Mica is a whio dog!

Yesterday dawned grey and wet. So much for river work I thought, fully expecting to spend a day in front of my fire, reading a book … knitting … writing and daydreaming. Just the day before my husband and I had created a list titled ‘October To Dos’ and my name featured on a few of the items, jobs and tasks that we had identified.  It is a daunting list that doesn’t allow too much time for hobbies or cloud gazing! I needed to psyche myself into motivation.

Fortunately this wasn’t to be as at 10 o’clock the decision was made to ‘give it a go’ and by lunch time Mica and I were on our way to Karamea. This is a good time to introduce you, the reader, to Mica … this woman’s best 4-legged friend. Mica is a border collie cross, whose bloodline has been refined by careful breeding over time. Her parents were both champions, with achievements in sheep dog trials and a proven record working with sheep on the farm. Border collies are renowned for their intelligence, willingness to learn and kind nature. Mica has all these attributes (and more). I’ve had her since she picked me as hers when she was only 6 weeks old. I went to our friend John’s place to view the litter of puppies. Advice from a respected dog handler was: don’t look at the biggest, runt, cutest or nicest colour … just sit and wait and your dog will find you. I listened to this advice and while her siblings ignored me after a short time, Mica was the one who came and climbed into my lap and made herself at home! Needless to say; she won my heart.

Mica as a new puppy

She is now 5 rising 6 years old and we’ve been a team for sometime now. She seems to almost read my mind and knows instinctively what ‘we’ need to do. She is certified to indicate Great Spotted Kiwi by day and / or by night and she is also certified to indicate whio (blue duck). Both species of birds are endangered and live in what is often challenging and out-of-the-way locations. A dog by your side as you and she work together in the wild areas of New Zealand and to find these birds is a privilege and certainly very special.

Whio (blue duck) on the Wangapeka River 2016

So, this day Mica and I were off to Karamea to help the DOC ranger find breeding nests so that the eggs can be uplifted for incubation before the predators get them. Once the successfully hatched birds are grown through to a safe weight they are returned to the area they came from.

The areas that we went to were a surprise. Overnight rain was much heavier in the back country and the rivers were dirty and very high. It wasn’t safe for working. However as we were there we decided to have a walk and see what we might find. I have to say here, I was a bit nervous. Mica is an excellent kiwi dog and most of our work is kiwi work, she hasn’t  done any whio work for some time and I wasn’t confident in her ability to find the birds. We walked along the bank of a dark swollen river and were approaching a small beach area. Graeme said, ” let’s see if there is anything here”. I gave Mica the command   ” Whio Mica – find,” and off she went, just ahead of us nose sniffing and head down. In front us was a huge rock formation and we could have gone in one of two directions. Graeme and I followed Mica who didn’t hesitate to move to the right. I was not far behind her when I saw her tail, and then her body – locked still – intently eyeing ahead. I followed her gaze and there ahead of her were two whio basking in the warmth of the afternoon. I was stoked and Graeme was pretty pleased too. The birds kindly called and whistled and moved into the water and came back out.The waddled up to Mica and stopped about one metre from her feet. It was such an intense moment. Mica stayed locked onto the birds with her eyes and they turned away and popped into the river.

Boy, did I feel great! How could I doubt my dog – she really is amazing and never ceases to astound me. The birds Mica found were not nesting, so we left and went for a walk into the Oparara Arches. This is a magical place and should be on the list for all visitors to Northern Buller. There were no birds there either so we left. Hopefully the rivers will be done enough for us to go back out on Wednesday. I’ll remember to take a camera to record a whio encounter and hopefully write another post about Mica – The Whio Dog!

The river was a bit too high and wild for river work, but Mica was on-task! Oparara Arches



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