Ian Hutton, The Lord Howe Island Signal
It is seventeen months since the Rodent Eradication, and the birdlife on the Island is thriving. Woodhens are occurring in bigger numbers than ever before and are appearing in areas where they have not previously been seen. The Board team, doing the latest Woodhen count, say the numbers will be up significantly on the November 2020 count of 443.
I have been lucky enough to see two waves of bird increases on the Island. In the late 1970’s, island men removed pigs from the mountains, the rangers trapped feral cats and the Board introduced a ban on domestic cats. From that time on, the Woodhen numbers increased from around 30 birds to 250; and all bird numbers increased as a result of removing these predators. In particular, Sooty terns starting breeding on many beaches from which the cats had evicted them – North Beach, Neds Beach, Middle Beach and Blinky Beach. Red tailed tropicbird numbers have increased dramatically. Little shearwaters and Black noddies, pushed off the Island by cats long ago, returned to breed in 1990.
With the removal of the rodents and owls in 2019, we are seeing another dramatic increase in bird life – not just the Woodhens, but all land birds, especially Emerald doves. There are also more seabirds: Black-winged petrel numbers are increasing; Grey ternlets are being seen on rock cliffs from Ned’s Beach to Middle Beach, Brown noddies are increasing in areas where they breed.
In addition, there are two seabirds that should recolonise the Island with the removal of rats and owls. In 1914, bird collector, Roy Bell, recorded Kermadec petrels and White-bellied storm petrels breeding on the Island – but the rats and introduced owls had pushed them off by the 1930’s. However, these birds remained as breeding populations on offshore islands, including Balls Pyramid. Remains of White bellied storm petrels have occasionally been found on our main island, indicating they have attempted to breed here but were being eaten by rats and/or owls. Occasionally Kermadec petrels are seen cruising low over the cliffs and forest areas of the Island, possibly looking to come back too. Now that the predators have been removed, these two seabirds should again recolonise the main island, so look out for them.
Rare bird sighting
So far 237 different birds have been recorded on Lord Howe Island, and last week a new record was added. Visiting bird watcher, Hans Wohlmuth, spotted an unusual looking godwit at North Bay. Bar tailed godwits regularly visit the Island each summer, but this one looked a bit different, and photographs confirmed it was indeed a Hudsonian godwit – the first record of this bird on the Island. It has been seen all last week on sea grass flats at Old Settlement and North Bay; or the airfield grassy areas. This bird breeds near the tree line in north western Canada and Alaska, and also on the shores of Hudson Bay.
Hudsonian godwits migrate to South America and the Caribbean, and are vagrants to Europe, Australia, and South Africa. This is the first record for Lord Howe Island, bringing the new total of birds sighted on the Island to 238.
This article appeared in The Lord Howe Island Signal, 31 March 2021.