« AnteriorContinuar »
rocks." They were very tame, and did not rise till my father nearly trod on them.
Curlew.—May 19. A few about, but they are probably stragglers from the moors, where they must now be breeding.
Oystercalcher.—May '23. Saw four to-day feeding on the "black rocks." These birds are nearly always to be seen at any time of the year in this locality, so I conclude some very old or barren individuals remain here throughout the summer, while the chief body migrate to their breeding-grounds, though it is possible a few may breed at no great distance from this place.
Greenshank.—May 23. One of these birds flew over my head to-day, uttering its peculiar cry.
Arctic Terns.—May 2.3. A number of these birds have been observed every day for the past week. They come in with the flood-tide, following the sand-eels, or "brit," as the fishermen call them, and we often see them plunge into the water right in front of our windows. When the tide begins to flow they pursue the little fish up the Torridge for a short distance above Instow, and on reaching a certain point they all suddenly wheel round and return in a closely-packed flock to the confluence of the Taw and Torridge, where they turn again and commence fishing up the latter river, and this manoeuvre they repeat again and again. Yesterday morning, while my father and I were fishing for bass, many of these pretty and fearless birds came so close to our boat that we thought at times they contemplated making a dash at the white flies we were using.
Herring Gull.—May 23. This afternoon, while in a boat on the river, I noticed one of these gulls fishing in a manner I never remember having seen one adopt before. It flew close above the surface, and every now and then threw itself into the water, and appeared to try and scoop up the small fish which the bass, who were "playing" near, had no doubt frightened to the surface. This it repeated for at least a dozen times. 1 have seen boobies and pelicans fishing in a somewhat similar manner, but never a gull.
Merganser.—May 26. This morning, while bass fishing at the confluence of the Taw and Torridge, one of these birds flew close to our boat. It was in fine plumage, and appeared to be a female. The fishermen in this neighbourhood call this bird the "spikebilled wigeon."
Gulls.—May 27. Noticed many this morning feeding on mussels on the " crow," which they pick up, fly aloft with, and drop on the sharp stones below.
Gervase F. Mathew.
On Recent Changes in the Fauna of New Zealand.
[The following paper, kindly transmitted by Dr. Potts, was read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, New Zealand, on the 12th of December, 1872; subsequently it was printed in the 'Field' newspaper, and lastly in a separate form at Christchurch, New Zealand. Hitherto it has not appeared in a purely zoological journal like the 'Zoologist,' and I am sure it will be read with much interest.—Edward Newman.]
In all observations on the feres naturae of New Zealand an important fact constantly presents itself, namely, that in a comparatively short space of time a marked change has been effected in the fauna through the agency of civilization. In a great measure this has been brought about by the increasing destruction of many native species, which are now, in consequence, fast dying out. At the same time, if, through the indifference of an increasing population or a mistaken zeal in enriching museums, many peculiar and interesting forms are becoming extinct, the introduction of foreign birds by private individuals and acclimatisation societies has added several new species to the New Zealand fauna, which it may be hoped are of sufficient value to render their importation a benefit to the country.
The introduction of foreign birds is attended not only with expense, but with considerable difficulty, and many attempts have failed, simply from the length of the voyage and want of proper care and attention on board ship. Yet, notwithstanding these drawbacks, several successful importations have gradually produced effect, and the imported species have multiplied so rapidly that the character of the avifauna in parts has been considerably affected thereby. In the North Island the common pheasant and Californian quail have increased wonderfully, and are si ill spreading over a large extent of country; and it is satisfactory to find that the Maoris, instead of destroying, encourage and protect these new comers. Starlings, sparrows and finches have in many parts established themselves about the cultivated districts and homesteads; while in the province of Nelson, especially, acclimatisation has been in many cases most successful. There the sky lark, which in point of song generally ranks next to the nightingale, is becoming quite common; for miles along the road from Nelson to Christchurch it soars and sings as in England. Upon the well-known sheep-walks of the Cheviot Hills many imported birds may be noticed,—amongst others the partridge, blackbird and thrush. Although in most other districts nothing of a satisfactory nature can be reported of the reproduction of the blackbird and thrush, notwithstanding the large number turned out, an instance may be cited to show how well other imported species have thriven and increased. In October, 1863, a pair of greenfinches were liberated, which had been purchased by auction for five guineas. The sole occupant of their first nest was one callow nestling; but before the warm days of summer had quite passed away a second family of five was reared, and in the succeeding winter a flock of eight was seen daily. In the following year, late in autumn, more than twenty were flushed from a little patch of chickweed, and since then they have spread so far and wide that the greenfinch's note is now a well-known sound. The musical whoop of the black swan is sometimes heard as the wedgeshaped flock passes over. This grand addition to our list of birds was introduced to clear the Avon from the pest of water-cress, which in a few years had grown into such thick masses as to impede the stream. No doubt they cleared a wider pathway for the current, and for a while seemed happy and contented; but gradually they stole away to find more secluded quarters, and were only heard of now and then as appearing on distant lakes and tarns. Less than twenty pairs were liberated by the Christchurch municipality, and yet they are now represented by many hundreds, as many as five hundred having been counted within a very small area on the Halswell. In Otago, Marlborough and Nelson they are to be met with in many localities in goodly numbers, for they occupy lakes, rivers and standing pools quite regardless of provincial boundaries.
