March 2017 – Rat dog

A new volunteer has come to Aongatete forest to help the Project to control rats. She didn’t walk in carrying a bag of rat bait. Instead she trotted in on her four paws, wearing a special vest and muzzle. She is a rat dog called Millie. Rat dogs are specially trained to detect rats. They and their handlers go regularly to our sanctuary off-shore islands, to check that they remain free of rats. At Aongatete, Millie and her boss Scott Sambell explored around the Outdoor ...
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January 2017 – Rata

Everyone loves the pohutukawa with its crimson canopy of flowers. But fewer people know its cousins, the rata trees and vines. Several vine species grow in the forest at Aongatete and it is a white rata that is flowering at present. Each flower, like that of the pohutukawa, is a tiny cup filled with nectar and fringed with stamens. Tui and honey bees love the nectar. Amongst our climbing rata species there are several with white flowers, one with spectacular pinkish...
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December 2016 – Spiders

If you go into the forest at night and shine a torch around the tree trunks, you will see tiny pinpricks of light. It is the reflection of spider eyes. These spiders are not the ones that live in our houses – they are nearly all newcomers, accidentally introduced from other countries. The spiders in the forest all belong there, some of the 2500 odd species native to New Zealand. At night, spiders are out hunting. In the trees the orbweb spiders sit in the centre of their symmetrical web. O...
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November 2016 – Breakfast with the Birds

The overnight event at Aongatete Lodge was billed as ‘Breakfast with the Birds’. It could equally have been described as ‘Spying on the Spiders’ or ‘Walking with the Weta’! The rain had stopped and, fuelled by a sumptuous dinner, the 60 participants went out in the dark to walk in the forest. We were guided by spider expert Bryce McQuillan, an excellent choice as there were spiders everywhere, lurking in sheet webs, tangle webs, orbwebs and tunnels, or just hunting on the forest floor. And it...
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October 2016 – the birds are back

Spring is here. The shining cuckoos are calling in the forest. They have spent the winter in the Solomon Islands and flown thousands of kilometres to breed here in our summer. The riroriro or grey warblers are singing too. The female cuckoo will follow their song to find a riroriro nest to lay her egg. But all is not lost for riroriro for after they have fostered the cuckoo chick they will nest again and raise their own chicks. Kotare the kingfisher is repeating his harsh squark-squark-s...
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August 2016 – Stoat busters

The nesting birds in the Aongatete forest are easy prey for stoats. But trapping stoats is difficult because they are smart animals, so we need to be smart too. That is why we are trying out a new plan involving two kill traps in a double-ended box. Barry enlisted the help of the Katikati Men’s Shed to build eight boxes. It involved cutting out the wood and assembling the boxes according to a design from the Department of Conservation. Ron Boggis from the Men’s Shed said the men enjoyed h...
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July 2016 – Kohekohe

Mid-winter in the forest is a hungry time for nectar-feeding birds. They welcome the flowers of the kohekohe, which is flowering now. With its big, divided leaf and dangling clusters of waxy, white flowers, it looks too showy and exotic for our native forest. For the kohekohe is special, being the only member of the tropical mahogany family which is native to New Zealand. Kohekohe flowers are unusual in that they sprout in bunches directly from the tree trunk or branches. This is thou...
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June 2016 – A major offensive in the pest war

Say ‘cyanide’ and people rear back in horror. It is a lethal killer. One lick, whether you are a possum or a person, and you are dead. So cyanide use is strictly regulated and can only be used by qualified operators. But because it is so toxic, cyanide is also a very fast and humane killer. Some wily pests have learned to avoid the less toxic bait which volunteers can handle so cyanide is another tool to kill the possums, stoats, and rats that are killing our forest and its wildlife. Thank...
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May 2016 – Rare fern discovered

The king fern is a magnificent plant. Its glossy fronds grow up to three metres long and a metre wide. It looks rather like a big tree fern without a trunk. The king fern belongs to a tropical family and only grows in lowland forest from Kaitaia to the Bay of Plenty. Once it was very common and its large, starchy root was an important food for Maori in pre-European times. But now it has been decimated by pigs, which dig up and eat the roots, and by deer and goats which browse the fronds. Kin...
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April 2016 – Stoats at large

It has been a strange summer. The threatened drought did not happen and instead regular rainfall made the garden and the forest grow and be fruitful. Trees have been laden, which is great for home gardeners and the native birds and insects, but also great for their predators, the rats, stoats and ferrets. Reports of stoats seen running across the road – and sometimes squashed on the road – indicate that their numbers are rising and this will be bad for the birds, particularly those like our newl...
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