When I was last here in 2008 we saw Kermadec Petrels flying about Rayner Point where there is an acoustic attraction system set up, but we found no sign of their breeding on Raoul Island. These acoustic systems (there are three on Raoul) blast out calls of particular species with the aim of luring prospecting birds to start nesting in the vicinity. In recent years DOC team members have reported seeing Kermadec Petrels around headlands including Rayner Point and near Boat Cove (Wilson’s and Nash Points), the most exciting being of nesting birds and chicks. The return of this species to the island had begun.
After the 1908 scientific expedition led by W.R.B. Oliver one of the team Tom Iredale wrote of Kermadec Petrels: “Whilst Sunday Island [Raoul Island] is the resort during the summer months of many thousands of birds only about half a dozen pairs breed on Meyer Island. During winter, however, Meyer Island is covered with birds, whilst none are found on Sunday Island.”
These, and other observations, raised the possibility of two distinct populations of these petrels. However, by the time of the Don Merton-led 1966 OSNZ Expedition Kermadec Petrels were effectively extinct on Raoul – lost to the ravages of cats and Norway rats.
Although more recently Kermadec Petrels have been found to be breeding on the Meyers pretty much all through the year the question remains as to whether there are two separate populations of these petrels. That is one of the things we’re here to investigate, combining the blood samples we collect from birds (winter breeders) with others collected in 2007 and 2008 by Steffi Ismar, genetic research that Tammy Steeves (University of Canterbury) will pursue.
The Meyer Islands are the most likely source population for Kermadec Petrels recolonising Raoul Island and so far it is only winter-breeding birds that have been found here – either by DOC staff or during this visit. Much has been written about the variation in plumage of this species. But, regardless of form they are a stunning bird, especially close up. So far we have found eight chicks on the island, all close to fledging and departing their nests. The numbers breeding here is higher as we have missed birds departing before we arrived. We’re hoping to get onto the Meyers before we head back to the Aotearoa New Zealand mainland.
By Chris Gaskin