Saturday, 26 April 2014

Lord Howe Island birds

Two Lord Howe Island Pied Currawongs on the summit of Mt Gower
Oceanic islands, far from large landmasses, often have a suite of unique fauna, and as Lord Howe Island is quite isolated, it has such a list. Unfortunately, as with many islands, some of the native species have been lost, a euphemism for having been eaten to extinction by man or animals introduced by man. Nevertheless, it still has the character of a wild island, especially up on Mount Gower (see previous post) and here are a few birds which added to my recent experience there.

The local subspecies of Pied Currawong has a longer, narrower bill than the nominate race.
As we climbed up through the forest to the plateau, loud chuckles and coughs followed us from the thick canopy. These were the calls of the local Pied Currawongs Strepera graculina crissalis, which have a distinct island accent, and they seemed to be telling one another of our approach.

A little more secretive, but never timid, and quite happy to forage around our feet as we passed, were the Woodhens Gallirallus sylvestris, This flightless species was saved from extinction, by the collection of a group of birds which had escaped predation on the almost inaccessible summit plateau, screened off from pigs etc by cliffs. The birds bred successfully in captivity and now that birds are running wild in the lower forest as well as the plateau, the future looks bright for the species.

 Lord Howe Island Woodhens forage for food in the rich basalt and leaf-litter soils 
Meanwhile all around, there is the incessant calling of Providence Petrels Pterodroma solandri in the sky.

Providence Petrels wheel around the Mt Gower cliffs
Ocean, cliffs, high hilltop, mist forest and flocks of petrels - a wonderful experience
There aren't many viewpoints out from the plateau as the forest is so dense, but looking out over the ocean from so high added an extra quality to the scene. Then our guide, Dean, called some petrels down. All he did was give a few yodels and in they came, crashing through the canopy and onto the ground.

Some petrels landed clumsily on branches
Others crashed to the ground and immediately started to squabble

They had no fear of us whatsoever
Unfortunately for the species, due to their disregard for humans, Providence petrels were eaten to extinction on neighbouring Norfolk Island. They were so easy to kill. There were more people on that island than Lord Howe, as there still is today, and it is probably lucky for the birds that Lord Howe has never been highly populated by man. Although who knows what hidden anthropogenic dangers might still wipe them out - they eat plastic debris in mistake for food, it accumulates and fills their stomachs, eventually causing death by starvation. Let's hope this doesn't lead to another extinction.

To see a clip of David Attenborough calling down Providence Petrels on Lord Howe Island click here

No comments:

Post a Comment