From Zero to Ten is Huge!
For the last decade or more, a dedicated group of volunteers have been sacrificing their weekends to take to the bush, and around here, that means the steep and rugged Ruahine Ranges.
However, they are not sacrificing their weekends just for some ramble through the woods. Instead, they have dedicated their spare time to helping with the recovery of native bird species, namely the threatened Whio or Blue Duck.
Whio are one of only three species of torrent duck found in the world. A torrent duck is one that inhabits rivers and streams with white water rapids, an environment these ducks are uniquely adapted to.
Whio may have their white water river running skills nailed, but like many endemic New Zealand native birds, they have struggled to successfully adapt to the predation pressure from introduced predators. The most destructive of these predators are Stoats.
Stoats are a species of mustelid introduced in the 1800s to control rabbits – who were also introduced. Stoats have not been a success story at controlling rabbits, but they have been very successful at decimating populations of endemic and native birds. Nesting Whio, their eggs and young are among the many species especially vulnerable.
What that dedicated group of volunteers is up to in the hills is checking an extensive and expanding network of kill traps. Stoats are enemy number one; however, thousands of rats and more than a few hedgehogs and wild cats are also caught. These catches give our birds a chance.
River Valley joined the Ruahine Whio Collective (the banner that brings the various volunteer trapping groups together) in 2014. We now have traps covering 25 km of the Rangitikei River, plus other traps on nearby farmland, and alongside roads and side streams.
This brings us to the present.
At the time of writing, in late April 2022, there are ten Whio on the sections of the Rangitikei River where we have trap lines. This number of birds is the most we have ever recorded and can most likely be put down to all the work put in checking traps, not just on the river but throughout the range, and a good breeding season further back in the hills.
Ten Whio may not sound very many, but before 2014, we seldom saw any birds. To see ten birds is huge, and seeing them on rafting trips is a source of some excitement for both guides and customers.
It is truly a great feeling to know that all that hard work so many people have and are putting in is bearing fruit.
The birds we presently see will, come Spring, find mates and head off up some tributary to breed. Hopefully, as the population grows, we may see ducklings on the main river. That would be something as Whio ducklings have not been seen on the Rangitikei River for maybe 100 years.
Seeing these birds and the hope they bring will certainly help maintain our commitment and enthusiasm for these programs and the future of Whio.
We can all make a difference.