Monday, 16 March 2020

Whio School - visiting the whio creche in Tongariro

I've admired whio (also called blue duck) ever since I encountered them at Blue Lake. High in the mountains, this lake is only accessible to trampers after several days journey. Consequently I think of them as rare and hard to find - and it's true, there are only around 3000 left in New Zealand. These unique ducks are adapted to life on fast flowing rivers.
Whio, the Māori name resembles the male's call
Blue duck, the English name refers to the slate blue-grey colour,
So when the opportunity to visit the whio creche at Tongariro National Trout Centre came up, I was delighted. My enthusiasm led to us being too early! The car park gate was shut and the centre not yet open. With time on our hands, we drove on to Red Hut Bridge to take a quick look at the Tongariro River. From this lovely old bridge, we looked down and saw to our amazement two whio feeding in the river right under the bridge. It took us awhile to realise what we were looking at, they are so well camouflaged. (If the video below doesn't play, try a different browser.)

Despite having walked past signs on the trail telling us that seeing whio was a possibility I guess I hadn't quite believed we'd see any!

Krysia Novak, Taupō for Tomorrow Educator, laughed when I told her of our delight and amazement at what I thought must be a rare sight. She says that thanks to releases of whio from the creche and the trapping of predators, whio are now a more common sight on the river.
With Krysia inside the whio creche, we are wearing special covers on our shoes
to stop the spread of diseases into the aviary.
I'm throwing live mealworms into the water, the
whio dive for these as they learn to forage for themselves.
As part of the Whio Forever programme, these juvenile whio have been raised from clutches of eggs laid by whio at Pukaha Mt Bruce and Auckland Zoo. The whio parents go on to lay more clutches of eggs, while the chicks are raised in a creche. The juveniles here are learning the skills to swim and forage in wild rivers.  They'll be released in to the wild when they are can survive on their own. This captive breeding helps grow the wild population. Trapping and pest management around the key rivers helps the wild population to survive and grow too.
Note the flowing water for swimming practice - and
the whio standing on the rocks at our feet
Don't be misled by the word 'trout' in Tongariro National Trout Centre, while it's original purpose was to support the trout fishery, the centre now provides information and education about all the wildlife found in the rivers and lakes of the catchment. We saw giant kōkopu and kōura in the aquarium, as well as the trout hatchery that breeds trout for the children's fishing pond. Krysia points out that keeping up interest in trout fishing and the fishing licence scheme is important to ensure that these introduced species are well managed.

For more information about the amazing education programmes for schools and pre-schools that are run here, see: Taupō for Tomorrow

Adults interested in native species, don't be put off by the word 'trout'! There's lots to learn and see at the Tongariro National Trout Centre.

To learn more about whio, check out Whio Forever March is Whio Awareness Month, so there's lots on right now.

Here are my blogposts about whio encounters:

Thanks to Krysia Novak for the inside view and to Brian Queree and Ilona Wehr for the photos.

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