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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 73

Ocydromus greyi, Buller. (North Island Woodhen.)

page 118

Ocydromus greyi, Buller. (North Island Woodhen.)

This species of Woodhen is still numerous on the wooded hill-sides and mountain gullies in the Murimotu-Taupo Country. It is seldom met with in the open country, except at one particular season, when the birds are exceedingly fast and the natives catch large numbers by running them down with dogs.

It is a very remarkable fact in local botany that on the arid lands forming the Onetapu Desert, and on the slope[unclear: s] Ruapehu Mountain, where the climate is very rigorous, certain native pines, which in the lowlands attain to a consider able height as forest trees, are represented by dwarfed [unclear: forus] of the same species, not more than a few inches in height and often assuming a creeping habit. These degraded forms which are specifically identical with their forest relations resemble them exactly in their fructification. The berries borne by these pigmy growths equal in size, and sometimes even exceed, those of the forest trees,—the fruit of the [unclear: dwa] totara, for example, being sometimes double the size of the normal berry, while those of the miro, kahikatea, and [unclear: ri] are at least fully equal to the berries produced by the forest trees. When these miniature woods are laden with ripe [unclear: ma] the Woodhen leaves the shelter of the woods and comes [unclear: o] into the open to revel in plenty. As already stated, the [unclear: bir] then become unusually fat, and, owing to their diminished activity, become an easy prey to the natives. Captain [unclear: Mai] informs me that he has known of a native with a good dog ten years ago, killing as many as eighty in a single day Pigeons and kakas, also, are said to resort to these [unclear: subalp] woods in considerable numbers to feed on the ripe fruit When camped on the edge of a red-birch forest near the Mangataramea Stream (at an elevation of 3,000ft.) I [unclear: hear] the loud cry of the Woodhen every night, but I never [unclear: m] with the bird in the open country, and the sheep-farmer with whom I was staying appeared never to have seen one.

I was much struck with the beauty of these clump[unclear: s] bush in the Murimotu highlands, where the Woodhen wa[unclear: s] numerous. Some of them consist entirely of kawaka ([unclear: Lib] cedrus doniana) a very ornamental tree of bright-green [unclear: foli] and tapering growth, with a trunk like a miniature [unclear: Sequ] This is plainly seen when a fire has passed through the forest and left the trees dead and naked. In some places you [unclear: me] with the strange sight of the whole forest apparently [unclear: he] down, and strewing the ground with bleached and [unclear: char] trunks. The explanation is this: that these trees are [unclear: ge] rally hollow near the ground, and have only a feeble [unclear: supp] of lateral roots. Consequently, when a fire has passed through page 119 and killed the trees, the dead timber cannot long resist the action of the weather, and one after another the "cedars" topple over with the passing blast, till at length not a single trunk remains standing, and an appearance is presented of utter wreck and desolation. For the most part the trees are of small size, but Captain Mair informs me he has often met with them 4ft. in diameter at the base. Another tree that adds to the novelty of these subalpine woods is the silver-birch—a graceful and elegant tree of bright foliage, resembling at a short distance the larch, and showing up conspicuously amongst the black-and red-birch with which it mingles. In these mountain solitudes, however, there is very little animal life to engage the attention of the naturalist. On the summit of Gentle Annie, in fine weather, I met with what appeared to be a smaller and very bright variety of the Yellow Admiral butterfly, but I could not catch any. I saw occasionally a small lizard, which I referred to Tiliqua zealandica. Bird-life is scarce, except at certain seasons and in particular localities.