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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 22

Art. XXV.—Notice of the Occurrence of the Shy Albatros (Diomedea eauta) in the North Island

page 217

Art. XXV.—Notice of the Occurrence of the Shy Albatros (Diomedea eauta) in the North Island.

In a paper on Now Zealand Ornithology which I had the honour of reading before this Society in September, 1876, I mentioned, on the authority of Captain Hutton, that a specimen of the shy albatros (Diomedea cauta) had been obtained at Blueskin Bay in Otago, thus adding a sixth species to the list of albatroses inhabiting our seas. I have now much pleasure in exhibiting another specimen of this fine bird, which was captured on the beach near the Wellington pilot station on the 12th July, and brought to me alive by Mr. James A. Capper of Molesworth Street. The fishermen by whom it was caught informed him that it had apparently been shot at sea and allowed to float ashore, the right wing being completely disabled, but that they had nevertheless considerable trouble in overtaking it before it reached the water.

This example proved on dissection to be a female, and as I have not before had an opportunity of examining this rare species in a fresh state, I think it is desirable to place on record in our "Transactions" a full description of it.

Fem. ad.—Fronte et vertice cinerascenti-albis: pileo eolloque totis pulclirè cinereo lavatis: regione ante- et super-oculari cinerascenti-nigris: dorso et interscapulio cum alâ totâ cinerascenti-nigris: uropygio, supra-caudalibus albis: remigibus brunnescenti-nigris, scapis ad basin flavieantialbidis, secundariis versùs apicem brunnesccntè tinctis: Caudâ saturatè argentescenti-cinereâ, scapis albidis: subtùs purè albus: subalaribus albis, plumis extcrioribus nigricantibus: iride læte vinascenti-brunneâ: pedibus sordidè corneo-albicantilnis, tarsis saturatioribus: rostro cyanescenticorneo, ad apicem sordidè nigro, culmine medialiter et-gonyde obscurè flavicantibus, ad basin conspicuè nigro marginatis: margine ad basin maudibulæ lætc flavâ.

Adult Female.—The whole of the head and neck delicate pearl-grey, shading off almost to white on the crown and forehead; lores and a line over each eye greyish-black, shading off below into the pearl-grey; back and upper surface of wings greyish-brown; rump, tail-coverts, and the whole of the under parts pure white, softly blending with the grey on the lower foreneck; quills brownish-black, the shafts whitish horn-colour towards the base, the longer secondaries tinged with sepia-brown; tail-feathers dark silvery-grey, with white shafts, and paler on the under-surface; lining of wings white, some of the feathers towards the edge of the wing greyish-black; irides rich vinous brown; feet dull fleshy white, the tarsi darker; page 218 bill bluish horn-colour, lighter and tinged with yellow along the culmen, and also on the under surface of the lower mandible; the sides of the unguis or hooked extremity, as well as the terminal expansion of the lower mandible, dull black; the upper mandible margined at the base with a narrow black band which broadens on the ridge and extends along the groove on each side to the nostrils; base of lower mandible fringed on each side with a membrane of a bright yellow colour, bordered behind with black, and forming a very distinguishing feature in this species.

Total length 2 feet 11 inches; extent of wings 7 feet 7 inches; from carpal flexure to the tip 22.5 inches; tail 9; bill, following the curvature of upper mandible, 5.8; length of lower mandible 5; tarsus 3.25; middle toe and claw 5.7.

The species was first described by Mr. Gould in the "Proceedings of the Zoological Society" (Part VIII., p. 177), and named by him the shy albatros, in allusion to its cautious habits when on the wing. In his "Birds of Australia" he gives the following account of it:—

"I first saw this species of albatros off the south coast of Tasmania, and had frequent opportunities of observing it during my stay in Recherche Bay, at the southern entrance of D'Entrecasteaux Channel, where I was wind-bound for nearly a fortnight. Unlike other albatroses it was most difficult to procure, for it seldom approached our ship sufficiently near for a successful shot. I succeeded, however, in shooting several examples while they were flying round the bay in which we had taken shelter. It is not usual for albatroses to approach the land or enter a secluded bay like that of Recherche, and I attribute this deviation from the ordinary-habits to the temptation presented by the vast quantities of fat and other remains of whales floating about, the locality being one of the principal whaling-stations on the coast of Tasmania. I have no doubt likewise that it was breeding on the Mewstone and other isolated rocks in the neighbourhood, as the plumage of some of the specimens I procured indicated that they had lately been engaged in the task of incubation.

"It is a large and powerful bird, the male being scarcely a third less in size than the D. exulans; is rapid and vigorous on the wing, and takes immense sweeps over the surface of the ocean. It will be interesting to learn the extent of the range of this species. A head in the possession of Sir William Jardine was said to have been procured at the Cape of Good Hope, but I believe this was by no means certain. When fully adult the sexes differ but little in colour; the female may, however, at all times be distinguished by her diminutive size, and the young by the bill being clouded with dark grey. Besides being larger than the three succeeding species (namely, D. culminata, D. chlororhyncha, and D. melanophrys, to page break which and the present the generic appellation of Thalassarche has been given), the beautiful grey on the sides of the mandibles and the yellow mark at the base of the lower mandible, will at all times distinguish this bird from the other members of the genus. The stomachs of those I obtained in Recherche Bay contained blubber, the remains of large fish, barnacles, and other crustaceans."