lot lower than average at 18.07 (+/-5%) and insects at a nice high level of 36.30% (+/-6%). Many locals that I speak with around Ocean Beach, Urquharts Bay, Taurikura, Reotahi have witnessed a very noticeable increase in rodent activity this summer compared to the last few seasons, perhaps a sign of the excellent food abundance after a wet winter and very warm spring producing plenty of food sources in our region. Research does show that when base food supplies (such as seeds for example) are in abundance invasive mammalian predators such as rats breed in high numbers, resulting in more food for stoats, cats etc. who then in turn breed high themselves as well.
Longer term evidence from experts, our data and other similar groups throughout Aotearoa (pre-dating this summer’s local rat spike) is indicating that the toxin we have been using known as Double Tap is not suitable for ongoing use, as some rats seem to be averse to the lure or the toxin combination. Double Tap is an excellent toxin to knockdown larger populations of rodents and possums, so the Trust will look to use it as a one off pulse tool in the years to come to switch out our ongoing rodent toxin (usually Pindone). What we do know from our monitoring is that Double Tap is excellent for mouse control. So, the rat increase is potentially linked to a combination of the two aforementioned issues, that being a natural heightened rodent breeding season and a less effective ongoing rodent toxin in Double Tap. The second issue will be dealt with by a switch out in rodent toxin.
Our recent addition of predator control equipment along the Ocean Beach Road boundary line (known as Load the Road) is really starting to pay dividends now. Our passionate and detailed ranger Keith Townsend checks all the devices along the road every two weeks and as you can see from the statistics in the full report the traps are bedded in and making some very important kills before those predators can reach the buffer and the reserve. We have added a few more traps to the private land buffer area network to the south of Ocean Beach Road and really wish to thank our local landowners for their ongoing support to access their land.
The newly installed Predator Free Whangarei (PFW) trail cameras, which are paired to an automated lure dispenser (ALD), are picking up the invasive predators such as stoats within and around the reserve, as well as on private land over Taurikura and out eastward to the coast. This intensive network of cameras is providing us with such amazing new data, it’s new baseline data like we have never had before, and it’s been a real eye opener about the true picture of what’s going on in the reserve and other areas at the heads. At Bream Head/Te Whara however the good news is that out of the 805ha reserve only one possum has been seen on the camera network that monitors the entire reserve, and only four rats – which is outstanding and proves our rodent and possum control is working very effectively indeed. But it’s the stoat, the old arch nemesis to all those in conservation around Aotearoa, who is still evading our traps and causing the biggest headache. We have seen 20 stoats on camera and have been able to catch 11 of those this summer thus far, but there are still those cunning, wily few who will not engage with a human made device which we cannot trap. We look forward to the technology being rigorously tested right now that will pair with this great new monitoring system, to give us the tools to eliminate those remaining stoats. This tech may still be a little way off yet, so the trust is looking at its options for stoat control and the possibility of once again using secondary poison delivered via our intensive bait station network this coming winter/spring.
Pest plant control
Alongside the predator control is the ever important, and often overlooked, pest plant control that is so essential in maintaining the natural endemic habitat which is the life sustaining force/mauri for all our species. Our rangers and volunteer Marc Lawrence have been focusing in on mothplant control, targeting the mature flowering plants before they develop their large seed pods which, if allowed to mature, can burst and send 1000s of individual seedlings flying into the air and up to 25km away! This control is a long term operation as the mothplant seed can stay viable in the soil for 10+ years. So, after mature plants are controlled we must revisit and control seedlings for many years – as well as search for any new infestations. It is a long term process that requires a very strategic approach and lots of hours, which is something the Trust hopes to find more funding for and volunteer support of. At this present time, we are well short of being able to control pest plants over the entire reserve, we are managing to slow the spread within several key areas by targeting mature plants but we a far from being able to contain all matures, let alone eliminate pest plants at Bream Head/Te Whara. The crazy thing is, we have the tools and technology to eliminate pest plants, we just do not have the necessary funding, hopefully one day that will change.
And much more
Other operational outcomes have been achieved throughout the summer period, such as the install of eight PFW cameras and ALDs on the private buffer between the reserve and Ocean Beach Road, new traps added into the buffer zone to finish the intensive grid, six new volunteers have signed up and been inducted, Tracking tunnel index survey, planning and preparation for a possible Vespex wasp control operation in late February, preparation for the biannual lizard survey to be conducted in February, public track and hut maintenance by our wonderful volunteer team, trap line maintenance, plant nursery shade house development.
If this isn’t enough for you read even more of the great things we’ve been doing in this month’s full rangers report.
We’ve been installing cameras alongside our automated lure dispensers. We’ve seen good things (robins and kiwis) as well as bad (possums and stoats).
We have had such a busy, productive month this September, there has hardly been time to take a breath!
Our local seabird champion Cathy Mitchell spent a full day clambering around the steep terrain at the eastern tip of the reserve checking each of the burrows
Remote reporting of set and sprung traps on the north bounday of our reserve.
Our volunteers are hearing the latest methods and technology to remove predators from large landscape areas and then protect those gains.