Kokako Lostkokako


PROLOGUE by Sid Marsh

The Coromandel/Hauraki Gulf region is my turangawaewae. This area's volcanic peaks, pa Maori, forests, coastline, seas and offshore islands are home, too, for a wide assortment of wildlife, from ancient endemics to recently introduced animals: kiwi, kaka, kereru, petrels and penguins plus oddities like tasked weta, giraffe weevils, tuatara. Deer, captain cooker pigs, and rare freshwater species of kokopu. Notable marine life are deepwater wreckfishes like the hapuku and bass; giant crustaceans like the green packhorse crayfish. And then there are marlin, kingfish, black coral colonies, right across the board to heavy-weight mammals like killer whales.

For me 'flagship' of this terrestrial and aquatic fauna is kokako. Just about every superlative I can think of has been used to describe the rare kokako (Callaeas cinerea) and its song. Words fall short. Kokako, especially the Coromandel crow, holds a special place in my heart, ever since an ethereal encounter with a brace of birds in the southern Coromandel Ranges in 1979. From the cover of dense forest these loquacious kokako cast their spell, unseen, with organ-like notes and whines.

A personal quest for the secretive, hard-to-find Coromandel crow began in 1989. Knowing the birds were even then nearly extinct, I wrote to veteran OSNZ (Ornithological Society of New Zealand) birder Anthea Goodwin for information regarding the whereabouts of kokako in the southern Coromandel Ranges, and shortly afterwards received a letter from her with these instructions:

'... how to find the kokako at Golden Cross. From Waikino, just west of Waihi, take the Waitekauri/Golden Cross road which runs north some 12/14km. At the end of the road walk with stream and gully on your left following old road. From here a short walk down a grassy clearing will take you to the start of the Maratoto Track. Don't go down track but continue west to edge of bush. From here, with luck, or by playing taped calls, you should hear the resident pair of birds. There is also a single bird in the area and a few others present on the high bushy ridge which was west of you as you walked in.' *

Although untrained in kokako survey techniques, I undertook three separate pre-dawn forays in early 1989 to find Anthea Goodwin's kokako. Despite good, calm weather conditions these trips failed to locate any of the birds.

Further opportunities to search for kokako didn't arise until 1991, when I learned there was a Waikino resident - Mr Dave King - studying the southern Coromandel birds. I visited Dave for a yarn, and he ended up inviting me along on a couple of kokako hunts (which incidentally turned out to be his last two Coromandel field trips). On our second trip I saw my first wild kokako, and watching that bird twelve years after first hearing those two kokako in 1979 was one of the highlights of my life. More solo kokako trips followed. I approached a local newspaper - the Waihi Leader - to gauge interest in a proposed column about the region's kokako: a month-by-month journalised account of the birds' last stand on the Coromandel. The Bowater family who run this paper decided to run the column despite the relatively narrow, special-interest appeal of such a piece. And so with the layperson readership in mind I submitted the first of many kokako reports. Hidden at the back of the Waihi Leader, amid a score or so of more topical national and regional news items, Kokako Log hit the Waihi streets and surrounds one September day in 1991. Here for naturalists, present and future, are those Kokako Logs.

Also included is a chapter documenting the 1994 capture of the last Great Barrier Island kokako, a Department of Conservation operation I took part in.

* Author's note: These instructions no longer apply, as not only have the kokako disappeared from this area, but there is now a huge open-cast gold-mine where the southern Maratoto Saddle access track used to be.

Copyright © Sid Marsh August 1995