Mixed reaction to kokako 'sighting'

SEEING IS BELIEVING: A bird-spotter who is convinced that kokako are living in the Nelson hills wants his experience publicised so others might come forward to verify his sighting.
SEEING IS BELIEVING: A bird-spotter who is convinced that kokako are living in the Nelson hills wants his experience publicised so others might come forward to verify his sighting.

A walker convinced he saw a kokako in the hills behind Nelson has attracted backers for the sighting, along with some ribbing from his friends.

The middle-aged businessman, who did not wish to be named for fear of ridicule, wants this experience publicised so other bird-spotters might come forward.

He's already talked to one who reckons he saw the "grey ghost" in the same area three years ago, while a kokako group has told him the sighting is credible.

While there are an estimated 750 pairs of blue-wattled North Island kokako, the orange-wattled South Island sub-species was declared extinct by the Department of Conservation in 2007. Last year the NZ Ornithological Society changed the classification from extinct to "data deficient" after accepting a sighting near Reefton in 2007 as genuine.

The kokako, which appears on the $50 note, is a poor flier that tends to glide from tree to tree. Bluish-grey and with a black facial band, it has a long tail, and is known for its mellifluous, haunting song.

The Nelson man was too far away to see wattles and didn't hear song, but the bird he saw in native bush at the head of Marsden Valley last month fitted the description in other respects.

A frequent walker in the area over many years, he readily recognises other native species such as tui, bellbirds and pigeons, all of which can be found there.

This sighting, on a portion of track he doesn't often use, intrigued him.

"There was a bird that went over me - I grabbed a glimpse of it and it was blue, a bluey-grey."

He thought that was "a bit weird".

It perched in a tree 50 metres away and he observed it for about a minute, the man said. He was attempting to photograph it with his cellphone when he got a phone call and after he answered it, the bird was gone.

"What got me was the colour of it, the shape of it, and it had a long tail. I've never seen anything like it."

He's been back several times since, once unsuccessfully with a wildlife cameraman.

"When you get there, you see how much of a fluke it was."

Friends have since flippantly suggested that he might have been drinking or seen "a pigeon that's rolled in mud" but he isn't offended.

"All I can say is, I saw what I saw - what got me was the colour, the shape and the long tail."

If anything, his research since has hardened his view, especially seeing a South Island kokako that was stuffed by a taxidermist in the late 1800s.

He has also been in touch with Ron Nilsson of the South Island Kokako Trust, who emailed him to say that "unusual loud calls" had been reported in the Dun Mountain area near the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary in 2012, and there are "rumours of kokako-like calls being heard closer to Nelson city".

"Does the South Island kokako still exist? The answer is yes," Nilsson wrote.

"Is there a possibility of this bird still to be found in the Nelson area? The answer is yes," he said.

Nelson ornithologist Peter Gaze, who recently released a dozen kakariki into the Abel Tasman National Park for conservation benefactor Project Janszoon, was interested by the sighting but not enthused.

Gaze said that while it was remotely possible for a kokako to be present so close to Nelson, "I'm not going to spend my Sundays up there trying to find it.

"I don't want to pop anyone's bubble, but no one's come up with the dinkum stuff yet," he said. "Best of luck to them in getting some better evidence."

Marsden Valley is one of the areas close to the city where volunteers have been carrying out intensive predator trapping, bringing a noticeable improvement in native bird numbers and variety.