12-year-old guest ornithologist

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12-year-old Wanaka ornithologist and “changemaker” Jack Sandford will bring his passion for birds to the public when he speaks during the six-day One Summit at Lake Wanaka Centre this month. Simon Henderson finds out what Jack loves about endangered grebes and his advice for protecting them.

Over the past three years Jack Sandford has become something of an authority on the endangered great crested grebes (kamana) that live on Lake Wanaka, taking part in monitoring the grebes’ nests at Wanaka Marina and other areas around the Lake.

He first became involved when local grebe specialist John Darby asked for anyone who had a boat that could be used for the annual grebe count.

Jack and his father responded that they had a boat, “so we went out there and counted”.

Since then Jack had visited the marina many times to check the nests.

“We go up in a kayak and very carefully push the grebe aside to count how many eggs there are.”

They needed to be on the case each week so they could estimate the hatch day, Jack said.

Usually the first egg was not fertile; instead, it was a “predator deterrent – so it gets all rotten and smelly, and then if a stoat got in the nest it would go for that egg first”.

In preparation for his talk at the summit, Jack had booked some sessions with Toastmasters.

He was still planning his talk, but one issue for Jack was future plans for a boardwalk that would run along Lakeside Rd near the marina, and how that could affect the grebes. If there was a boardwalk too close to the shoreline it could be “really bad” for the grebes.

“Because if there is more activity along here they won’t necessarily like it that much.”

The best thing that could be done for the grebes was to “just leave them alone”, he said.

Changes to the planned boardwalk could make a difference to the effect it could have, including moving it further away from the nesting areas by the marina, or planting trees or flaxes.Willows were ideal for grebes ” they love to use them because the branches are nice and long and easy to make nests out of”.

Carex (native tussock) was good for the grebes, and had been planted on the floating nesting platforms at the marina, Jack said.

Jack enjoyed learning about ornithology: “I just like to come out and study the birds”.

“We’ve noticed a lot of changes – the grebe population has been halving kind of every year.”

One Summit co-organiser Monique Kelly said they were “stoked” to have Jack talk at the summit.

“As John Darby’s wingman with the grebe project, Jack’s knowledge about these rare birds is incredible as is his understanding of their eco-systems, habits and the pressures they are under.”

Jack would speak at the One Voice event on October 29, along with other “local changemakers”, she said.

The One Voice event focused on what was happening at a local level to implement United Nations sustainable development goals.

“At 12 years old, Jack brings the voice of youth action, as well as the goals of restoring life on land and life below water to the evening.” Ms Kelly said.