Back on the trail of elu­sive ‘grey ghost’

The Dominion Post - - News - Tim New­man tim.new­man@stuff.co.nz

‘‘We need to see if we de­velop this El Nino first be­fore Hawke’s Bay peo­ple get too wor­ried, and re­mem­ber that 50 per cent of our weather comes from the south. The trop­ics, the El Nino, is only half of the equa­tion,’’ Grif­fiths said.

Re­gional coun­cil catch­ment man­ager Iain Maxwell said it set up a wa­ter task­force to ad­dress the wa­ter con­cerns for On­gaonga and Tikokino res­i­dents.

‘‘Some in the com­mu­nity have raised con­cerns about run­ning out of do­mes­tic wa­ter in the dry sum­mer months. Both coun­cils [re­gional and Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay district] want to get a fuller pic­ture of the con­cerns.’’

The coun­cil needed to bal­ance the needs of the ‘‘en­tire com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing ir­ri­ga­tors and res­i­dents’’, Maxwell said.

Data showed that Hawke’s Bay re­ceived only 50 per cent of nor­mal monthly rain­fall dur­ing Oc­to­ber, which was mainly con­fined to north­ern ar­eas. Soil mois­ture in Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay was also be­low nor­mal lev­els, When Liam Beat­tie walked the Hea­phy Track last month, he was hop­ing to catch a glimpse of one of New Zealand’s rarest birds.

In­stead, he may have stum­bled across an­other, which is sup­posed to be ex­tinct.

Hav­ing heard about the re­lease of en­dan­gered takahe¯ into Kahu­rangi Na­tional Park, Beat­tie and his fa­ther de­cided to have a look for the rare bird dur­ing their tramp on the Hea­phy be­tween the West Coast and Golden Bay.

How­ever, the bird Beat­tie saw while wan­der­ing near the Gouland Downs hut was not a takahe¯ .

It was larger than the other birds in the area, with grey feathers and two dis­tinc­tive or­ange wat­tles on its neck.

Beat­tie said it flew on to a lowhang­ing tree branch, hopped to the ground, and then flew away af­ter about 10 sec­onds.

‘‘It was just chill­ing out. It seemed pretty re­laxed and didn’t seem to be in a hurry to go any­where.’’

Beat­tie noted that the bird seemed un­usual, but didn’t think much more of it un­til he ar­rived at the DOC hut about an hour later.

On the wall of the hut was a pic­ture of a bird with the cap­tion: ‘‘Wanted: prefer­ably alive – South Is­land ko¯ kako, $10,000 re­ward.’’

‘‘Ini­tially, I thought it was a joke – that was the bird I had just seen.’’

Once he re­alised the sig­nif­i­cance of the sight­ing, Beat­tie got in touch with the group re­spon­si­ble for the poster, the South Is­land Ko¯kako Char­i­ta­ble Trust.

Since Jan­uary 2017, the South Is­land ko¯ kako, known as the ‘‘grey ghost’’ has been the most wanted bird in the coun­try, with the trust putting up a $10,000 re­ward to any­one who can pro­vide pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence of it in the wild.

The last ver­i­fied sight­ing of the South Is­land ko¯ kako in the 20th cen­tury was in 1967, with the species be­ing of­fi­cially de­clared ex­tinct by DOC in 2008.

How­ever, af­ter a 2007 sight­ing near Reefton was ac­cepted as ac­cu­rate, DOC up­graded the bird’s sta­tus to ‘‘data de­fi­cient’’ in 2013.

Or­nithol­o­gist and long-time ko¯ kako searcher Rhys Cham­ber­lain said Beat­tie’s sight­ing was one of the most en­cour­ag­ing in re­cent years.

‘‘I think it is a highly rated one. The ob­server saw it at close range, and it had the right colour and the right move­ments.’’

In Oc­to­ber, more po­ten­tial kokako dis­cov­er­ies were made, this time on Takaka Hill be­tween Ri­waka and Golden Bay.

One per­son recorded an au­dio file of bird­song re­sem­bling that of a ko¯kako, with an­other catch­ing a glimpse of large grey driv­ing over the hill.

Steve Catalinac said he saw two birds, one of which flew across his path while trav­el­ling down to­wards Takaka.

‘‘It lasted about two or three sec­onds. Af­ter I saw it, I didn’t be­lieve it my­self for a mo­ment.

‘‘It was a grey colour, big­ger than a tui and def­i­nitely not a wood pi­geon – I’m pretty cer­tain it was a ko¯ kako.’’

Cham­ber­lain said that while an area like Takaka Hill would be dif­fi­cult to search, with its rugged ter­rain, there was no rea­son why there couldn’t be a bird in the area.

South Is­land Ko¯ kako Char­i­ta­ble Trust gen­eral man­ager In­ger Perkins said the re­cent sight­ings had brought the to­tal num­ber of re­ports since the cam­paign started to 120.

From its own re­search, Perkins said the trust had found about 430 re­ports or sight­ings of the bird since 1990. bird while

‘‘I’m ab­so­lutely shocked at the con­di­tion of the rivers.’’

Bill Steven­son

The South Is­land ko¯ kako, right, with its dis­tinc­tive or­ange wat­tles, is a rel­a­tive of the North Is­land ko¯ kako, left. A tram­per has re­ported an­other pos­si­ble sight­ing of the bird, thought to be ex­tinct, in Kahu­rangi Na­tional Park, and there is a $10,000 re­ward on of­fer for any­one who can pro­vide pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence of it in the wild.

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