February 1999 - Lord Howe Island

In February 1999 (morning 28th January to early morning 5th February) I participated in a tour of Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island with Australian Ornithological Services led by Phil & Tricia Maher and 5 other participants.  The following is a brief trip report highlighting the main birding sites that we visited and the species that we recorded during the trip.  I recommend reading the trip report by Chris Lester published in Australian Birding in Autumn 1998 (Vol. 4 No. 1), the article by Ian Hutton in Wingspan September 1998 (Vol. 8 No. 3), and Ian Hutton's book Birds of Lord Howe Island Past and Present.  The latter is readily available at the museum or at Joy's Store on the island.

We flew from Norfolk Island airport to Lord Howe Island on a small 10 seater plane on Tasman Airlines (flight time about 2 hours), and departed on a Qantas subsidiary.  We stayed at the Beachcomber Lodge (02 6563 2032) which is reasonable accommodation although the hot water is unreliable and mostly a trickle.  We ate at the Beachcomber Lodge for breakfast (breakfast starts at 8:30 so we usually had an early morning walk) and various restaurants for lunch and dinner.  You can arrange with the lodge to be droped off, but Phil and Trisha hired two small cars to give a lot more flexibility.  Many places provide the Lord Howe Island Visitors' Guide Map which is sufficient for the north end of the island, but you may like to buy the Lord Howe Island Geology map for the whole island, or the Ramblers Guide to Lord Howe Island by Ian Hutton.

We were plagued with windy days for the whole trip, but we managed to get to Balls Pyramid although the sea was choppy.  On what was supposed to be our last day, there were strong winds and rain which led to the cancellation of the plane, and we flew to Sydney a day late.

We were about 4 to 6 weeks too early to see Providence Petrel and Little Shearwater which breed during the winter.

Birding Sites
(Lord Howe Island Airport Terminal S31 32 27.1" E159 04 41.4")

Balls Pyramid (S31 45 02" E159 14 53") - Make this your top priority as the weather is often unsuitable.  Our trip was in choppy seas but the weather was far worse on the following days.  The previous day would have been the best.  The trip was organised through Ron Matthews on the Lulawai (skipper Andy) which is a 40ft cabin cruiser.  It was reasonably comfortable for the five of us who chose to go, but eight would have been more difficult.  On the way there we went into the wind which made it choppy and created lots of spray.  This kept us in the cabin, making it difficult to stand, and viewing was not good.  However the return was with the wind and the seas which made it much easier and we saw a lot more.  The highlight is at Balls Pyramid which towers above you.  We were there for two hours and were mostly in the calm waters on the lee side.  We saw Kermadec Petrels, plus there were good views of Grey Ternlets, shearwaters and a few Black-winged Petrels, etc.  We only saw White-bellied Storm-Petrels while we were moving and most of them were on the return journey.  We were fortunate to see a White-necked Petrel at quite close range on the return, and another very briefly on the way out.

Ned's Beach (S31 31 09" E159 03 55") - You should visit Ned's Beach several times especially at low tide or at 17:30 when the fish are fed.  The tide times are listed each day at the shack.  The Black-winged Petrels at the right hand (eastern) end were a highlight.  There were Sooty Terns on the rocks at the western end.  At low tide walk around the flat reef to look at the clams, sea urchins, sea slugs and a few waders.  This is where we saw a Grey-tailed Tattler.  There is a Sooty Tern colony around this corner.  You must also return to Ned's Beach after dark to see and hear the Flesh-footed Shearwaters return to their burrows.  Be careful because they may crash into you as they land.

Signal Point - This is another highlight after dark when the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (plus a few Flesh-footed) return to their burrows.  Their calls are astounding.

Blinky Beach / Airport Swamp (S31 32 26" E159 04 49") - This was dry when we were there until the last morning after the heavy rain.  There were still a number of waders including a few Red-necked Stints and a Double-banded Plover.  It is worth checking briefly every day.

Airport - The grassy areas around the airport and especially the terminal have a lot of waders especially at high tide.  They are mostly Ruddy Turnstone, Pacific Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit and Masked Lapwing.  This is also worth a quick check every day.

Forest between Airport and Lagoon Beach (S31 32 27" E159 04 41") - From the airport terminal, head towards Lagoon Beach, turn right and walk along the unsealed road to the end.  Return along the road of the beach.  This is the territory of at least one pair of Lord Howe Woodhens and they had four young chicks.  You should also see Golden Whistler and Emerald Dove fairly easily.  Also check the drain along the airport fence at the end of the road.  It was dry and we only saw Purple Swamphen (including a young chick) and a White-faced Heron but there could be waders of interest.  Allow 1 to 2 hours.

Cobby's Corner (S31 32 38" E159 04 35") - This is the southern end of Lagoon Beach and the rocks around towards Lovers Bay.  The waders feed here at low tide.

Golf Course Turnoff (S31 32 38" E159 04 35") - In the small patch of forest on this corner we saw a pair of Lord Howe Woodhen, a Buff-banded Rail, Golden Whistler and the largest group of Silvereyes.

