This book is available now in bookstores nationwide.
Mary Taylor works mainly as an artist. Her limited editions, etchings and paintings feature New Zealand fauna and flora. She has also written Dyptoe: The Yellow Eyed Penguin. Old Blue was first published in 1993 by Scholastic. The book I reviewed is a redesigned and updated edition.
Mary first heard about Old Blue (Chatham Island Robin) from a friend at DOC (Department of Conservation). The ensuing story was written to try and save this increasingly rare bird.
For thousands of years the Chatham Island Robin lived in the Chatham’s safely, but then settlers arrived by boat. As the years went by and hundreds more people arrived the Robin was threatened by the animals they bought with them. They bought cows, sheep, pigs and worst of all they bought carnivorous animals. Feral cats and rat populations exploded threatening the habitat of these little native birds and other species on the island. This was also a time when the disappearance of species wasn’t important to the inhabitants of the Chatham’s.
By 1900 there was only one island where the Chatham Island Robin was safe – Little Mangere Island. Its sheer cliffs and environs made it difficult for predators – men, rats and cats. For a time these birds flourished, but then it was discovered there were only twenty left in the world. One pair of birds’ laid two eggs, with only one of these hatching. This one hatchling was the only one in the whole world.
The New Zealand Wildlife Service had been visiting the Chatham’s to study different species of native birds on the island. They became concerned with the number of native birds that were gradually dying off, with some becoming extinct. They then visited Little Mangere Island where the little Chatham Island Robin was now one year old. One of the wildlife officers was a gentleman by the name of Don Merton.
The story that unfolds of the ingenious way to save this beautiful little bird is heart wrenching and wonderful. Thanks to Don and his team of helpers this little bird today is thriving.
The story of “Old Blue” is beautiful. We are certainly lucky as New Zealanders to have such dedication by wildlife officers (now DOC – Department of Conservation).
The illustrations by Mary Taylor with her text are breathtakingly beautiful. I kept thinking what lovely framed prints they would make.
Reviewed by Christine Frayling
Old Blue –The Rarest Bird in the World
by Mary Taylor
Published by Scholastic NZ