Monday, February 9, 2009

Kea Catching

We had always thought of kea as an alpine bird. At home in ski-field carparks and the top of mountains. I was a bit put out when I heard that Franny and Brent were studying kea at sea-level in Okarito forest. Franny tells an amusing story of a worried and kea phobic Okarito retiree, terrorised by the keas of Franz Joseph throughout her working years and worried about the "kea people" calling the keas into town. Franny and Brent as the kea pipers of Okarito! Little does she know they say that there is a strange old loner bird living just a couple of hundred metres from her seaside bach.

We had happened on a good day. A quick boat ride across Lake Mapourika in the early morning, a casual walk through the forest to Alpine Lake and a thrilling chopper ride out to Franz, back loading on the DOC Meet the Locals TV crew. It was great been in the bush. We stopped regularly while Franny and Brent released their pre-recorded birdsong on the jungle. Horace, our stuffed Kea decoy, was placed enticingly in a carefully planned spot surrounded by nooses. Nooses are sort of like lassoo's except you don't have to throw them and they're not made of rope. They're of a fine filament and they are carefully pre-arranged where the kea is most likely to land. The noose is linked up to a fishing rod device ready for the snatch to be made.

The first two suspects weren't impressed. One sat screeching at us on top of the giant stump (or remains) of an old kauri tree, the other flew powerfully past, then back, like a pendulum. Suspicious, Franny radio tracked the other and identified it as an already tagged bird. The third kea we encountered though was naive. Horace was one attractive looking kea. She flew in, first landing immediately above Penny and I nestled in prime spectator viewing positions, and then hopped over to ask Horace what on earth we were up to. With a snap of the wrist the noose was tightened and the kea flew seemingly into the arms of Franny and Brent (it may have been more complicated than that, but I was too slow to watch it all). They were stoked.

Penny's prize was to learn to hold a kea, cradle the bird and use one hand to control its head and beak. She handled it like a pro.

The kea was then "processed", you know like processed food. Out of Frannys bag of tricks came a radio transmitter, with nylon string to attach it, a beak measuring device, scales and other fandangos.

I think the kea was pleased to finally fly off back into the bush, leaving Horace to return to his bubbllewrap and us to wander down to the beautiful Alpine Lake and its idyllic hut to wait for the chopper. And what a way to get out of the bush, lifting quickly and skimming the rugged little hills of Okarito forest before the terrain plummets away to the Waihao river bed. Awesome.

Oh yeah, I was going to talk about 1080 and keas. Well the story as far as I can make out is that despite years of scepticism from DOC scientists, recent studies of kea mortality following an aerial 1080 drop have shown keas dying from 1080 poisoning. See the Kea Conservation Tust website here. One point it is always worth making is that much of the 1080 poisoning in NZ is undertaken by the animal health board in its ongoing battle with TB. A recent report states, "The combined total annual area of public conservation lands within AHB control operation boundaries in the eight regions over the period 2000/01– 2003/04 ranged from c. 250 000 to c. 460 000 ha."

But whatever way this does seem to be a big problem. Don't quote me on this, but about 1/3 of the keas habitat is under rotational TB control. Alarm bells seem to be ringing and DOC has teamed up with Landcare Research to investigate an effective bird repellent. It will be interesting to see what happens and if the planned drop in Okarito forest goes ahead.


Bob McKerrow said...

Gidday mate

Slowly getting on top of a huge workload and time to look at blogs.

Enjoyed the article and photos.

Keas ! I once ate a Weka after a failed attempt on Tutoko, we were starving andhad we not ate him, I think we might have died. Charlie Douglas was wrong. He said when you boil a Weka, put a rock in the pot with it, throw away the Weka and eat the rock. He was wrong. The Weka was stringy but when you are starving, you'll eat anything.

I have never heard of anyone eating a Kea, have you ?

How is married life ?


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Jamie,
A most interesting read. The only time I ever encountered wild Kea's was that time spent at Arthur's Pass. Good to know they have quality people on the job of looking after them. I never know for sure about 1080, I see both sides I guess, but certainly do not see how 1080 can kill some things and not others. Yet those possums, stoats, and whatever else are certainly having an impact.
Hope all is well.