The intrepid trapper: Week six – 14-17 February

After a couple of very warm, muggy weather days, ex-tropical Cyclone Dovi moved in over the country early on the Saturday morning. It created havoc everywhere; trees down, power lines down, and a neighbour’s huge pine tree cracked in half and fell down a slope. Fortunately, no trees were down at our place this time, despite other neighbours also mentioning tree damage.

Unfortunately, two of our guinea fowl girls’ babies popped out a day (and the other a few days) before the cyclone hit. It rained non-stop, the wind was blowing a gale and the temperature dropped considerably. Timing could not have been worse. Despite the dads helping out by also sitting on the chicks, they couldn’t manage. Both mums and dads were drenched and finally the babies started trailing off and were left for dead. During the course of the day, and in terrible conditions, I was frantically searching for the half-dead babies all over our property, in tall grass, under trees, etc, to try and save them. Trying to find these tiniest of babies on a couple acre property is no easy feat. By nine at night Gerry picked up the last five and with the help of warm water bottles and a heater, all twelve came back to life. Sadly, three of them died a couple of days later.

Day 17 – Jim’s and the Deerford Loop

Very early on Valentine’s Day, Nina and I were off to collect the monitoring cards from Jim’s property. We stopped at his house in Apiti to fetch the keys to the gates taking us on private land. Arriving at the first gate, it was still drizzling and everything was wet. After the second gate, Nina cleared some windfall out of the way in order not to scratch the ute. We quickly collected the five monitoring cards, some of which were along the farm road, and the others on a private track. Four of the five cards had a decent amount of footprints, and the fifth card had insect prints only. Afterwards, we went back to Jim’s to return the keys, and showed them the outcome.

Then we were off to Deerford Track to insert monitoring cards to ascertain what sort of pests are roaming in the area. It was still overcast and quite cold. I had four top layers on, as well as a rainjacket and rain pants. As always, we had a stream-crossing early on. With all the rain, it was deeper than usual (calve high), and very cold. My feet were freezing, which was a reminder that I need to figure out a plan for winter. We’re still in summer and I’m already cold in the forest in wet conditions.

The previous time we tried to locate the monitoring tunnels, we couldn’t find them. But this time we were more lucky and found the first four relatively easily. The last one (which was the first one coming from the top, which we couldn’t find the previous time) was again a bit of a search. Lots of windfall made it even more tricky to negotiate the terrain off the track. We decided to create waypoints to make it easier for next time.

After placing the last monitoring card, we went around Deerford Loop to check all the traps, but found no dead pests. Some traps were set off due to windfall – large branches landing on the traps, others were without bait (critters and mice probably got to it before anything else could). We reset and rebaited everything that needed attention with dehydrated rabbit before returning to the car. The drizzle became a bit more persistent, and by the time we took off our wet rain clothes, shoes and socks in the carpark, it was raining.

Day 18: Team meeting/workshop

We drove to Ian’s for a team meeting and catch-up with the Dannevirke team. Ahead of their arrival, we counted out half (200) of the nuts and bolts to go with Rani, including trap mechanisms, for the traps they’re building on that side of the mountain.

Erana replaced Shawn on the team, and it was the first time I met her, and a chance to have the whole new team together. Rani talked about their side of things, progress, dealings with land owners, etc, and Ian explained what we’ve been up to.

Afterwards, Ian went through the TrapNZ site, showed some of the functionality; how to add traps, edit trap placement and info, the traplines, stats about animals being killed, etc. We discussed options for traplines, what an area might really be like when you get there, even though it sometimes looks fine on Google maps. Discussions ensued about the traps that are performing really well, the different projects in the Ruahine Forest Park (Northern Ruahine, Southern Ruahine, Manaaki, and Whio whio), and all things related to trapping.

