RTW05 #4.2: codfish island, new zealand

on dec. 14th 2005, a small government-chartered airplane (the smallest airplane that i’ve ever been on) took a total of 4 passengers to a small island off the coast of a small island off the coast of new zealand: codfish island [G] (whenua hou in maori language) is located east of steward island, which is just south of NZ’s south island.

in the 1980s all non-native predators (possums, rats, stouts, cats, …) were eradicated from the island, which is now one of new zealand’s bird sanctuaries. apart from endangered species like the kaka1, kakariki2 and the southern short-tailed bat3, it is also (and most importantly) the home of the kakapo (strigops habroptilus).
to be exact, it’s one of the two homes of the kakapo: codfish and chalky island.

kakapo (strigops habroptilus)

the kakapo is a critically endangered parrot species that has some pretty exceptional qualities. i’ll just name a few:

  • it can’t fly, and weighs up to 4kg (which makes it the heaviest parrot).
  • it’s nocturnal.
  • it has facial feathers like a typical owl, and “whiskers” like a cat.
  • it has a sophisticated “lek” breeding system (unique in the order of parrots).
  • courtship behaviour also includes “self-inflating” of the males until they look like green basketballs, then producing very low-frequency sounds (“booming”) to attract the females.
  • it only breeds every few years, probably depending on rimu fruit abundance.
  • it’s probably the longest-living bird overall (the oldest living kakapo, richard-henry, was captured over 30 years ago and is believed to be about 50 years old).
  • and – much to its disadvantage – it doesn’t really know what to do when a predator is near, which is why there are only 86 (!) individuals left on.

i was already …”in the general area” (new zealand, that is), so i seized the chance and participated in the kakapo recovery programme.
the other passengers on the little airplane were phil (kakapo officer) and matthias&emilie, an incredible couple from france.
as soon as we landed, we got to meet the other biologists on the island: malcolm (kakapo officer), ursula&thomas (a penguin-researcher couple living in NZ, originally from germany), xin (NZ) and eleanor (NZ).
yup, 9 biologists on an uninhabited island for 14 days. an incredible time to be had. :-)

during my time on the island, i didn’t encounter anywhere near as many kakapos as matt (it seemed like they all came running out to greet him), but i did get to see some individuals. it was a touching experience to see a rare creature whose species is nearly extinct.
beside that, i was REALLY lucky when one of my feedout-hikes* led me near bill, a young male kakapo who had just started booming:
* we deployed supplementary food and water for the kakapo, amongst others.

the original file: a booming kakapo
if you don’t hear anything unusual, try the other one.
here, pitch was increased by 50% (no change in speed), because it seems like most regular speakers aren’t able to play these low frequencies.

the vegetation on whenua hou was pretty …”jurassic park”-esque – lots of ferns, treeferns, mosses in the forest, and up on the plateau there were only shrubs …down to just lichens & small minuscule plants on very exposed patches. we found three species of drosera (sundew), and lots of beautiful orchids.
and the fauna …astonishing!
little blue penguins4 were nesting under our hut, yellow-eyed penguins5 raised their chicks on a close-by shore, NZ fur seals6 lying around on the beach…

unsorted thoughts:

  • one very impressive part of life on the island was recycling. everything we needed had to be flown in (and out), so every last piece packaging (for example) really did their job 150% before being thrown in the trash…
  • the first time i saw a new zealand pigeon7, i said something like “that must be a new zealand pigeon!”. malcolm replied (with a “what-are-you-talking-about”-undertone) “that’s priscilla!”
  • i was introduced to a new zealand music project called fly my pretties, and within about 20 seconds “champion” became my absolute favourite (scroll down to “listen to live at bats” and pick track 13 on their myspace-page).
  • we had a stereo in the common room to plug our mp3-players/ipods in to. at some point (it was just before christmas), i played a song of “mr. hankey’s christmas classics” to somebody.
    phil, who had been in the next-door office, didn’t notice that i unplugged his ipod and switched to my own mp3-player. when he heard the song, he came running out, shouting “oh my god, is that on my ipod???”
  • spending christmas day with friends, playing games on the beach, is something i could get used to!

[view photos: codfish island (general)]
[view photos: kakapo (strigops habroptilus)]
[view photos: christmas day]

[view photos: fauna on codfish island]
[view photos: flora on codfish island]
[view photos: slime moulds* on codfish island]
* slime moulds are not actually moulds (=fungi), but curious protists that (in some stages of their life cycle) can actively move around. for more information, check wikipedia: [de] [en]

[view all posts of this group]

binomial species names:
1 nestor meridionalis
2 cyanoramphus auriceps and c. novaezelandiae
3 mystacina tuberculata
4 eudyptula minor
5 megadyptes antipodes
6 arctocephalus fosteri
7 hemiphaga novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae

2 thoughts on “RTW05 #4.2: codfish island, new zealand

  1. Hi, I’ve come to your site from “Another Chance To See”…

    I was on Codfish for two weeks this March, as the last of the season’s volunteers. Your pics have taken me straight back! Pancake Sunday was v cool, although it was a bit cold to be playing rugby while I was there.

    I’m totally jealous that a) you were there on Xmas day and b) that you say three kakapo, and one in the daytime! I think they were all lazy while I was there. They’d also stopped booming the week before which was a bit disappointing :(

    I also saw a NZ pigeon so it may well have been Priscilla :)


  2. thanks for your message, becki.
    christmas really was a special experience…
    i can imagine it was cold in march – there were days when we needed heating in december!

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