My life as a keaologist: Lake Rotoiti survey part III
Prior to heading out the next day, I checked the weather report and the forecast said ‘clear blue skies for the next few days’. After reading this I committed the ultimate sin in any trampers opinion, I left my raincoat behind in a further attempt to lighten my pack. By now I was down to the bare essentials; all I had in my pack was kea catching and banding gear, and food. This decision was one I would live to regret very soon into this leg of the survey.
That afternoon we made our way to our next survey point and again I headed to my spot alone. I found a comfortable position to wait and look for birds; I saw a mob fly past, back and forth a few times. They weren’t interested in me at all and so I caught up on my reading. After about an hour sitting there, dark spots started appearing on the pages in my book, looking up there was some very ominous clouds lurking about. I hoped that the Met Service’s weather prediction would prevail but the chance of that happening was looking very slim at this stage.
The rain started and was quite bearable for a time, but that didn’t last too long. I was out in the open and all I had to sleep in was a bivy bag. I rummaged through the sparse contents in my bag for something to protect me from the weather and found myself a rubbish bag, a good old ‘blak sak’. I made a head and some arm holes and wore that rubbish bag with style. I proceeded to make my way to Kirsty who was at the neighbouring survey point – which just so happened to be a hut with shelter and comfortable beds!
It turns out that the rain forcing me to move on was a blessing in disguise because not long after having dinner there was a flutter at the hut door. A juvenile kea had arrived at the back door, Kirsty and I quickly unpacked our catching gear and enticed him into our noose – this was done using Kirsty’s hot pink jandal. This kea fell into the right age and sex class for us to put a satellite transmitter on. The kea Conservation Trust wants to see where male juvenile kea are going as they mature and this bird provided the perfect opportunity for this. After processing him we let him go just out the back door. He hung around for a few minutes and then flew off into the drizzle and darkness.
The next day Kirsty and I moved to another survey point a few kilometres away from the hut. While we were here we got a radio message saying that there were going to be some heavy showers that afternoon/evening and the clouds definitely supported this prediction. There were some huge cumulonimbus clouds directly above us. Neither Kirsty nor I had a tent to protect us from the predicted onslaught so we spent the afternoon rearranging rocks into some sort of shelter. I have quite a bit of building experience… which proved to be of no help at all. But I took great pride in what I managed to create. There were three walls positioned next to a slight drop in the terrain, it even had a roof made from my emergency blanket and was supported with a few well positioned sticks. I was ready for the heavy rain, but it turns out that the clouds blew past and we had a pleasant starlit evening. I did sleep in my shelter but it was more annoying than beneficial; rocks changed position and the roof constantly flapped around in the breeze – both of which disturbed my slumber.
The next day we had a bit more luck on the kea front. Just after we had dismantled our shelter, returning it to a natural state, a kea called and landed a few hundred metres away. We quickly enticed her into our noose and had her in hand within a short time. We were able to identify her as a female because of the reduced curvature of the upper bill. We processed this kea a lot quicker because we were well practiced from our previous experience the night before. We placed a radio transmitter on her so we could track it using an aerial and radio receiver. The idea was to come back the next day, locate the bird and its nest then place transmitters on any other birds that she was associating with. Because I was involved in processing the bird I had the privilege to name her. So I named it after the other great passion in my life, my girlfriend CeeJay. I also had the privilege – which eventually turned into a hassle – of tracking this bird the next day. I think it was because I was the youngest and most naive that I got this job: it was the last day of the survey and everyone else was happier to stay at the base and recover.
The day started with a boat ride to just below the peak where we had found CeeJay. I began the trek up the slope with confidence, which quickly turned to despair. The radio receiver wasn’t picking up any signal and I began to question whether we had done our job properly the day before, maybe the transmitter wasn’t turned on or had fallen off. I kept ascending the slope hoping that there would be a signal over the next rise but it never came. I got back to the exact spot where we had caught CeeJay and there was still no sign of her, so I decided to continue on my way. I kept the receiver on while I walked and to my surprise I got a signal when I got to the top of the range.
This signal seemed to be coming from all the way down the bottom of the other side of the range, so I then started the long decline. I got all the way to the bottom, walked along the track and finally found CeeJay perched in a tree… only eight hours after I had set out to find her. She was there with another kea but it turned out to be the one me and Kirsty had caught two days earlier, so I my mammoth effort tracking her had been all in vain; no new kea were found that day. It also turned out the CeeJay was only five minutes from the car park, so if I started at the other end of the range I probably would have found her efficiently.
And so ended the Kea Conservation Trust’s 2009 survey, and given my exhausted state, I was in need of a few days to recover before I returned to work. Now fully rested, I am looking forward to my next kea adventure….