Gould's Petrel: an historical Toowoomba record

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Mick Atzeni
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Gould's Petrel: an historical Toowoomba record

Post by Mick Atzeni » Wed May 27, 2009 12:30 am


Came across this article which helps explain how one of the most unlikely species on our local list came to be there.


A Gould’s Petrel found in Toowoomba
The highly unlikely has happened again: another petrel, this time a Gould’s Petrel Pterodroma leucoptera caledonica has ended up high and dry in the Toowoomba region.

Many will recall gathering at Bob Doneley’s West Toowoomba Veterinary Surgery on Mother’s Day 1996 to view an injured Black-winged Petrel Pterodroma nigripennis, which was found at Carbarlah, just north of Toowoomba. It and other seabirds were casualties of the widespread rough weather at the time. It was the last petrel anyone expected in the region for a long, long time. That was until club member and wildlife rehabilitator, Clare Gover rang me 12/1/98 around 7.30 p.m. regarding an injured seabird handed in by a concerned Toowoomba local, Ali Frost. Poor Clare, very accustomed to magpies, owls, frogmouths and the like, wasn’t quite sure what she had on her hands but her suspicion it was some sort of petrel proved correct when she unveiled a very forlorn Gould’s Petrel nursing a broken wing, recovering from concussion, very underweight, and not feeding. With the bird’s welfare paramount, we briefly viewed it without handling it - our preliminary identification being mainly based on the upperparts - the dark neck and crown, snowy speckled forehead and lores and lack of an ‘eyebrow’, distinguishing it from the Black-winged Petrel and other Pterodromas. Our identification, including the subspecies, has since been confirmed by Brisbane seabird expert, David Stewart.

The issue of which sub-species it was, arose after talking to Nicholas Carlisle, the Project leader for the Gould’s Petrel Recovery Program on Cabbage Tree Island when he suggested it might be the Caledonian race P.l.caledonica. The Caledonian race breeds in New Caledonia and does not get a mention in most field guides and is basically impossible to identify in the field. The way to distinguish the races is to check the inner webbing of the outer tail feathers. If it is grey like the outer webbing, it is the Australian race; if it is white, like this bird was, it’s likely to be P.l. caledonica although size must then be taken into account. The Caledonian race is slightly larger. In any case, given the more southerly distribution of the Australian population, it seemed very unlikely that an Australian bird should become so disoriented, as the weather had not been that rough around SE Qld, despite the cyclones around Townsville.

With the help of local veterinarian, Bob Doneley, Clare nursed the bird back to good condition over a month, before it was transferred by DOE to Brisbane. It was with great dismay that I learnt that all the effort was to no avail. It was discovered that the bone in the injured wing had died, so the bird could never be rehabilitated. Syd, as he was known after the Cyclone that led to his demise, was humanely put down and donated to the Queensland Museum.

The Club wishes to express its sincerest appreciation to Ali, Clare and Bob in their joint effort to save the bird.

Michael Atzeni
Source: Toowoomba Bird Observers Newsletter No. 264, March 1998.

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