IV. Carnley Harbour, Adam's Island.
Early next morning we again passed down the deep harbour to the long strait which separates the two islands. We called at the dépôt, which is maintained at a very unsuitable place, on the edge of a densely-timbered point—-accessible only by boat, and visible only from high land. It is, however, supplemented by a boat in a shed lower down the harbour. Then a boat was sent into a cove in Adam's Island to search for some sealers' huts said to exist there. They searched the wrong cove, and by chance came upon a brood of young m-er gansers (Mergus australis) with their parents. The old birds got away, but the chicks were seized; and I had the satisfaction, through the kindness of Mr. Neil (the chief officer), of securing a couple for our museum. This bird is common in the Northern Hemisphere, and is there represented by numerous arctic and sub-arctic species: in the Southern Hemisphere it is represented by this-one species, found only in a limited part of this small island-group. At another landing I saw more specimens of the rare flightless Auckland Island duck, Nesonetta aucklandica, which were not disturbed. Here, too, I only saw them on or close to the shore. Anchoring close to Monumental Island, which stops the entrance from the ocean, we landed, and at once found ourselves in the true plant-gathering country. Here we first spent some time hunting for a wingless duck, different from Nesonetta, said to exist here, but we could not find it. This place will now be known by the name which we gave it—-Fairchild's Garden. It extends from the strait at the north-west end of the island along the shore to the first piece of bush, and thence up to and over the summit of the hill—in all perhaps 400 acres—one of the most wonderful natural gardens the extratropical world can show. No doubt other parts of Adam's Island and other places in the group are equally beautiful, but the day we spent here can never be forgotten. A peaked rock overhead is 700ft. above the sea; the summit rocks are 1,100ft. by the aneroid. The whole of the ground up to these and beyond them for some distance is literally packed with beautiful flowering herbaceous plants. Near the shore the Ligusticums, L. latifolium and L. antipodum, grow in splendid profusion, their stout rhizomes and huge rigid leaves stopping the progress of pedestrians. Along the shore were masses of
golden lily (Anthericum rossii) in seed. Here, too, grew sweet-scented Cotula lanata, and its handsome congener Cotula, plumosa, both of which are worth cultivating. Over the whole country Pleurophyllum speciosum sends up, amid huge ribbed leaves, 2ft. long, its spikes of beautiful lilac or purple flowers. These spikes are usually four or five, sometimes eight or ten, in number. The regular imbrication of the large ribbed leaves, so strong as to push aside the rank grasses, renders these plants singularly beautiful. They form deep cups of crisp foliage, which gives way with a crash as you set your foot on it. We long endeavoured to avoid crushing these splendid plants until they grew too thick, and we too callous, but I could seldom avoid the reflection that often for hundreds of yards each step crushed a plant worth ten guineas in Covent Garden. The next species, Pleurophyllum criniferum, was also plentiful. Its leaves are even larger, and, though not so handsome, make it a very fine plant, especially as its tall, white flower-stalk, sometimes 3ft. high, covered with button-like, brown, rayless flower-heads, 1in. across, is a very striking object. A third species which seems to have escaped the notice of Sir Joseph Hooker is smaller, and has the most beautiful silvery leaves. It grows sparsely on the slopes, and in great profusion on the flat top. I had this in cultivation last year, but it failed me.
Here, too, we met in immense quantities the most beautiful of all the Celmisias, C. vernicosa, a little plant with leaves here seldom more than 2in. long, gleaming like polished nephrite newly from the lapidary's hands, arranged in the most perfect rosettes. I believe that I am almost the only cultivator in New Zealand of this beautiful plant. I find I can keep it alive well enough, but have not had it long enough to get it into flower. It often forms large patches, the pretty rosettes of leaves rising from spreading rhizomes. It was past flowering, but we obtained flowers at a higher altitude next day.
