Re: Lord Howe Island birds 'tameness'

To: Syd Curtis <>,
Subject: Re: Lord Howe Island birds 'tameness'
From: Frank Hemmings <>
Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 16:47:52 +1100
A little off topic (sorry Michael), but my first experiences with Lord Howe Woodhens took the cake.  I visited the island in January 1990 and stayed with relatives who live near the southern end of the island.  Being early risers my brother and I were awake early the first morning before Ray and Judy, our relatives, awoke, and we were sitting outside the back landing of the house.  A Woodhen appeared pecking with curiosity at my shoes nearby.  It then continued it's investigations by running straight into the house (closing let alone locking the back door was not the done thing at their place), straight down the hallway and took a a left turn into the third room on the left, the master bedroom.  I could hardly believe this but it gets better.  I heard noise as Ray awoke and then swore, apparently finding that the woodhen had defecated (not sure if other words would get through the filter) on their carpet, bolted out and back down the hallway and out the backdoor! True story.

These birds were incredibly tame and curious at times, and were fascinated with the shoelaces on my shoes, pecking at them when they (the shoes) were sitting outside the back door, and even pecking at the laces when the shoes were on my feet.  The tameness ended when larger groups were around. Ray and Judy used to cater seafood BBQs for groups weekly, and when we were there we saw how the birds disappeared during the time other people were around, only to reappear after the last guests had all but drove away.  Two elederly ladies from the UK requested on another of these days if they could quietly sit and wait.  Ray and Judy told them that they could if they liked but that the birds had a habit of waiting until all the guests had gone.  They waited for two hours after all the others had departed, sitting silently in the garden, but no sign of the birds.  Within five minutes of their departure, the birds appeared from the shrubbery and started pecking around the lawn.  Guess I was lucky to be considered a local/resident by the birds!


At 03:25 PM 11/24/04 +1000, you wrote:
Michael Whitehead, wrote (23 Nov):
Went out looking for an Emerald Dove (yet to see one) this morning at Matcham on the NSW Central Coast following up on a tip from Nevil Lazarus. Am still yet to see an Emerald Dove ...

Go East,  Michael,  go East.

To Lord Howe Island, where  Emerald Doves are plentiful and very friendly.  They will walk up to you looking for crumbs if you sit still on the verandah of a Blue Lagoon unit - and presumably ditto other accommodation facilities.  I once stood still on a mutton-bird (Flesh-footed Shearwater) path over Ned's Beach way, and had a family of five walk past my feet, one even paused to consider walking between my boots.   It is generally accepted that if you encounter an Emerald Dove walking  on the forest floor, you would have to run at it to make it fly, otherwise it will simply stroll out of your way.   And what beautiful little birds they are. 

Other species are friendly too.   It's a delightful experience to stand on the top of the Malabar Cliff to watch the spectacular aerial displays  of the Red-tailed Tropic-birds, and have a Sooty Tern ride the breeze to stay poised a metre or so from you head, occasionally pedalling like mad with its webbed feet to maintain position, while it looks you in the face.  Seems to be signalling, "Look how easy it is to fly.  You could do it.   Why don't you try."   (I wonder if that was what happened to Kim, for whom the Lookout is named?)

Then there are the Woodhens - brought back from the verge of extinction by Peter Fullagar and colleagues, and now reasonably plentiful.   Once when doing a bit of weeding to help the Island, I had one work with me all day.  Climbed over my legs when I sat down for a rest. 

Walk the tracks and you may have a curious Currawong follow you for half a kilometre or so.  Mischievous birds, they seem to be - sometimes sneaking up on you from behind and flying past inches from your head.  Never hit you.   Just for fun, I reckon.

Golden Whistlers are plentiful and tuneful.   So are the Blackbirds and Song Thrushes - exotics in one sense, but they found their own way to Lord Howe from either Australia or New Zealand ...  as did the Whistlers, Emerald Doves, and all.

Then there's the sea-birds.   I'm strictly a land person, so I can't comment from personal knowledge, but I believe the list is impressive.  My one exception is the White Tern.    Out at sea they fly with the grace and beauty of swallows, but they nest in the forest and there they flutter around like white moths, uncaring of any human observer.  "Nest" is of course, an exaggeration: the female simply lays her single egg on a flat part of a horizontal branch.  One of nature's minor miracles how they balance it through incubation, and then how the chick clings on though all weathers. 

And I understand that Providence Petrels can be called down to the feet of the birdwatcher simply by shouting at them, though you need to be there autumn/winter for that, and preferably on top of Mt Gower, a stiff climb, only for the fit.

Michael, do yourself a favour and visit Lord Howe Island. 



Frank Hemmings
John T. Waterhouse Herbarium
School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences
University of New South Wales

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