Thursday, 28 April 2016

Bird Poo Seed Distribution in Mainland Island Sanctuaries

A few weeks back, I spent the day tagging along and navigating the bush with Sara Bombaci. Sara is a conservation biologist and Ph.D student at Colorado State University. She is in New Zealand studying the implication that fenced mainland island sanctuaries (such as Rotokare) have for bird communities and seed dispersal. Unfortunately for me, I only knew about Sara's visit on her last day here, but she filled me about what she had been doing during her time at Rotokare.
Sara previously had erected cameras in fruiting trees to observe bird feeding habits and set up nets to catch bird poo, which would hopefully contain seeds. During my time with her, Sara was conducting bird counts at algorithm-generated locations around the sanctuary, at about 200m apart. During these bird counts, she listened and watched carefully to note all the birds she saw or heard, their approximate location and distance from her. She will then enter this information into an algorithm to give an estimate of the total number of birds in the sanctuary. The algorithm recognises that when the observer is close to the bird, the data is likely to be more accurate than when the bird is a long way away. Some birds are also more likely to flee in human presence (e.g. the kereru) and some are more likely to seek out humans (e.g. the robin), so Sarah notes down bird movements as she moves around the bush.

The data she collects will be compared with data from similar near-by areas of bush with no fence. After my time with Sara, she was heading to other similar sanctuaries to Rotkare, to collecting in her monitoring devices and carry out more bird counts. I look forward to hearing about her findings.


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Halo Project- Automatic Pest Traps




Over the past few weeks I have been involved the Halo Project at Rotokare. This project intends to expand the safe area for birds by trapping outside of the fenced sanctuary on surrounding farmland. Birds are protected within the sanctuary, but when they fly out they are at risk from pests.



I set out on a quad bike, with Steve who is a trustee of the Reserve. Rotokare is surrounded by hilly terrain which is mainly occupied by sheep and beef farms. Many of these farms contain areas of bush.



We scrambled to the top of hills to install, bait and mark GPS coordinates for traps. Some of the traps we were setting up were automatic pest traps. These traps are powered by a gas canister and can kill 12/24 pests without having to be checked/ reset. They have a counter to show how many pests have been killed (though they can not yet tell you the type of pest caught).  You can read more about these here. 


It will be interesting to see whether birds start to safely disperse outward over the coming years.


Sunday, 24 April 2016

INTRUDER ALERT


It has been all go this last week at Rotokare, as we have been putting out and bringing in tracking cards for the bi-annual full sanctuary 'Tunnel Run', along with the weekly trap checks/ re-baits across the sanctuary. It seems that the 'tunnel run came at a good time, as last week a mouse was found in a trap inside the sanctuary. Unfortunately, it was also at the top of the fence, on the furtherest possible side of the sanctuary from vehicle access. 'Emergency' procedures were engaged, and we put out extra traps in the surrounding area to the mouse find, which now have to be checked daily. Luckily, the tracking cards were already in place, which we then started to check daily too. A few mousey footprints emerged in a nearby area, so more traps were set. Then footprints and mouse bodies began to pop-up in a few different areas of the reserve. Arrrgh! So far, 3 mice have been caught, and we have found 5 sets of footprints on the tracking cards. It will be a few months of regular card/ trap checks to see if the problem has been sorted. Fingers crossed!


 Ben and Teague who came to the sanctuary with Auroa School last week, came out again this week with their Dads in their school holidays to volunteer their time to help out with the trapping/ tracking effort. At times like this, it is extra helpful to have lots volunteers because there is even more work than usual to do!

Engineering at Auroa School


As part of the STLP programme, I have the opportunity to visit schools in the area and see what they are up to in regards to science. So last week I popped out to my own to see what cool science related things were already happening. I ended up spending most of the day with Mr Spice and a group of year 7-8 students as part of the school technology programme. Currently these year 7-8 students are using Ardunio to learn about electrical circuits. They are using Tinkercad to design body parts for robots, which they will then 3-d print. If their designs are successful, the parts will slot together like a 3D jigsaw. They will then build and programme the Arduino circuits to perform simple commands as a robot.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Auora School Visit to Lake Rotokare- Tracking Tunnels and Peripatus Hunting



Today I got to show some students, teachers, parents and BOT members from Auroa School what I have been up to for the last few months when they came to give me a hand out at Lake Rotokare Reserve. 

This week was going to be pretty full on, with 1500 tracking cards to be put out across the sanctuary and more peripatus hunting to do (check out my previous posts, 'Peripatus Found' and 'Peripatus Planning' for more info), so I decided to recruit some extra help. 




The purpose of the trip was for students to to gain an experience of the work that rangers and scientists do in conservation, to volunteer time to help a conservation organisation, to learn about ways which scientists work and provide evidence to support their ideas, and to learn about native New Zealand animals and the effect of introduced species, and what we can do to help.

Map of the Cattlestop Block where we were putting out the tracking cards. The kids did a great job of following the map, didn't lose a single child!

In the first part of the day, students followed a procedure to place tracking cards around the reserve. It is important to label the cards with their location and date, so if there is an incursion with a rodent or mustelid, we know the area to search/ trap. Every tracking card is baited with peanut butter, and every second with rabbit meat. There were some tricky areas of bush to navigate, slopes to climb and streams to cross. 
Jorja laying the tracking tunnel cards

The Auroa kids were such a fantastic help with this and took all the challenges in their stride. Some students have even asked to volunteer bringing in the cards over their holidays! 




Hunting for Peripatus 

After lunch we set out to look for some peripatus as part of the peripatus study I am undertaking while at Rotkare. We walked for about 20 minutes till we came to 2 quadrats in the bush. Before we started, we took note of the weather, vegetation, humidity, soil temperature and air temperature, so we can better understand the preferred peripatus habitat. We discussed the fact that we might find peripatus, or we might not, but that the information we gather is still useful. The students found lots of interesting things in the logs and leaf litter, and we had some great discussions identifying invertebrates.









A pair of unbanded robins also took great interest in us while we were searching. I wonder why!


Finally, I heard a shriek from one of the quadrats where they had come across a peripatus, deep inside a log. Brendon, Riley's dad thought it was a slug at first and nearly discarded it! The kids were excited to finally see what they had been looking for for and hour. We spent time to observe the peripatus, its features and movements before returning it to the bush. The data we collected will contribute to my study of peripatus habitat and species at Rotokare. Thank you so much kids, parents Auroa teachers, and STLP teachers for all your help, I hope you enjoyed your day as much as I did!.







Kids I'd love to see your blogs about what you learned from the trip. Put your links in the comments.