Can you guess what is hiding under the branches? They (there are two of them) are very well camouflaged...
No? Then try this one, where you can some tail feathers.
These are two gorgeous and very rare, critically endangered Kakapo chicks; a female and a male (males are bigger). Pearl was her name and I can't remember what the male's name was. That's Pearl with her head up below.
We are now in very elite company. With just 123 adult birds left in the world, there are very few people who will ever see a living Kakapo, let alone three living Kakapo!
The Kakapo is a large, flightless, nocturnal, ground dwelling parrot that is endemic to New Zealand. A combination of traits make the Kakapo unique among its kind; it is the world's only flightless parrot, it's the world's heaviest parrot, it's nocturnal and herbivorous, has no male parental care and is also possibly one of the world's longest-living birds.
'Hey, who's that taking my photo?'
You'll remember that we were lucky enough to visit Sorocco when he was in residence at Zealandia in Wellington, doing his bit as ambassador for his species. Well, when a blog post arrived from DOC telling me about the chance to see Kakapo chicks in Invercargill every weekend during the month of May, I jumped at the chance to visit them. The ten oldest chicks will be re-located back to their predator-free island homes during June and this was a chance for the public to view some of them and support the Kakapo recovery programme.
And because last Sunday was the first day of May and the first day of the tours, we were amongst the very first people to do the tour. The timing was perfect as we'll be gone by this weekend.
DOC has a Kakapo rearing unit located in a large non-descript, unmarked, office building near the old rail station in the city. The rearing unit takes over incubating and hatching the fertile eggs, which have been collected from the nesting females, on their island hideaways. Then the youngsters are hand-reared until they are old enough to survive by themselves, back on their island sanctuaries.
During this breeding season, 46 chicks have hatched with 36 surviving, making it the best breeding season since the recovery programme started 25 years ago. The chick numbers won't be added to the overall tally until the young birds reach 6 months old and are out of danger.
The only problem with the visit was that no cameras were allowed. With only 10 people at a time in the display room and only for a very short time, if everyone had a camera trying to take photos (I know what it was like with Sirocco), it would detract from the experience.
David was very good though and explained to one of the rangers, that I take photos for DOC and asked if they might allow an exception for me. Rachel ran back and got my camera out of the car and they allowed me to take a quick few shots before the next group came through. I knew the light was very dull (Kakapo are nocturnal after all) with definitely no flash allowed. And by now the chicks had moved under cover so these aren't the greatest shots, they're very noisy (grainy) due to the extremely high ISO, but at least I have a record.
I reckon the male looks like an alien of some sort in this shot with his 'roman nose'. Aren't they just the cutest babies with their wayward downy fluff. I wish we had longer with them but before we knew it, time was up and we had to move on to let the next group through. Just under 200 people visited the chicks on the first day and I'm sure there will many more taking up the offer over the next few weekends. What can I say, it was a privilege and an honour to once again be in the presence of these fascinating birds. At $2 a ticket it was more than well worth it too; they could have charged $20 and I would have been first in line.