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BEAUTIFUL STEWART ISLAND., Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, Volume LXXV, Issue 3541, 2 May 1916
BEAUTIFUL STEWART ISLAND.
A DAY ON A MUTTON BIRD ISLAND.
The Bird's Habits. [By our Special Reporter.]
On Easter Saturday our party was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to go down by launch to Port Adventure, the south east corner oi" Stewart Island. The weather was perfect and we left Half Moon Bay in the launch at eight sharp. From the head of the bay we travelled due east, past "The Neck" where a lighthouse is placed to warn marriners of the dangerous rocks at the base of the headland. The sea was very calm, an unusual thing in that part of the world as the coast is exposed to the ,open ocean, heavy seas roll in there from the unknown waste of ocean stretching to the south. The coast line js of great interest and our host, who knows every inch, pointed out the various points where the whalers had their rendezvous, One bay has the unusual name of "Chew Tobacco Bay", presumably because the old hands could chew tobacco there in peace. It appears that in a strong northerly gale, practically the prevailing wind there, the bay is as calm as a mill pond. In spite of the use of a sail to help us on, it took three hours to reach Port Adventure. This is a large inlet with many small harbours. is called "Abraham's Bosom" because peace and rest are always to be found there. The beauty of this spot does really beggar description. The bush covers the land down to the sea, and everywhere here, as in other parts of Stewart Island are to be found inlets, always clothed in verdure to the sea level. We had no time to explore the Port, but our host told us some of the places of interest. He declared that the Heron river, which flowed to the sea here was well worth a trip to see and has been described as outrivalling the Wanganui in beauty. The banks were fairly level and ratas grew right in the water. Our destination was Tia Island and we : dropped anchor at the roadstead j about eleven o'clock. Tia Island : belongs to certain native families and a party of five men and two women were on the island for the annual mutton bird season. Our host's father and brother were of the party and welcomed us most warmly. The mutton bird industry is. one that is little known. The birds rear their young mostly on islands and they select certain ones. It is noticeable that they seldom lay on an island where the soil is sandy, choosing a heavy peat like formation, and when their holes are •inspected the wisdom of this step is apparent. Before lunch we were taken for a walk in the bush on the coast line and the first thing that was noticeable was a peculiar fishy smell. Then we saw holes like rabbit burrows and these we found were the homes of the young mutton birds The mutton birds habits are peculiar and quite Prussian in their precision. On a certain day in the Spring they will visit their island home en masse and prepare their holes or nests. Then on November 25th of each year they lay one egg. Sceptics who regard this as a fairy tale should see the sky darkened with the flight of the birds as they come in to lay their precious egg. The parent birds sit on the egg in turns and on December 25th the young one is hatched. The devotion of the parent birds to their offspring is a thing to be marvelled at. They starve themselves to feed the little bird, and every day and all day they bring in lumps of fish which they have swallowed and bring up to throat clown the pampered child's mouth. Anylone who has seen a young mutton bird dressed can understand this as the poorest are surrounded with rings of fat. The parent birds are miserable, starved looking brown birds and quite uneatable. The young mutton bird is in no hurry to see the world and stays down in his warm hole till the end of April. Then he comes out, and if he escapes capture as hundreds do, flies away to come back and slave for a pampered child as his parents did for him. Our friends told us that Tia Island had not been used as a hunting ground for about five years. Rats had increased tremendously there and had killed the young birds oi- stolen the eggs till there was no possibility of procuring a bag. They had brought cats" there, and so well had they done their work that not a rat was to be seen and mutton birds were very plentiful there. After a short walk we w r erc summoned to lunch, and this consisted of mutton birds cooked in a Maori oven. We quite appreciated the delicacy though we showed the usual pakeha dislike for the fat. After the meal we crossed over to the other side of the island to see a cave. Unfortunately the tide prevented our reaching the cave and we turned along the coast to catch mutton birds. We soon came to a number of holes. Where loose feathers are to be seen by a hole there is sure to be a young bird inside. However to make assurance doubly sure our friends showed us that w<e
