A History of the Birds of New Zealand.
Notornis Mantelli. — (Mantell’s Notornis.)
Notornis mantelli, Owen, Tr. Zool. Soc. iii. p. 377, pl. lvi. figs. 7–13 (1848).
Native names.—Moho, Takahe, and Tokohea.
Ad. suprà viridis: pileo et collo undique cum corpore subtùs toto nigricantibus, ultramarino nitentibus: tectricibus alarum cyanescentibus viridi lavatis: remigibus nigris, primariis extùs cæruleo marginatis, secundariis intimis dorso concoloribus: caudâ suprà viridi dorso concolore: subcaudalibus albis: rostro lætè rubro, versùs apicem flavicante: pedibus pallidè rubris: iride rubrâ.
Adult male. Head and throat bluish black, passing into dark purplish blue on the hind neck; the whole of the back, rump, upper tail-coverts, lesser wing-coverts, and scapulars dull olive-green, tipped more or less with verditer-green, and of a darker shade towards the shoulders; fore neck, breast, sides of the body, and flanks beautiful purplish blue; a band of the same colour, half an inch wide, separates the dark blue of the nape from the olive-green of the upper surface; thighs, abdomen, and vent bluish black; under tail-coverts white; wing-feathers rich deep blue on their outer webs, dusky brown margined with blue on their inner; the greater coverts with broad terminal margins of verditer-green, forming crescentic bands in the expanded wings; tail-feathers dark olive-green, with brown shafts, dark brown on their under surface. The plumage of the back and rump is soft and thick, and on being disturbed is found to be dull greyish brown towards the base. Irides red; frontal plate and bill bright red, yellowish towards the tips of both mandibles; tarsi and toes lighter red; claws horn-brown. Total length 24 inches; wing, from flexure, 9·75; tail 4·5; from posterior edge of frontal plate to tip of upper mandible 3·25; from gape of the mouth, along the edge of lower mandible, 2; tarsus 3·25; middle toe and claw 3·75; hind toe and claw 1·7.
Female. A second specimen in the British Museum, which is supposed to be a female, is somewhat smaller than the above in all its dimensions, has the colours generally duller, and the olive-green of the upper parts shaded with brown.
Obs. A third example (now in the Dresden Museum) has since been captured in the Otago District. This bird, of which a detailed description will be found in the text below, is apparently a female, and differs noticeably from the two British-Museum specimens in the entire absence of the bright crescents on the wing-coverts, which are so conspicuous a feature in the latter, and particularly in the male.
The name of Walter Mantell will ever be associated with the palæontology of the Postpliocene and Pleistocene deposits of New Zealand, as is that of his illustrious father (the late Dr. Mantell) with the palæontology of the Wealden formation of the south-east of England. Mr. Mantell was the first scientific explorer of the Moa-beds of Waikouaiti and Waingongoro, and he succeeded in forming some magnificent collections of fossil remains, which were forwarded to England and ultimately deposited in the British Museum. The value to science of these discoveries is amply demonstrated in Professor Owen’s elaborate ‘Memoirs’ on Dinornis and its allies, read before the Zoological Society from time to time, and published in the ‘Transactions.’ Not only has Mr. Mantell contributed largely to our knowledge of the geology and palæontology of the country, but he has likewise made additions to our ornithology, the most important of these being his discovery of a living species of Notornis, page 86 with which his name is now associated *. I cannot better describe this interesting ornithological event than by quoting Dr. Mantell’s announcement of it in his address to the Zoological Society on the 12th of November, 1850:—
* At a Meeting of the Wellington Philosophical Society on September 3, 1881, after the reading of a paper by the Author on the capture of another example, as narrated on p. 89, during the discussion that followed, Mr. Mantell disclaimed any credit for the discovery of the original bird with which his name had been connected. He observed it hanging in a whare at a native settlement in Otago, along with Kakapos and Kiwis that had been brought from the west coast, and, recognizing it to be new, obtained it from the owner. The second specimen was sent to him by Captain Howell of Riverton.
The Author, in reply, vindicated the name by which this bird was now distinguished (Notornis mantelli), and stated that more than a year before the discovery of the bird itself on Resolution Island, Professor Owen had drawn the generic characters of a large brevipennate Rail, then supposed to be extinct, from the fossil remains collected by Mr. Mantell, and had named it Notornis, dedicating the species to the discoverer of the bones. It was somewhat curious that it should have fallen to the lot of the same scientific explorer to discover the living bird itself; and although Mr. Mantell now modestly disclaimed any merit, it seemed peculiarly fitting and right that, in commemoration of his services, his name should be permanently associated with the species. (See Report of Proc. W. P. S.)
