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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Totanus Incanus. — (Grey Sandpiper.)

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Totanus Incanus.
(Grey Sandpiper.)

  • Ash-coloured Snipe, Lath. Gen. Syn. iii. p. 154 (1785).

  • Scolopax incanus, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 658 (1788).

  • Totanus incanus, Vieill. Nouv. Dict. d’Hist. Nat. Tom. iv. p. 400 (1816).

  • Totanus brevipes (summer plumage), id. ibid. p. 410.

  • Scolopax solitarius, Bloxh. Byr. Voy. p. 252 (1826).

  • Trynga glareola, Pall. Zoogr. Ross.-As. vol. ii. p. 194 (1831).

  • Totanus pedestris, Less. Tr. d’Orn. p. 552 (1831).

  • Totanus fuliginosus, Gould, Voy. Beagle, ‘Birds,’ p. 130 (1841).

  • Totanus pulverulentus, S. Müll. Verhandel. Land- en Volkenk. p. 152 (1842).

  • Scolopax undulata, Forst. Descr. An. p. 173 (1844).

  • Scolopax pacifica (winter plumage), id. ibid. p. 174.

  • Totanus oceanicus, Less. Descr. Mamm. et Ois. p. 244 (1847).

  • Totanus griseopygius, Gould, Proc. Zool. Soc. 1848, p. 39, and Birds of Austr. vol. vi. pl. 38 (1848).

  • Totanus polynesiæ, Peale, Un. St. Expl. Exp. p. 237, pl. 65. fig. 1 (1848).

  • Actitis brevipes, Blyth, Cat. B. Mus. As. Soc. p. 267 (1849).

  • Heteroscelus brevipes, Baird, B. N. Amer. p. 734 (1858).

  • Gambetta pulverulentus, Gould, Handb. Birds of Austr. ii. p. 268 (1865).

Ad. (exempl. ex N. Z.) suprà schistaceus, alis dorso concoloribus majoribus angustè albo terminats: alâ spuriâ, tectricibus primariorum et primariia nigricantibus: caudâ dorso concolore: pileo schistaceo: loris fusces-centi-schistaceis, fasciâ suprà lorali albidâ: facie laterali albidâ, angustè fusco striolatâ: gulâ albâ: corpore reliquo subtùs albido, gutture et præpectore fuscescentibus: pectore et abdominis lateralibus fusco fasciatis, hypochondriis et axillaribus et subalaribus schistaceis, his extùs albido fasciatis: subcaudalibus albis, extimis fusco fasciatis: remigibus subtùs schistaceis, intùs pallidioribus.

Male (N.-Z. example). Upper surface dark slaty grey, tinged with brown on the wing-coverts and scapulars; sides of the head also dark slaty grey, with a broad stripe of white extending from the base of the upper mandible to the anterior edge of the eyes, and the cheeks more or less varied with white; chin and upper part of throat pure white; fore neck, breast, abdomen, and vent pale cinereous and white intermixed, changing to pure white on the flanks and crissum, the feathers of the breast and flanks, as well as the long under tail-coverts, crossed by broad wavy lines of slaty grey; under surface of wings, axillary plumes, and sides of the body dark slaty grey, varied with white near the outer edges of the wing; primaries brownish black, with paler shafts; secondaries and the whole of the tail-feathers dark slaty brown. Bill brownish, black; legs and feet dark olive; claws black. Total length 12·25 inches; wing from flexure 7·25; tail 3; bill, along the ridge 1·6, along the edge of lower mandible 1·8; bare tibia ·5; tarsus 1·3; middle toe and claw 1·8.

Female (N.-Z. example). Differs from the male in having a stronger tinge of brown on the upper surface; the white frontal streak is narrower; the fore neck is uniform pale slaty grey; the underparts are lighter, and there is an almost entire absence of the dark wavy markings on the plumage of the breast and sides of the body, a few feathers, however, on each side of the abdomen and the long under tail-coverts being traversed by arrow-head markings of dull slaty grey.

page 39

Obs. There is no perceptible difference in size between the two sexes. Gould’s two very characteristic figures of this Sandpiper, in the ‘Birds of Australia,’ pl. 38, represent very well my two specimens as described above.

The only two examples of this nomadic species hitherto obtained in New Zealand are those from which the above descriptions of the male and female were taken. They are in the Author’s collection, having been kindly presented by Mr. C. H. Robson, who obtained them on Portland Island in the autumn of 1883.

The late Dr. Jerdon recorded (‘Ibis,’ 1865, p. 40) that he had received specimens of this bird from North Australia, Timor, Borneo, Ceram, Japan, and both sides of the North Pacific.

Latham’s original description of this species (the bibliography of which is very exhaustively given by Drs. Finsch and Hartlaub in their ‘Birds of Central Polynesia’) was taken from specimens in the collection of Sir Joseph Banks, from Eimeo and Palmerston Isles.

Mr. Gould writes of it:—“All the specimens I have seen of the bird were killed near the harbour of Port Essington, where it frequents the sandy beaches and rocks just above high-water mark; the salt-water lakes and swamps near the settlement also afford it a natural asylum, and there, at some seasons of the year, it may be seen in great flocks in company with the Stints and Plovers.”

Although the two specimens described above, and now in the Author’s collection, are absolutely the only examples hitherto recorded in New Zealand, it does not by any means follow that this species is not a frequent visitant. On the extensive sand-banks and mud-flats at the mouths of the tidal rivers, as well as upon the long stretches of ocean-beach in the less frequented parts of the country, thousands of sea-birds congregate at certain seasons of the year, or scatter themselves over the oozy flats in search of their natural food; and it is highly probable that large numbers of this and other hitherto rare species come to our shores and leave again without ever being detected.

For many years the Wry-billed Plover was considered one of our rarest birds; but now that the collector knows where to look for this form, and to distinguish it from the Banded Dottrel which frequents the same localities, it is found to be common enough. So also with Tringa canutus and Tringa acuminata, both of which, although only of late years included in our list of recognized species, are now known to visit us every season in appreciable numbers.

There is at present only one recorded instance of the occurrence on our shores of the Red-capped Dottrel; but at a little distance it is impossible to distinguish such a bird from the other small Waders among which it habitually consorts; and it is only reasonable to suppose that what has been known to happen once may, in point of fact, have happened very often.

It must be borne in mind also that a great portion of the west coast of the South Island is quite unexplored, being out of the track of our commerce, and it is to this side of our coast-line that we should naturally look for seasonal visitants from Australia.

The most recent of these casual additions to our avifauna is the capture of the Masked Plover (Lobivanellus lobatus) near Wanganui, as already mentioned at page 13, a very beautiful addition to our list; and doubtless from time to time other Australian Waders will join the ranks, if not as permanent recruits, nevertheless welcome enough as tending to enhance the value of our bird-collections and to keep alive the interest among our numerous local observers.

Mr. Kirk was in error in referring the last-mentioned bird to Lobivanellus personatus (Ibis, 1888, p. 46). As already pointed out by me (op. cit. p. 283), the colours and markings of the two species are very similar, but the character of the mask is entirely different in the two birds. Mr. Drew, in whose little museum at Wanganui the specimen is preserved, had sent me a sketch of the head, which placed its determination as L. lobatus beyond question. In the description which accompanied it, he mentions that the “crown, nape, hind neck, and ear-coverts are jet-black,” and the back “reddish grey.”