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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Charadrius Obscurus. — (New-Zealand Dottrel.)

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Charadrius Obscurus.
(New-Zealand Dottrel.)

  • Dusky Plover, Lath. Gen. Syn. iii. pt. 1, p. 211 (1785).

  • Charadrius obscurus, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 686 (1788).

  • Charadrius glareola, Forst. Descr. Anim. p. 109 (1844).

  • Pluviorhynchus obscurus, Bonap. C. R. xliii. p. 417 (1856).

Native names.—Tuturiwhati and Tuturiwhatu.

Ad. ptil. æstiv. suprà sordidè cinereus, ochraceo-rufo lavatus, plumis omnibus hôc colore marginatis: collo postico paullò dilutiore cinereo: tectricibus alarum dilutè cinereis, pallidiùs marginatis, majoribus angustè albido terminatis: remigibus cinerascenti-brunneis, extùs et versùs apicem saturatioribus, scapis albis, remigibus minoribas et socundariis extimis basin versùs albis et conspicuè albo terminatis, secundariis dorsalibus dorso concoloribus: caudà saturatiùs brunneâ, rectricibus externis magis cinerascentibus albo terminatis, pennâ extimâ ferè albidâ: loris et supercilio distincto fulveacenti-albis: regione paroticâ brunnescente: subtùs ochrascenti-rufus, genis et gulâ pallidioribas: hypochondriia cum crisso et subcaudalibus albidis: subalaribus et axillaribus albis: rostro nigro: pedibus plumbeis: iride nigrâ.

Ad. ptil. hiem. similis ptilosi asativæ, sed sordidior: suprà dilutè cinereua, haud rufeacente lavatis: subtùs albicans, pectore superiore laterali cinerascente.

Adult in summer. Crown of the head, hind part of neck, and all the upper surface greyish brown, each feather narrowly margined with chestnut; a small spot on the forehead, and all the chin white; throat, fore neck, and underparts of the body chestnut-brown; lining of wings, flanks, lower part of abdomen, and under tail-coverts white; wing-feathers brownish black, the first primary having the entire shaft white, and the rest white in their median portion. Irides and bill black; legs and feet leaden grey. Length 10·5 inches; extent of wings 21; wing, from flexure, 6·5; tail 2·75; bill, along the ridge 1·1, along the edge of lower mandible 1·2; bare tibia ·5; tarsus 1·4; middle toe and claw 1·2.

Adult in winter. Upper surface greyish brown, without the chestnut margins; underparts pure white, the breast crossed by an interrupted zone of dark grey, and the sides of the body tinged with the same.

Obs. It ought to be mentioned that the extent and depth of the chestnut colouring of the underparts vary appreciably in different individuals. I have found one with the fore neck, breast, and all the underparts of a bright rufous brown, whilst in another killed in the same locality and at the same time there is a mere wash of chestnut on the underparts. I have seen a pair (♂ and ♀) shot in company at the height of the breeding-season, in both of which there was only a faint wash of cinnamon on the underparts, and much white on the secondaries, the outer vanes being almost wholly white. Birds in transitional plumage with rufous patches, or scattered summer feathers of a bright colour intermixed with the white, are common enough and are met with all the year round.

This fine species, although nowhere very plentiful, is dispersed along the whole of our shores, frequenting the ocean-beaches and the sand-flats at the mouths of all our tidal rivers. It, moreover, inhabits the interior, and appears to affect very high altitudes. The late Sir J. von Haast sent me specimens obtained by him far up in the Southern Alps; Mr. Enys states that he has met with it at page 2 an elevation of nearly 7000 feet; and Mr. Buchanan informs me that during his ascent of Mount Egmont, in company with Messrs. Richmond and Hursthouse, he discovered a pair of these birds on the slope of the cone at an elevation of at least 6000 feet. Mr. Travers assures me that he met with it in small flocks on the Spencer ranges, in the Provincial district of Nelson, at an elevation above the sea of fully 8000 feet!

It is more plentiful on the mud-flats and sand-banks of the Kaipara basin and Manukau harbour than in any other part of the colony. It is gregarious in its habits, associating in small flocks, which fly together from one feeding-place to another and then, scattering themselves, mingle freely with the Godwit and other Waders frequenting the same localities. The young birds remain with their parents till the breeding-season comes round again.

It subsists chiefly on small crustaceans, mollusca, and sand-hoppers, and pursues its prey on foot. It has a common habit of running about on the dry sand-drift, among the tauhinu bushes, near the sea-shore, in pursuit of insects of various kinds. On a close inspection the little footprints may be observed in the loose sand running in lines in all directions. When disturbed it rises in the air with a rapid vibration of its wings, and flies in a circle, with an occasional sailing movement, when the wings are motionless and assume the form of a bow.

An excellent illustration of this bird (in full summer plumage) was given in Gray’s ‘Birds of New Zealand,’ forming part of the ‘Voyage of the Erebus and Terror.’

The example figured in the accompanying Plate, which is likewise in summer garb, was obtained on the ocean-beach at Port Chalmers, where this Dottrel is comparatively rare.

Major Mair writes to me that at Te Arikiroa, a bay in Rotorua lake, he observed numbers of these birds running about among the warm springs and along the sulphur-crusted pans, where they appeared to be catching insects.

On the nesting-habits of this species Mr. Potts writes:— “In the breeding-season I have noticed it at such a considerable altitude as the summit of Dog range, in the Ashburton district. The nest is difficult to find; it is so slight an affair that it easily escapes observation—merely a few stems of grass twisted into a slight hollow in the ground, so loosely put together that it is not easy to pick it up and yet preserve its form. The eggs, three in number, just fill the nest; they are of a delicate soft brown, suffused with dark brown (almost black) marks, somewhat oval in shape, 1 inch 9 lines in length, with a breadth of 1 inch 3 lines. The young run with speed almost as soon as hatched, and conceal themselves with much skill. I have observed eggs and young in the months of October and November. I know of one spot where it has bred for several years in close proximity with the nests of the Stilt-Plover, the Oyster-catcher, and the Banded Dottrel.”

There is a good series of eggs in the Canterbury Museum: in some examples the spots and markings are blotched, in others they are rounded and distinct, while in some they are more or less confluent towards the larger end. In size they average 1·8 inches in length by 1·2 in breadth.

The same collection contains an egg belonging undoubtedly to the Black-fronted Tern (Sterna antarctica), which was taken by Mr. Donald Potts from a nest of this Dottrel near the banks of the Rangitata. This is a singular coincidence, because the two birds have nothing in common. In their nesting-habits they are entirely dissimilar, the one being gregarious and the other solitary.

Mr. Robson writes to me that he took from the ovary of a bird he had shot-an egg just ready for extrusion, and that “it was ovoido-conical in shape and of a very delicate shade of light greenish blue without spots of any kind.”