Afterwards, we gathered around an outside table to have a first go at identifying the different footprints on the monitoring cards we’ve collected so far. I downloaded the PDF file with samples of the footprints of mustelids and other pests, including critters from the gotchatraps website. The animals that’s most prevalent in the traps by far, are hedgehogs, so it was no surprise that we found mostly hedgehog footprints. There were also rats, mice, possums, and stoats, and lots of critters. One card only had critter prints. We compared notes and mostly agreed on the prints we identified, but where there were disagreements, we rechecked and had a discussion about it to try and get to a conclusion. In one or two cases it was really too difficult to know what we were looking at, and it would be good to get an expert in to talk us through it.

While still outside, we did a five-minute bird count, and identified seven birds from either the sounds they make or from spotting them in a tree. Apparently afternoons/middays are not the best time of the day to do bird counts, but it was still a good opportunity.

We all moved to Ian’s garage where he keeps frozen samples of mustelids (which I unfortunately forgot to take a photo of): a ferret, stoats and weasels. The ferret was quite smelly, despite being frozen, but had quite an interesting fur.

From there we walked down a ridge on Ian’s property to look at different types of traps, from smaller versions for rats and mice, to self-resetting ones for stoats and weasels, to catch traps for cats. In two of the traps there were dead mice. At the far end, away from any buildings and in the forest, we did another five-minute birdcount, and again counted at least six different birds. Some of them, like tui, mimic other birds, making it hard to know which is which.

Afterwards, we took a group photo, before we went our separate ways at the end of the day.

Day 19: Carrying traps up Shorts Track

Not sure how it came about, but as we were leaving the previous afternoon, a quick decision was made for Nina and I to carry more traps up the mountain. We are less than ten traps away from the top, and I was under the impression that the top ones would be dropped at the top to be carried down, rather than us killing ourselves to get it all the way up there from the bottom. Understandably, we need to identify quantities and traplines, and have enough traps ready and everything consolidated to be dropped off by helicopter in one go instead of paying for multiple trips.  This has unfortunately not been finalised yet, so in order to not twiddle our thumbs, we keep hauling traps up the mountain.

Late the previous night, I collected the pack-frames from Anthony (from the Manaaki project) who kindly let us use his.

Early in the morning, we met in Feilding for the trip out to Limestone Carpark. Although it wasn’t very cold, I had a thermal top on for the first couple of kilometres. The track is a familiar site by now, and after the first few hundred metres, we reach the first stream-crossing. Going up Knights Track, meant we have another crossing a kilometre or so down the track. To not spent the entire day with soaking wet feet again, I took a pair of trail running shoes for the first couple of kilometres until we crossed the second stream. These I hid in a bush, while putting on semi-dry boots and socks. The boots did the same stream-crossing on Monday, so wasn’t completely dry yet.

And then the relentless hill carried on up the mountain for the next four kilometres. With each trap weighing just shy of 6kg, of which we each carried two, plus a backpack containing emergency gear, warm clothing, raincoats, first-aid, food, snacks, water, bait, spanners, tongs etc to service the traps with, I reckon all up I carried 16-17kg up the mountain. Normally on tramps I try not to go over 10kg for my size, weight, age, etc, which already makes the tramp less enjoyable than when carrying a lighter weight. Needless to say, this was hard work.

We made good progress on the constant uphill, and after about 4km of slogging up the mountain, my shoulders and shoulder blades started to be really uncomfortable and sore. Another kilometre and a half, and we’d dropped off our four traps (#9, 8, 7, 6 from the top down – 1 is on top of the mountain) and were at the highest point for the day at 1300m.

While catching our breath (my heart was racing like mad, and I guess the altitude might also have played a small part), we had a bite to eat and a sip of water. There’s no access to water on the mountain and everything has to be carried up.

On the way down, we checked and serviced all the traps, and only one contained a hedgehog that looked like it was going to explode. We used dehydrated rabbit as bait, and one thing I noticed is that a lot of it gets eaten by, presumably, mice. Which is a terrible waste at almost 50c per piece, me thinks.

On the upside, Nina chatted to a chicken farmer about a possible sponsorship, and they are keen to get on board, which is fantastic. Details need to be ironed out still, but we should be sorted with eggs as bait for a while for a lot of the traps in future.

