Birds of Martin bay, 1876–81
In the year 1870 a boatload of immigrants landed at Martin Bay. Prominent among this party was John Robertson, who took with him stores to found a shop and was postmaster and registrar of births, deaths and marriages to the new settlement. As the years passed and the settlement did not progress, John Robertson and his family for some years turned their attention to collecting specimens for the Otago Museum. Hundreds of birds were skinned and forwarded to Professor J. T. Parker, the Curator of the Museum. Many skeletons of birds
were also prepared, most of the work being done by the son, Jim, and by the daughters, Bella and Jane Ann Robertson, wife of John Robertson, also assisted in this work. This record and notes supplied herein were given to me by Mrs. Jane Mary Hyndman (nee Jane Robertson). Mrs. Hyndman was born in the year 1866 and landed at Martin Bay with her parents in 1870. At the age of twenty-one Mrs. Hyndman (or Miss Jane Robertson as she then was) left Martin Bay. Bird life in the Bay still was abundant at this date, which was the year 1887. although about 1881 the Robertson family had ceased to collect birds for the Otago Museum.
All birds were identified by my informant by means of the use of photographs and coloured plates. Many common species that one naturally would expect should be there were inled out as unknown. My work has been that of a compiler; and I have endeavoured to place before the student a story of the birds as seen by Mrs. Hyndman, whose memory of those now distant days is remark-ably clean and concise. Common names used in this paper are chiefly those that were in use among the settlers. The record has been thoroughly revised, and is of considerable interest in that certain statements are in agreement with observations that have already been made, while others may be new. All birds in the list were observed in the vicinity of Martin Bay and on Lake McKerrow in the valley of the Hollyford River, which is only a few miles distant.
The band of pioneers landed in an untamed wilderness of virgin forest with bird life in teeming abundance. They were primarily interested in the species of birds suitable for food, particularly as meat in the ordinary sense of the word was almost unobtainable; so they did what man has done since the dawn of history and selected as food the birds that appealed to their taste.
1 Crested penguin, probably Eudyptes pachyrhynchus.
These penguins were to be seen at intervals.
2 Little blue penguin, Eudyptula minor.
Little blue penguin were common in the vicinity.
Common kiwi, Apteryx australis.
This species was common in the bush. A large specimen provided a meal for the family.
4 Little grey kiwi, Apteryx oweni.
Kiwi were regarded as excellent for food. A cream-coloured specimen was caught and taken alive to Nelson by Mrs. Ann Robertson. Another cream-coloured kiwi was skinned for Otago Museum. Kiwi were secured by using a dog on moonlit nights, the party keeping to the sandhills on the coast while the dog was sent into the bush at intervals. In the daytime kiwi were sometimes killed by using a long stick or pole.
Albatross, species unidentified.
A number of these birds came on shore at intervals. They stayed for a few days and then departed. They were never molested.
Black-backed gull. Larus dominicanus.
These birds were very common. The eggs were secured from a seaward cliff in the vicinity and sometimes used for food. The birds were never eaten.
Black-backed gull, Larus bulleri.
Red-billed gull. Larus novae-hollandiae.
The eggs of these gulls were collected in kerosene tins, some eggs always being left in the nests to ensure that a sufficient number of birds would hatch to supply eggs in future years. These eggs were regarded as the best for food of any in the neighbourhood.
Paradise duck, Casarca variegata.
This bird was shot on Lake McKerrow and on the river. If the female was shot, the male came to help her; but if the male was shot, the female departed. This duck was much esteemed for food. Its nest was built on the side of the river; but the eggs were not used for food.
Brown duck, Elasmonetta chlorotis.
This species was fairly common and sometimes used as food.
Blue duck, Hymenolaimus malacorhynchus.
Blue duck generally were unmolested, as they were not very good for food.
Grey duck, Anas superciliosa.
This species was largely eaten, numbers being smoked in the autumn.
Grey teal, Anas gibberifrons.
Grey teal were fairly common, and numbers were used for food.
Black teal, Fuligula novaescclandiae.
This was a good food bird, of which large numbers were eaten, many being smoked in the autumn. All ducks and teal were killed in the moulting season, when to some extent they were helpless.
Black swan, Chenopis'atrata.
A number of these were usually to be seen on Lake McKerrow. These birds were much admired, and, on the strict injunction of Mrs. Ann Robert-son, were never molested.
Woodhen, Gallirallus australis.
