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Volunteering in Dusky Sound - Resolution Island, 9-16 July 2013

Recently I was lucky enough to spend seven days on the Fiordland coast, undertaking some volunteer work for DOC on one of the national park’s island reserves. It has become another highlight of my life in the Te Anau region, one of the great experiences which are giving me an understanding of the local environment and allow me to realise how fortunate I am to live in such an amazing place.

The island is named after Capt. James Cook's ship Resolution which landed here on Dusky Sound during Cook's second voyage in March 1773. Resolution Island, including Five Fingers Peninsula, is the largest of the islands on the Fiordland Coast, covering 20 860 hectares. It is the country's seventh largest island. It is separated from the mainland of the South Island by Dusky Sound and Breaksea Sound. It has a diverse range of habitats with 13 peaks over 900 m including the highest point, Mt Clerke (1 069m) and several low lying valley systems.

Resolution Island was designated as a reserve for the protection of native fauna and flora in 1891. In 1894 the Department of Lands and Survey appointed Richard Henry as curator of the island, which was stocked with species such as Kakapo and Kiwi that were threatened by mustelids on the mainland. This early attempt at using the island for conservation management failed when stoats reached the island in 1900. Once these predators became established on the island, it was pointless for Henry to transfer any more birds. The ones already there were doomed. He eventually moved north to another island sanctuary, Kapiti, in 1908. Regardless of the tragic conclusion on Resolution Island, the sanctuary was a landmark effort in bird conservation. It was the first programme of systematic bird transfers anywhere in the world. Nothing like it was attempted for another seventy years.

The island got another chance in 2004 when it was chosen to be one of New Zealand's offshore reserves, which are cleared of introduced species to protect native species. A comprehensive stoat eradication programme started in 2008 and deer eradication in 2009. Since 2008 Te Anau DOC office organises 3 trips a year to check and rebait traps. A group of volunteers and DOC employees is transported by DOC boat Southern Winds or helicopter and stay approx 5 to 7 days in one of several bivvies on the island, or use the vessel as a base for day trips along the island coast.

Aurora Australis from Five Fingers Peninsula, Fiordland, New Zealand
Before my trip we started with a briefing on the 8th of July, highlighting the importance of a quarantine check of our clothing, backpack and boots. I was supposed to remove every individual seed and clean all dirt to prevent infestation of the island by exotic species that are so far not present on it. I thought it would be easy however it took me nearly the whole afternoon - my backpack alone took over one hour to clean to be sure all leaves and seeds were removed.

On Tuesday morning all the gear was checked and then we were transferred to Manapouri to board the Real Journeys boat across the lake. Our trip over Wilmot Pass was in the DOC bus, the pass was covered by fresh snow and I took quite a nice picture from the viewpoint on the top. Then we boarded the DOC vessel Southern Winds and started our journey to Dusky Sound. It was a beautiful winter sunny day, even when we hit the Fiordland coast the waves were gentle and I could stay on the top deck to enjoy the views. Overnight we anchored in Duck Cove.

On Wednesday morning Joseph (another volunteer) and I were picked up from the shore by helicopter and transferred to our bases, I was dropped off at the South Five Fingers Biv on Five Fingers Peninsula. The peninsula was my base for the next few days, other volunteers were flown to several other sites on the island. In the afternoon I checked my first trap lines, walking mostly via the forest with occasional glimpses of the ocean. The track was very wet and slippery which became the norm for the whole trip and especially in the steep gullies I had to be careful and sure of every single step.

FalconEvery day had its own highlight. Of course the most important one was that I did not catch any stoats, this result was visible in many places. Birdlife is flourishing, robins were seen everywhere, it was a pleasure to meet these friendly birds. On Wednesday after sunset I saw fernbirds in the tussock as their resting place was disrupted by my head torch. On Thursday I was a bit late which actually resulted in great light while enjoying the view of Dusky Sound with its islands. And later in the evening I saw the Aurora Australis, with beams of light shining over the sky. Unfortunately I did not have a tripod, I managed to fix the camera temporarily on the roof, however due to the inappropriate angle I caught only the end of the light display. Friday offered me more coastal views with one short section of track directly above a cliff. On Saturday I moved from South to North biv, which was a bit gruelling - walking with all my personal gear, working gear and on the way check traps and nail heavy steel plates on the trap boxes to protect kea. In the late afternoon I was watched by a falcon while I was changing bait in a trap. Suddenly a robin flew in, the falcon tried to chase it but without success. Then a second robin arrived to argue with the first one over their territory. They did not care that 3 metres above them sat the falcon, which was watching both myself and them quietly - bizarre. In the evening I got to the biv just shortly after a hail storm started.

Creek - Five Fingers Peninsula, Dusky SoundOn Sunday we struck a cold weather front, however the peninsula was luckily spared from most of the bad weather and I encountered only several showers. On Sunday I did not finish all traps according to our proposed plan, there were quite a lot and with the unpredictable weather I wanted to be back in the biv before dark. Therefore on Monday I finished checking off the rest of traps on the island (abandoning the original ambitious plan to check more traps on the main Resolution Island). I packed my gear to be ready for next morning’s departure. On Tuesday morning I was picked up by Jonathan and together with Joseph and Andrew we were flown back to Te Anau via Breaksea and Doubtful Sounds. Even though it was cloudy the views were gorgeous.

This trip was a great experience for me, from both a scenic and conservation viewpoint - a lesson in how fragile is our New Zealand biodiversity which is dependent on the ongoing dedicated work of DOC employees and volunteers. It is a huge logistic mission to maintain a predator free island. However the result is fantastic - I saw more birds in one week than I normally see within the whole year - parakeets, robins, tomtits, bellbirds, flocks of brown creepers, fernbirds, falcon, morpork to name a few. I did not hear any kiwi or see their typical holes made in the ground with their beaks while browsing for food.

Hopefully there will always be enough funding, resources and interest of the public and volunteers to maintain such refuges of New Zealand indigenous fauna and flora.
Martin Sliva

Trip to Resolution Island, Dusky Sound

 
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