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ROMANCE IN BIRD LIFE.

once

If the story that was current when I wood-lined margin of some stream in first visited Auckland is true, it was the ranges, as the tempest drove the indeed an ill wind for Australia that flame-tongues through the tops of the brought about the wandering of the lit

tall gums.

It may have been from tle green

stranger, the Tauhou or its every breeding-haunts in the sandBlight-bird, across the Tasman Sea; dunes of the coast that it was caught but, as events have proved, it blew and hurried seawards by that fierce much good to New Zealand.

and blinding wind. That would be as The summer of 1850-51 was excep- impossible to ascertain as the origin tionally hot and dry all over Southern of the fire, whereof no one knows. But Australia. By the end of January one may imagine that as the smokethere was scarcely a patch of green wreaths drifted out and thinned in the grass to be found in Victoria: from the salt air over the Pacific, and the tiny River Murray to Bass Straits the herb- birds could

more look about age was dry and brown; the eucalyp- them, they were very, very far from tus forests were charged with resinous home, and had instinct led them to rematter baked to the verge of confla- turn those feeble 'wings could hardly gration. Then came the North wind, have battled against the gale. They and with it sprang up the fires of Black could but hurry helplessly eastwards Thursday, February 6, 1851. There over the waters, and doubtless many a have been terrible bush fires in Victo- fleck of still more vivid green had ria since, but no day quite like that. fallen in the green sea-surge before the Black smoke-clouds covered the lony great hills of Southland loomed up in from end to end with a pall denser their path. than that of a total eclipse. In Mel- A lonely shepherd, looking out at bourne, where at eleven o'clock the evening from a sea-washed promontory thermometer stood at 117° in the of the South Island, saw in the west, shade, the citizens feared some myste- so the legend has it, a tiny cloud that, rious convulsion of nature. Evening rising and falling in the light of sunbrought to the city, the first news of set. grew ever larger as it came nearer, the disaster that had fallen on the bush till presently it lighted close beneath settlements and homesteads, but not him, and the manuka thickets were for many days was its full extent filled with the faint pipings of the known.

stranger birds. By that time the wind had changed, Such is the popular account of the and the strong westerly that in Victo- coming of the Blight-bird (Zosterops ria almost always follows upon two carulescens) to New Zealand, and one or three days of hot wind had blurred would like to believe it if only for the the eastern coast-line with smoke, and sake of its picturesqueness. High aurolled vast clouds of it, laden with thority, however, has declared that the acrid incense from ruined gullies of bird is indigenous to the wild places musk and sassafras, far out over the of the South Island. There is, indeed, Tasman Sea towards New Zealand. evidence both ways.

A very distinWith that smoke, so tradition goes, guished Maori chief, Paitu by name, went the Tauhou. It may have been once said that he noticed Tauhou birds that the little flock of birds

near Milford Sound as long ago as whirled up and away from the black- 1832, in flocks of from thirty to forty.

was

The Maori does not usually make mis- be excluded, only one bird which is takes in matter of bushcraft. And it is now strictly speaking endemic both in noted that the birds' movements in New Zealand and Australia, and that is New Zealand have always been from the little bird which is the subject of south to north, which is said to be this article. There is no difference beinconsistent with a place of origin in tween specimens from the two localithe west. But that is only remarkable ties. The late John Gould is indeed said on the supposition that any journey to have been able at once to pick out from Australia must have been volun- New Zealand from Australian specitary.

mens in the same cabinet, but subseOn the other hand, it may well have quent ornithologists have not been able been that the traditional arrival was to verify his distinctions. It is a remarknot the first of its kind, so that able thing, when one considers that the Paitu's birds may have been an earlier genus Zosterops numbers eighty-eight band of emigrants, or their descend species, spread over most of Africa ants. And certain though it is that and the East, besides Australia, that white men first saw the Blight-birds in there should be no appreciable specific New Zealand and in the Pitt and Chat difference between the New Zealand ham Islands very shortly after Black form and that found in the part of Thursday, it is quite likely there were Australia which is nearest to New also subsequent arrivals. One night, Zealand, unless, as I believe is the case early in the 'fifties, dozens of the birds the former is a quite recent immigrant, struck against the lighthouse on Dog involuntary it may well be, from the Island, which lies in Foveaux Strait continent. about seven miles east of the Bluff, at Other Australian species have from the extreme south of the South Island. time to time found their way across The light-keeper who picked up their the Tasman Sea. The Wattle-bird, little bodies in the morning could not which like the Blight-bird is a honeysay definitely from which direction eater, though a much larger one, and they had come, but thought that most the Australian Roller or Dollar-bird, likely it was from Stewart Island on have occasionally been seen in New the other side of the Strait-that is to Zealand. Once swallows appeared in say, from the south. That is of course the North Island, and there have quite possible. But it is strange that been sporadic occurrences of a consmall land-birds should choose the tinental Swift. The distance night-time to migrate across such a the

flies

may be reckoned narrow passage, nor does there seem as 1000 miles. It would take the to have been any previous record of average small bird, carried by the the Blight-bird in Stewart Island. heavy westerly winds that prevail in More likely these birds also had just the Tasman Sea, at most three days to arrived from Australia.

