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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 73


When I had the pleasure of reading a paper before you on the 13th July, 1892, I referred to the steps that had been taken by Mr. Ballance's Ministry, at the instance of our late Governor, Lord Onslow, towards preserving the native avifauna of New Zealand by setting apart island reserves and placing them under strict supervision. Having taken an active interest in these steps myself, naturally my first inquiry on returning to the colony, in March last, was as to how far the good intentions of the Government had been carried into effect. I was indeed glad to find that the negotiations for page 105 the complete acquisition of the Little Barrier Island were being pushed forward, and with every prospect of speedy success, and that both there and on Resolution Island a custodian or ranger was being maintained by the Government. It is disheartening, however, to learn from the last report of the Auckland Institute that "in the meantime several natives and Europeans are living on the island, fires have been allowed to spread, and in the last week of January of this year a serious one was reported, which lasted at least a week." It is also alleged in the report that "the island has been visited by collectors, and specimens of the very birds which it was hoped might survive have been shot and brought to Auckland." I understand that effective steps are now being taken to prevent such depredations for the future. And, from what I can gather in the department, there is every reason to hope that within a measurable time the last of the native owners will have been settled with, and the private title extinguished. The whole of the island will then be Crown land, and will be under more effective control. All over the scientific world the action of the Government in this matter has been applauded. The efforts now being made, whether in the end completely successful or not, will in any case save us from the reproaches of posterity. If they should prove successful, as I believe they will, I venture to think that this service to science will bring credit and praise to the present Government when many of their more ambitious schemes and projects have been buried and forgotten. But it must be borne in mind that the conservation of the two islands I have named is only a partial carrying-out of Lord Onslow's recommendations and of the decision come to by the Government in 1892. The original proposal was not merely to protect the birds already existing on the two island reserves, notably the Stitchbird and the Whitehead on the Little Barrier, and Notornis mantelli, Kiwis, and Kakapos on Resolution Island; but that many other birds now living on the mainland, although becoming scarcer every year, should be systematically trapped from time to time and turned loose upon the islands. In addition to a further supply of Kiwis and Kakapos, of the different species, the birds specially marked out for these attentions were the Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris) and the Blue-wattled Crow (Glaucopis wilsoni) in the North Island, and the Thick-billed Thrush (Turnagra crassirostris) and the Orange-wattled Crow (Glaucopis cinerea) in the South Island. This could be done now, and at comparatively trifling cost; but every year it will become more difficult. It has now become a truism that the rarer New Zealand birds are passing away and will soon be extinct. But even species that were formerly very abundant all over the country are following suit, not only on the main- page 106 land but on the small islands where the conditions of existence are so much more favourable. Mr. W. Hawkins, the well-known collector, writing to me from the Chatham Islands in August last, says, "The Fern-bird (Sphenæacus rufescens) and the Black Robin (Miro traversi) are gone. The Mako-mako and Cabalus modestus are going fast; and the Pigeon too. In fact Pitt Island is the only place where Pigeons and Bell-birds are to be got. . . . On the Sisters ten years ago the Maoris got a thousand Albatroses; last year they got only three hundred and fifty. They say that if I go there I'll frighten the Albatros away altogether, so they have absolutely prohibited my collecting there."

I shall now proceed to place before you my customary budget of ornithological notes. Dr. Sclater, the accomplished editor of the Ibis, has referred in terms of commendation to my practice of exhibiting at our meetings here the more important of the specimens to which the observations refer. I shall continue this practice, because it tends to keep up the interest of members in what is being done in this department of science. It is quite a mistake to suppose that because exhaustive works have appeared on the birds of New Zealand nothing remains to be done by the ordinary observer. In opposition to such a view, I may mention that since the publication of my last edition of "The Birds of New Zealand," in 1888, I have, through the medium of these periodical notes (without including those contained in the present paper), added no less than ten species to the list of our birds, recorded thirty-four albinisms and other abnormal varieties, and made original observations, more or less important, on eighty-four ordinary species. Others have been working in the same direction, and registering interesting facts, the most important of these contributions being a paper on the birds of the Chatham Islands by Mr. H. O. Forbes, which appeared (with two excellent illustrations) in the Ibis for October, 1893.