Art. V.—Birds on Kapiti-Island.
[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 2nd September, 1908.]
Early this year, when my annual holiday arrived, I gladly took advantage of an opportunity to visit Kapiti Island, which was declared a native bird and plant sanctuary a few years ago. It is one of three sanctuaries in New Zealand. There is the Little Barrier Island in the north, Resolution Island in the south, and Kapiti Island halfway between. It lies about three miles off the western coast of Wellington Province, and at the western mouth of Cook Strait. It is about 5,000 acres in area, six miles long, and a mile and a quarter broad along its whole length. It is a rugged, precipitous island, and is much cut up into gorges, gullies, and creeks. Unlike the Little Barrier, however, it has a good deal of flat land. All along the western side of the island there are high cliffs, some of which rise to a height of 1,700ft., near Mount Titeremoana, the highest peak.
I spent a week on the island, from the 21st February to the 27th February, making my headquarters at the Government cottage, on the terrace above the Rangatira Flat, halfway down the eastern coast. This site is very suitable for the purpose, as forest-clad hills rise up immediately behind the terrace, and I had to go only a few paces to be amongst the birds. I noted twenty-three species, and I have included in the list seven others which were seen by previous observers.
The whitehead (Certhiparus albicapillus) is very plentiful. It was the first native bird I saw on the sanctuary. I had hardly entered the bush on the slopes of the hills behind Sangatira when I heard the white-head's noisy twittering. I heard it every day that I spent on the island. The silence of the forests was broken more frequently by whiteheads than by any other birds. It is satisfactory to know that this bird is represented on Kapiti as well as on the Little Barrier, as it had been reported to be on the verge of extinction. When I returned to Wellington after my visit to Kapiti, Mr. A. Hamilton told me that he had seen it in large numbers at Silverstream, near Wellington City, and in Christ-church. Mr. Edgar Stead reported its presence in Hawke's Bay, while Dr. L. Cockayne states that he saw large numbers in the central part of the Tongariro National Park, when he made a botanical survey there this year.
Bell-birds (Anthornis melanui a) are also plentiful. I do not think that there is any place in the Dominion where they are more plentiful. The graceful flight of the tui (Prosthemadera nova-zealandiae) is a common sight on the sanctuary. These handsome birds are seen in large numbers on the karaka-trees. The berries were ripe at the time of my visit, and they seemed to afford the “parson-bird” ample supplies of food. I saw only a few fantails, but I noted that both the pied (Rhipidura flabellifera) and the black species (R. fuliginosa) are present. I was rather surprised to find the black one as plentiful as the pied. The pied fantail is found all over New Zealand, but the black one is common only in the south.
Except for the presence of this bird, the avifauna of the island has all the characteristics of the north: that is to say, several small birds are distinguished by white in their plumage, as against the yellow of the south. The robin (Miro australis) and the tomtit (Petraeca toi-toi), for instance, have the northern white breasts, and the presence of the white-head instead of the yellowhead (Mohua ochrocephala) adds another northern characteristic. I should say that the position of the North Island robin on the sanctuary is an exceptionally satisfactory one. I seldom went into the bush without seeing this bird, which displayed all the traits that make it the most charming companion of those who visit New Zealand forests. On some days I spent hours without seeing a whitehead, a fantail, a bell-bird, a tui, a pigeon, or a tomtit, but I seldom went more than a few paces without the pleasure of the company of robins. Although the North Island tomtit is not represented as well as the robin and whitehead, it seems to be present in large numbers.
There is one peculiarity of bird-life that is noticeable on both the Little Barrier and Kapiti sanctuaries: the English birds and the native birds seem to keep apart. Apparently, there is no attempt on either side to establish relationships of any kind. I do not think that the English birds are in any way to blame for the decrease in the numbers of the native birds. The English birds, as far as I have been able to ascertain, do not interfere with the natives, and the natives take no notice of the intruders. Both have their own domains. I did not see any English bird inside the fringe of the bush, and I saw hardly any native birds in the open, outside of the trees, unless they were hurrying from one part to another.
One of the most striking phases of animal life on the island at present is the presence of hundreds of goats. The ancestors of these herds escaped from the whalers in the days of the whaling industry. In some parts of the island the goats are very plentiful. Their tracks are seen all over the hills and up and down the gullies, and there is no doubt that, although they have not interfered in any way with the bird-life, they have had a marked effect upon the vegetation. Sheep have also helped to bring about changes in this direction, and a few cattle have played their part. At the time of my visit there were a few deer on the island. Cats have been reported there, and I saw one opossum in the forests. I do not think that the cats are sufficiently numerous to do any serious injury to the birds. Apart from the cats, the birds have no natural enemies.
Between 1,200 and 1,300 acres of the island, or more than one-fifth, are held by Maori owners, who use their land as a small sheep-station. Their presence endangers the forests, and also, of course, the birds. They are careless, and through their carelessness a bush-fire may spread from their land on to the Government reserve, and sweep the island from end to end. During my visit, which was in the heat of summer, a fire broke out on the Maoris' end of the island, but it fortunately stopped just as it reached the Government's boundary. It has been suggested that the Maoris should be offered some inducement to relinquish their rights on the sanctuary, and that the whole island should be reserved.
I append a list of the native birds I noted. It contains the names of the Auckland Island flightless duck, and parrakeets from the Auckland and Antipodes Islands, liberated by Dr. L. Cockayne at the end of 1907. It also contains the names of a few birds which I did not see, but which
were noted by Mr. H. G. Drew, of Wanganui, a few years previously: these are marked with an asterisk.
|Popular Name.||Maori Name.||Scientific Name.|
|Grey warbler||Riroriro||Pseudogerygone igata.|
|North Island tit||Miromiro||Petraca toi-toi.|
|North Island robin||Toutouwai||Miro australis.|
|Pied fantail||Tiwakawaka||Rhipidura flábellifera.|
|Black fantail||Tiwakawaka||Rhipidura fuliginosa.|
|Tui or parson-bird||Tui||Prosthemadera nova-zealandia.|
|Bell-bird or mockingbird||Makomako||Anthornis melanura.|
|Shining cuckoo*||Pipiwharauroa||Chalcococcyx lucidus.|
|Long-tailed cuckoo*||Koekoea||Urodynamis taitensis.|
|Antipodes Island parrakeet||Cyanorhamphus unicolor.|
|Red-fronted parrakeet||Kakarika||Cyanorhamphus erythrotis.|
|Blue heron*||Matuku||Demiegretta sacra.|
|Pied stilt*||Poaka||Himantopus picatus.|
|White-fronted tern||Tara||Sterna frontalis.|
|Black-backed gull||Karoro||Larus dominicanus.|
|Blue penguin*||Korora||Eudyptula minor.|
|Black shag*||Kawau||Phalacrocorax carbo.|
|Grey duck*||Parera||Anas superciliosa.|
|Flightless duck (Auckland Islands)||Nesonetta aucklandica.|