cross, so that the wonder rather is that There is not much similarity be- there have not been more frequent octween the bird-life of New Zealand currences of Australian birds in New and that of Australia. New Zealand, Zealand. it is conceded by most modern natural- Why is it that no other Australian ists, must be regarded as a separate visitant has established itself? I think biological province in itself, quite dis- the answer lies in this, that of Austinct from Australia, and indeed from tralian birds that have crossed to New every other region of the earth. There Zealand the Blight-bird is the only one is, if aquatic and semi-aquatic species whose babits are gregarious.

It is,

as

crow

re

was

by the way, the only gregarious land- multaneously flocks appeared in the bird now found in New Zealand. The hedges and suburban gardens of the flock blown away from the Australian windy capital itself, earning immedicoast may well have numbered a hun- ate gratitude from the inhabitants for dred birds or more, so that after allow- the good work they did in ridding the ing for casualties there would still be apple-trees of the dreaded American enough survivors to form the nucleus blight (Schizoneura lanigera).

All of a thriving community. The new through that winter they stayed in the conditions, too, would suit the birds ad- neighborhood of Wellington. But mirably. In Australia they swing when September brought the first their delicate horse-hair interwoven warm days of the Antipodean spring hammocks from the twigs of the ti- the visitors disappeared, suddenly as tree that grows in dense clumps in the they came, re-crossing the strait to the sandhills on the coast: in New Zea- South Island to breed. They were land they found the manuka, a mem- not seen again on the North Island for ber of the same genus (Melaleuca), and two years.

Then in 1858 they crossed other kindred shrubs.

in greater numbers than before, reThe marvellous fashion in which it turning again at the end of the winter. has spread throughout New Zealand is In 1862 it appears to have occurred to a characteristic that it shares with the them that an annual migration was birds imported into the Dominion by perhaps unnecessary for they human agency: the Blackbird and mained to nest in the environs of WelThrush, to take the best-known exam- lington. Rapid, indeed,

their ples. To-day if one were to ask a boy northward progress from that time. in the streets of any town from Inver- Napier saw the first of them in 1862, cargill to Auckland what were the six the Upper Wanganui in 1863, the commonest New Zealand birds, he Waikato in 1864, and in 1865 they would be pretty sure to name the

reached the Queen City of the Northern Blight-bird, and to fill up the half-dozen

Island, that citywith birds that sixty years ago were unknown anywhere in the Southern

"Last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite,

apart.” Hemisphere.

The Blight-bird's progress northward But the unchanging season · which from the southern extremity of New smiles on Auckland only attracted the Zealand was amazingly rapid. In the birds farther north, till in 1867 the nayear 1856 they appeared successively tives of the Bay of Islands made the in Otago, Canterbury, and later in Nel- personal acquaintance of the Tauhou. son, where Cook's Strait, which sepa- --not quite to the advantage of the rates the two islands. barred their latter, as we shall see,-and the North course. But that turbulent sea-way, Cape, the John o' Groats of a Southern where so many a good ship—the hap- Scotland, was reached in 1868. Why less Penguin being the last-has piled they should have continued to move her bones on the gray rocks, presented northward beyond the limits of New no lasting obstacle to the advance-guard Zealand is hard to say, but that they of little invaders hurrying North into did so is certain. may have been warmer, more home-like weather from that they found the climate of the Islthe bleak winter of the South. First ands on the whole more rigorous than to see them in the North Island was a that of Australia, and that instinct led native mailman at Waikanae, forty them to try to regain what they had miles from Wellington, and almost si- lost.

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"On my passage from Tahiti to Auckland, per brig Rita," wrote at the same time relative of my

own,-Mr. George Owen,-"about 300 miles north of the North Cape of New Zealand, I saw one morning several little birds flying about the ship. From their twittering, and the manner of flying, I concluded that they were land-birds, and they were easily caught. They were of a brownish-gray and yellowish color, with a little white mark round the eye. I saw several pass over the ship during the day, travelling northwards. I arrived in Auckland a few days afterwards on the 20th of May, when the so-called Blight-birds appeared here in such numbers, and I at once recognized them as the salie birds."

birds move about in rather smaller companies than one sees in New Zealand. When they are flying—they have a higher flight than most small birdsthey utter a rapid twittering note, which becomes plaintive in character when the flock has settled on a tree to feed. There is, too, an exquisitely sweet song which often goes unnoticed, so subdued are its strains.

were

as

The Blight-birds

probably there on their way to the Kermadec Group of Islands, where they are now very common. Up to the present time they have not attempted to cover the long ocean-stretch that lies between these islands and Tonga, so that we may regard this species as having reached its northernmost limit.

