We caught up with Tim, a ranger on the front lines of the Save Our Iconic Kiwi initiative. This is the second in a series following the work he’s doing to save the Fiordland tokoeka (kiwi). You can find the first post here.
We’re in the beginning phases of a project to monitor southern Fiordland tokoeka. We need to determine the most effective kind of pest control to protect these birds, which means finding a remote area that hasn’t previously received any type of pest control. Shy Lake, between Wet Jacket Arm and Breaksea Sound, ended up being a good fit.
So, having chosen a site that would work for our study, we need to catch some adult kiwi and attach radio transmitters to their legs.
Each night, we head out from our tent camp to try our luck. We stand as quiet and still as possible in a clearing in the bush, listening hard, wriggling toes inside boots to keep some circulation going among the frosty tussocks. Every five or ten minutes we play a kiwi call on a portable speaker. On a fine night the calls carry well and we’re usually within earshot of a pair or two. Hopefully, they’ll call back to us – the whistle of the male rising and falling twenty or so times, or the guttural rasp of the female. More often than not, that’s the best you get. But sometimes there’ll be a tell-tale rustle in the bushes nearby of a kiwi either curious or irate at the “intruder”.
A rush of adrenaline gets the heart thumping and with the need to stay silent, I’m sure I’ve heard the blood pumping in my ears a few times. We play another call or two and if we’re lucky, a dim figure will emerge, just visible in the starlight. Then it’s all go. Head torches on and a desperate dash to grab it round the legs before it can disappear into the scrub. If we get it then it’s high fives all round, and settle down to process the bird.
We don’t know much about these birds. Fiordland tokoeka are split into two kinds, north and south. They’re likely to be at least separate subspecies, and maybe even full species. The southern birds have never been studied before, and so when we’re finished fitting the transmitter, we take some measurements of the leg bones and the scales on the legs to send to the experts and add to the picture of their evolutionary history.
The transmitter fitting is a good bit of kiwi ingenuity: a hospital baby wrist band is wrapped around the leg and the handle of the transmitter, and then electrical tape is wrapped around that, being careful to align it nicely and keep feather dander off the sticky surfaces.
When all’s done, we release the bird and move on. We average about a bird a night, which means a lot of standing around in the cold with not much going on! In a couple of months, hopefully these birds will nest, and then come hatching time we’ll be able to fit a transmitter to the chicks and see how they fare in the big bad stoat-ridden world.
This is an exciting start to an exciting project and I’m really looking forward to the next couple of years.
This is the second in a series of posts about Tim’s work, follow the Conservation Blog to keep up to date on his progress.