Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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Dunedin rings its bells today for the return of the Northern Royal Albatrosses - and the Royalcam chick gets a satellite tracker

 Tiaki tracker 1
Tiaki, the Royalcam chick gets a satellite tracker; photograph by Theo Thompson

The Royal Albatross Centre at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head has announced that the annual ‘ringing of the bells’ across the city of Dunedin will be taking place today to celebrate the first globally Endangered Northern Royal Albatross Diomedea sanfordi returning to the mainland colony for the new breeding season and heralding the arrival of spring.  The centre writes on its Facebook page: “The city Churches and Schools will ring bells at 1pm [New Zealand Time Zone] on Monday the 13th September 2021 and we’d love lots of bell-ringers throughout Dunedin to join in and ring their bells as well to help us celebrate.”  View a video of the bell of Dunedin's St Paul's Cathedral sounding out.  Unusually, the first bird to return is a young male, colour banded as YL (yellow lime) on 7 September soon after its arrival - and not a bird that had already bred in an earlier season.  The bird had fledged in September 2017 from the colony and not been seen ashore previously.

YL Northern Royal AlbatrossBack from travels.  The four-year old YL; photograph by Theo Thompson

To add to the excitement the 2020/21 season’s livestreaming ‘Royalcam’ chick, named Tiaki and identified by DNA as a female, was fitted with a solar-powered GPS tracker on 9 September (at an age of 228 days) shortly before its expected fledging by researchers from Parker Conservation and Department of Conservation (DOC) ranger Theo Thompson.  Tiaki forms part of a wider study of the at-sea movements of Northern Royal Albatrosses, including the birds nesting on the Chatham Islands where most of the species’population breeds.  “Tiaki's parents LGL and LGK received the same type of tracker earlier this year, both of which have given us valuable data.”  The first of this season’s 30 surviving chicks was thought to have fledged on 6 September.

Tiaki wingspread
Soon to fledge: Tiaki spreads her wings, exposing the back-mounted satellite tracker; Royalcam photograph

Tiaki 12 September 2021 Sharyn Broni
Metal- and colour-banded Tiaki on 12 September, photograph by Sharyn Broni
Still present on 14 September when she regurgitated a bolus and weighed in at 8 kg in the morning, 233 days since hatching on 24 January 2021 (click here)

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The back-mounted satellite tracker with its extended aerial in place; photograph by Theo Thompson

Read more about the management of the Northern Royal Albatross colony from DOC Ranger Sharyn Broni here.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 13 September 2021, updated 14 September 2021

Featuring ACAP-listed species and their photographers: the Wandering Albatross by Alexis Osborne

Alexis Wandering Albatross HeadshotAn old adult male Wandering Albatross on Marion Island

NOTE:  This is the sixth in an occasional series that aims to feature photographs of the 31 ACAP-listed species, along with information from and about their photographers.  Here, Alexis Osborne writes about his sojourns on two sub-Antarctic islands which included studying moult in the globally Vulnerable Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans towards his M.Sc. degree.

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Alexis Osborne approaches a non-breeding Wandering Albatross under research permit as part of his M.Sc. study on moult

Alexis Wandere Kim Stevens
Photographing wing moult in a Wandering Albatross on Marion Island, photograph by Kim Stevens

I started my journey to my first sub-Antarctic island in 2014, not knowing that this was going to be the start of big things.  As a young boy growing up in the arid Northern Cape of South Africa, I never dreamt of travelling at sea for days on end, let alone living on islands for major parts of my life.  My first voyage was to Marion Island where I spend a year and where I also fell in love with seabirds.  On Marion I was largely responsible for setting up a project examining moult patterns in Northern Giant Petrels Macronectes halli and Wandering Albatrosses.  Upon my return to South Africa I obtained a B.Sc. Honours in Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town and followed this with a M.Sc. through the university’s FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology that was based on the moult study I had worked on at Marion Island previously .  During 2017 I had the opportunity to travel back to Marion for a month to collect more data for my Master’s project and later in the year to Gough Island on the annual takeover.  I also spent the 2017/18 summer in Antarctica assisting the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) to collect data on seabirds.

