It is the height of summer and seabird activity is frenetic. Chicks of the early breeding species, Sooty Terns, Brown Noddies and Masked Boobies are fledging. A colony of Sooty Terns breed in the spectacular setting of Mt Eliza’s summit and endemic Cicadas emerge in the lowland forests. Black-winged Petrels lay their eggs in the first week of January. The first of the Red-tailed Tropicbirds hatch. Fleshfooted and Wedge-tailed Shearwater eggs hatch. The tiny White-bellied Storm Petrels lay their eggs late in the month. Kermadec Petrels are breeding on Balls Pyramid.
Coral is spawning. Muttonbird and Black-winged Petrel chicks are hatching. Common Noddies and Red-tailed Tropicbirds continue to hatch. One of the island’s most distinctive trees is flowering – the Buttress Scaly Bark. Black Grape, Bloodwood, Mountain Daisy, Brachycome, Moorei Orchid and Blue Plum are also in flower.
Breeding cycles of the summer bird colonies are drawing to a close. Meanwhile, a most dramatic event is taking place in the southern mountains as tens of thousands of Providence Petrels arrive for their winter breeding season. Their dramatic courtship flights and calls make the ascent of Mt Gower a memorable experience for hikers.
The laying season of the White Tern is spread over a long period from October to April. The White Terns lay a single egg on a branch, it’s a delight to see the fluffy grey chicks sitting on the branch once the eggs have hatched. Autumn is the time when mature visiting shorebirds assume breeding plumage before their long migration north. Four species breed above the Arctic Circle, in Alaska and Siberia: Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Pacific Golden Plover and Whimbrel. Another regular visitor is the Double-banded Plover, which breeds in New Zealand in summer
See the departure of the Muttonbirds and Black-winged Petrels as they commence their journey back to the Northern Pacific. Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Brown Noddies and White Terns also leave the area for milder climates. Winter breeding Providence Petrels and Little Shearwaters lay their eggs. Hopwood’s flower May to July.
The seabird colonies are mainly quiet now. At Muttonbird Point the Masked Booby can be observed, they have a prolonged breeding cycle from June to December. An endemic tree known as Island Apple produces a floral stalk directly from the trunk, often near ground level.
Providence Petrel chicks hatch in their burrows on the mountain summits. Little Shearwaters are still sitting on their eggs.
On Roach Island, Little Shearwater chicks are hatching in deep burrows. By the end of the month, the Terns are back, landing at night on the Admiralty Islands. In the last days of August, the first of the Muttonbirds begin to arrive.
Muttonbirds (Flesh-footed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters) have returned. The Grey Ternlet is the first of the summer breeders to lay – a single egg in early September. Lord Howe Island’s land birds start nesting in the spring. The most numerous of these if the tiny Lord Howe White-eye. The English Blackbird and Songthrush are found in most gardens. The local subspecies of Golden Whistler is a conspicuous bird.
The Red-tailed Tropicbird is breeding along the cliffs. Lord Howe Island has the largest breeding colony in the world. Migrant waders return from Arctic breeding grounds. By the end of the month, the first of the summer flowers are in evidence – Sallywood, Mountain Rose, Pumpkin Tree, Island Pine and the Boar Tree. Flowers of the Wedding Lily only last a single day. This plant is endemic, from a genus otherwise found only in Southern Africa.
Masked Booby chicks are present in all stages of growth. Grey Ternlets and Providence Petrel chicks have fledged. The Black-winged Petrel is one of the last summer birds to arrive. Muttonbird colonies are relatively quite as many birds leave the island after mating for a short honeymoon period before returning to lay their single egg in the last weeks of the month.
One of the reasons for Lord Howe’s inclusion in the World Heritage list is its unique vegetation. There are about 160 species of native flowering plants and 57 species of ferns. Many of these plants are best seen in summer while in flower. The giant heath known as Fitzgeraldii is a spectacular endemic tree common on the mountain summits. In the sheltered forest, the extraordinary Pandanus Tree is beginning its flowering period.
Nature calendar information sourced from Island Naturalist Ian Hutton