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Variation in the bill colour of the white-capped mollymawk (Thalassarche cauta steadi)

Notornis, 67 (1), 333-340

A.J.D. Tennyson (2020)

Type of work: Full article

The white-capped mollymawk (Thalassarche cauta steadi) and Tasmanian mollymawk (T. cauta cauta) have discreet breeding sites, but away from their breeding grounds, where their at-sea ranges overlap, they are difficult to identify. The bill colour of these taxa has recently been considered to differ, but there is much conflicting information in published accounts. Three key differences often discussed are the amount of yellow on the culminicorn, the amount of yellow on the cutting edge to the upper mandible, and the amount of darkness on the mandibular unguis. In January 2018 I assessed these characters in 100 adult white-capped mollymawks at their Disappointment Island breeding site and found that each character was variably present. The majority of white-capped mollymawks lacked a yellow base to their culminicorn and had a dark mark on their mandibular unguis. In contrast, it has been reported that the majority of adult Tasmanian mollymawks have yellow at the base of their culminicorn and lack a dark mark on their mandibular unguis. While these characters can be used as a guide to identify these taxa, a minority of individuals of each taxon show the ‘typical’ bill colours of the other taxon. The amount of yellow on the cutting edge to the upper mandible varied between individual white-capped mollymawks, and so this is not a useful identification character.

Birds of the Auckland Islands, New Zealand subantarctic

Notornis, 67 (1), 59-151

C.M. Miskelly; G.P. Elliott; G.C. Parker; K. Rexer-Huber; R.B. Russ; R.H. Taylor; A.J.D. Tennyson; K.J. Walker (2020)

Type of work: Full article

The Auckland Islands are the largest island group in the New Zealand subantarctic region, and have the most diverse avifauna, including eight endemic taxa. We present the first comprehensive review of the avifauna of the Auckland Islands, based on a database of 23,028 unique bird records made between 1807 and 2019. At least 45 species breed (or bred) on the islands, with a further 77 species recorded as visiting the group as migrants, vagrants, or failed colonisers. Information on the occurrence of each species on the different islands in the group is presented, along with population estimates, a summary of breeding chronology and other reproductive parameters, and diet where known. The frequency at which 33 bird species were encountered during visits to the seven largest islands is compared graphically to facilitate comparison of each island’s bird fauna in relation to habitat differences and the history of introduced mammals. Disappointment Island (284 ha) is the least modified island in the group. However, it lacks forest, and so has a very restricted land bird fauna, lacking ten species that breed on other islands in the group. Auckland Island (45,889 ha) is the only major island in the group where introduced mammals are still present. As a result, it also has a depauperate bird fauna, with at least 11 species completely absent and a further seven species reported at lower frequencies than on the next largest islands (Adams and Enderby Islands).

Ornithological discovery, exploration, and research on the Auckland Islands, New Zealand subantarctic

Notornis, 67 (1), 11-58

C.M. Miskelly; R.H. Taylor (2020)

Type of work: Full article

The Auckland Islands comprise the largest and most researched island group in the New Zealand subantarctic region, and have the largest number of endemic bird taxa. Paradoxically, they are the only one of the five island groups that has not yet been the subject of a comprehensive avifaunal review. We summarise the history of ornithological exploration of the group, and where this information is held, based on a database of 23,028 bird records made between 1807 and 2019. More than 76% of these observations were unpublished, with the two largest sources of information being Heritage Expedition wildlife logs (5,961 records) and records collected during the Second World War coastwatching ‘Cape Expedition’ (4,889 records). The earliest records of endemic taxa are summarised, along with the earliest records of significant seabird breeding colonies. Citizen science (principally eBird, with 1,597 unique records) is a rapidly growing source of information, and new records of vagrant species continue to accumulate at a rapid rate. Compared with other subantarctic islands, Auckland Islands’ birds have received very little research attention, with most effort to date focused on a few large surface-nesting seabird species.

