Last preserved area on the banks of Lake Geneva

Reserve

Story and Photographs by Aurora Luongo

Near the area where the River Rhône enters Lake Geneva, there is a peaceful place for many species of animals and plants. Réserve des Grangettes, a wetland and natural reserve, is an important resting and hibernation place for migratory birds. The site is included in the Ramsar Convention List of Wetlands of International Importance, since 1990.

In 2011, after an extension of the site from 330 ha to 6,342 ha, the Réserve des Grangettes became the largest reserve in Switzerland to be listed in the Ramsar Convention.

The Foundation that manages the reserve, the Fondation des Grangettes, is 25 years old this year and makes a positive assessment of its activities. Indeed, its conservation programmes demonstrate having successful outcomes on biodiversity.

Many migratory birds stop in the reserve during their journey between Africa and northern Europe at spring and autumn. Moreover, 70 birds nest permanently in the area.

Birds

The site is partly accessible to humans, enough so that patient hikers can observe herons, kingfishers and several migratory birds, dragonflies (of which the site lists 36 species), green frogs and grass snakes. At dusk, it is also possible to observe beavers.

As for flora, the Réserve des Grangettes is home to 400 species of plants and its landscape is composed of reed beds, ponds, swamps and alluvial forests.

Although it is called natural reserve, the site is carefully maintained by the hands of humans, through actions taken by the Fondation des Grangettes. Human intervention is crucial, for example, to avoid the disappearance of marshes under bushes and forests.

Reserve manager Olivier Epars explains that the Foundation was created in 1989 to manage the Réserve des Grangettes, which is the property of Pro Natura, the largest organization for nature conservation in Switzerland; its actions include the development of a national network of protected species.

“The Fondation des Grangettes is also responsible for monitoring the site and raising public awareness,” Epars says. “It has allowed the building of installations for the public, as well as information panels, fences, an observation tower and the holding of exhibitions.”

As explained by Epars, the measures taken by the Foundation to limit the human impact in the reserve have had positive effects, particularly for birds.

“The creation of new habitats (ponds, lagoon, island and rafts) helped to bring back disappeared or new nesting species, like the little bittern and the black-necked grebe,” Epars explains. “We count about eight percent of additional species,” he adds.

The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), which is a kind of heron, is a species reported “endangered” in Switzerland and listed on the Red List of Threatened Animals. This bird disappeared from the Réserve des Grangettes in the 1970’s due to the decay of reed beds. Since 2013, thanks to the Foundation’s conservation program, a small population of this species is breeding again in the reserve. Currently, between 120 and 150 pairs of little bitterns nest in Switzerland.

A few months ago, a new nesting mast was erected to facilitate the return of another bird, the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in the reserve.

New nesting mast

The osprey is not threatened, but its presence remains rare in Europe, whereas it was once a widespread nesting bird across Europe. In Switzerland, this species was exterminated one century ago. The disappearance of this bird is due to human persecution: the osprey was shot, its eggs were looted and its nesting trees were knocked down.

The European tree frog (Hyla arborea) is another species which benefitted from conservation activities carried out by the Fondation des Grangettes. Thanks to the creation of new biotopes, the Réserve des Grangettes is now the only place of the Rhône Valley in Switzerland with a population of European tree frogs.

As for the future evolution of the Réserve des Grangettes, Epars explains that new habitats will be created, and that the Fondation des Grangettes would like to create a venue for the public in the reserve.

 

Advertisements

Boundary Stream Scenic Reserve

By Jenna Gersie

After living in the tropics for nine months, traveling for a week on the North Island during New Zealand’s winter had me shivering, layering, and seeking warmth indoors. I spent as much time outdoors in the middle, and warmest part, of the day as I could. When I drove the twelve kilometres of winding, gravel road to Boundary Stream Scenic Reserve on the eastern coast of the North Island on my way from Gisborne to Napier, I stepped out of the car to very cold weather; it almost felt like it might snow. I grabbed an extra layer and my binoculars and set out on a walk.

