Edgar Stead (1881-1949) was a Canterbury naturalist famous (among other things) for exhuming the enormous Okarito blue whale skeleton now in Canterbury Museum, breeding the Ilam strain of rhododendrons and azaleas, and being an astute observer of New Zealand birds. His magnificent homestead ‘Ilam’ is now the Canterbury University staff club, and was the main set for Peter Jackson’s film ‘Heavenly Creatures’ (as the Hulme family lived there after the property was sold to University of Canterbury).
As part of a project to publish the wildlife diaries of Edgar Stead, I am revisiting some of the islands that Stead camped on during the period 1929-1947. The main focus is describing how the ecology of the islands has changed since Stead’s time. The visits also provide an opportunity to take photographs to illustrate the diaries. This includes re-taking photographs from the same photopoint that Stead used.
Stead and his companion Major Robert Wilson visited Hen Island, off Whangarei, for 6 weeks in Nov-Dec 1933. They were joined for the second half of the trip by Stead’s wife Dot and their 11-year-old son Roland. The main purpose of their trip was to describe the juvenile plumage of the North Island saddleback, a species then confined to 500 ha Hen Island. North Island saddlebacks have since been translocated successfully to a dozen other islands plus Karori Sanctuary.
Other species studied by Stead on the island included the (then) recently described Pycroft’s petrel, kaka, kereru (New Zealand pigeon), tuatara, Duvaucel’s gecko and the egg-laying skink.
Stead published several short scientific papers after his visit, including one on the ‘Maori rat’ (also known as Pacific rat or kiore). The Department of Conservation administers Taranga / Hen Island as a Nature Reserve. In 2011 the Department intends to eradicate kiore from Taranga, freeing it of introduced mammals. This action is supported by Ngatiwai as tangata whenua, who have DOC’s agreement to maintain a population of kiore on nearby Mauitaha Island. Kiore are regarded as a taonga species by Ngatiwai, but have had severe impacts on many species on Taranga including tuatara, most lizards, and large land snails (Paryphanta and Amborhytida).
Other blogs in this series:
By Colin Miskelly, Curator Terrestrial Vertebrates