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  • Writer's pictureRubber Monkey

'Day In The Life' of Jeff Hall - Capital Kiwi Field Specialist

Hi! Im Jeff Hall and I recently joined Capital Kiwi after 20 years working for DOC across landscapes nationwide. From Northland Kauri forests, Tongariro National park, the wild west coast, Fiordland and offshore island sanctuaries. Most recently I have been a Ranger on Mana and Matiu/Somes islands near Wellington. I have worked with kiwi, protecting populations with predator control and monitoring breeding season outcomes in Northland and Fiordland. I've also been privileged to work with some of our other Taonga species - Kakapo, Whio and Takahe.

Capital Kiwi is the mission to restore kiwi to the hills of Te Upoko o Te Ika / Wellington. This kaupapa will be achieved by the management of pest threats through a network of traps across 24,000 hectares West and North of the city. Success will require engaging the community as kaitiaki / Kaimanaaki. We are already well into the journey, with 4,500 traps deployed, beginning in November 2018 and removing around 700 stoats from the landscape. With the landscape prepared, and growing community involvement, Kiwis on the hills behind Wellington is on the near horizon.

Working for Capital Kiwi is like the best of both worlds for me. I get to live in the greatest little city with my family while helping to establish Kiwi in our backyard! Before Kiwi arrive we're undertaking ongoing predator control and monitoring to ensure predator numbers remain low enough for the kiwi to thrive. While removing introduced predators from the landscape is in itself satisfying, the real fun will come with releasing and monitoring the kiwi as they establish and begin to breed. All this fieldwork also involves collaborating with many landowners, volunteer community groups and the public, and talking about how to help look after these Taonga in their backyard.

As a keen tramper, I've always felt at home in the backcountry. It was a school tramping club trip to Tongariro National Park, and chatting to a Hut Warden, that set me on my lifelong journey into conservation. I completed a ‘Parks and Rec’ degree at Lincoln University in the mid 90’s, and worked my way up through various roles with the Department of Conservation from Hut Wardening, monitoring Kiwi and Whio populations to test stoat trapping networks. I spent 3 years living on Anchor Island in Dusky Sound, Fiordland helping establish a breeding population of Kakapo, essentially picking up where Richard Henry left off by shifting Kiwi and Kakapo to islands before Stoats infiltrated in the early 1900’s! I ran kiwi monitoring and predator trapping networks in Northland, collaborating with community groups and advocating for improved dog/owner behaviour through kiwi aversion training.

Throughout my career in conservation, I’ve seen how knowledge, technology and techniques have evolved, allowing us to better understand, manage and protect threatened species.

When I began monitoring kiwi in Fiordland in 2003 we used video recorders (the old school front loading VHS ones!) in waterproof cases, cameras, and many meters of power cords and batteries - the same size and weight as to run it all. All this had to be carried off track across rivers and into challenging terrain to obtain footage for predator and kiwi chick activity. Multiple burrows were visited daily, and videotapes and batteries were changed. The footage was reviewed while working from a bivvy in the bush for 10 day stretches.

There are now trail cameras that fit in your hand, run for weeks off AA batteries and save footage on micro SD cards. We bought 70 units of Ltl Acorn 5610A 940nm No glow trail cameras and now use these for monitoring pest control outcomes - the presence/absence of stoats and cats in the Capital Kiwi project, but would have been pretty useful back then! And it doesn’t stop there, time saving AI recognition software is currently being perfected to enable the labour-saving ability to automatically process thousands of camera images, changing my current RSI inducing task of clicking through and viewing images manually.

Kakapo and Kiwi catching stories and highlights of what has become I guess, a ‘life less ordinary’, but all the while I feel privileged to have experienced. I’ll never forget my first night out catching a kakapo with a team of professionals on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island. Our target was a girl called Fuchsia, who had outsmarted us by choosing to roost in a hole too deep for any arm to reach. So at dusk we assembled- kakapo emerge at night forage, positioning ourselves around her burrow entrance in the hope of grabbing her for a transmitter change before she disappeared into the night.

