Thursday, 20 February 2014

A kiwi and a kiwi and a kiwi....

I was given the opportunity to go with 2 of the Rotokare team today on a kiwi mission.
We were going to track a kiwi that has been wearing a transmitter for the last 12 months and when caught, we would remove the transmitter and let him go.... most likely never to be seen again.

You probably have a few questions in your head at the moment- Why were the eggs taken? where were the eggs taken?  why was the transmitter taken off? how did the transmitter get put on in the first place?

So hopefully I can provide a few answers- then I will tell you about my day!

1. Why take the eggs?

A. Genetics! we can't have kiwi in-breeding (we all know that this will lead to defects sooner or later)
By taking eggs from one area and then releasing the birds into another area, we are spreading the genes around.
B. Kiwi have a much higher chance of survival in the wild when they are over 1.2 kgs in weight. At this weight they have a better chance at fighting off any predators they might encounter (stoat, possums etc..)

Eggs that are uplifted from a burrow are taken to Rainbow Springs in Rotorua to be looked after until the hatch. They are then taken to a place like Rotokare which is known as a kiwi 'creche.' Because Rotokare is predator free, the young kiwi have a really good opportunity to grow and get strong. These young birds are fitted with transmitters, so once they get to the desired weight they are taken from the sanctuary and returned to the place they were found or to another area.

2. How did we know where the kiwi was?

There are 2 parts for this answer. The first part is how did the transmitter get onto the bird and the second is how did we find the kiwi today?
Here goes with an answer...

Some of the Rotokare team have spent a lot of time surveying areas in Taranaki for kiwi. Basically they go out into an area at night time and listen..... yip listen. They are listening for kiwi calls. They may also leave recorders in the area and then go back a few days later and see if any calls were heard.

If calls are heard, then kiwi 'hunters' will go into the area and start looking for them using their eyes.... yip their eyes! (Hi-tech stuff huh?) looking for footprints, feathers, poo etc..

When they are found they will get a transmitter attached to them (only the males though- the female has done her job after laying the egg. The incubating and raising of the young chick is left to the male to carry out).
These transmitters are amazing. They are able to tell us all sorts of things such as if they are incubating, how long they have been incubating for, when they last left their burrow, when they last moved burrows, if they are dead (or the transmitter has come off somehow.)
The transmitter has a battery life of 12 months.

So how did we find the kiwi today?

The kiwi transmitter sends out a beap every second or so. When the aerial is within a couple of kilometres of the kiwi, the aerial will start picking up the beeping sound. As you get closer to the kiwi, the beep sound gets louder. You turn the aerial to ascertain the direction the kiwi is in- once again the beep volume will be louder or softer depending on how close you are to the bird.

The top photo shows the transmitter in Chauncy's bottom hand. The bottom photo shows Jenny using the aerial.

So today's adventure....

We leftt Hawera and travelled south for 30 minutes before turning east and heading in land (For locals, we turned up Kohi Road by the Waverley race course.)
We drove for another 30-40 minutes (most on a gravel road) before parking the car.
We walked down a pretty rough road for about 30 minutes before we started using the aerial to see if our wee friend was in the area. We picked up his beep pretty quickly.
Once we were pretty sure he was close, we waited for the next series of beeps to come through. These are the beeps I mentioned earlier that tells us what the kiwi has been up to.
Then we were off ..... well at a snail's pace and as little noise as possible.
The beeps were coming from the same vacinity that the kiwi had been in on a previous trip, Jenny said that this was unusual as usually once an egg is hatched, the kiwi move to a new burrow.
In what seemed like no time at all, the kiwi was located, in the same burrow as on previous visits.
Why are we taking the transmitter off this bird?
It sounds terrible, but this wee guy has served his purpose. We had uplifted 2 eggs from him last summer. Both were hatched at Rainbow springs and then released back to Lake Rotokare unmonitored. We no longer have the need to monitor him. The 3 of us today will probably be the last people to ever see him.

Carefully taking the transmitter off
Then doing some recordings, beak length, weight and general health check.
 While Jenny was doing the rest of her checks, Chauncy went to have a look at the burrow.....
 And to his astonishment, he found a chick. Estimated to be about 2-3 weeks old. This just made today's adventure even more exciting. We knew that this kiwi had been sitting on an egg and we knew the egg had hatched but we never expected the chick to still be in the burrow. Kiwi chicks are born with everything they need to survive, they don't need to be fed or looked after like a human baby. Usually a chick would hang around for a little while and head off on their own.
The entrance to the burrow, was covered over by vegetation when we arrived.
Considering the size of the bird, the opening was really small.
When all the buisness was done, I was asked if I would like to have a wee hold. To be honest I was rather apprehensive about doing it... what if I dropped him!!!!!
Anyway, I plucked up the courage-
He seemed quiet happy to sit in my lap, even looked at the camera :)
Me and Jenny and the man of the moment. 
Jenny is one of the many volunteers at Lake Rotokare. She has been volunteering there for the last 4 years. She is an ex-dairy farmer who now works part time at Dairy NZ. She is involved in all aspects of lake life and really enjoys what she is able to do. As part of her 'lake life' she has been involved with a lot of the kiwi work that has been done. She has had a lot of experience working with kiwi. It was fantastic to work with her and learn from her today.
It's people like Jenny that are the backbone of so many organizations in NZ.
Without the work of the volunteers, the Rotokare project would not be anywhere near what it is today. If you are reading this and think you might have a few hours to spare every so often, find somewhere to volunteer!! If you live in Taranaki, contact one of the staff at Lake Rotokare or visit their website to find out how you can help out. ..... go on!
There are 26 known kiwi now calling Rotokare 'home.'
We also know that one kiwi bred last season. Most of the kiwi at the lake no longer wear transmitters, so are free to go about their buisness in relative peace and safety. 
Sanctuarys like Rotokare are crucial in ensuring that our national bird and other endangered species survive.
 I learnt sooooo much today about kiwi, kiwi monitoring, technology involved in kiwi work, history of the kiwi revival in Taranaki as well as so much about the people I was working with.
I am so happy to have had this  opportunity today. Thanks to Simon for letting me part of it.


  1. What an amazing experience!! I hadn't realised that there was such intensive monitoring in Taranaki or even thought that there were so many Kiwi there!

  2. Hi Di, great to hear from you! It's amazing the amount of work that is being done behind the scenes with kiwi in NZ. Rotokare is the perfect place in Taranaki to look after the little birds as it is totally safe from predators. It's sad that only about 5% of kiwi chicks born in the wild will survive to adulthood. I had to laugh at your comment about weta and church camp, one of my big memories from camping at Everett Park was the weta everywhere! Take care!!