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.
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.
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.
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:
See also: Birds of the Snares Islands