I’ve never really had a chance to explain what I actually do on Tiri have I? By now you probably think I spend all my time fishing, stalking nature presenters and cuddling penguins. Far from it. There is absolutely nothing glamourous about field work. It’s about 95% sweat, dirt and poo and ..and 5% of exciting moments that make the other 95 worth all the effort.
I’ll gently ease you into the quotidian details of my life, and spare you the 5 minute spiel I have polished and perfected for the bunkhouse guests when asked the inevitable “So, you’re a researcher? What do you do?” question that never fails to arise during the course of a meal. I genuinely enjoy explaining what I do, but my level of sociality is inversely proportionate to my workload, up to a point where I now have seriously considered getting a T-shirt saying “Hi, I’m Michelle. I monitor the Hihi population on Tiri. Capisce? Yes I’ll be here for 5 months – you may now retrieve your jaw from the floor. And just because I know you’re wondering, I get my groceries fortnightly from the DoC supply boat… Can I have dinner now?” Will on the other hand just sacks off to the room and plays computer games. Smart fella.
Anyway – What does monitoring the Hihi population entail?
There are 180 Hihi nest boxes out on Tiritiri Matangi, usually about 2 boxes per Hihi territory. Hihis usually nest in cavities, but the forests on Tiri aren’t mature enought to have dead trees with holes in them, so we provide them with prime real estate.
I have to ensure I know which Hihi couple owns the territory and information about the breeding success of the pair. One of the key bits of information is to determine the date the first egg was laid. To do that, I routinely circuit through all the nest boxes, and when a nest is completely formed, I check the box daily until the eggs are all laid.
Here’s an inside view of a Hihi nest box. The architecturally talented female will build a base made of twigs to fill up the box, and right at the top a small little nest cup lined with soft fuzzy bits from the tree ferns. You can tell when a nest box is being used, because there’s usually a pile of sticks at the bottom of the box, where a bird during the building process, has clearly brought back a stick that just would not fit into the hole. (That’s what she said?)
Here are some of the nest cups I’ve collected:
One assumes that all nests of a species look the same, but there exists differences within the Hihis themselves… and I find the variety of nests I find delightfully charming. Some are clearly OCD, crafting a well defined neat cup. Others will just dump a messy load of fluff in for maximum unruly comfort (which on some level, resembles my bed!), and those who are so artistically inclined, line their nests with feathers from other birds to brighten up their nook.
More on eggs next time..
And here’s a photo of resident Takahe family with their offspring as a feeble apology for lack of entertaining hijinks…