must poke in a stick. If the stick had down on it,, there was certainly a mutton bird at the end of the passage. It is impossible to reach the end oi i the hole which is always built m a slanting direction to prevent the rain getting in, the next procedure is to see in which direction the hole runs to make a hole directly above. Dogs are used to help with the excavation and the writer was assisted by a brown dog which evidently enjoyed the sport. When the excavation reaches the bird's hole the next thins to do is to put on a glove and haul out the bird. The- mutton bird is not to be blamed for not liking to leave his warm quarters and two large meals which are brought to him at night. He certainly does resent intrusion and can peck very hard. When the bird is brought up he looks a pretty little creature covered in down, of a dove grey shade with feathers on his wings and neck and reaching down "his back. It appeal's that from the middle of April he comes out of his hole periodically to shake off his childish down, and lumps of down are seen lying about in all directions. He has a pretty head' with a black ridge and a great strong beak also of a grey colour which could do a great deal of damage. Our host, who is skilled in the capture of mutton birds, caught a number while we new chums were beingtaught the rudiments of the game. He had no gloves and his hands were bleeding- from the bites of the disturbed birds. As we hauled them up one by one the boys killed them by a blow on the" back of the head, I could not help thinking of the devoted parents returning that night with a clay's catch of fish to find their young ones gone. Our friends assured us that they could not possibly clear them all out, and they said that no old bird was ever taken except by error. They explained to us that the island was harder to work this year than usual as it had been * left so long. When the vertical excavation is made to get out the young bird, it is filled with sticks and leaves, and as the birds use the same hole year after year, the leaves are easily removed to allow of the capture of next year's chicken. Towards the end of April the young birds come out at night in large numbers and lie at the mouths of their holes. This is called torching time, as the mutton bird hunters go out with lights and capture them in dozens. This is the time when an occasional old bird is caught by mistake, as they are often feeding the young ones. By the second week in May all those j which have escaped the vigilance of the hunter are on the wing and the muton bird season is past and gone. It is said that the birds are partial to laying on these islands, because there are shoals of a small sardine fish in this neighbourhood and mutton birds hover about these shoals in large numbers. We were very grateful to our friends for their kindness to us, as the pakeha has no rights on the mutton bird island and can be sued even for acting as cook for a party on j one. We saw the process by which the down feathers were removed from the birds. They are a very clean bird and require little dressing. They are cooled all night and then put in salt for preservation. Kelp bags are used to hold them, these beingblown up for the purpose. They are then surrounded with bark tied with Max and on each sack is placed the number of birds inside. I have" not tasted a salted birdi but only the fresh ones and they are excellent, the flesh being not unlike that of the wild duck. There is no fishy taste as one would expect. Many people place the birds in the bags in their own fat and they will keep like that for many months. A bag of 100 per day dressed and ready to be dipped in the salt barrell is considered a good catch. Many people of course get sometimes nearly 200 in one day. We were much interested in all we saw and very grateful,, particularly when we discovered that our friends had practically given up a whole day of their short season to help us in our amateur efforts. After a copious afternoon tea we left again in the launch from the small bay where the water was green and so transparent as to allow us to see the sands at the bottom and watch the fish swimming about. The trip home was even calmer than the outward journey. We saw a penguin swimming into the shore and were followed all the way by several molly hawks, who kept flying just past our bow settling in the water and skating on the top for a few yards. A small boy on board threw them some bait, but they did not appear to notice it and maintained their wise, courtly demeanour throughout. At the bottom of the boat reposed several dozen mutton birds, the result of our day's work. To the unifiated a feature of this coast is the number of outcroppingrocks miles beyond the shore. They are all well chartered' and they need to be ; but it appears that passing boats give the coast line a very wide berth. We reached Half Moon Bay at 6.30 P.m. after one of the most enjoyable and interesting outings imaginable.
BEAUTIFUL STEWART ISLAND., Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, Volume LXXV, Issue 3541, 2 May 1916
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