Kokako Log 1992 by Sid Marsh
Tramping along the Golden Cross/Maratoto Saddle track I encounter the first bit of damage - a two metre long tree fern has been uprooted, re-sited, and placed diagonally to act as a trail marker. Following a succession of unfilled prospecting drill holes further up the track, other tree ferns have met a similar fate. Several have been cut down and tossed to one side. Onwards to the main ridge, orange peel and strips of insulation tape litter the ground while spray can marker paint and untold hundreds of metres of white cotton thread, advertise the progress of a poorly-supervised gold prospecting gang. I make a mental note to notify the Department of Conservation. In all, at least 20 ponga and wheki ferns have been destroyed. On the main ridge itself four 3 metre long tree ferns (formerly growing right off the track) have been chopped down, along with various tree-perching plants and kiekie vines. Unfortunately, a large part of the damaged fauna borders kokako country. In order to survive, kokako need pristine, undisturbed habitat. As it stands these birds already have a hard enough time battling introduced predators, not to mention competing for food with possums and goats etc. Encroachment by man, as in the above instance, is just not on. Sometime later I am in the heart of Vic and Alby's territory - the bonded kokako pair west of the Maratoto Saddle - and here I maintain a listening watch for the birds; ready to move at a moment's notice. Seated on a dry patch of moss, I relax and watch mist drift southwards through the treetops. Close by is a 15 metre high tawari tree in full blossom. The white flowers are the size of fifty cent pieces, laden with nectar, and are conspicuous. Their appeal apparently extends to birds as well.
As I sit back enjoying the hum of insects, and birdsong, the dark shape of a bird plonks on to the uppermost branches of the tawari tree ... it is a kokako. With only a handful of these birds spread out along the length of the Coromandel Peninsula, it is no small fluke to have one drop in like this. I crane upwards and at the same time grope for the binoculars, while Vic (Alby?) quietly moves along branches and through the leafage, stooping, then stretching, to drink nectar from the tawari flowers. When I finally zoom in with the binoculars the kokako is obscured by a profusion of flowers and leaves. Every now and then part of its darkened form appears - a head and bill, or a fat, grey rump - outlined against white sky.
The kokako flies off to another tall tree 30 metres to the west and I follow, straining my eyes for another glimpse. But like a phantom, the mute kokako has vanished.
(By Dave King)
Over Christmas I was invited to assist at one of the Department of Conservation's kokako study areas in the Mapara Wildlife Reserve, some 30km south of Te Kuiti. The study area contains ten pairs of kokako, some carrying affixed transmitters and most having been colour-banded during extensive mist-netting operations. My job was to help assess the number of juveniles produced by the end of the season relative to the number of nesting attempts of each pair. In this way the success of 1080 poisoning and trapping for predators and competitors may be assessed.
There is a lot of work required getting into the forest, an hour's tramp, before dawn to find and observe the kokako. Indications of nesting activity by these shy birds were noted with the hope of discovering the location of the nests. Birds without transmitters were found during their dawn chorus and then followed. The transmitter-carrying birds were then located in the quieter part of the day by using a small 7M receiver and a hand-held folding antenna.
During my two week stay, I was able to find one pair during the early part of their nest building activity. The female spent two days furiously pulling at sticks (up to 30cm long at first), foliage and lianes and carrying them up into the crown of a 30 metre tawa. The pace of activity lessened after that until four days later she was infrequently visiting the nest carrying moss and fern scales - the soft liner for their one metre round nest platform. Although I shall be elsewhere by the time the (one, two or three) juveniles are fledged, I wish the young kokako all the best in their lives to come ... as long as the rats, stoats, ferrets, possums and cats don't get them first of course.
On the 20th January I shall be taking up the position of Conservation Officer (protected species and ecosystems) with the Department of Conservation at Gisborne. The East Coast Conservancy takes in the whole of the East Cape down to the Mohaka River and includes Lake Waikaremoana. My duties will consist of formulating and undertaking management strategies for endangered species including kokako, blue duck, North Island weka, kaka, falcon; and plants such as the kaka-beak.
Sid Marsh will take over monitoring the Waitekauri kokako population, and the scattered birds of the Coromandel. Best of luck Sid in this important but difficult undertaking.
Breeding takes place from November through to May (in a good year). Originally thought to be single-brooded*, it is now known that during some seasons where profuse fruiting of certain hardwood and podocarp trees occurs, kokako pairs will attempt at least two broods; as was evidenced in the Urewera/Mapara/Hunua/Mataraua forests over the 1994-95 summer.
The actual nest is about 35cm across and is composed of a platform of small branches and twigs with a cup lined with moss and tree-fern scales. Nests are usually located in a fork of a tree; within Astelia/Collospermum clumps; or a tangle of vines and branches 3 to 30 metres from the forest floor. Favoured trees are: ponga, rimu, totara, hinau, mahoe, pigeonwood, tawa.
Eggs: 2 or 3. Incubation period: c.21 days. Fledging occurs after about four weeks. Nestlings have small pink concave wattles.
* Despite a 1962 observation by R. St Paul in the Hunua Ranges where a kokako pair first fledged one chick, re-nested and successfully fledged another two birds.