A blog by Jess Helps

Photo: White Mistletoe (Credit: Jess Helps)

It isn’t just for hanging up in the rafters as an excuse to smooch. NZ has 8 native mistletoe species, with the majority of them being endemic. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that relies on a host plant to survive. Mistletoe is very slow growing so are extremely susceptible to being browsed and are apparently very tasty. For this reason, many of them are in decline. To the brushtail possum, these native plants are like ice cream! Here on Banks Peninsula, there are several species including white mistletoe (Tupeia antarctica) and green mistletoe (Ileostylus micranthus). The local mistletoe are very reliant on birds for pollination and dispersal. They produce berries which native birds such as the bellbird and tūī thrive on. Without birds, these plants can’t reproduce and spread. White mistletoe in particular is at risk nationally and the reasons for its decline can be put down to several factors including habitat loss. However, two important driving factors behind it are possum browsing, and the decline of native birds due to predation.

Photo: Green mistletoe (Credit: Alice Webster)

Working in pest control here at PFBP, we are looking to do something about that.

A lot of smart people are interested in Mistletoe. Jess Helps, one of our adventurous PFBP rangers, has spent some time and learned about this interesting plant from our project partners, who are currently conducting mistletoe surveys across Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū/Banks Peninsula. The surveys give them information on possum browse in certain areas. It can be disheartening to do these and find no mistletoe, but the opposite is true when you see areas that are beginning to take off, especially in relation to good possum control. Mistletoe surveys in the future will be an important tool for us at PFBP to show whether our mahi is getting the job done. Especially as we move to eliminate this pest from our environment.

Photo: Green mistletoe (Credit: Jess Helps)

Mistletoe provide nectar and berries for our native species so if these plants thrive, the birds also thrive, and if birds thrive so does the mistletoe! It's a special cyclic relationship that has been disrupted by both human activity and introduced furry critters. It is without a doubt that these are special and unique little plants. So be mindful of mistletoe, it has an important place in the larger picture.

Photo: White mistletoe (Credit: Alice Webster)

An article by Jess Helps

The cold doesn't faze this team. (Credit: Jess Helps)

The weather has been somewhat on all our minds lately. Mother nature is giving us a good smash around here on the Peninsula and we are all feeling it. The farmers losing fences and water, homes with silty rapids lapping at the door. The arduous clean-up afterwards, shoveling silt off drives and away from gardens. Searching for, then replacing lost and damaged equipment. It can all be very disheartening.

What I want to note is the special way in which this community knits together during these uncanny times. It is heartwarming. Folks helping each other through rain or shine, kind words and offering hands, it makes you proud to be a peninsula local.

The ground is waterlogged and there is nowhere else for the water to go, except down. (Credit: Jess Helps)

We are all in the same waterlogged boat so to speak. This weather has impacted us severely and pushed our work plan around something terrible, but we persevere, and adapt. There are days when the team are out wading through mud and creeping lake edge to rescue or check waterlogged traps on Kaitōrete and it’s real hard yakka. There are days when you return covered in mud and aching, with no catches in the traps, and you know 100% that the animals you are trying to catch are far smarter than you, staying safe and dry in their dens. Despite this, we continue when we can, and when it is safe to do so.

This crew is 100% tough stuff (Credit: Jess Helps)

There are times when the weather isn’t ideal, but the team find a way to enjoy their work. There is a real sense of accomplishment when you tackle the elements head-on, and it feels like you have almost won. For myself enjoyment it is driving through large puddles on the long boring road down to Kaitōrete and enjoying the resulting wake in my path or trying to catch snow in my mouth while my workmates laugh at me for being such a darn kid at heart. Other notable times were when we were scrub cutting in the snow, coming back after a long cold day, with flush cheeks and cold fingers and getting ambushed by raucous workmates with stockpiled snowballs. We forgot about our numb fingers quickly and a snowball war ensued amid shouts and excitement.

There is a time for work, and a time for play - sometimes both at the same time... (Credit: Jess Helps)

Yes, Climate change has dealt us some real challenges lately but we Peninsula people look after each other and I know that will continue. There will be failures, yes, but there will also be successes despite what this wild weather throws at us. We are here to help you, to rid the Wildside of possums, rain or shine. We are also here to support you, the landowner, through these hard times. Don’t worry, we understand the challenges each of you are facing and we will face them together.

Kia Kaha and here enjoy these pictures of PFBP’s wild weather times.

"It's just up there - somewhere...?" (Credit: Jayden Lum)

A story by Jess Helps.

