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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Lord Howe Island: November 18 - 21, 2005,
This report is intended to complement the detailed report by Phil Gregory of March 2005, in which he provides details on the Lord Howe avifauna which I will not duplicate. The two reports cover his trip in March 2005 and ours in November 2005, thereby covering each end of the main birding season. Although most of the same birds are present at each period, the distribution appears to be quite different for several species. In addition, his pelagic trip was in the afternoon while ours was a morning trip. Phil’s report can be found at:
Lord Howe is attractive for Australian birders because it offers the chance to pick up several difficult Aussie “ticks”. But the main attraction for any birder is the endemic Lord Howe Woodhen, back from the brink of extinction. Fortunately, they are doing well and appear to be widespread over the island. In addition, seeing seabirds at a breeding location in the hundreds or thousands can be more satisfying than trying to identify a distant speck from a moving boat.
Lastly, the birding is quite easy. Some birds require a bit of luck and perseverance, and some relatively easy hikes. One key is the pelagic for several birds that are not seen or seen only sparingly on Lord Howe.
We spent a long weekend (Friday afternoon – Monday morning) at Lord Howe Island, a two-hour flight from Sydney. There are several flights from Sydney – daily on weekdays, three times daily on weekend, and flights from Brisbane. Qantas operates the only flights, so they are priced accordingly. The supply of apartments on Lord Howe is closely balanced with demand, so it may take a long time to find a vacancy. I started calling about three months ahead and the first six places I checked were full. As expected for an island, it is not inexpensive but it is tourist-oriented with lots of services. However, because of the relaxed atmosphere, it can be frustrating to actually get something done such as renting a bike. There is a maximum of 400 tourists allowed at any one time on the island.
Most lodging is at apartments with kitchenette. We stayed at the Blue Lagoon, which was very nice. It appears that most apartments do not have an on-site office, which can make it difficult to get information. We were promptly picked up at the airport but had to check a few times to find out about our drop-off. But it all worked out fine.
The apartments do not have in-room phones and there is no mobile phone service. Therefore, communicating with the various service providers requires leaving a lot of messages and hoping someone comes by your place with a note. Most pay phones are operated by Telstra and require a phone card; only a few accept coins. The phones at the various apartments are private and do not accept cards, only coins but not $2 coins.
The primary mode of transport is by bicycle and, on trails, by foot. Most of the birding trails are not difficult, but the island has some world-class climbing and hiking trails. Renting a bike is easier than it sounds. The best way is to go to Wilson’s Hire, and rent one there. It is possible to also rent bikes from the apartments, but the absentee operators can be difficult to track down.
Most of the apartments are in the area called The Settlement. The exception is the Capella, which is south of the airport. With this exception, most places are within walking distance of each other and of some beaches.
The visitor center has a lot of information, but it closes at 3PM on Friday and is closed on Saturday. So, if you are arriving on Friday afternoon as we did, it needs to be one of your first stops if you want to pick up information there. Ian Hutton gives slide shows several times a week at the visitor center – highly entertaining and informative.
There are many restaurants, from snack shops to fine dining, but not all are open for dinner and not all are open every day. Many require dinner reservations. Some provide pick-up and drop-off service.
Ned’s Beach has an honor-system shed with snorkel gear, wet suits, kayaks, etc.
Snorkeling is very good around Lord Howe Island, and several operators have short trips to a few sites within the lagoon where the coral and aquatic life is excellent. Ned’s Beach is popular for feeding fish with bread – large (>1-meter) kingfish come into very shallow water to eat the bread. Ned’s Beach is also a key site for nesting Black-winged Petrels, Flesh-footed Shearwaters, and Sooty Terns.
The main variable on a short trip is weather. A storm had come through the day before we arrived which shut in all boats. While this did not affect us directly, it did affect us indirectly because many of the boats that did not go out the day before pushed their entire schedule back a day to accommodate those who had booked on the stormy day. So good luck and flexibility are the keys to enjoying a shorter visit.
When we visited, there were only two boats operating birding and general tour service to Balls’ Pyramid, and one (Phasmid) was booked on a fishing charter. After many frantic calls and messages, we were able to secure a spot on a boat operated by Jack Shick by catching him at the jetty before he left on another trip. Again, it worked out, but for more than a day we did not think we would be going to Ball’s Pyramid. We recommend making tour arrangements ahead of time (which will be dependent on weather) or immediately on arrival by calling every tour operator and also going to the jetty and boat shops to ask around.
There are many trails around the island, but in terms of specialty birds I recommend:
Ned’s Beach: stunning close-ups of Black-winged Petrels and the possibility of anything flying by; at dusk, thousands of Flesh-footed Shearwaters return to their burrows just behind Ned’s Beach – quite a spectacle.
