Sunday, September 10, 2006

KAKAPO PARROTS - A Visit with Sirocco

Mosher recently made the long trip down to Stewart Island, New Zealand and visited Sirocco, one of only 86 Kakapo Parrots left in the world. Sirocco is in temporary quarters on the small isle of Ulva as the star attraction of Kakapo Encounter 2006.

You can read the full account on Mosher's world travelling blog Goodbye UK, Hello World, along with a limited photo gallery here. Flash photography was not allowed so he was lucky to be able to get those few shots.

Mosher was very fortunate to have fabled Kakapo conservationist Don Merton on hand as Sirocco's keeper for the visit, and it is fabulous to see that Sirocco is continuing the great Kakapo tradition of running up trees and jumping out, having forgotten that he has forgotten how to fly. Here's a few paragraphs from Mosher's full post "Kakapo Trip" which I reproduce here with his blessing...
Five minutes walking and a couple more off the designated trail got us to Sirocco's temporary home. A large wooden and perspex pen with climbing trees, feeders and the like inside. Sirocco had already tried to flee once by climbing up to the top of one of the trees and jumping. He almost made it, too. So they chopped a few feet off the tree in case he hurt himself trying again!

Sirocco was partly raised by humans as he had trouble breathing as a chick, and as a result is very friendly. He's also huge and utterly beautiful. From beak to bottom, not including tail feathers, I'd estimate he's a foot and a half long (50cm or thereabouts). His wings are impressive but definitely stubby in comparison to his body size and contribute to the flightlessness of the Kakapo. The other main factor is the weakness of the muscles used for flapping. Instead, the wings are used primarily for balance as the Kakapo climbs and also as air brakes as it jumps. A form of parachuting (or parrot-chuting as one wag put it) to soften their landing.

Far from being flighty, as soon as Sirocco realised he had an audience he walked straight up to the perspex and got as close as he could to his visitors. Even in the low light we could see him clearly, down to the whiskers round his face and his earholes - Kakapo have very good hearing. Unfortunately, the dim light made photographing our star for the evening very hard. I took over 200 pictures, but only a dozen or so are even worth working with. The running commentary from Don - a fountain of ornithological knowledge - was on a par with anything that David Attenborough could run off for the Beeb and without a script. Sirocco played to the crowd, and was even coaxed onto a "swing" to be weighed while Don fed him grapes from a jar.

Our visit lasted over half an hour, but seemed to be a fraction of that. I did hear a sound that I dearly hope many more people get a chance to experience - a Kakapo "skraak"-ing. Sirocco almost always does it for his visitors, and maybe in the future there will be enough of the birds that such a sound will be relatively commonplace.

We all thanked Don - it was truly an honour to meet someone who's done so much worthwhile work - and were guided back to the boat which, as promised, was now sitting higher on the freshly-imported water. The conversation was active as we made our way back to Stewart Island, everyone seemingly on cloud nine after their experience. I think I may have "sold" a copy of Last Chance to See to one of our guides who'd "heard the name" Douglas Adams, but wasn't sure where from. With any luck, she'll be off to Dymocks the next time she gets to the mainland. T-shirts, beanies and pictures were available for sale, but I just didn't have enough cash. What I do have are some pictures and the memories.
Kakapo EncounterThe full version of Mosher's post can be found at "Kakapo Trip".

The Kakapo Encounter runs till October 23rd and costs NZ$80 adult, NZ$40 child.

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