My Life as Kea-Locator: Part I
Blogger: Kea-conservationist Corey Mosen
Last year my entire holiday leave was spent rooting out kea – on the wind, rain, snow and hail lashed mountains of St Arnaud, near Rainbow Ski field in Nelson. The trip below took place in the heart of winter
Keas make their homes in small mountainside burrows, and my job was to firstly find their nest, and secondly check if they were still being used.
Not just a simple matter of ‘too roo, is anyone there?’ If the nest was kea-less, I had to do a thorough check of Sign of Lifes – namely, feathers, poohs, or kea nearby. Finally, I would do the sniff test.
I had been tasked with the job of converting a 1990s map into an up-to-date GPS map that would provide a good snapshot of our kea-population in this area, and a record of their breeding success.
The reality of doing this meant that we needed to put in lots of man-hours, walking up and down mountains looking for obscure holes in the ground where kea could be nesting.
There wasn’t a job description given by the Kea Conservation Trust, but I imagine it would have read something like this –
Wanted: Kea location scout/nest monitor
A mountain man or woman needed to leap around the hills of St Arnaud in search of kea nests. Must be a kea-lover; must have 20/20 eyesight; must be able to traverse glacial rivers; must be happy to endure all manner of kea-bites (affectionate, or otherwise); must not mind being wet for the majority of the day.
The map resembled a treasure map. Reference points were provided and instructions were scribbled, however as I looked at the expansive feature-less, rock-scape before me, the task – at times – seemed rather daunting.
In order to reach certain nest sites, I had to cross some glacial, didymo-filled (read; slippery) rivers which was best done in a pantless, bootless state. In this state, I would wander the hills, like a mad-man peering my nose into any suspicious cavities.
And – just like a madman – I would chuckle to myself when I thought about what would my rescuers think, if they found me in a scantily clad state and frozen on the river bed, or clinging to the mountain-side?
The historic, insulation-free accommodation that was provided courtesy of DOC was my home for two rain-filled weeks. Its fire was my saviour. I even set up a mattress next to it so I could stay warm during the night and put extra logs on so it would still be going in the morning.
During my stay here, I eventually found a nest that had a bird inside who was sitting on some eggs. Her mate was outside the nest busy defending it from another male who had unknown intentions In total, I only discovered one nest with birds inside, one more nest that looked like birds had been using it and about 20 that were empty with no sign of anything
As well as scouring rockscapes, I went for more obvious spots to find kea – namely ski cafeterias. Here, I successfully trapped an old male, and smuggled it back to my car to change its band, only to discover it has attached itself to my assistant’s finger. I desperately looked around, trying to find a suitable chew-toy, only to discover the best substitute was my thumb.
Wounded and defeated, we finally made the decision to let this one roam free, in the hope that we can catch him next time around.
To be continued…..