† Zoological Transactions, vol. iii. p. 366.
‡ Geological Journal, vol. iv.
“This bird was taken by some sealers who were pursuing their avocations in Dusky Bay. Perceiving the trail of a large and unknown bird on the snow with which the ground was then covered, they followed the footprints till they obtained a sight of the Notornis, which their dogs instantly pursued, and after a long chase caught alive in the gully of a sound behind Resolution Island. It ran with great speed, and upon being captured uttered loud screams, and fought and struggled violently; it was kept alive three or four days on board the schooner and then killed, and the body roasted and ate by the crew, each partaking of the dainty, which was declared to be delicious. The beak and legs were of a bright red colour. My son secured the skin, together with very fine specimens of the Kakapo, or Ground-Parrot, a pair of Huias, and two species of Kiwi, namely Apteryx australis and Ap. oweni; the latter very rare bird is now added to the collection of the British Museum.
“Mr. Walter Mantell states that, according to the native traditions, a large Rail was contemporary with the Moa, and formed a principal article of food among their ancestors. It was known to the North-Islanders by the name of ‘Moho,’ and to the South-Islanders by that of ‘Takahe;’ but the bird was considered by both natives and Europeans to have been long since exterminated by the wild cats and dogs, not an individual having been seen or heard of since the arrival of the English colonists…… To the natives of the pahs or villages on the homeward route and at Wellington the bird was a perfect novelty, and excited much interest. I may add that, upon comparing the head of the bird with the fossil cranium and mandibles, and the figures and descriptions in the ‘Zoological Transactions’ (pl. 56), my son was at once convinced of their identity; and so delighted was he by the discovery of a living example of one of the supposed extinct contemporaries of the Moa, that he immediately wrote to me, and mentioned that the skull and beaks were alike in the recent and fossil specimens, and that the abbreviated and feeble development of the wings, both in their bones and plumage, were in perfect accordance with the indications afforded by the fossil humerus and sternum found by him at Waingongoro, and now in the British Museum, as pointed out by Professor Owen in the memoir above referred to…… In concluding this brief narrative of the discovery of a living example of a genus of birds once contemporary with the colossal Moa, and hitherto only known by its fossil remains, I beg to remark that this highly interesting fact tends to confirm the conclusions expressed in my communications to the Geological Society—namely, that the Dinornis, Palapteryx, and related forms were coeval with some of the existing species of birds peculiar to New Zealand, and that their final extinction took place at no very distant period, and long after the advent of the aboriginal Maoris.”
In the paper which Mr. Gould read at the same Meeting, he prefaced his detailed description of the bird with the following remarks:—
“Dr. Mantell having kindly placed his son’s valuable acquisition in my hands for the purpose of characterizing it in the ‘Proceedings’ of this Society, and of afterwards figuring and describing it in the appendix to my work on the birds of Australia, I beg leave to commence the pleasing task he has assigned me.
“The amount of interest which attaches to the present remarkable bird is perhaps greater than that which pertains to any other with which I am acquainted, inasmuch as it is one of the few remaining species of those singular forms which inhabited that supposed remnant of a former continent—New Zealand, page 88 and which have been so ably and so learnedly described, from their semifossilized remains, by Professor Owen; who, as well as the scientific world in general, cannot fail to be highly gratified by the discovery of a recent example of a form previously known to us solely from a few osteological fragments, and which, but for this fortunate discovery, would in all probability, like the Dodo, have shortly become all but traditional. While we congratulate ourselves upon the preservation of the skin, we must all deeply regret the loss of the bones, any one of which would have been in the highest degree valuable for the sake of comparison with the numerous remains which have been sent home from New Zealand.
