Archives For mohua

I’ve recently returned from Codfish Island/Whenua Hou where I spent a week helping rangers from DOC’s Kākāpō Recovery team. While I was there I was lucky enough to experience the hatching of the first kākāpō chick of the season.

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’.

Helicopter landed on Codfish Island. Photo: Kurt Sharpe.

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 island is home to most of the surviving population of kākāpō in the world, and was teeming with kākā, kākāriki, korimako, mōhua and the Codfish Island mātātā.

Codfish Island fernbird. Photo: Abbey McMillan.

Codfish Island mātātā. Photo: Abbey McMillan

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.

View across to Stewart Island. Photo: Abbey McMillan.

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.

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.

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. Photo: Kurt Sharpe.

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:

Today’s photo is of a mōhua/yellowhead, a small insectivorous bird endemic to the South Island of New Zealand.

Once abundant in the South Island the population declined dramatically with the introduction of rats and stoats. Today they have vanished from nearly 75% of their former range.


Recent pest control targeting rats and stoats has helped to protect mōhua in 10,000 hectares of beech forest in the Catlins. Results shows that mōhua have increased to the highest level recorded since the population suffered a big decline about 14 years ago.

Rat and stoat levels will be monitored closely with the predicted large beech mast this autumn to determine whether a pest control response is needed later this year as part of DOC’s Battle for our Birds programme.

Photo by Leon Berard | CC BY 2.0.

Every Friday 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.

Today we profile Programme Manager, Barry Lawrence, who died at home last Wednesday after a short battle with cancer. Never one to blow his own trumpet, we decided to do it for him…

Barry in the field with the mōhua he worked so hard to protect

An active member of the Wakatipu Environmental Society since the 1980s, two-term councillor with the Queenstown Lakes District Council, mayoral candidate, school teacher, dry stone dyker, shearer, DOC volunteer and most recently DOC Biodiversity Programme Manager, Barry’s contribution to the community and conservation over the last 30 years has been enormous.

As a councillor, he drew up the provisions of the 1995 District Plan controlling subdivision and protecting local landscape values. Out of the office he became a staunch protector of these values, spending countless voluntary hours preparing submissions and appearing at the Environment Court.

The importance of this work and the regard that Barry was held in was recognised in 2008, when he was awarded the Queen Service Medal for services ‘to local body affairs and the environment’.

Barry was a great teacher, shown here teaching colleagues how to mist net

The 1990s saw Barry unleash his passion for species and habitat protection, firstly by developing and staffing the first DOC volunteer mōhua and bat survey projects in the Dart and the Caples. Subsequently employed full time as Programme Manager Bio-Assets in 2002, Barry grew this work into much larger-scale pest tracking, trapping, treatment and bird monitoring programmes, the results of which we all enjoy today.

Barry and Ray Molloy at a local 1080 operation

Great examples of Barry’s relentless pursuit of restoring and maintaining the natural environment in the Wakatipu include protecting mōhua; saving bat habitat from development proposals in the Routeburn; getting a local power company to get on board with falcon research; demonstrating the importance of farm shrublands to falcon habitat; working with a local jet boat operator to fund research into black-fronted terns in the Dart and the Rees; and most recently developing a host of sites for kōwhai plantings.

Barry in his element – an evening filled with friends, stories, food and drink (and a giant haggis!)

In addition to all of Barry’s species and habitat protection, he also led the Area’s RMA advocacy work. With his considerable prior knowledge and skill in this field he was able to secure all manner of gains, large and small, through the process. The recent agreement with a Queenstown property developer to remove a 50 hectare block of mature wilding pines seeding the upper Shotover is a great example of Barry both seeing, and more importantly, seizing the opportunity.

A happy Barry – post beer and looking a bit woolly

Despite all of this work, it is many of Barry’s other more personal attributes that friends and family will remember him by – his ability to cut to the nub of complex issues (1080 being one), his big laugh, long hours in the field, a love of whiskey, beer, cider and Jimmies mutton pies, the DOC staff pig farming collective and his all together far too animated story telling (while driving) on dodgy trips up to Macetown, are just some of the many things we’ll all miss!

Put really simply, as Barry liked things put, he was good fun to be around. He is survived by his wife Pauline and daughters Rebecca and Meg and will be greatly missed.

Check out Barry on YouTube in this Shrublands Foodstore for NZ Falcon clip.