Ball’s Pyramid pelagic: Grey Ternlets, Kermadec Petrels, Flesh-footed and other shearwaters, Black Noddy. Also Red-tailed Tropicbird en route.
Trail to Muttonbird Point – excellent overlook to the Masked Booby colony.
Other birds are seen at various locations around the island as noted in the bird list.
Acknowledgements / Information
Special thanks to Phil Gregory for his report.
Trips to Ball’s Pyramid:
Capt. David, 02-6563-2218
Capt. Jack, 02-6563-2218
Local guide and naturalist:
Ian Hutton, 02-6563-2447
We stayed at:
Blue Lagoon Lodge, 02-6563-2006. But there are many options, depending on availability.
White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae
One at Old Settlement Beach.
Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa x platyrhynchos
At least two dozen of hybrid ducks seem to live on the beach and sea at Ned’s Beach, surviving on handouts from the fish-feeding there. Several appeared to be mostly Pacific Black Ducks.
Masked Booby Sula dactylatra fullagari
Dozens at the nesting site at Muttonbird Point.
Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda
Many on the water near the end of the pelagic. A few on the large southern peaks but distant.
Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes
Hundreds coming into the roosting site at Ned’s Beach at dusk with such density that several banged into us when flying in.
Flesh-footed Shearwater at Ned’s Beach roosting site
Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus
One raft of 10-12 birds while on the pelagic.
Black-winged Petrel Pterodroma nigripennis
Several dozen of these birds were breeding at the south end of Ned’s Beach, giving dramatic close-up views in the late afternoon.
Kermadec Petrel P. neglecta
Only a few seen while on the pelagic trip. They were much shier than the bold Flesh-footed Shearwaters and kept their distance, but they were close enough to see the distinctive white wing markings as they banked around us.
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
One near the jetty.
White Tern Gygis alba
Common around the settlement, nesting in the Norfolk pines and other large trees there. Also common at Ned’s Beach, nesting low and without fear.
White terns at The Settlement
Grey Ternlet Procelsterna cerulea
Hundreds close in during the pelagic. Three seen along Old Settlement beach were questionable until we saw them on the pelagic and confirmed the sighting.
Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata
Thousands nesting in hills north of Ned’s beach. By far the most common bird on the island.
Brown Noddy Anous stolidus
Common around Ned’s Beach and a few elsewhere.
Black Noddy A. minutus
We saw two fly by on Ned’s beach while watching the petrels, but the lighting made the ID less than 100% certain. Then, several seen well on rocks around Ball’s Pyramid.
Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles novaehollandiae
Common at the airport and on any open grassland.
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Common at the airport, several seen at Old Settlement beach as well.
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva
The most common bird at the airport – in the hundreds.
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Six at Old Settlement beach, and four at the pond near the airport.
Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis
One at Old Settlement beach.
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Common around the airport grass.
Buff-banded Rail Rallus philippensis
Common and ridiculously bold; seen almost everywhere on lawns, along roadsides, etc.
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
Dozens seen coming down from the hills at dusk near Old Settlement
Lord Howe Woodhen Tricholimnas (Gallirallus) sylvestris
One unringed bird at the entrance to hospital was our first bird, followed soon by another (ringed) bird. According to Ian Hutton, unringed birds are not uncommon in early November because the banding takes place in late November. Another unringed bird was seen along the trail to Muttonbird Point, and several were heard after dark around the settlement. Someone staying at Mary Challis Lodge said one there was seen daily on the lawn, chasing away Buff-banded Rails.
The bird is quite confiding, as Phil reported. By staying still, we had the bird approach within two meters of us, completely unconcerned about our presence. This could be a hint as to why they were almost exterminated.
Lord Howe Woodhen near the hospital
These birds were seen often, and most had a clean breast or only a few markings near the collar. None had the distinctive tan breast color.
Welcome Swallow Hirundo neoxena
Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica
One fly-by, several heard near the airport.
Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis contempta
This endemic race is quite common, heard constantly around The Settlement.
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos (I)
One on the lawn at Ned’s beach, one perched high and singing brightly along the main road at dawn, and a third in scrub along the main road near the airport.
Blackbird T. merula (I)
Very common and tame.
Silvereye Zosterops lateralis tephropleura / Lord Howe White-eye,
Hutton refers to this common bird as the Lord Howe White-eye, as does Clements. Phil Gregory refers to it as a race of Silvereye. In any case, it is a typical white-eye, seen in flocks and noisy.
Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca (I?)
Pied Currawong Strepera graculina crissalis
This bird was often located first by its loud call. We saw several at Old Settlement, near Muttonbird Point, including one carrying a presumed White Tern’s egg in its mouth, being chased by two White Terns.
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris (I)
Not common at all, only two seen near The Settlement.