“Upon a cursory view of this bird it might be mistaken for a gigantic kind of Porphyrio; but on an examination of its structure it will be found to be generically distinct. It is allied to Porphyrio in the form of its bill and in its general colouring, and to Tribonyx in the structure of its feet, while in the feebleness of its wings and the structure of its tail it differs from both. From personal observation of the habits of Tribonyx and Porphyrio, I may venture to affirm that the habits and economy of the present bird more closely resemble those of the former than those of the latter; that it is doubtless of a recluse and extremely shy disposition; that being deprived, by the feeble structure of its wing, of the power of flight, it is compelled to depend upon its swiftness of foot for the means of evading its natural enemies; and that, as is the case with Tribonyx, a person may be in its vicinity for weeks without ever catching a glimpse of it. From the thickness of its plumage and the great length of its back-feathers, we may infer that it affects low and humid situations, marshes, the banks of rivers, and the coverts of dripping ferns, so abundant in its native country: like Porphyrio, it doubtless enjoys the power of swimming, but would seem, from the structure of its legs, to be more terrestrial in its habits than the members of that genus. I have carefully compared the bill of this example with that figured by Professor Owen under the name of Notornis mantelli, and have little doubt that they are referable to one and the same species; and as we are now in possession of materials whence to obtain complete generic characters, I hasten to give the following details, in addition to those supplied by Professor Owen…… I cannot conclude these remarks without bearing testimony to the very great importance of the results which have attended the researches of Mr. Walter Mantell in the various departments of science to which he has turned the attention of his cultivated, intelligent, and inquiring mind, nor without expressing a hope that he may yet be enabled to obtain some particulars as to the history of this and the other remarkable birds of the country in which he is resident.”
Mr. Mantell was fortunate enough to secure a second specimen of the Notornis; and these examples, the only two then known, having been carefully mounted by Mr. Bartlett, were placed side by side in the National Collection of Great Britain, and, like the remains of the Dodo in the adjoining gallery, have continued to the present time to attract the attention of thousands of daily visitors!
Sir George Grey tells me that in 1868 he was at Preservation Inlet and saw a party of natives there who gave him a circumstantial account of the recent killing of a small Moa (? Palapteryx), describing with much spirit its capture out of a drove of six or seven. The same natives pointed out to him a valley where the Notornis was said to be still plentiful. This was at the head of Preservation Inlet. Besides being swampy, the ground was covered with vegetation so close and thick that it was impossible to penetrate it on foot, and under this cover the Notornis might roam about in perfect security; for the recluse habits of such a bird, as long ago pointed out by Mr. Gould, would in these localities be its best protection.
Sir James Hector informs me that, when exploring on the south-west coast of Otago in 1863, he discovered the Maori who actually caught the first-recorded Notornis; and this man assured him that “there were plenty of them at the head of the N.W. arm of Te Anau Lake, near a small lake in the valley that leads to Bligh Sound.” In confirmation of the above report about the Moa, Sir J. Hector page 89 states that, in 1862, during a visit to the Matukatuka river, he heard a singular booming noise which was followed by a shrill whistle. The same cries were afterwards heard by another exploring party, and he feels convinced that they came from some small species of Moa, of which there may yet be survivors in the six hundred square miles of “unexplored interior.”
In my former edition I said:—“Although no examples of the Notornis have since been obtained, it does not necessarily follow that the species is absolutely extinct. The recluse habits of such a bird, as already pointed out by Mr. Gould, would account for its hitherto escaping notice in the only partially explored portions of the country; and the following extract from a letter, addressed to me by Dr. Hector in December 1866, would lead us to hope that at least one specimen more may yet be found to grace a shelf in the Colonial Museum:—‘At Motupipi, about three months ago, Mr. Gibson, who is a really good careful observer, a capital botanist, and a new comer to the country, saw a bird within a few feet of him, in tall swamp-grass, which, from his description, I have no doubt was a Notornis!! He had never seen the plate or description of the Notornis; and as he knows the Pukeko (Porphyrio melanonotus) quite well, there is no other bird that would answer to his account. I am going back there, and will get further particulars about it.’
“Dr. Hector likewise informs me that, during his exploration of the South-western portion of the Otago Province in 1861–62, he met with some traces of the Notornis near Thompson Sound and on the middle arm of the Anau Lake.”
Since the above was written, another example has been obtained; and as a special interest always attaches to a species on the verge of extinction, I will reproduce here portions of a paper on the subject which I read before the Wellington Philosophical Institute on September 3, 1881:—
The capture of a specimen of the rare Notornis mantelli in the South Island is an event of sufficient importance to warrant a special memoir in our ‘Transactions,’ and I have therefore much pleasure, at the request of our President, in bringing before you this evening all the information I have been able to collect on the subject.
