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Conserving the Bird Song

A few months ago I wrote that my family along with some friends had bought a block of steep, Northland rainforest complete with two streams and several impressive waterfalls. Our reason for buying this 22 hectares was primarily to create a conservancy; give this land back to nature. It was ...

Iain

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Conserving the Bird Song

A few months ago I wrote that my family along with some friends had bought a block of steep, Northland rainforest complete with two streams and several impressive waterfalls. Our reason for buying this 22 hectares was primarily to create a conservancy; give this land back to nature. It was ...

Iain

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Conserving the Bird Song

Posted by Iain on Dec. 8, 2017, 6:22 p.m. in Environment

A few months ago I wrote that my family along with some friends had bought a block of steep, Northland rainforest complete with two streams and several impressive waterfalls. Our reason for buying this 22 hectares was primarily to create a conservancy; give this land back to nature. It's our intention to offer the helping hand all our forests need these days to recreate the conditions that existed in pre-human times when there was an absence of introduced predators including rats, mice, weasels, stoats, ferrets, cats and that king of local forest destruction, the Australian Brush Tailed possum.

All will attack live birds and those that can climb trees eat nesting birds' eggs and their chicks. Our native bird species stand no chance.

For those of you unaware, in New Zealand, we only historically had two species of native land mammal: the short tailed and long tailed bats. Both are now rare but recent reports suggest they are back thanks to similar predator control programmes around Auckland.

In the absence of native land mammals, every niche in our forests were filled with birds and the lack of predators, the savings in energy (flight uses, relatively, far more energy than walking) and the safety of the ground meant many birds became flightless. If you'll forgive the intended pun, they became sitting ducks for these predators. Our mainland forests now are usually depressingly silent.

More and more people, however, are getting together to do what we are. Make New Zealand predator free.

It was our intent to go to war on behalf of the remaining birds and less sexy but no less important vertebrate and invertebrate communities that are also nutritious snacks for rats and possums.

We took possession in July and have since put out half a dozen traps and around 30 bait stations which dispense poisoned food pellets. 

I know our forests are crawling with these vermin but I have been shocked at the results in a little over two months, especially when for much of the time we only had 12 bait stations out.

Possums trapped or shot - 13

Rats trapped - 24

Cats - 1 (much to my wife's horror but we also have hungry feral cats in these forests)

We don't know how many other possums or rats and mice have been killed through poisoned baits but the pellets we put out every week or two into each station are usually consumed within 24 hours. So far I estimate these critters have eaten around 10kg of the stuff! It shows the huge numbers of them in a relatively small area. I'd wager for every one that we have instantly dispatched by trap another three or four have likely died through ingesting the poison bait pellets. That's a lot of pests for only 22 hectares. Something like 100 perhaps in very short order.

Some people have a problem with this killing. I don't. While the ecological horse has well and truly bolted and New Zealand can never return to its pre-human state we can get the numbers of these foreign invaders down to levels where our native birds have a chance to breed and recover.

Once we have 'nuked' the forest for a year or two we can effectively move to a perimeter defence to stop re-invasion.

Being in a New Zealand forest where the predators are controlled is like no forest you've ever been in. The bird song is constant, varied and loud. If a canary makes a fine soloist, our native birds form the choir with accompanying bells in our forests. It is both unforgettable, and, very much worth fighting the alien invaders for.

For those of you in or coming to Auckland, you can see what happens when you control these pests by taking a day trip by ferry to Tiritiri island or visiting Tawharanui Regional Park. Both are easy day trips.

With much of New Zealand heading into drought again with summer well and truly upon us and temperatures now back in the humid, high twenty degrees, the forest is starting to dry out after a typically wet winter. That heavy dank smell of rotting vegetation is giving way to the crunching underfoot of layer upon layer of brown and brittle leaves. I'm looking forward to taking a few dips over the summer break in the fresh water pools and under those waterfalls as we tend the traps and rebait the stations.

And, in time, hopefully, we will get to enjoy the chorus of this beautiful forest once again when it is filled with birds and their precious song.

Till next time...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man

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6 comments on this post
Dec. 8, 2017, 7:03 p.m. by Denis Cooper

Iain
That what you are going is amazing. People these days live in their comfort zones and over indulge in media hype and killing of everything. Many don't venture from their armchairs into nature or even read about our ecology. All the good doings of those who actively do something to conserve and restore are shot down in flames as this goes against the grain of "modern" peace loving man.
Another example is the misunderstood sport of hunting and what role it plays in conservancy. They just don't see the link and refuse to listen to the facts. Here in South Africa hunting is a huge industry and as in all business there are the crooked but unfortunately that has tainted the whole industry.
Carry on doing a good job mate.
Regards Denis

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Dec. 8, 2017, 7:05 p.m. by Denis Cooper

