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 - December 2020

Intro

Things have been ticking along nicely since we officially took the plunge and moved on to this little lump of limestone in the middle of the Whangarei Harbour. Although it will certainly take us more than a month or two to fully settle into our new routine/way of life, we are feeling happy and content in our Island home.

Darin’s daily fitness routine of kayaking and cycling his way to mahi is proving successful with his summer bod progressing nicely. Relentless westerly and south westerly winds throughout most of November and early December have created some decent chop and questionable conditions in the channel at times but, despite this, he has not asked me for a lift or had to be rescued once…yet.

The last month has brought us both plenty of new experiences, friends, acquaintances and lessons learned, some of which I have included below. Enjoy!

Visitors, Volunteers and Others

  • A group of year 10 students from Kamo High School paid the Island a visit on 1 December with the primary focus being career pathways, specifically in this case, conservation. The weather and sea conditions on the day were like those described above, causing much deliberation on my part as to whether we should proceed with the intended passage at all. The call was eventually made to go ahead and all went to plan, minus a couple of wet teachers (cause for much hilarity) and a few soggy socks. I spent most of the day with the group, taking them on a tour of the Island and engaging them in some volunteer work before transporting them back to the mainland in the afternoon. The teachers and parent helpers all commented on how engrossed the students were, especially when it came to the historical elements of the Island and their time exploring the cement works’ ruins. We spoke about biosecurity and why it is the cornerstone of everything we do here, the Island’s reliance on volunteers to keep things moving, and other aspects to do with our native flora and fauna. I was totally impressed by how engaged the students were throughout the entire day and, as always, some of their questions highlighted some of my own knowledge gaps that I intend to fill!
  • Whangarei Intermediate arrived via the ‘‘Waipapa’’ on 2 December. I met the group at the south end jetty before moving to the Visitors’ Shelter for a quick welcome and chat about the Island and what we do here. The trip was a fun way for students and teachers to celebrate the end of the year, so there were no specific learning outcomes for the day. Due to their self-reliance re transport, I was able to let the group get on with exploring the Island on their own terms for the remainder of the day while I got back to mucking in with our monthly volunteers (did I mention that I had double booked myself??).
  • A group of 31 year 5 and 6 students from Horahora Primary made their way over on 3 December. The students come to the Island twice a year to work on their ‘adopt a spot’ and to help with any other jobs that need doing. They got stuck into releasing small seedlings and saplings from the encroaching buffalo grass and fennel plants on the edge of the ‘adopt a spot’, before making their way up to the Pā for mihi and waiata. After lunch at the Visitors’ Shelter and time exploring the ruins, the group helped me with a beach clean as we made our way back to the barge. At this point, crabs and the carcasses of three porcupine fish that had washed up on the shore were cause for much intrigue. We have plenty of feisty variable oyster catchers sitting on eggs now and we made sure to give these birds a wide berth, sticking to below the highwater mark as we made our way around. Once back at the barge the students spoke and then acknowledged their time on the Island with a waiata. It was truly a neat experience getting to meet and work alongside these keen young conservationists and I am grateful for their time and the hard work they put in to make my job that little bit easier.
  • Along with Whangarei Intermediate, we also hosted our monthly volunteer day on 2 December. A group of 16 people met me at the Onerahi Jetty, 5 of whom were joining for the first time. Phillip, Sue, and Georgie made a start on clearing the Mexican Devil plant from the edges of the hill track, although it was soon discovered that this was somewhat of a rabbit hole where the deeper you cleared into the bush the more you discovered! Alan, Ben, and Lance got into cutting and pasting a rather large patch of Cotoneaster at the west end of the Island…another rabbit hole it would seem. Roz and John revisited the thistles around the cement works’ ruins before hitting an area of moth plant alongside Suso, Greg, Vern, Steve and Dave at the base of the Hill track. Mike did a fabulous job of resurrecting and fencing off the sandpit on the south side of the Island which is used as an interactive way of tracking kiwi footprints (there are now plenty of prints to see). As usual, Alison and Diana did a great job of raking/clearing out the drains on the school track. Lunch at the Ranger’s house included Christmas mince pies, chocolate almonds, and some of the best orange and date scones that Dave had ever tasted, compliments to the chef (my mum). Such a feast made for a rather lethargic afternoon (speaking for myself) however, rocks were removed from the drains outside the ranger’s house and down past the shed, and periwinkle was cleared from under the large oak tree.
  • Todd Hamilton from Backyard Kiwi was due to translocate a kiwi chick on to the Island that same afternoon and I had arranged to meet him at the Onerahi jetty as I dropped the volley crew off. This turned into an unexpected Christmas treat as Todd gave the volleys a sneak peek at the Island’s newest 10-day old recruit. This was the perfect way to wrap up our last volunteer day for 2020, reminding everybody of what their hard work and dedication has helped to create, that is, a predator free safe-haven where our native and endemic flora and fauna can survive and thrive. Amazing!
  • Darin and I attended the Whangarei Heads Landcare Group’s annual Christmas BBQ on 4 December. It was great to chat with some of the land-based volunteers and find out what they have been up to in the last year. I was totally blown away by the work of the weed team in the Reserve, a project that I am told has been chipped away at for around ten years now. What a difference!

