Biodiversity

Along the Trail you will encounter a range of biodiversity, including both indigenous and introduced species.

Skinks - Common skinks are avid baskers. They seek sun and prefer sunny habitats. They often minimise the risk of predation by exposing only small parts of their body at one time, still remaining well hidden.

Common skinks love sunny rock piles and tumbles that have plenty of crevices, great for basking in safe spots, and the rock retains heat to keep them warm during cold spells.

Common skinks prefer grasslands (especially tall grass species or rank grass), scrublands and vinelands rather than forests. They love dry, open areas with lots of places to bask and lots of cover to hide under.

Grand and Otago Skinks - Grand and Otago skinks are two of New Zealand's most impressive and distinctive lizards, and grow as long as 300 mm. Both species are unique to Otago,and are two of New Zealand's rarest reptiles.

Birds - different species that are common on the trail include those that prefer a wetland/open pasture habitat. Look out for… Paradise Shelducks, White-faced Herons, Pied Oystercatchers, Pied Stilts, Pukeko, Spur-winged Plovers.

The Paradise Shelduck is a large goose-like duck endemic to New Zealand. Both the male and female have striking plumage: the male has a black head and barred black body, the female a white head with a chestnut body.

Other birds prefer drier shrub-land or the hills, such as the Australasian Harrier (the hawk), the New Zealand Falcon (our fastest bird of prey) and California Quail.

Skylarks prefers open pasture – you will hear rather than see this small brown bird, as they rise vertically in the air until out of sight, singing constantly for up to 15 minutes. Watch out for the Australian magpie to – it’s a good idea to cycle quickly past their trees in nesting time – and keep your helmet on.

You may spot some of the various finches that were introduced in the 1860s by homesick settlers… greenfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches, yellowhammers, redpolls… they all provide a flash of colour that is not common amongst our native birds.

Plants - the plants that you will see growing here are adapted to a semi-arid climate. Plants have to be hardy and able to survive cold, dry winters and hot, dry summers. While the farms you pass may be irrigated, the plants and wildflowers beside the Trail exist in a natural state. Some are introduced (deliberately or not) and many of these species, such as wild Thyme and Sweet Briar are now growing rampantly across the dry hills.

Summer is colourful. A purple haze in the distance will be tall Vipers Bugloss flowering in mass. Tall yellow spikes of Woolly Mullein tower over the orange California Poppies and the yellow-flowered Stonecrop plants that hug the gravel path.

On dry, rocky hillsides around Alexandra the thorny, tiny-leafed native matagouri shrubs look as though they have died – but they are perfectly designed to reduce moisture loss. You may also see some spiny-leafed speargrass near the higher parts of the track – these two ruthless native plants lanced the legs of early explorers. The hills bordering the trail are still the domain of native tussock varieties, although burning and stock grazing have had an impact.

 

If you are interested in ecosystems, you can see rare saltpan plants at Sutton Salt Lake, desert dryland plants at Flat Top Hill Conservation area, or you can get into tussock country by tramping in the Oteake Conservation Park or the Rock and Pillars.