Sunday, 10 April 2016

Space and Science Festival

Last year, this festival sold out!

The Space and Science Festival this year is going to be held on Saturday 14th May at Onslow College.  It's an event run by the Space & Science Festival Society, a not-for-profit organisation formed entirely by volunteers who are passionate about inspiring the next generation of amazing people growing up in New Zealand.  It's designed to be a family experience.

Highlights this year include:
*  A visit from Jen Blank, a NASA scientist who works with the Mars Curiosity Rover team.

*  Bottle rocket making and launching.

*  A robotic telescope to look at the moon, planets and stars.

*  Bioluminescent bacteria with Dr Siouxsie Wiles.

*  Astrophotography lessons with Mark Gee.

*  A big screen for the central quad for science videos (weather permitting).

*  Plus lots more science, engineering, technology, maths and space stuff to explore!

Please check out the Space and Science Festival website for more details and tickets.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Kakariki Banding

Not only does Ellen have to track the kakariki, she also has to band the nestlings and trap them so that she can fit transmitters onto their tail.

This day I got to come along to watch how they band birds.  One band goes on one leg, this has a number that is registered to DOC so that every banded bird has its own number and record. The same colour is used for the same breeding season.  The birds we are tracking have been born in the 2015/2016 breeding season so they all have a red band.   Then two different coloured bands are put on its other leg.  These are for Zealandia so that they know which bird it is.  The bands make it easy for us to identify which bird it is and also it makes it easy to record any observations about the bird.

This day I got to see two different sets of juveniles.  In Zealandia they have been looking at different types of nesting boxes so it was interesting to see how the birds nest.  These birds nest in hollows, they don't build nests.  So the first nesting box was a bit like a posting box, Ellen first uses a mirror and torch to check on the nest, then she unscrewed the lid and reached down to the young birds.  On the side of the box is a small hole that the parents fly in and out of - Ellen blocked that off before she lifted the lid.

Each bird is carefully placed into a soft fabric bag.  One at a time they are weighed and their weight carefully recorded.  Then Neil carefully let the birds head poke out of the bag.  He had to carefully measure the length and width of its beak.

Once the measurements are done and everything is recorded they were able to carefully place the bands on the birds legs.  There are strict rules about handling birds and you have to be trained and registered to be able to band birds.

A 28 day old nestling.  Too cute!

Take feather samples

Attaching the bands

Storing the feathers

Feathers are also collected and stored so that in the future if they need to be analysed they have got them all ready.

We then headed off to another nest where the staff at Zealandia had placed a Mamaku tree fern sideways in another tree.  Both ends had been blocked off and a small hole cut into the side of the tree (it was hollow).  The kakariki had happily made a home in it, along with a forest gecko (my first since being here!).
Ellen and Neil checking out the log

Working out how to get the birds to go to one end!

Ellen with one of the juveniles

A forest gecko who made its home in the mamaku too

The entrance to the nest

It's been another great day at Zealandia.  It really made me appreciate how much work behind the scenes goes on to help these birds and animals to survive and breed in the valley.  
After  that, Ellen and I ventured off to Wrights Hill again and wandering along the track I spotted another forest gecko - the second in the same day.  It was great to see it outside of the predator proof fence.  It was about 12cm long.  I haven't seen a gecko or skink out in the wild since I was a child so it was pretty special to spot this one today.

A forest gecko on one of the tracks on Wrights Hill

Kakariki Tracking

The other area of research currently being undertaken in the valley is tracking young kakariki to see where and why they are leaving the valley.

The aerial and receiver we use to track the birds

Ellen picking up a signal off  a track on Wrights Hil

It's around here somewhere!

I've joined up with Ellen and am helping her to find those birds that are leaving the valley during the day.  She has attached transmitters to ten birds, as time goes on more of them are starting to go further afield and as I have a car, I've become a rather useful helper!  So far, they tend to head out towards Wrights Hill, Johnson Hill in Karori and over to Otari Plant Museum.  Using the aerial and receiver, we can pick up a signal from a good few kilometers away, then its off to try and find it's exact location, whether that be by foot or by car.

And how does all of this link back to school science?  Patience and perseverance!  Like many things in science, the results don't just happen suddenly, you need  to wait, observe, discuss and collaborate with others so  that you can form a clear and accurate picture.  It's pointless rushing, you need to slow down and be sure of what you are doing, double check the signal.  And don't give up!  If you try and try again its quite likely you can pick up a new signal and we'll be off again.  With perseverance, Ellen can get to within just a few meters of the bird she has been tracking.  We've also been using lots of maths, I've been using a compass to take bearings and have been learning about using triangulation to help get a better idea of where a bird might be if we can't find it off aerial.
There's a real skill to tracking these birds and I'm determined to learn it!  I'm getting much quicker at striding up hills, scrambling down banks and holding my arm up in the air for what  feels like huge lengths of time!!  It's been great and I've really appreciated spending time with Ellen and learning all about what she is doing for her masters.