Photo: Tītī/sooty shearwater in their happy place (Credit: PFBP and Camera 100)

Just before Christmas 2021 there was a storm of epic proportions that caused a near biblical deluge. Torrents of water running off the hills took one of our cameras on an impromptu voyage, leaving it stranded in a debris patch near a local beach. It was pure chance that this camera was recovered. A miracle really. One could be forgiven in thinking that this Camera’s saga was over, that such a wild ride would be cause for the device's early retirement. That was not to be the case. Camera 66 remained fully functional.

As soon as the wayfaring camera was bought in from its ordeal riding the wild flood rapids, it attended a post flood debriefing and the footage it contained scoured for usable data. The prodigal device was then cleaned, and its programming checked so it could be enlisted again for the next deployment.

Its re-deployment was sooner than expected.

Incidentally, the December downpour also caused some considerable damage to a special Banks Peninsula bird sanctuary. The place in question is a predator-proof fenced area that protects a colony of precious sooty shearwater/tītī.

Photo: Crew with all the gear, waiting to be deployed into the tītī colony (Credit: Jess Helps)

This is one of the last tītī colonies on Banks Peninsula. It is situated on the edge of a massive cliff, a local farmer was the first person to try and preserve these special birds, building a self-funded predator fence to try and protect their nesting area. This fence has now since been upgraded, creating an impenetrable fortress which provides safety for the various plant and animal species within, including the tītī. Everyone benefited from the fence... except the predators!

That was, until the flooding in December.

A slip rumbled through the colony and damaged part of this vital fence, therefore making it possible for unwelcome things to gain access to this specially reserved place. The fence was fixed, however the host of agencies and individuals involved in the colony's preservation needed to confirm that this sanctuary was indeed still a sanctuary, and not the new home of some enterprising predator.

Our PFBP rangers, Jess, and Ollie were sent in to install 2 cameras to make sure there were no nefarious goings-on inside the restored fence perimeter. One of these cameras was our adventurer, number 66.

Its new mission was to keep a watchful eye on the above special colony of sea birds along with its friend, camera 100. As the two rangers, Jess and Ollie entered the colony, they moved around, rebaiting the existing traps located within the perimeter. They quickly found something unwelcome and disturbing near one of them, mustelid sign. This was immediately reported back to all agencies concerned and a small team was mobilized the next day to up the defense and add extra live traps and cameras into the colony, just to make sure that nothing had stayed within the predator free barrier since the repairs.

Alice Webster (Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust), Jess Helps (PFBP) and Kaitlyn Leeds (DOC) gave up their Saturday to take on the task of placing and baiting these new traps. One of our trusty Wildside landowners, Mark Armstrong, helped prepare the area for the installation by cutting the grass near the fence. Alice helped pack the truck and ensured the others had everything they needed, ticking off the list of equipment methodically. Thank goodness for Alice.

Jess and Kaitlyn then drove out to the fenced colony and spent time installing the devices along with the 2 extra cameras. The 4 cameras kept about their solemn duty for two weeks to confirm proof of absence, to make sure no naughty weasel, sneaky stoat or slinky ferret was living-it-large inside the tasty tītī colony.

Photo: Jess installing a camera at a tītī burrow (Credit: Jess Helps)

Every day for the first week the mixed agency team checked the live traps, which had been baited with an assortment of irresistible goodies. There were no catches after a week, so the live traps were then removed and kill traps left in their stead. The cameras stayed on duty and had weekly visitors changing out their cards. The team checked the images for unwelcome guests. A few itinerant rats and mice were seen on camera, and our teams' lovely feet.

Photo: Camera 66 - I see you little mouse, we'll deal to you later... (Credit: PFBP and Camera 66)

Photo: Camera 66 - Check out those pegs, that's someone that doesn't skip leg-day. Credit: PFBP and Camera 66)

Thankfully, the resident rodents continued being removed by the kill traps on a regular basis. Weeks later there was still no mustelid evidence caught on film, nor in trap. It was decided because the area being monitored was so small, we could conclude that the invading mustelid had visited the area but had departed again before the fence was fully repaired.

However, just for confirmation, a stoat dog was taken through to confirm the camera's footage was accurate. It was. We could all breathe easier. Banks Peninsula’s precious tītī (sooty shearwater) were safe.

Special thanks to Camera 66, 100, and friends for a job well done, proof of mustelid absence was attained. Another mission file can now be marked complete.

Photo: This tītī is on a mission! (Credit: PFBP and Camera 100)