Kokako Log 1991 by Sid Marsh
Maori tradition, subfossil records, and documented first-hand observations from last century suggest that North Island kokako were once extremely plentiful in most lowland forests - including those on the Coromandel Peninsula. Today, the remnant Coromandel population of birds struggle to maintain their present numbers, reproducing slowly ... or not at all. The local song dialect is suffering too. Studies show that rich and varied interaction, engendered by a healthy population, helps fledgling birds to learn their local dialect. With fewer and fewer of their own kind to emulate and interact with, some isolated pairs and individual kokako in the Coromandel Range have taken to copying the song of the more numerous tui in the region.
Kokako are territorial but because they can be so shy and secretive, they are not easy to see in the wild. Two of the Waitekauri birds found west of the Maratoto Saddle are thought to be a bonded pair and typically hold a large territory (8 to 11 hectares in area) - a territory that must provide sustenance for them year-round. Kokako are unable to flock long distances to food-rich sources like other native birds can e.g. Wax-eyes to rata blooms or pigeons to miro trees; so if kokako country is degraded - by selective logging, possum browsing or whatever - the resident birds die-out. The Maratoto pair range the steep slopes that face to the north-west. These slopes are clothed by dense, vine-draped multi-layered forest, perhaps better described as a temperate 'jungle'. To be on hand for the dawn chorus on these slopes, in the hope of seeing, or hearing a kokako, I camped out twice early in September. On the second trip my journal has this to report:
Full song from a tui overhead the campsite wakes me from my sleep. I am up here by myself this time. I get up and dress then quietly work my way down the slope to the spur 50 metres below the campsite. The morning is still and cloudless (light S/W).
Strong dawn chorus - tui, bellbird, fantail, blackbird, wax-eye and especially riroriro. Magpies heard in the distance, and even a morepork somewhere close. From further down the slope, due north from where I stand, two distant kokako notes float upwards - these are repeated several times. Also, for a short period afterwards, these notes are echoed almost simultaneously. This is probably the kokako pair 'dueting'. However, because of the continuous, loud trilling from riroriro in the treetops around, I can't tell for certain whether I am listening to one bird or two. The kokako song notes are sometimes trailed by a third note uttered 4-5 times in separate short bursts.
For about five minutes this kokako recital wafts up to where I stand hidden on the spur. In addition I hear one short sound that is a cross between a twang and a whine - vintage kokako. After the dawn chorus I maintain a listening watch and lookout for a further, uneventful, 1½ hours.
Notable flora and fauna seen: Within the kokako pairs' territory, in the crown of one tree, I spot some Clematis in bloom as well as a patch of red-flowering rata. Wax-eyes feed on the nectar in the rata blooms.