First recorded tourist sighting of Campbell Island snipe
During an expedition of subantarctic islands, tourists observed and photographed an extremely-elusive bird, the Campbell Island snipe.
On Jan. 4, Joke Baars of Hamilton, New Zealand, sighted a Campbell Island snipe during a voyage to New Zealand’s subantarctic islands with the travel company Heritage Expeditions. Endemic to Campbell Island, which is situated 700 km south of New Zealand, the Campbell Island snipe is rare and endangered. Researchers, with the aid of a bird dog, have made most of the few previous sightings of the Campbell Island snipe. This sighting marks the first time tourists have recorded seeing the bird.
“On our way back to the Zodiacs, after visiting the albatrosses, a little way above the Department of Conservation huts, I heard something flapping under the boardwalk, and out fluttered this little bird, which proved to be one of the highlights of our visit to the subantarctic islands. A probably never to be repeated experience!” explained Joke Baars of how she discovered the Campbell Island snipe.
The recently-sighted snipe was found along the Campbell Island boardwalk just above the decommissioned Beeman Base meteorological station. After running a short distance, the bird stopped and allowed the tourists to observe and photograph it.
“As a birder, when I saw this little, very rare, secretive bird in the shrubbery, I realized this was going to be the Holy Grail of my many years of birding. I was desperate to get a photo; otherwise there was no documented evidence. Luckily this little beauty stayed sitting still for about three-to-four minutes,” said Koos Baars, also of Hamilton, and a twitcher, or committed bird watcher who travels long distances to see a new species. He continued, “This was my most important lifer—a bird which a twitcher has never seen in their life before.”
Campbell Island snipes are part of the Coenocorypha genus of tiny birds, which are known as the New Zealand snipes and found only in New Zealand’s outlying islands. Little is known about New Zealand snipes with their long bills and snort necks, wings and tails. They measure between 19 and 24 cm long, have wingspans between 28 and 35 cm, and weigh between 75 and 120 g. The Campbell Island snipes’ feathers are mostly brown.
Heritage Expeditions’ vessel, the Spirit of Enderby, was anchored in Perseverance Harbour at Campbell Island exactly 200 years after Frederick Hasselborough discovered the island on Jan. 4, 1810. With his discovery came the introduction of rats that had been aboard his ship. The rats wreaked havoc on numerous species of birds, including the snipe, and severely altered the island’s ecology.
Campbell Island snipes were first found in 1997 by chance when researchers were looking for Campbell Island teals on rat-free Jacquemart Island, a small island south of Campbell Island. Following the eradication of rats off the main island in 2001, the precariously-small population of snipes—estimated at 50 to 60 birds at that time—has re-established itself on the main Campbell Island.
“It is fitting that this observation comes exactly 200 years after the island’s discovery and is indicative of the resiliency of these islands,” says Rodney Russ, founder of Heritage Expeditions. “The sighting bodes well for the future of the Campbell Island snipe.”
“Heritage Expeditions also had increasing success in locating the flightless Campbell Island teal, one of the rarer ducks in the world, and the magenta petrel, one of the rarest seabirds, during its voyages in 2009,” notes the company’s operations manager, Nathan Russ.
Founded in 1985, Heritage Expeditions works to increase awareness and conservation of the natural world through responsible expedition travel. This family-owned company operates its own polar-research vessel on expeditions to Antarctica, to the subantarctic islands, through the Pacific, and to far-East Russia. Each expedition, such as the visit to Campbell Island during the Forgotten Islands of the South Pacific tour, is meticulously planned and led, ensuring that its travellers maximize every opportunity to learn and to experience the region while minimizing the impact of their visit.