Archives For Codfish Island

New Zealand has an extensive history of gold mining. The principal New Zealand gold fields were Coromandel, Nelson/Marlborough, Central Otago and West Coast. DOC has as many as 1000 gold-mining sites on lands it manages, and some of these are currently used as campsites.

Grant Jacobs the author of the blog, “Code for life”, shares a recent experience he had while on a camping trip at a gold-mining era campsite. He writes*:

“[When] camping in New Zealand, small items left lying around are at risk from thieves. I was reminded of this whilst sitting on the foundation stones of what was once an old gold miner’s hut, the iron remains of the roof and perhaps chimney at my feet, reading a novel with my tent pitched on the other side of the clearing where the thief stalked.”

Tent across the clearing at an old gold mining campsite. Photo taken by Grant Jacobs.


Tent across the clearing at an old gold mining campsite

“Some of these camping grounds are now, and probably were then, home to indigenous thieves. As I sat on the foundation of the miners hut, my back against a tree, I became aware that one such cheeky thief was prowling my tent on the other side of the little clearing.”

A weka under the outer fly of the tent looking for items to steal. Photo taken by Grant Jacobs.


A weka under the outer fly of the tent looking for items to steal

“Those not familiar with weka might think that they would only steal food, but stories say that weka will steal seemingly anything portable that attracts their attention. Of the non-edible objects, lore has it that a bit like the gold miners, they prefer shiny things.

Weka have a bit of a reputation for pilfering small objects. They will take the objects to the nearest cover to investigate them. For this reason it is best not to chase weka but to simply watch where they go and retrieve the objects a little later.

Because of its scavenging habit, the weka can be problematic for conservationists. Some subspecies are threatened, but moving them to offshore islands can disrupt other threatened wildlife species. For example, weka released onto Codfish Island, where they haven’t lived in recent times, threatened the viability of the Cook’s petrels there and had to be removed.

Make sure you check out Grant’s full blog post.

*All text and photos from the blog “Code for Life” are copyrighted content of Grant Jacobs.

Every Monday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

This week we find out about our Spokesbird for Conservation, Sirocco the kakapo:

At work

Me as a baby, only 14 days old. So cute!

Name: Sirocco kakapo

Position: Official Spokesbird for conservation, and one of 129 kakapo left in the world.

What kind of things do you do in your role?

Officially, I’m the Conservation Spokesbird, and occasionally I get out and about to promote conservation (and myself) in New Zealand. I Facebook and tweet about conservation-oriented stuff and try to get the message out about our threatened flora and fauna and their habitats. Other than that, I’m just your average kakapo stooging around in the bush!

What is the best part about your job?

The travel? Nah, the people. People might think that it’s them seeing me when I am at places like Orokonui and Zealandia, but actually it’s the other way round! I find it fascinating to see all these different shaped bipeds peering through the glass!

And now I'm 14 years old! This is me at my birthday party earlier this year

What is the hardest part about your job?

The travel! No one should be put in a pet crate for any amount of time! The indignity! Why can’t I sit in a seat?

What led you to your role in DOC?

I was hatched into it! Literally. I had health issues when I was a chick and was hand raised by my surrogate mum Daryl Eason (he’s awesome, you should do a piece on him) and the rest is history.

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

The macadamia nuts? Wrong answer! Getting back out into the public eye. I enjoy the solitary ways of my normal parrot life but it’s nice to get out and about and spread the conservation message. The nuts are a bonus too.

The rule of three

Three loves

  1. My mum Zephyr (and you too Daryl!)
  2. Macadamia nuts.
  3. Haggis the takahē, but she ran off with one of them takahē blokes. Woe is me! 

One of my portfolio shots. Who's a pretty boy then?

Three pet peeves

  1. An empty food hopper that should be full.
  2. Blue penguins invading my track and bowl.
  3. Introduced mammalian predators!

Three foods

  1. Lately I have really been enjoying the juicy bits of the renga renga lily, but I will eat most things green and planty.
  2. Coprosma berries (mmm beeerrries).
  3. Macadamia nuts when I can get them.

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, it’s my place of hatching. Particularly Norwest Bay, my old hood. 
  2. Te Hoiere/Maud Island, it’s my current home and has a nice climate, plus Haggis the takahē lives there. 
  3. Rakiura/Stewart Island, it’s my ancestral home (where mum and dad came from) and it’s a beautiful part of New Zealand.

Favourite movie, album, book

Munchin' on a kumara-pop

  1. Movie: I’m not really big on movies, I only get to see them from outside the hut (why is that!), but I do like David Attenborough’s Life of Birds series. I’m a bird and I am still amazed by the things birds can do!
  2. Album: It’s not an album but I really like the dawn chorus on Maud Island. It’s like my reverse alarm clock telling me to go to bed!
  3. Book: Alison Ballance’s recent book, Kakapo. It’s about as up to date on kakapo as you can get and, obviously, it has me in it.

Deep and meaningful

What piece of advice would you tell your two year old self?

I would say, “Self, when you’re hanging out in your tree during the day having a snooze, minding your own biz, and you hear the people coming, it’s usually not to give you a macadamia nut! Something is up! Especially when they have the carry crate with them.”

Who or what inspires you and why?