Alexis Osborne Wandering Albatross 3
Young Wandering Albatrosses display in a group, known as a ‘gam’

During my visit to Gough Island I knew immediately I wanted to stay for longer and when the opportunity presented itself in 2018 to return to Gough Island for a year, I grabbed it with both hands.  I was employed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (UK’s BirdLife partner) as a seabird biologist monitoring the island’s threatened birds.  I enjoyed my time on the island so much that I decided to extend my stay for another year.  In 2020 I was awarded my Master’s degree, publishing my first paper from the thesis this year

Alexis Wandering Albatross Incubating
A breeding pair; the larger and whiter male (left) incubates the single egg

In 2020 I returned to South Africa for a few months before I headed back to Gough Island to be part of the Gough Island Restoration Programme (GIRP), which entails an international team of experts working to eradicate invasive House Mice Mus musculus from the island.  I have recently returned from Gough Island once more.  Being part of the mouse eradication team has been such an amazing experience, just to be able to see no mice in sight has been the best feeling and I can’t wait for the rest of the wildlife to experience this and - if the eradication effort is proven successful in two years’ time - to see the island being restored to what it was before the mice arrived.

Alexis Wandering Albatross Sunset
The sun sets on a pair of Wandering Albatrosses on Marion Island
Photographs by Alexis Osborne

Next, we will be focusing our attention via the Mouse-Free Marion Project back to Marion Island where we hope that species such as the Wandering Albatross that I studied will also be able to experience a mouse-free environment.

References:

Dilley, B.J., Hedding, D.W., Henry, D.A.W., Rexer-Huber, K., Parker, G.C., Schoombie, S., Osborne, A. & Ryan, P.G. 2019.  Clustered or dispersed: testing the effect of sampling strategy to census burrow-nesting petrels with varied distributions at sub-Antarctic Marion Island.  Antarctic Science  31: 231-242.  [click here]

Dilley, B.J., Schoombie, S., Stevens, K., Davies, D., Perold, V., Osborne, A., Schoombie, J., Brink, C.W., Carpenter-Kling, T. & Ryan, P.G. 2018.  Mouse predation affects breeding success of burrow-nesting petrels at sub-Antarctic Marion Island.  Antarctic Science 30: 93-104. [click here]

Osborne, A. 2020.  Understanding Moult Patterns in Albatrosses and Petrels breeding on Marion and Gough Islands.  MSc thesis.  Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town.  82 pp.  [click here]

Osborne, A. & Ryan, P.G. 2021.  Using digital photography to study moult extent in breeding seabirds.  Ostrich  doi10.2989/00306525.2021.1897699 plus two photographs in supplementary information.  [click here]

Ryan, P.G., Ferreira, C., Perold, V., Osborne, A. & Jones, C.W. 2015.  Failure to launch: evidence of protracted parental care in albatrosses.  Seabird 28: 48-51.  [click here]

Alexis Osborne, 10 September 2021

Featuring ACAP-listed species and their photographers: the Northern Royal Albatross by Sharyn Broni

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“A colour-banded Northern Royal Albatross pair at the start of the breeding season”

NOTE:  This is the fifth in an occasional series that aims to feature photographs of the 31 ACAP-listed species, along with information from and about their photographers.  Here, Sharyn Broni, a Department of Conservation Wildlife Ranger at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head, New Zealand, writes about the globally Endangered and nationally Naturally Uncommon Northern Royal Albatrosses Diomeda sanfordi she has been caring for and monitoring for many years in a mainland colony.

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Sharyn Broni, Wildlife Ranger, Pukekura/Taiaroa Head

My start in conservation work occured in 1990 when on a youth development conservation programme in the Catlins area of  New Zealand’s South Island.  I discovered a passion for marine mammals and penguins and spent much time helping out as a volunteer for the Department of Conservation.  Prior to working with albatrosses I had spent three summers working at the Burwood Takahē Breeding Centre with the globally Endangered and nationally Vulnerable South Island Takahe Porphyrio hochstetteri (click here).  Although they are not a seabird, they are seriously cool!  I was travelling overseas during 1997 when offered  position at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head; I came back and have been there ever since.

Adolescent albatross spend the summer months looking for a mate
“Adolescent Northern Royal Albatrosses spend the summer months looking for a mate.  The process takes three years before they mate for life”

I have been a wildlife ranger with the Taiaroa Head albatross team for 24 years.  The team is typically three to five people on a seven-day roster with overlap for two-person work and additional shifts during chick hatching.  Our tasks with the Northern Royal Albatrosses include banding, egg incubation, fostering, weighing, supplementary feeding, introduced pest trapping and irrigation of hot albatrosses to prevent heat stroke. Hatching of chicks is completely carried out in incubators these days to protect the vulnerable hatching chicks from almost certain and fatal fly strike.  Egg candling and DNA sampling also help us get the best results out of each nest, being able to foster eggs or young chicks increases chick fledging numbers.

