It’s been a while since we caught up with BRaid – Braided River aid – and lots has been happening in the interim. First up, in the ‘about to happen’ category is a free predator control workshop planned for Saturday 28 October at Woodend in North Canterbury. PFNZ Trust is helping out with costs and the workshop is open to anyone wanting to learn more about trapping, not just volunteers involved in river care groups.
The overarching goal of this workshop is to expand local trapping so that Kaki/black stilt can be re-introduce to the Ashley River estuary by 2020.
“But the starting point,” says BRaid manager Sonny Whitelaw, “is to introduce the basics to anyone wanting to learn a bit more about predators and trapping. So, we have experienced trappers coming from Otago and the West Coast wanting to pick up a few tips and tricks, along with complete novices.”
The programme includes a demonstration and discussion about different trap types, an overview of the importance of monitoring results, and an in depth look at a the local trapping programmes along the Ashley River and Tuhaitara Coastal Park. Chocolate biscuits are promised for afternoon tea.
As well as trapping riverbed predators, BRaid volunteers have been raising awareness of the unique braided ecosystem and its birdlife. The vibrant, multi-coloured ‘Flock’ have been popping up around the country to welcome back migratory river-breeding birds. Black stilts, black-billed gulls and the world’s only bird with a side-ways bent beak—the wrybill—are just some of the birds that breed on the shingle braids each spring.
The Flock is an innovative, creative, community project where children, schools, volunteer groups—or indeed anyone who’d like to download a template and get creative—can paint their own flock of colourful birds. Last year, Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre in the North Island created The Flock’ to raise awareness of the threats facing shorebirds, and BRaid ‘adopted’ the Flock’s ‘Braided River Wing’.
The templates can be used to cut silhouette birds from plywood or corflute, which can then be painted or creatively decorated. Just like the migratory birds they represent, ‘The Flock’ popped up overnight in towns and places near braided rivers, then disappeared as mysteriously as they arrived, only to reappear elsewhere, their progress followed on social media. A few were stolen and others damaged; just like real flocks, The Flock faced threats from their own brand of ‘predators’.
Last season in Canterbury, ‘braided river’ Flocks appeared all over the South Island from Mt Cook to Kaikoura. In November, some made a stop at Christchurch Airport, while others popped up around the Hurunui and Kaikoura districts with colourful abandon. One wing stopped by the Waimakariri River Regional Park before heading to Methven, near the Rakaia River. In January, they were joined by birds made during the school holiday creative kids workshops at Ashburton Libraries.
Some schools and community groups created and displayed their own Flocks, such as the Twizel wing that then ‘flew’ to Mt Cook to be seen by hundreds of visitors before heading to the West Coast. Other schools and groups like the Brownies sent their amazing mini works of art to Braid or delivered them to collection-point locations around Canterbury.
“The high-impact, mass displays were a fantastic way to promote river birds and raised awareness of the predators that threaten them,” says Sonny.
BRaid lost count of the number of birds created, with one estimate placing them well over 500 in the Christchurch area alone, as other community and conservation groups adopted The Flock project for their own areas. This year, galleries like Arts in Oxford have adopted the idea and started a Community Arts Project to create and display The Flock. St Andrews School in Christchurch has just finished theirs, and rumour has it that their birds will join the Flock making an appearance at the Wildeyes Challenge in Christchurch Botanical Gardens for Conservation Week.
“The Flock is an idea that has, literally, taken wings,” says Sonny. “And that’s exactly what we had hoped for. Anyone—from toddlers to grannies—can decorate a bird as creatively as they like. By using our online resources, schools, art galleries, community and conservation groups are now independently creating and displaying their Flocks in their areas.”
“We’ve been a bit crazy busy these past few months,” Sonny adds, “with a packed-to-the rafters seminar full of amazing presentations and a field trip to take some stunning drone footage over braided rivers”.
Some of that footage was used in Seven Rivers Walking, a feature documentary of seven Canterbury rivers which had its world premiere at the NZ International Film Festival.
Sonny is also happy to share the raw drone footage with any community groups who would like to edit some or all of it for their own presentations.
“The videos are largely unedited and used for different people for different purposes—Orari to show the extent of the weeds, Waitaki as a record of the island formation work being done as an experiment with DOC and a PhD student, the Wilkins/Makarora to help someone there promote a community trapping group, and the Tasman to promote Kaki. So they are a bit of a mixed bag,” Sonny says, “and we are happy to give anyone who wants them copies of the original Ultra High Definition footage for use for their own projects. Like photos, these are a resource we can provide for use.”