Island, spreading by means of rhizomes instead of by turning down its stolons and rooting them.
Everywhere there is a strong smell of birds, not generally strong enough to be overpowering; in the penguin rookeries it is so strong that one feels inclined to bolt through them. These are numerous and extensive. There are many on the shores, and many in the forest or scrub. Wherever a rookery is formed the timber or scrub dies, and we often found places where the penguins had taken up new ground, killing a piece of scrub alongside a rookery. The noise in the large rookeries was deafening; the big penguins brayed and the young ones squealed. As we walked through the rookeries there was added to other sounds the roar caused by the tramp of thousands of lilliputian feet as the armies fled before us, raising a miniature cloud of dust as they went. Though very harmless birds, they were very pugnacious, and often preferred to stand and fight rather than get out of the narrow tracks.
There were no nestlings; we could only see the sites of downtrodden nests. At the top of the hill we were attacked by sea-hawks or skua-gulls (Stercorarius antarcticus), which watch constantly to surprise young and weak birds. They flew at us furiously, and we had frequently to hold up something to ward them off. Often we could hear the rush of their wings as they passed a foot from a man's head. They are pretty dark birds, with a light-checked colouring on the wings. They are called skua-gulls from their resemblance to a northern species (Stercorarius catarractes), and appear to be rare in New Zealand proper. One mollymawk was noticed nesting alone.
Of small birds we saw a good number—pretty black tomtits (Miro traversi), ground-larks (Anthus novæ-zealandiæ), grass-birds (Sphenæacus fulvus) of a species now rare in New Zealand, and beautiful little snipe. All these were very tame, and were often caught by hand. Mr. Reischek claims that several of them are new species, differing from those described by Sir W. Buller and other writers, but I think I am naming them correctly according to Dr. Otto Finsch.
The snipe (Gallinago aucklandica) is a very graceful little bird. It soon dies in captivity—I suspect of starvation. One got loose on the ship and visited my bed early one morning, and sat upon my chest, close to my face, jumping at flies about the porthole. I tried to catch some of these snipe, following them up closely by the sound as they whistled to each other within a yard of me among the tussocks, but I found that they slipped nimbly into the holes made in the ground by sea-birds.
In the course of the day I managed to secure specimens of nearly all the birds for the Otago Museum. There was one
seen, however, said to be as large as a blackbird, which must be undescribed. All the land-birds were obviously weaker on the wing than their New Zealand congeners; they were also afflicted with a fatal tameness.
It is not known whether a vessel was ever lost on the Snares; they are rather far north for the course of Melbourne ships, but are often sighted. It would not be a nice place to be marooned on, as the water is all polluted by the birds, the penguins apparently taking an especial pleasure in turning the swampy ground at the head of each rivulet into a hideous pool of filth.
The only profit at present derivable from these islands is the young mutton-bird, which is an article of commerce; but they are not now visited for this purpose, as the market is fully supplied from the small islets off the coast of Stewart Island. At some future time they will be productive of considerable wealth as a source of food-supply. They ought, however, to be examined and tested for guano, which might be found to pay. The rocks appeared to be all granite, like those of Stewart Island.
As we left the shore the air was literally dark with mutton-birds flying in every direction, the owners no doubt of the innumerable nests on the shore. I verily believe they might be numbered by millions as they followed their bewildering courses through the air. I am told that towards night they descend upon the land in such numbers as to overwhelm the fires and threaten the stability of the tent of any one encamped there. We all regretted leaving this curiously attractive spot; but in an hour we were at sea again, passing clear of the Snares, close past the rocky Western Snares, and thence turning south towards the Auckland Islands, sighting as we went the high bold cliffs of the western end of the main island, and passing close under them. No dépôt is maintained on the Snares. It is scarcely necessary, as the distance from good harbours in Stewart Island is not great. We had now before us a distance of about 140 miles to run, and with rare good fortune we had a favourable wind.
The Snares were, I believe, discovered by Vancouver, in the last century.