It is claimed that there are more birds nesting on these small forest covered islands, 60 miles south of Stewart Island, than there are seabirds around the entire British Isles. The Snares is home to hundreds of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters, a large population of Bullers Albatross and endemic Snares Crested Penguin.
The Snares comprise two groups of Islands: North East Island, with Broughton Island, Alert Stack and several small islands and rocks, and the Western Chain, of five islets with rocks and stacks.
The main island is North East Island, with an area of 280 ha. There are steep cliffs on the western side, with gentle gullies sloping to the east.
The islands are composed of jointed granite, and are probably part of a large batholith including areas of Stewart Island, formed about 120MYr ago and subsequently eroded. Peat soils are widespread.
The islands were discovered by Vancouver in 1791. Vancouver in command of two ships had visited Dusky Sound with an expedition destined for the exploration of the northwest coastline of North America. After leaving Dusky Sound, a fierce storm was encountered and the two vessels were separated. On the 23rd November, Vancouver in the Discovery discovered a group of Islands which he named the Snares. Broughton in the Chatham sighted them later in the same day and named them the Knights Islands (Broughton went on to discover a large inhabited Island which he named Chathams).
Just over one year later, December, 1772, the crew of the Britannia sighted the Snares and named them the Sunday Islands. The names Knights and Sunday gave way to that given by the first discoverer – the Snares.
Historical records of these Islands are sketchy. Little is known of the activities of sealers which obviously worked these Islands. It appears a gang of four, who were escaped convicts from Norfolk Island, were marooned on the Snares between 1810-1817 from the ship Adventure, the reason given was that the ship was running short of provisions and the captain gave the men the choice of going ashore or of starving afloat. The men were given a few potatoes which they planted. During their long exile one of the four became deranged – this alarmed the others so much that they pushed him over a cliff. The remaining three were rescued by an American ship the Enterprise which reached Philadelphia on 11 May 1818.
There are no recorded shipwrecks from the Island despite their position almost directly in the path of vessels sailing from Australia towards Cape Horn. It was intended at one stage to erect a lighthouse on the Island but with the opening of the Panama Canal the need for a lighthouse largely disappeared.
The Islands are free of introduced predators and for this reason they have a number of visiting scientific parties. The University of Canterbury biologists have a field station built on the site and incorporating the old castaways depot on the Main Island and since the early 1970’s it has been maintained and used by occasional parties.
Vegetation is dominated by forests of Olearia lyallii and Brachyglottis stewartiae. Ferns (Polystichum vestitum, Blechnum durum, Asplenium obtusatum) occur in the sub-canopy and in gullies. In open areas in the forest, the herb Stilbocarpa robusta occurs. Dense scrub of Hebe elliptica is present on the forest margins. Grassland of Poa tennantiana and Poa astonii with the herb Colobanthus muscoides, predominates in the coastal areas of North East Island between the cliffs and the forest, as well as over much of Broughton Island. Islets of the Western Chain are largely devoid of vegetation.
No landings are permitted on The Snares but zodiac cruising gives great views of the three of endemics. There are the Snares Crested Penguin, the Snares Tomtit and the Fernbird.
Country or region: The Snares
Number of species: 54
Number of endemics: 1
Number of globally threatened species: 7
Number of introduced species: 8
The taxonomic order and nomenclature follows Clements 5th edition (updated 2005).
King Penguin Aptenodytes patagonicus Rare/Accidental
Fiordland Penguin Eudyptes pachyrhynchus Vulnerable
Snares Penguin Eudyptes robustus Endemic Vulnerable
Erect-crested Penguin Eudyptes sclateri Endangered
Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes chrysocome Rare/Accidental Vulnerable
Macaroni Penguin Eudyptes chrysolophus Rare/Accidental Vulnerable
Little Penguin Eudyptula minor Rare/Accidental
Hoary-headed Grebe Poliocephalus poliocephalus
Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris
Buller's Albatross Thalassarche bulleri Vulnerable
Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta Near-threatened
Cape Petrel Daption capense
Mottled Petrel Pterodroma inexpectata Near-threatened
Broad-billed Prion Pachyptila vittata
Fulmar Prion Pachyptila crassirostris
Fairy Prion Pachyptila turtur
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus
Common Diving-Petrel Pelecanoides urinatrix
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax varius Rare/Accidental
Little Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos Rare/Accidental
Australian Shelduck Tadorna tadornoides Rare/Accidental
Mallard Anas Platyrhynchos Introduced species
Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa
Subantarctic Snipe Coenocorypha aucklandica Endemic (country/region) Near-threatened
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia Rare/Accidental
Gray-tailed Tattler Heterosceles brevipes Rare/Accidental
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata Rare/Accidental
Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus
Silver Gull Larus novaehollandiae
Red-billed Gull Larus scopulinus Endemic (country/region)
Black-billed Gull Larus bulleri Rare/Accidental Vulnerable
White-fronted Tern Sterna striata Rare/Accidental
Antarctic Tern Sterna vittata
Horsfield's Cuckoo Cuculus horsfieldi Rare/Accidental
Shining Bronze-Cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidus Rare/Accidental
White-throated Needletail Hirundapus caudacutus Rare/Accidental
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis Introduced species
Tree Martin Petrochelidon nigricans Rare/Accidental
Australasian Pipit Anthus novaeseelandiae Rare/Accidental
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula Introduced species
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos Introduced species
Fernbird Megalurus punctatus Endemic (country/region)
Gray Fantail Rhipidura fuliginosa
Tomtit Petroica macrocephala Endemic (country/region)
Gray Gerygone Gerygone igata Rare/Accidental
Silver-eye Zosterops lateralis
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris Introduced species
Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella Rare/Accidental
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Introduced species
Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea Introduced species
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
House Sparrow Passer domesticus Introduced species
Bird Checklists of the World is part of Avibase and Bird links to the World, which are designed and maintained by Denis Lepage, and hosted by Bird Studies Canada, which is a co-partner of Birdlife International.
© Denis Lepage 2006
Experience this destination by expedition cruising with Heritage Expeditions on the following departures: