huia transcriptions

date : 01.06.2012
location : rangatira, lower trig track, sonified on trunk of puriri tree
time : 6.55am

date : 02.06.2012
location : rangatira, halfway up wilkinson track, sonified on trunk of rata
time : 7.20am

notes : transcriptions to music box of one of the few extant written notations of the calls of Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris), as observed and notated by a Mr. H. T. Carver in the late 1800s.

calls played back in the early morning chorus into forest areas of Kapiti, amplified non-electronically on the trunks of species of trees Huia would likely have climbed. In the vicinity of playback are found forest habitats which are home to the other two surviving descendants of the ancient endemic wattlebird whose ancestry the Huia shared : the Kokako and the Tieke/Saddleback. The "rata-tata-tata-tat" of the latter is very audible in this recording, alongside Kaka, Bellbirds, and a variety of other species. The isolated place now called Kapiti Island is almost certain, given its historic forest cover and location, to have been home to the Huia, in fact the last confirmed sighting of the bird was on 28 December 1907 in the Tararua Ranges, and Kapiti island's Tuteremoana, 521m above sea level, is the summit of one of the ridges in this mountain range, created by earthquakes an estimated 200 million years ago. The present island is the surviving remnant of a land bridge that extended across what is now Cook Straight, and was separated from the mainland by rising sea levels several million years ago.

Various accounts of human imitation and interspecies interaction around the Huia's song are collected in W.J. Phillips' 1963 text 'The Book of the Huia', from which I obtained the transcription here. It goes on to relate further descriptions :

"Various other accounts tell of the soft, quick twittering, sometimes described as a soft whistle, with which the pairs seemed to keep in communication under normal conditions. Dr J. F. Findlay was able to demonstrate this low whistle as used as a 'bird call', tapping his cheek at intervals. He learnt it from Mr Cammock, now of Whangamomomona, who at one time shot or caught many Huias. Apparently the 'who-are-you' or 'hue' sound from which the bird derives its name is a part of its early morning call, accented in times of distress. In this connection we are fortunate in being able to include two Huia calls presented by Mr H. T. Carver, Wanganui, to the Dominion Museum and reproduced here by courtesy of Dr R. A. Falla. It is certain that Huia calls varied greatly, Buller has left us an account of how a Maori was able to bring a Huia well within shooting distance with a loud clear whistle not much like the ordinary calls of the bird, being louder and more shrill. Different calls, both of the bird itself and for attracting it, were given by Johannes C. Andersen. The young of the first year has a low and rather plaintive cry easily distinguished from all other sounds in the forest and pleasant to the ear." 

The rich avian-only ecosystem of pre-contact Aotearoa ensured a cultural context in which complex interaction with birds was a norm in many parts of ceremonial and everyday life, and in which Taonga Pūoro, or traditional Maori instruments, worked in parallel with a rich avian soundscape, or te reo o Tane, the voice of the God of the Forest, with this forest also providing the materials (wood, grass, bird bone) of which these instruments are also often made. In contrast, this project speculates on the possible interaction which early Colonial settler Europeans may have had with increasingly rare endemic birds - the pathos of using the coloniser's symbolic tools, in this case traditional English musical notation in limited folk forms to portray the non-human otherness and complexities of birdsong.