Archives For Kermadec Islands

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, Maree Roberts.

Is Laughing Jack our favourite bird…?

Baby Jack, a Black-winged petrel chick, on the nest

It is not surprising that in being surrounded by birds, one or two would become favourites, or at least well-known to us. This is so of Laughing Jack, a Black-winged petrel that has built its nest on a nearby track.

This track, the Orange Grove Track, is an access route to the main track across the island and to many of our weeding plots. We therefore walk past Laughing Jack’s nest on a nearly daily basis.

Now Laughing Jack is not one for spending a lot of time on a fancy nest; this nest is more like a hollowed out groove in the edge of the track. So once the egg was laid and Laughing Jack was sitting on it, he was perched on the edge of his nest fully visible to us.

One of the coolest things that I have learnt on Raoul is that you can literally call black-winged petrels to you through a very strange and funny way. Basically you make a “wo wo wo” sound by patting your mouth with your hand. This has them swooping down all around you and often landing beside you, or if you are lucky, even on you.

So each time we would walk past Laughing Jack’s nest we would make this sound and Laughing Jack being a friendly kind of bird would answer back loud and clear. Laughing Jack became so used to us that just walking by and making the noise set him off. And it seemed to us that Laughing Jack sounded just like he was laughing his head off at how silly we sounded – hence the name ‘Laughing Jack’.

Red-tailed tropicbird on a nest

We have had many a laugh with Laughing Jack over the last month as he sat on the nest. And then, as these things go, baby Jack appeared. Black-winged petrel chicks are the cutest balls of fluff you ever saw and we were lucky to be able to see this one clearly due to the meagre nature of Laughing Jack’s nest.

Of course the first thing we did was try out the call and in response, in the squeakiest pitch, was the familiar laughing call. So now we get to not only watch baby Jack grow and grow, but also to say hello every time we pass and hear him laughing his fluffy head off about how silly we all sound!

… or is it the Red-tailed tropicbird?

It is quite a competition around here for which birds are our favourite and for me it has always been the beautiful Red-tailed tropicbird. When the sun is shining and you look up and see one, you can almost see right through their white wings and as for the long red tail feathers well, they are just fantastic.

Red-tailed tropicbird chick on nest

We recently got to go over to the Meyer Islands, another bonus of being on Raoul Island. These islands are literally coated in beautiful, and sometimes quite rare, seabirds.

On this trip I was privileged to get to see up close not only several tropicbirds, but their fluffy white chicks as well. This was a real highlight of my trip to Raoul and made me realise just how lucky I am to have come to stay in this bird paradise.

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.

Tui

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!

Tui on Raoul Island.

Tui on Raoul Island

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.

Kakariki

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!

Kakariki on Raoul Island.

Kakariki (New Zealand parakeet) on Raoul Island

Pukeko

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.

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, Nicki Atkinson.

Time is flying by, I’m almost half way into my 5 month stint on Raoul Island as a volunteer and already I don’t want to leave!

I am getting used to island life now and haven’t experienced a second of boredom yet. These first few months have been fairly action packed with a visit from 14 German ham radio operators in November, an air drop as well as Xmas and New Year celebrations – all of which successfully distracted the team from, well, ourselves mostly!

Hamming it up

The ham radio guys (and one geek lady!) were an interesting pack. I didn’t know a lot about ham radio before they came – and actually I still don’t! They spent three weeks solid tapping out their call signs in tents that were pitched among a web of aerials. They worked as a team, on a rotation of twelve hour shifts, to make contact with as many other ham radio operators around the world as they could (apparently they did quite well with 140,000 odd contacts made).

We had a number of social gatherings with them and a few of our team took them up to the highest point of the island, Moumoukai, and along the beach near our accommodation. I did not get to know them particularly well however, and the day they were packing up, Sian and I walked passed their camp and saw one guy that both of us had never met before – a strange concept on an island that only had 25 people on it!

Into the blue

Jess, Toby and I managed to go for a dive while the Braveheart was here (the boat that brought the radio hams up) as they had a compressor and gear on board.

Exploring the underwater world of the sub-tropical Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve.

Under the water in the sub-tropical Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve

Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t great and an absence of any logical sense of direction (or a compass) hampered our efforts to navigate from the boat to the edge of the Meyer islands. By the time we got to the best part we were getting low on air.

Nevertheless we found ourselves in an undersea world with an intricate abundance of life only a semi-tropical marine reserve could produce – sharks, thick schools of docile kahawai and king fish, fluorescent wrasse, giant groupers and many more creatures all dancing in time with the surge of waves. Magic!

The marine environment here is just awesome! It’s rugged and dynamic and overflowing with life; we’ve been swimming with dolphins, seen huge sharks, turtles and whales, and been kept awake at night with cries from sea birds and crashing waves.

The sea temperature is up around the 25oC mark and whipping down to the beach for a swim, at least twice a day, has become part of the normal routine.

To the other side

Not long after the radio hams left, the weeding crusade took us west over to Denham Bay for a week. The bay stretches out 3km or so with a black sandy beach adjoining a thin strip of flat, pohutukawa-laden forest that is jutted up against steep cliffs and the edge of a caldera.

Wreck of the Kinei Maru at Denham Bay.

Wreck of the Kinei Maru at Denham Bay

With a west facing outlook, we spent every evening on the beach immersed in golden sunsets, magnifying the natural beauty of the bay.

Denham Bay is an area of the island that is particularly steeped in history; remnant fruit trees and artefacts from the Bell family era that began in the late 1880’s, graves of various sailors succumbing to sickness and shipwrecks, and the tales of slave ships dumping plague-ridden slaves overboard in the bay as a means of sorting the weak from the strong.

These stories of the past all give the bay an eerie tinge of harsh unhealed realities – a feeling that  is now often masked by the development of our relatively luxuriant lifestyles (at least it is in NZ). It is these, remote, raw and untouched aspects of the island that I have come to love the most.

Festivities

Come the end of December, Christmas and New Year festivities were in full swing on Raoul. We kicked off on Christmas Eve with a golf tournament generously organised by our mechanic, Tim.

Toby proudly receiving his golf trophy.

Toby (R) proudly receives his Raoul golf trophy from organiser Tim (L).

There were a number of stringently enforced rules – no using names, attire had to be inappropriate, losing your ball resulted in the consumption of a beverage blindly chosen from a substandard selection of beer – as did taking a swing and missing the ball, cheating, and arguing with the organising committee (aka Tim).

The nine hole course was challenging with the second tee-off at the top of a cliff with the hole on the beach below while the fifth required an accurate and highly elevated shot over top of the workshop. Most surprisingly my ball landed closest to the pin on more than one occasion and I began to set my sights on the prestigious Green Jacket.

A couple of slips ups – missing the ball – of course due to the increasing  unbalanced set of golf clubs – resulted in my high sights being dashed down to second place which I shared with Maree . Toby took away the Green Jacket by four strokes and is now the new holder of the prestigious ‘Raoul Island Golf Tournament’ trophy

I’ve enjoyed the first half of my stint on Raoul so much – I can’t wait to see what more I can get out of it in the next half!

Links

Raoul Island volunteer programme