Thursday, January 12, 2012

11 January 2012: Rowi kiwi project (Franz Josef)

We had a harried morning following our emergency camping trip: Becky Seepersad (chemistry) and Shannon Attebery (biology) led a Skype discussion with the Balmville 3rd graders and then we made our way south to Franz Josef to meet with Neil Freer (Bank of New Zealand Operation Nest Egg), project manager of the Rowi kiwi project on the west coast.  Neil led the discussion on the management of the rarest of kiwi species, the Rowi (a subspecies of the Brown Kiwi (Apteryx australis). We learned of the radiotransmitters attached to the legs of kiwis to monitor to movements, and learned how based upon the subtleties in kiwi movements, incubation by radiotagged kiwis could be ascertained.  Our students asked very insightful questions on the breeding biology of the kiwi, demonstrating again how they have internalized the information learned from our sanctuary experiences on the trip.  Following Neil’s presentation, we walked to the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef, an operation that works with the BNZ ONE to incubate wild-laid kiwi eggs, and raise the juveniles to several months old (at which point they are transferred to Christchurch for further growth and development).  Inside the centre, we viewed nearly 3-month old chicks freely moving about in a darkened enclosure.  As a bonus, we were treated to the incubation and brooding rooms, where kiwi chicks are hatched and spend their first few weeks growing.  Kiwi eggs are the largest eggs (relative to their body size) of all birds and they made a typical tv remote control look small!  Two eggs were incubating during our visit and we were able to view them via tv monitor.  Our experience finished with a viewing of the newly-hatched kiwi in the brooding room.  These little guys are cute!  Unlike in the juvenile enclosure, we were allowed to take pictures of the young kiwi, and some students recorded video of these guys moving about in their brooding chambers.  Super cool!  Neil was a terrific host and his time and patience in waiting for us to arrive in Franz Josef were greatly appreciated!

After a busy morning, our group decided to lie low in Franz Josef.  We spent the day doing laundry, checking email, and relaxing. Relaxing is probably not a generous-enough term, as it amounted to our entire group visiting the Glacial Pools located in Franz Josef, a set of three pools that ranged in temperature from 88-105 degrees F.  After an hour or so in the pools, Dr. Moran and I called it quits for the evening; the students spent a little more time relishing in the naturally-hot water produced from local geothermal pools.

One interesting note for our visit to Franz Josef: despite all the wet weather that has followed us throughout New Zealand, Franz Josef has not received rain in 3 weeks!  Water usage had gotten so bad that the city began drawing water from local rivers and was not able to filter the water for drinking. Thus, any water for drinking had to be boiled if from the tap, or bought as bottled water.  Another new experience for our students!

Neil Freer (Bank of New Zealand Operation Nest Egg) with our group at the Department of Conservation centre in Franz Josef, New Zealand.

Me holding a mounted Rowi kiwi.

Wow! That's a large egg!  A Rowi kiwi egg next to an average TV remote.

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