Raoul Island is one of the Kermadec Islands, about 1,000km north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean. DOC has a small team of rangers and volunteers who live on the island in relative solitude. Their main focus is controlling weeds on the island, maintaining infrastructure such as buildings, roads and tracks, and carrying out work for Met Service and GNS.
Since the island is so remote, we get these diary entries from the team and post them up on their behalf. Today’s diary is by volunteer, Nigel Hubbard.
Apart from the many seabirds on and around the Raoul Island there are several local inhabitants – tui, kakariki, thrush, crakes and pukeko. When we are out weeding, we often have an audience of tui or kakariki accompanying us as we grid search.
The tui have a very wide range of different songs (none of which I can reproduce here) including clicks and croaks as well as the usual bell like sounds and more melodic tui song. With these birds accompanying us we often whistle back to them. And if other weeding groups have done this previously, perhaps it is no wonder that the tui don’t know what songs they should be singing and have developed a diverse range of calls!
Apart from the diversity of song (as I believe is the case with tui in New Zealand), it is the diversity of shape and size of tui on Raoul that amazes me. They range from a few well rounded and plump healthy birds to very scrawny, mangy looking specimens which have thin necks and tattered feathers.
The most well fed and healthy seem to be those living near the historic orchard, which has orange, grapefruit, peach and fig trees. I think these must be the elite birds, and perhaps the best fighters being able to retain control of this patch containing premium food sources.
At the other end of the scale the birds that we see at the top of Mount Moumoukai, which is the highest point on the island. They are all very lean and their feathers seem less colourful and more ragged. These skinny specimens really do look like disapproving parsons with judgmental eyes – tui were also called Parson birds due to the white ruff at their throats. Here on Raoul, the throat feathers on the thin tuis can be very worn looking wispy feathers.
As for the kakariki, or parakeets, these are often very tame and will land quite close when we are weeding. They all look identically healthy wherever they are on the island. They also all make the same ka-ka-ka sound, especially the younger birds, who seem to be able to keep an incessant ka-ka-ka for literally hours on end. Their poor long suffering parent birds!
The pukeko are frequently mentioned in these blogs and in the Raoul Island Bulletin. There are pukeko several families living around the hostel, which regularly stage fights out on our front lawn. Whenever we walk out to the flagpole or in other directions, such as over to the met station to use the internet, the parent pukeko call with peremptory tone to which the young respond by immediately diving into the nearest long grass they can find.
Some of the pukeko even try to creep up behind us with apparent harmful intent. However, I am not aware of any injuries from pukeko attack being sustained here!
As a nature reserve, the birds are safe from any human interference, but they are still cautious of coming too close to us. We don’t feed them, so they have no reason to come near, and perhaps they have an instinctive protection mechanism to avoid venturing near any animal that is bigger than they are.