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Thursday, 8 March 2012

Rangering off Rum (Part 1: The outer Hauraki Gulf)

OK, I know this site is supposed to focus on Rum, so it may seem a bit cheeky posting a few blogs about what I did on my travels (ie my holiday) down under, but I felt compelled to share my experiences and couldn’t really resist. In terms of biodiversity and conservation there are many parallels with New Zealand. After all, we face similar problems (and I wrote these pieces in my own time just in case anybody is wondering!). Anyway, enough justification, let us consider this blogging practise .

THE Mokohinaus!

Shearwaters, I love them. In fact I love their entire Order, the Procellariiformes.They fascinate me, there’s definitely something about how they glide across big seas without effort, the remoteness of their breeding colonies etc etc, they’re simply really cool! The common name for this group of seabirds is ‘tubenoses’, a reference to their tubular nostrils, which are often very evident on the upper mandible. They are iconic creatures and we humans should keep a watchful eye on these guys as their healthy populations are an undeniable indication of a fully functioning marine environment. The 130 species or so that make up this Order are long lived and like our familiar manxies, most nest down burrows or in rocky crevices so are susceptible to predation from introduced mammalian predators. This combined with their very low reproductive rates make the group highly susceptible to rapid declines at the hands of these furry aliens. Unlike our own situation on Rum, many tubenosed species in NZ have to contend not only with rats (this case the Kiore or Pacific Rat), but with mustelids, pigs, cats and possums too, all of which love a tasty egg or two. Most of NZ has been ravaged by these introduced predators, and sadly the range of many petrel populations have contracted over the last nine hundred years or so since the first wave of Polynesian occupation and much more rapidly since European settlement.However, as New Zealand has many isolated nooks and crannies in the shape of many offshore islands, the country still remains one of the diversity hotspot for the Order. Indeed, it was here in the Southern Hemisphere some 45 million years ago that the Order first broke away from a common penguin-like ancestor during the Eocene. Like the UK, New Zealand is a large island which offers plenty of different nesting opportunities, this coupled with the fact that it is close to some of the most productive oceans on the planet make it a tubenose Mecca!
On the very outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf lies a very special group of bare-looking islands called the Mokohinau’s, or as I found out later, the ‘Moks’ for short. They’re positioned between the northernmost tip of Great Barrier Islands the Hen and Chickens.

Burgess Island

They face the open Pacific Ocean and given their isolation, recreational fishing is low and the birds breeding here have rich feeding grounds nearby. Topped by a fantastic lighthouse, the 55-hectare Burgess Islands is the largest. At first impression, It looks like a neglected scrap of farmland, but its great cliffs and sleep bays hint at something special, for it is an important breeding site for some of the smaller tubenoses, namely diving petrel, little shearwater and white-faced storm petrel.

Walking on water, the white-faced storm petrel 

White-faced storm petrel

Numbers of these species have increased steadily since the island was eradicated of all mammalian predators by the Department of Conservation way back in 1990.Thankfully, such threats are well and truly a thing of the past out on Burgess, but important work still needs to be carried out in order to safeguard these species. Since 2009, this has been carried out by the Hauraki Gulf Seabird Spatial Ecology Project who have been using recent advances in tracking technology to identify productive marine hotspots out at sea where these birds spend the majority of their lives. As with our own manx shearwater tracking studies on Rum last year, research such as this will help build a better picture of the links between seabird behaviour, seasonal movements, diet and the wider food chain, and ultimately can be used to target any future conservation effort. The more we know about the lives of these elusive species the better.
I definitely wanted to know more about the lives of these species also, and by chance got myself a space on the aptly named Ocean Ranger which was heading out to the Mokohinau’s for a day’s charter fishing on the 18th Feb. I’d been lucky enough to have visited this area of the gulf back in 2009, so knew I was in for a true ‘tubenose’ fix. I wasn’t disappointed; there were birds and fish in abundance including trevally and kingfish, the former forming vast ‘kettles’ on the surface.

Trevally kettle

 It was also fantastic to see at least four hammerhead sharks close to the boat! These are truly weird and wonderful animals as their eyes and nostrils are on the tips of the hammer.

One of the hammerheads

Flesh-footed shearwater
 Most obvious amongst the seabirds that day were the flesh-footed shearwaters or ‘fleshies’as they are affectionately known. Like our familiar manxies, they too are long distance migrants, breeding off the islands of Northland and spending their winters off the coast of Japan in the northern hemisphere. 
Flesh-footed shearwater

Black petrels
Black petrel
The black petrel, a vulnerable New Zealand breeding endemic, were also coming in close to the boat and trying to take the bait on the fishing hooks before they sank into the depths. Many birds are killed in this way, especially on larger commercial boats, but all was well as we had a secret weapon on board that day so none were injured. Hope this catches on with fishermen in the rest of New Zealand and elsewhere because the population of 5,000 are definitely under threat from longliners.Incidentally, Biz Bell who investigated brown rat impacts on our own manx shearwater colonies in 2006 continues her important study of Black petrels on Great Barrier Island, please check out the link

The secret weapon..a foam squirter! 

Actually I could babble on all night about tubenoses, but won’t as this blog is suddenly becoming quite large enough, time flies when you’re having fun eh!To cut a long story short, the birds and the place were awesome, and I had a great experience even though I got back to Tinopai a bit irradiated. 
Buller's shearwater

If this account has wetted your shearwater appetite (not in the mutton bird sense) and you would like to learn more about shearwater conservation or just want to get up close and personal with our very own manxies, please check out the ranger programme for April.

Other gems spotted that day included fluttering and Buller's shearwaters, Cook’s petrel, white-faced storm petrels,fairy prion and NZ stormy.
Please check out these photos......

Cook's petrel

more Buller's

Fluttering shearwater

Cook's petrel
Cook's petrel

Buller's shearwater

1 comment:

  1. A few days ago, I went to catch fish with Charter and Guidefishing .Their team is very expert to catch fish. To get more information.