I may here mention—and I do so with regret—that the specimen which I am about to describe is no longer in the colony, having been despatched by the ‘Waitangi’ about three weeks ago for sale in England. It will be interesting to watch its ultimate fate; but as there are already two fine examples in the National Collection, it will most probably find its way into one of the continental or American museums *. Although we have failed to detain the prize, there is every reason to believe that the species still survives in the land, and that it will yet be added to the type collection in the Colonial Museum. It is a curious fact, illustrating the wide range of a bird supposed to be nearly extinct, that the three known examples have been obtained at localities nearly a hundred miles apart from each other, and over an interval of thirty-five years. As the species belongs to a gregarious family, and as the general character of its habitat is rough and inaccessible in the extreme, I think it may be fairly inferred that many yet survive to reward the future search of the Southern naturalist.
The two fine specimens now in the British Museum (supposed to be male and female) were obtained through the exertions of our former President, the Hon. Walter Mantell, after whom the bird was named. The first of these was captured alive in 1849 by a party of sealers at Duck Cove, on Resolution Island, Dusky Sound; the second was caught by the Maoris on Secretary Island, opposite to Deas Cove, Thompson Sound.
* The specimen was offered to public competition at Stevens’s Rooms, in Covènt Garden, and purchased for the Dresden Museum at £105, the representative of the Cambridge Museum having unfortunately ceased his bidding at £100. Its bones have since been described by Dr. Meyer, the Director of that Museum, who proposes to refer it to a new species under the name of Notornis hochstetteri.
The weather had been exceptionally severe, and it is supposed that this was how the Notornis came to be found on the flats, having been driven down from the high country. The man who caught it said that it seemed quite tame, whereas Mantell’s bird (as already mentioned) made a vigorous resistance on being taken.
Professor Parker having undertaken to describe the skeleton for our ‘Transactions,’ Dr. Hector invited me to undertake the same duty in regard to the skin, in order that, in default of the specimen itself, we might have on record in the colony as complete a monograph as possible of this interesting bird. I cheerfully undertook the task, and made a visit to Dunedin specially for this purpose.
On being introduced to this rara avis I experienced again the old charm that always came over me when gazing upon the two examples in the British Museum—the lingering representatives of a race co-existent in this land with the colossal Moa! Then, retiring to the Museum library, I shut myself in with Notornis, handled my specimen with the loving tenderness of the naturalist, sketched and measured its various parts, and made a minute description of its plumage.
Like many other New-Zealand forms of an earlier period, the Notornis is the gigantic prototype of a well-known genus of Swamp-hens. It is, in fact, to all appearance a huge Pukeko (Porphyrio), with feeble or aborted wings and abbreviated toes, the feet resembling those of Tribonyx—a bird incapable of flight, but admirably adapted for running. Similar, no doubt, was the relation borne by the powerful Aptornis to our present Woodhen (Ocydromus); but in that case the prototype has disappeared, leaving only its fossil bones for the study of the scientist, and its place in nature to be filled by its existing diminutive representatives.
The interest attaching to Notornis has been greatly enhanced by the discovery that the white Swamp-hen, of Norfolk Island, belongs to the same genus, as this has an important bearing on the study of geographic distribution *.
The characters of the genus Notornis were first determined by Professor Owen, in 1848, from certain fossil remains collected by Mr. Mantell in the North Island of New Zealand, and consisting of the skull, beaks, humerus, sternum, and other parts of the skeleton of a large brevipennate Rail. The sagacity with which the learned professor had interpreted these bones, and the absolute correctness of his prevision, were exemplified in the discovery which enabled Mr. Gould, in 1850, to communicate to the Zoological Society the complete generic characters of the bird, already known to science as Notornis mantelli, Owen. In illustration of these, Mr. Gould furnished to the Society a coloured sketch of the head of Notornis, in his usual artistic style; and at a later period he published, in the Supplement to his ‘Birds of Australia,’ a full-sized drawing of the bird. These plates are very beautiful, but on a close comparison with the specimen to which these notes more especially refer, I find that some of the minor features have been overlooked by the artist, or sacrificed to pictorial effect.
