People write that once the noise of kākāpō booming rang around Fiordland, in an effort to tell us how far we’ve fallen. Can you imagine that there were once enough of these gorgeous birds for their booming to be an annoyance? That noise is now the stuff of dreams.
I was there as the cook, as no one is ever going to hire my arthritic self as a field assistant. Not that I blame them, but I do mourn for the self that just wants to take to hills for months on end. Instead, I’m in the kitchen, which is still a happy place, just a different one. There might be 25 of us on the island. There aren’t 25 beds though, as most people will be spending their nights in tents set up by the kākāpō nests. My job, my only job, is to make sure that there is enough hot nourishing food on the big communal table by 5pm each night so that everyone can eat and head off into the hills for the night.
Late one evening, or not that late really, I had cooked and cleaned up afterwards and had had enough of human company that I was snuggled up in my sleeping bag in the bunk room. And, quite close by, suddenly, I could hear a noise. Now, I’ve heard kākāpō booming before, but only on television or on the radio. I mean, I hoped that that noise was a kākāpō booming, but it was late March and eggs were hatching. There were chicks already! It seemed to be pretty late for a male to be booming. But, there it was again. And again.
Of course I wanted to get up and go and see! But what if a female did hear it and wanted to find him? It would be rude to interrupt such a thing, right? And how would I find him in the dark. And, really, WAS it even booming?
One of the rangers popped her head around the bunkroom door. Wolf, one of the young males, was booming just off the path between the bunkroom and the longdrop. Did we want to…
Well, she didn’t have to finish. In my pink stripy pyjamas, pink down jacket and hiking boots, I followed the small group as we crept up the path. And there he was, in a dip next to the busiest path on the island, booming. He’d let off one, slightly teenage sounding boom, and then look around, as if expecting that all the females for miles around to come flocking. And we, standing watching him, knew very well that almost all the females on the island were sitting on eggs. I imaged them sighing and saying the kākāpō equivalent of “bless his young and enthusiastic wee heart” before shuffling their feathers more comfortably over their eggs and going back to sleep.
We were only there for a few minutes, and then, slightly deliriously, crept back to our bunkrooms. He stopped soon after, and probably crept back into the forest to perch somewhere safe for the night. I hope that he wasn’t blushing, as even though he wasn’t successful, he gave it a damn good try.
And that is the story of the time I saw a kākāpō booming in my pyjamas.