Art. XIV.—On the Birds observed during a Voyage from New Zealand to England.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 13th December, 1893.]
In the bright sunshine, at 3 p.m. on Thursday, the 2nd March, we steamed out of Lyttelton Harbour on board the good ship “Coptic” (Captain Kempson, R.N.R.), bound for London. Flocks of Seagulls (Larus dominicanus and Larus scopulinus) hovered near us as we left our moorings and bore down the harbour. A few Crested Shags (Phalacrocorax punctatus) crossed our weather-bow as we reached the Heads, but as we got away from the coast these birds disappeared, and there was not a sign of animation on the dark waters as we stood out to sea. On the following morning, there being a stiff breeze blowing, we had a number of large Albatroses in our wake, and these kept in close attendance all the next day. Most of them were Diomedea exulans, about an equal number of old and young birds, the former in dappled-white plumage and black wings, and the latter in dark plumage with white face and belly. There were also a few of my Diomedea regia, all showing the white patch on the humeral flexure very conspicuously. On the 4th March a Skua (Lestris antarcticus) made two cruises round the ship and then disappeared, his plump, rounded body and heavy flight rendering him very readily distinguishable on the wing. He came near enough to the ship to make the white spot at the base of the primaries distinctly visible. I saw a pair of what appeared to be Œstrelata lessoni. They did not come very near to us, and were not, so far as I could see, very alert on the wing. When about 1,060 miles from port (lat. 50° 31′ S., long. 163° 14′ W.) a Shy Albatros (Diomedea cauta) put in an appearance, and after performing one or two wide circuits, often rising high in the air with a very angular disposition of the wings, vanished in the mists of the ocean and was seen no more.
On the morning of the 5th March a very beautiful Albatros (Diomedea regia) appeared on the scene. It was of enormous size, and wholly white, except the pinions beyond the second flexure of the wing, looking in the distance like a huge Gannet held against the sky, and so conspicuous in its albinism that it could be readily distinguished among a hundred ordinary birds. So near an approach to perfect albinism I have not before met with among the Albatroses, although, as recorded from time to time, I have obtained several more or
less pure albinoes of Ossifraga gigantea, one of these having not a vestige of colour on any part of the body. A fellow-passenger, however, Mr. William Temple, who came out to New Zealand by the R.M.S. “Arawa,” informs me that last Christmas, when about half-way between the Cape of Good Hope and Hobart, an exceedingly large Albatros, of snowy whiteness, without a single dark feather of any sort, came up astern, and followed the steamer for some time. The chief engineer was induced to stop the engines for half an hour, and lines were thrown out in the hope of taking this beautiful bird. It came very near being caught; but, after one of the ordinary kind had been hoisted on board, the engines were put in motion again and the albino was left behind. These birds are known to live to a great age, and for years to come, in all probability, this majestic Albatros will sweep with its snow-white pinions the dark waters of the South Pacific. Let us hope that at the breeding-season it will repair to one of the great Albatros nurseries periodically visited by the Government steamer “Hinemoa,” and that Captain Fairchild, who is ever on the lookout for novelties, may have an opportunity of annexing it for science. These “nurseries” are doubtless a long way off from where the bird was seen, but, as will presently appear, distance is as nothing to an Albatros.
To return, however, to my bird now in attendance on the ship. But for the black-tipped wings this magnificent Albatros might have been the one that so narrowly escaped being hooked by the “Arawa” passengers. He cruises about amongst the other Albatroses, but always at a distance from the ship. The individuality of this bird is so pronounced that it can be distinguished from the rest at almost any distance, and it will be interesting to note how long it will follow the steamer.
It seems to me that we have not yet solved the problem involved in the flight of the Albatros—a rapid, well-sustained motion, ever against the wind, with scarcely any visible movement of the wings. There are some very sensible observations on the subject in Dr. Bennett's “Gatherings of a Naturalist in Australasia”; Professor Hutton has grappled with the mechanical principles it rests upon; and the Duke of Argyll has treated the question in a masterly way in his “Reign of Law.” But, after all, can it be said that the problem has been satisfactorily solved? I think not. Sir James Hector believed, with myself, that it might be explained by some peculiar mechanism in the wing of this bird; and at a meeting of our society some years ago he elaborated a very ingenious theory on the subject, exhibiting at the same time an Albatros-wing specially prepared to illustrate his argument. In 1889 he took the trouble to send to England a fine adult
Albatros in spirits of wine for critical examination by an expert. I forwarded it to the well-known comparative anatomist, Dr. Hans Gadow, F.R.S., at Cambridge, but he reported that he could not discover any departure from the normal character in the structure of the wing; and so the matter rests at present. The most remarkable point is that the bird, without any apparent effort—without any visible movement of the limbs themselves—by merely shifting its position so as to alter the angle of incidence, performs an elegant sweep, cutting a great figure 8 in the air, and, as Froude puts it, with the adroitness of an accomplished skater on an untouched field of ice. The one thing that surprises one most, next to this marvellous power of sustained flight, is that the Albatros will soar for hours together without once descending to the surface of the water to feed. And yet, if an Albatros should happen to be caught, it immediately vomits an abundance of pure oil, indicating anything but an empty crop. The squid is said to be its principal food; but where does it collect this diet? and, if it is so plentiful on the surface of the ocean, why do these birds so persistently follow ships in search of food?
