Art. XVI.—Birds of the Bay of Islands.
[Read before the Auckland Institute, 10th October, 1898.]
The Bay of Islands district, although the cradle of settlement in New Zealand, has not made much progress. This is owing to the broken nature of the country and the poor quality of the land; but these drawbacks have been the means of preserving many of the birds. If the land were good the bush—which is now slowly disappearing before axe and fire—would long ago have been a thing of the past, and some of the birds which are plentiful would be very rare, if not extinct. Old settlers tell me that the bell-bird, North Island robin, saddleback, and yellow-head were plentiful in the early days of the settlement. They have now totally disappeared, not only here but throughout the North. I have collected during the last three years nearly all of the forty-five species mentioned below.
Glaucopis wilsoni. (Blue-wattled Crow.)
Rare. I have spent many days searching for this bird, and, although I have skinned several which were obtained for me at Okaihau and Puhipuhi, I have seen none alive.
Myiomoira toitoi. (North Island Tomtit.)
Rare. Once during a trip to Puhipuhi I shot two. The old natives, to whom I showed the bird on my return, recognised it, but the young natives said it was a “pakeha tuauru.”
Gerygone fiaviventris. (Grey Warbler.)
Sphenœacus punctatus. (Fern-bird.)
Common. I have spent many days collecting this bird, which is common in most of the swamps, and when the swamp is not too wet the bird can easily be run down by two or three, but often, when hard pressed, it leaves the swamp and takes to the. tall fern and tea-tree; then the task is almost hopeless. After several days' search in a swamp two miles from Opua I obtained its nest and two eggs.
Anthus novæ-zealandiæ. (New Zealand Pipit.)
Very common. A gentleman at Waitangi possesses the skin of a perfect albino.
Rhipidura flabellifera. (Pied Fantail.)
Zosterops cærulescens. (Silver-eye.)
Prosthemadera novæ-zealandiæ. (Parson Bird.)
Fairly numerous, but I have sometimes tramped through the bush all day and only seen an occasional one.
Halcyon vagans. (Kingfisher.)
Very common. I have often seen birds of exceptionally bright plumage, and I have obtained a perfect albino.
Eudynamis taitensis. (Long-tailed Cuckoo.)
Very rare. I have seen one specimen, and have heard of only two others being obtained in this district.
Chrysococcyx lucidus. (Shining Cuckoo.)
Platycercus novæ-zealandiæ. (Red-fronted Parakeet.)
Rare. This bird is found on the high ranges at the back of Whangaruru and at Puhipuhi.
Nestor merldionalis. (Kaka.)
Spiloglaux. novæ-zealandiæ. (New Zealand Owl—Morepork.)
Circus gouldi. (Hawk.)
Carpophaga novæ-zealandiæ. (Pigeon.)
Fairly numerous, but there is no doubt that in a few years it will be rare in the ‘North, owing to the gradual disappearance of the bush and the bird not being sufficiently protected.
Charadrius obscurus. (New Zealand Dottrel.)
I have only seen odd birds.
Charadrius bicinctus. (Banded Dottrel.)
I have only seen odd birds.
Hæmatopus unicolor. (Black Oyster-catcher.)
I have only seen one.
Limosa novæ-zealandiæ. (Southern Godwit).
Not common, owing to the absence of feeding-grounds in the harbour.
Larus dominicanus. (Southern Black-back Gull).
Very common. I have obtained this bird's eggs at Tapeka Point, situated at the entrance to Russell, and also at the Black Rocks, off Moturoa Island. The nest is built of a coarse grass, and is about a foot in diameter, and almost flat and compact.
In November last year several of us went to the Black Rocks, which are composed of basalt, and vary from 40 ft. to 60 ft. in height. Deep water washes the sides facing the ocean, which are perpendicular. The tops are flat, and chasms which are in places not more than 2 ft. wide split up some of the rocks. A heavy swell made the landing difficult, but we were compensated by watching the swell, which was a grand sight, rolling into the chasms and sending the spray many feet above the rocks. The crabs, which were clinging in crevices, scuttled into the seething foam at our approach. We obtained eggs of the black-back gull, mackerel gull, white-fronted tern, blue heron, and the little, blue penguin. I enjoyed some of the terns' and mackerel gulls' eggs, which we boiled. One of our party had collected a small bucketful of mixed eggs for pastry. When he reached home the chirping of a chick drew his attention to the eggs, and from a cracked egg of a black-back gull a chick was claiming entrance to the world. The little bird was hatched, safely wrapped up, and placed near the fire. It grew into a fine bird, and always remained about the garden, although its wings were not cut.
Larus scopulinus. (Mackerel Gull.)