Golf Course (S31 32 41" E159 04 35") - This is worth a scan from Lagoon Road for waders, Buff-banded Rail, Purple Swamphen, Mallard and the chance of Pied Currawong.  We heard a Masked Owl one night.  It responded to the tape but it did not come closer.  This may have been because it was windy, or perhaps it did not want to leave the forest near the club house.

Capella South - This is where we first saw Pied Currawong in the Norfolk Island Pines.  We also saw a few waders and Buff-banded Rail.  On the point there is a small Wedge-tailed Shearwater colony which would be worth a visit after dark.

Mount Lidgbird Goat House Track - This is a fairly easy walk to the turnoff to the Boat Harbour at the saddle and for 200 to 300 metres past this point along Smoking Tree Ridge.  We saw Lord Howe Woodhen, Emerald Dove and Golden Whistler very well and heard Pied Currawong.  This looked the most likely site for seeing cuckoos but we were unsuccessful.  The last part of the walk is very difficult with ropes, but it is rewarded with Red-tailed Tropicbird nesting in the cave.  There are still a few goats in this area.  We saw Lord Howe Woodhen and Buff-banded Rail where we parked the car at the start of the track.  Allow 1.5 hours return to the saddle and 2.5 to 3 hours return to the Goat House.  If you can arrange someone to pick you up, then you can return to the airport via Intermediate Hill.  Allow 1 to 1.5 hours from the saddle.

Little Island - This is a very easy 1.2km flat walk from where you park the car.  We saw Lord Howe Woodhen, Buff-banded Rail, Golden Whistler and Pied Currawong, plus an Australasian Gannet came very close to shore.  Allow 1 hour.

Mount Gower - This is a long difficult walk to the top of Mount Gower.  You must go with a guide (usually Jack Shick).  The walk starts from Little Island and is 6 to 8 hours return.  It would be tempting when the Providence Petrels are breeding.  They start to return in late February / early March.

Muttonbird Point (S31 32 48" E159 05 34") - This walk seems longer and is harder than the 1.6km described.  Their is a viewing platform overlooking the point and Muttonbird Island.  We saw Masked Booby, Sooty Tern and probably a few Common Noddy breeding.  Some Black-winged Petrels were displaying close by.  Allow 2 to 3 hours.

Blinky Beach (S31 32 18" E159 04 51") - This is worth a quick look over the dunes for Nankeen Kestrel, along the beach for Black Noddy etc, or out to sea for passing seabirds.

Transit Hill - This walks starts at Blinky Beach and finishes at Lagoon Road or Anderson Road.  There is not a lot in the way of birds.  Allow 1 to 2 hours.

Clear Place (S31 31 40" E159 04 46") - A nice early morning walk but nothing different to what we saw elsewhere.  Allow 1 to 1.5 hours.

End of Skyline Road (S31 31 23" E159 04 19") - A very easy place to access to seawatch but nothing different to what we saw elsewhere.

Malabar - This walk starts from near Ned's Beach. You pass by a Sooty Tern colony on the way to the top of the cliffs which is a good site to see Red-tailed Tropicbird.  Phil saw the only Common Starling here.  You can return to Ned's Beach or continue on to Kim's Lookout and further if you are looking for the exercise.  Allow 2 hours return to Malabar.

North Bay (S31 31 01" E159 02 42") - This is worth visiting if you have the time.  The easiest way is to take the Islander Tours trip.  You can return on the boat or walk back.  You should see Common Noddy and Black Noddy on the beach, a few waders and a Sooty Tern colony on the western end.  You can walk on the reef at low tide, go snorkelling or walk to Mount Eliza or the Old Gulch.

Mount Eliza - There is a Sooty Tern colony on the top.

Old Gulch - You can see Red-tailed Tropicbird and Common Noddy, plus Grey Ternlet if you walk around the point to the left.  You can see the Herring Pools if you walk around the point on the right.  Be very careful as people have been washed off the rocks.

Old Settlement Beach (S31 31 10" E159 03 27") - This is worth a short walk.  We saw a few waders and a Mallard in the paddocks, two Buff-banded Rails and a chick along the creek near the bridge, and an Emerald Dove.  There is another Flesh-footed Shearwater colony here also.


Mallard - Small numbers (up to five) seen at the start of the track to Muttonbird Point and Intermediate Hill; Ned's Beach when the fish are fed each afternoon at 17:30; behind the Old Settlement Beach; near Capella South; Golf course.

Pacific Black Duck - A few seen by Phil Maher on the last morning at the swamp near Blinky Beach and the airport after the rain.

Kermadec Petrel - About ten seen at Balls Pyramid.  They were mostly dark phase, but at least two were pale phase and one intermediate.  They were mostly flying very high close to the rock but some came close to the boat giving excellent views.

White-necked Petrel - One seen about 30 metres level with the boat about 6.5km from Balls Pyramid on the return.  One probable behind the boat very briefly much closer to Lord Howe island on the way to Balls Pyramid.

Black-winged Petrel - Memorable displays of up to 20 at the eastern end of Ned's Beach.  Good views at many other places.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater - Very common.  They generally seem to feed closer to shore than the Flesh-footed Shearwaters, but some were seen at Balls Pyramid.  There are many colonies with the largest at Blackburn Island which we did not visit.  You must see and especially hear them return after dark.  The easiest place is Signal Point.  The point near Capella South would also be good.

