Bird monitors on Lake Hāwea Station

Last month I had the pleasure of installing three bird monitors on the beautiful Lake Hāwea Station. This high country station produces merino wool that is used by Sheep Inc who use raw materials that are carbon negative. While driving round the station I had an opportunity to find out from the farmers how the are able to do this.

Carbon Clear Merino

A key part of this is the regenerative farming practices they use for producing the feed for the sheep. Rather than a monoculture of rye grass that is regularly tilled (and releases carbon from the soil), they use a no tilling approach with a diversified pasture. This includes over 20 different plants which are able to grow long roots, capturing carbon in the soil. One of the plants in flower when we visited was the sunflower, adding another dimension to the incredibly picturesque setting.

Sunflowers are part of the diversified crop

The animals are able to chose which plants they eat, allowing them to self medicate and providing additional animal welfare benefits. The station is part of the regenerative wool fibre program ZQRX. This program works with each grower to develop strategies for their farming systems, designed to continuously improve their performance against key indicators across their regenerative index. Sheep Inc invest 3% of their revenue into their Impact Fund. This is a data-led investment into their Supply Chain and the Cacophony Project has been selected to be rolled out as a world first, with the support of ZQ’s Regenerative Index (ZQRX).

Another important part of reducing the carbon impact is allowing native bush to grow in the non productive parts of the station, such as the gullies and actively planting native bush to sequester carbon and provide habitat for the native birds.

One block of this native bush is home to the nationally critically endangered grand skinks/mokomoko. Lake Hāwea Station are trapping around this block to protect these taonga from predation. It is difficult and disruptive to directly measure the mokomoko population and so as a proxy they are using a bird monitor to measure the change in bird life. If they are successful at reducing the predators then the bird life should increase and so should the mokomoko.

Grand skink/mokoko

Bird monitor on a stake with a solar panel

We were fortunate enough to see adult and junior rifleman/titipounamu when we were installing the bird monitor.

There was no mobile reception in this remote part of the station, so this bird monitor was installed with a solar panel and a memory card. It will need to be retrieved from time to time to download the recordings to the Cacophony servers. The other two bird monitors were installed at the homestead (with power and Wi-Fi) and in Timaru Creek (solar and mobile data) where native re-planting is happening. 

Installing a bird monitor on a tree with a solar panel

Lake Hāwea Station is already home to a number of native NZ birds. They hope that through the work they are doing this will increase significantly. Although the bird monitors can only automatically identify morepork at the moment, by making the recordings now we will be able to analyse the recordings in the future and measure the impact of the work they have done on the bird life.

Many thanks to the Ross family for their hospitality. They are thoughtful kaitiaki of the beautiful whenua that is Lake Hāwea Station. Thanks also to:

  • ecologist, David Norton who advised the Ross family and explained the ecology of what we were seeing (in a lot more detail than I've managed to here).
  • NZ Merino for their support, and
  • Jason and Dean - who were amazing with the way the documented the day

Finn Ross, David Norton and Shaun Ryan on Lake Hāwea Station


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