Monday, January 11, 2010

A Day on Kapiti Island

[Toutouwai, North Island Robin, Kapiti Island, 9 January 2009]

I had a great day on Saturday. My brother, M. and I drove up to Paraparaumu Beach and my mum and stepfather came down from Palmerston North (actually, my stepfather cycled from Palmy to just passed Te Horo, when my mum caught up to him in the car). It was a full boat load for the 9am ferry crossing, and I had to stand in the wheelhouse. The captain said it was the smoothest crossing they'd had for months.

We got off at Rangatira, the more southern of the two stops, as we wanted to climb to the summit (521 metres). First we were given a talk by a DOC person which covered the history of the island (pre-colonial up to today), the bird-life, a bit of the flora (but not much), and the rules (it being a reserve and all). While this went on, several Weka checked us out (I couldn't help but wonder if they really are delicious), and many Tui and Piwakawaka (Fantails) flew by.

 [Two Weka doing the rounds]

Around 10.15 we were allowed to do as we pleased. We explored the flat first. On the grass just beyond the shelter there was a Kereru (wood pigeon) grazing on grass a sheep might. I didn't know they did that.

 [A Tui feeding on flax flowers]

As we walked down the first path I stopped at every tree that had a sign saying what it was, and plenty more that didn't, looking at the leaves, stems, flowers, berries. Most of the time I gave up trying to identify what it was, took some photos and vowed to give it a name with the help of my trusty books once back on the mainland…

When we came to a clearing, there were three people ahead of us taking photos of the long grass. As we got closer we saw a Takahē in the grass (a-ha!), then a second, and a third. Then we were told there was a chick in there somewhere, a little black fuzzball that kept close to its mother (who stayed the fathest from us snap-happy visitors), but I did managed to catch a few glimpses of it.

 [Left: Mr. Takahē. Right: Mrs Takahē and her chick]

The Takahē really didn't seem to mind us. They went about eating the grass seed and constantly talking to each other. The 'talk' was a kind of closed-beak cheeping. I'm in the process of combining my videos with those my brother shot, and will post this tomorrow - hopefully the sound will come through. I imagine if you translated the 'talk', you'd get something like:

"I'm here"
"I'm over here."
"I'm a bit more over here now."
"I'm still here."
"Where's the baby?"
"Still here."
"I'm coming over."
"Yes. I'm getting closer."
"I'm moving over there."

It was pretty freaking cool. I think I've seen a Takahē before at Mt. Bruce, but this was the first time being this close and the first time it felt "in the wild".

On the way back to the start of the tracks up the hill, we saw a Tieke (Saddleback), which are extinct on the mainland. Another first.

 [A Tieke (see the orange wattles?) amidst the berries and leaves]

There are two tracks to the summit, the Trig Track and the Wilkinson; the former being steeper, narrower and more rooty, the latter newer, wider, and flatter. We chose the Trig and it certainly was a climb, but a fun one. It had been overcast to begin the morning, but most of the cloud burnt off by eleven and we all got pretty hot on our ascent despite the canopy. There were plenty of excuses for stops, interesting trees, shrubs, ferns, and of course, birds, like these baby Weka...

 [Weka chicks]

We saw several Popokatea (Whitehead) going up and coming back down. They are about canary sized, and hop from tree to tree like they're keyed up on caffeine, making them difficult to photograph well, but their white head makes them easy to identify.

[Popokatea, centre]

We also saw several Toutouwai (North Island Robin -- they aren't really related to other robins, but look like them), and they had to be one of my favourite birds. They aren't that colourful, ranging from smoky grey to mottled black, but they are inquisitive little fellas. By scraping my shoes across the path, I got one to come down and look for grubs in the middle of our group. They also seem to understand how to pose for the camera (Popokatea, are you listening?).

[Left: Nosy Toutouwai. Right: Toutouwai and my feet]

The trick of rubbing wet polystyrene on glass certainly works with Hihi (Stichbirds). If I saw something dart across the path up ahead, I'd whip out my tools and start squeaking. After about ten seconds a bird would often come within a couple of metres, though normally obscured by a layer of twigs and branches, to check out the sound. Hihi, with their yellow splash of colour on the wings, were also pretty easy to identify, though knowing what species were on the island sure narrows down the options.

[Male Hihi]

I heard many Korimako (Bellbirds), but it wasn't until later on in the day I got some confirmed visuals. And there were plenty more Tui knocking round in the forest proper.


In all it took about two hours to reach the summit, by which time it was a beautiful sunny day. From the lookout you could see all along the Kapiti Coast (seems funny to call part of the mainland that while actually on Kapiti Island) down to the southern end of the North Island, an uninterrupted view of the northern profile of the South Island, and a 360 degree view of Kapiti itself. The western side of the island is quite sheer, and reminded me, strangely, (*travel snob alert*) of the Isle of Capri.

[The Kapiti Coast from summit (Tuteremoana) of Kapiti Island]

After eating our packed lunches (keeping the Weka at a safe distance), we went back down via the Wilkinson track. It felt like a lot more walking, though it was definitely easier to find a footing. About halfway down we past a Tieke roosting box, which was empty, but then in the trees we saw four or five orange-saddled birds hopping around.

[A Tieke showing us his orange saddle]

Sadly, I didn't see their wattled cousin, the Kōkako, on Saturday, though I'm pretty sure I heard one about three-quarters of the way up the Trig track.

Nor did I get any confirmed sightings of Miromiro (Tomtit). I saw plenty of birds flitting around that were about their size, but could never be sure. Same goes for Silvereyes and Grey Warblers. Saw plenty of birds that could have been Silvereyes or Warblers in the middle distance, obscured by foliage or zipping from one side of a clearing to another, but they could equally have been Bellbirds or Whiteheads.

As we descended we got some beautiful views of the island and the marine reserve, and saw many Kereru, Kaka, and Kakariki (Red Crowned Parakeet). Once we made it back to the flat, we looked back up toward the summit and could see activity going on all around.

[Kaka flying through the picnic area]

On the beach I saw a New Zealand Pipit and a pair of Welcome Swallows (though one took off before I took the photo).

[NZ Pipit]

[Welcome Swallow perched on a stump of driftwood]

We were truly lucky with the weather and the birds and I haven't even talked about the plants (some other time). It felt special being a tourist back in New Zealand and knowing that I can continue to build on this knowledge I am acquiring. And, knowing that Kapiti still had possums and rats when I was in high school puts in perspective how far it has come as a sanctuary for native flora and fauna, and how far it still can go. Looking forward to seeing what it's like in twenty years.

1 comment:

Laura said...

omg you are so going back here when I'm home. I did a project on kokako at school, so surely one will come out for me.