Fickle weather and whio

It must be Spring! The weather is so unsettled, and it has been really wet. I’m on standby to go and help look for whio (blue duck) nests with Mica. However the rain has fallen almost every day and the rivers are swift, high and dirty. Not the best for the type of task we aim to do.

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View from our deck of a rainy morning on the Mokihinui

We did have a one day weather window though, last Wednesday. It was a grey and overcast morning, but little rain had fallen overnight and we thought it was worth a look to see if we could work. I should explain that when a whio search for birds, nests or eggs is undertaken humans and dogs alike spend most of the day in the water. It makes sense really because the ducks habitat is fast flowing water. This means the areas we search are lively rivers and streams with rapids and waterfalls, big boulders and sandy banks. Due to the birds colour they can be difficult to spot, blending in with the blue/grey of the river stones and the water. I thought the water would be freezing, but was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too bad at all.

Mica likes the whistle that the male whio makes. She never fails to lift her ears and watch the birds attentively. We found a single bird on the river. Unsure if it was a male or female Mica searched the banks of the river, but we failed to turn up a nesting female. Moving on, about an hour later we spotted a pair of ducks on the river. It meant no nest but it was nice to stop for a spell and watch them swimming in the fast flowing water. Later Mica flushed another single bird, but again we were unable to find any indication of nesting. There wasn’t a census taken of the area we searched last year,  so it’s difficult to know what the numbers should be like and  whether the birds are pairs or singles.

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A whio on the rocks with Mica looking on

Mica gets cold after several hours in the river and she was getting tired by about 2pm. When working the rivers I put a ‘wet suit’ type jacket underneath her Conservation Dog vest and she does stay surprisingly dry on her back. I also try to give her extra snacks to keep her body temperature up. Another area to watch are her paws, all the walking on sharp rocks can lead to cuts and bruises on the dog’s feet. I’ve found three days in a row are enough for Mica, then she needs a break from the hard work so that her body can freshen.

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Mica ‘on point’ with extra layers on to keep her warm in the cold water

I get cold too. Although I wear warm clothes, wet feet all day as well as wet pants does mean you need to keep moving. As soon as I stop for more than 15 minutes I can feel the wetness chilling my body. I don’t carry too much food as it’s all extra weight in my back pack. My work mate cut a walking stick for me. This was great, especially as I needed to cross the rivers so frequently. Once we had to link arms for a crossing, I was a bit concerned my feet might have been caught in the fast current. Those rivers would be unforgiving if you lost your footing.

Mica river crossing
Mica – river crossing

All the sights and sounds of the places we go make any discomfort insignificant. The river was spectacular, beautiful green mosses and foliage, waterfalls, craggy cliffs and temperate podocarp forest. And of course the whio, magnificent birds that are breathtaking to watch as they swim in rapids and feed off the rocks. I wouldn’t have changed my location for an office job any day!

The rest of the week was against us weather wise as more rain meant river levels stayed too high for safe work. Maybe next week …

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