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Students Go On Field Trip to See Blue Ducks

16 November 2009

More than 2000 primary school children will this week take part in a northern Buller field trip to learn more about efforts to save New Zealand’s threatened blue duck (whio).

The Department of Conservation (DoC), which operates eight national security sites for whio around the country, is pleased with the rapidly increasing level of interest from young people but its rangers in the field are equally happy that the children will only be “virtual visitors”, represented by LEARNZ teacher Andrew Penny and his video camera, laptop and cellphone. The whio field trip is one of a range of curriculum-focused virtual excursions provided by Christchurch-based LEARNZ.

Mike Slater, the Department of Conservation’s West Coast Conservator, says the national blue duck recovery effort illustrates all the issues and resources involved in saving a species in New Zealand. “Working with LEARNZ, we are able to discuss these challenges with a very large number of young people and show them all the elements involved, from bird surveys and trapping predators to collecting eggs for captive incubation and rearing,” Mr Slater says. “To do this in person, at this depth, would take a huge amount of time and really is just not practical.”

The northern Buller recovery effort, centred on a stretch of the Oparara River near Karamea in Kahurangi National Park, has been operating since 2002. It was established in cooperation with Solid Energy, which provides funds to maintain a ring of traps protecting 48 kilometres of waterways in the managed area. Since 2002, these tunnel traps have caught more than 600 stoats and 2500 rats. The energy company’s annual $100,000 grant also supports a similar trapping effort around a whio recovery area west of Hokitika.

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This spring for the first time, a number of Oparara whio eggs were carefully removed and taken to the Isaac Wildlife Trust’s Peacock Springs facility at Christchurch for incubation and rearing. There, the young ducks are given daily opportunities to learn watercraft and food foraging and, once large enough to fend off most predators, will be returned to the wild. This intervention has proven successful in other whio recovery areas and DoC believes that if the eggs are removed early in the nesting season, the adult birds are more likely to lay a second clutch.

The LEARNZ whio field trip begins on Wednesday, 18 November.


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