Kokako Log 1992 by Sid Marsh
Waikino resident Mr Len McKinnon is very familiar with the Mangakara water catchment area. Since the early seventies he has scoured it for giant kauri and other native conifers, and in his travels has had a number of contacts with wildlife. One day, in a patch of very dense foliage he literally tripped over a Captain Cooker with a litter of piglets. On other occasions he has heard kaka parrots, and the shrill scream of a New Zealand falcon too. His most notable contact occurred over the Christmas holidays in 1971, when he heard a kokako calling in the vicinity of spot height 414.
The Mangakara watershed is part of the Hauraki Ecological Corridor linking the Coromandel to the Kaimai Ranges, and is only a couple of kilometres north-west of Waikino. The T13 topographical map shows this part of the Coromandel Forest park to be an insignificant fragmented parcel of bush and scrub, hemmed in on three sides by farmland and pine plantations. This map perspective is quite misleading.
On location - especially atop a highpoint overlooking the headwaters - one gets a much more accurate three-dimensional feel for the Mangakara. In fact to me it is a veritable 'Lost World', an extensive bushclad tract, crowned by the peak known as Puketawa. The lush headwater regions of the Mangakara Stream, oriented as they are to the north and east, could still harbour kokako.
Another Waikino resident Debbie Chorley introduced me to the area in May this year. We walked up a forest park access road and then followed a high-winding track through bracken and blackberry, regenerating tree ferns, manuka, rewarewa and five-finger, to end up in the vicinity of the old Maoriland settlement. Here adjacent to the native bush are a few isolated paddocks overgrown in ragwort, shrubs of holly and privet, tall pines, and a grove of several dozen strawberry trees. These strawberry trees by themselves aren't anything special, it is more what they draw in: on that day in May there were fifty or so tui gorging themselves silly on the strawberry-like fruits. The resulting birdsong was overwhelming. Not even in the tropical rain forests of New Guinea or Central America have I heard a chorus like it. According to Debbie, who had to raise her voice to make herself heard, this seasonal flocking of tui is an annual occurrence. The rare kaka has also been seen feeding in this same grove. Trampers, tourists, church groups and wildlife enthusiasts are only just discovering this exclusive Coromandel wildlife attraction. These are people who want to sample a lovely isolated picnic spot with flowers and forest birds ... as well as the impressive views of the Mangakara 'Lost World'. This past fruiting season alone, up to 500 people have walked in specifically to view the birds in the Maoriland strawberry tree grove (figures from John Wilson, Waikino).
Debbie and I had our lunch in the shade of a strawberry tree as tui whizzed by, fed and sang. The plumage of the birds was in itself remarkable: glossy blues and greens shining against the black feathers and white throat tufts. Forever the optimist, I scanned the tree tops for any kokako likely to be drawn into the feeding frenzy. Of course none were sighted - any kokako silly enough to show his face before this massive wave of tui would have been harassed all the way to Castle Rock and back again.
In August I returned to the Mangakara watershed for two separate kokako surveys. No kokako were seen or heard, but this doesn't necessarily mean there aren't kokako in this rugged, little-visited corner of the Coromandel. On the contrary, the area could easily support several of these reclusive birds.
According to local farmer John Campbell a large quantity of kauri and totara was cut out of the Mangakara many decades ago. Some of this totara ended up as hand-split batons on at least one boundary fence that I saw. Today, the forest canopy throughout the watershed is predominantly tawa - great trees laden with perching plants, vines and climbers. Beneath the tawa, saplings and trees of kohekohe, mapau, rewarewa, tanekaha, totara, rangiora, tree ferns and nikau form the understorey. There are also a small number of gigantic emergent miro, rimu and kahikatea - remnant pockets of old-growth forest scattered about a few ridges. Kauri is regenerating too. So with the respite from exploitation of several decades, what we are left with in the 1990s is very much a dynamic ecosystem: vigorous multi-tiered rain forest ... first-rate kokako country.