The intrepid trapper: Week seven – 20-24 February

Day 21 – Mid-Pohangina trapline service

And just like that it was time to service the Mid-Pohangina trapline again. I will admit that this is not my favourite. Apart from the fact that a 4WD is needed to get around the farm, the first couple of kilometres involve puttering through a muddy, pooped, swampy paddock, before jumping a fence and making our way up the Pohangina River. This river will of course be problematic when it rains, and will no doubt be super cold in winter. Furthermore, the track is not maintained and runs along the edge of steep drop-offs or slips. Deer running down the mountain exacerbate the slippery areas and erode the track. Some areas are quite overgrown and I still have a niggle in my neck from our previous trip when I walked straight into an overhanging tree stump.

Nina and I met early in Palmy, drove to Ashhurst where we met up with Ian for the drive to Kim’s farm. The temperature dropped the previous night, and was still cool in the morning. It was also rather windy at our place, and by the time we reached the farm, the sun was out (apart from a thick bank of cloud on the mountain), the wind was still reasonably fresh, but the temperature was okay.

Ian came along to show us the locations of the traps on the farm side (true left) of the river, as well as doing some track clearing. On our previous trip, we searched for them, but couldn’t find any. The area is between the river and a bluff/ridge, but little creeks, trees, ongaonga and lots of windblown trees, stumps and branches are scattered everywhere and tall grass, flax and toitoi make it hard to see where one is going. Add to that rocks and trenches and uneven ground, and it makes for slow, arduous progress. We nearly stepped on a wasp’s nest while trying to make our way through the dense growth.

Once we finished bundu bashing to find the first four traps, we had to cross the river. It looked okay from the top, but of course it is a different story standing right next to it. We cross at one of the wider spots, which is usually more shallow and therefore safer. Still it was a bit over my knees in spots and each time I lifted my foot, the pull of the water would pull my foot downstream. It was still fairly okay, but just to be safe and to ease my nerves, I held onto Nina.

The traps on the flat area on the true right of the river again had the most action. On each side of the river we killed a hedgehog, and on the true right we also killed our first weasel, which was quite exciting. Crossing the Piripiri River I could rock hop. Not that it mattered, as I had wet feet already.

We made our way up the mountain and into the valley on the narrow track with too many dodgy spots for my nerves. The traps were baited with dehydrated dried rabbit the previous time, and again in more than 50% of the traps, the bait were either missing (eaten by mice?), or it was completely mouldy. I am of course a total amateur at this, but to me it would seem that the dehydrated rabbit might be a waste of money. The climate is probably too humid, and/or the rabbit is not dry/dehydrated enough?

We rebaited all the traps with eggs which Ian brought along. Carrying 36 eggs on difficult terrain with some river crossings is risky business, so I took rabbit bait along, just incase one of us arsed over and broke all the eggs.

The muddy patches and little stream crossings were more muddy and some areas that had been dry on some of our previous trips, were now also muddy. We heard deer again higher up, roughly in the same spot as where I heard it last time.

The trip back turned into a bit of a race. It was pedal to the metal and in places I had to break into a few steps of jogging to keep up.

After crossing the rivers, and back in the flats on the true left again, we tried to follow the track Ian showed us, and marked it to some extent with pink tape, but I’m quite sure I might not find the way again next time.

Disappointing that we are not getting more pests up the mountain, apart from the odd rat. Maybe the pests haven’t discovered the traps yet, there’s not enough food for them, or there might be some other explanation we do not yet know about.

Day 22 – Jock’s farm trapline service

Another big day for us, covering at least 12kms with 750 elevation – similar to Mid-Pohangina (11km, 625 elevation).

It’s been three weeks since our previous service, so we headed out to Jock’s to check the traps on his farm. Since we cannot expect the farmer to take us around on his quad bike every time we service that line, we opted to walk to see how long it takes. We managed to do it in 4.5 hours, but that was going at quite a clip. And in good weather; warm, no wind or rain, just a calm, sunny day.

We met with Jock before we set off, and also dropped off 20 traps in his shed that will be deployed in the bush behind his hut at a later stage. Some work needs to be done in this area first, as it’s all overgrown.

After a short little downhill to cross two streams, the track goes uphill for the most part until we reached the hut after 4k. Being that high up the mountain, and being wet from sweating, it was quite cold. We stopped for a quick bite to eat, and some much needed water.

