A brief (inexpert) report on Lord Howe Island, based on a visit from March
18 to April 1.
After a series of dry years, LHI has finally had good rains. The aerodrome
and nearby paddocks are as lush and green as one could possibly hope for and
clearly are going to turn off a particularly fine line of fat-stock - to
whit lovely plump waders well fuelled up for migration.
I don't know when they leave. Didn't seem to be many Whimbrels or Godwits
(perhaps most have left already?), but lots of Ruddy Turnstones, some
resplendent in breeding plumage - I think. (I warned you this is an
inexpert report.) Also a fair number of Golden Plovers. (And quite a few
very contented-looking, (non-migratory) Spur-winged Plovers. All right,
The 'marine' Black Ducks (and Mallard hybrids) seemed happy to revert to
being fresh-water-fowl for a while at least, with various small ponds full
again. I did see six or eight on Ned's Beach, but they remained totally
unmoved by the fish-feeding exercise, whereas previously my experience had
been that they waddled up quite rapidly to snatch any scraps that the fish
missed. (Fishing is prohibited at Ned's Beach and twice a day food scraps
from restaurants are fed to the fish which are quite tame - all sizes up to
about two metres long. They would feed from one's hand ... except that they
wouldn't necessarily distinguish between hand and food!)
A White-faced Heron provided an amusing incident. It was on the road and as
I approached (on bicycle) it lazily flapped over the fence to land in the
adjoining kikuyu paddock. But this paddock wasn't being grazed and with
all the rain the grass was about 60 cm high. As the Heron's feet sank into
the kikuyu without touching bottom, a surprised look was rapidly followed by
very vigorous flapping to get airborne again, then back over the fence to
the mown road-side.
A rail that scurried for cover near the eastern end of the airstrip seemed
very dark in colour - not the usual Buff-banded's coloration. Juvenile
plumage persisting, I suppose.
The land-birds are now mostly quiet. I did not hear a sound from the
Song-thrushes; just a few harsh (alarm/threat?) calls from the Blackbirds;
and only twice in the fortnight did I hear the enchanting soft notes of an
Emerald Dove. There were a few, but only a few, songs from the Golden
Whistlers, and if the Kingfishers spoke, I heard them not. The Currawongs
did provide quite beautiful, and unique to LHI, evening songs, but too
short and too unpredictable as to location, for recording.
I have it on good authority that the Providence Petrels have returned for
their winter breeding. These are the ones that will land on your arm if
you shout to them for ten minutes or so ... or so I am told. The top of Mt
Gower (880 m. or thereabouts) is their favoured nesting location, and I am
not fit enough for climbing Mt Gower.
Mt Eliza, at the other (northern) end of the island, is only 149 m and is an
easy walk. The top is a major Sooty Tern rookery and off-limits to human
visitors while there are eggs or chicks. But the Sooties have all fledged
and one is now permitted to go right to the top for great views south over
the length of this superbly beautiful island, and east along the Malabar
cliffs to the Admiralty Isles. Hundreds of Red-tailed Tropic-birds are
still performing their aerial ballets in front of the cliffs.
The White Tern chicks have also fledged which seems to be grounds for much
celebration. Or more probably it's the freedom from the chore of feeding
the chicks. All day, it seemed to me, there were White Terns just flying
for the joy of it. 'Mirror' flights were common, except that instead of
just two, often there would be three in 'follow-the-leader' aerobatics. Was
junior being taught, I wondered? Or is it just that with the breeding
season over, random pairs and triplets form and reform.
I never tire of watching White Terns, whether in rapid acrobatic flight,
fluttering among the trees like huge white moths, or just demurely sitting
on a branch, quite unconcerned at any human observer close by. Angels
surely, in this paradise that is Lord Howe Island.
Lord Howe Island report for Twitchers and other bird experts:
Ian Hutton now resides, 'twixt Somerset and Blue Lagoon, on LHI.
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