 Eggs are candled to determine fertility and viability a failed egg is replace with a dummy egg so the pair can be held as a potential foster pairjpg

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“Eggs are candled to determine fertility and viability.  A failed egg is replaced with a dummy egg so the pair can be held as a potential foster pair” [LEFT]
“DNA is collected from egg shells to determine the sex of each chick.  This is helpful when supplementary feeding as male chicks will be up to 2 kg heavier than females during winter” [RIGHT]

In 2016 the live streaming event, Royalcam, was set up. The world can now see a nest of a Northern Royal Albatross, close up, and in real time.  As breeding takes nearly a year there is nearly always some albatross activity to watch on the live stream.  In 2019 the Department of Conservation partnered with the Cornell Bird Lab who provided a camera with panning options and night vision which has increased the advocacy for the Northern Royal Albatross hugely.  Big news this season is the GPS tracking of the Royalcam parents: click on the Interactive map tab and scroll down for LGK and LGL [named for their lime, green and black colour bands] at Taiaroa Head under ‘Choose a Bird’.

A newly hatched chick ready to be returned to the nest. Hatching in the incubator prevents fly strike
“A newly hatched chick ready to be returned to the nest.  Hatching in the incubator prevents fly strike”

I had spent seven years on the Education Team at the Royal Albatross Centre delivering albatross education programmes to school groups from ages three to 20.  This work and the sheer length of time spent working at Taiaroa Head has meant that by 2018 I had become the Royalcam spokesperson on the team.  You can find the Royalcam discussion page here. where I provide regular updates of the featured Royalcam family as well as occasional ‘Colony’ news.

The Richdale Observatory overlooks part of the albatross colony
“The Richdale Observatory overlooks part of the albatross colony.  Here is where visitors can take a tour with the Royal Albatross Centre”
Photographs by Sharyn Broni

The Northern Royal Albatross colony and its history are quite unique in the albatross world as it is situated on a mainland not too far from Dunedin, a sizable city.  This led to early research which greatly improved the understanding of albatrosses at a time when most colonies had huge accessibility issues.  The population at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head has grown from seven adults and one fledging chick in 1938 to over 250 adults and 30 chicks due to fledge in September 2021.  This colony growth would not have been possible without the protection they received in 1938 (prior to this there had been 20 years of complete breeding failure due to human interference) and the ongoing conservation efforts, first by the New Zealand Wildlife Service and then by the Department of Conservation.

web cam chickOutgrowing the laundry basket? Sharyn Broni helps weigh a Royalcam chick at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head
Department  of Conservation webcam photograph

South Island, New Zealand, 09 September 2021

Dead or alive? Plastic loads vary with sampling technique in Flesh-footed Shearwaters

 Lavers Env Pollution
Graphical abstract from the publication

Jennifer Lavers (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Battery Point, Australia) and colleagues have published in the journal Environmental Pollution on plastic ingestion by Flesh-footed Shearwaters Ardenna carneipes on Australia’s Lord Howe Island.

Flesh footed Shearwater 2 Kirk Zufelt
Flesh-footed Shearwater at sea, photograph by Kirk Zufelt

The paper’s abstract follows:

“The world's oceans are under increasing pressure from anthropogenic activities, including significant and rapidly increasing inputs of plastic pollution. Seabirds have long been considered sentinels of ocean health, providing data on physical and chemical pollutants in their marine habitats. However, long-term data that can elucidate important patterns and changes in seabird exposure to marine pollutants are relatively limited but are urgently eeded to identify and support effective policy measures to reduce plastic waste. Using up to 12 years of data, we examined the benefits and challenges of different approaches to monitoring plastic in seabirds, and the relationship between plastic and body size parameters. We found the mass and number of ingested plastics per bird varied by sample type, with lavage and road-kill birds containing less plastic (9.17–9.33 pieces/bird) than beach-washed or otherwise dead birds (27.62–32.22 pieces/bird). Beached birds therefore provide data for only a particular subset of the population, mostly individuals in poorer body condition, including those severely impacted by plastics. In addition, the mass and number of plastics in beached birds were more variable, therefore the sample sizes required to detect a change in plastic over time were significantly larger than for lavaged birds. The use of lavaged birds is rare in studies of plastic ingestion due to ethical and methodological implications, and we recommend future work on ingested plastics should focus on sampling this group to ensure data are more representative of a population's overall exposure to plastics.”

Reference:

Lavers, J.L., Hutton, I. & Bond, A.L. 2021.  Temporal trends and interannual variation in plastic ingestion by Flesh-footed Shearwaters (Ardenna carneipes) using different sampling strategies.  Environmental Pollution 290. doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2021.118086.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 08 September 2021

Featuring ACAP-listed species and their photographers: the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross by Christopher Jones

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An Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross broods its chick under a
Phylica tree on Gough Island

NOTE:  This is the fourth in an occasional series that aims to feature photographs of the 31 ACAP-listed species, along with information from and about their photographers.  Here, Christopher Jones writes about the ACAP-listed and globally Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, a species he has studied on Gough Island in the South Atlantic.


