Thursday, February 21, 2013

A video tutorial on adding kererū counts to NatureWatch NZ

Following on from our recent blog post on this year's kererū count, here's an excellent tutorial video from Laura Molles, of Lincoln University and Kaupapa Kererū. Laura walks you through all the steps for using NatureWatch NZ to record your observations of kererū (New Zealand wood pigeon). While the video is directed at people involved in this year's Banks Peninsula kererū count, it applies equally well to the national kererū count. Thanks, Laura, for making this.


Count that kererū!

NatureWatch NZ is joining forces this year with Forest & Bird's Kiwi Conservation Club, Kererū Discovery and Banks Peninsula's Kaupapa Kererū, to count as many kererū (New Zealand wood pigeons) as we can. We're asking everyone (and that means you!) to get out and look for kererū from 24 February to 4 March this year. And you don't need to stop. By all means keep on counting afterwards.

Why count kererū?
Because they big, beautiful, iconic birds that are declining in numbers in parts of New Zealand. We need to know more about where they are doing well and where they are not, and why, to better understand how to look after them. Plus, they are really important as dispersers of our largest-seeded native trees, and of long-standing cultural importance to Maori (and admired by New Zealanders generally). Together, we can collect the observations needed to keep a close eye on New Zealand's kererū.

Do you want to keep it simple?
When you join this year's kererū count, you've got a couple of options. If you like to keep things nice and simple, but just a little bit less useful, you can jump straight to Forest & Bird's Kiwi Conservation Club kererū count webpage. This site is targeted at kids and asks for everyone to note down when and where they see kererū, how many they see, and what the birds were doing. All their counts are archived later on NatureWatch NZ using just the first name of each observer (you can explore all the 2011 counts in the NatureWatch NZ project, Count that kererū!.

Or, you can make your counts even more useful
If you would like to add some more details to your counts, including photos of the birds or the plants they were feeding on, you should add your observations straight to NatureWatch NZ's Count that kererū! project, and, if you're on Banks Peninsula, to the Kaupapa Kererū Banks Peninsula Kereru Community Count project.

On these projects we encourage you to add the following tags and other details to your observations:
  • "observation type: casual" for when you see kererū while out doing other things.
  • "observation type: search" for when you count a kererū while out specifically looking for kererū
  • When you have specifically looked for kererū and not found any, please enter this as an observation with the tag "observation type: search" and the "Sought but not found" box checked. "Sought but not found" is in the "click for more details..." section when you add observations.
  • If you were out looking for kererū, please also note how long you were searching. It's most helpful to do this by adding duration to your observation's tags, e.g., "duration: 30min"
  • If you were walking about rather than stationary, you can add a radius to your site on the map by adding a number in metres to Accuracy under "Where were you?".
(We're busy adding drop down lists and custom fields and other shiny things to NatureWatch NZ to make entering these details simpler in future, but unfortunately these won't quite be ready for the 2013 kererū count.)

Adding these extra details to your observations makes it much easier for scientists to figure out how our kererū populations are doing. Knowing whether or not you saw kererū when you were out looking for them is much more informative than just noting down where you see them. Why? Because it clearly shows us the places where kererū are absent or rarely seen. Otherwise, we don't know whether there are no kererū in an area or just that no kererū counter visited the area to look.

We also encourage you to add observations of the plants (fruit, flowers, or leaves) that you see kererū feeding on. You can add these as separate observations to the Count that kererū! project too, after you have entered a kererū observation. You can turn on "ID Please" if you'd like help identifying the plants. All NatureWatch NZ webpage links are stable so you can copy and paste the web link (URL) from your plant observation webpage into the description of your kererū observation if you wish.

Happy counting!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

NatureWatch NZ hits 10,000 observations in its first 5½ months

Light the fireworks and release the streamers, NatureWatch NZ just blasted past its 10,000th observation added since it launched on 27 August 2012. Our 10,000th new observation was of a New Zealand falcon, made by new user eolsi. The first 10,000 NatureWatch NZ observations were contributed by 209 users, who have added observations of 2,486 species and higher taxa. An impressive 7,137 of these observations include photos, some being the only photos of their species that show up in Google searches.

It's a great start, and just the tip of the iceberg for what we can all contribute to knowledge of NZ nature. Here are some of our favourite treasures and surprises among the 10,000.

Category: What is that weird thing?!

Winner: the pink, stalked slime mould from wbnz’s wood pile in Stewart Island

Honourable mention:
myxonz's alien sub-woofer Plectania fungus.
grahame's "Black Hairy Travis Thing".
jon's Doris the nudibranch.
nikbaines' bird's nest fungus.

Category: Colourful and then some

Winner: the nudibranch Tambja verconis from the Poor Knights observed by land_and_sea

Honourable mention:
gailtv's observation of a sky blue mountain top flatworm (which we still haven't identified).
land_and_sea's observation of the black and electric blue nudibranch Tambja morosa from the Poor Knights.
Category: Is it even there?

Winner: the near invisible rock caterpillar of Dichromodes ida observed by nikbaines

Honourable mention:
thomasjwalsh's observation of the "giant, camouflaged, fortified silverfish" like thing, Nesomachilis.
stho002's observation of the nearly transparent Eucalyptus leaf mining caterpillar, Phylacteophaga froggatti.
jon's observation of the moss moth Lysiphragma howesii.