6th March.—My White Albatros appeared again about 11 a.m. to-day, so that it must have been on the wing during part of the night. There was an easterly gale blowing, and few birds to be seen. I observed some Dove Petrels (Prion turtur), and some other White-bellied Petrels, but too far off from the ship to permit of my identifying them with any certainty. They flew very low, turning often so as to expose the underside, and were rapid on the wing.
7th March.—We had a very tempestuous night, and this morning not a single Albatros was to be seen. But we were now followed by a flock of about forty large Grey Petrels (Adamastor cinereus). The flight of this bird is very light and buoyant, with scarcely any movement of the wings, the back being slightly arched, the head drawn in close to the body, and the tail partially spread. The motion is very graceful, and, as the birds unceasingly cross and recross each other's course in ever-varying circles, they furnish the listless passenger on deck with very pleasant diversion. It would seem that different areas or tracts of the ocean's surface are inhabited by distinct species of Petrel, their presence or absence being doubtless regulated by the abundance or otherwise of their special food-supply; and also that this species of Petrel, like many others, hunts in communities. For, as we proceeded on our course, there were fresh recruits, till, at the close of the day, we had fully a hundred of these aerial followers close in our wake. On garbage being thrown overboard they would quickly congregate and settle down upon the
waters to dispute over its possession, manifesting their eagerness by a twittering or squeaking cry. About noon (lat. 51† 54′ S., long. 150° 34′ W.) a single Albatros appeared among these Petrels, and later on another, and then a third. A large Black Petrel with a white bill (apparently Majaqueus parkinsoni) joined the company for a short time, its dark plumage making it a conspicuous object among the lighter-coloured birds. About 2 p.m. my White Albatros came up to us again, and coursed about in wide circles as before, but disappeared long before nightfall.
8th March.—There was a heavy south-easterly gale during the night, lasting four hours. It had abated somewhat in the morning, but I did not expect to see the White Albatros again. However, he overtook us once more about 2 p.m., and, after a circuit fully a mile in extent, he vanished in the wide expanse, returning later on, and remaining with us till the close of the day. The only other Albatros seen to-day was a Mollyhawk (apparently Diomedea culminata), which kept company with the ship for an hour or two, never coming very near but coursing about among the Grey Petrels, which were less numerous than yesterday.
9th March.—The wind being fair, we made a good run during the night, averaging twelve knots an hour. In the morning there were very few Grey Petrels and no Albatroses. It would seem that the latter rest on the surface of the water during the night, and overtake the steamer next day by following her up in a direct line; but, seeing the start the ship has got during the night, this performance presupposes a marvellous power of wing, and not of wing only, but of instinctive knowledge of the course to be followed. I can hardly accept Professor Hutton's theory that this is the result of sight, one set of birds mounting high in the air and following the movements of another set of birds nearer the ship: for example, to-day the atmosphere is hazy, and no power of vision would be of any avail. I watched with much interest for the reappearance of my White Albatros, and, to my delight, true to time—a little after 2 p.m.—he came sweeping up in grand style. Since we first made his acquaintance, on the 5th instant, he has performed a voyage, measured in a straight line, of 970 miles; but when the never-ending circles of flight and gyrations in the air are taken into account, probably three times that distance, or, say, 3,000 miles—perhaps even more! This is one of those incidents in the romance of natural history that set the mind thinking; and one is quite prepared to accept Mr. Gould's conclusions as to an Albatros being able to encircle the globe in its unwearied flight.
10th March.—When the morning broke the wind had fallen, and there was a haze over the ocean which had not
cleared away as the day advanced. I looked out anxiously for my White Albatros at the usual hour, but he did not reappear from behind those misty veils, and we saw him no more. Later on a few Adamastor cinereus followed the ship, and towards evening a pair of Diomedea exulans, but the latter did not stay long.
11th March.—Calm weather, with intense cold and no birds. A solitary Grey Petrel passed and repassed astern of us several times, and then made off across the waste of waters, leaving us to pursue our course easterly without a sign of animation around or above us. Towards evening a Giant Petrel (Ossifraga gigantea), the first we have seen, made a long sweep ahead of us, flying low, and keeping at a distance from the ship. This species is common enough in higher latitudes.
12th March.—No appearance to-day of the Grey Petrel, although the weather seemed favourable enough.
13th March.—Grey Petrel again numerous; also Diomedea culminata, the young birds (with dark-coloured head and neck) predominating, and an occasional Diomedea exulans.
14th March.—At noon on this day we had got as far south as lat. 56° 52′ without, however, having seen any icebergs. The Grey Petrel (Adamastor cinereus) is, I should say, far and away the commonest species of bird in these seas. It is evident that the same flock does not keep in constant attendance like the Albatros, because I have noticed that, whereas one day the birds are shy and keep well astern of the ship, the next day they will fly over and around her after-part with every appearance of confidence. We have not, so far, seen any Diomedea melanophrys, a form very common in the South Pacific, but inhabiting a somewhat lower latitude. There is said to be a large breeding-place of this species on some outlying rocks near the Chatham Islands, which are visited periodically by the Maoris for the sake of the young birds.