Going back down the mountain, the wind was less and it quickly became very hot again. We rebaited all the traps with eggs, as some of the dehydrated rabbit was missing or mouldy again. One trap was knocked down the bluff and had to be retrieved, but the one we hid in the ongaonga to stop the cattle from knocking it into the wetland, stayed put. It is a bit challenging to service though, and unfortunately (fortunately!) it also contained a dead hedgehog, making the whole process of servicing it even more tricky.

We numbered all the traps to respond to the numbers on TrapNZ, and between traps 24 and 25 we saw two deer only a few metres away, dashing off further into the bush when they saw us. The final stretch through a paddock, we had to walk part a few heifers. Initially they approach us, but then proceeded to carefully watch us until we disappeared over a small rim.

All up, we caught five hedgehogs and one rat.

Day 23 – Travers’ pine forest trapline service, DOC Pohangina Base trapline service, trap checking and building

The trapline on Travers’ farm was new to me. It was in a beautiful pine forest with streams and ridges. The farmer already had some traps in the forest from various other sources and projects. Ian set up a few more traps with the farmer a few weeks ago, and the whole trapline is now part of our project in terms of servicing and recording data.

Ian brought his dog with and near the Te Ano Whiro Stream (after checking the first five traps) we saw three deer which of course set the dog on a chase. Two went to the right and another one dashed upstream with the dog short on its heels. Earlier we could hear the deer ‘bark’, which sounded like they were on the other side of the stream up on the ridge. It may have been the two others we saw earlier, or maybe just an echo.

We also saw a pair of falcons perched on a tree in the middle of the stream. They are not big birds, and Ian mentioned that stoats sometimes go in the nest and attack the young, other times the falcons would catch the stoats. Payback, baby.

On our way up to the highest point on the trapline, we passed a wallow hole which might be used during the roar by deer to ‘cool down’. I’ve never heard the animals during the roar, but apparently it is earth shattering when you are close-by.

The weather was good, calm in the forest and just a light wind on the ridge facing Mid-Pohangina way. It would seem that the wind always blows in this valley.

All up, we only caught two hedgehogs on this trapline. Trap #16 has the nails to hold the bait (often an egg) on the wrong (entrance) side. Not sure how that slipped through quality control! Haha.

Afterwards we drove to the DOC Pohangina Base to service the line there ahead of our project launch which was also happening at the base the following day. These are all double traps. The second one killed both a rat and a stoat, but there was nothing in any of the other traps, which is always a bit disappointing.

Ian was cutting and clearing the track as we went, to make access slightly better for guests who wish to see a trapline in action.

Following that we went to Ian’s for a hot drink, a quick bite to eat, and some trap checking and building for the remainder of the working day.

Day 24 – Launch of the Southern Ruahine Kiwi Habitat Restoration Project

After work the past few days, I was still busy making wee kawakawa balm samples as gifts for all the delegates at the launch. The leaves have been seeping in grapeseed oil (cold extraction) for nearly a week before it was gentle heated to 70 degrees Celsius to extract the final goodness. I then strained the oil and added the beeswax.

On top if that, I also offered to make some gluten free cake to accompany the cake Nina made for the event. That ended up to be the only thing I could eat, and I believe there were at least one other person who also had a gluten allergy. It remains to be a very unfortunate allergy to have, as most people don’t recognise it as a problem, and hence don’t take it seriously. With celiac disease, the food should ideally not even be on the same table.

We arrived a bit before 3pm to help if help was needed, and I quickly showed Gerry the first bit of the trapline. Afterwards, we pitched the event banners, and the guests, board members, and other team mates arrived.

It was great to meet some colleagues and board members whom I’ve only ever heard the names of. Drinks were served and guests were mingling, when the official proceedings got underway at 4:30. Selwyn was the compere, Rani talked about the team and their work on the eastern side, Ian talked about our team and work on the western side, and a representative from DOC said the few words. Finally Stewart and Arapera handled the cutting of the cake, after which food and more drinks were served.

Guests who were keen, were taken into the bush to the first trap, and Ian talked everyone through the ins and outs of trapping. Media representatives were there to cover the event, and a write-up from Stuff can be read here.

Around 6pm the proceedings officially came to an end. Pack up and cleanup followed and by about 7pm when we were all out of there.

Everything went smoothly and well, I think, but unfortunately not many farmers attended. They are instrumental to the success of the project, and it would have been a good opportunity to acknowledge and thank them.