Every month the Island Ranger, Darren Gash, provides an update on what has been happening on the island, below is the current report.

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Matakohe-Limestone Island Rangers' Report - November 2020

As many of you will already know, Darren Gash finished as Island Ranger last month, officially handing over the keys on 30 October. Since then things have become very real, in a good way! Before I divulge the many shenanigans and hard work that has gone into the last few weeks, I would like to take a paragraph to introduce myself.

Tēnā koutou, my name is Joanna Skyrme, however, most people call me Jo. I grew up in the Bay of Islands where I spent a lot of time on and around boats and the ocean. I attended Bay of Islands College before moving to WGHS to complete the last three years of my schooling. Much of my early adult years was spent travelling and working in odd jobs to fund my next trip. For this reason, my work experience is very varied. I have been a deck hand, a vacuum cleaner sales person, a health care assistant, a bar tender, an events manager, an Island Resort HR administrator, a travel agent, a Kiwi Experience bus driver/guide, an activities and excursions coordinator for an international language school, an information consultant at the i-Site, and more recently, an Environmental Monitoring Officer for NRC, and a Casual Ranger at DOC. Upon returning to Whangarei from the UK four years ago, I enrolled to study at NorthTec and completed a Bachelor of Applied Science and Biodiversity Management in June this year! I feel humbled and incredibly privileged to be taking on the responsibility of Matakohe-Limestone Island Ranger and I can confidently say that this is my most exciting job opportunity yet! My partner Darin (not to be confused with the previous Ranger Darren) has also followed me to the Island, while continuing to work on the mainland as a Plumber and Gas fitter. His morning commute now consists of a short kayak, bike ride, and then drive. Moving to the Island is certainly a big lifestyle change for both of us. Since accepting the position of Ranger, however, we have been overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness shown to us by so many which has made the transition that much easier. We are looking forward to making this little Island our home, and are excited about what the next three years will bring!

Visitors, Volunteers and Others

As previously mentioned, Darren officially left his position as Island Ranger on 30 October. I spent my first week kayaking back and forth from the mainland, as we did not want to stay on the island until we had been officially welcomed on by tangata whenua, Te Parawhau.

My first week brought about my first volunteer Wednesday. I was feeling organised and on time as I made my way down to the barge 10 mins early to commence pickup from the Onerahi jetty. As Murphy’s law would have it, I soon discovered the barge had a flat battery and that 10-minute window was soon gone with the wind. Thankfully, a fully charged spare battery was ready and waiting in the shed. Using this I managed to jump start the boat and I was on my way, albeit now 20 minutes late. In the meantime, Pam and Grant had collected the ready and waiting volunteers from the jetty and taken them inside for tea, coffee, and lemon cake. As Pam and Grant’s lounge looks directly on to the Island, I couldn’t help but feel my attempts to remedy the situation were being watched…and the thought did cross my mind “this has to be a set up”! Upon my eventual arrival, a group of 18 volunteers clambered into the barge, pumped up on caffeine and sugar, ready for a hard day’s mahi. From weeding, line trimming, fixing the mouse bust lines, thistle grubbing, and clearing the drains, to turning over the Ranger’s garden and tidying the shed. I was truly surprised and grateful at how much we managed to get done in such a short time. Along with the Wednesday volunteers, we have also had Dave over to carry out his regular mow of the mouse bust lines and fire breaks.

A second volunteer day was held on Saturday, 7 November. This was mainly to clean up around the Ranger’s house/sheds and to transport the small Suzuki truck - which had seen better days - off the Island. More than 20 people gave up their Saturday to come and help out/witness the trucks removal. It was an ambitious task that involved many chiefs. However, after three or more hours of persistence we finally bid farewell to the “Green Bug” as she sailed off into the sunset in a similar fashion to when she arrived. I must give a shout out to the previous ranger Darren and his dad Mark, who were only back to attend Darren’s farewell which was due to happen that afternoon. Dressed in their Sunday best they arrived and devised a way to boost the truck on to the barge using the tractor, and just in the nick of time as patience was beginning to wear thin! Along with the truck, we removed about four barge loads of rubbish from the Island, and as I heard somebody exclaim, you could almost feel the island sighing with relief.

