Taukihepa / Big South Cape Island – 1931 and 2012 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 6)

Te Papa’s curator of terrestrial vertebrates Dr Colin Miskelly is researching the life and work of the Canterbury naturalist Edgar Stead (1881-1949). This includes re-taking Stead’s photos from the same photo-point, taking other images to illustrate his diaries, and describing how the ecology and wildlife of each of 10 islands has changed since Stead’s visits.

During their November-December 1931 stay on Rerewhakaupoko (Solomon Island), Edgar Stead and his companions used a small boat to visit nearby Big South Cape Island (Taukihepa) whenever sea conditions allowed. Taukihepa is the largest of the muttonbird islands at 939 ha, and lies off the south-west coast of Stewart Island.

Rerewhakaupoko (Solomon Island) at rear, and Pukeweka Island viewed from the tops of Taukihepa (Big South Cape Island). Top image taken in 1931 (Edgar Stead photograph 2001.59.380, Macmillan collection, Canterbury Museum), lower image in 2012 (photo: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa). Stead and companions stayed in one of the cluster of huts visible near the south coast of Rerewhakaupoko.

The main attraction for Stead and companions on Taukihepa was the snipe breeding among the low ‘pakihi’ heathland vegetation on the tops of the island. There were no snipe on Rerewhakaupoko. It was my long-term research on New Zealand snipes (genus Coenocorypha) that led to the discovery of Edgar Stead’s long lost diaries in Canterbury Museum in 2006.

Stead’s diaries had been in the private collection of Dr David Macmillan (who was related to Stead through their wives being cousins). Macmillan intended writing a biography of his famous friend and relative, but this was never published. Macmillan himself died in 1983, but his archive (including excised pages from Stead’s diaries, and many of Stead’s photographs) were not donated to Canterbury Museum until 2001, when his daughters sold the family home.

Putauhinu Island viewed from the summit of Taukihepa. Edgar Stead studied the now extinct South Island snipe breeding among the stunted manuka and inaka on the tops of Taukihepa in 1931. Snares Island snipe were successfully introduced to Putauhinu Island in 2005. Photo: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa

The South Island snipe (also known as the Stewart  Island snipe) was one of the species that became extinct when ship rats invaded Taukihepa and adjacent islands in 1964. The last two birds died during an unsuccessful rescue attempt in August-September 1964, and are now in the Te Papa collection.

South Island snipe at its nest on the tops of Taukihepa, December 1931. Edgar Stead photograph 2010.75.158, Canterbury Museum

The closely related Snares Island snipe was successfully translocated to Putauhinu Island 1.4 km north-west of Taukihepa in April 2005. This was the first deliberate replacement of an extinct New Zealand bird with a near relative. A survey of Putauhinu Island in March 2011 revealed that snipe were thriving, with over 300 birds present.

A Snares Island snipe on Putauhinu Island in March 2012. Photo: Ray Moss

Other blogs in this series:

Taranga / Hen Island – 1933 and 2010 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 1)

Nukuwaiata / Inner Chetwode Island – 1936 and 2011 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 2)

Kundy Island – 1929 and 2011 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 3)

Whenua Hou / Codfish Island – 1934 and 2011 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 4)

Rerewhakaupoko / Solomon Island – 1931 and 2012 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 5)

Pukeokaoka / Jacky Lee Island – 1932 and 2012 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 7)

Green Island – 1941 and 2012 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 8)

Ruapuke Island – 1941 and 2012 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 9)

Western Chain, Snares Islands – 1929 and 2012 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 10)

Snares Islands –1947 and 2013 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 11)

Hautere/Solander Island – 1933 and 2016 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 12)

Related topics:
Surveying snipe on Putauhinu Island
Are muttonbirds radio-active?

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