For how cold it was (to me, at least), I was surprised to hear so much birdsong. All around me I heard the chirps of Fantails and the distinctive melodies of the Tui, a black honeyeater with an iridescent sheen and two white tufts of feathers at the throat. Almost as soon as I entered the trail, I heard a rustling above me, and raised my binoculars, expecting to see a Tui or another common bird. But feeding high in the tree was a very large bird. The shade from the tree prevented me from seeing the olive and crimson colours of some of the feathers, so it just seemed black. But as I watched, I suddenly saw through my binoculars a huge, parrot-like beak, picking fruit from the tree. I breathed a “wow” to myself when I saw the size of this beak, never having seen such a large parrot before, and certainly not in the wild. The bird above me was the Kaka, an endemic forest parrot.

IMG_2131A taxidermied specimen of the Kaka at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Boundary Stream Scenic Reserve is a home for rare endemic New Zealand birds like the Kaka. It is one of six original Mainland Islands set up on the New Zealand mainland in the 1990s. These Mainland Islands have been set up to intensively manage introduced pests in order to restore native species and ecosystems. By continually removing introduced predators, this ongoing project creates islands of native habitat and species on New Zealand’s North and South Islands. Encompassing 802 hectares, Boundary Stream was established in 1996. It is located in the Maungaharuru Range, which is fitting, because Maori legend tells that the name Maungaharuru, meaning “rumbling mountain,” was given after a priest thrust a staff onto the mountain range, and as the staff fell, the range erupted with the song of thousands of birds.

Sadly, as the forest was converted to farmland beginning in the 1870s, many of those birds began to disappear. Herbert Guthrie-Smith, a naturalist and farmer who moved to the region in 1882, kept copious notes on the environment and species present in the area for nearly sixty years. His notes have given scientists great insight as to what Boundary Stream should look like, and this has helped with both pest control and native species reintroduction. His records have also been inspiring for local people to restore the forest to what it once was.

Guthrie-Smith recorded comments by local Maori elders, stating that the endemic Kokako, Saddleback, and North Island Robin were once common in the area. By the time Guthrie-Smith arrived in the area, however, only the robins still existed, and they were few in number. These robins were the first birds to be reintroduced to the area. In 1998, twenty-eight robins were set free in the reserve. The robins are now dispersed throughout Boundary Stream and are breeding happily. The reintroduction of the robin offered the first proof that pest control is a successful means of re-establishing native habitat and species. As I walked along the trail, I noticed a gray bird hopping right in front of a sign explaining the reintroduction of the robin. As I got closer, I saw that it was indeed a North Island Robin, prancing about and showing off the sign dedicated to him.

IMG_1857In the bottom right, a North Island Robin stands at the base of the sign dedicated to him.

In 2000, New Zealand’s national icon, the Kiwi, was introduced to the reserve, and in 2001, Kokako were introduced. When the project began in 1996, the Kokako had not been seen or heard in more than 100 years. In 2001, five pairs of Kokako were brought from Te Urewera National Park. The pairs were settled into an aviary at Boundary Stream; the birds were kept captive because they have a very strong homing instinct. When these Kokako bred, the offspring were released within Boundary Stream to establish new wild populations. In addition to the populations of North Island Robins, Kiwis, and Kokakos, native Whitehead and Rifleman populations are also doing well in the area.

Rangers and volunteers trap introduced predators such as cats, possums, and rats. They also remove unwanted animals like goats and deer to protect the forest understorey. In the first few years of the project, when an understorey was nearly non-existent, 2,000 goats were killed; now a healthy sub-canopy supports the forest’s tall trees. Seedlings of native plants like Kaka Beak (Clianthus puniceus) and Yellow-flowered Mistletoe (Alepis flavida) are planted. This type of land management and predator control has offered birdlife the chance to live in a habitat similar to that which covered the North Island before the arrival of introduced species. With continued efforts by staff and volunteers, New Zealand’s native wildlife will continue to thrive.