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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 10 (January 2, 1939)

The Bush and the Birds

The Bush and the Birds.

Hauturu is just a deeply cut-up mountain range, five and a-half miles long and between. three and four miles in width—a trifle smaller than famous Norfolk Island, but infinitely more broken. Away in there towards the craggy island-top, well-named Herekohu, the peak to which the fog clings closely, are the secure haunts of the shyest and most rare of birds, the hihi, tihe, or tiora, called by pakehas the stitch-bird, and the tieke or saddleback. Kiwi, too, are in there; but they often come down near the home of man these halcyon times.

There is a great contrast between this island and Kapiti. Hauturu is primeval, unspoiled. Kapiti is a once half-ruined place, only just rescued in time; and splendidly regenerated by the Lands Department and its excellent custodians.

All the birds on the island appear to be on the increase. Besides the very plentiful tui and bell-bird, these species are seen in large number: Grey warbler, fantail, whitehead, white-eye, kingfisher, kaka parrot, red-fronted parrakeet, wood-pigeon, pied tit, rifleman (bush wren), robin, morepork owl. The rare
Haast's Kiwi from the South Island, liberated on the Little Barrier.

Haast's Kiwi from the South Island, liberated on the Little Barrier.

saddleback and stitchbird are also increasing.

All about the flat at the landing-place, and all around the coast, the grand old Christmas-tree grows, and every tree is a scene of joyous bird-life at this time of the year. There is a place around the coast, Pohutukawa Flat, a terrace several miles from the homestead; there the forest creatures have a honeyed paradise when the trees put out their oriflammes of blossom. Quite fifty birds, chiefly tui and korimako, have been counted on a single pohutukawa tree—fluttering from branch to branch, thrusting their beaks into the flowers for the honey, chattering and chanting bursts of song, the tui for sheer mischief teasing and chasing the bellbird, and being itself chased by the kaka parrot, uttering its harsh, high cry. The little parrakeet, or kakariki—two varieties, the red-fronted and the orange-fronted—flits about the honey tree.

Here, too, in the seaward groves, that far-travelling migrant, the pipiwharauroa, or shining cuckoo, comes to rest in the spring of the year, after its long flight from the tropics, and the ear is rejoiced with its high, clear notes—which the Maori interprets as “Ku-i, Ku-i, whiti-whiti ora, tio-o.” You hear it close to the towns, as well as in the heart of the Maori wilds. I have heard its sweet, shrill whistle alike in remote sanctuaries and in such places as the bluegum plantation alongside the Rotorua railway station.

There is plenty of room for exploration about the flat, with its curious boulder bank thrown up by ages of sea-pounding, and on the hills that rise steeply from the old garden-levels. Up in the mountains that rise into peaks of from 2,000 to 2,400 feet, and along the precipitous coast of this 7,000 acre island—where most of the acres stand on end—it is scrambling, rather than foot-climbing. The island is all sharp ridge and deep gorge, and looking down into the shadowy depths of some of those gulches where the big rata and tawa and kauri in whole groves grow on incredible slants, you wonder how you are going to reach the other side, and wish for some kind of flying machine.

High up on the mountain ridges three kinds of petrels, or mutton-birds, the taiko, titi, and oii of the Maoris, have their nesting places in the earth and under the roots of the big trees. The late Hugh Boscawen (of the Lands and Survey Department in Auckland), who did a lot of exploration on Hauturu, used to say of the mutton-bird that “it tastes something like the smell of a blown-out oil lamp.”

One of the natural-history treasures of the place is the tuatara lizard, which, as on the other off-shore islands, lives in the mutton-birds’ burrows. Another is the pupurangi, the large land snail; I £ und a shell of unusual size on the hills just above the old wharé. There is a remarkable shrub, seldom found on the mainland, the parapara (Pisonia Brunonia), which entraps not only myriads of insects but sometimes small birds, by means of a glutinous fluid similar to bird-lime, which exudes from the flowers and leaves.