15th March.—To-day was the last of the appearance of Adamastor cinereus, which followed us, but in diminished numbers, till nightfall, when we were in lat. 56° 52′ S., long. 82° 10′ W. It is clearly a strictly oceanic species, for we are still 150 miles from land. According to my observations on this voyage, the meridian of 152° represents the limit of its range to the westward; and it is significant that during the whole of my experience in New Zealand I have never known of its occurrence more than once in our adjacent seas. Last year Captain Fairchild (as already recorded*), on his return voyage from the Chatham Islands in the “Hinemoa,” came upon a flock of them in calm weather. He stopped the engines,
[Footnote] *Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xxiv., p. 69.
lowered a boat, and shot a pair of them, which he sent to me in the flesh.
16th March.—Sighted land at 10 a.m.—the island of Diego Ramirez. A flock of penguins reported on our starboard side, disporting themselves in the water, but I did not see them. I observed a pair of Ossifraga gigantea, a single Diomedea melanophrys, and a very fine Diomedea regia, the white marking on the wings being very conspicuous. Off Cape Horn I noticed several large Black Petrels with very rapid flight, which I was unable in the distance to identify; also a pair of Oceanites oceanicus, fluttering over the water like butterflies, although the sea was smooth.
17th and 18th March.—As we passed up into the waters of the South Atlantic, the weather being thick, bird-life for a time disappeared; but on nearing the Falkland Islands a Black Shag, after hovering round us on wearied wing for half an hour, took refuge on the ship.
19th March.—Dense fog in the morning, and no birds. It cleared off in the afternoon, and after passing the Falklands I saw a small Grey-and-White Petrel in the distance, and a solitary Ossifraga gigantea.
20th March.—Wet and foggy in the forenoon; not a wing to be seen. At noon we were in lat. 47° 30′ S., and in long. 53° 41′ W. I saw an Albatros in the distance (apparently D. melanophrys), a pair of black-and-white Petrels of large size; also a flock of what appeared to be Prion turtur, or an allied species; and, at intervals, scattered flocks of Oceanites oceanicus, their white croup showing very conspicuously as they skimmed the surface of the water in their erratic flight.
21st March.—A flock of Storm-petrels, and a few other birds too remote from the ship for identification, completed the day's list.
22nd and 23rd March.—One is much impressed by the general absence of bird-life in the South Atlantic. The waters are intensely blue to-day, with a light breeze blowing, causing crested wavelets as far as the eye can reach, but there is no sign of anything except a solitary Storm-petrel now and then, or a pair of some larger species. Captain Kempson, who has made this journey by steamer two-and-twenty times, informs me that, as a rule, no Albatroses are to be seen after passing the Falkland Islands, but that in the winter months, and especially in August, he has known them to follow the ship some hundreds of miles further north. In the Indian Ocean, on the other hand, he has met with Albatroses two days north of the Cape of Good Hope, or quite near to the equator.
24th March.—To-day, when about a hundred and forty miles from Rio, in lat. 29° 25′ S., and long. 45° 53′ W., a
Noddy (An [ unclear: ] us stolidus) came up to us, and, after hovering about for some time with a beautiful hawk-like flight, alighted on the ship. From the absence of white on the crown, it was evidently a young bird, and it was so tame and fearless that I actually touched it with my hand before it took flight again.
26th March.—We found ourselves early this morning in the spacious and picturesque harbour of Rio. A string of black shags passed us as we were approaching our anchorage, and one or two large gulls were hovering in the harbour, whilst high overhead birds called “Kites” by the residents, but in reality the small Frigate-bird (Tachypetes aquila), were soaring about. On landing, I was astonished to see seven or eight of these “vultures of the sea” disporting themselves in the air inside the quay, and within easy stone's-throw of the people who were crowding the thoroughfare. They were apparently intent on floating garbage, and it was most interesting to watch their rapid evolutions on strong pinion, sometimes hovering with slow flappings of the wings, the head being turned first to one side then to the other, often wheeling suddenly down, with their forked tails quickly opened, to within a few yards of the bystanders, their crimson and yellow pouches being plainly visible as they came near to us.
27th March.—As we were leaving our anchorage a Booby passed us on the wing, and I could hear the call of a Tern, although the bird was not visible.
28th March to 1st April.—During the last five days, although the light south-east trades were blowing, and the tropics comparatively cool, there was not a bird to be seen. Twice only I saw in the distance a small flock of Petrels flying low. The only sign of animation was furnished by the shoals of tiny flying-fish, quitting for a moment their natural element, and performing a direct, rapid flight, as if endeavouring to elude the pursuit of some enemy under the surface.
2nd to 4th April.—Gentle north-east trades blowing. No birds seen when we were crossing the Line except an occasional Storm-petrel performing its erratic flight over the surface of the water after the manner of a bat hawking for flies.
8th April.—To-day, when abreast of Bonavista, one of the Cape de Verde Islands, a pair of Boobies hovered round the ship, as if to reconnoitre, and then disappeared (lat. 16° 10′ N., long. 22° 17′ W.).
