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Kokako Log 1993 by Sid Marsh

Waihi Leader

NOVEMBER

Over October and early November I worked with kokako down at Mapara in the King Country. Located south-east of Te Kuiti the Mapara Kokako Reserve is a 1,400 hectare tawa forest surrounded on all sides by farmland and steep bluffs. There are about 60 kokako here, a healthy breeding population, thanks to an intensive and expensive pest control operation run by the Department of Conservation over the preceding four years:

i) stoat traps catching ferrets, stoats, weasels and rats.

ii) the DOC goat-hunting team culling goats and the occasional cat.

iii) and seasonal pre-breeding 1080 and Talon poison operations dealing to possums and hopefully anything the traps miss.

All of the above introduced animals are thought to either actively prey on adult kokako, chicks or eggs; or compete with the birds for certain foods.

In my first two weeks at Mapara I saw as many kokako as I had in the previous 2 1/2 years scouring the Coromandel for the birds. Within the Mapara Forest there is a profusion of shrub and plantlife that has long since disappeared or exists only in low numbers in the southern Coromandel Ranges: acres of pink-flowering wineberry; thickets of hangehange, titoki, young kamahi; kotukutuku - the tree fuchsia; mapau saplings; bush lawyer weighed down with blossom; native clematis and orchids, climbing rata, and many other unidentiflables. There are also pockets of old-growth forest hidden away in the steep-sloped southern block: pillars of rimu, kahikatea, matai and miro.

There are a handful of 'super-giant' totara too. The largest totara is a tree found by the Mapara Ranger/Manager Phil Bradfield. While doing a kokako survey in 1987, Phil stumbled across the tree soon after striking an impressive but slightly smaller totara a few metres lower down on a spur. As yet I haven't measured the Bradfield Totara: it is short in bole and has an eight or nine metre girth at breast height. From one side of the trunk sprouts a Kirk's tree daisy, and there are literally a ton of perching plants packed into the forks and recesses of its stringy-barked form. Kokako have been seen feeding in this encapsulated tree-top eco-system, and native bats probably roost somewhere within the tree's interior And kokako? What follows, is an excerpt from my journal:

'Up at 0440 hours. Fine weather - mild, partly cloudy with a light south-westerly This morning we were mist-netting for kokako, aiming for the pair Rumpltu and Stiltskin. Initially, these birds wouldn't be drawn in by tape-recorded song. Then suddenly another pair - Bamboozled and Bosnia - and then a single, Lockerbie, turned up. These three kokako drew in Rumpltu and Stiltskin, and suddenly we had five birds - flapping, gliding, squirrelling, calling, chittering all around the netsite.

I was shaking a sub-canopy pigeonwood on one side of the net (imitating a kokako moving about in it) and tongue-clicking and suddenly Bosnia flew across to me from the otherside and straight into one of the upper net compartments. Ian Flux and Phil Bradfield quickly lowered the net. The trapped kokako was held by one foot only, and was on the brink of escaping when I ran up, gently grabbed its body with cupped hands and held its legs with the other hand. The Kokako was virtually dropping out of the net at that stage. After the net extraction the original 9 gram transmitter on the bird was removed and a newer 4 gram model fitted before this bird was released. Back-mounted transmitters are needed to locate and track some of the birds with receivers and portable aerials. We also took some measurements.

Weight: 208 grams

Leg Length: 68.1mm (any length over 68mm indicates a Mapara bird is probably a male)

It was all very exciting, but nerve-racking, holding the kokako, as this way my first (bird personally caught) net extraction. I was proud of my 'badge of honour' too: the warm, liquidized kokako poo dribbling down my wrist and staining my overalls green.

Note: The November 1993 Kokako Log was the 27th and last column to appear in the Waihi Leader. In total, Kokako Log spanned a period of 26 months. In that time, the population of Waitekauri Kokako dropped from six birds to one - Alby in the Maratoto catchment being the sole survivor. Although now even this bird could be gone, as it is nearly two years since I last saw him.