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Kokako Log 1993 by Sid Marsh

Waihi Leader

AUGUST

For a two week period in July and August I was on Little Barrier Island (Hauturu) helping out with the kakapo supplementary feeding program. Hauturu is a Hauraki Gulf island located 33 kilometres northwest of Cape Colville. It is one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in the world, with a wealth of rare forest creatures living within a largely unmodified sub-tropical rain forest environment.

Visiting Hauturu is a time-machine ride back to mainland New Zealand circa 1840, as the surrounding sea coupled with a rugged coastline has enabled the place to largely escape human 'development'. As a result only one third of the island has been logged for kauri (by the Ngati Wai) and there have been no (pakeha) introductions of stoats, possums or ship rats. Today, despite an infestation of kiore rats, one can still see weta as heavy as adult thrushes; flockings of kaka, 30 to 40 birds strong; tiny rifleman - birds the length of one's little finger; not to mention the remarkable kakapo, an eccentric nocturnal creature which is the world's largest parrot. Male kakapo can weigh as much as three kilograms. The gulf waters surrounding Hauturu add their dimension too. On our last day on the island a pod of four killer whales hunted for stingrays just 50 metres out from our boulder beach vantage point. In May five killers were watched preying on rays at this same location. To escape the chomping jaws and conical teeth a number of the eagle-rays frantically flopped themselves high and dry on to the beach. Hauturu also has a remnant population of tuatara, not to mention unusual geckos, native bats, black petrels and good numbers of hihi, kiwi and tieke. The latter being a wattlebird and thus related to the kokako.

Between October 1981 and April 1983 the NZ Wildlife Service transferred 24 kokako to Hauturu from soon-to-be-logged native forest in the Rotorua district. It was a successful attempt to establish a new population of the species in a near predator-free island environment. There are now thought to be over fifty kokako on Hauturu, and these birds are concentrated in a band of kauri/tawaroa/rata forest extending around the island's midriff. It is feasible Hauturu could eventually support several hundred kokako.

Like the Coromandel birds, the first and second generation Hauturu kokako have a simple song with few notes, and they don't regularly sing a dawn chorus. Over the course of our two week stay my colleagues and I had a number of kokako contacts. One good sighting involved a single unbanded crow with small blue wattles: this bird 'squirrelled' through the sub-canopy to investigate the observer walking along a track. From several metres distance the kokako paused, and swung to an upside-down position to reach a cluster of ripe supplejack fruit - hanging first by two legs and then for a short period from by only one. The grey feathered acrobat remained in sight for several minutes before vanishing into a thicket of tawaroa, the big-leaved tawa.