Stilbocarpa polaris is plentiful along the shore. This plant carries a large bunch of seeds on a rather slender stalk. When they ripen they turn black; then the stem, without fading, bends outwards and down to the ground as if by a muscular movement, and carries the mass of nuts to the ground so that they fall clear of the leaves.
Besides these beautiful plants, we gathered many that are curious and interesting to botanists, and many of which I expect to find improve under cultivation. We made two journeys up the hill, each time carrying down heavy baskets of plants, which were duly stored in boxes on board. I have but faintly described the charms of the most beautiful field of flowers I have ever seen. Mr. Kirk was on the hill most of
the day in a rich harvest of botanical treasures, while Mr. Bell, with a ship's boat, was treating the boys to some shooting and boating in the sound. The walking was extremely heavy, and before the day was out we were pretty tired. On the summit, to our surprise, we found albatroses nesting: they were rather young birds, and nearly all the nests were new, the rarity of old nests showing that this place is little used: indeed, Captain Fairchild had not before noticed it as a nesting-place. We procured half a dozen eggs. As we descended we saw that the steamer's anchor was up and that we were wanted on board. It was near 8 p.m. when we reached the ship's boat, dragging our way through the heavy tangle. On the way down we saw pretty green parrakeets; and my brother, Mr. M. Chapman, caught a snipe with his hands.
The vessel moved to an anchorage some miles to the east, and we then found that the firemen and stewards had been gathering albatros eggs on the mountains; and all hands were kept up until two o'clock in the morning, getting down one of of their mates who had been knocked up. It was interesting to watch the movements of their lanterns and even hear their cheers at a height of 1,500ft. At 10 p.m. the twilight was still strong enough to enable me to read on deck.
Next morning the captain led a party of albatros-hunters. A few birds were wanted for museums, and everybody seemed to want eggs. We landed at the cove where the sealers' huts are, though we did not see them. The road led through a bit of bush, very dense, but traversed by a sealers' track. These sealers make an easy road across the island, and, when they arrive at the cliffs at the other side, lower some of their number to the ledges and caves where these slaughter seals. The slayers and the skins are then drawn up. It is wholly illegal, but it goes on, so that the fur-seals are nearly exterminated. From the rata bush (Metrosideros lucida) we climbed a spur which had been swept by snow, killing the grass and making the going easy. It was a steep climb, with some tiring work, but nothing very difficult. The men who had laid down their eggs the night before when carrying their mate got them again without difficulty, and we crossed the saddle at a height of 1,900ft. (by the aneroid) in one hour and ten minutes. From here, as from our point of vantage yesterday, we had a wide view of the islands. Carnley Harbour, with all its arms, lay as a map before us. Had we sought the summit, a few hundred feet higher, we might perhaps have seen Port Ross and mapped the country. Towards the south the view was uninterrupted as far as the horizon. About the summit of the ridge there were many interesting plants. Celmisia vernicosa covered acres of ground, and was in full flower, being somewhat later at this altitude than down below. This beautiful little perennial
aster, with its delicate tints, forms one of the charms of this richly-endowed, island, just as its numerous allies do in the high alps of New Zealand.
