Saturday, 2 February 2013

CODFISH and KAKAPO

The title almost sounds like a recipe…I hope it is..a recipe for success!

So we were up incredibly early for our quarantine and flight to Codfish Island. We met with Deidre from the Kakapo Team at the Quarantine Station, went through all our gear again (having checked everything the night before and washed things previously) and packed things into duffle bags. We then headed to the Invercargill as the sun rose on a stunning calm and clear sky morning!

I was in the first flight across in a little four seater plane, and as we lifted off and headed across the sea the views were stunning. The sea was flat calm, but with the warm conditions there was a thick band of fog across the Foveaux Strait. We flew over this, peering down on parts of Stewart Island before Codfish loomed in front of us. We did a very exciting low pass over the beach just to make sure there were no yellow-eyed penguins or sea lions sitting on our ‘airfield’, and then swung around and landed on the beach.

We were greeted by the Kakapo Team, and quickly unloaded and loaded the plane, before it headed off and we headed to the hut for our last quarantine check of our gear. All these checks are to make absolutely sure there are no stowaway rodents/insects and plant seeds etc. and further measures are in place to minimize the chance of any fungus, bacteria or disease.

We then headed back down to the beach to watch the second flight arrive, this one with Josep and Jordi onboard. Another smooth landing and we were all back at the hut where we had a quick briefing about the island etc. Then it was time to make some lunch and get out there. Deidre took us on our first exploration of the island, basically in a big loop out towards the eastern side of the island, up onto the Plateau and then back around through the middle of the island to the hut. This all took around seven hours in all, but obviously we were stopping a lot along the way. She showed us some of the old nest sites, and also several of the males track and bowl systems. These areas are where the males boom from during the breeding season, and they are generally prominent areas with good acoustics, from which the calls and booms will carry. The bowls are tended scrapes in the ground from which they boom, whilst the tracks are runs which they also tend and weed between the bowls. A very cool experience visiting these sites and imagining all the activity during a busy breeding season.

At one particular spot Deidre, who had been using telemetry gear to check on birds’ locations all day, said that Sinbad, one of the male kakapos was not far away. I was engrossed in photographing some sundews, one of which had caught a fly, when Deidre signaled that Sinbad was right beside her and that we should very carefully approach. All three of us gingerly made our way to where she was, and there in broad daylight was a male kakapo. At first he was a little shy and peered out from behind the shrubbery, but he managed to pluck up some courage and came out to look at these interlopers! We spent a good few minutes with him as he checked us out, and then crawled under a small bush, proceeded to blow himself up to the size and shape of a basketball, and then boomed in broad daylight right in front of us! What a show! We could hardly contain ourselves, but after a wee while slowly moved away from him. We were almost in tears after this experience and just so elated to have been able to see such an incredible bird so well.

We almost floated down the hill towards the hut after this experience, but did check out a few other sites, and spotted a long-tailed cuckoo being chased by a tui, plenty of kaka, and lots of rifleman, tomtits, etc. Wow what an afternoon!

Back at the hut we had dinner and then decided that after such a big day we would not head to the summit as planned, but have an early night and do that the next night. Well the days are long, so after dinner we ended up checking out the area around the hut and managed to track down a couple of newly released Snares Island snipe, a real treat. As the sun went down the noises changed and soon the calls of seabirds could be heard over the island. With the full moon and the lack of wind the numbers of seabirds coming in were well down on normal, but it was still an experience to hear mottled and Cook’s petrels and sooty shearwaters coming in. I wandered along the beach hoping to find a South Georgian diving petrel, but alas no luck after an hour or so. And then it was time for bed!

Up early the next morning (although not as early as Josep) and out to see what we could find around the hut. Again we tracked down a few snipe, long-tailed cuckoos were flying around, as were kaka. We then headed out with Deidre and Malcolm to do a health check on a female kakapo called Pounamu. It had been a while since they had managed to get a weight from her (all the birds are regularly weighed using the automated scales at feeding stations, but she had evaded the feeding stations for a while), so they wanted to catch her and check that all was well. So we headed up into the island, checking with the telemetry gear as we got closer and closer. After a fair climb and some educated guess work Deidre and Malcolm were able to move into the area where they though she was. We stayed a little way back and waited whilst they attempted to catch her. The big surprise was another female roosting very nearby, but they caught Pounamu and brought her across to where we were with all the gear and went through the process of weighing and examining her. Talk about a grumpy kakapo (I guess I would be screaming if somebody grabbed me whilst I was fast asleep), she was squawking and clearly not very happy, but a necessary part of making sure the birds are healthy and up to weight , etc. When released she scuttled off into the undergrowth, disappearing within metres as her perfectly patterned and coloured plumage melded into the bushes and ferns.

We then carried on up the track, eventually making a circuit around towards the summit, where we climbed to the top to get spectacular views over the island in almost windless conditions, just awesome! We were so lucky with the weather.

