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October is the time to search for the South Island kōkako

If you’re planning to get out and about this spring, please take a camera as the search continues for the elusive and secretive South Island kōkako.

There has been a cluster of reported encounters with the SI kōkako towards the northern end of Heaphy Track, from Gouland Downs Hut to Aorere Shelter, the most recent in late August. A large bird with orange at its throat was seen flying onto a branch, hopping along a couple of branches and then flying away. This 10 second encounter was in the bush just metres from the Gouland Downs Hut while looking for takahē, 18 of which were released into the area in March.

In that area, having your camera handy could net you a photo one of these precious, colourful and flightless native birds, or potentially, one of the South Island kōkako and even the $10,000 reward that’s on offer for definitive evidence that it still exists!

Evidence from hundreds of reported encounters over the past 20 years or so indicates that a focus in spring, particularly during October, and again in autumn will be most successful, as that is when most reports have been concentrated – so now’s good!

The South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust is maintaining the search, keeping searchers up to date with the location of the best reports of possible encounters. The Trust prepared a strategic plan in 2014 to help guide search efforts, with a forward by Steve Braunias, New Zealand author, columnist, journalist and editor. Braunias wrote:

“New Zealand is birdland. Our native birds define the way we see ourselves – special and unique. We love them and identify with them so much that we put them on our money and stamps and beer. We marvel at stories of the size of the poor old moa. The song in our heart when we leave these shores is the whistle and croak of the tui. We call ourselves kiwis.

“The possibility that we might be able to reclaim one of our long-lost species – the South Island kōkako – is cause for excitement. The bird was written off as extinct. But numerous amateur sightings, and two verified sightings, has seen the bird’s status upgraded [from extinct] to “data deficient” – a fancy way of saying it may very well be out there.”

Trust Manager, Inger Perkins, added “The Heaphy Track is open to bikes until the end of November, so, whether there or exploring other native forest in the South and Stewart Islands, and whether on your bike or on foot, whether fishing, tramping or biking, keep your ears and eyes peeled and your camera at the ready. Add an extra element of adventure to your next trip by being part of the search for the South Island kōkako and have fun and stay safe out there”.


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