My life as a kea-hunter: Part II
Blogger: Kea hunter, Corey Mosen
Bound for the mountains yet again, I loaded up my car – a low-slung vehicle 1996 Nissan Skyline not designed to be a work horse around the mountains – and wheeled down to Wellington’s ferry terminal. And after a day’s travelling, I was there at my destination – rain-filled St Arnaud.
This time I had two underlings – a one-time kea hunter, Athena and a complete novice – my older brother. This was my chance for revenge: after all those years of my older brother picking on me, he deserved a little kea punishment.
The first day out in the field was beautiful and I used the opportunity to check the ski field to see if there were any kea haunting the abandoned slopes. My car struggled in the fords however luckily they weren’t high and the only obstacles were rocks; there were a few scraping sounds coming from underneath the car but we came out unscathed.
The ski field was void of kea, people and anything resembling a life form. The only thing that was alive was the sky, it was busy hammering the area with rain. We left empty handed. Conscious of my monitoring goals, I visited a key site where a young kea family were found nesting in August.
Once again I was welcomed by a male kea sitting in a tree outside the nest which was a good sign. After squeezing myself inside the rock cavity I was elated to see more than just the female kea running about the nook.
There was mum and two chicks; the three eggs had produced two living offspring – which is a great success rate in kea reproduction. This is where I realised that I would rather work with kea chicks than adults any day, they looked just as cheeky but they were so docile that I was able to catch them without any traps or rope.
I caught one at a time and crawled out of the nest. I did the typical measurements, put some coloured bands on their legs and put radio transmitters on their backs.
One thing that I found interesting was that fledging kea were heavier than the typical adult. Both chicks were over 1000g and adults are usually under. It just shows how much effort must be involved in raising fledging chicks from eggs.
Now, putting radio transmitters on parrots isn’t an easy task.
First you need to make the harness. This takes about 20 minutes from start to finish and is done before you go out in the field. The harness is designed to fall off after the battery in the transmitter has run out of battery. Unfortunately, there is no high-tech wizardry but rather you just let the wear and tear erode the cotton strings that lash together the battery harness. And then voila – it falls off it is kind of like taking off a jersey.
During this trip kea sightings were so few and far between we decided to try our luck looking for birds at one of the huts in the area. Kea visit human habitation because often people can’t resist feeding them. For them it’s an easy way to get fed. We managed to convince people at the local DOC office to give us a ride up the lake in the boat ‘whio’ and made ourselves at home at the Coldwater Hut.
We yelled and whistled and waved around brightly coloured objects hoping to attract kea. I soon found myself engrossed in an interaction that is best described as eel vs duckling. The ducklings won.
Not long after the duck/eel interactions we were visited by a male Kea, Arnie, who we had caught at the ski field in August. He spent an hour or so amusing us and the visiting trampers at the hut, then he flew off up the lake.
I took extra care to watch where he was going so I could find him and hopefully his nest the next day. It turned out that Arnie was nowhere close the next day; there was no signal at all in any direction from his transmitter. So we spent the day walking back to St Arnaud, which wasn’t fun because it’s not a good walk and it was raining!
The next day my brother arrived and we spent two days hunting the area for kea activity. Again were left disappointed. I had high expectations that I would find an egg/chick-filled in a nest-cavity we had spotted earlier, but alas it was empty.
It was a solemn walk down the mountain because I had promised everyone that there would be some kea to see. We headed home to rest our aching bodies. And after two days my brother was absolutely knackered and requested to be let off for the next day, reluctantly I let him sit it out: I had pushed him hard enough.
He missed out on another day of rain and no kea, but he did also miss a fun ride across a cableway. I was also caught by surprise when a large boulder narrowly missed my head after being dislodged from above by Athena. She assures me it wasn’t intentional, but I wonder if she was trying to get me back for all the hard work I had made her do over the last ten days!