Iain
That what you are going is amazing. People these days live in their comfort zones and over indulge in media hype and killing of everything. Many don't venture from their armchairs into nature or even read about our ecology. All the good doings of those who actively do something to conserve and restore are shot down in flames as this goes against the grain of "modern" peace loving man.
Another example is the misunderstood sport of hunting and what role it plays in conservancy. They just don't see the link and refuse to listen to the facts. Here in South Africa hunting is a huge industry and as in all business there are the crooked but unfortunately that has tainted the whole industry.
Carry on doing a good job mate.
Regards Denis

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Dec. 8, 2017, 7:48 p.m. by Garth Katzoff

Good Day Ian,

Greta Efforts to resore and protect.
My suggestion for a cheaper and easier method of killing rats and mice is to use a bucket trap.
Simple to build.
Bucket
1/3 fill water
a ramp to bucket
a rolling can or bottle suspended with wire
peanut butter on bottle
ramp to get up to rolling "bait"

Effectively you drown the buggers.
Lots of ideas and placements and no risk of poison getting into environment or your birds.

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Dec. 8, 2017, 9:27 p.m. by Dom

Hi Iain
Conservation & bunny hugging are worlds apart, well done for taking a stand on the right side.

Sounds like an amazing little slice of heaven.

Keep up the good work.

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Dec. 9, 2017, 5:12 a.m. by Alicia Thomas-Woolf

Aren't scavangers poisoned when they eat animals that have eated poisoned pellets?

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Dec. 9, 2017, 1:31 p.m. by Iain
Possibly, but I'm advised by experts not. However the only scavengers we have in these forests are the same species we are targeting. The one I do wonder about is the Australian Hawk which has in most parts of the country replaced our endemic Harrier. I'd hate to be poisoning them. I don't like poisoning but as an initial tool it works and is perhaps the lesser of several evils. Once we have the vermin under control baited traps should allow us to scale the use of poison right back.
Dec. 15, 2017, 8:48 p.m. by Alicia Thomas-Woolf
It's a tricky situation, and if the experts say not, that's a relief. I'd check with them about the hawk, though. I also can't imagine that a few NZ birds are not scavengers, since that would fill one of NZ's unique evolutionary niches. Our beautiful, incredibly useful vultures are threatened because of a similar situation. The law of unintended consequences continues to bite us all.
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Dec. 27, 2017, 2:52 a.m. by Jocelyn Colombick

Dear Iain,
I find it greatly conflicting, to be concerned about conservation and the environment, but not to be concerned about the creatures themselves [even if vermin or predators], and the toxic, painful methods of eradicating them!
Having visited NZ, including 'Zealandia' in Wellington, walked through some stunning primal forests further north, and being aware of 'boxes with poison', being strategically set up to kill 'certain animals', I would advise you to research the whole picture far more intensely.
I know for a fact that NZ also has Owls, apart from a number of Raptors, all of whom feed on vermin. Who records how many of these indigenous birds fall victim to poisoned vermin?
Do dog owners not walk their dogs in forested areas?
Regarding a comment by Mr. Cooper in S.A. that 'Hunting is a part of conservancy', I can only say that as a South African myself, who absolutely Treasures our Heritage, the only good that comes of it, is to fill some person's pockets, while decimating the natural population of our Lions, Elephants etc.
If you want to return to your 'pre human times', why not kill off the humans! After all, did they not encroach on the natural life and destroy the environment?

Replies to this comment

Dec. 27, 2017, 10:20 a.m. by iain macleod
Hi I absolutely share the conflict and in a perfect world I'd kill nothing. NZ is a little different to South Africa (in fact to most places in terms of our ecology). Yes we have owls, the Ruru/Morepork and yes they could scavange the dead and yes they could ingest small amounts of poison. In these thick forests though that's about the sum total of the risk - we simply don't have the same apex predators given our lack of native land mammals. The conflict of course is that is any non targeted death justified? Some argue not, I argue that the science says, it is sadly inevitable but in the greater scheme of things the whole ecosystem comes back stronger. Once we have completed this first stage of poisoning we will effectively be able to set up a perimeter of non poisoned meat traps which kill rats, mustelids and cats quickly and painlessly to prevent re-invasion. Once we have the population of pests down to around 10-15% of the original then our precious native birds, including possibly the Kiwi, will be bale to fledge their chicks. On dogs, it is worth noting that pet dogs are the single greatest killer of the Kiwi in NZ. In public areas where a different poison is used by the Dept of Conservation to keep the foreign invaders in check, it breaks down incredibly quickly and while it will kill dogs if they eat it, owners are warned well in advance to keep their pets out of these areas for a couple of weeks after the drops. I know it might sound ironic to some but I am in this for the love of nature. In any war though there are innocent casualties and the key is to minimise it. On that score we do very well in NZ. I suspect the sprays we use in our gardens probably does more ecological damage than what we are involved with, but I take your point.
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