Where's Duncan?

The amazing volunteer pest control project of Ark in the Park has brought a surprising visitor to the backyards of Aucklanders this week.

On Friday keen birdwatchers in Glendowie disocvered that a lone kokako had made the unlikely journey right across our largest city and is now residing in the eastern suburb.

Duncan the kokako has appeared in a Glendowie backyard, to the delight of residents (Photo: Catherine Gordon).

Duncan the kokako was released into the Ark in the Park in 2010. He was part of an early group of kokako to be released there after an initial kokako release in 2009, which I was lucky enough to attend along with a couple of hundred happy Aucklanders. Until the translocation in 2009, kokako had been extinct in the Waitakere ranges since the 1950s - cleared out by pests and predators.

The 10-year partnership between Forest and Bird and the Auckland Council now sees 2300 hectares of predator-controlled area, manned by volunteers, and supported by the technical input of the council as well as DOC. This area of forest, right in our biggest city, now provides a safe home to hihi, whitehead, kaka, tomtits and robins, among others.  

My mates in Piha now regularly get half a dozen kaka "boyracers" flying past their house on early summer evenings. This wee gang must be coming from over the hill in the Ark in the Park (because kaka don't survive well when living in areas with pests).

Though kokako have transmitters to determine their whereabouts, soon after his release, Duncan disappeared and had not been seen for some time. That is the problem with intensive pest control - you cannot stop birds from leaving the area (well, birds that fly at least!). What we need is eradication of predators to give our wildlife the best chance.

On Friday, sightings and reports of a large grey bird in Glendowie started to filter through the very well-connected birding network, creating a dubious response, till this blurry picture was taken, confirming (due to his bands), that this was indeed Duncan, the errant kokako.

The first confirmed photo of Duncan that appeared on the birding website on Friday.

What is amazing about this story is the journey Duncan has taken. After leaving the relative safety (and native forest) of the Waitakere Ranges, Duncan has somehow made his way across 31km (as the wattled crow flies) of one of the busiest chunks of urban Auckland.  

There are two reasons why this is an incredible journey.  

The first is that kokako are not great fliers. If you've ever been lucky enough to see a kokako (and if you haven't, you must immediately go and book yourself a trip to Kapiti Island, Tiritiri Matangi, or Pukaha Mt Bruce), you'll know that they are not renowned for their aerial abilities.

Instead, these "long-legged dancers of the forest" leap and climb in the tops of trees, often landing on the ground to pick up leaves or berries, and while they can spread their wings to sort of aid their passage between treetops, they're hardly long-distance fliers by any stretch of the imagination.  So how on earth did Duncan make it from the West to the East of Auckland?

This is my interpretation (based on a Google maps search) of how Duncan may have made his way to Glendowie - but it really represents if he had taken a car, which is highly unlikely! What it does show is the distance this bird has covered and the urban gauntlet he has run to get there!

Second, kokako are prime targets for predators - due to their having existed for millions of years with no mammalian predators, they are naive to attacks by things with four legs and fur. Combine that with some dodgy flying skills, being quite big (well, bigger than a tui) and ungainly, and Duncan should really have been a sitting duck for some neighbourhood cat.

It's not clear how long Duncan has been living in the Glendowie area, but more photos yesterday confirm that he certainly is there (though DOC have been notified and are likely to go and rescue him from imminent danger). Perhaps, given Auckland's traffic issues, it took him the past three years to get there? We may never know. What we do know is that due to the amazing work of volunteers in Ark in the Park, as well as DOC's and locals' achievements in getting many of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf predator free, Auckland may continue to be a hotspot for native wildlife for many years to come. What I really like is that people are noticing the native wildlife around them. This is the most important step in protecting these species for future generations.

Have you seen Duncan? Did you know about Ark in the Park? How do you think Duncan made it from the Waitaks to Glendowie? I'm keen to hear the theories!

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