What does a 'typical' day for a ZIP Field Ranger look like? Briar Cook offers us a window on her world in this update from the 'conservation frontline'.
With winter mornings getting darker, the Bottle Rock field team start the day with a candlelit breakfast. The aroma of industrial strength coffee wafts through the field base, as the team gear up for another day in paradise.
The focus for the week is servicing the defence lines in the Bottle Rock 'virtual barrier', an intensive matrix of devices designed to prevent possums, rats and stoats from entering the protected area on Bottle Rock peninsula.
Pete is on daily leghold duty today, and with clear, still weather the previous evening, he is expecting a few catches. We take the 'side-by-side' all-terrain vehicle and set off up the track to the ridge where our lines begin. As ZIP field rangers, we are armed with trademark fluoro vests, paint scrapers to remove carcasses from traps, various lures, and knee pads the skate pros would be proud of.
Mike drops me off and I begin my journey down D3, or the third defence line, which also happens to be on the Queen Charlotte Track from historic Ship Cove to our base in Resolution Bay. Traps are intensive here, with several devices every 10 metres, providing maximum encounter opportunities for invading predators. This is where the chunky knee pad pulls its weight – with around 140 double set kill traps on the line, kneeling on rocky ground gets old fast.
I hear the morning Cougarline water taxi cross the bay below and anticipate the flow of visitors soon to come over the hill from Ships Cove. It’s a calm, sunny day, and the views from the line are fabulous. As I work, people begin to trickle past. There are young couples, families and mature groups of old friends with walking poles and friendly grins. Many are curious about what we do, what all the traps are for. Most are enthusiastic and supportive, so I spend a bit of time explaining the devices. As they leave I give them a grave warning regarding the presence of weka – the more of these cheeky feathered vandals around, the greater the likelihood that unobserved lunch items will suddenly and mysteriously disappear. I have personally witnessed one run off with a banana belonging to an insufficiently cautious member of the ZIP team who shall here remain nameless... (Ed. note: it was John)
The local karearea (New Zealand's rare native falcon) screeches overhead, and I spy a kereru in the trees above the next trap, alerted to its presence by a soft ‘coo’. Piwakawaka (fantails) and tomtits flit ahead of me, picking off the insects I disturb as I walk down the track.
Being amongst the native flora and fauna is a huge bonus for me. My encounters with these little critters are a huge motivating factor in my work. The reason we do what we do is to ultimately make a better world for them to live in, and I’m privileged to be a part of creating better, smarter ways to do that. Even if it means weird smells, soggy boots, maggots, hook grass, bum sliding, bad jokes and washing all our clothes by hand…
Before I know it, the day has crept past, and I’m down at the coast and the last trap for the day. The water is clear and calm, the tide is up and I reckon it’d be a good evening for a fish. I wander back towards base, calling a greeting to the camp goat on the way past, scattering the sheep while trying not to trip over the chickens. The rest of the team trickles in one by one. We exchange victory stories from the 'conservation frontline' and talk about our day, then prep our gear ready to do it all again tomorrow. No complaints here.