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September 2021 Issue
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Heaphy is a hotspot for South Island kōkako sightings

North Island kōkako (pictured) have blue wattles while South Island kōkako have orange. Photo: Raven Cretney

Dozens of cameras have been installed on the Heaphy Track in the hope of capturing photos of the South Island kōkako after a surge in sightings in the area.

The South Island kōkako was classified as extinct for decades, but it was reclassified as ‘data deficient’ in 2013 after a reported sighting near Reefton.

A dedicated group has continued searching for the bird, which has a distinctive orange wattle and sonorous call. There have been a number of reported sightings but no concrete evidence it still exists.

In 2017, a $10,000 reward was offered for anyone able to provide evidence that leads to confirmation the bird survives and ‘wanted’ posters have been put up in a number of DOC huts. Since then, the South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust has received 266 reported sightings throughout the South Island, which are logged and mapped on the trust’s website. Before 2017, only 87 sightings were reported.

Trust advisor Rhys Buckingham has been searching for the South Island kōkako for 42 years and said the Heaphy has been a recent hotspot for sightings. Two volunteers have now bought 50 cameras. Buckinghan said, most have been installed near the Heaphy Track with DOC’s permission.

“They are mostly focusing on the Heaphy Track, where we probably have more reported sightings than anywhere else,” he said. 

He said sightings on the lower Heaphy River were particularly credible.

“I’m quite convinced some of these sightings were kōkako.”

Buckingham’s own search is focused on an area of Abel Tasman National Park, near Castle Rocks, where kōkako-like calls have been recorded, and he has installed cameras in the park.

Meanwhile, Marlborough arborist Matthew Dickson contacted Wilderness recently after seeing a kōkako-like bird on the north bank of the Wairau River, near Te Rou, at the foot of the Richmond Range. 

After talking with Dickson, Buckingham said the sighting sounds credible and also plans to search the area in the coming months.