Fernbirds—Two New Subspecies of Bowdleria punctata
[Read before the Dunedin Science Congress, May, 1935; received by the Editor, May 1, 1936; issued separately, December, 1936.]
Fernbirds are plentiful on Stewart Island and many of the surrounding islets. Oliver made a new subspecies of one under the name B.p. stewartiae, defining it as more rufous than the mainland forms, the bill stouter, the superciliary streak ill-defined, and the throat thickly covered with large black spots. Unfortunately the specimen on which Oliver founded this subspecies has been mislaid and is not available for comparison, but the description does not fit the form I have found to be commonest on Stewart Island and the surrounding islets, and for which I now propose the name Bowdleria punctata insularis, the type being in my collection.
This bird is similar to the typical mainland species B.p. punctata; but has the forehead and crown a richer chestnut brown, and the sides of the breast and flanks much browner, each feather of these parts having a narrow black streak down its centre. The chin and the upper part of the throat may be either quite devoid of spots or faintly spotted with black, the spots increasing in size on the breast. This bird is found on Stewart Island, on Big South Cape, Solomon, Pukeawa, Cundy and Jacques Lee's Island, and probably on some others. Associated with it on Stewart Island is a darker form, which according to Falla is indistinguishable from some forms of the North Island fernbird, B.p. vealeae. I think this form also occurs on Cundy Island, but as I have no specimens I cannot be certain. There are certainly two types on Cundy.
Last Christmas I spent three weeks on Codfish Island and discovered yet a third type, so distinct as to rank as a subspecies. This I propose to call B.p. wilsoni in honour of Major R. A. Wilson, of Bulls, who has done so much to help me in my studies of birds. The type specimen is in my own collection. Generally speaking, the Codfish Island bird is much darker than any form hitherto described. The crown is dark brownish-black, the feather having black centres with brown edges. The feathers of the back are black with narrow edging of brown. The chin, foreneck and breast are heavily spotted with black and the tail is dark brownish-black. The feet and legs are much darker than in B.p. insularis. So far as I know this bird is confined to Codfish Island, where it is not uncommon in those portions not covered with heavy bush. In the scrub and fern along the beach as well as in the scrub on the higher portions of the island we met them, usually getting a mere glimpse as they fluttered from one bit of cover to another. I found one nest in the top of a thick scrub-bush heavily hung with convolvulous. It was a typical fern-bird's nest, made of grass, with a deep cup, the bottom half of which was lined with feathers. The nest, though of that season, was empty and had been deserted.