* Notornis alba is established, by Herr von Pelzeln, on a specimen acquired at the sale of the Leverian Collection, which was without doubt the type of Fulica atra of White’s ‘Voyage’ and the Gallinula alba of Latham. This bird had been erroneously considered by Temminck and G. R. Gray to be an albino variety of the well-known Porphyrio melanonotus.
In the following descriptive notes I have therefore deemed it best to record the characters (generic as well as specific) with some minuteness of detail.
The bill is somewhat shorter than the head, greatly compressed on the sides, and much arched above, the culmen having a convex or rounded aspect, with a uniform width of three eighths of an inch from above the nostrils to within half an inch of the tip, when it rapidly diminishes, terminating in a rounded point. Where it merges into the frontal shield, the culmen is five eighths of an inch in width. Gould has somewhat exaggerated in his drawings the angle of declination towards the corners of the mouth, also the serrated edge of the upper mandible. In this specimen there is only the slightest indication of pectination. The cutting-edges of both mandibles are sharp to the touch. The horny covering of the bill rises on the forehead to a line with the posterior angle of the eye, forming a depressed frontal shield (not arched as in the drawing). Nostrils oval, placed in a depression near the base of the bill, and forming an oblique opening, nearly twice as large as shown in Gould’s sketch of the head (Proc. Zool. Soc.). Wings short, rounded, and slightly concave; ample in appearance, but useless for purposes of flight; first quill shortest, second half an inch shorter than third; third, fourth, and fifth longest and about equal; sixth scarcely shorter than fifth. On examining the wing-feathers they are found to be feeble and pliant, the outer webs being almost as broad as the inner. The tail-feathers are likewise soft and pliant, with disunited filaments, much worn at the tips. The tarsi are long, strong, and well proportioned to the bird; longer than the toes (exclusive of claws), rounded in form, and armed in front with fourteen more or less broad, regular, transverse scutellæ, forming an effective shield; on the middle toe there are twenty-three transverse scales, all very regular, but narrowed at the joints; on the inner toe fifteen, and on the outer toe twenty-one. On the hind toe there are five scales. The claws are strong, thick, not much arched, rather sharp on the edges, but with blunted points, especially on the hind toe. The palate is deeply grooved.
Head and upper part of neck very dark blue, changing according to the light into brownish black on the crown and nape, brighter on the cheeks and sides, and passing into dark purplish blue on the lower part of the neck; the whole of the back, rump, and upper tail-coverts rich olive-green, varied more or less, and particularly on the shoulders, with dull verditer-green, the feathers shading off into that colour at the tips, the general olive hue, however, predominating towards the sides of the body; fore neck, breast, sides of the body, and inner portion of flanks beautiful purplish blue; the lengthened pectoral plumes which overlap the sides and the outer portion of flanks vivid purplish blue, mixed and varied, especially on the former, with verditer-green; abdomen, thighs, and vent dull indigo or bluish black, more or less mixed with brown; under tail-coverts pure white. The general upper surface of the wings is a rich mixture of blue and verditer-green, very difficult to express exactly in words, the combination having something of the effect, in certain lights, of lapis lazuli.
On a close examination of the larger coverts it is found that they are marked transversely with numerous delicate rays of a darker purplish blue, adding much to the beauty of the plumage. On the lesser coverts this rayed character, although present, is less conspicuous, and the olive hue is more pronounced, while on the scapulars it becomes predominant, resembling the plumage of the back. The outer edges of the wings and the tertial plumes are very rich purplish blue or obscurely rayed with green. The outer primaries are blue on their outer webs, but this rapidly changes to dull sea-green, which colour prevails on both webs of the secondaries, only washed with a brighter tint on the outer vane. This colour deepens again into olive on the inner secondaries and their coverts, thus harmonizing with the plumage of the back. The under surface of the quills is uniform blackish brown, and the shafts are white towards the base; the axillary plumes and the larger inner coverts are of the same colour, tipped on their outer aspect with blue, and the smaller coverts, which are of very soft texture, page 92 are entirely blue. The tail-feathers are dark olive, mixed with verditer-green on the upper surface and changing to dull olive-brown, with lighter shafts, on their under surface*.
The bill has lost its original colour through being dried. On the frontal plate and along the basal edges of both mandibles it appears to have been dark red, fading outwards. The culmen still has traces of its original pinky colour; but the sides of both mandibles, in the present condition of the specimen, are reddish horn-colour, fading to whitish horn along the cutting-edges. The tarsi and toes appear to have been originally light red, having now faded to a transparent reddish brown, paler on the toes. Claws dull brown, lighter towards the tips.