9th to 10th April.—Not a bird of any kind.
11th April.—About 2 p.m. a Turtle-dove from the shore came on board, and rested in the rigging.
12th April.—Off Teneriffe. The common Seagull of this part of the world, Larus cachinnans, hovered about in large
numbers as we lay at our anchorage for several hours, quarantined on account of yellow-fever at Rio.
13th to 15th April.—No birds of any kind.
16th April.—Whilst in the Bay of Biscay a Stone-chat from the mainland came on board, and remained an hour or two in the rigging. Whales were disporting themselves about the ship, the sea being very calm, but there was a remarkable absence of bird-life. Indeed, we saw nothing more till we reached the English coast.
Notes made on the Return Voyage from Plymouth to Auckland, by way of the Cape of Good Hope.
(Supplementary to Article read on 13th December, 1893.)
We left Plymouth in the R.M.S. “Doric” at 2 p.m. on Saturday, the 27th January, 1894, with a stiff breeze blowing from the S.W. We were fortunate enough to be again under the command of Captain Kempson, transferred from the “Coptic.” This head-wind afterwards changed to W.N.W., and increased in force till it had become a gale in the Bay of Biscay. We had a bad night on the 28th, but the morning of the 29th broke fine, with a light breeze from N.W. to W., and a comparatively calm sea. The Sea-gulls (Larus marinus) which had followed us out from Plymouth, and had stood by us all through the storm in the Bay of Biscay, now suddenly disappeared, and when we were about eighty miles from the Spanish coast there was not a wing to be seen of any kind, the only sign of animation being the occasional appearance of a school of small porpoises, plunging madly through the sea. Till our arrival at Teneriffe, at noon on the 1st February, we saw nothing more; but on reaching our anchorage at Santa Cruz, with the Peak, more than 15,000ft. in height, full in view, we were again visited by Larus marinus; and till about noon on the following day we were attended on our voyage by the Grey-backed Gull (Larus cachinnans). For the rest of the day there was not a sign of life on the dreary waste of waters. This may be in a measure due to the season of the year. The last time I traversed this part of the ocean it was summer, and thousands of “Portuguese men-of-war” (Physalia) were floating on the surface of the water or dancing on the waves. On taking one of these curious little animals on board with a bucket, it caused much amusement among the passengers by its power of giving off, on being touched, a peculiar electrical shock. The body secretes an acrid fluid, and the long blue threads or filaments cling firmly to the hand on the slightest touch, and sting like nettles.
3rd February.—About 10 o'clock this morning I saw a large Petrel, dark-grey on the upper and white on the under surface, which followed in our wake for an hour or more with a very hawk-like flight. After this, not a wing of any sort nor other sign of animal life till night, when the sea was ablaze with phosphoric displays—sparks and flashes of light—given out, no doubt, by Medusæ and other small invertebrate inhabitants of the deep; but, in addition to this, the whole of the disturbed water seemed luminous, the effect being probably due to the decomposition of animal matter on the surface of the ocean. There had been a breeze from the E.N.E. all day, it was misty in the afternoon, and there was nothing in the way of a sunset. The night was dark, and these phosphorescent effects were very beautiful. Jupiter was resplendent in the heavens, and Sirius shone with his accustomed pale effulgence; but the sparkling lights on the surface of the water as our steamer ploughed her way through it seemed more brilliant even than those of the firmament above: everywhere points of light that flashed like sparks from a giant dynamo and expired in a tiny illumination, and occasional balls of lambent flame which dashed past the ship and then dissolved in an instant in the seething foam, reminding one of Coleridge's graphic, although perhaps rather overdrawn, description: “A beautiful white cloud of foam at momently intervals coursed by the side of the vessel with a roar, and little stars of flame danced and sparkled and went out in it; and every now and then light detachments of this white cloud-like foam darted off from the vessel's side, each with its own small constellation, over the sea, and scoured out of sight like a Tartar troop over a wilderness.” Darwin writes in “The Voyage of the ‘Beagle’” (ed. 1893, p. 154), “While sailing a little south of the Plata on one very dark night, the sea presented a wonderful and very beautiful spectacle. There was a fresh breeze, and every part of the surface, which during the day is seen as foam, now glowed with a pale light. The vessel drove before her bows two billows of liquid phosphorus, and in her wake she was followed by a milky train. As far as the eye reached the crest of every wave was bright, and the sky above the horizon, from the reflected glare of these lurid flames, was not so utterly obscure as over the vault of the heavens.” Later on, in discussing this phenomenon, he says, “I am inclined to consider that the phosphorescence is the result of the decomposition of the organic particles, by which process (one is tempted almost to call it a kind of respiration) the ocean becomes purified.” Although now about a hundred miles from the African coast, a quantity of impalpable red dust was deposited to-day on the ship, all the rigging being more or less tinted with it. It is no doubt composed of minute Infusoria, instances of the
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kind being not uncommon. I collected a small packet of this red dust on the captain's bridge, and have handed it over to Sir James Hector for microscopical examination.*
4th February.—A beautiful cool day, with just sufficient breeze to fan the air. No sea-birds, but when about sixty miles off Cape Verd a small bird of the size and general appearance of a Hedge-sparrow came on board and remained about an hour in the rigging: greyish-brown, with black cap, and rufous spot on forehead. About 11 o'clock at night a Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus), attracted by the glare of the electric light, dashed itself on board, and was captured by one of the passengers. It proved on dissection to be a ♀, and the stomach contained pasty organic matter of a greyish-brown colour. Length, 8·5in.; extent of wings, 17·5in.
