Kokako Log 1993 by Sid Marsh
Over the last few years a number of kokako populations throughout the North Island area have 'crashed': a situation where remnant groups of breeding kokako suddenly and violently die-off. The latest kokako crashes I am aware of have occurred in Northland's Puketi Forest; Great Barrier Island; and some King Country and Taranaki locations. The Hunua Ranges too have possibly experienced a crash. Up to the mid '80's the Hunua had an estimated 40 birds, but over the course of a recent three day survey in this country I didn't even hear a kokako.
The Coromandel Ranges had its kokako crash decades ago. The last (known) breeding pair with offspring was photographed extensively in the 1970s. An old unpublished Wildlife Service note written by Mr Jack Johnson describes the location, structure and invertebrate fauna of this nest: near the Tapu/Coroglen Road, 4.5 metres up a pigeonwood/supplejack combine. Johnson also noted the behaviour of the adults and nestlings during 15-26 March 1978, the twelve days before the two chicks fledged (a third egg was infertile). Here, for the first time ever, kokako nest activity was recorded on movie footage.
This nest was found by artist Rei Hamon. About a year ago Mr Hamon showed me a blurred photograph of himself stroking the hen while it incubated the eggs in this nest. He described to me how, up in the tree, he had balanced, touched the bird and taken the photograph all simultaneously - no mean feat. Kokako have apparently now disappeared from this area. So too have the birds in the Motutapere/Kauaeranga region. Up to April this year half-a-dozen expeditions into this second location have failed to find any kokako. Meanwhile the Maratoto/Waitekauri sub-population hangs on. I recently received a first-hand account of what the Maratoto/Waitekauri area was like - and what wildlife it supported - from circa 1916 up to the mid -50s. Hamilton octogenarian Mr H.J. (Jack) Morgan, formerly of the Waitekauri Valley, provided this insight:
There used to be hundreds of large burnt-out kauri stumps in and around the Morgan farm in the Waitekauri Valley. Many of these stumps were totally hollow with just an outside shell. The bushmen of the era would fix sheets of corrugated iron over the top of the larger-girthed stumps, cut out a doorway, and erect up to six bunks around the inside walls. One of these kauri-stump houses remained on the Morgan farm up to the early thirties.
These parrots were very plentiful earlier this century. It was not uncommon to see mobs of 40 to 60 kaka together, flying at high altitude over the Hauraki bush corridor linking the Coromandel to the Kaimai Ranges. Mr Morgan thinks these huge southbound mobs were seasonal autumn migrations on a flight path for Mount Te Aroha. The largest kaka mob he can remember seeing consisted of about 100 birds.
Were heard calling most evenings from the bush in behind the Morgan homestead (in the low country east of the Waitekauri River). The family dogs would very occasionally bring in a dead kiwi.
Circa 1916/17 were present at the Grace Darling/Waitekauri River junction. There may have been other blue duck further up the Grace Darling catchment.
Found in the Waitekauri valley in their 'hundreds and thousands', right down to the Ohinemuri River. Their favourite hide or cover were blackberry thickets and dense fern. These weka suddenly disappeared in the late twenties.
Relatively plentiful in the bush country straddling the valley - in the east, the headwaters of the Stony Stream; and to the west, all around Puketawa up into the Grace Darling catchment which had an especially good concentration of the birds.
On 7 January 1954, Mr Morgan with his brother Mr H.L. Morgan, called in two kokako on the east-facing slopes of Puketawa. He drew the birds in by blowing through a split leaf; making an 'alarming' sound rather than imitating song notes. The Morgan brothers were about 1,600 feet ASL, and the kokako contact lasted about 25 minutes with the birds coming within 15 feet of the two. The tamer of the kokako was an albino: three parts white to one part slate grey, with a light orange bill. Only one or two of the tail feathers were grey, while the rest of the feathers were pure white. Mr Morgan remembers the albino bird making loud 'Took-took-took ...' sounds.
Note: Mr Morgan has recently gifted 32 acres of Waitekauri farmland to the Waikato Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.