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Kokako Log 1992 by Sid Marsh

Waihi Leader

MAY

7/4/92

0711hrs:

The tuis are going crazy - clucking, whistling, making all sorts of weird beautiful sounds. There are at least three of them, and they are not only vocalising, but constantly moving about. Their 'whoosh-whoosh-whoosh' wingbeats adding to the din. Other smaller birds flit around: bellbirds, riroriro, tits and wax-eyes probably; but this I can't confirm as I am too intent on watching the instigator of all this.

Barely higher than my head and only seven metres from where I stand, Te Taniwha balances on a level branch looking me up and down. The Grace Darling kokako scrapes his bill, criss-cross, on the perch and then preens a wingpit. The bird is so close and the light so good, that I can easily study him without the aid of my field-glasses. Like Kathleen - the other kokako just south - Te Taniwha has a distinctive 2mm wide margin of white around his black mask. As well, between his legs at the base of the rump, there is a patch of downy-white which is quite noticeable up close.

Te Taniwha turns to retrace his steps along the branch, but he moves only a short distance before stopping to crane up, down, then around. Distracted by the other birds, it appears he is having trouble making up his mind. A couple of hops onwards and he suddenly about-turns, to again walk towards the tree trunk. In scaling the trunk to reach the branches higher up, the kokako combines some wing-flapping with a vertical scamper (any other bird would simply fly up). At this new level he scuttles away, on to another branch, a leaf spray, then a sagging vine that bridges a gap to a cluster of tree ferns; and here he pauses to feed on what looks like the tips of the fronds or something (insects?) on them. Sometime later he is back up in the canopy, 15 to 20 metres above the ground, moving rapidly back my way again. Often he pauses to sing and on one song-post directly overhead he preens himself again, puffs-up, then bursts forth with more song:

'Took-took-took ... whoa, cluck ... bong-bong .... click-click' then continues with individual notes which are sustained until the sound dies 'Koe ... kaaa ....'

He is not a virtuoso this morning! For some reason the final 'Koe' syllable has been dropped. The 'kaaa...' note is distinctly off-key too. Preceding each of these repertoires the bird goes through that peculiar stooping, neck-arching, wing-spreading-and-flapping ritual. The tuis, not to mention the other birds, are still frenzied: buzzing around and even trying to imitate the kokako dialect. The hounded Te Taniwha slips off his perch and glides to another song-post high up in a tawa tree. His unwanted entourage of birds and human follows. We all watch him sing another snatch of off-key song. The tuis especially are driving him to distraction, and he ejects a dropping before leaping off this latest perch to glide northwards in the direction of Gracious' territory. That is the last I see of him - my watch says 0804hrs.