5th to 7th February.—No bird-life of any sort; but plenty of Flying-fish, and a solitary whale disporting itself in the distance. We crossed the Line at 7 p.m. The night was dark, and there was not a spark of phosphorus on the waters, nor was there on the 6th, although the night before the whole ocean seemed illuminated. It is difficult to account for this uncertainty in its appearance.
8th February.—No birds; but about noon I observed two large porpoises in the distance, moving very languidly, as if it was too much exertion even for them to plunge about in this tropical heat. To-day is beautifully fine, but there is no animated object to break the monotony of this great wilderness of waters. Since seeing the large Petrel on the 3rd instant we have traversed over two thousand miles of ocean without seeing so much as the wing of a bird, with the exception of the Storm Petrel that came on board on the 5th, and the little visitant from the shore on the preceding Sunday. In this respect this is a veritable Dead Sea: so different indeed from the great southern ocean, with its plenitude of bird-life at all seasons of the year! We look for a change in this respect now that we have crossed the Equator. At noon I observed a large dark Petrel with white croup, but too distant for identification, and later in the day four Storm Petrels (O. oceanicus) hunting in company.
[Footnote] * Report on specimen submitted:—
[Footnote] Red dust from the rigging of s.s. “Doric,” 100 miles off the African coast, in lat. 19° 53′ N., and long. 18° 30′ W.
[Footnote] Consists of about 90 per cent. of sea salt, in rough grains = 1/50in.—which readily develops characteristic crystals. The colouring matter (reddish-brown) is organic; and about 1 per cent. of the organic matter has distinctive form as follows:—(1.) Frustules of a marine diatom (Synedra fulgens). (2.) Spiculæ of sponges. (3.) Elongated and jointed cells, probably fucoidal. (4.) Calcareous spines with a deep groove, probably echinodermid. I think the deposit must be tropical sea-scum that has been picked up by a tornado and distributed in an upper air-current. It is certainly not material swept from a land-surface.—James Hector.
9th February.—I watched for a considerable time from the bows of the ship, which afforded an excellent post of observation, the movements of the Flying-fish. There are two kinds in this part of the ocean, a larger and a smaller, both belonging to the genus Exocœtus. One of each species came on board, at different times, so I had an opportunity of examining them. The larger one measures, in extreme length, 19in.; spread of pectoral fins, 23in.; length of pectoral fins, 10·75in., The smaller one measures 9in., with a spread of 10·75in., the length of the pectoral fins being 4·75in. There are important structural differences in the two forms, and their colouring also distinguishes them. The smaller species, which is by far the more abundant of the two, has the upper surface dark indigo-blue, the sides of the body bright cobalt, the under surface white, and the eyes lustrous black, with orbits of iridescent blue; the fins are bluish-grey with transparent colourless webs, and the tail is greyish-white. The larger species is naturally more vigorous on the wing and capable of a more sustained flight than the smaller kind. The latter performs a flight of twenty to thirty yards, and then drops abruptly into the sea. As a rule the flight is direct, even against the wind; but occasionally I observed a vigorous flyer make a half-circuit, and I observed one turn back slightly on its course. Immediately after rising out of the water the fish often dips to the surface, apparently for the purpose of gaining fresh impetus by means of the produced lower vane of the tail, which is the only part that touches the water. The wings do not vibrate, but are perfectly rigid. The tail is used as a means of propulsion not only at starting, when it ploughs a little course in the water, but at intervals during the flight, when the fish dips to the surface, and, touching the water with this member, seems to be impelled forward again. About 11 o'clock this morning, when about six hundred miles from Ascension Island, and eight hundred miles from the coast of Africa, a pair of large Grey Petrels passed our weather-bow, flying low and rapidly, but we saw nothing more of them.
10th and 11th February.—No birds, but calm and hot days, with Flying-fish in large shoals. The nights are clear and beautiful, the unusual brilliance of the starlight being no doubt due to the great rarity of the atmosphere. Orion's Belt, to my mind the most beautiful of the constellations, was specially brilliant; and on the evening of the 10th we had our first view of the Southern Cross.
12th February.—The wind strengthened during the night, and now we are experiencing the steady N.E. trades, which will probably go through to the Cape with us. The entire absence of birds is very remarkable, for we have had all kinds of weather: first of all the warm Guinea current, of mysterious
origin, running with us; later on the Equatorial current running against us, and then the still waters of the Tropics; at first light S.W. winds in our favour, and now these trade-winds right in our teeth, with a broken sea; and yet no birds of any kind whatever! We have now travelled three thousand miles over this vast solitude without seeing any birds, and Captain Kempson tells me it is always so. Well may the Arabs term it the “desert of water.” In the afternoon a Grey Petrel (of the size and appearance of Puffinus griseus) appeared in sight, but did not remain very long. At night the water was phosphorescent again; but we seemed now to have some different kind of animal producing this effect, for they kept as near as possible to the sides of the ship, and the sparks of light emitted presented a green tinge.