Introduced land mammals and their impacts on the birds of the subantarctic Auckland Islands

Notornis, 67 (1), 247-268

J.C. Russell; S.R. Horn; C.M. Miskelly; R.L. Sagar; R.H. Taylor (2020)

Type of work: Full article

Since the European discovery of the Auckland Islands, at least ten species of land mammals have been introduced there. Most arrived in the first half of the ninteenth century during periods of exploitation by sealers and whalers, followed by short-lived Māori and European settlements at Port Ross. Several species required multiple introductions before becoming established. For those populations that naturalised, cattle (Bos taurus) occupied Enderby Island and were eradicated by 1993, goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) remained restricted to the northern end of Auckland Island and were eradicated by 1991, while pigs (Sus scrofa) spread across the entire Auckland Island and remain there today. Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) established on Rose and Enderby Islands, and were eradicated in 1993. Cats (Felis catus) and mice (Mus musculus domesticus) were both first recorded in 1840 on Auckland Island and remain there today. Rats (Rattus spp.) have never established on the Auckland Islands. Collectively, cattle, goats, sheep (Ovis aries), pigs, and rabbits transformed habitats and altered ecosystem processes, and suppressed tussock, megaherbs, and woody vegetation on Auckland, Enderby, Rose, Ewing, and Ocean Islands. Cats and pigs are together responsible for the extirpation or major reduction of surface-nesting and burrowing seabird colonies, and ground-nesting land birds from Auckland Island. Before dying out on Enderby Island, pigs had similar impacts there. Mice have altered invertebrate community composition and are likely responsible for lower abundancies of wētā (Dendroplectron aucklandense) and large weevils (Curculionidae) on Auckland Island. Disappointment Island remained free of introduced mammals, while on Adams Island they had only fleeting and minimal impact. Humans also had direct impacts on birds through hunting for consumption, with large surface-nesting seabirds severely affected around Port Ross. The Auckland Island merganser (Mergus australis) was driven to extinction by presumed mammal predation and well-documented museum collecting. Eradication of pigs, cats, and mice from Auckland Island and Masked Island (Carnley Harbour) would remove the last introduced mammals from the New Zealand subantarctic region.

First northern giant petrel (Macronectes halli) breeding population survey and estimate for the Auckland Islands, New Zealand

Notornis, 67 (1), 357-368

G.C. Parker; R.K. French; C.G. Muller; G.A. Taylor; K. Rexer-Huber (2020)

Type of work: Full article

This first breeding population estimate of northern giant petrels (Macronectes halli) in the Auckland Islands group involved whole-island censuses, apart from the main Auckland Island, in the 2015-16 breeding season, and multi-year repeat visits to a subset of island colonies. Parallel line-transects in giant petrel habitat were used to survey the number and spatial distribution of pre-fledging chicks. The Auckland Islands 2015-16 whole-island census resulted in a count of 216 northern giant petrel chicks on eight of the 15 islands in the group. Applying a simple correction factor, the breeding population in 2015 is estimated as c. 340 breeding pairs (range 310–390). This estimate is higher than historical non-quantitative records of 50–200 breeding pairs. Multi-year counts on Enderby, Rose, Frenchs, Ocean, Disappointment, and Adams Islands showed some inter-annual variability, but other island colonies remained more stable. The northern giant petrel colony on Enderby Island has increased from two chicks in 1988 to 96–123 chicks in 2015–18 (four annual counts undertaken).

Population estimate for yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes) in the subantarctic Auckland Islands, New Zealand

Notornis, 67 (1), 299-319

C.G. Muller; B.L. Chilvers; R.K. French; J.A. Hiscock; P.F. Battley (2020)

