When the kōkako came: Part II

Department of Conservation —  03/09/2022

In the second of a two-part blog series, DOC Ranger Cara Hansen shares her reflections on being part of a kōkako translocation from Pureora to Pirongia.

A frosty start

Before first light we quietly slip out into an air of excitement.

It’s freezing cold; so cold in fact a heavy frost cements the ute to the frozen ground… but it meant perfect kōkako catching conditions.

As I ease off the clutch to reverse out from the firehouse in Pureora Village, a small amount of pressure is applied to the accelerator and off we going to the dark.

Before long we’re navigating a muddy bumpy 4WD track in Waipapa Ecological area, heading back to a catching site where the finishing touches were applied the day before to ensure everything went smoothly and safely for the bird and humans.

With head torches on, a short walk through the forest leads us to a small clearing, revealing ropes strung up through trees over 15m into the canopy.

The massive 12m mist net is attached and the two buzzing volunteers are quickly and thoroughly trained in the art of putting the net up and down quickly for the capture.

As this was happening a touch of light leaked into the clearing – and with that the forest started to come alive with sound. First the haunting screech of kākā, and then the chattering of kākāriki, and tweeting of fantails seen flittering about. A call from a bellbird and tui, and the high pitch of a rifleman.

Flocks of kaka and kākāriki fly over the clearing, and a group of whiteheads get rowdy in a nearby tree.

This place is absolutely buzzing with bird life.

At the ready

Now we are all in position, with expert kōkako catchers Dave Bryden and Amanda Rogers poised ready to jump into action when a bird is captured.

There’s one volunteer on each end of the net ready to deploy and myself and another tree shaking deceptor.

Soon the haunting beautiful song starts to play, between songs, far off in the distance a faint reply is heard!

The playback continues and the kōkako get closer, until they hop into the tree right beside the net.

Amanda plays from the speaker on the other side, and I try to mimic the movement of a kōkako leaping into the small tree beside me, it works, the kōkako hop the gap between them and me to investigate, landing in the barely visible net, captured. For the volunteers this experience is overwhelming, and we fight back tears.

After the birds are quickly removed from the nets, Amanda and Dave place them in cloth bags that allow them to relax, before they are weighed, measured, their health and sex are assessed and banded with unique colour bands on their legs, importantly allowing them to be identified at later dates.

They’re placed into a specially prepared transport box with food for the journey to Pirongia maunga, which is undertaken immediately, during the two-hour drive, a large group of passionate volunteers assemble to witness the release of the kōkako pair back to Pirongia where we once lost them.

  • The recovery of the population of North Island kōkako has been a conservation success story built on several decades of sustained predator control by community groups and the Department of Conservation.
  • DOC wishes to acknowledge the significant contribution of Rereahu and Te Houkainga o Pureora to kōkako protection in the Pureora area.
  • Watch below video of the 2021 kōkako population milestone event, including rare footage of the secretive birds.

Read more: When the kōkako came: Part I

Read more: In it together: Bringing kōkako back to Mount Pirongia

See more: Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society