13th February.—Weather unchanged. The Grey Petrel appeared again at intervals; no other object.
14th February.—The wind has freshened, and there is now a rough sea. The Grey Petrel (if the same) has been joined by a mate, and they have remained with us all day. About noon we bore down upon a flock of about fifty Cape Gannets (Sula capensis) floating on the water. This species is distinguished by its nearly black tail. During the whole of the afternoon we were attended, at a long distance astern, by a small Albatros which I take to be the true Diomedea culminata, but not the species hitherto referred to by that name in New Zealand, which has lately been distinguished by Messrs. Rothschild and Salvin as a distinct form, and named Diomedea bulleri.
15th February.—The wind freshened during the night, and to-day we have had a heavy swell setting in from the westward, along the wide expanse of ocean stretching away to Cape Horn. We have been steaming most part of the day only about fifty miles from land, and have seen more birds. In the afternoon we came upon a flock of Diomedea culminata (?), about twenty in number, disporting themselves in the water on our weather-bow. They took no notice whatever of the steamer, although we passed quite near to them. In the evening a pair of Boobies (Sula fusca) passed us on the wing. We also came upon a flock of fifty or sixty Shearwaters (? Puffinus major), and saw in the distance what appeared to be a pair of Lestris catarractes.
16th February.—As we approach the Cape bird-life is getting plentiful. The small Albatros already mentioned is ever present, but, as a rule, keeps at a distance from the ship. Large Seagulls hover over us, and the little Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) plays about in the water, singly or in pairs, diving frequently and remaining long under the surface. Shags, and Petrels, and Boobies are plentiful, and an astonishing number of Gannets. Of the latter I counted one
hundred in less than twenty minutes, all proceeding northward, going with the wind and flying high. I observed about half a dozen going in an opposite direction and against the wind, and these kept very near to the surface, where, owing to the waves, the resistance would be less felt. As we reached Table Bay, about 9 p.m., a perfect storm came over the mountain, and we had to cast anchor in the offing and wait for it to abate. Was it the instinctive knowledge of the approaching gale that made all the Gannets hurry northward for shelter in the afternoon? On Wednesday night the whole sea was aflame with phosphoric light; last night and to-night it was black as ink. This may be due to sudden changes of temperature in the water.
17th February.—At 9 o'clock last night we anchored outside the breakwater. It was blowing a hurricane, and, although we were fully two miles from the shore, while on deck our eyes were punished with the fine wind-borne dust. The gale subsided during the night, and at 6 a.m. we moved in to the usual anchorage. The bay was alive with the common Seagull and a species of Shag (Phalacrocorax capensis). I was interested in watching the fishing operations of the latter. When it dives it springs bodily out of the water and goes down head foremost. I timed the dive with my watch. It generally lasted from a minute to a minute and a half, but in one instance the bird remained under water a second beyond two minutes! During the forenoon one of these Shags settled in a boat hanging in our davits, and suffered one of the sailors to capture it without offering any resistance. I handled it afterwards and found it quite docile, but it was in very poor condition, and probably out of health.
18th February.—On leaving the Cape of Good Hope yesterday, before a strong head wind, and again to-day, we have been attended by two or three Mollyhawks (Diomedea melanophrys) and a large greyish-brown Petrel which is unfamiliar to me. In the afternoon we saw a pair of Storm Petrels, greyish-brown with white underparts—probably Pelagodroma marina.
19th February.—The same birds reappeared in the morning; and in the afternoon a small whale came up to within a mile of the ship, plunging and spouting. Then he took alarm and disappeared in the depths of the ocean, not even venturing up to spout.
20th February.—During the morning a large white Petrel, evidently Œstrelata glacialoides, appeared several times, but never very near to the ship. About 10 a.m. I saw the first Wandering Albatros (Diomedea exulans), a fine adult bird in full plumage.
21st February.—Lat. 43° 20′ S., long. 41° 14′ E. Several
Diomedea exulans, and one Diomedea regia—distinguishable at almost any distance by its perfectly white head and neck and the large amount of white on the wings—were in attendance to-day. There were also some Dove Petrels (Prion turtur), and fully a dozen Black - bellied Storm Petrels (Fregetta melanogaster). The last-named species is very active on the wing, flies high and in wide circles, a manner of flight very different from that of the other species of Storm Petrel already noticed. It seems to be decidedly gregarious in its habits, whereas Oceanites oceanicus is a solitary species, being generally seen singly or in pairs. During the day several of the Sooty Albatros (Diomedea fuliginosa) followed us, and I noticed that this species sometimes sails in couples, which D. exulans never does, nor indeed, so far as I am aware, any other species of Albatros.
