NZ’s rarest bird could be hiding in Stoke


A ball of moss isn’t the kind of thing that most people get excited about, but for Mapua ornithologist Rhys Buckingham it’s the biggest news in years.

That’s because Rhys is convinced that the distinctive moss scrapings found in bush in the Marsden Valley near Stoke are a sure sign that one of the country’s rarest birds, the South Island Kokako, is living in the area. The last verified sighting of the elusive bird was way back in 1967, but now Rhys has seen the moss scrapings he is heading a full-scale search in the Marsden Valley starting this week. “The first time I saw these moss scrapings was on Stewart Island in 1984. We’d done this extensive survey and found a site with all these scrapings, so we played a tape recording of a kokako and all hell broke loose – there were kokako calling back everywhere.

“The moss is really distinctive – there’s no mistaking it. We’ve also had reports of people seeing the kokako in the same area in the Marsden Valley too, so I’m very, very excited.’
The moss scrapings were initially found by a member of the Marsden Valley Trapping Group, Don Sullivan, and Rhys says that discovery, along with the earlier unverified sightings of the bird in the same area, was enough encouragement to organise a search.

However, Rhys says finding the notoriously elusive and shy bird, which is known as the grey ghost, won’t be easy. The South Island Kokako is grey with an orange-coloured wattle and has an organ-like song.

“We’ll be using motion-sensor cameras and acoustic equipment, which we’ll place near the site where the moss scrapings were found. Once we set it up it will only be a matter of maintaining it.

“We won’t have much chance of sighting the bird so we’re relying on modern technology. I’ve only seen it once but I couldn’t get a photo. It’s a real ghost.”