About the size of a White-throat, the Blight-bird has its head and upper part of the tail bright greenish-olive, back dark gray, throat yellowish, lower parts white verging into chestnut on the flanks. But the characteristic mark that makes it the best-known small bird not only in New Zealand but in Australia, whose inhabitants are not accustomed to take much notice of small birds, or indeed of anything else that has not an obvious cash value, is the ring of white feathers round the eye. This gives the local names of White-eye, Silver-eye, and Ring-eye: its other Australian name of Cherrypicker, due, we may suppose, to the pessimistic point of view of the Australian settlers, just as the name “Blight-bird" records the gratitude of the New Zealanders who so christened it on its arrival among them.

On the continent of Australia these

"Sometimes, passing under a Pepper-tree, or a Pittosporum, in which the birds were feeding," says an Australian relative, “I have caught the sweet sounds, and stopping, have looked up to see on a horizontal bough a tiny green pair pressed close together like love-birds, one bird pouring forth the most delightful melody as if for the ear of the partner alone. Strange to say, you may hear this song in autumn or winter as well in the breeding season; and yet one is lucky to hear it more than once in a day, however many of the birds there may be in the locality. My own experience is that it is most frequently to be heard late in the afternoon. One curious habit of this Zosterops, which it shares with the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and other Antipodean species, is that of placing sentinels to warn the feeding flock of approaching danger. These outposts perch on the topmost twigs of the tree in which the others are feeding, or else in a neighboring tree; and when they see you coming they fly off with shrill twittering, the rest following, not always all together, but each as he can tear himself from the fruit or insect he has been discussing; and then the flock re-forms far. ther on. Sometimes, however, whether for lack of organization or because the sentries are not always proof against temptation, no warning is given; and then nothing short of a great noise will frighten them out of the tree. When I was a child, at Heidelberg near Melbourne, I used to watch a boy shooting these birds with a catapult, or 'shanghai' as it is called in Victoria. He would drag a long cane chair beneath an elder-tree which they frequented, and then, lying in the chair, would shoot up with tiny shot pellets.

as

I shall never forget how the berries used to drop from the green leaves overhead as 'the birds sucked them dry, and how ever and anon a bird too would fall, and then I was divided between childish pity at the sight of the beautiful little green bird lying there dead, and admiration for the excellent marksmanship of my big friend.”

As in the case of all birds that are partly frugivorous, there has been much discussion about the Blight-bird's relative utility or harmfulness to man. When it first came to Wellington it was hailed a benefactor, for it cleared many an orchard and garden of the woolly blight. It was rather fortunate for the birds that they first manifested their activities in this direction and did not stay in Wellington for the fruit season: they went away with an excellent reputation and a name which has been of considerable protective value to them ever since. For other reasons, too, it was welcome. It formed a pleasing addition to the birds of the New Zealand bush, none too many at any time, and it did not shun civilization as do nearly all the indigenous birds. Later, however, orchardists came to regard it as a nuisance, so great were its ravages among the softer fruits. And certainly in its own country it had always been without honor, the Australian fruitgrower never treating the “Cherrypicker" as anything but a pest.

Truth as usual lies somewhere midway, and opinion both in the Commonwealth and in the Dominion is inclining to the view that it may do more good than harm; so much must be confessed, that in spring and summer the Zosterops does work havoc among small fruits, and in autumn one may see scores of late apples rendered unmarketable by the green-winged scamps. It is interesting to watch a Zosterops operating on a pear. Working a hole in from the side with its sharp little bill, it finally gets right

inside the fruit and feeds to its heart's content from that position until the pear hangs a mere shell on the branch, or falls to the ground completely "ringbarked," and then often enough the greedly little bird will follow it down to the ground and finish it there. But when there is no fruit on the trees the bird is a veritable scourge to the aphis and other noxious insects, and the casemoth that attacks forest timber may well fear for its larvæ when a flock of Blight-birds descends upon the tree. During the autumn and winter months of the Antipodes, say from April to August, numbers of them come into the town gardens and eat oft vast quantities of aphides from chrysanthemums and rose-bushes. They also like the full-grown "pear slug," and pick from the trees, or the ground beneath, numbers of codlin moth grubs and similar fruit-pests.

A man I know of near Wellington had a lot of apple-trees which had suffered very much from the depredations of Blackbirds, Thrushes, and Zosterops. One year, in despair at the loss of nearly all his fruit, he put up posts round the outside of the plot and covered the whole of the trees with wire netting, on the top as well as at the sides. The plan worked admirably so far as the birds were concerned, of course: but he had reckoned without the hosts of the codlin moth. These seized the opportunity afforded by the absence of their natural foes, and when the orchardist picked his apples, a heavy crop, next season, every single one was found riddled with the ugly tubular tracks of the detested grub. In the summer of the succeeding year he tried leaving the door open, but the Blight-birds seemed to suspect a trap, and none would enter. So he took down his wire-work.

Here it may be mentioned that settlers often protect their orchards from this moth by planting the "codlin-moth

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