22nd February.—Wind has veered round to S.S.W., and there is a heavy swell. Unusually cold for this latitude and this season of the year: water 45° Fahr., and the atmosphere, in the shade, 48°. On Saturday the temperature of the water was 70° Fahr.; to-day it is only 60° Fahr. The reading in the shade yesterday was 51°, and the day before 61°. But the inequality of temperature of the atmosphere in these latitudes is sometimes very remarkable. Captain Kempson tells me that on his last voyage Home, when in sight of Cape Horn, the temperature in the sun was 85° Fahr., whilst in the shade, on the other side of the ship, the thermometer stood at 50°. This is almost as curious as Captain Scoresby's report that at 80° north latitude he had the pitch melted on one side of his ship by the heat of the sun, while water was freezing on the other side owing to the coldness of the air. Now that we are getting beyond the influence of the warm current from the Mozambique, birds are getting more numerous: a few Diomedea exulans, a splendid pair of D. regia, and six of D. fuliginosa (the “Cape Hen” of sailors) remained with us nearly all day. When about sixty miles from the Crozets a fine Skua (Lestris antarcticus) appeared among them, and instantly gave battle to a Sooty Albatros. Before finally leaving us, he mounted high overhead and took a good survey of the ship. Prion turtur very abundant; also, in less numbers, a larger species, probably Prion vittatus.
23rd February.—We are attended to-day by a large number of sea-birds, including the three last-named species of Albatros,—Diomedea fuliginosa, however, preponderating. The flight of this species is very easy and buoyant, and it rises more gracefully out of the water than any of the other species of Albatros. When on the wing the somewhat long, wedgeshaped, tail is very conspicuous. It is a powerful flyer, and Captain Kempson says he has known a marked bird follow the
ship for three thousand miles at a stretch. The number of these Sooty Albatroses continued to increase till in the afternoon I counted five-and-twenty in close attendance on the ship. There was a single grey-and-white Petrel which I referred to Adamastor cinereus, although we do not appear to have yet reached the ordinary range of that gregarious species. Fregetta melanogaster was particularly numerous, hunting as it were in a community, often rising high in the air and performing a rapid bat-like flight, very unlike that of the other Storm Petrels. The Prions that were so plentiful yesterday have entirely disappeared. This sudden absence, although the conditions of weather and sea remain the same, seems to prove the theory I have previously advanced that flocks of different species feed over certain tracts of the ocean, the particular areas being no doubt in great measure determined by the food-supply.
24th February.—The swell has subsided, and the wind is sufficiently favourable to enable us to have all our sails set. But there is a slight mist on the ocean, and not a bird of any kind to be seen. If the sea-birds are guided to the ship by their vision, the explanation is sufficiently obvious. A haze over the ocean renders the ship invisible at a little distance, although there may be, to all appearance, as seen from the deck, a clear space around it. The birds follow the ship on the same principle that Terns and Seagulls follow the plough on a newly-turned field. As the latter glean the grubs and worms, these feed on the small marine animals that are brought to the surface by the disturbance of the water in the ship's course, as well as on the garbage thrown overboard from time to time. We were now about 250 miles from Kerguelen's Land. In the afternoon the mist lifted, and we were at once visited by a few Albatroses and Storm Petrels, and by about half a dozen of the Grey-and-white Petrel (Adamastor cinereus), whose customary range we appear now to have reached.
25th February.—This morning we were about twenty miles to the eastward of Kerguelen's Land. For the first time on our voyage out the Giant Petrel (Ossifraga gigantea) put in an appearance, there being several of them coursing about the ship; also another species of Petrel, a large black bird with whitish bill (? Majaqueus parkinsoni), and a number of the true Mollyhawk (Diomedea melanophrys), their yellow bills glancing in the sunshine as they sailed around the ship. Adamastor and Prion rather numerous; a single example of my Diomedea regia, a few Diomedea exulans and D. melano-phrys, one of the latter having a single white primary in the right wing. As the day advanced the Prions increased to hundreds; but in the afternoon, as we got farther away from the land, they diminished in number and finally disappeared
altogether, whilst Adamastor cinereus became more numerous. At 8 p.m., there being no moon, but a fair amount of starlight, an aurora australis illumined the western heavens. The phenomenon commenced with the appearance of two comet-like expansions of light, and then changed to a series of huge luminous rays of irregular size, arranged somewhat in fan fashion, and resting on a bank of clouds. The rays were not persistent, but seemed to change their position and their intensity every few minutes, and there was an entire absence of tint or colour. At the end of half an hour the appearance gradually faded away, and soon afterwards the moon rose.
