Monday, 30 May 2016

Maud Island Frogs

One of the more unusual, but also the most interesting things I've done while at Zealandia, has been to help count Maud Island Frogs.

photo courtesy of

They are nocturnal, so 9.45 one evening, I met up with Raewyn and we headed in, armed with our headlamps!  Obviously, it was rather difficult to take photos but the link to the Zealandia blog about the count has a wonderful photo of the frog.

I learnt that NZ native frogs don't really have a tadpole stage, when they are born they are little frogs with a tail which later drops off.  The frogs are kept in enclosures that are full of leaf little so I couldn't work out where the tadpoles swam.  It was wonderful to be with Raewyn as she was able to fill me in about these frogs and their history at Zealandia.

Please click on the link below to find out about the frog count I helped out with!

Autumn in Zealandia

When you spend every day outside walking around the valley you start to notice the little things.

Now that autumn is here I've begun to notice that this is the time of the year that fungus and mushrooms appear.  I love walking through the valley and just looking all around me, it's very easy to get sidetracked and often my morning bike ride into the valley is slowed when I have to stop and check out something new.  Over the past few weeks I've taken a number of photos of fungus.  Below are some of the ones I've photographed.  They are amazing!

The 20th Kakariki

While I've been at Zealandia I've been really lucky to work with two different masters students.  Thanks to Latu I've learnt so much about the North Island robins and enjoyed every minute of being part of the research she's been doing.
I've also enjoyed working with Ellen and learning how to track birds using telemetry.  For her masters she has had to trap 20 kakariki and put small transmitters on them.  When I first met her she had about 8, now she has all 20.

The other day it was just the two of us, each hiding in different spots trying to look out for the very last kakariki.

Once you stay still, it doesn't take long for birds to appear.  A cheeky little kaka appeared and decided he didn't mind being close to me.  He was so close I could have touched him and I have to admit I was slightly distracted watching this bird swing around using its claws and beak.

We had to look for ones that had a red band identifying their cohort.  This meant that this bird was born in the 2015/2016 season.  All of a sudden one appeared right where I was watching.  A quick radio call and Ellen came rushing down.   We swapped hiding spots but I hadn't been in my new spot when she radioed me to say she had caught it in the trap.  I haven't run up and down many of the hills in Zealandia but I did that morning.

I helped hold the bird while she fitted the transmitter and then I even got to carefully hold the bird while she measured its leg length - there are special ways of holding birds and so she had to teach me first how to look after them.  It was quite something to hold onto a wild bird, something I won't forget in a long time.

Thanks Ellen for letting me be part of your research!

Changing Seasons at Zealandia

There's been a range of new things happening in the valley as we head into Winter.

Usually in April/May they conduct their annual mice audit.  There are always mice in Zealandia but once a year they conduct an audit to check numbers and find out where in the valley they mainly are. This is a good time of the year to do it as the population will be up after summer when there has been plenty of food around.   A group of volunteers come in over a few weeks and the entire valley is covered.
First, the tracking tunnels are set up.  This involves putting out ink pads and pieces of paper.  Every two hundred meters along each track is a wooden box.

Inside each box is placed the ink pad and paper.  Between the ink a small pile of peanut butter/oats is placed.

Every couple of days, we have to go back to check the tracking tunnels.  We have to add more ink to the ink pads, replace the peanut butter with fresh and also remove the papers and replace them with new, clean paper.  Every piece of paper is carefully collected, what box it has come from, the date and the type of footprints found are all recorded.

On one of the days I went out to help collect and replace the tracking papers.  I got to see lots of mouse footprints and even some tuatara prints.

The peanut butter gets put out twice a week for about three weeks.  This allows for a number of mice to travel through the tunnels.  Each time they walk through, they leave behind their scent.  After the three weeks is up, they then put bits of dead mouse into each tracking tunnel.  This along with the scent will attract any rats because this scent is very appealing to them!  They do this for a couple of weeks, then they put out bits of old, dead rabbit - the rabbit attracts any other mustelids (weasels, stoats).  Thankfully for Zealandia, all of the tracking showed they had no rats or mustelids.  There is always a number of mice in the valley and after the tracking, they know where in the valley there are large populations of them.
Now, the team are about to put out some poison to kill the mice, not all of the mice will be poisoned but it helps to control their numbers.
I'm looking forward to getting back to school and setting up a tracking and trapping programme around our school with the boys.