Counting kea

18-21 January 2018. Four days in the Stuart mountains on a kea survey as volunteers with the Kea Conservation Trust. How could we refuse?

The survey involved around 15 volunteers in four teams visiting 30 odd sites in the Stuart Mountains over 9 days. At each site, the group camps then monitors kea from 6pm to 9pm, then again between 6am and 9am. This is the view from our first site on our first evening. We saw and heard no kea.

Up at 5:30 means you get to see the dawn.

Sue and I were with Cory, a DOC kea specialist.

Five kea turned up the first morning. This one trod all over a snare we set up … without ketting caught.

Cory chasing a kea. The kea is sitting on the smaller rock to the left, staying out of range of Cory’s net gun.

Our tally for the first site was one sub-adult female kea caught and banded. We named her Meryl, starting a theme of aging actors.

Moving between our observation sites was interesting in places.

At our next sight we caught “Clarke”, and adult male. Here he is waiting calmly to be measured and have his leg bands fitted.

Taking a blood sample to check lead and Vitamin D levels, and for DNA.

Our observation sites were perched on ridgetops. Cold and windy at times, but great for views. This is the view into the Middle Fiord of Lake Te Anau.

That night offered a stunning sunset. This is looking north over the Stuart Mountains.


And this is to the northwest, towards the Franklin and Earl Mountains.

From stunning sunset to glorious sunrise.

At our last site we caught Humphrey, another adult male. Meryl also hung around us at this site.

It was a privilege to hold one of these wonderful birds. They were calm, never aggressive and appeared interested in the proceedings. After release, they would walk off in their lolloping style, then fly to a nearby vantage spot and observe us!

Kea are not the only native birds in the alpine zone. We were lucky enough to see three rock wrens. And a New Zealand pipit came close enough to photograph.

On the fourth day it was time to move the teams around. We got shuffled temporarily to another part of the Stuart Mountains, with some spectacular geology. Our dropoff point was crazy paved.

With glacier-carved rock faces.

And a stunnng view of Hook Peaks.

This would be a fabulous area for a tramping trip.

Our four day reminded us of the many dedicated individuals willing to volunteer their time to worthy causes such as kea conservation. These types of surveys are very slow and labour intensive. Our team of three caught only three kea in 18 hours of observing spread over four days. The other teams were a little more successful – one saw a group of 16 kea and managed to catch 5.

A big thank you to the Kea Conservation Trust, who organised and funded this trip.

Originally posted 21 January 2018, missing most of its content. Repaired and updated 22 January.