It’s a beautiful calm summer evening. The last glow of the sunset is just fading from the sky and most of the daytime birds have fallen silent, although the kākā are still intermittently screeching in the tall pines at the top of the valley. I’m at the pylon, one of the highest points in the ZEALANDIA valley. I’m with another volunteer, and together we start unpacking torches, a clipboard and a compass, check the time, and settle ourselves down on a bench to wait.
Behind us, the red light from the Brooklyn wind turbine flicks on and off as the blades turn across it. I look around and realise that a ruru or morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae) is sitting on a nearby tree branch, silhouetted against the sky, quietly watching us, and no doubt wondering what we are up to. After a while, it spreads its wings and flies noiselessly away into the shadows.
And then we hear it, the first call of the evening, a shrill rising repetitive note breaking through the silence. My companion points in the direction that the call came from, while I fiddle with the compass to get a bearing. We confer briefly, and then carefully note down the details of what we have heard. We sit for a little longer and then we hear another call, much more distant this time, somewhere in the far reaches of the valley and we confer once more.
We are making a record of kiwi calls. This is part of an ongoing project to monitor kiwi in the valley. Somewhere over the other side of the valley on the Discovery Tower, another pair of volunteers are doing the same, and our two sets of data will be matched up by researchers. Over a 3 month period in the summer, pairs of volunteers head out into the valley every night (weather permitting) to collect data for an hour, just after sunset. This is used to get an idea of the kiwi population in the valley – how many there are and where they are located. While call monitoring cannot provide a completely accurate picture, it is still one of the most effective ways of monitoring populations of this well-camouflaged, nocturnal bird, especially as kiwi calls can be heard from up to 1.5 kilometres away.
It’s good to know that we are making a valuable contribution to conservation knowledge, but sitting in the peaceful valley at night is a highly rewarding activity in itself. Once our hour is up and we have filled in our data sheet, we pack up and make our way back. It’s completely dark now of course, and we stop every now and again to investigate interesting rustling noises on the way. Usually there are tuatara up here by the fenceline and if we’re lucky, we’ll see one or two of our research subjects, the Kiwi Pukupuku or Little Spotted Kiwi (Apteryx owenii), foraging under the trees or wandering casually across our path.
Article by Louise Slocombe
Little Spotted Kiwi photo by Steve Reed