These were regarded as excellent for food: the reason for this was said to be that, as there were on lizards at Martin Bay, the woodhen fed almost solely on bush insects and the flesh never became tough as was the case in most parts of New Zealand. This was a universal belief at this period. In edible qualities woodhen resembled kiwi.
Pukeko, Porphyrio melanotus.
Pukeko were common, but were not used for food.
White heron, Egretla alba.
These were common on Lake McKerrow throughout the year. A few specimens were skinned and sent to the Otago Museum. No chicks were to be seen at Martin Bay.
18 Blue heron, Demigretta sacra.
Blue heron were rarely seen. From time to time a few specimens were found on Lake McKerrow.
Bittern, Botaurus poiciloptilus.
Generally, this bird was regarded as rare around the lake, but was more common in the neighbouring creeks
Native pigeon, Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae.
Pigeon were common and good to eat. They were difficult to skin because the feathers came away easily. This species lived mostly on the low ground near the river, where they were casily shot.
Bush hawk, Falco novaeseelandiae.
This species was common in all bush. It was shot on sight because it not only killed pigeons and other native birds, but also killed hens in the fowl-yard. Mrs. Ann Robertson became adept at sewing up wounds made by bush hawks in hens and also in bush-birds. Many complete recoveries resulted.
Harrier, Cucus approximans.
A few were seen, but this species was not as common as was the bush hawk.
23 Morepork, Ninox novacscclandiae.
Morepork were common. When the cry of the morepork was heard in the evening, it was usual for everyone to vacate the bush, because at that time packs of wild dogs were not uncommon and were regarded as dangerous. These dogs often could be heard howling at night. They were known to have a regular annual migration from Jackson Bay and Big Bay to the mountains and back.
Kaka, Nestor meridtonalis.
The kaka were regarded as good for food. particularly when the rata was in flower They were then fat with consuming quantities of honey.
Kea, Nestor natabilis.
Kea were common, but were not eaten. They migrated down from the mountains in winter.
Nests were found in hollow trees. The Robertson children were accustomed to take the young from the nests before they were fully fledged and feed them at home in improvised cages. Those that developed red feathers in the head were retained and taught to talk: those that developed yellow feathers in the head were liberated, as they could not be taught to talk.
Kakapo, Strigops habroptilus.
This was an excellent bird for food. In the day it was difficult to dislodge it from the roots of large trees. Like the kiwi, it was caught on moonlit nights by sending dog into the bush from the sandhills along the coast.
Shining cuckoo, Chalcites lucidus.
This species was common and stayed all the year at Martin Bay.
Long-tailed cuckoo, Eudynamis taitensis.
This bird was not found at Martin Bay throughout the year. It has a habit of screeching and throwing itself into a tree, after which it is difficult to find as it sits along the branch and not across it as do other birds.
Kingfisher, Halcyon sanctus.
The kingfisher was common around Lake McKerrow.
Native thrush, Turnagra capensis.
This was a gentle bird, quiet and tame. It was very common, and approached by a series of hops to take crumbs or other food offered to it. The thrush laid up to five eggs, but nests were not molested. Specimens were sent to Otago Museum, but they requested that no more be sent. In the 1880's Mrs. Hyndman was also familiar with the native thrush at Queenstown.
Native robin, Miro australis.
The native robin was another tame bird which was fed with crumbs. This species also was common at Queenstown. Sometimes it came inside the house. It was, in fact, so common that few specimens were sent to the Museum.
South Island tomtit, Petroica macroccphala.
This was a common bird in all bush, but was not tame in its habits.
Fantail, Rhipidura flabellifera.
The pied fantail was common, often entering dwellings; but the black fantail was unknown to my informant. These are difficult birds to skin.
Wax-eye or Silver-eye, Zosterops lateralis.
The wax-eye was common in the winter when the snow was on the mountains. It seemed to prefer the higher levels in the summer.
Bush canary, Mohoua ochrocephala.
The bush canary was a noisy bird seen in flocks in large kowhai, rata, and other flowering trees.
Tur, Prosthemadera novae-scelandiac.
The tui was everywhere common.
Bell bird, Anthornis melanura.
Bell birds were very common and renowned for their singing in the early morning and even late at night.
Saddle-back, Creadion carunculatus.
The saddle-back was regarded as an uncommon bird and difficult to see in the dense bush. A brown bird is exactly the same size and shape (immature young).
Native crow, Callacas cinerca.
Hundreds of these birds lived in the high trees near the house. At times their song rivalled even that of the bell bird.