Winning a whio adventure in Tongariro National Park was ”a really amazing experience” according to Conservation Week competition winner Palmerston North student Sarah Ridsdale.
Sarah couldn’t decide what was more memorable between catching, banding and releasing two rare whio blue ducks in the wild, seeing even more whio while white water rafting the Tongariro River, or releasing a kiwi chick back into the forest.
Sarah won the ‘Find a whio’ Conservation Week competition late last year. She shared her whio adventure last week with dad Scott Ridsdale, a Manawatu farming consultant, and younger brother Sam Ridsdale (aged 10).
The family spent three days in the Tongariro National Park this January. Each day, accompanied by DOC rangers, they experienced different whio-themed activities. These included tracking the birds in the wild, white water rafting with Tongariro River Rafting, and visiting the facility where whio ducklings are prepared for release into the wild.
Both Sarah and her brother Sam entered the online Conservation Week competition but the then 13-year-old Sarah took out the top prize.
“Sam was excited for me but he also wanted to win the competition,” says Sarah, now 14-years-old and a Year 10 home school student. She was thrilled to be able to share a part of her prize with Sam – taking him out rafting with her.
“I have seen whio in photographs and in captivity, but that really doesn’t compare to seeing them in the wild,” Sarah said.
The real highlight, Sarah says, was holding a whio, releasing her back onto the river and watching her swim off during their day tracking on the Mangatepopo River.
The first whio they encountered, a juvenile female, was cornered by conservation dog Fern. Ranger Dean Flavell then quickly caught the duck by hand.
The second whio, an adult female, was flushed by Fern and her ranger Malcolm Swanney carefully down the river into a mist net. Scott and Sarah then helped Ranger Bubs Smith gently lift the whio for her banding.
While Scott carefully held the ducks, Sarah helped glue the branding bands closed on their legs. The bands help DOC rangers collect important scientific data so they can learn even more about protecting these unique birds.
Scott says it was wonderful to end the holidays with such an awesome adventure.
“The ethos of home schooling is about life learning and this was an amazing opportunity to experience life while learning in the outdoors,” he said.
The prize package was supplied by Genesis Energy, who partner with DOC to protect and recover the whio population. As well as three days out with DOC, it included flights, accommodation, food, a helicopter tour of the Tongariro Forest, a white water rafting trip, a visit to the whio crèche at the Tongariro National Trout Centre, and releasing a kiwi chick into the forest.
Another family will have the chance to win a Great Whio Adventure during Whio Awareness Month this March.
Genesis Energy and the Department of Conservation have partnered together in a five year programme to secure the future of this unique vulnerable native bird. Operating under the name of Whio Forever this partnership is fast-tracking implementation of the national Whio Recovery Plan to protect whio and increase public awareness.
The support of Genesis Energy is enabling DOC to double the number of fully secure whio breeding sites throughout the country, boost pest control efforts and enhance productivity and survival for these rare native ducks.