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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.


page 340


Having now sent my last sheet to press, I cannot altogether dispel a feeling of regret that my work is finished, for it has been a source of much enjoyment to me since my arrival in England.

Few persons who are not themselves practical ornithologists can fully realize what this statement implies. The truth is this:—In imagination I have lived over again the pleasantest part of my colonial life. In memory I have recalled the bright dewy morning, now five-and-thirty years ago, when I shot my first Koheperoa in the old Mission-garden at Tangiteroria, and found my beautiful prize lying on the sward with its banded wings and tail stretched out to their full extent. I have remembered the delight with which, almost as long ago, I shot in the Tangihua mountains my first Piopio, a bird so rare at the far north, even at that time, that it was entirely unknown to the natives of the district. I have roamed through the woods and listened to the scream of the Kaka, the shrill call of the Kingfisher, and the twitterings of the smaller birds, whose every note has been familiar to me since my boyhood. I have floated in the warm sunlight down the silent river, its banks overhung with evergreens and drooping ferns in rich profusion, and watched the Tuis high in the air performing their fantastic flight. I have traversed the deep lagoon, pushing my little canoe along the smooth watercourses among the beds of raupo, startling the ever-vigilant Bittern, provoking a peevish cry from the Pukeko, and flushing Ducks at every turn. I have ridden for a whole day over fern-clad hills, attended along the road by flights of Ground-Larks, with the Harrier sailing in wide circles overhead; and as the shades of evening were closing in upon the landscape, I have heard the whistling cries of the Woodhen in responsive pairs. I have tramped along the shore, gun in hand, for miles, and brought noise and consternation among the crowding flocks of sea-birds in my anxiety to secure good specimens. And, at night, I have sat for hours by my log fire in the bush, listening to the rapid talk and merry laughter of my Maori companions, broken now and then by the call of the lonely Morepork from the gloomy depths of the forest. All this have I done, over and over again in imagination, while endeavouring to depict in truthful language, for the information of the general reader, the life-histories of the various species.

If the perusal of these sketches should afford my friends anything like the amount of interest and pleasure their preparation has given me, I shall feel that I have not been altogether unsuccessful in this further endeavour to popularize the study of ornithology.

That I had a specially interesting Ornis to deal with cannot be denied; and I think it will be conceded that, on the whole, I have honestly discharged my duty as its biographer. The numerous letters of approval I have received during the progress of the present edition, from Subscribers whose judgment I value, have been highly gratifying to me; and I feel that I have nothing to complain of on the part of reviewers. But to my mind the highest tribute of praise the book has elicited is that contained in a letter from a very able colonial statesman—one who has devoted more than forty years of his active life to public affairs and still holds high office—in which, after thanking me for a presentation copy of Vol. I., he says:—“But the feeling that stayed and will stay most is admiration for the splendid service you have again done our country. How infinitely little are the ephemeral doings of all us politicians, when set against a work of such constant interest and value as your ‘Birds’; and how happy you must be at being able to dedicate such a capo d’ opera in science to your boys, amid the applause of those who are best able to recognize what it has been and is!”