It would have been very handy if we were there to find weta – no problem, the weta come to you! In this case we were particularly lucky this morning as well, as a weta decided to take up residence on the back of a backpack.
In a stroke of genius – we decided to get him to run across one of our ink pads to have a direct comparison of prints found in our tracking tunnels. The weta gave us the most perfect set of prints.
Our final hopes of getting our hands on a lizard was the final check and collection of the traps. I think you can probably guess the general theme… yeah nothing, nil, zilch, diddly-squat, zippo. Not for lack of trying mind you.
And then all too soon, it was time to leave Kahurangi, the forest and all the amazing and dedicated people I met along the way. We walked out from the hut, straight from the bush to the airport and home.
Special thanks to Leigh Marshall for organising such an awesome work program and looking after Emily and I (and putting up with us – especially me). To Darin for taking us whio tracking, Ivan for the lizard hunt and tracking tunnels, Terry for the beech shooting, Mel, and all of the DoC staff at Motueka for making us feel so welcome.
A tremendous thank you to all the Friends of Flora not only for making me feel such a part of your team but also for the incredible work you all put into the Flora Valley. It is the special place it is because of you. Thank you Sean, Andy, Pamela, Lesley, Sandra, Judith, Greg and Mary-Anne. Finally a special thanks to Robin and Sandy for giving us a window into the great work you do with the great spots, letting us ‘help’ you – and for your amazing food platters!
Going to check all our traps the following morning the wind was very very strong – I thought I was going to be blown off the side of the mountain. Furthermore all we found in our traps was a couple of grumpy looking vagrant spiders (which are really big by the way). We were restricted to searching by hand under every rock and cranny – still nada.
Our hopes of finding any lizards were pinned on our night survey. We were using strong spotlights and binoculars to try and pick up the eye shine. Again though, lots of spider eyes, not so much of the lizard variety. In saying this though, I had a great time wandering about the mountain in the dark.
Wednesday morning I ‘hung out’ with the ecosystem classification and threatened plants team looking at some teeny tiny plants in the alpine zone. Although to be fair there wasn’t much morning left by the time they had finished the briefing of what to look for there were so many plants. It goes to show some seemingly inconsequential plant could be found nowhere else – and the importance of knowing they are there!
The invertebrate and lizard team arrived at lunchtime, and we headed off in pairs to lay out live capture traps in hotspot areas. For Ivan and I this meant a ‘quick’ detour to the summit where we briefly had a tremendous view before it clagged in again. The landscape could very well have been straight out of a Lord of the Rings set – it was pretty rugged!
It turns out the hut’s resident weka had no shame – and a penchant for thieving whatever he could get his beak on. The lid of a coffee cup was first to go, then a plastic bag of mosquito repellent (from inside a tent) which was luckily able to be retrieved. I would love to have found his stash!
Tuesday was day 2 of counting beech seeds. It was also the day I really appreciated the weight of ammunition – and it is really really heavy! Because it is important to get an altitudinal gradient of samples we were sampling along a ridgeline – and starting at the top which was about a 400m climb above the shelter. At least it was downhill all the way back!
I had forgotten my mosquito repellent which was rather unfortunate given the number of sandflies around! Luckily there was also an adorable robin that sat on my foot and picked the sandflies off my leg. It was a very beneficial relationship for the both of us.
I was then helicoptered back to Mt Arthur to start the invertebrate and lizard survey the following day.
During the evening I was walking down the track to photograph a rifleman family I could hear in the trees when one of the team members Mel said to me there was a morepork right in front of me. He was literally two metres in front of my face and it still took me several moments to actually spot him! He was so little and fluffy and gorgeous, sitting there blinking at me in the dusk.
This week was survey week – six different teams heading into the bush to conduct different areas of research from threatened plants to ecosystem classification to native fish and invertebrate sampling. The best bit was all was rather remote which called for a different form of taxi – namely a helicopter! Seeing Kahurangi from the air definitely imbued a sense of scale and beauty of the place.