26th February.—Saw yesterday, for the first time during the voyage, the young of Diomedea exulans, in slaty plumage with white face. Surprise has often been expressed at the relative fewness of the dark-coloured Albatroses as compared with the white-plumaged ones. But the explanation is a very simple one. There are two closely-allied species of Wandering Albatros (D. exulans and D. regia), one of which is white at all ages. Supposing, therefore, that a pair of each has one young one, the proportion of white birds to dark in the two families will be as five to one—that is to say, two adult D. exulans, two adult and one young D. regia (all of these white), to the one young D. exulans in dark plumage. In addition to the four species of Albatros, we have to-day Majaqueus parkinsoni, but no Prion turtur. We have now the “brave west wind” right aft, with the sea mountains-high, and a very rough sea does not suit the Dove Petrel. The manner in which numbers are cast ashore on the strand after every heavy gale is sufficient proof of this. At noon to-day—three hundred miles from land—a Skua (Lestris antarcticus) passed twice round the ship, and returned later in the day to complete the inspection, flying high, and in a very hawk-like manner. Adamastor cinereus in great numbers to-day, Their flight is an easy one, alternately soaring and skimming, with very rapid evolutions, and they seem rarely to descend to the water to pick up food. In calm weather they look very pretty as they wheel about simultaneously in a large flock, their white underparts gleaming in the sunshine. Among the Sooty Albatroses following the ship one exhibited a broad white patch on the nape.
1st March.—Same birds as yesterday. The steamer having stopped for twenty minutes, I observed that in calm water Adamastor cinereus dived for its food, first settling down on the surface, and then diving for a moment quite out of sight. About 11 p.m. the aurora australis was again announced, and the passengers left their cabins and crowded on deck to observe this strange phenomenon. It was certainly very magnificent. At first a luminous arch with a broken or irregular
outline, and resting as it were on a bank of cloud, appeared in the western sky, covering an extent of fully 50°. From this arch rays or flashes of white light ascended fitfully to the heavens; these long beams of light, shooting upwards almost to the zenith, travelled slowly along the arch, always moving from east to west; whilst every now and then a luminous expansion, like the tail of a giant comet, appeared in the sky for a few seconds, and quickly faded away. Then the arch widened, and presented a more regular circumference. This was succeeded by a pale rainbow-like effect of blending red and purple colours immediately above it, with coruscations of pure white light, forming a shifting halo, and, for a few seconds only, a less perfect and fainter bow below the arch. This grand effect lasted only a brief time, and with its disappearance the arch itself melted out of sight. At this conjuncture the moon, which had hitherto been obscured, made her appearance through a rift in the clouds, and, although in her fourth quarter, shone forth with unusual brilliance. At the same moment a shimmering beam of light appeared below the shining crescent, and continued to lengthen itself out till it seemed to touch the horizon, when it gradually melted away; but the whole of the western sky was still illumined with flashes of pale light and luminous clouds which quivered and pulsated as if produced (as no doubt they are) by electricity, and then insensibly passed away, the whole phenomenon from first to last occupying barely thirty minutes.
2nd March.—Lat. 48° 35′ S., long. 111° 26′ E. The white-marked Sooty Albatros is with us still. We first saw it on the 29th, and we have ever since been steaming at the rate of fourteen knots an hour. At 5 p.m. the rare Œstrelata antarctica paid us a visit, and made three circuits at a moderate distance from the ship. It is a beautiful object on the wing, and has a very graceful flight. Saw what appeared on the wing to be a pair of Puffinus bulleri.* They carry their long pointed wings in a bow shape, and make rapid sweeps in the air, crossing always in front of the ship.
3rd March.—Saw several of what I take to be Œstrelata neglecta. They are powerful on the wing and fly high, often in pairs, crossing in front of the ship, and never astern like Adamastor.
[Footnote] * Puffinus bulleri, Salvin. The proper range of this species has not yet been ascertained or defined. The type, now in the Rothschild collection, was picked up by me on the Waikanae coast many years ago. another specimen (the type of Puffinus zealandicus, Sandager) now in my possession was taken at Mokohinau Island, in the Hauraki Gulf, having dashed itself against the lighthouse at night; and the only other known specimen, now in the British Museum, was obtained from a dealer, labelled “from New Zealand seas.” These may therefore be only stragglers out of the ordinary range.
4th March.—Besides Œ. neglecta, there were a few of Adamastor cinereus to-day, but this was its last appearance.
7th March.—Arrived at Hobart in the early morning. The harbour was alive with porpoises. There were the usual Seagulls and estuary birds, such as Gannets and Penguins, and a flock of Mutton-birds (Puffinus griseus) numbering many hundreds, and packed so closely together on the water that they looked like a sand-bank or reef till the approach of the steamer made them take wing.
7th to 12th March.—There was nothing deserving of special mention from Tasmania to New Zealand. For two days out the weather was rough and wet, and few birds were to be seen, but after that Diomedea exulans became very numerous, with a fair proportion of young birds, and now and then a solitary D. regia. Acting on a suggestion made by Professor Newton, I obtained a number of snap-shots at these birds with a Kodak camera for the purpose of illustrating their manner of flight. On the morning of the 12th we sighted land. When about twelve miles from the shore a pair of Larus dominicanus came off to us, and remained in attendance on the ship down the coast to Auckland. A Kingfisher also came off to welcome us, and made a circuit of the ship, then attempted to come up again, but was apparently too much exhausted, and finally sank to the surface and disappeared. In the Hauraki Gulf Majaqueus gouldi was occasionally seen, and small parties of the Diving Petrel (Halodroma urinatrix) were disporting themselves in the water. The shades of evening had closed in upon us when we cast anchor inside of Rangitoto, and the calling of the Morepork could be heard from the shore, bringing back many pleasant associations of New Zealand life.