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

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 11 islands has changed since Stead’s visits.

The 1947 Snares Islands expedition was Edgar Stead’s last major field trip, being only 14 months before his death in February 1949. This will also be the last blog in this series, as I have now re-visited all of the islands described in Stead’s 1929 – 1947 diaries. Ironically, the main Snares Island (North East Island) was the first ‘Stead’ island that I visited, as I was privileged to study the endemic Snares Island snipe there between 1982 and 1987, some 20 years before I discovered Stead’s diaries.

Snipe and chick

Adult Snares Island snipe and chick, North East Island, Snares Islands, December 2013. Image: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa

Edgar Stead was an extraordinarily gifted naturalist. During his 13 days on the Snares Islands (23 November to 6 December 1947) he found four snipe nests, a feat that took me 150 days of field work to emulate. I did develop the knack eventually, finding 21 nests during the 1986-87 breeding season, but remain in awe of Stead’s ability to find nests of many species.

Snipe nest

Snares Island snipe nest, North East Island, Snares Islands, December 2013. Image: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa

It was Stead’s observations of snipe on islands off Stewart Island and on the Snares Islands that led to my interest in his life. Returning to the Snares Islands seven years after finding his diaries was a fitting way to complete the project.

The Snares Islands lie about 100 km south-southwest of Stewart Island, and are one of the least modified parts of New Zealand. No species of introduced mammal has ever established on the Snares, and the two species of introduced plants have limited distributions. The Te Papa team was ashore on North East Island from 28 November to 13 December 2013, exactly 66 years after Stead and his companions. The following paired images show minor changes to coastal vegetation over that time, but the scenes are remarkably similar.

Castaway depot

The view from Station Cove to Signpost Hill. Tree and shrub growth prevents the same photopoint being used, but the corrugated iron structure in both images is the same building – namely the castaway depot built by the New Zealand government in the 1880s, and now maintained as an historic site by the Department of Conservation. The dining tent used in 1947 was sited where the current research hut is located. Top image: Edgar Stead, November-December 1947, Canterbury Museum 2001_59_330_snares_camp. Lower image: Colin Miskelly, November 2013, Te Papa

Station Cove

Snares crested penguins in Station Cove. Top image: Edgar Stead, November-December 1947, Canterbury Museum 2010_75_325_Station_Cove. Lower image: Colin Miskelly, December 2013, Te Papa

Penguin landing

The penguin landing on the south side of Boat Harbour, viewed from the tip of Station Point. Top image: Edgar Stead, November-December 1947, Canterbury Museum 2010_75_380_penguins. Lower image: Colin Miskelly, December 2013, Te Papa

North-east coast

The north-east coast of North East Island, looking north from the south side of Punui Bay. Top image: Edgar Stead, November-December 1947, Canterbury Museum 2001_59_308_Snares_Island. Lower image: Colin Miskelly, November 2013, Te Papa

Thanks to the Department of Conservation for permission to land on the Snares Islands Nature Reserve, and the crew of F.V. Awesome and staff and crew of Heritage Expeditions (Spirit of Enderby) for transport to and from the islands. Permission to reproduce Edgar Stead’s images in this series of blogs was kindly granted by Canterbury Museum.

Previous 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)

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

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 2013 – In the footsteps of Edgar Stead (Part 10)

See also:    Birds of the Snares Islands

2 Responses

  1. Colin Miskelly

    Thanks for your comments Karen. We were on the island long enough (15 days) to locate the photopoints then wait for sea conditions to be similar – which took about 9 days for two of the shots.
    Cheers
    Colin

    Reply
  2. Karen Marshall

    Hi Colin, I have enjoyed reading about these NZ islands which I never expect to visit. The last 3 photos on Snares are almost identical to Edgar Steads including the sea action. Well done. It is nice to see that some things have not changed.

    Reply

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