Kokako Log 1993 by Sid Marsh
While doing a kiwi/kokako survey north-west of Te Moehau in December last year I took note of a pocket of large kauri trees located in an isolated valley in the Ongohi catchment. Using binoculars I saw one tree in particular was noticeably larger than any of the kauri around it. Even from one kilometre away it looked like a potential 'super giant'. Due to time constraints I was unable to investigate further.
The Moehau Possum Busters based at Port Jackson have named this valley with its grove of kauri - Hanging Valley. There are currently several lines of possum traps throughout the area. On two further kiwi/kokako surveys in January this year I did a rapid survey of the Hanging Valley kauri, looking in particular for the big tree I had seen the month before. This tree was found on a small steep-sided spur. It is a squat, slab-sided tree with a reverse-taper and an elliptical bole. It has some dead limbs but appears fundamentally sound and healthy. Using a length of string I did a rough measure up: Ten metres girth with a seven metres clean bole. Three main and very large upwards-thrusting branches add to the merchantable volume. This kauri would be one of the largest on the peninsula. The central component of the kauri grove itself consists of fifteen sizeable trees on the lower left hand side of the valley plus wall-to-wall kauri saplings and some rickers. There are also tall rimu, miro and Hall's totara. The Hanging Valley appears to be old-growth kauri/podocarp/hardwood forest, unmodified by humans.
On January 29th possum-trapper Paul Ruzich accompanied me into the valley. We set up camp, ate our tea, and twiddled our thumbs until 2000hrs when five kaka settled in the sub-canopy just seven metres over our heads. These birds called and 'rip-screeched', jostled each other, and came and went in their ones and twos. Occasionally two would position themselves face-to-face and feeding would commence with the recipient wing-flapping. Every so often a kaka would 'hum'- a subdued vibrational sound resembling an Aboriginal didgeridoo. Was this a type of avian 'purr'? Throughout this contact other kaka were continuously flying from one kauri head to another, chasing each other in twos, threes and fours, and landing to clamber through the upper limbs and foliage of the kauri.
The next morning these kaka were still playing 'tag' kauri. At 0940hrs I counted nine of these screeching 45cm long birds together. At that very moment Paul and I were discovering a Hochstetter's/Archey's frog habitat overlap around a dry streambed, right in the middle of the kauri grove. Soon after Paul lifted one small rock to find the two different species under it. As far as I can establish, a first.
And what of kokako and kiwi? There was no sign of either species. I am fairly certain that kiwi are there, as for kokako ... who knows?
There have been some dialectal developments with one of the Waitekauri kokako. A few hundred metres separates the Golden Cross open-cast pit with its legions of mechanical 'mega-toys', including dump trucks, from the closest kokako territory near the Maratoto Saddle. What does a fully-laden 100 tonne dump truck have in common with a 250 gram kokako? Apart from being in close proximity to each other, most of us would imagine, not very much. Well the news is, they now share portions of the same dialect. In designing these dump trucks some obscure engineer on the other side of the planet has incorporated a reversing beeper which blasts out high-pitched beeps whenever the driver shunts his goldmining mega-toy in reverse ... it's called safety, so hunters and trampers and others of their ilk five kilometres away in the forest park know to keep out of the way.
Kokako are not just good mimickers, they are great mimickers, making a variety of weird, wonderful calls and songnotes. They can expertly imitate other birds like tui and bellbirds. It seems kokako can even reproduce 'reverse beeping' sounds when it takes their fancy, and actually incorporate these sounds into a dawn or dusk chorus.
Over the last four months, since I first noted the absence of his mate Victoria, Alby has been heard stringing together three to four sets of unusual 'Ba - toot-toot-toot-toots', seemingly in response to the not-to-distant 'Beep-beep-beep-beep...' of the dump trucks reversing up for their next ladle of slop.
In pre-dawn darkness on the February 12, I guided kokako specialist Paul Jansen on to Alby's territory, so he could record this bird's distinctive Coromandel song;
Paul and I arrive on site. The weather is perfect for the session - mild, nil wind and dead still. Tui/bellbird/riroriro song gradually builds up from this time.
I whistle two sets of 'Koe ... kaa ...' notes.
Get a bite. Alby responds with '3-toots', to the south of our position. Thereafter he sings sporadic notes as he moves closer.
Alby glides overhead to a nearby song perch and thereafter he is in and out of sight. Paul starts recording dialect as the bird slowly builds up to full song.
Paul hears distant kokako song coming from several hundred metres to the north-west, this is probably 'Koha', the bird I found last October. This faint 'snatch' (of song) is swallowed up by loud, close-quarters tui/bellbird/riroriro/kokako dawn chorus. The recording session continues.
After recording a substantial portion of Alby's song we start heading back to the four-wheel-drive. On the way out Paul shares his observations/impressions of his first Coromandel kokako contact. He considers Alby quite responsive to taped calls, as opposed to some other kokako he has encountered in his travels. He also reckons this Maratoto song has a noticeable Bay of Plenty slant - sounding similar to the Rotoehu and Manawahe dialects. Alby's chorus is not as 'mournful' as other dialects, and it has a few more. 'Pops, clucks and chortles'... and then there are those 'toots'.