All the people who give their time to conservation. I’ve seen a lot of volunteers and rangers in my time (some even have the scars to prove it!) and it’s amazing how much hard work and love they bring to the cause. It is truly inspiring to see such dedication and it makes me feel all warm to know they have got my best interests at heart, as well as those of all the other critters and plants.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

An artist's interpretation of me as Ranger Sirocco

A DOC ranger, they seem to have all the fun. And now, well, I kind of am one aren’t I? ‘Ranger Sirocco’ … Sounds good to me. Where’s my uniform?

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

I quite liked the look of that cockpit on my flight down to Dunedin, all those buttons and lights, maybe a pilot!

If you could be any other New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

One that can fly! Perhaps a karearea/New Zealand falcon, they look pretty neat and boy can they fly! Is there a pattern forming here? I’m perfectly fine with walking most of the time, but, you know, well, flying looks like so much fun!

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

My old friend Don Merton once said, “They are our national monuments. They are our Tower of London, our Arc de Triomphe, our pyramids. We don’t have this ancient architecture that we can be proud of and swoon over in wonder, but what we do have is something that is far, far older than that. No one else has kiwi, no one else has kakapo. They have been around for millions of years, if not thousands of millions of years. And once they are gone, they are gone forever. And it’s up to us to make sure they never die out.” 

So true. People! We need to value and protect all of our native species and their habitats, not just the super awesome handsome ones like me. So get out there and get stuck in kiwis. We all need your help. Get involved! Plant a tree, run a pest trap line or give your time as a volunteer to a conservation project, and if you’re passionate like I am, tell anyone who will listen. And if they won’t listen, tell ‘em anyway!

For lucky Animal Health Board (AHB) staff members, District Disease Control Manager Jane Sinclair and Finance Manager Joy Tracey, the adventure of travelling to a secluded island surrounded by native birds became a reality when they won a trip to Whenua Hou/Codfish Island.

The purpose of the two week excursion to Codfish Island was to volunteer with the Kakapo Recovery programme.

Joy Tracey bravely places her finger in the mouth of adult kakapo, Rooster. While he does bite, he's known to be gentle

Jane’s experience

My adventure began when I first put my hand up at the AHB’s Christmas function auction. A few nervous minutes later and I was the proud winner of a two week stint on the kakapo sanctuary at Codfish Island. To prepare, I spent the next few Sunday mornings carrying my pack up Kakepuku—a 400-metre volcanic cone near Te Awamutu—and eating my breakfast at the top. It was hot, sticky work which ultimately proved to be worthwhile.

I arrived at the Department of Conservation quarantine office in Invercargill, where all my possessions were carefully inspected for seeds, dirt and mice. We were then put in an impossibly small plane (with just one pilot and three passengers) on our way to Codfish Island. We touched down at the landing on the beach at Sealers Bay.

As you might expect, Codfish Island has no roads and can only be reached by light plane or helicopter. The island is a specially protected nature reserve and no unauthorised landing is permitted. Flights in and out of the island are carefully managed to avoid any unwanted pests that could stowaway and cause untold destruction on the kakapo community

On our arrival, there was a mad scramble to off-load our gear as another group was ready to disembark the island. We were given an induction on what our roles would entail and the following day we each headed out with a map to tackle the feed-out run. Here’s where my Sunday morning training sessions came into effect. Carrying a 13 kilogram pack, it took me seven hours to complete that first day and I was seriously wondering how I would cope for a full two weeks.

After a great cup of tea and a good night’s sleep however, I was up and away the next day. I was finished in just under five hours and felt completely elated. The island’s vegetation is incredibly varied, spanning large forests to knee high scrub at the 500 metre summit. Peat also makes the underfoot conditions soft and, in some places, muddy. Everywhere on the island there were tomtits, tui, kaka, bellbirds, wood pigeons, rifleman and kakariki. Feed-out runs were divided into four different routes, looking after 28 birds in total. We had every third day off.

This feed station can only be activated by the kakapo with the correct radio frequency tag

On my first day off, I was asked to help with locating and catching a 2009 born kakapo named Hillary. We headed up to the summit and used telemetry to locate a signal off the North West Hut track.

Once we thought the bird was close, it was a case of quietly manoeuvring through head high vegetation until we were on top of it. Once caught, Hillary was weighed, given a thorough health check and released. It was a magical experience to be so close to one of these magnificent birds.

I was then asked if I would like to do some nest minding and spent the next four nights in a two man tent, high up on the island, looking after Flossie’s chick. When the chicks weigh less than 500 grams, they are given extra heat at night when the mother leaves the nest. A beam-activated door bell lets you know when the mother kakapo leaves her nest.

We were privileged to see a number of little kakapo chicks, one just hours old. Most of the chicks weigh-in at various sizes and look like little balls of white fluff with a huge beak. But, it goes without saying, they are incredibly cute

A small battery powered duvet is then placed over the chick and lifted every 10 minutes to ensure it is okay. Telemetry is used to indicate when the mother is returning and infra-red recordings of the nest are made and reviewed every 24 hours.

The dedication of the rangers was truly inspiring. When they’re on the island it is a 24-hour commitment over the entire month. They would literally run up the hill at any time of the night to check on a chick’s wellbeing. I must say, my two weeks on Codfish Island came to an end all too quickly.

I left feeling the fittest I‘ve ever been and encouraged that the kakapo are in such excellent hands. The work being carried out is achieving wonderful results, with 11 chicks that wouldn’t have survived without intervention this year. I have every confidence in the long-term future of this remarkable bird.

Written by Jane Sinclair for TB Matters.

One kakapo manages to slip in some dinner