A Mossy Forest Rich in Birdsong
Dusky Sound itself is one of the largest in Fiordland, 40km in length and eight kilometres wide at its widest point. The coastline is unique and unspoiled, with dramatic, breath taking views of rugged coastlines, fiords and snow-capped mountains. The steep terrain is bursting with torrents of waterfalls in every crevice and the mist lies low amongst the valleys. Temperate rainforest covers mossy undergrowth and tannin stained streams pour into cool, clear sea water, alive with creatures.
A hot breakfast is gulped down and everyone begins packing up their bags with the days required equipment: a bumbag (containing nails and screws, a hammer, a scraper and brush, ziplock bags, an Allen key and various other apparatus), a GPS, a radio, a pouch to store eggs and rabbit meat, a map, a phone (pre downloaded with every trap location), extra bait, a first aid kit, warm clothes, food and water and a recording book. This gear list was written up on the wall for the remainder of the trip so no one would forget any of these crucial items!
My day begins with ranger Pete, walking trapline 19 from trap 1-51. The dinghy drops us off on a rocky shoreline, a bright orange triangle indicating the location of the access track. We are kitted out for rain – the forecast for the day isn’t good and it’s been drizzling on and off. My first experience of the bush is it is saturated – damp moss covers every surface, even the tree trunks. I quickly learn not to trust any branch despite how solid it may look – they crumble beneath my weight and leaf litter and moss slides me two steps back for every step I take forward. But the greenness is astounding, and the clean, forest air is invigorating. We clamber our way up banks and across streams and waterfalls, stopping for refreshments when required. The access track doesn’t have the maintenance and thoroughfare of the main trapping lines so finding the next triangle can be difficult.
After an hour of steady climbing, we see the first pink triangle marking the first trap of our trapping line. Even way up here there are pristine chunks of quartz nestled among the moss. Pete shows me how to safely set off the trap to test it’s working, change out the rabbit meat and egg for fresh ones and screw it back tightly. Meanwhile I use the notebook and phone to record the status of the trap (for example, trap sprung bait gone, trap sprung bait present, stoat) as well as maintenance records such as which parts of the trap are galvanised versus stainless steel, and whether there are baffles and rebar in place. This massive task is designed to get DOCs records up to date and ascertain what equipment needs to be brought in on the next trip. We find our own methodical rhythm, with Pete resetting the traps and me recording data. The bush is lush and dripping, and the birdsong is rich and varied. We hear and see tomtits, rifleman, robins, mohua and grey warblers. We pass through swamps, and climb back up peaks where we hear a kea calling and see groups of kakas soaring overhead mid screech. At the top, cloud covers the magnificent view but we can still see peaks looming above us and the sea far below. The wind literally blows us off our feet, so we hurry on from the planned lunch stop.
At about halfway, we come across the first capture, a very decomposed stoat. We scape it off the plate and bag it up in our bumbag. It’s important to carry out all stoats trapped on the island itself as they will each have their DNA analysed by an external lab. DOC monitors DNA to track whether new populations are being established on the island or whether the stoats are related to known populations already on the island. This way they know how many stoats are swimming across, and where from. We reach the bivvy at Duck Cove, the end of our trapping line, in the late afternoon and radio the Southern Winds for a pickup. We haven’t encountered any other captures all day which is a good sign. In the evening we share what captures we encountered that day, and start planning for day 2. Everyone is tired but excited from the day’s action, some have been servicing coastal traps in the dinghy and others have also been running Resolution Island trap lines. Some of the group eagerly take out the dinghy for some diving. They have anticipated this and brought their wetsuits and snorkels.