A passionate group of conservationists, working to establish a healthy population of kōkako on Mount Pirongia in the Waikato, has just banded the first two chicks of the season.

The soon-to-be fledglings were banded on November 30 in front of around 20 starstruck society members and volunteers.

And things are off to a great start with four other active nests on the radar as well as a tomtit nest.

A pair located near the Wharauroa lookout has built their nest at the top of a towering tawa tree and are due to hatch next, prompting extra monitoring work near their site for the next few weeks.

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The society translocated 44 kōkako in 2017 and 2018 in the aim of re-establishing the species on Mt Pirongia.

Pirongia kōkako photographed by Te Awamutu's John Parker - Maddox Photography.
Pirongia kōkako photographed by Te Awamutu's John Parker - Maddox Photography.

And 14 of them are descendants of the original population from the area, so do have Pirongia genes.

Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society chairperson Clare St Pierre says this chick activity hasn't just happened on its own.

 Kokako chick ready for banding. Photo / Kathryn Jones
Kokako chick ready for banding. Photo / Kathryn Jones

"It all comes down to the hard work of our volunteers who have been busy over the winter doing the prep work to protect the chicks," she said.

As well as the usual bait station filling over a 1000ha managed area on the maunga targeting rats and possums, volunteers have been setting up a network of mustelid traps as an added line of defence for the chicks against stoats.

Since then it has been an ongoing experiment to see what entices them the most — bait trials have included eggs, rabbit jerky and even dead rats, with some success.

Each nest has its own array of ground-based traps, known as the 'Ring of Steel'.

"Stoats are very cunning creatures and are definitely one of the harder mammalian pests to trap," said Clare.
"We are hoping to have a good news story at the end of summer on how many chicks have been successfully fledged."

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The group also had a different sort of celebration held on the same day as the banding.

A Life Membership was awarded to long-standing member Selwyn June for his contribution to the vision of restoring Mount Pirongia.

New Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society life member Selwyn June, pictured with his wife Diane, the society's volunteer co-ordinator. Photo / Clare St Pierre
New Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society life member Selwyn June, pictured with his wife Diane, the society's volunteer co-ordinator. Photo / Clare St Pierre

After 14 years as a committee member Selwyn has stepped down but remains a volunteer.

Guests from as far afield as Pureora and Tiritiri Matangi Island joined the festivities at the base of the mountain, as well as locals, including the Pirongia School possum boys, who service a mustelid line with help from Selwyn.

While most will be looking forward to a break, the Christmas and New Year period will be no holiday for society members, especially those involved in nest monitoring.

The need to be vigilant against predators is at an all-time high during this vulnerable time for the kōkako and their chicks.

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The Society is putting a call out for new volunteers as they are always on the lookout for helping hands.

"You don't have to be super fit, as long as you are enthusiastic," said Clare.

The group is a fun, inclusive one and members from all backgrounds are welcome — the only prerequisite is that you enjoy and appreciate nature as much as they do.

You can volunteer as much or as little time as you like and there are plenty of different jobs to pick from.

To enquire email volunteer co-ordinator Dianne June at djune@xtra.co.nz or complete the form at mtpirongia.org.nz/join-us