Flora and Fauna

  • Our, not so little Oi chick, is growing by the day and appears to be doing well. Ex Ranger Cathy Mitchell came over in late November to band it in preparation for fledging sometime in early January. Getting up close and personal with the chick was a neat experience and, amidst all the fluff, we were able to make out some adult feathers beginning to form on its wing tips. During my most recent check the chick appeared to be all party in the front and business in the back having grown some sturdy looking tail feathers but still sporting what resembled a fluffy grey mullet on top.
  • Todd Hamilton has been keeping me busy with chick translocations and a special trip over to change Sir Ed’s tracking band, which we used as a training exercise for me. Sir Ed has recently finished incubating and I have been doing my best to keep track of his movements, which is sometimes easier said than done. On this day he appeared to be occupying a patch of buffalo grass towards the west end of the Island, a location that Todd assured me would make catching him a piece of cake (famous last words). Sir Ed is one of our resident kiwi and he knows the Island like the back of his foot, with a myriad of well used tunnels and burrows throughout his stomping ground. He proceeded to give us the run around for a good half hour or so. We eventually managed to extract the old boy from his trenches and got on to changing his band. This was another day of firsts for me and I appreciated Todd’s patience and willingness to share his knowledge of all things kiwi. Sir Ed was looking a little jaded after such a long time on the nest, so I am hoping he gives himself some time to feed and recover before potentially embarking on another stint of incubation. 
  • Rob Webb from the Native Bird Recovery Centre got in contact regarding a golden plover with an injured wing that had been picked up on 90-Mile Beach. The bird had made a good recovery with Rob, however, it now needed somewhere safe to play in the water and strengthen its wing. What better place for this than our Island. With permission from DOC, the bird was released on to the Island where it stayed for a couple of days before disappearing. I am hoping that this means it made a full recovery and is now resting up and enjoying the New Zealand summer before embarking on the long trip back to Alaska!
  • We have multiple pairs of variable oystercatchers sitting on nests at the moment, with 3 pairs managing to successfully hatch a total of 8 chicks and counting. Darin found out about the location of one nest the hard way when taking a shortcut down to the beach one morning and ending up eye to eye with very stroppy bird. Our recent trapping expedition to Knight Island last week saw Caspian tern and variable oystercatcher chicks/eggs galore! Unfortunately, an oystercatcher chick was found in one of the rat traps which prompted us to remove the traps from around the breeding area and increase our bait station fills for the time being. This could be something to keep in mind for anybody who is currently trapping in/around areas of nesting shore birds. Lesson learned!
  • With summer on the horizon, our six sheep were in desperate need of a shear. A group of volunteer ”sheep dogs” organised by John Ward came over the evening before the main event to round the small flock into the large back room of the old Singlemen’s quarters. It only took us 3 attempts to execute this somewhat ambitious plan, and while we all stood around congratulating each other the sheep proceeded to escape out an unseen exit at the back of the room and we were back to square one! Eventually the sheep put themselves into one of the old storage volts on the far side of the ruins and a decision was made to keep them in there for the night. Ken and his friend Tim came over with their gear the following morning to get the job done and we now have 6 much happier looking sheep. Thanks boys!
  • The Pohutukawa are in full swing and the hum of bees working hard can be heard over much of the Island. I have been enjoying discovering new patches of native hibiscus which have evidently self-seeded around the place and are now beginning to flower. Something to keep an eye out for when over here

Pest Control

  • Bevan and Rolf from the NRC Biosecurity team came and spent a day on the island working alongside Hayley and me to carry out a complete audit of both the main and buffer island traps. It was great to get their feedback on what we were doing well, as well as the things we could improve on. We made sure that all of the stoat traps were weighted correctly and made adjustments to those that weren’t.
  • A few of the more precariously placed stoat traps were moved to more suitable locations, and two of the buffer traps on Knight Island were flagged as needing replacement due to excess rust in the treadles, as can be expected in a harsh coastal environment.
  • In terms of trap catches, we have only caught 1 rat on Knight Island, and 1 rat on the main island in the last month.
  • In the past few weeks, I have stumbled across 5 or so splats of feathers on the ground at different locations around the Island. These look to me like kill sites, but I can’t be sure what animal is the perpetrator. We have a couple of harrier hawks that patrol the Island, and I am wondering if these feathers are their leftovers. To air on the side of caution, I have arranged for Angela from Doc to visit the Island with her stoat dog on 29 December as a precautionary measure in the hope that we can remove stoats from the suspect list. Fingers crossed as they’ve been entering my dreams!

Extras

With such a windy start to summer, the Island has quickly become very dry, greatly increasing our risk of fire. I was alarmed to find the remains of a small fire pit along the Island’s western shore a few weeks ago prompting me to publish a reminder that Matakohe-Limestone Island is under a total fire ban 365 days of the year. For those who visit, fish off, or have eyes on the Island from the mainland, we ask that you sound the alarm by calling 111 at any sign of fire coming from the Island. Your help and vigilance will be much appreciated as always.

Future events

Volunteer Wednesday will be going ahead on Wednesday, 6 January for those interested.

We have two kiwi translocations confirmed for the New Year on 14 February and 9 April.

Thanks

Darin and I would like to wish everybody a merry Christmas as well as a safe and happy holiday period. We look forward to sharing more Island news with you in the New Year!

Cheers!

Jo