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Wildlife of Codfish Island – 1934 and 2011

Posted: Tue Dec 13, 2011 12:43 pm
by Colin Miskelly
I was privileged to visit Codfish Island 7-11 December as part of a project to publish the field diaries of Edgar Stead (see ... ad-part-4/). Stead and his companions Major Robert Wilson and Percy Elworthy were the first naturalists to visit Codfish Island, when they camped there from 20 December 1934 to 7 January 1935. Stead and Wilson’s diaries provide detail on the wildlife present 77 years ago, and allow assessment of changes that have occurred since.

The most notable find of their visit was the discovery of Cook’s petrels breeding on the island, and the presence of an endemic (darker) form of fernbird, which Stead named in honour of Wilson. Additional images of both these species are on the Te Papa blog site (see link above).

Wildlife species observed in both 1934 and 2011
Yellow-eyed penguin, little penguin, white-capped mollymawk (offshore), Salvin’s mollymawk (offshore), giant petrel sp. (offshore), mottled petrel, Cook’s petrel, broad-billed prion, sooty shearwater, pied shag, Stewart Island shag, spotted shag (= blue shag), Australasian harrier, variable oystercatcher, southern black-backed gull, red-billed gull, New Zealand pigeon, kaka, red-crowned parakeet, yellow-crowned parakeet, long-tailed cuckoo, morepork, rifleman, bellbird, tui, brown creeper, tomtit, fernbird, silvereye, blackbird, dunnock, redpoll,

Wildlife species observed in 1934-35 only
Brown teal (locally extinct), light-mantled sooty albatross (offshore), reef heron, New Zealand falcon (2 nests found, now locally extinct), weka (eradicated 1985), subantarctic skua (locally extinct), fantail, chaffinch, yellowhammer, brush-tailed possum (eradicated 1987), Pacific rat (eradicated 1998).

Wildlife species observed in 2011 only
Campbell Island teal (introduced), Fiordland crested penguin, northern royal albatross (offshore), southern royal albatross (offshore), Cape petrel (offshore), common diving petrel, South Georgian diving petrel (Stead found burrows in the dunes at Sealer’s Bay, but attributed them to rats), white-faced heron, white-fronted tern, kakapo (introduced), kingfisher, grey warbler, yellowhead (introduced), song thrush, starling, pipit, short-tailed bat (Stead found a roost tree, but did not see the inhabitants), New Zealand sea lion, New Zealand fur seal.

My visit also provided the first opportunity to assess the impacts of the July broad-billed prion wreck on a breeding colony of the species. Broad-billed prions breed on several islets and stacks around Codfish Island. One of these (Trig Island) is accessible at low tide on a calm day if you are prepared to bush-bash and get a bit wet. I found the colony all-but deserted, with chicks estimated to be present in 2% only of the c.500 burrows on the islet (see ... eneration/)

Photo captions:
Codfish Island fernbird approaching nest in kidney fern under tall forest. Codfish Island, December 2011. Photo: C. Miskelly
Cook's petrel on colony surface at night. Codfish Island, December 2011. Photo: C. Miskelly

Re: Wildlife of Codfish Island – 1934 and 2011

Posted: Tue Dec 13, 2011 2:30 pm
by simon.fordham
An interesting comparison Colin.

I note that you did not observe fantail in 2011. I have them on my list from 2007 and did photograph a juvenile (24/1/07), in the vicinity of the bunkhouse.


Re: Wildlife of Codfish Island – 1934 and 2011

Posted: Tue Dec 13, 2011 8:47 pm
by Colin Miskelly
Hi Simon
None of us saw or heard fantail during the 4 days I was there, but they have been seen recently on Codfish Island by Kakapo Programme Officers.

Re: Wildlife of Codfish Island – 1934 and 2011

Posted: Wed Dec 14, 2011 11:24 am
by Michael Szabo
Thanks for the post on this, Colin. I look forward to seeing the publication and hope it will include some of their black and white photographs as a comparison with contemporary images.

Re: Wildlife of Codfish Island – 1934 and 2011

Posted: Sat Dec 17, 2011 10:17 am
by Colin Miskelly
Better than silver
One of the fernbird nests I found during 7-11 December was within 100 m of the hut, and so I asked the kakapo team members to keep a daily check on it until the chicks fledge. Rose Hanley-Nickolls yesterday reported something I had over-looked (or it was a subsequent renovation) - that at least one kakapo feather has been used in the nest lining.