Across All Realms: Sea, Land & Air
Our seabird taonga
Trustee Tony Dunlop visits Motu Kokako, Bay of Islands
Being a yachtie I knew it as Piercy Island off Cape Brett, most tourists know it as the “Hole in the Rock”, but to the local Maori it is Motu Kokako. Recently I had the privilege of joining Richard Witehira [Blandy] and his team on a survey of seabirds and geckos on this island.
The name Motu Kokako refers to the past tradition of keeping Kokako captive on the island for trading. The Kokako was very valuable to Maori for their feathers and as they are poor flyers once on the island the birds could not escape. Kokako were also known to be good mimics and could act as 'Judas birds' - to attract other species that Maori had an appetite for (as Blandy noted).
The Motu Kokako Ahu Whenua Trust that administers the island on behalf of the traditional owners has been running surveys of the local fauna for the last few years. Dr Isobel Castro of Massey University was instrumental in setting up the project and training local maori to carry out the work on an ongoing basis. Isobel was involved in our visit but is keen to step back and let the locals take charge.
A helipad has been built on the very peak of the island and survey parties from the Trust visit twice a year. The day trip I went on was a survey for seabirds and geckos. They also have an overnight visit to observe other critters.
While much of the island is inaccessible without fancy climbing gear, there are two large areas of burrows used by seabirds that are less difficult to visit and these have been mapped and the burrows labelled. The survey work involved checking the burrows for residents either adult birds sitting on eggs or chicks. We investigated about 60 burrows using burrow scopes. There were not many residents at this time of the year. We found a few chicks and a few sitting adults – all were “Oi”, the grey faced petrels. Isobel extracted one Oi from its burrow for the picture suffering much biting and bleeding in the process. Apparently that’s all in a day’s work for seabird researchers.
A number of artificial homes have been set up for geckos, using small pieces of corrugated iron on the ground and foam matting tacked onto trees. We did see a number of geckos which were using the bits of iron for their homes, but none on the trees.
The Oi also has another name that is fairly self explanatory, the northern muttonbird. The relatively easily accessible burrows that are being monitored had been used to provide food for the local Maori. It is great to see the current administrators of the island now promoting this ongoing conservation work.
Off Cape Brett - painting by C. Gold (Alexander Turnbull Library)