In the towns of Kaiapoi and Christchurch flocks of pert sparrows are as busy on the roads as in any English village; the change of climate has not abashed the impudent cock sparrow, nor weakened the hereditary attachment of the species for man's society. Pledges of this friendship are sometimes discovered in wet weather by finding gutters or water-spouts choked up by their warm but untidy nests: the blue gum tree (Eucalyptus) affords plenty of shelter, and is found to be a favourite nesting-place. The "pink-pink" of the spruce chaffinch is now constantly heard about our gardens; to these also does the hedgesparrow flit, to hide away her blue-green eggs. How many pleasant memories of home are recalled by the cawing of rooks—the old familiar sounds that woke into drowsy life the vicarage elms and the long avenue that led to the squire's hall!
In Otago, where the introduction of small birds has been managed with much forethought and care, acclimatisation has been very successful: in all probability the southern portion of the Middle Island will rival the northern part of New Zealand in the number of its game birds.
It may be readily seen how our bird system is affected by importations, but we have no clue to the extent of the changes which the next few years may present. The various species which have been mentioned may be now fairly considered as established, and although the list might have been swelled with the names of many other birds which are supposed to be thriving because they have been turned out or have escaped, we cannot speak of them with such certainly. This country offers such a field for the work of acclimatisation that it has ever appeared to us a subject for regret that efforts of this character are not undertaken on some general plan for the whole country; we might then perhaps have some guarantee that the species imported are worth turning out, and that when set at large their liberation would be effected in places likely to secure them plenty of food and shelter. If freshly-landed birds, with their wing-feathers cut, weak from a lengthened voyage, be turned out in such miserable plight in the precincts of a town, it requires no conjuror to foretell the result. These birds would have but a sorry chance of living, and cats would fare daintily; yet this has been done in the name of acclimatisation.
Every rural settler must have observed that our native Anatida3 form an important group in the fauna, a fact sufficiently suggestive of the wisdom of adding more birds of the duck tribe. Where Nature tells us we must succeed, should we be neglectful or indifferent? Nor should it be forgotten that some of the native species are nearly related to birds of the highest culinary excellence. From our intercourse with Australia, America and Europe, without serious difficulty, we might obtain water-fowl of the choicest kinds, which would ultimately prove of great value. The success which has everywhere attended our introduction of the pheasant and quail encourages the belief that further valuable acquisitions to the fauna might be obtained from the great food-supplying families Phasianidae and Tetraonidae, and much of the food of these birds would be drawn from sources which would not be otherwise economised.
After this brief review of changes in our fauna now taking place from the introduction of foreign birds, the effects of colonisation on the habits of those species which we know as indigenous should likewise be carefully considered. The wide-spread cultivation of the soil, the introduction of many foreign fruits aud plants, the reproduction of domestic animals, by the European colonist, have each in turn influenced the habits of certain of our birds.
Our falcons have been persecuted so persistently that their race has been greatly weakened in numbers. Unfortunately for them, their extraordinary courage has not yet been tempered with discretion; a bold dash is now and then made amongst poultry and pigeons; but these predatory attacks, intermittent and uncertain, have not influenced their food-acquiring habits in any marked degree. To the more wary harrier, with its greater indifference as to the quality of its food, its grosser appetite, colonisation has added much to its means of living; from swamps and lagoons frequented by ducks and rails, it has been tempted to visit sheep-farms in great numbers: it feeds greedily ou carcases or offal; it may be observed also lightly soaring over rabbit-warrens, and an examination of its castings discloses the help it lends in checking the too rapid increase of a most prolific rodent. Owls should be cherished as amongst the number of our best friends: we have found many specimens of their pellets wholly composed of the fur and bones of mice. The cry of the "more-pork" at the. barn and rick-yard should be hailed by the farmer as the greeting of a welcome guest: the wanton destruction of an owl is a public robbery, which should be punished with as much severity as sheep-stealing.
Halcyons have sensibly increased in numbers as cultivation has spread; they are true allies of the gardener and farmer, and clear off hosts of insects that infest or devour the produce of agricultural labour. These birds follow closely in the wake of the settler, and may be termed common where they were a few years since