Type of work: Full article

Accurate long-term monitoring of a threatened species’ population size and trend is important for conservation management. The endangered yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) is a non-colonial breeder. Population monitoring of the subantarctic population has focused on beach counts rather than nesting birds. Here, we combined intensive nest-searching and counts of transiting penguins on Enderby Island, Auckland Islands, over 3 years to establish the relationship between count numbers and breeding birds. Morning beach counts of transiting penguins were extrapolated to estimate breeding population for the entire Auckland Island group from 2012 to 2017. Breeding numbers varied considerably between years, but overall did not appear to be declining in the short term. Breeding birds at the Auckland Islands averaged 577 pairs annually over the three ground-truthed breeding seasons, similar to the lower estimate of 520–680 pairs from the last survey in 1989, but less than the higher estimate of 650–1,009 pairs generated from that survey. Direct comparison of beach counts indicated a large decline, but these may be more prone to uncertainty. Large variations between years indicated variable breeding effort. The Auckland Islands (particularly Enderby Island) represent 37–49% of the total breeding population for yellow-eyed penguins, indicating the importance of the subantarctic populations for the species. We recommend ongoing monitoring, including mark-recapture methods, for future population estimates. At least 50% of the individuals in an area should be marked to reduce confidence intervals of estimates.

Development of aerial monitoring techniques to estimate population size of great albatrosses (Diomedea spp.)

Notornis, 67 (1), 321-331

G.B. Baker; G.P. Elliott; R.K. French; K. Jensz; C.G. Muller; K.J. Walker (2020)

Type of work: Full article

Two approaches to estimating the population size of great albatrosses (Diomedea spp.) were tested in the Auckland Islands, New Zealand. The first approach used a series of aerial photographs taken on Adams Island to produce high-resolution photo-mosaics suitable for counting nesting Gibson’s wandering albatross (Diomedea antipodensis gibsoni). The second involved a direct count from a helicopter of southern royal albatross (D. epomophora) breeding on Enderby Island. Both techniques produced results that closely matched counts of albatrosses attending nests derived from ground counts, although aerial counts could not determine whether birds were sitting on eggs or empty nests. If estimates of breeding pairs are required, aerial counts of nests require a correction factor to adjust for birds that are apparently nesting but have not laid. Such correction factors are best based on ground counts undertaken simultaneously with the aerial counts. Used in conjunction with correction factors, the two techniques provide a method of estimating the population size of great albatrosses breeding in remote areas where it may be logistically difficult to undertake ground counts of the whole population.

Subantarctic Adams Island and its birdlife

Notornis, 67 (1), 153-187

G.P. Elliott; K.J. Walker; G.C. Parker; K. Rexer-Huber; C.M. Miskelly (2020)

Type of work: Full article

Adams Island (9,693 ha) is the second-largest island in the Auckland Islands group, and the largest island in New Zealand on which introduced mammals have never become established. Adams Island is forested on the northern sheltered parts of its coastline, and has shrubland, grassland, and fellfield at higher altitudes, and herb-field in fertile open sites. Sheer cliffs dominate the exposed, southern side of the island, and above them, narrow shelves support lush herb-fields. This diversity of habitat in close proximity supports unique communities of birds, with most species in remarkable abundance due to the absence of introduced predators. With the notable exception of the Auckland Island merganser (Mergus australis), the island’s birdlife is close to what it would have been in pre-human times, and includes high densities of species that are now rare or missing on nearby Auckland Island. This paper describes the island, the history of ornithological exploration, and the past and current state of the avifauna. The 48 extant bird species recorded from the island comprise 22 land birds and 26 seabirds, of which 34 species (16 land birds and 18 seabirds) have been recorded breeding or are likely to be breeding there. Eight species introduced to New Zealand have also made their way to Adams Island, and six probably breed there.

Birds of Enderby Island, Auckland Islands, New Zealand subantarctic

Notornis, 67 (1), 189-212

R.K. French; C.M. Miskelly; C.G. Muller; R.B. Russ; G.A. Taylor; A.J.D. Tennyson (2020)

Type of work: Full article

Enderby Island is a much-visited small island in the New Zealand subantarctic, and is an important area for birdlife. However, despite this, the bird community of Enderby Island has never been systematically described. We summarise bird records on Enderby Island from 1840 to 2018. Using these data we describe the bird community with an emphasis on resident species, and compare the frequency of sightings before and after eradication of invasive mammals in 1993. We also investigate trends in bird sightings from 1992 to 2018. There was a significant increase in the sightings of some species, including tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) and silvereye (Zosterops lateralis), and a significant decrease in others, including white-fronted tern (Sterna striata). Some species, such as New Zealand falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae) and Auckland Island snipe (Coenocorypha aucklandica aucklandica), have recovered successfully following dramatic historical declines. We hypothesise that these trends in sightings are driven by changes in human exploitation, the introduction and subsequent eradication of browsing mammals and mice, changes in the abundance and structure of the invertebrate community, and changes in vegetation cover. However, we believe that trends in sighting rates of southern royal albatross (Diomedea epomophora) may be an artefact of changes in visitor behaviour following the construction of a boardwalk, rather than changes in the species’ abundance.

