Thanks to Peter and Linda for their photos.
According to Simpson and Day’s Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, Lord Howe and nearby Ball’s Pyramid lie “570 km off the eastern coast of New South Wales: latitude 31 degrees 33′ S; longitude 159 degree 05′ E. … The island is about 11 km long and up to 2.8 km wide; total land area is about 1455 hectares. … The island is subtropical and of submarine volcanic origin. Balls Pyramid, a volcanic stack or spire, rises to 551 m and is 23 km to the SE”.
Because the island is a long way from any large mass of land (Australia is the closest), there are a lot of vagrant birds – Simpson and Day’s 1996 checklist for Lord Howe has 99 species listed as vagrants (Simpson and Day glossary: ‘a bird found in an area that is not its usual habitat, having strayed there by mistake, e.g. through disorientation, or by adverse winds’) – albatross, petrels, shearwaters, cormorants, sandpipers, spoonbills and others. There are three regular visitors (Australasian gannet, cattle egret and swamp harrier); five irregular visitors (eastern curlew, Latham’s snipe, red-necked stint, shining bronze-cuckoo, long-tailed koel); and only four endemics (not found anywhere else, living and breeding on the island – the woodhen, Tricholimnas sylvestris; Lord Howe white-eye, Zosterops tephropleura; and Lord Howe currawong, Strepera graculina crissalis).
Many birds are seasonal residents only, breeding on the main island or small islands nearby (such as Ball’s Pyramid, below) and flying away with their young.
The buff-banded rail (Gallirallus philippensis, below) is a resident, listed as either introduced or self-introduced.
The nankeen kestrel (Falco cenchroides, below) is listed as a breeding resident, self-introduced (I presume a couple or more flew or got blown over from the mainland).
The Pacific golden plover (Pluvialis fulva, below) is listed as an annual migrant, summer resident – it flies away for winter).
The little shearwater (Puffinus assimilis) chicks (below) stay in their burrows at this time of year. The adults, which look like this, go out to feed during the day, coming back to the burrow at night. Their cries are very loud: ‘PICK ME! PICK ME! PICK ME!’, on and on. It was an awesome moment, standing in the forest amid the burrows at dusk, and having birds literally dropping out of the skies all around me, hit the ground running and dart into their burrows. How do they know which burrow of thousands is theirs? If you visit in breeding season and your lodging is anywhere near the burrows, make sure you take earplugs! Little shearwaters are annual migrants, breeding on Lord Howe and leaving in the summer.
White terns (Gygis alba, below) are really sweet-looking. Females lay an egg in a depression on a branch of a tree. How any of them survive this precarious position I do not know – those branches do a lot of swaying. White terns are annual migrants, breeding on Lord Howe and leaving in the winter.
The flightless woodhen (Gallirallus sylvestris) is a bad news/good news story. Rats that came off ships, plus feral cats, pigs and hunting, destroyed eggs and chicks, until fewer than 30 adults were left. A breeding program was put in place, and now there are about 250.
I’ll write more about LHI birds in another post.