The texture and general appearance of the plumage on the head, neck, and underparts generally is very similar to that of the Pukeko (Porphyrio melanonotus), although the latter bird lacks the produced bright-coloured pectoral plumes which overlap the sides of the body, under the wings, in Notornis. The plumage of the back is very long and thick, but at the same time soft and somewhat silky to the touch, being evidently adapted to haunts where the bird is constantly subject to drippings from wet herbage. On moving this plumage with the hand it is found that the basal portion, comprising more than two thirds of the feathers, is of a uniform blackish brown, whereas the basal plumage on the other parts of the body is dark grey. The plumage of the head and neck is short and close, as in Porphyrio, the feathers having a soft texture. The whole of the upper surface has a slight sheen upon it (amounting almost to a glint on the tips of the shoulder-plumage), and the bright hues of colour on the back and wings change slightly under different lights. The plumage covering the flanks and overlapping the thighs is dense and long, while its brilliant blue and green colours contrast strongly with the olive plumage of the back and rump. When looked at in front, with the wings closed in against the body, the purplish vivid blue already described is very conspicuous. The carpal spur is shaped like the claw of the hind toe, but is less arched; it is nearly one eighth of an inch thick at the base, and is dark brown, fading into horn-colour at the tip.
Measurements.—Approximate length (measuring from tip of bill, following its curvature, and from the forehead to the end of the tail) 24·5 inches; wing, from flexure, 10; from humerus to flexure 3·75; carpal spur ·4; tail (to extreme tip) 4·75; bare part of tibia 1; tarsus 3·5; middle toe 3, its claw 1·1; inner toe 2·2, its claw 1; outer toe 2·4, its claw ·8; hind toe ·75, its claw ·75. Bill, from posterior edge of frontal plate to tip of upper mandible 3·4, from gape along edge of upper mandible 2·5, along edge of lower mandible 2·25; greatest width of bill, measuring across from the summit of the arch, or culmen, to the junction of the rami 2.
* According to Radde’s ‘Nomenclature of Colours,’ my “olive-green” of the back in the above description is grass-green No. d mixed with yellow-green No. d; my shades of “verditer-green” on the shoulder-plumage &c. correspond to blue-green No. P, or come between that and No. Q, with a mixture of grass-green No. K, although brighter; but there is no standard in the whole of Radde’s formulary that realizes my “vivid purplish blue”—No. G comes nearest, but it lacks the depth and brilliancy. It is quite obvious that where the colours run from one shade of brilliancy into another on the same feather and the general tone and effect vary in different parts of the same plumage, it is quite impossible to make any standard of colours exactly applicable for purposes of minute description.
Note.—There appears to have been originally very little colour in the beak except on and below the frontal shield and along the basal edges of both mandibles. The legs are in much the same condition as that presented by the legs in a dried Pukeko skin, the colours having faded out; but there is enough colour left in the tarsi to show that the legs and feet were originally, as described above, a light (probably pinkish) red. The skin is much stretched by unskilful treatment after being removed from the body; but I have allowed for the stretching in taking the measurements given above.
I remarked to Professor Parker, on first taking up the specimen, that the legs appeared to be more attenuated than in the British-Museum examples, and the measurements which I afterwards made, as given above, prove that the toes are somewhat longer proportionately to the size of the bird, which is altogether slightly larger than the type-specimen. The frontal shield is, however, somewhat smaller, being just one inch across in its widest part, and ascending barely half an inch from the base of the culmen; it has a corrugated shrivelled appearance in the dried specimen, and from the sides of the bill, at its base, the cuticle is inclined to peel off. The skin (in the dried state) is very tough, having the appearance and consistency of fine leather.
Hab. South-west portion of South Island. As already mentioned, the first recorded specimen (in 1849) was obtained on Resolution Island, the second, nearly three years later, on Secretary Island in Thompson Sound, and the third, which has formed the subject of this paper (in December 1879), on the eastern side of Te Anau Lake*. Taking these three localities as marking the points of a triangle describing the ascertained limits of its occurrence, we have before us the present range of Notornis over a considerable area of very broken and rugged country. As its fossil remains testify, its ancient range was far more extensive, including the North Island, and in prehistoric times probably reaching much further.
