Lord Howe Birding

Birds of the islands and waters of the South Pacific.
Pete McClelland
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Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 5:19 pm

Re: Lord Howe Birding

Postby Pete McClelland » Wed Jun 20, 2018 8:27 pm

As part of the current ecotourism promotion going on here at the island there has been a weekly (weather permitting) survey for the introduced Masked Owls on the island. The Masked Owl is in the Tyto genus along with Barn Owls and were introduced from Tasmania in the 1920s in a failed biological control attempt for the rats that arrived in 1918. Around 100 Masked owls were imported from Tasmania, where they are now threatened, along with Barn owls from Australia and America. The Masked owl is classified as invasive here as it is believed to have played a role in the demise of the endemic Boobook/ Morepork subspecies through competition for food and nesting cavities and it preys on a range of native species including black winged petrel, White tern, sooty tern and the woodhen. For an unknown reason Masked owls are found at much higher density here on Lord Howe than on the mainland - nearly 10 times the density. There has been an ongoing control programme around the settlement for many years but now the owl is targeted for eradication following the expected knockdown from the rodent eradication. It had been proposed to transfer some owls back to Tasmania but recent genetics work has shown that some masked owls were introduced from locations on Mainland Australia (which are distinct from the Tasmanian birds) so that is not an option. The survey consists of putting staff and volunteers at as many sites as possible around different blocks each time and recording the time and compass bearing of any owls heard so the records can be triangulated and the territory of the owls and population estimated. Masked owls have a diverse range of calls which can make identifying them from the background noise of providence petrels and currawong challenging until you get used to them. Bats flying around add a bit of interest when things are quiet interesting.
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Neil Fitzgerald
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Re: Lord Howe Birding

Postby Neil Fitzgerald » Fri Jun 22, 2018 12:35 pm

Interesting stuff, thanks Pete. Presumably masked owls there are free from some of their natural predators?
Pete McClelland
Posts: 42
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 5:19 pm

Re: Lord Howe Birding

Postby Pete McClelland » Sat Jun 23, 2018 5:38 pm

I'm not aware that they have any predators on the mainland. I think the difference is an abundant year round food supply- terns, and seabirds on the summer then providence petrels in the winter along with rodents. Also lack of competitors for nesting holes here on the island compared to the mainland.
Pete McClelland
Posts: 42
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 5:19 pm

Re: Lord Howe Birding

Postby Pete McClelland » Sat Jun 30, 2018 10:33 am

While doing the airport/ Mosely Park swamp bird counts this morning I saw Jack Shick and Ian Hutton, two of the local birders and bird guides photographing something in the swamp (ephemeral pond). This is always a sure sign that there's something interesting and sure enough there's a wood sandpiper, apparently a first for the island. Andrew Silcocks from Birdlife Australia is on the island at present and had seen it yesterday - its a bird he's very familiar with and confident of the id which made it easy for me.
A goldfinch was also reported recently but I haven't seen it myself. Not many waders around at present so making do watching the banded rails out the window washing on puddles from the recent rain.
Pete McClelland
Posts: 42
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 5:19 pm

Re: Lord Howe Birding

Postby Pete McClelland » Sat Jul 07, 2018 7:20 pm

I recently went out on a fishing trip with Jack Shick who runs Sea to Summit Expeditions here on Lord Howe. Jack is one of the 2 guides who go up Mt Gower but he also runs fishing and bird watching charters. Our trip was focused on the fishing but Jack is a very keen birder and very good bird photographer (have a look at https://www.lordhoweislandbirds.com, so as soon as anything unusual comes around he's wiping the fish off his hands and picking up the camera. The burly trail, shark liver in a bucket, serves a double purpose of attracting both the fish and the birds.
During our 7 hour trip we not only got as good feed of fish but saw
Black browed Mollymawk
Campbell Black Browed Mollymawk
Salvins Mollmawk
Wandering albatross
Sooty Albatross
Kermadec Petrel (light and dark phase)- around here this species only breeds at Balls pyramid
Providence petrels (lots and lots)
Grey ternlet
Black Noddy
Fairy Prion
White headed petrel
Masked booby
Red Tailed tropic bird

Not bad for a fishing trip. Jack has taken out a couple of birding focused trips recently which have not been as diverse as ours but they still ticked off a few species such as the kermadec petrels and white bellied storm petrels. One got a Great winged petrel.

An interesting observation on our trip was the Salvins Molly diving for food. I had read they were capable of this and had seen them upend to body length under water but this one was swimming after the bait as it went down for several metres. It came up like a cork so I presume it was hard work to get down and stay down.

Jack runs birding charters when there is the demand but is happy to take birders along on fishing trips which can be just as productive, or just join a sight seeing trip to balls pyramid - the birds (or the pyramid are a bonus depending on your perspective.

Looks like the wood sandpiper has moved on but will keep an eye out for it.

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