We passed Teddy Bear slip again, and I tried to see from the top if it is possible to get an idea of what it looks like, but by the looks of it we were standing on its ear. A massive chunk of land slipped and when viewed from Jock’s farm on the other side of the valley, it apparently looks like a teddy bear. Will definitely see if I can spot it when next we’re out that way.

Nearly back down the mountain, I changed back into my wet shoes for the last two kilometres and two stream-crossings. Less than a kilometre from the car, and on a reasonable well-groomed track, I stepped onto a tree root or something, and ended up on the side of my foot with my ankle bent at a 90 degree angle to try and stay upright, which of course didn’t happen and I landed on my arse. I had visions again of my friend breaking her leg on a track 2k from the car, and what an ordeal it was getting her down the mountain and to hospital. Fortunately (in other respects unfortunately), I have ‘floppy joints’ making it possible to bend joints quite far before breaking them, I guess. However five days later, the ligament (?) on the side of my leg was still quite sore.

On the trip back home, we discussed the next day’s work. The monitoring cards we installed on Monday had to be fetched from Deerford (they usually only stay for three days). I wasn’t meant to work (I only work three days a week, normaly Mondays to Wednesdays), but offered to go with Nina, as she cannot go in the mountains by herself, and Ian had a meeting. It is a health and safety precaution, as anything can happen at anytime, and being out in the bush by oneself is never a very good idea.

Nina offered to carry more traps up the mountain, but with a somewhat crook ankle and sore shoulders, I wasn’t up to it. Instead I would check and service the traps as we go, on the way up.

After fetching Gerry from work, we took the packs-frames back to Anthony, as they needed it again. This is something we really need to buy for ourselves, as we cannot keep borrowing from others. It is, on top of everything else, a terrible waste of time fetching and returning borrowed stuff. The time and money on fuel spent on that, could have bought us a couple already.

Day 20: Carry more traps up Shorts and service the trapline

We met bright and early again in Feilding, and drove to where Ian was waiting with traps and old tramping backpacks. Nina took the one backpack, and two traps.

The trip to where we work, is usually about an hour’s drive. The weather was really good, sunny (even though we drove through fog) and warmer than the previous days. When she tried to strap the traps onto the outside of the backpack (it couldn’t fit inside either), only one could fit. One is better than none, and we were on our way. I took the soaking wet shoes again for the stream-crossing, after which I changed into my semi-dry boots for the slog up the mountain on Shorts Track.

These two tracks follow on from the Deerford loop, and both goes to the ridge at the top of the mountain. Knights track is on the left (North) and Shorts is on the right (South). Whereas Knights track sort-of eases into the steep climb, Shorts Track gets right too it. Both are super steep, making the going slow, especially carrying a heavy weight.

With all the traps from the bottom up already in place, the only ones remaining are the ones above the tree line. I was huffing and puffing up the mountain again. With both of us being runners, we are servicing traplines rather quickly, so can cover more ground and get more traps checked, in more difficult terrain.

At 1300m altitude again, we set the new trap, caught our breath, had a snack and a drink of water before starting on the way down again.

En route we collected the five monitoring cards on Deerford of which one had no prints, and another where something (hedgehog?) went into the tunnel, seemingly not happy with dried rabbit, as it was all still there, and went out again on the same side. Bizarre. It’s a narrow tunnel and makes sense for something to walk through. Must be a clever animal who knows that if it goes for dried rabbit, it will die. Haha.

At the stream, I swopped back into my wet shoes for the last kilometre, before swopping back into dry shoes for the drive back home. There seems to be a lot of changing gear going on with these trips. I guess that’s how it is if you work in nature; sunny, cold, rain, rivers, etc.

After picking Gerry up from work, we went to the Summerhill trails to collect kawakawa for balm I’m making for our project launch.  I’m using the cold extraction method, so the leaves will have to stay in the oil for at least a week. Nina is making a cake, decorated with kiwis, which I can’t wait to see, and I will throw in some gluten free, chocolate cake on the side, just to cover our bases. Looking forward to the event next Thursday.