The closest group to mainland New Zealand, and the most hospitable, The Snares are about 100 km southwest of Stewart Island— just half a day's sailing. There are two distinct clusters: a main group featuring North East Island and adjacent Broughton Island, and a line of small islands called the Western Chain, 3.5 kim southwest of the main cluster. These islands are appropriately called The Snares as they were once considered a hazard for sailing ships. They are uninhabited.
We plan to arrive early in the morning on Day 3 of the Birding Down Under voyage, November 9 to 25, 2014. Landing on the islands is not possible, as there are so many nesting birds that one would literally be stepping on birds! We will Zodiac cruise along the sheltered eastern side of the main island. If the weather and sea conditions are favorable in the sheltered bays, we should see the endemic Snares Crested Penguin, Snares Island Tomtit and Fernbirds. Cape Pigeons, Antarctic Terns, White-fronted Terns and Red-billed Gulls are also present in good numbers. There are hundreds of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters nesting in underground condominium-like burrows on The Snares; the actual number is much debated. The Buller's Albatross breed here from January onwards. We hope to see some arriving individuals.
Among the islands of the Southern Ocean, The Snares has the distinction of being the only forested group without introduced mammals, not even mice. As such it is a remarkable haven for wildlife. Granite cliffs surround the bulk of the group, and erosion by the sea has produced deep narrow caverns, sink holes and gulches. Lying close to the Subtropical Convergence, The Snares group enjoys a climate that is surprisingly uniform throughout the year. The mean annual temperature is 11 degrees C, 51.5 degrees F.
After the Sooty Shearwater, or titi, the bird most closely associated with The Snares is the Snares Crested Penguin. They typically gather in groups under the tree daisies and sometimes perch on the bent over trunks. Around the coastline, the New Zealand Fur Seal and New Zealand Sea Lion are breeding. Forests of the large tree daisy are the dominant feature across about 80 percent of the main islands. It may seem strange to see penguins standing on tree limbs! There are other plants, birds and insects. This is a simple introduction to a very unique place.
Image by Doug Koch, copyright.
For those who have seen Sooty Shearwaters on West Coast pelagic trips—