I have been a birdwatcher for more than 35 years, and like any other similarly inclined, I dream of seeing something rare, perhaps a species never before seen on my local patch, perhaps even a new species for my country (Denmark, in case you wondered) – I actually did once, but the Danish rarities committee wouldn’t accept it – or maybe even (dare I say it?), a species new to science, or one considered extinct. Although I am a qualified zoologist, I can’t claim any new species to my name, but when it comes to rediscovering, well… read on.
I have a lot of books in my apartment, most of which I am very fond of, and would hate to loose, but I suppose I could live without should the need arise. But by far the most precious ones are the lot sitting on the two top shelves of the bookshelf just to the left of my desk. These are all my old notebooks, chronicling my sightings of birds, insects, snakes, plants and sundry other organisms since I was about 14 years old. In case of fire they would be the first I would save after wife and kids.
Every now and then I take down one of them, flip through it and reminisce. I usually pick one at random, but every now and then I hit on number 17, the one that chronicles my first trip to New Zealand in 1991. I have been back several times since then, but this book contains the details of a sighting, that have bothered me for far too many years by now.
It was a beautiful spring day in New Zealand, and I was visiting Pureora Forest, a national park a bit south of Auckland. I had been in New Zealand a couple of weeks at the time, and had managed to see a fair selection of New Zealand birds. I had met a ranger who directed me to a very big observation tower in the forest, and told me I would have a good chance of seeing some good stuff, but just how good he probably hadn’t imagined. The observation tower was quite a magnificent structure and tall enough for people to be able to see over the top of most of the trees.
There wasn’t a soul about, as it was on a weekday, and not in the holiday season, so my girlfriend and I had it all to our selves. I was quite eager to see what was going on, so I sort of sprinted up the stairs onto the observation platform. Just as I hot up there, and stepped up to the edge to take a look, a bird took of from a tree about 20 meters from the tower. It flew straight off, with its back to me, continued for about 100 meter, and dived back into the trees. I never was able to find it again, and did not think much about it at the time, but I did make a drawing of it in my notebook. It was about the size of a European jackdaw, with what to me looked like slightly longer and narrower wings, and a longer tail. The colour was deep black with a greenish metallic shine, except for a broad white band across the tip of the tail-feathers. I couldn’t see the head of the bird, but it did call a single time. It sounded like the last part of the song of the European common rosefinch, something along the lines of “hyuuuuu”. And that was it – after making my little drawing, with the idea of trying to identify the animal at some later date – I forgot all about it. That is until I finally had time to sit down with an identification guide, which unfortunately was 7 weeks later back home in Denmark.
On the surface this sounds like any other poor sighting of a bird, and I would gladly put it to rest except for the fact that the only bird species in New Zealand with a tail like that supposedly became extinct sometime in the 1920’s. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big round of applause for: The Huia. A very strange bird – mainly because the male and female had different shaped beaks.
So, did I see a living huia that fateful day so many years ago? I’d like to think so, and I still regret the fact, that I did not try to identify the thing at once – then perhaps some other birdwatcher could have gone in and taken a closer look.