Since the casual discovery of the third example of Notornis mantelli mentioned above, an active search for this bird has been prosecuted in many parts of the South Island, but hitherto without success. The most enthusiastic of these Notornis hunters is undoubtedly Mr. A. Reischek, who has now spent the best part of a year in the fruitless quest, having had, for months together, no other companion in these mountain solitudes than his well-trained dog Cæsar. The last report received from him—just as these pages were going to press—records his continued disappointment as regards Notornis, and also affords at the same time a glimpse of the hardships he has gone through in his persistent search for the bird, as the following passages will show:—
* Still more recently a fresh skeleton of Notornis has been found, the event being thus recorded in ‘The Dunedin Herald’:— “Curiously enough close to the spot in the Mararoa district where the live Takahe was caught, a skeleton very nearly complete has been found. There are all the large bones, with the beak and thirteen of the vertebræ. Most of the ribs, toes, and tops of the wings are missing. The longest leg-bone measures 6¼ inches. The head is nearly 5 inches, measured round the curve of the beak.” The skeleton was subsequently secured by Professor Parker, and is now in the Otago Museum.
“In the evening the track got to an end, when I came out on the grass country, at 3500 feet above sea-level. Here I camped. Three dwarf birch-trees formed the roof of my shelter, and a few tussocks formed my bed. After lighting a good fire, I searched for water, which is generally found on these Alps clear and good; but in this case I was doomed to disappointment, for all I could get was stagnant water full of insect-life. In spite of my fire and shelter, I found it bitterly cold; a sharp wind came from across the ice and snow of the glaciers which chilled me to the marrow. Sleep was out of the question; and as the moon had now risen, I took some provisions and a gun and ascended higher.
“It was a lovely night indeed, and Nature had put on her most romantic garb. How I wish I could describe it to you! Imagine the silver shimmer of the moon lighting up the landscape, causing endless shades and reflections of the hills and vegetation; the valleys covered with a silver-grey mist, the sparkling stars competing with the glaciers in brightness, and the dark cliffs dotted over with patches of snow. All this grandeur and the solemn silence of the scene put me in mind of the fairy tales of my childhood. Yes! here is loveliness enough, but the fairies have gone. I walked on for about three hours, up and down these mountains and gullies, when I heard the booming noise of some bird. Thinking I had now come on the bird I had so anxiously searched for on all my West Coast trips (Notornis mantelli), I carefully followed up the sound, which led me to a lagoon; but my disappointment was complete, for instead of a Notornis it proved to be a Bittern. Through the silence the booming appeared to be far louder than the usual sound of the Bittern. I was indeed much surprised to find this bird at an altitude of about 4000 feet. Journeying over huge blocks of rocks (which lay as if they were on purpose thrown together) on one side and deep precipices on the other, I came to a stop, and there was nothing for it but to await daylight. There being no vegetation, I could not light a fire, so had to walk about to keep warm. Dawn at last appeared, and no Laplander ever welcomed the glorious sun more joyfully than I did in this region. Still ascending, I crossed snow-fields which were of considerable depth in some places. The snow had been blown together, and was frozen so hard that I had to take my tomahawk to chop it down so as to get softer snow to refresh myself with a wash. My breakfast was snow dissolved in my mouth, with a little oatmeal and a few biscuits. The walking now became easier over the snow, and I was able to travel much faster. At last I arrived at the source of the left branch of the Paringa river, and a short distance from the Hooker Glacier. The grandeur of the scene caused me to stop, and although I have travelled through many of the mountainous parts of Europe, and have ascended some of the glaciers, I never beheld anything more beautiful than this charming scene before me. The sky was clear and cloudless. The Paringa river was seen winding its course, like a huge eel, through the valley in a northerly direction to the ocean; N.W., Lake Paringa, like a horseshoe, and Lake Roskill lay buried in the dense forest below; W.S.W., the Blue river with its oblong lake; S. and S.E., a large extent of forest with dark cliffs and enormous fissures, and rugged snow-clad peaks. Then Mount Cook came in full view with his companion snow-capped mountains, and their network of glaciers stretching out for miles. It was bitterly cold and freezing. Then the sun rose higher, throwing his rays on the masses of ice and snow, and making them scintillate like mountains of diamonds. This imposing scene did not last long, I am sorry to say, for the heat of the sun caused a vapour to rise which soon covered up this lovely panorama.”