Chris Jones descends a coastal cliff on Gough

I grew up in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, spending a good chunk of my formative years visiting national parks where I developed an appreciation of the natural world.  This drove me to study Zoology and Ecology at the Universities of Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal.  I did not really know much about pelagic seabirds until one of my lecturers, Prof. Marthan Bester, gave a presentation about Marion and Gough Islands, where South Africa operates weather stations.  After learning about these far-flung places, I was determined to visit them as a researcher.

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Losing its down: an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross chick

Once I completed my undergraduate studies, I was very fortunate to take up a position as a field biologist on Gough Island from 2014 to 2015.  I must admit that before heading down to Gough for the first time, I was most excited about penguins and seals.  But during my first walkabout on the island, the very first animal I encountered was an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross.  My first albatross up close on land!  Seeing their exceptional beauty, I soon became far more interested in albatrosses and petrels.  This first year on Gough was a life-changing experience for me.  During this time, part of my job was to closely monitor the breeding cycle of several seabird species, including Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, from egg laying to chicks fledging.  It was an incredible experience being able to follow their cycles over a whole year.  Amidst this fieldwork, I also collected data for my M.Sc. dissertation, supervised by Prof. Peter Ryan (FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town), on the comparative ecology of Broad-billed Pachyptila vittata (Least Concern) and globally Endangered MacGillivray’s P. macgillivrayi Prions breeding sympatrically on Gough Island.

 Chris Jones 5
A rare occurrence: attempting to raise two chicks

While writing up my M.Sc. I also worked on several remote islands in the Seychelles from 2015 to 2017 and as a seabird researcher on Marion Island from 2017 to 2018.  Then in 2018 I returned to Gough Island as Senior Field Biologist for the Gough Island Restoration Programme (GIRP); a mouse-eradication project run by the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).  This time I spent two years on Gough until 2020, focusing on collecting pre-eradication baseline demographic data for seabirds, land birds and terrestrial invertebrates.  The eradication project was planned to be completed in 2020 but was unfortunately postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  So, I re-joined the project in 2021, involved with establishing captive founder populations for the endemic Gough Finch or Bunting Rowettia goughensis (Critically Endangered) and Gough Moorhen Gallinula comeri (Vulnerable), which were at risk to non-target poisoning, as well as being involved in the baiting phase of the operation.  I hope to re-visit Gough in a few years’ time as see the ecosystem flourishing in the absence of invasive House Mice.  Until then I plan to continue island hopping around the world and contributing to the conservation of these special ecosystems

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Close to departure: an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross fledgling spreads its wings close to the cliff edge
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Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses are truly beautiful birds
Photographs by Chris Jones

Selected Scientific Publications:

Jones, C.W. P. 2018.  Comparative ecology of Pachyptila species breeding sympatrically at Gough Island.  M,Sc. thesis.  University of Cape Town.  81 pp.

Jones, C.W., Phillips, R.A., Grecian, W.J. & Ryan, P.G. 2020.  Ecological segregation of two superabundant, morphologically similar, sister seabird taxa breeding in sympatry.  Marine Biology 167:167: 1-16.

Jones, C.W., Risi, M.M. & Bester, M.N. 2020.  Local extinction imminent for southern elephant seals Mirounga leonina at their northernmost breeding site, Gough Island – South Atlantic Ocean.  Polar Biology  43: 893-897.

Jones, C.W., Risi, M.M., Cleeland, J. & Ryan, P.G. 2019.  First evidence of mouse attacks on adult albatrosses and petrels breeding on sub-Antarctic Marion and Gough Islands.  Polar Biology 42: 619 -623.

Jones, C.W., Risi, M.M., Osborne, A.M. et al. 2020.  Abundance, distribution and breeding success of the endemic Gough Island Finch Rowettia goughensis between 2009 and 2018.  Emu - Austral Ornithology  120: 230-238.

Jones, C.W., Risi, M.M., Osborne, A.M., Ryan, P.G. & Oppel, S. 2021.  Mouse eradication is required to prevent local extinction of an endangered seabird on an oceanic island.  Animal Conservation 24: 637-645.

Risi, M.M., Jones, C.W., Osborne, A.M., Steinfurth, A. & Oppel, S. 2021.  Southern Giant Petrels Macronectes giganteus depredating breeding Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses Thalassarche chlororhynchos on Gough Island. Polar Biology  44: 593-599.

Christopher Jones, 07 September 2021