Kokako Log 1992 by Sid Marsh
On an overnight kokako expedition I carry no more than the bare essentials. An inventory of a typical trip would include: A knapsack in which is packed a sleeping bag, a plastic sheet for shelter, a 24 hour ration-pack of food with one litre bottle of water, and a double-lined Swanndri. A skinning knife is strapped around my waist for use as a multi-purpose tool, and worn in a chest harness is a pair of Russian Tento binoculars. Fixed to the top of the binocular case I have a plastic slate and pencil which are used to record field observations. Other equipment includes an army floppy hat, Casio diving watch, Silva System compass, a 1:50,000 Topo map, pocket torch and cigarette lighter. My winter footwear consists of a pair of canvas jungle boots, while in dryer conditions some Converse road-running shoes provide lightness and comfort. In order to solicit responses from reticent kokako, I sometimes include in my swag an old tape-recorder through which is played snatches of pre-recorded kokako song.
My survey equipment has been recently upgraded. The Department of Conservation (Waikato Conservancy) has kindly lent me a pocket cassette player and stereo speakers that incorporate a 'Bass Booster' high-volume system. This new equipment with tapes of kiwi calls and kokako dialects is much appreciated and will be put to good use over the next few months.
Kokako Log has been running 12 months now. In that time I have done 25 trips into the Coromandel Ranges monitoring birds, as well as searching out 'undiscovered' populations. The bulk of my monitor/survey work has been centred around the Grace Darling and Maratoto Catchments, but I have also been further north to Kuaotunu, the Third Branch of the Tairua River; and down to the Mangakara basin near Waikino. No 'new' birds have been found, although contacts with known kokako have been good. Overall the results for the year were: 7 bird-heard encounters; 2 unconfirmed sightings; 5confirmed sightings.
As far as confirmed sightings go my success rate has been around 20% i.e. one brief visual contact with kokako for every five field trips. With such a 'success' rate some people might reckon that tracking Coromandel kokako is a somewhat masochistic exercise. Maybe so ... but the effort that goes into the Coromandel birds pales into insignificance when compared with finding the southern orange-wattled kokako, as one man has been trying to do since 1980. Veteran naturalist Rhys Buckingham has taken it upon himself to hunt down the last birds on Stewart Island. Two sentences in one of his letters to me say it all:
'In over 10 years of trying to pin down these birds I have had but one less-than-satisfactory sighting. Even then I did not see the wattles -just a large grey bird flying over my head in the steady rain of a very remote part of Stewart Island...'
Later-Day Observations of the Orange-Wattled Kokako
The Stewart Island birds tended to call during warmer spells of weather (especially when the wind went round to the N/W).
The most notable indicator of kokako presence in an area was fresh grubbing sign - clusters of roundish discs of moss - lying on the ground after having been ripped off tree trunks and branches. Each of these discs was neatly clipped off at the base. This grubbing sign occurred at least twice a year and was site-specific. Fresh grubbing sign is now almost gone, although older sign up to seven years old still exists. On one occasion in the '80s, fresh grubbing had been raked up (like blackbird sign).
In 1986 an unusual songnote (presumed to be kokako) was heard, followed by a series of reverberating 'bongs'. This harmonic note went through three frequencies without a pause, like a twanging guitar. No songnotes made by the North Island kokako sounded anything as remarkable as that one note.
Rhys Buckingham Oct. 1994
(as told to S. Marsh).