ACAP Breeding Sites No. 23. Antipodes Island, New Zealand supports seven ACAP-listed albatross and petrel species

Antipodes Island Erica Sommer 

The Antipodes Islands are the most remote group among the New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands.  Located 860 km south-east of Stewart Island, the group comprises Antipodes Island (2000 ha), Bollons Island (20 ha) and a number of smaller islets and rocks.  Together with the other four sub-Antarctic island groups in the region the Antipodes form part of a World Heritage Site, in addition to being a National Nature Reserve and both an Important and an Endemic Bird Area.  In addition, the intention to create a marine reserve around the island group has been declared.  Like most sub-Antarctic islands, early human presence on the island was dominated by sealers and ship-wreck survivors.  Today visits to the islands are infrequent and tourist landings are not permitted.

Antipodes Island Erica Sommer 2 

The above photo of the main island shows the Central Plateau and Mount Galloway, the highest point at 366 m.  Tussock grassland, dominated by Poa litorosa and P. foliosa, covers most of the island from coastal cliffs to the top of inland peaks.  The darker areas are patches of the small tree-fern Polystichum vestitum and Coprosma antipoda, a woody shrub growing up to 2 m in more sheltered locations: these dense stands are traps for unwary researchers.  The verdant green plant in the foreground is Anisotome antipoda, one of three megaherb species that grows on the island.

Antipodean Albatrosses Erica Sommer 2 

The ACAP-listed Antipodean Albatross Diomedea antipodensis nests across the island in tussock habitats.  The Antipodes population of this species is darker than the Gibson’s subspecies D. a. gibsoni of the Auckland Islands and this female, sitting on the nest, shows a plumage typical of adult females on the island.  Adult males are paler than the females but are still darker than most other wandering albatross species. Eggs are laid from early January through early February on the Antipodes and chicks start fledging from late December onwards.  Breeding birds have been tracked foraging in areas in the Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand.

Light mantled Sooty  Albatrosses Erica Sommer 2 

Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses Phoebetria palpebrata breed on cliffs around the island. As for most populations of this species there has been little research or monitoring undertaken in the island group.  They are one of the four ACAP-listed albatrosses breeding on the Antipodes.  Black-browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris breed on Bollons Island along with a small number of White-capped Albatrosses T. steadi.

 White-chinned Petrels Antipodes Dave Boyle

Photograph by Dave Boyle

The sound of White-chinned Petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis clacking is a vital component of the spring and summer night-time chorus on the Antipodes.  This ACAP-listed species breeds in burrows across a variety of inland habitats.  Wet and muddy burrows with moats in the entrance form dense colonies on several slopes and hill tops; however, the majority of burrows are dry and are interspersed amongst burrows of the more numerous White-headed Petrel Pterodroma lessonii.

Grey Petrel Erica Sommer s 

Photographs by Erica Sommer unless stated

Grey Petrels Procellaria cinerea, another ACAP species, are winter breeders.  Their burrows are mostly found on slopes in both tussock and Polystichum habitats, particularly around the coast.  There is some overlap between White-chinned and Grey Petrel habitat, and burrow sharing occurs.  Due to the prolonged breeding seasons for both species, burrow sharing inevitably means failure all around.

Northern Giant Petrel Antipodes Dave Boyle 

Photograph by Dave Boyle

Northern Giant Petrels Macronectes halli breed in loose colonies scattered across the northern two-thirds of the main island.  They regularly congregate in groups of up to 200 birds in Anchorage Bay on the north coast where they are occasionally joined by the odd non-breeding Southern Giant Petrel M. giganteus.  They scavenge on seal and penguin carcasses on the island and are also one of the few native predators.  The introduced House Mouse Mus musculus is another potential predator but an eradication attempt is in the fund-raising (with nearly NZ$ 700 000 raised towards an intended one million NZ Dollars to date) and planning stages (click here).

Selected References:

Department of Conservation 1998.  Conservation Management Strategy Subantarctic Islands 1998-2008.  Southland Conservancy Conservation Management Planning Series No. 10.  Wellington: Department of Conservation.  113 pp.

Department of Conservation 2006.  Marine Protection for the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands: a Background Resource Document & CD ROM.  Wellington: Department of Conservation.  48 pp.

Elliott, G. & Walker, K. 2005.  Detecting population trends of Gibson’s and Antipodean wandering albatrosses.  Notornis 52: 215-222.

Imber, M.J., Bell, B.D. & Bell, E.A. 2005.  Antipodes Islands birds in autumn 2001.  Notornis 52: 125-132.

McClelland, P., Imber, M., Tennyson, A., Taylor, G., Grant, A., Greene, T., Marris, J., McIntosh, A. & Cotter, R. 2001.  Antipodes Island Expedition October-November 1995.  Invercargill: Department of Conservation.  63 pp.

Russell, J.C. 2012.  Spatio-temporal patterns of introduced mice and invertebrates on Antipodes Island.  Polar Biology 35: 1187-1195.

Taylor, R., 2006.  Straight Through From London.  The Antipodes and Bounty Islands, New Zealand.  Christchurch: Heritage Expeditions New Zealand.  415 pp.

Tennyson, A., Imber, M. & Taylor, R. 1998.  Numbers of Black-browed Mollymawks (Diomedea m. melanophrys) and White-capped Mollymawks (D. cauta steadi) at the Antipodes Islands in 1994-95 and their population trends in the New Zealand region. Notornis 45: 157-166.

Walker, K. & Elliott, G. 2005.  Population changes and biology of the Antipodean wandering albatross Diomedea antipodensis.  Notornis 52: 206-214.

Walker, K. & Elliott, G. 2006.  At-sea distribution of Gibson’s and Antipodean wandering albatrosses, and relationships with longline fisheries.  Notornis 53: 265-290.

Warham, J. & Bell, B.D. 1979.  The birds of Antipodes Island, New Zealand.  Notornis 26:121-169.

Wiltshire, A. & Hamilton, S. 2003.  Population estimate for northern giant petrels (Macronectes halli) on Antipodes Island, New Zealand.  Notornis 50: 128-132.

West, C.J. 2003.  New Zealand Subantarctic Islands Research Strategy.  Invercargill: Department of Conservation.  38 pp.

Erica Sommer, United Kingdom & John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 April 2013

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