We then made our way back down to the hut, making a few stops for birds, plants, and photos along the way. At the hut it was time for dinner again, and I even made a chocolate self-saucing pudding, which I have to admit came out pretty darn well! It was then time to grab some warm clothes and head on up to the summit of the island. There was almost not a breath of wind when we got up there, the light was fading with mostly clear skies, and as the stars appeared, so did the seabirds, with Cook’s and mottled petrels whizzing around and sooty shearwaters in abundance. Just fantastic. And then as the first morepork started to call, so too did the kakapo with skraking starting up, and then several males booming at their bowls. We sat there listening to all the activity in awe, words just cannot describe it.

But we hadn’t been too long when one of the guys noticed that we weren’t alone…a female kakapo had crept up on us and all of a sudden showed herself right beside us. She cautiously examined what was going on, checked us all out carefully, and then eventually went on her way. It was incredible watching her as she stood near the edge and peered down on the booming males, looking intently in their direction…I wonder if she made her way down to them later that night?

As we headed down the hill to the hut we found a few short-tailed bats in small cavities singing away to prospective mates. Even found a few nice invertebrates with a pretty nice harvestman – probably a long-clawed harvestman of some species. Finally made it to bed about 2am!

Next morning I had great intentions to get up early…well not quite so early to rise, but headed out and as the changeover planes started arriving (late because of fog at Invercargill), Josep, Jordi and I spent time in the forest around the hut. I managed to get some really stunning images of the Snares snipe which I was super happy with, as well as some nice red-crowned parakeet photos.

As our time drew to an end we reflected on what an amazing place Codfish is, and what an awesome job the Kakapo Team are doing to try and bring this bird back from the brink of extinction. The sheer hard work in a challenging environment where the weather certainly isn’t usually even close to what we encountered, the long hours, the wandering around in the dark up and down hills, and the battles to acquire funding and keep putting the species on the map must surely wear a little thin. The little challenges the birds and the environment (fruiting trees, etc) throw at them. But these guys all know it is worth it, they have an absolute love and respect for what is truly one of the Worlds most awesome birds. Once you have seen one you are a changed person. Robert Cushman Murphy once wrote "I now belong to a higher cult of mortals, for I have seen the albatross!" It’s true albatross are incredible birds, and as most people know I have an absolute passion for seabirds, but I truly believe once you have seen a kakapo your life is changed irrevocably! I think Josep and Jordi would agree!

If you want more information about the Kakapo and the Kakapo Recovery then check out their website http://www.kakaporecovery.org.nz And of course if you are so inclined please help financially with a donation to the cause from the website.

We were going to get a ride back to Invercargill in the helicopter that was out helping to set up a new radio repeater, but because of the fog it had arrived late and so everything was looking a little grim for making it to Bluff in time to catch our ferry to Stewart Island in time. However, everyone pulled out the stops and got things done just in the nick of time and as we left Codfish at around 1540 I was thinking we might just make it…and we did actually with a good 15 minutes to spare. But it was all a little nerve-wracking, but nothing a beer at the Hotel couldn’t fix.

Of course after checking in to the South Sea Hotel, we had an excellent dinner in the restaurant and then headed out for another late night with Phillip and Greg on Bravo Adventures to see Stewart Island brown kiwi. A massive moon and some spectacular views of a couple of kiwi feeding on the beach. Bed never felt so good later that night!


Foveaux Strait as you've never seen it before - flying to Codfish with fog below.

The approach onto the beach at Codfish Island.

Unpacking the plane after arrival on Codfish, sun rising over Stewart Island in the background.

Josep and Jordi after their landing.

Sealers Bay hut sign.

One of the nest covers constructed to protect the nest and chicks of a kakapo.

Jordi, Deidre and Josep near one of the nests on Codfish.

One of the male kakapo track and bowl systems. The bowl is visible under the flax clump in the middle of the picture.

Kakapo feeding sign in mosses.

Kakapo 'post-feeding' sign…a rather large and mammalian looking dropping.

One of the automated feeding stations.

Jordi, Josep and Deidre look out over the island towards the hut.

Sun orchids were in full flower.

Sundew with a captured fly.

Sinbad the male kakapo.

Taking a look to make sure we were ok to approach.

An absolutely stunning bird, the plumage is just a surreal blend of colour and pattern.

Sinbad booms for us.

One last look before he disappears.

Lady slipper orchids in full flower.

Yellowhead feeding in the canopy, the bird life on Codfish is amazingly abundant…just goes to show what predator-free means!

Kakapo feather fallen on mosses.

Looking out from the summit of the island.

Josep and Jordi on the summit.

Pigeon takes note of the sign.

Early evening as the sun goes down washing over neighbouring Stewart Island.

Looking out from near the top as the sun fades, with Stewart Island in the background.

Hoki the female kakapo comes in to investigate who is on the top of the island.

Hoki with the moon rising behind her.

Short-tailed bat peers out from its tree cavity.

Long-clawed harvestman spotted on the way back down from the summit at night.

Snares Island snipe pauses whilst feeding in the leaf-litter.

Red-crowned parakeet feeding on a divaricating shrub.

Sun going down over Stewart Island as we head out for the kiwi excursion.

3 comments:

  1. Wow! Its outstanding and so beautiful blog. I really wan to this types of places and spend to my best memorable holidays.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Beautiful photos and a great account of what sounds like a wonderful trip.

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  3. Oh so envious. What an amazing sight to behold...the Kakapo. Thanks for sharing the photos. Just beautiful.

    ReplyDelete