The team remains constantly busy currently, with lots of planning occurring in the office and plenty to do in the field. In this blog ranger Jake Osborne talks about his recent trips and training. It’s been a busy few weeks!
“The rangers recently spent some time on the contrasting islands of Hauturu-O-Toi/Little Barrier in the Hauraki Gulf, and Anchor/Pukenui in Fiordland, to check in on the birds and complete a couple of important jobs.
Hauturu Tx Change
A little over every year, every single kākāpō gets a health-check and a new transmitter as their batteries eventually run out. This year’s transmitter change for the Hauturu birds came in April, but had a bit of a difference. While changing the transmitters this time would be no problem, it would mean that the next time they would need to be changed would be right in the middle of their next potential breeding season. Luckily for us the transmitters generally have a bit of spare battery life in them when they come off, so a clever solution was devised: put old transmitters on the birds that will last a few months, and give them all fresh ones just before the potential breeding season. This has the bonus of saving a bit of money, and giving the rangers a second trip to Hauturu this year which they are quite excited about.
The team is going through a bit of a transition period with staff moving on, changing roles, and new staff joining the team. This meant it was most of the team’s first trip to Hauturu, which was quite the change when you’re used to the weather and terrain of Fiordland and Whenua Hou! Hot, dry weather helped us get the work done quickly, with all birds happy and healthy with their hand-me-down transmitters and samples collected for the ongoing studies into vitamin D. This meant we could spend a few days helping the island rangers working on a sick bird pen should it be needed, and with some of their island trapping and weeding tasks. It was awesome to see first-hand how well the island is doing as a predator free nature reserve. Nowhere else can one see tuatara, tīeke, hihi, kōkako, kiwi, and kākāpō on the same day; and dactylanthus on the next. A big thanks to island rangers Leigh and Richard for hosting us, and Auckland Zoo’s clinical coordination team leader Mikaylie for helping out on the trip.
Catching Up & Training
On the less glamourous side of the job; the last breeding season generated a lot of samples, mainly kākāpō faeces, which were collected to aid in the study of kākāpō diet and breeding, but primarily cloacitis or “crusty bum”. However, as the rangers were very busy on the islands making sure the mothers and chicks were doing ok, the samples were stored frozen in bulk. We use the down time between breeding seasons, especially in winter, to catch-up on the sorting and data entry. Picture sitting in a cold room, counting and sorting frozen kākāpō faeces and entering it into a spreadsheet for a few weeks. At least it’s a great opportunity to catch-up on all the great science podcasts that have been missed while on the islands.
We also used the opportunity to train some of our newer and casual staff on taking blood samples; using chickens before the much more challenging kākāpō.
Anchor Chick Checks
At the end of May Jake, Theo and Jen flew in to Anchor Island/Pukenui in Dusky Sound for two weeks to check-in on the 2016 breeding season’s chicks, who are all now classed as juveniles. We like to check in on them a little more often than the adults to ensure they are finding their way in the world, and they needed the final dose of their vaccinations for the soil-borne bacteria Erysipelas. These vaccinations are important as Erysipelas was implicated in the death of three juvenile kākāpō in the past. The team was joined by skilled volunteer Michael, and was again lucky with clear but cold weather.
The team also collected location signals for the adult kākāpō, and used the time to check all of Anchor and its surrounding island’s rodent and mustelid traps helping to ensure it stays predator free. Trapping is a mixed experience – a fun day out in the boat in beautiful Fiordland; dodging seals and their pups, while dealing with the changeable weather and replacing the rotten meat, egg, and peanut butter baits with fresh lures. We also collected seeds and foliage from a number of tree species for several ongoing studies about kākāpō breeding and diet.“
Jake’s next off to Whenua Hou to help finish the chick vaccinations and continue our cloacitus research work. You can follow him on Twitter and check out more of his photography here. All images used in this blog were taken by Jake Osborne.