Flesh-footed Shearwater - Abundant with many large colonies in the forests.  The best place to see them return after dark is Ned's Beach but look out as they can crash into you.  There are also a few mixed in with the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters at Signal Point.

White-bellied Storm-Petrel - One flew level with the boat for several minutes on the way to Balls Pyramid, and we saw about eight on the return.

Red-tailed Tropicbird - Most common on the cliffs of Mount Lidgbird near Little Island; Malabar; Balls Pyramid. A few seen at other places.  They were seen nesting by others very close at the Goat House Cave on Mount Lidgbird.

Masked Booby - Many nesting on Muttonbird Island and Roach Island with a few seen at most places on the coast.  Some were nesting at Balls Pyramid.

Australasian Gannet - One sub-adult seen close to shore on the walk to Little Island.

White-faced Heron - One seen flying near the beach end of the airport runway.

Nankeen Kestrel - One seen over the dunes at Blinky Beach. One seen at Muttonbird Point.

Buff-banded Rail - Common and several seen with (up to four) chicks or juveniles.  The best views were at the small bridge at Old Settlement Bridge of two adults and a chick. Near Waimerie Lodge in a paddock we watched a standoff between a Buff-banded Rail and a Lord Howe Woodhen.  The standoff lasted for about 5 minutes with both birds at times being the aggressor.  The Buff-banded Rail several times held its wings half extended to make itself appear much larger.

Lord Howe Woodhen - Common in most patches of forest with (up to four) chicks or juveniles.  Most are colour banded.  The highlight were the four chicks near the airport.  If you clap your hands several times, they often respond by calling, and sometimes they approach very close.  Several lodges / restaurants have them in the garden.

Purple Swamphen - Locally common in the paddocks around the airport with a chick and several juveniles seen.  A few at the golf course.

Bar-tailed Godwit - Common (up to 31) on the grass near the airport building and on the Lagoon Beach close to Cobby's Corner.

Whimbrel - Common (up to 10) on the grass at the airport and in most paddocks.

Grey-tailed Tattler - One seen at low tide on the reef at the eastern end of Ned's Beach and around the point.  Three seen by Phil at the swamp near Blinky Beach and the airport on the final morning after the rain.

Wandering Tattler - One tattler seen below Kim's Lookout, and three seen by Phil flying towards the rocks at the end of the airport runway were thought to be Wandering, but there is a chance they may have been Grey-tailed.

Ruddy Turnstone - Very common (up to 150) on the grass around the airport.  Common at and near the swamp near Blinky Beach and the airport, and on the beach and rocks at Cobby's Corner.  A few seen at North Bay, Capella South and elsewhere.

Red-necked Stint - Three seen on most days that we looked at the swamp near Blinky Beach and the airport, or on the flat rocks at Cobby's Corner at low tide.

Pacific Golden Plover - Very common at the airport (50+) and most paddocks and grassy areas.  Some on the reef at Ned's Beach and Cobby's Corner at low tide.

Double-banded Plover - One seen twice at the dry swamp near Blinky Beach and the airport, once on the airport grass and once on the beach near Cobby's Corner.

Masked Lapwing - Up to ten around the airport and a few seen elsewhere.

Sooty Tern - Abundant with many recently fledged juveniles.  Many could be seen flying very high.  The best places to see the colonies are at Mount Eliza, Malabar and Ned's Beach.

Common Noddy - A few feeding flocks of 500 to 1,000 birds seen, but otherwise mostly seen in small numbers nearly everywhere around the island.  A few appeared to be breeding on Muttonbird Island and Balls Pyramid, and probably at North Bay.

Black Noddy - Fairly common in ones to small groups, very often close to the shore on the beaches.  A few were possibly breeding at North Bay in the tall trees.

Grey Ternlet - Common (100+) at and near Balls Pyramid.  A few seen at Roach Island, Muttonbird Island and near the Old Gulch.

White Tern - Common with many nesting or feeding young.

Rock Dove - Three seen from the boat flying out of a cave below Malabar.

Emerald Dove - Seen very well at many places.  They are quite tame.

Masked Owl - One responded to a tape on the golf course but was not seen.  They were introduced to control rats but they are now being eradicated.

Sacred Kingfisher - Fairly common with more heard than seen.

Golden Whistler - Common in almost all areas of forest and gardens.

Magpie-lark - Most common around the airport but seen in many places.

Pied Currawong - Most common at the south end of the island but seen or heard at Capella South, Intermediate Hill, Transit Hill, Old Settlement Beach, etc.

Welcome Swallow - Very common especially over grassy areas and up to 30 roosting on fences.

Silvereye - Common in small numbers over most of the island.

Common Blackbird - Fairly common around the settlement and gardens.

Song Thrush - Singles seen three times around the settlement in gardens.

Common Starling - One seen by Phil among the Sooty Terns on the track to Malabar.

Copyright Frank O'Connor 1997-2002 Visits Last Modified 31st January 2002