The smaller species of Pleurophyllum was plentiful; a rare fern, a Greum, Plantago aucklandica—a handsome ally of the common plantain, here only found on high land—and a small cress, said to be a rare plant, were in plenty on the storm-beaten heights. Mosses, small rushes, lichens, and other alpine plants grew on and near the rocks. Descending a little way towards the ocean, we came upon the albatroses. They are very numerous. A great many of them were sitting; others were billing and cooing; others seemed to have no particular business on hand; others were young ones waiting to be turned off the old nests; others, again, were turned off, but had not yet learned to fly. An albatros nest is much the shape of the old-fashioned dairy-churns of our early youth, only a little shorter, and solidly built of mud, grass, and weeds. When it has served a year the grass grows up in it, but it is often used again another year, being first raised and trimmed up by the bird. When building a nest, the albatros—I suppose the female—scrapes up the mud from about it, but when she has made a little pile she stands upon it, and the rest of the work is done standing thus, so that her weight—from 18lb. to 25lb.—always serves to solidify what has been completed. In working from this standpoint, the bird digs up bits of earth with its beak and lays them upon the pile. About five digs to the minute is the average rate, and when it has done about five it turns and digs from another place. In digging thus it makes a trench round the cone, which may serve to keep the nest drained. It nearly always builds among high tussock, but takes little or no pains to conceal the nest. Its sole idea of protection is the utter isolation of its nesting-home. Its one plan for protecting its egg is to sit on it and never leave it. When the albatros is building its nest its mouth is generally rather soiled inside. When the nest is built it is finished off with a slight and neatly-made basin-like depression at the top, and in this are placed a few leaves and bits of dry grass, but not enough to prevent the egg from coming into contact with the soil and getting very dirty before it is hatched. There is never more than one egg, which once a day is turned over by the bird to expose the other side to its breast. It is pure-white except at the big end, where it is reddish. It weighs about a pound. It is said to be good eating, but I never tried it. It has two yolks, one small and the other large—at least, so it appeared to me when blowing numerous eggs. Sometimes two albatroses make their nests close together, but this seems accidental. When we got to this ground we separated in collecting the eggs. Often I could
not help stopping to admire the grandly beautiful birds. The oldest are pure-white excepting the wings, which are pencilled with brown; the youngest are nearly black. They are supposed to turn whiter and whiter as they grow older. As we found them here, there were very few quite white; they were generally beautifully pencilled with dark lines. I have given the received explanation as to colour and age, but I am bound to say it does not answer all observations, as some of the young birds not fully fledged in the Otago Museum are quite white. Many birds which could not fly had a little down hanging about their necks still. Their condition shows that there are many young birds not yet fully fledged when the old birds lay their next year's eggs. When a bird is put off its nest it goes over in a helpless way. As you approach it it makes a demonstration, clapping with its beak. This clapping noise, which is even more used by nestlings than by old birds, probably serves to intimidate sea-hawks, but it often betrayed to us the unsuspected presence of nests among the tall tussock-grass. It is said it will snap at flesh, but not at a gloved hand. I generally gave them a bit of stick to bite, and gently turned them off backwards. Thus treated, the bird will fall upon its back, with its head and the elbow-joints of its long wings in the tussock, kicking helplessly with its feet. As soon as possible it would scramble back upon the nest, sometimes looking down occasionally with one eye at a time like a duck to see if the egg was there. When a bird had not yet laid it usually stood up as we came to the nest. When it had an egg nothing would induce it to rise and show it. It would sit close to the nest with the egg in the folds of its abdomen. By its sitting so close we could tell that it had an egg. In some places male and female stood by a half-made nest. We could see them gently curtseying to each other, and then rubbing their bills together. This undemonstrative style of courtship was going on everywhere. I do not suppose that one-half of the nesting birds were laying yet. In many places four, in some eight or ten birds stood in solemn conclave together, and scarcely stirred when we walked among them. I presume they were waiting on change for eligible offers of marriage. Very few birds showed any departure from the universal habit. Once one rushed at me to attack me as a goose does. Once, too, one ran away from me in great haste. Occasionally, as I came up to a bird which was not nesting, it ran along the grass and took flight, soaring away as they do at sea: this, however, was rare. Now and then we found their castings, and these were always found to contain masses of undigested beaks of small cuttlefish. We soon gathered a hundred eggs between four of us. These were blown on the spot with a blowpipe. They were nearly
all fresh, a few only showing signs of incubation. Overhead numerous albatroses soared about. I could not quite make out the order of business, but some authorities say the males come down to feed their mates. Certain it is that either male or female—and I suppose the latter—sits perpetually. If she were to show the colour of her egg a sea-hawk would certainly spike it. These creatures watch incessantly at the penguin rookeries for chances of this kind, and nothing comes amiss to them. We gathered these hundred eggs from about twenty-five acres of ground. Had we been so inclined, we might have walked further and got far more. If one-fifth of the island is albatros-nesting ground, 140,000 birds could nest upon it: in fact, the whole of the high land of the interior is probably nesting-ground, and four eggs to the acre is far below what we found must be the rule elsewhere. Nevertheless, solitary islands are few and small, and albatroses are numerous, so there must be some further explanation of the vast numbers bred. It is certain that the information collected by Sir W. Buller and others may yet be very largely supplemented. Professor Scott states that the albatros does not breed at Macquarie Island.* The landing-party from Commodore Wilkes's ship “Peacock,” however, describe the birds as extremely bold, picking up penguin eggs the party had laid down. I suspect these good sailors had given the name “albatros” to the skua-gull or sea-hawk.
