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: 46
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: 46
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: 46
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.
Pete McClelland
Posts: 46
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 5:19 pm

Re: Lord Howe Birding

Postby Pete McClelland » Fri Jul 20, 2018 6:59 pm

Spring is hopefully around the corner (although the locals really dont have much to complain about with the winter here- lows of 10C). The forest birds are starting to build nests, The currawong are starting to get a bit agro- dive bombing, well actually just passing low over your head as the fly from one branch to the next while they follow you along the track as you pass through their territory. I had seen less banded rail and woodhen around so assumed they are nesting but was surprised to have the first woodhen chick for the year reported this week. Also first sooty tern heard last week but seems to have been an old ball as no more since.
Nearly all of the waders have left the island with around a dozen turnstones, 2-3 dozen golden plover, half a dozen whimbrel and 2 BT godwitts being joined by a dozen banded dotterel on their winter holiday. Numbers are pretty rough as I've taken combined max counts from the main locations around the island on the same day but as always you cant be everywhere at once. The Wood sandpiper only hung around for a week before heading away again.
The Providence petrels are still spectacular in the air shortly before dusk but are in a much greater rush to get into their burrows to feed their chicks, so while still worth the walk/bike ride to the base of the mountains, earlier in the season is definitely the highlight for them. Certainly as quiet time for birding here at present but that will all change before long.
Pete McClelland
Posts: 46
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 5:19 pm

Re: Lord Howe Birding

Postby Pete McClelland » Sun Jul 29, 2018 2:11 pm

I recorded the first ducklings of the year this week- a brood of 10 recently hatched Mallards feeding their way across the sports oval. It will be interesting to see how many survive the ever watchful eye of the currawongs for whom a young duckling would be a nice lunch. We have also had a solitary Australian wood duck turn up at the swamp/pond. Its taken up company with the 18 Mallard/ Black ducks that are currently living in that area while there is water present. When the pond drys up the mallards/black ducks tend to disperse around the other open areas of the island. The majority of the ducks on the island are Mallard / mallard hybrids with only around 4 birds that I would call true Black ducks (our grey ducks) as far you I can tell through the binos anyway. This fits in with a research paper on the subject which found only 2 % of the ducks on the island were pure Black duck. There are 3 in the swamp group who, while they congregate with the mallards, are usually in a sub group and so are easy to pick out. The other black duck has been living near a different farm pond for a couple of months paired off with a female mallard. I haven't seen them for a couple of weeks so its possible she is nesting.

This isnt the first wood duck I've seen here with a single bird present for a couple of weeks in 2014 and there are several other records of them along with a range of other waterfowl most of which dont stay long especially if its in the dry season as freshwater habitat is very limited on the island. The Other species of waterfowl that have turned up on the island are: Grey Teal (one of which also turned up when I was here in 2014), Plumed Whistling Duck, Black Swan, Canada Goose, Australian Shelduck, Paradise Shelduck, Chestnut Teal, Hard head duck.

As a side note one of my colleagues here is from England and worked at Slimbridge where the wood duck is called the maned goose (goose possibly because it grazes) . This or maned duck seems to be its international name perhaps to distinguish it from the more widely known American wood duck?
Pete McClelland
Posts: 46
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 5:19 pm

Re: Lord Howe Birding

Postby Pete McClelland » Sun Aug 12, 2018 12:36 pm

The wood duck only hung around for a week before departing for parts unknown so back to counting mallards! I did a trip down to Ball’s Pyramid yesterday with Jack Shick and things were pretty quite bird wise- heaps of grey ternlets /grey noddys along with Providence Petrels, a few Kermadec Petrels and black noddies, masked boobies, little shearwater and the first of the Red Tailed tropic birds coming back on the Northern cliffs. The sooty terns are really building up in numbers off shore and you hear them before you see them. They should come ashore any day now as peak egg laying is around the 20th. As I’ve said previously if you are coming over here for birding contact Jack before you come and say you are keen to join either a birding or fishing charter (to do birding) as both of these put out burly, where as the scenic trip covers more water but doesn’t hang around as much although the views of the pyramid are impressive in themselves. Went down to check out the Providence Petrels last night and while it was beautiful evening for a walk the birds didn’t do there part. Very few in the air and none on the ground. Last week I helped some researchers putting data loggers on some petrels and the number of birds coming in each evening varied greatly with no apparent pattern eg before a storm/ after a storm etc. What ever triggers them to come in or stay away the word goes out pretty fast.
Pete McClelland
Posts: 46
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 5:19 pm

Re: Lord Howe Birding

Postby Pete McClelland » Sun Sep 02, 2018 9:39 am

I've now finished my second stint on Lord Howe, bummer with the timing as things were just starting to get interesting with woodhen and rail breeding, white and sooty terns returning and the shearwaters not far away but thats what happens when work drives the birding. I'll try and write something up but if you are looking at a visit to Lord Howe with birding as a focus and the prime time summer prices are a bit steep then I'd suggest either aiming for October/ November when there's lots of breeding activity or around April when the Providence petrels are at their best - this really is a site worth seeing even if you cant climb up Mt Gower. In fact the birding experience is just as good with a 20min walk along the good track form the end of the road to "Far flats" - just make sure you take a headlight and stay until it gets dark. One of the local guides does tours down there but he's usually leaving just when things are heating up.

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