On Friday morning I spent two hours in the rain trying to follow a kokako and find out if it’s nesting yet. I got a brief glimpse of the bird and spent a lot of time listening to a pair call quietly to each other from opposite sides of the track but eventually the only noise I could hear was rain falling and I gave up for the day. It gave me a starting point for next time and who can complain about spending a couple of hours in the bush, even in the rain.
On Monday and Tuesday I again went out at dawn. It wasn’t raining at least but it was much colder than last week and I spent several fruitless hours chasing kokako song and arriving too late to see them. Then finally on Tuesday, after 3 hours of sitting and waiting, I was just about to go home and thaw out, when I lucked onto a follow. There’s quite a lot of luck in this business.
Following kokako isn’t as easy as it sounds. Climbing steep ridges, over logs and streams, under branches, through supplejack vines and spider webs that look like they could stop giants, with a pack on your back and binoculars around your neck, only a couple of weeks shy of your 60th birthday is quite challenging. In all this you are moving as fast as you can and trying to keep the birds in sight because once they stop singing they are nearly invisible.
This was a classic follow. I heard birds directly above me, then they slowly started up the ridge, kindly allowing me to keep up. They hop along branches a bit like squirrels and can quickly climb ridges without having to spread their wings. Almost at the top I could hear them just feet above my head but couldn’t see them until I sidled around a recently fallen tawa and balanced precariously on a ledge above a scary drop. There was nothing but clear air in front of me and the very tips of some branches. About 3 meters away a kokako clung to the end of one of these thin branches and sang it’s heart out for the next 5 minutes. I just sat and grinned like an idiot and didn’t even think about the camera. The other bird was somewhere below me and out of sight but joined it’s partner in a duet.
When they’d had enough of my adoration they started off around the hill, still singing and I clambered through the scrubby growth after them. (About 25 years ago, trees were taken out of this area for firewood, sacrilege, and the resulting regrowth is still small and dense.) And then the birds did what they always damn well do, they closed their mouths, spread their wings and glided away down the ridge, whoosh. I followed of course. What took them seconds to accomplish took me about 5 minutes, crashing and bush bashing and sliding down a bit too fast and way too loud. By the time I got to the bottom, there was no sign of the birds. I waited a while but didn’t hear them again so I went home. Next time, I’ll ask The Man of the House to come and help; it’s much easier with 2.