14 April 2012
Stoat trappers were invited by the Rimutaka Forest Trust to accompany kiwi trackers recently on a mission to remove or change transmitters, so many kiwis needed to be tracked down (there are over 70 kiwi now in the McKerrow-Turere-Whakanui area behind Wainuiomata – so many that the Trust must now rationalise resources).
This was an invitation I couldn’t resist, so met with Kate (a qualified kiwi handler) and Sue (her able assistant) at 8.30 am at Sunny Grove on a drizzly Saturday. They were equipped with aerials, receivers, GPS, EPERB, radio and other important gear. We were to locate Hemi and Marcel, a pair who were known to be in the upper Turere, and if time permitted, Lorenzo (the kiwis are given names, often Maori, but there is even a “Colin”).
So along the Whakanui track we went, with receivers turned on and aerials raised. The signal is a faint beep every 2 seconds, interspersed every ten minutes with a “message” which gives much vital information about the kiwi, such as: when (what time) it last went foraging; how long it was out of its burrow; whether it was incubating an egg. The signal gets stronger the closer to the kiwi we get. After an initial plunge off the track and retreat from quite rough stuff, we decided to be sensible and use the Upper Turere track down to the stream and work upstream from there to the target area. Tracking is not a speedy operation. Hemi’s signal eventually led us to an old tree stump, with several holes in it. Now to remove the kiwi.
When Kate first felt inside the largest hole, she actually touched the bird, but it quickly moved out of reach. So, out came torches, and in went Kate, head first, until only her legs from the knees down, were showing. The burrow had several “rooms” and Hemi was not keen to be caught. Next, Sue entered the burrow, but still no luck. On about the fourth try Kate found Hemi, and pulled her out by the legs, a very upset bird, clacking her beak at us and struggling to escape. She was a much paler shade of brown/grey than I expected. She was put into a sack and weighed and her eyes, ears, beak, legs, feathers and general condition were inspected and noted. Then her transmitter was removed, so no more indignities for her, and she was replaced in the burrow.
Now to find Marcel. Receivers were retuned to his signal, and we were pointed right back to Hemi’s burrow! He was in there with her, being very friendly. So out she came first, then he was found and unceremoniously removed. Hemi was replaced, and work began on Marcel. He was weighed and checked over, then a new transmitter was attached to his leg. He was not feisty like Hemi, but quietly submitted to having this operation, which involved first a plastic button band attaching the transmitter and this being reinforced by many layers of duct tape carefully threaded through a slot. Not a fast operation. After about 30 minutes, Marcel was placed back into the burrow.
We found our way back up to the Whakanui Track, and at 3.45 pm Kate and Sue decided to try and locate Lorenzo by dropping off the track by the McKerrow signpost, very rough country. We were joined by two more trackers. The signal seemed to be coming from the east side of the stream, and was eventually pinned down to an open area among some toi toi grass. This was well after 5 o’clock, so I bid farewell and made my way out, but later heard that Lorenzo made a run for it and was not caught. He was not so lucky the next day though.
The dedication and tenacity of this team of people is incredible. They spend so much time tracking and monitoring these birds, under all sorts of conditions. To see Kate and Sue when they emerged from the burrow, dirt in their hair, on their faces, their jackets covered in it! Kate told me Sunday for her was fruitless (or perhaps kiwiless), but thought perhaps the tracking gear was suffering from damp. I really take my hat off to these people. Thank you team.
- Party members
- Diane Head(scribe).