One for the Old Timers
Bit of an odd one here. But would love to hear from those of you who were out in the bush of Fiordland 30+ years ago. I’ve got a deep fascination with birds that have either recently gone extinct or could potentially still be around in small numbers. Or in the case of the Kakapo that vanished from mainland NZ recently (though they still exist on offshore islands). Anyway my question for the old timers would be back in the 50’s - 80’s. Did any of you ever come across Kakapo, or Kakapo sign or hear them booming (or even know anyone who did, claims to?) if so would you mind sharing the story? Be great to hear from you if you did!
they were virtually non existant in the wild by that stage
Arnold and Jan Heine spent quite a lot of time in North West Nelson (if I remember correctly) looking for Kakapo sign in the '80s. I think they found some possible evidence of old bowl systems, but nothing that led to live kakapo. When Kakapo were rediscovered in Sinbad Gully in the 1970s, I'm pretty sure the Wildlife Service would have flown into every other hanging valley and traipsed along virtually every possible ridge in Fiordland to see if there were any other remnant popuations in remote places. I think the chances of any trampers stumbling across Kakapo or evidence of Kakapo elsewhere in Fiordland in the '70s, '80s or later is non existent. It's maybe possible someone was up Sinbad Gully before Rod Morris and Don Merton in the '70s and didn't know what they heard. '30s, '40s, 50's - maybe a slight possibility, but none of those people are around any more.
the kakapo in sinbad gully were high up on an elevated flat area.. where no predators had reached... a flightless relatively docile ground nesting bird is dead meat without any predator control...
Thanks for that info Ian! It’s an interesting one. It seems that the Wildlife Service heavily exploded the Milford Catchment between 1974-81. But outside of a trip to Oho creek and Doubtful Sound (the doubtful sound trip actually found three birds that were left to their own devices and at Oho Creek old bowls were found). I can’t find any evidence of the Wildlife Service having explored much of the rest of Fiordland. Even then it seems that with the discovery of Kakapo on Stewart Island the focus really went away from Fiordland Birds. I’ve actually found two reports from this century that I find compelling. The first it booming from the Transit valley in 2012 which actually was followed up by Kakapo Recovery Team. And the second of a hunter who claims to have seen a bird in 2006 on the tops - but doesn’t provide location.
Nga mihi all, I happen to own a copy of 'Farthest West Afoot and Afloat' published in 1950 by AH Reed Have you read it Handa457? I'm looking through it myself to see if they mention Kakapo For general interest the book also contains the 'Journal of E H Wilcox' who was tasked to survey any possible route between Lake Manapouri and Dusky Sound in 1897. Wilcox records stews made from blue duck, kiwi, weka and kaka...all shot with a powder gun; and in their equipment list is 4lbs of arsenical soap for birdskins. He says there was kakapo and takahe but "if we only had a dog that knew anything about ground birds we would make a harvest here". I found it be be a fascinating insight into a different time. No ultralight gear here (swags and calico flys), no plastics or GPS, no gas cookers; and even to get to the lake head needed horses pulling various carts/carridges. However some things havent changed.. the rain, flooded rivers and sandflies!!! Karyn
Iknow an old hunter who mentioned how he'd heard booming at Wet Jacket Arm back in the day before all the translocations of Stewart Is. kakapo. He's still around (I hope).
Way back in about 1967/68 I was a volunteer field assistant for ornithologist Dr Tom Choate and his PhD student Brian at University of Otago. The Wildlife Service ( if I remember the name correctly) had a substantial bivvy/camp in the head of the Tutoko River on the opposite side of the river to the old Pawnbroker biv rock where we stayed for a few days. We were there to investigate kakapo sightings and found evidence of booming bowls in recent use but, alas did not hear any booming or sight any kakapo. We also set a number of small traps in the area for rodents but not for mustelidae. Tom had a passionate hatred of possums - he fervently believed they were a major predator of birds eggs and recent hatchlings. He had 35mm images clearly illustrating this behaviour but was unsuccessful at convincing his peers and others at the time of the danger to NZ birdlife.
Follow up. The bivvy/camp in the head of the Tutoko River was named Kakapoop Camp. It was a sheet metal dogbox style biv with a fly camp attached with a heavy duty tarp - NZR if I remember correctly - with the frame of local saplings/branches. The sandflies were really voracious.
I was a member of several Kakapo searches in 1970, Sinnbad, Poisson river and other catchments were searches (not well). It always seemed a shame to me that the search efforts were not well organised and carried outs much potentially good "Kakapo " country was written off. I read recently an article that included reference to scribble on the wall of the Sinnbad bivy. "where do all the Kakapo hang out......", that was me but may name was spelled Forster not Foster. Such are the recollections and trappings of people not there. Don Merton and I also did an search of the Donne and Gulliver valleys but time restraints allowed a less than satisfactory amount of time. I found reasonably fresh sign in the head of the Donne but nothing in Gulliver. I think and this is my personal opinion that Kakapo would have been present and still could be in remote parts of Fiordland as its unforgivingly hard country to work in, the climate makes progress slow or impossible and the limitations of men prevent an exhaustive search. I remember a group of trampers climbing Mt Hikurangi around the same time ( 1968-73 ) reporting a load booming on the Oronui side of the mountain and suggested it may be a "steam engine bird". I trapped the area in 1975, and although I never saw bowl systems or obvious sig but who knows ? The people involved wrote an entry into the Oronui hut book so I was very keen to look over the area described. Neil Foster ( Wildlife service trainee 1970 ).
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