I was on point, well actually I was perched on the limb of an old rata above the burrow out over a fairly steep slope, the bottom of which disappeared in the failing light. Just on dark I picked up a movement outside the entrance, I noticed there was no movement from anyone in the team, this was my moment! Quick as a wink I leapt into action!…. Nay, my legs had gone to sleep, falling from my perch I rag dolled down the steep slope, all the while wondering if I had just flattened poor Fuchsia, or if it would be her or I to the bottom of the hill first. While regaining my bearings a flash of green in someone's torchlight tore past, so I had indeed beaten her to the bottom, and she was alive!. While gathering my bearings and willing my legs back into life, Fuchsia was captured by one of the more upwardly mobile team members. Following her annual health check and transmitter change - a tracking device worn like a small backpack, she was released into the night to forage unmolested. That was the first of many eventful captures of kakapo and other adventures on Whenua Hou, and Anchor Island in Dusky Sound.

One of my more memorable encounters with kiwi was while working in Fiordland. I was monitoring chick survival in the Clinton Valley on the Milford Track in 2003/4. To catch chicks in those days we sat outside their nest burrows at dusk, waiting for them to emerge. We had transmitters fitted to the adult males to locate nests and estimate when chicks would hatch and be big enough to fit with a tiny transmitter of their own.

The magic of this particular evening had already been set. On the way up to the burrow I happened upon a tiny titipounamu - rifleman, hanging upside down, his legs tangled in tree moss tendrils. I gently held the bird while untangling its fragile legs, releasing it to get home before dark rather than become easy prey for a ruru - a Morepork Owl or rat. Then, while quietly sitting outside the kiwi burrow I could hear the stirrings of the family inside waking up for the night. Perched high on the slope of the glacial valley, I waited and watched two ruru noisily have their way with one another. As light in the valley began to fade, I caught movement at the burrow entrance. The large female Tokoeka - Fiordland kiwi stood tall, not more than a foot to the right of where I sat. Her bill was pointed skyward, smelling the night air, sensing something was not right, she began to slowly probe and prod in my direction, stopping just short of poking my thigh - all time stopped and I held my breath. Without warning, and with an impressive burst of speed she exploded out of the blocks and ran right over the top of me, rustling off through the ferns. She stopped about 20 feet away and called loudly to warn her mate of her discovery, the male grumbled something in reply from inside the safety of the burrow.

At this point, breathing deeply and heart still racing, I discovered claw marks on my legs and holes in the shoulder of my jacket as proof of what had just occurred! I didn't fancy my chances of the chick coming out for some time following that commotion. But a kiwi chicks innocence, independence, and vulnerability was on display that evening, when no more than a few minutes later it came bumbling out beside me. I swiftly fitted the transmitter and returned it to the burrow and it's 'brave' grumbling dad who was still inside.

On Mana Island a few years ago, Rowi - our rarest kiwi were being established. I'll always remember the thrill of hearing a young pair of birds calling to one another right outside the bedroom window for the first time, or seeing them in the moonlight on the back lawn probing for worms. My kids won’t forget the excitement of seeing one poking about under the deck one evening. These sorts of experiences can, and will be shared when we all become kaitiaki for the kiwi in Wellingtons backyard!

Big picture thinkers and doers inspire me, like Paul Ward the founder of Capital Kiwi and Jim Lynch who started Zealandia, and is championing the establishment of a large scale predator-proof fenced reserve in Wainuiomata. I could even go back as far as Richard Henry, who from the late 1800s, attempted to save many kiwi and kakapo in Fiordland by shifting them to nearby islands. Sadly his efforts were undone when he discovered stoats could swim the short distance from mainland Fiordland to Resolution Island. But his foresight, early learnings and other techniques have since developed to give us a network of predator-free havens on islands and mainland Aotearoa protecting our native Taonga.

But without the passionate people on the ground, the grease in all those wheels, the many community volunteers out checking traps and planting trees, help bring it all to fruition.

At the moment I'm working toward the translocation and release of kiwi in the Hills West of the Wellington. Continuing maintenance of the landscape for Kiwi and other native species, through ongoing predator control including mustelids (Stoats, Weasels and Ferrets - if they arive) and Feral Cats. Community engagement and education, including Kiwi aversion training for dogs and behavioural change around keeping dogs on leads while walking in the reserves and natural spaces that kiwi will eventually co-habit.

Ways in which people can help is to get in the habit of walking your dog on the lead in areas where kiwi will eventually be, and other wildlife - like Korora / little Blue Penguins are. Keep your cat in at night, even consider not replacing it when it’s gone. Run a trap in the backyard to support the Predator Free movement. Wellington really is leading the way, providing an environment where wildlife we once thought impossible in this populous landscape, can now thrive - Kaka, Tieke, Titipounamu, Karearea, and one day soon Kiwi in our backyards!


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