Freddy Tito arrived later that afternoon to conduct an official farewell for Darren and to welcome Darin and my combined whanau on to the Island. A short shower prior to proceedings was commented on by Freddy as a sign the gods were sad that Darren was leaving - a fitting tribute. The ceremony was followed by shared kai on the balcony at the Ranger’s house before carrying on with the rubbish removal.

Onerahi Primary School paid the Island a visit on 12 November. A combined total of 117 students, adults, and teachers was shuttled across from the mainland during five consecutive trips in the barge. This was the first group to visit the Island since I had taken over as Ranger and I was thankful to have Paul Doherty offer to be an extra pair of hands for the day and help me with the boat. A large number of the children had never visited the Island before and I could tell they were excited to get on with exploring what it had to offer. As always, the old Manager’s House was a hit, and a good way to kill some time while the first couple of groups waited for their classmates to join them from the mainland. Mr Candy conducted a tour of the Island which included a walk up to the Pā, before heading down to the south side of the Island to explore the old cement works’ ruins and have some lunch. After lunch, the group split in two and followed the coastal track in opposite directions back to the old Manager’s house, carrying out a beach clean as they went. Mr Candy told me that this was part of a wider project around waste that the children were carrying out at school. On the trip home I asked each group to shout out their favourite parts of the day. These included the beach clean, lying under the trees, exploring the dungeon in the old Manager’s house, exploring the cement works, visiting the Pā, seeing the sheep, the boat ride, meeting Ranger Jo, and “all of it”! Overall, it was a successful day and I really enjoyed meeting some of our local rangatahi.

Flora and Fauna

A certain highlight for me since arriving on the Island has been the release of four 10-day old kiwi chicks. Todd Hamilton from Backyard Kiwi came over with two chicks on 7 November and again on 12 November. Having never seen a kiwi chick in the flesh, I became quite emotional during my first encounter. As I watched each of these beautiful little birds being set free. It made me feel really proud and privileged to be part of such a fantastic community project.

Sir Ed had been sitting on a nest since I began my initial training with Darren in early October. By the time Darren left Sir Ed was pushing 90 days incubation (on average incubation will last between 65-75 days). We took the opportunity while Todd was over to track down and investigate Sir Ed’s nest and the results didn’t look promising with a single egg appearing to have been pushed out of the nest. However, kiwi will often hatch two eggs, and with his radio transmitter signal indicating he was still incubating we decided to leave the nest undisturbed and carry on monitoring it daily. A few days later Sir Ed’s nightly activity levels suddenly sky rocketed, prompting Todd to make a special trip over to check on the nest again. As suspected, Sir Ed had abandoned the nest, and all Todd found was one stinky unhatched egg. I am continuing to monitor Sir Ed on a weekly basis as there is the potential that he will attempt to nest again before the season is out, hopefully this time with a more positive outcome.

On 22 October we had Hannah from DOC arrive with her skink dog after Darren had previously identified what he thought was a plague/rainbow skink on the Island. Unfortunately, Hannah was able to confirm what we had feared, plague skinks have now managed to make their way on to Matakohe Limestone Island, presenting a rather large challenge for me as the new Ranger! Watch this space…

Pest control

My primary focus since I began has been to complete the mouse bust lines which were started by Darren and volunteers in October. This is no mean feat, with bait stations spaced at 25m intervals covering the entire Island, requiring quite a bit of bush bashing. I have been thankful to have Paul Doherty volunteer his time to come and help with this task on a couple of occasions now. Although tough going, this has been a great way to acquaint myself with almost every inch of the Island. I have been taking waypoints of weed infestations as I go and I plan to go back and tackle these once I have finished with the lines. I have stumbled across several large infestations of mature Cotoneaster, pampas, moth plant and Chinese privet, along with ever present Mexican devil plant, and the dreaded blackberry.

Hayley, our, trapper is still with us, however, we have decided to job-share for the foreseeable future at least. I will be checking/servicing the main Island traps every two weeks, while Hayley will be over to check/service both the main island and buffer traps every alternate week. In the past month we have caught two rats on the Island (coincidently in the same trap), along with one rat and five mice on the buffer Islands.

Future Events

Volunteer Wednesday (Christmas edition) will be going ahead on 2 December, weather permitting, pickup from the Onerahi jetty at 9 am sharp.