Category: Most amazing behaviour

Winner: a young bellbird feeding a fledgling silvereye observed by nikbaines

Honourable mention:
Grahame's observation of a pukeko running off with a black swan chick.
steveattwood's skilfully photographed series of observations of a pair of great crested grebes nesting on Lake Forsyth.
tevoleus's observation of a tui singing to its reflection in the window.

Category: Yikes, biosecurity

Winner: a suspiciously Didymo-like green algae observed on Stewart Island, where Didymo is currently absent, by colinmeurk. After people saw this observation, DOC staff went back to the spot to collect some for identification. Luckily, it was something else.

Honourable mention:
land_and_sea's observation of young balloon vine, Cardiospermum grandiflorum, spreading in Northland. This is a weed people are keen to get rid of.
andrewpughnewzealand's observations of the newly arrived potato eating pest, the Hadda beetle, in Auckland. This was first spotted in New Zealand in 2010, unfortunately too late for eradication to be feasible.

Category: The biggest discovery

Winner: the first time the poo moss Tayloria tasmanica had been found outside of Tasmania, and a new addition to the New Zealand moss flora, observed on Stewart Island by colinmeurk

Honourable mention:
nikbaines's observation of peripatus in Dunedin city.
tony_wills's observation of a parasitic erythraeid mite attached to the back end of a kowhai moth. This is the first time mite biologist Rob Cruickshank has heard of a parasitic mite on a caterpillar in New Zealand.
jon's serendipitous observation of a rare golden stag beetle, Mitophyllus foveolatus, on a black beech trunk.

You can clearly see from our first 10,000 NatureWatch NZ observations that New Zealand nature is far more quirky and colourful and bizarre, and fascinating, than the usual marketing images of tui and cabbage trees. It's a big wild world we have to explore. We hope you'll join us in adding the next 10,000 observations.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

There's gold in them there hills

Here's a nice example of NatureWatch NZ at work. In hills of the northern South Island lives an elegant beetle, the most colourful and easily identified of New Zealand's stag beetles. Its scientific name is Mitophyllus foveolatus. Very little is known about its biology, and according to entomologist Stephen Thorpe, "very few individuals of this species have even been seen alive in the wild in recent decades". And I accidentally found one.

I inadvertently found one of these black and gold beetles late last month. Regrettably, I didn't realise it at the time. I casually snapped a photograph of a wasp on a honeydew scale infested black beech tree while in Hanmer. I wanted to know which Vespula wasps were in the area. I only realised after I got home that there was a amazing beetle on the same trunk. I posted my observation to NatureWatch NZ as Coleoptera, "ID Please", as I had no idea what it was. Stephen recognised it and identified it less than a day after I posted my observation.

Famous New Zealand entomologist (and inventor of daylight savings) George Vernon Hudson, wrote in 1934 that Mitophyllus foveolatus was common on Mount Arthur in northwest Nelson "and thought it was probably attached to alpine beeches" (Holloway 2007). Stephen speculates that they may feed on the honeydew on the beech trees. This raises the ominous possibility that few people have seen these beetles in recent decades because of competition with the exotic Vespula wasps that now plague New Zealand beech forests and monopolise the beech honeydew.

Or, perhaps, hopefully, it's just that not enough people are out looking in the right places and the right times to see these beetles. This is where you come in. If you are out and about in the South Island high country, keep an eye out on the black sooty honeydew covered beech trunks for these distinctive little flecks of beetle gold.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New Zealand's got a new poo moss!

Hold your nose with excitement! Colin Meurk just added an observation to NatureWatch NZ of a new poo moss for New Zealand! It's a moss called Tayloria tasmanica and was previously known from Tasmania and Macquarie Island[see comment below about Macquarie Island]. Colin discovered the distinctive moss on his trip late last month to Stewart Island. Landcare Research moss expert, Allan Fife, identified the specimen.

Poo mosses (family Splachnaceae) are world famous (among moss enthusiasts) for often growing on dung and rotting animals and enticing flies to disperse their spores. Poo mosses one of the few examples of a "lower plant" using insects for dispersal. Many flies are big fans of poo and rotting carcasses, just like poo mosses, and fly just where poo mosses want their spores to go.

Have a close look at Colin's photo. It's a distinctive and attractive moss. If you're from down south, it would be fantastic to get more observations added to NatureWatch NZ. It would also be great to know more about it, including where it grows, whether it is associated with poo or carcasses in New Zealand, and whether flies are dispersing its spores. We also don't know yet whether this is a rare vagrant blown from Tasmania or a permanent member of the Stewart Island flora.
new NZ poo moss
New Zealand's first record of Tayloria tasmanica
NatureWatch NZ observation and photo by Colin Meurk

New Zealand has an expert on these mosses at the University of Auckland, Anne Gaskett. You can hear Anne talking about her research on Tayloria mosses on Radio New Zealand's Our Changing World programme. Te Papa botanist Leon Perrie also has a nice blog post with more about poo mosses in New Zealand.