The ski season has been upon us for a couple of months now and a range of skifield staff and skiers have been sending in their updates on kea numbers and activity this winter. Things are looking pretty dire at Mt Hutt, with no kea being sighted at all (apart from one kea in the distance on just one occasion). The situation seems to be similar for Mt Olympus and Cheeseman*. Craigieburn Valley ski area has had up to 5 birds visiting on and off, often joining people for lunch at the top lodge. On one occasion, in late summer, a group of 15 had flocked together and were seen on the ridge tops above Craigieburn Valley ski area. There have been a couple of kea frequenting Broken River. Temple Basin, further west and closer to one of the main kea strongholds today, gets variable visitation rates over the year. This winter has had days where up to 13 kea visit Temple Basin, while other (most) days there are either none or just a few. This reflects how mobile these birds are and how they like to move from place to place. If anyone has updates to this, please let us know.
Porters Ski Area seems to be where it’s all happening, with up to ten kea being seen on occasion. Most of the time 5-6 birds hang around the carpark and buildings. Two of last year’s young males were spotted leading three new fledglings astray on the 30th of August. Some of our team went in and banded these three new birds and all are now on the website needing naming and sponsors. See https://keadatabase.nz/birds/greendonblack for example.
While there are still some kea around, these low numbers are a far cry from the numbers of kea that were reported from as recent as 15-20 years ago. People often ask, is this just because people no longer have rubbish dumps or feed them at skifields, thereby discouraging them from visiting, or is this reflective of current kea numbers more generally? This is an excellent question and one that some of our team are working towards trying to answer in a more formal publication. Stay tuned!
*Update: 10 September 2018: two kea have visited Cheeseman since this post was written!