There is evidently a rule in albatros-nesting. Here the season was well on, and the birds were of medium age. At Campbell Island, a long way south, the season was much further advanced, the eggs having young birds in them, while the birds were quite white and far larger than here. At Antipodes Island, where the albatroses were enormously plentiful, eggs were extremely rare, and quite freshly laid and clean; while the birds were younger and much darker than at either of the other places. One must almost suppose that the birds do not return to their old nests, nor even to their former island, but pass on as they grow older to an island further south. The order in which we found them is evidently constant. The dates may vary a little. Captain Fairchild is endeavouring to collect more certain information. The tin clips which he occasionally puts upon them, with the date and place of capture, may serve some day to clear this up.
The dates and latitudes are as follow:—
Antipodes Island, 17th January.—Dark birds. Majority not yet nesting, but billing. Eggs rare; incubation not commenced. Nest-building active. Lat. 49° 42′.
Adam's Island, 5th January.—Medium birds. Majority
[Footnote] * Trans., vol. xv., p. 484.
nesting. Few billing. Eggs plentiful; incubation just commenced. Few nest-building. Lat, 51°.
Campbell Island, 5th December.—White birds; very large. Nest-building; billing and laying all finished; chicks in all eggs. Lat. 52° 33′.
Chatham Islands, earlier.—Colours not ascertained, but said to be dark. Lat. 44°.
A few birds were captured here, and taken back for museums. The process was simple and humiliating. The noble creature was tied by the beak to prevent it from biting; a bit made of wood was put into its mouth to allow it to breathe; it was trussed—i.e., its wings tied up, and its feet-too. Two were thus tied up and slung over the man's shoulders, so that a bird went under each arm, and so were held and carried. I did not carry any; and a companion who trudged down the mountain with a bird of 161b. weight under each arm and a candle-box of eggs on his back, assured me that when his birds fought each other both with beaks and feet it was not a job to be courted. The fighting seemed to me to be incessant; it was going on whenever I chanced to look that way. Now and then at a critical moment, when there was a struggle with a tussock, it fairly disturbed the bearer's balance. The day was a glorious one, and the sights were most interesting, though, if albatroses sorrow for their eggs, somewhat cruel. On the top of the range were ground-larks, as usual; snipe, too, rose at our feet, and scattered hastily as if from a nest. These pretty little creatures are numerous, and would certainly be exterminated if much disturbed. As we descended in the evening I thought I heard the weka (Ocydromus australis). I do not know whether it was indigenous, but it was taken over from Stewart Island after the wreck of the “General Grant” or “Grafton” to add a little to the food-supply of the island; but these were liberated on the main island, and are not likely to have spread much. Mr. Travers thought he heard the kiwi (Apteryx sp.), which has never been reported from the group. If there it would probably prove a new species. That evening we sailed for Campbell Island, having again the good fortune to have a fair wind. Captain Fairchild had never before known a calm night in the Auckland Islands. We had enjoyed three as fine as could be wished for, with days to match.