Very common. Breeds on Tapeka Point and the Black Bocks. Its nest is sometimes made of a little grass, but generally the eggs are laid on the bare rock.
Stercorarius crepidatus. (Richardson's Skua Gull.)
Plentiful from October and November till April. One day I counted as many as six between Opua and Russell. It is interesting to watch the skuas chasing the little terns for their fish. The terns cannot escape their swift assailants, and drop the fish, which the skuas catch as it falls.
Sterna frontalis. (White-fronted Tern.)
Very common. It breeds on the Black Rocks, and its eggs are laid on the bare rock. I obtained two eggs from a bird nesting on the rocks. One is the usual colour, but the other is a pale-blue. About February and March the young birds leave the rocks in company with the old birds, who feed them for some time afterwards.
Sterna caspia. (Caspian Tern.)
Porphyrio melanotus. (Swamp-hen.)
Rallus philippensis. (Banded Rail.)
Ortygometra tabuensis. (Swamp-rail.)
Rare. My specimens were taken from a settler's cat.
Ortygometra affinis. (Marsh-rail.)
Very rare. I have obtained two from Waikare. On dissection the stomach of one contained minute shells.
Ocydromus greyi. (North Island Woodhen.)
Plentiful, especially in the neighbourhood of Russell.
Ardea sacra. (Blue Heron.)
Common. I have obtained its eggs at the Black Rocks. The nest is loosely built, and is composed of twigs and rushes placed in some almost inaccessible chasm.
Botaurus pœciloptilus. (Black-backed Bittern.)
Not very common, owing to the absence of extensive swamps.
Phalacrocorax novæ-hollandiæ. (Black Shag.)
Common. I have obtained eggs at a shaggery above the Waitangi Falls, where there were three varieties—P. novœ-hollandiœ, P. varius, and P. brevirostris—all nesting in a puriri-tree, which hung over the river.
Phalaerocorax varius. (Pied Shag.)
Very common. Often on a bright morning I have stood on the side of a cliff and watched this bird fishing in the clear water beneath me. It swims under water with great rapidity, and I have seen it dodging in and out of the seaweed and stones in pursuit of some small fish. The nest is loosely built of twigs, and is generally found on pohutukawa-trees which hang over the water. I have obtained eggs at Cape Brett and in the harbour.
Phalacrocorax brevirostris. (White-throated Shag.)
Very common. These birds, P. novœ-hollandiœ, and P. varius have a common shaggery. I have obtained eggs and fully fledged young ones, which are black. An old bird which I shot was white on the breast, with black feathers interspersed, and I have shot others with more or less white on the breast.
Phalacrocorax stictocephalus. (Little Black Shag.)
Sir Walter Buller has identified and reinstated this bird on the authority of skins sent by me (Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xxix). This bird is common in the winter, but is seldom seen in the summer. At the present time—August—they are very numerous, and must consume a great quantity of fish. They seem to have a weakness for the young mullet. I secured eight of these birds at one shot when a flock of about sixty were fishing in front of the Opua Railway-station. I believe they breed inland on the banks of the fresh-water rivers, but I have obtained no eggs.
Dysporus serrator. (Australian Gannet.)
Diomedea exulans. (Wandering Albatros.)
I have seen this bird several times at the mouth of the bay, and I am told it often enters the little harbour of Whangaruru during the whaling season in search of offal.
Pelecanoides urinatrix. (Diving Petrel.)
Ossifraga gigantea. (Giant Petrel.)
I have a specimen which, with others, followed the s.s. “Rakanoa” up the harbour to Opua, and I have seen them occasionally at the entrance to the bay.
Puffinus griseus. (Mutton-bird.)
Common. I have obtained its eggs and young from Moturoa Island.
Anas superciliosa. (Grey Duck.)
Not very common.
Anas chlorotis. (Brown Duck.)
Eudyptula undina. (Little Blue Penguin.)
Common. I have obtained eggs and young ones from breeding-places in the harbour. A pair of these birds nested under an occupied building at Opua.
Apteryx mantelli. (Kiwi.)
Common in places, especially at Whangae and between Opua and Waimate. It is a frequent occurrence for pig-dogs to secure one and sometimes more kiwis during the day. Unfortunately, birds caught by pig-dogs are generally torn and useless. The country for eight miles behind Opua is very broken and wild, with heavy bush in the gullies, and there
kiwis will be plentiful for some time if not troubled by stoats and weasels. I have a perfect egg, which I felt in a kiwi obtained from a native. Thinking the egg would be broken if laid, I chloroformed the bird and cut the egg out. It is perfect, and I have it yet. I have received eggs from July until February, but the eggs I got in February contained fully developed and feathered chicks.