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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 73

Anthornis melanura, Sparrm. (Korimako.)

Anthornis melanura, Sparrm. (Korimako.)

At 7 p.m. on the 26th October we left Tokanu for Tapuae-haruru in a four-oared boat, manned by a good crew of Armed Constabulary. It was a beautiful, calm day, and the surface of the lake was a perfect mirror. Five miles from land we could still hear the hollow boom of the Bittern, and the barking of the curs in the Maori village. There was not a breath of air to cause a ripple on the bosom of the lake, and the rock-bound margin of Motutaiko danced in the mirage of the morning sun. Our men were settling down to a long pull of twenty-five miles, and we had just arranged to make straight for Motutaiko and rest there for an al fresco lunch, when the seaman Todd, who was in charge of the crew, pointed to an advancing ripple from the southward; and, without a moment's warning, we were overtaken by a squall which increased in fury with amazing rapidity. Within the brief space of five minutes, instead of dreamily rowing on the placid waters, we were pitching and tossing in an angry sea—the rudder was powerless, and the oarsmen had the utmost difficulty in keeping the boat's head on. We shipped several heavy seas, and struggled on for hours, sometimes drifting, at others just holding our own, as the storm varied in force, the page 110 men all pulling with desperate strength, knowing that to relax for a moment meant swamping and destruction to us all; for the best swimmer could not long have survived a capsize in such a sea, and with the atmosphere and water so intensely cold. After some four hours of unflagging labour, a lull in the storm enabled us to get under the lee of Motutaiko; but half an hour after we had landed, in a little rocky cove on the western side of the island, the storm redoubled in force, and for some hours such a gale blew as had not been witnessed in the lake for years. The "little white horses" of the sea chased each other in quick succession, and the spray rose in clouds as the winds swept over the tempestuous waters. Of course the first consideration on reaching land was a sense of gratitude at having escaped from a very perilous position; but I was delighted on landing to hear on all sides the silvery notes of the Korimako. As is well known, this little songster, which formerly was so abundant everywhere, has for a long time past been practically extinct in the North Island. At the time of this visit to Motutaiko it had not been heard of for several years on the mainland, although it was known to exist on certain islands off the coast, such as the Little Barrier in the Hauraki Gulf, and the Island of Kapiti in Cook Strait; and the generally-accepted theory had been that the chief factor in its extermination was the introduced rat. That certainly was my own belief. But a fact now came to my knowledge which seemed to tell very much against that theory. It was this: The island on which I so unexpectedly met with the Bell-bird is famous for its rats. It is covered with pohutukawa trees and koromiko scrub, and the whole island swarms with rats. The ground is in places almost honeycombed with their burrows, for in one spot I counted no less than five holes within a radius of eighteen inches. So numerous were they that Topia Turoa had found it necessary to turn some cats adrift on the island to reduce their numbers before he could put in a crop of potatoes on one of the slopes; and wind-bound boats lying in the little sandy cove at night have, it is said, been invaded by multitudes of rats and had all their provisions carried off.

Then, again, as to the rat theory, it is a significant fact that, although the Korimako has disappeared from the North Island, it has continued to exist in the South Island, although in somewhat diminished numbers; and, so far as I am aware, the introduced rat is as plentiful there as in the North. There may be destructive causes in operation of which we have no present knowledge.

I lately had an opportunity of examining a collection of twenty-three eggs of this species, all from the South Island. I made the following notes:—They vary only very slightly in page 111 size, but exhibit a considerable amount of variation in the markings. In most of them the ground-colour is white, in others it is suffused with a delicate pinky blush. Some have the larger end smeared and the rest of the surface irregularly spotted with rusty-brown; in others the brown markings form an indistinct zone; in some the brown is concentrated at the larger pole, the rest of the shell being entirely free from markings. In some specimens these markings are irregular, being streaky or blotchy; in others they are rounded dots, being more or less confluent at the pole. Their colour varies from a dull umber-brown to a warm reddish-brown. In a few of them the markings are distributed over the entire surface in the form of minute speckles, without any appearance of a zone or any congestion at the larger pole. Two that I selected for the purpose measured, respectively, 0.75in. by 0.625in. and 0.88in. by 0.55in., both being slightly pyriform.