Kokako Log 1991 by Sid Marsh
In the middle of October I once again camped overnight in the Grace Darling catchment. This time I was by myself:
I hear the first of Te Taniwha's calls. For nearly 25 minutes he sings, but barging about in the undergrowth - back and forth along the spur in his territory - I am unable to pinpoint exactly where the kokako is; and just before 0700hrs his calls cease. A cold southerly is blowing so I decide to try the north-facing slopes of the spur.
About 50 metres from my position Te Taniwha suddenly starts calling again. Threading my way through supplejack vines and creepers, lancewood and fern, I move in until the bird can be seen in the low second-growth canopy. He is about 25 metres away, and about level with my position on the slope. As the kokako periodically stops feeding to make a call, I inch forward.
Against a backdrop of lush green Coromandel bush, Te Taniwha's colours - grey, blue and black -are surrealistically illuminated by the early morning sun. Every so often he stretches out his neck and sings, pivoting around on his songpost, so the mournful notes are thrown out a full 360 degrees.
About 15 minutes into the contact, I sneak to within 10 metres of the big bird: I am particularly interested in his wattles. It can be difficult distinguishing individual kokako (beyond any doubt) as they are encountered in the field. Marine mammals like dolphins and whales, have marks or nicks in their dorsal fins enabling easy recognition of individuals within a pod. Other animals too, can be singled out of their respective groups, due to variation in size, colour or markings. Unfortunately - short of banding each bird - it is not so easy with kokako.
The two royal-blue wattles, or lobes, that grow downwards from the bill of a kokako, are one feature that may vary from bird to bird; enough to help with quick identification in the field. These lobes are shiny growths similar to the comb and wattles on a domestic fowl. In most mature kokako they lie flush with the throat to overlap under the bill. This overlap is not necessarily permanent though, as Dave King has been close enough to one bird (Kathleen - located south of Te Taniwha) to note an overlap switch after grooming: right-over-left to left-over-right. Dave, none-the-less, did observe that Kathleen sported a lighter grey fringe around the mask which was very prominent.
Te Taniwha is altogether another matter. He darts restlessly in the low canopy, and I am unable to adequately study his facial features. Towards the end of the 25 minute contact he emits a monkey-like chitter while half-flying, half-scurrying through the treetops overhead. His wingbeats are heavy like a wood pigeon's. A 'flop-flop-flop-flop' sound akin to someone shaking a damp tea-towel. All too quickly the bird is out of sight. While pencilling the details of the encounter into my notebook, I can still hear his occasional call far off in the distance.