Wanderings and Wonderings on Whenua hou Part III
I write this last update from my study in Dunedin, where I am resting for a couple of days after my few weeks of hard work on the island. I was pretty sad to leave my feathered friends and the magical Whenua Hou where I had such an amazing experience with this fantastic and successful programme to help restore the kakapo population to its former glory.
The fortnight flew by, there being never a dull moment nor homeward thought. My fellow volunteers and I were lucky to experience fine southern weather which did not impede our daily feeding routine or expand the potential mud patches which I suspected could reach astounding depths in moist conditions.
Of course actually seeing a kakapo was the highlight of the whole experience. On my second last night, just as I had given up hope, Sirocco peered at me with big eyes from the bushes as I negotiated my way to the compost toilet. Suddenly, realising I wasn’t a female kakapo in full breeding bloom, he scurried away and disappeared into his camouflage. I stood rooted to the spot in awe for several moments before carrying on with my business.
Fine green whiskery feathers surrounded his large specialised beak. His colours even in the shield of darkness, beautifully green and frond-like, matching perfectly with the ferny undergrowth. No one could deny they are the most beautiful birds, the most unusual birds, and the most magical of birds.
I felt very lucky to have seen a kakapo during my stay as like most things in nature, it cannot be guaranteed or predicted. Furthermore, as a volunteer on the programme I felt that the island was the kakapo’s domain and I neither wanted to disturb nor intimidate them. As a volunteer I felt I was there to help the kakapo, to do what is best for them and not for personal gratification.
After my encounter with Sirocco, I was walking on air and before I knew it, it was time to leave the island. On the last day we prepared and cleaned the feeding room for the next set of volunteers, cleaned the hut, packed our bags and said our goodbyes to the abounding wildlife.
We arrived at the landing strip early enough to have a speedy petanque session in the sunshine before the hum of an engine echoing through valleys grew louder and louder. We quickly vacated the beach to allow the plane to land and said our goodbyes to the rangers who had been so incredibly good to us; welcoming us, working with us, teaching us and laughing with us. They work so hard, and all of them gained my respect for their single mindedness and passion for the kakapo and Whenua Hou.
After another breathtaking flight across the Foveaux Strait, we landed in Invercargill and were met by the DOC quarantine officer. She drove us back to the quarantine store where we had left our gear and car keys.
Reality hit hard. Roads, cars, shops, people. There are no kakapo on the mainland, I will hear no booming tonight. However, one day with all the hard work and dedication of the Department of Conservation, Rio Tinto Alcan, Forest & Bird and the volunteers, that may become reality. Let’s all work together to achieve this.
For more information on the programme, the kakapo and how you could get involved go to: www.kakaporecovery.org.nz