DOC’s Bronwyn Aalders recently spent a week on Codfish Island helping the Kākāpō Recovery team and had the privilege of meeting Maggie the kākāpō, who was tragically killed in a landslide last week.
Bronwyn at the summit on Codfish Island
Midway through my week volunteering on Codfish Island as a nest controller, I had the opportunity to accompany the kākāpō rangers to track Maggie the kākāpō.
After a brisk forty minute walk across the centre of the island we started to head off track and descend the soft, tangled slopes above the sea.
It was very important to avoid the numerous petrel nests dug into the peat soil while we gradually began to pinpoint Maggie’s location. The terrain became almost vertical and we began clambering and crawling our way through twisted trunks and branches as the telemetry beeps became louder.
With packs now discarded we knew we were close, with two people above and two people below, and Maggie cleverly camouflaged and ready to run somewhere in between.
Maggie the kākāpō
Suddenly a ranger looked up and spotted her calmly roosting above us trying to keep still. She was swiftly and gently brought down ready for some quick measurements and health checks.
Maggie was gorgeous and the first kākāpō I had ever seen in the wild. It was thrilling to see her up close, to smell her musky feathers and to take in her sheer size and presence. All with the sounds of the waves crashing beneath us and the sight of Rakiura in the distance.
Maggie’s beautiful wings
Several tests, photos, flaps and bites later, I filmed Maggie waddling away back up the hill, head down – just as Douglas Adams described in ‘Last Chance to See’.
The journey to Codfish Island began with my first ever ride in a helicopter. As the chopper flew over Foveaux Strait I could almost hear the Jurassic Park soundtrack playing in my head. We were heading to the New Zealand equivalent of a ‘land before time’.
My first helicopter ride
Upon arriving on the island it truly did feel like I had been transported to another era. Birds, bats, lizards and insects ruled the island, and the small hut just off the main beach at Sealer’s Bay, seemed to be an oddity in such a wild and ancient place.
The diversity of plants at different points on the island was stunning; I had never before seen such lush plant life and native bush. The local korimako/bellbirds were by far the friendliest native inhabitants of these bushes and they were not afraid to land right at your feet and check you out before returning back to the bushes alongside the tracks.
The curiosity of the bellbirds was only rivalled by that of a kākā called George who loved getting his beak into anything that was left lying around the hut. He was even blamed for one or two items of clothes that went missing from the washing line.
The view across to Stewart Island. Photo: Abbey McMillan
Having grown up in the North Island I had never before seen a mōhua/yellowhead. This beautiful little bird was last year crowned New Zealand’s Bird of the Year so I really hoped I would get to see one during my stay. Not only did I get to see one, but I discovered they are social creatures and groups of them could be seen flitting from branch to branch and singing from the treetops.
Mōhua. Photo: Jinty McTavish
At night the short-tailed bats took over the island. Unlike other bats they use their folded wings as limbs to scramble around on the ground to search for food, if you are walking around the island at night you have to be careful where you step.
The booming and chinging of the male kākāpō can be heard all over the island at night. One evening, as we were transporting gear from one of the kākāpō nest sites, we ran into Wolf the kākāpō booming his little heart out just off the track. If you’ve never heard a kākāpō boom before it’s quite an unusual sound. Not only do you hear it but you can also feel the vibrations go right through you.
A booming kākāpō
DOC’s ensures the kākāpō are well looked after and protected from pests and diseases. Quarantine on the island is strict. Diseases and pests could do real harm to the remaining kākāpō population and the other species that call Codfish Island home.
While on the island one female kākāpō needed to be caught for a health check. Transmitters make finding the kākāpō a reasonably easy job, although catching them isn’t always as simple. Sometimes the kākāpō might be sleeping up in a tree or tucked away on the forest floor. These are wild animals, so they don’t take kindly to human intrusion. In this case the kākāpō was easily found and caught and the health check turned out to be a quick and painless affair.
Kākāpō health check
DOC’s Kākāpō Recovery team doing an amazing job caring for the kākāpō of Codfish Island and I consider myself really lucky to have spent a week there meeting this team who are doing an awesome job for kākāpō conservation.
Watch this short video of my first meeting of a kākāpō on Codfish Island:
I’ve just come back from spending a week on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou down by Stewart Island helping the Kākāpō Recovery Team with the important work they do to look after those mossy green parrots.
Codfish Island/Whenua Hou
With only 126 kākāpō in the world every chick counts, so imagine how stoked I was to be able to witness the hatching of the first kākāpō chick for the 2014 breeding season. Hopefully there could be up to six new kākāpō chicks by the end of this season.
I arrived in the deep south to news that the egg that was due to hatch had been accidentally crushed by kākāpō mum-to-be Lisa. The kākāpō rangers had been monitoring the nest and were able to swiftly rescue the egg and, thanks to some quick thinking and some good old-fashioned ‘kiwi ingenuity’ from ranger Jo Ledington, the egg was carefully repaired with some glue and tape.
Lisa’s crushed egg
The condition of the bird inside the egg wasn’t known, but everyone crossed their fingers and hoped that this little chick would be a fighter.
The day I flew into Codfish Island the chick could be heard pipping inside the egg. This was a big relief to know that the chick was alive and almost ready to hatch.
After dinner kākāpō ‘surrogate mum’ Darryl Eason ran in to tell us that the chick was starting to hatch.
Hatch day for the egg in the incubator
Luckily the chick managed to find an exit from the egg avoiding the tape and hatching out the other side. It was a frail looking bundle of fluff, but it was in a good condition. It was a fantastic experience to be in the room as the newest kākāpō entered into the world.
Welcome to the world little one
It can take a while before the sex of the kākāpō can be determined, so for now this little was is known simply as ‘Lisa One’.
The wee chick will be returned to a nest when it is healthy and strong. To give the chick the best start in life it may not go back to its biological mother Lisa, instead the rangers monitor potential foster mothers to ensure that the best mum is given the chance to raise a chick.
Kia kaha little kākāpō, it was great to experience your hatch day with you and I can’t wait for further updates from the kākāpō team.