Terry and I were dropped at Spludgeons – a rock shelter more than a hut, but pretty cool having been cut into the hillside and a very tiny landing pad which was a bit nerve-wracking. Our mission was to shoot up beech trees with a shotgun. Interestingly, this is a valid scientific method. As I briefly explained in an earlier post – beech forests do not flower and drop seeds every year, only approximately every 7 years called a mast. It is extremely important to know when these masts occur so increased pest control, usually 1080 drops can be organised to combat increasing rat and stoat numbers with the increased food source. Traditional seed collection data usually only yields a result late May with drops occurring in June – not enough planning time! So we were shooting the top branches off beech trees, where the seeds develop to count the developing seeds to get an ‘early warning’ prediction.
The method definitely is not flawless – for example the branches successfully shot off could easily land on other branches and not fall to the ground. And it had to be the very top branch as only new growth produces seed. Wood is also an amazing material and it could take up to 10 rounds to down a branch!
Despite the lowlands being a balmy 28 degrees, 1400m above sea level was quite a different story. It was clagged in, windy, rainy and cold! Not particularly pleasant to be swapping out tracking cards for weta and lizard footprint tracking tunnels. Friends of Flora are running an 8 week tracking program to determine what special critters are in the alpine zone to inform the impending management plan. In one of the tunnels though, I had more than footprints – I found a very wet and soggy looking bumblebee obviously taking shelter from the howling wind (I thought I was going to be blown off the mountain, let alone a bee!). So I put him in my backpack and once down below the treeline where the sun was shining he buzzed off, hopefully to find some pollen somewhere.
We did get some lizard footprints which was rather exciting – one of which was so teeny it must have been a baby. No large weta footprints on this occasion but I know some have been found there before.
The day of the snail: Part 2. After falling over more tree branches than you can shake a stick at and slipping down steep muddy bits numerous times, we arrived at our snail plot. It turned out though our troubles were not yet over – with two wasp nests being discovered within the plot, both Greg and Judith were stung several times. Eventually though we were able to survey the plot, and found a few shells but no live snails – I would have liked to found one in the middle of an earthworm meal! They take a couple of days over it the earthworms are so big.
The weather still being fairly dodgy we were once again confined to the office. Emily very kindly took the short straw and dedicated her day to sorting out the whio monitoring database which from the sounds of things is in rather disarray. Hence illustrates a scientific lesson on how long it takes to correct poor data – and why all measures should be undertaken to prevent such a circumstance (do it once and do it right!). I on the other hand was pricking out seedlings in the nursery – the plants, including some rare species, get used in community restoration projects.
Wednesday… well it rained… a lot. So we were confined to inside tasks which constituted sorting gear, cleaning snail shells and interpreting the tracking tunnels – which was kind of cool because we got a lot of prints. Some I am fairly sure were from giant bush weta.
In the afternoon we interpreted footage from cameras set outside kiwi nests in the Flora Valley with Sandy and Robin Toy. We inputted the data into a spreadsheet – and there was fresh bread and honey which is always a bonus.
Tuesday was the day of the giant land snail – Powelliphanta hochstetteri hochstetteri… The snails are actually carnivorous – with backwards facing teeth they suck up giant earthworms like spaghetti and live in the litter layer of the forest. The Flora Valley is a stronghold of the brown morph type. The species is monitored every four years – the technique involves combing through the litter of 25x25m permanent plots. As I am sure you can imagine this is rather an undertaking and we managed two of the plots over the day.
We were using barrier cream on our hands to try and protect them from the roughness of combing through the litter. We accidentally left the lid of the container – and a cheeky weka put his beak into the cream! You can just make out in the photo he has a rather white looking mouth.
We only found two live snails in the first plot, and six shells. The shells take a very very long time to break down, and cause of death can often be determined – half were predated by possums, the rest died of old age. We found no snails or shells in the second plot which was rather puzzling – luckily we had Leigh’s distributed lollies across the plot to hold our attention.
The rain that was forecast began early afternoon – but only became heavy as we were leaving which was rather fortunate. The weather is setting in for the next couple of days so looks like it may be some number crunching and data entry time.