Genetic analyses reveal an unexpected refugial population of subantarctic snipe (Coenocorypha aucklandica)

Notornis, 67 (1), 403-418

L.D. Shepherd; M. Bulgarella; O. Haddrath; C.M. Miskelly (2020)

Type of work: Full article

Auckland Island snipe (Coenocorypha aucklandica aucklandica) are presumed to have occurred throughout the Auckland Island archipelago but became restricted to a subset of the islands following mammal introductions. Snipe were known to have survived on Adams Island, Ewing Island, and Disappointment Island. However, it is uncertain whether snipe were continually present on Enderby Island and/or adjacent Rose Island. These islands lie near Ewing Island, and both hosted a suite of introduced mammals until the last species were eradicated in 1993. Using SNPs generated by ddRAD-Seq we identified four genetically distinct groups of snipe that correspond to the expected three refugia, plus a fourth comprised of Enderby Island and Rose Island. Each genetic group also exhibited private microsatellite alleles. We suggest that snipe survived in situ on Rose and/or Enderby Island in the presence of mammals, and discuss the conservation implications of our findings.

Shipwrecks and mollymawks: an account of Disappointment Island birds

Notornis, 67 (1), 213-245

K.J. Walker; G.P. Elliott; K. Rexer-Huber; G.C. Parker; P.M. Sagar; P.J. McClelland (2020)

Type of work: Full article

This paper describes the birds of Disappointment Island, a small pristine island in the subantarctic Auckland Islands archipelago, from an accumulation of observations made by ornithologists during 16 visits to the island during 1907–2019. The island supports large populations of both the Auckland Island rail (Lewinia muelleri) and the Auckland Island teal (Anas aucklandica), most of the global population of the New Zealand endemic white-capped mollymawk (Thalassarche cauta steadi) – an annual average of 63,856 breeding pairs during 2009–17, an estimated 155,500 pairs of the circumpolar white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis), and unquantified numbers of smaller petrels. The topography and vegetation communities of the island are described, the history of visits by ornithologists to the island is outlined, and a list of bird species and their breeding status is recorded.

Holocene bird bones found at the subantarctic Auckland Islands

Notornis, 67 (1), 269-294

A.J.D. Tennyson (2020)

Type of work: Full article

More than 3,500 Holocene bones, representing at least 853 individual birds, have been recovered on the uninhabited subantarctic Auckland Islands, south of New Zealand. Today this island group has a rich seabird and land-bird fauna, although there have been at least four bird extinctions (a duck, two petrels and a plover) due to predation by introduced mammals and hunting by humans. The Holocene bone fauna, overwhelmingly from sand dunes on Enderby Island, is dominated by seabirds still found at the island group (particularly diving petrels Pelecanoides spp., southern royal albatrosses Diomedea epomophora, and prions Pachyptila spp.). Remains of all endemic taxa (apart from the Auckland Island tomtit Petroica macrocephala marrineri) were recovered from the deposits. All the taxa known to have gone extinct at the island group have now been recovered in Holocene bone deposits, except for the shore plover (Thinornis novaeseelandiae). The deposits indicate also that the abundance of other species has changed. For example, both the eastern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes filholi) and white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) are common in the Enderby Island deposits but are rare on the island today, and the Auckland Island rail (Lewinia muelleri) is present as bones in these dunes but has no historical records from the island. This information on the prehistoric distributions of birds will assist the management of the avifauna of the Auckland Islands, which is currently the subject of a major ecological restoration programme.