Juliet – Blog 2
January 10, 2017

So, in my last blog I mentioned that a team of us were going to monitor mistletoe on Friday the 13th, dun dun duuuuuun… Fortunately I managed to dodge any bad luck headed my way (if you believe in that kind of stuff) when Sandra Wotherspoon, who was my buddy for the morning, calmly pointed out that I had sat down about 30cm from a wasp nest at our first mistletoe. Safe to say I was out of there faster than a toupee in a tornado! Miseltoe plants are semiparasitic, with green stems and leaves that can photosynthesise. Being semiparasitic means that they rely on a host tree, like beech, for water and nutrients. New Zealand has eight native mistletoe species, with seven of these species being endemic (found only in New Zealand).

Alepis flavida in bloom.

There are three species of mistletoe being monitored in the core area of the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project – Peraxilla tetrapetala (red mistletoe), Peraxilla colensoi (scarlet mistletoe), and Alepis flavida (yellow mistletoe) which are identified as “beech mistletoes” and as the name suggests, their host trees are predominantly beech (Fuscospora/Lophozonia spp). When European botanists arrived in New Zealand, mistletoe was a lot more common than it is today and along with the trend of many of our native species, it has declined largely because of habitat loss and degradation, and browsing by introduced mammalian species. Deer have played a big role in the deterioration of habitat, but the greatest impact comes from possums – who love to munch away on it! It is therefore a good indicator as to whether the possum control in the area is working or not. With increased possum control in the beech forest down here the mistletoe community has taken off and the number of known plants has increased 10-fold in the last 20 or so years! In addition to this, predator control also has a positive impact on the bird species like bellbirds and tui which mistletoe are dependent on for pollination, so protecting these birds is also a high priority. Mistletoe flower in December-January making it the perfect time to survey as they can be hard to spot, especially when some of the plants are 15-20m up the host trees! Across the group we managed to survey over 100 known plants for the day, with some pairs finding new plants along the way!

Checking traps on the St Arnaud Range, Lake Rotoiti in the background.

Waking up to a sunny, warm, calm day on Monday I was excited to find out what Jen had in store for me. Myself, Pat and Graeme (who are both part of the bio team) were sent up the top of the St Arnaud Range for the day to check traps. Lucky for us there is an access road up to the Rainbow Skifield so we were dropped about 5 (vertical) metres from the very top of the ridge! Pat headed south while Graeme and I wandered north along the main ridge and before long I was left to my own devices (testing out my GPS navigational skills). It’s a pretty amazing feeling finding your way up in the tops of a mountain range with not a person nor track in sight. The views were out of this world, and the alpine flora is incredible. It’s amazing that these plants survive in such harsh conditions which see them completely covered in snow over winter! I feel so privileged to have had the experience up there, being tested both physically and mentally – that day was my highlight of the trip so far!

Amazing to see these beautiful alpine plants, Haastia sinclarii, growing in an environment where all odds are against them – in amongst the alpine scree which is constantly unstable and covered in snow at times.

Haastia pulvinaris, which is a New Zealand herb that has leaves densely covered with tawny hairs. The plant forms a sort of cushion and is known as a ‘vegetable sheep’ for obvious reasons.

Out in the field again Tuesday to check traps back in Big Bush and I was finally starting to get my groove. My fitness has improved, I’m feeling far less clumsy in the bush, am getting good with bush-bashing and using my GPS, have got my eyes well trained to where wasp nests might be (I hope), and have come to the realization that once your boots are wet, they’re wet. It’s far easier (and less time consuming) to walk straight through the bogs and streams than trying to dance and prance across any log, rock or plant in sight – many of which you slip off the side into the water anyway.

With the “weather bomb” passing through the middle of the week I’ll be spending a couple of days in the office to avoid being bowled over by windfall or getting caught in torrential rain. This means more GIS help, and whatever else needs to be done around the office and workshop – work that prepares us for being out in the field!

One of the many tarns up the St Arnaud Range.

Juliet O'Connell

Juliet O'Connell

BLAKE DOC Ambassador 2016