AN experiment years in the making has led to the hatching of a historic and very cute moment on Broughton Island.
For the first time, a Gould's petrel has been born in a nesting box installed on the island, about 15 kilometres north-east of the entrance to Port Stephens.
The chick was discovered in the box last Friday by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Susanne Callaghan and two members of the Hunter Bird Observers Club, Rob Kyte and Alan Stuart.
"Very exciting," said Mr Stuart. "This is the first breeding record from the nest boxes."
Susanne Callaghan said this was "a very significant event" for the Gould's petrel.
"It's a very rare seabird, and we only have a handful of locations up and down the east coast where we know this bird breeds," she said.
The journey leading to this chick being born began more than a decade ago, with a project to eradicate rats and rabbits on the island. Those introduced animals had all but removed seabirds, including the Gould's petrel, from Broughton Island.
After the pests had been eradicated, officers from NPWS and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, along with volunteers from the Hunter Bird Observers Club, installed six nesting boxes for Gould's petrels in late 2017.
The teams knew there were Gould's petrels on the island; one had been seen incubating an egg in a burrow in 2009. But the nesting boxes offered new options to the seabirds.
"It's just to create a bit more habitat for them, and I guess it's sort of like an insurance policy at the end of the day," said Susanne Callaghan.
As further enticement, the teams installed loudspeakers, nicknamed "love boxes". Each night, the "love boxes" would emit the recorded cry of a Gould's petrel.
By the second season, there was a handful of birds using the nesting boxes, then, just before Christmas 2019, a Gould's petrel incubating an egg was spotted in one of the nests. Some weeks of anticipation and trepidation turned to delight on Friday, when, to use Mr Stuart's words, a "fat, fluffy little grey thing" was seen in the box.
"I'd never seen a Gould's petrel chick before," said Mr Stuart, who has been involved in bird monitoring and research programs on the island since 2012.
"It was really good to jointly take the lid off and see the chick and give each other high fives," said Susanne Callaghan.
The bird was estimated to be about a week old.
"It might even be an Australia Day chick," said Mr Stuart.
The bird is unlikely to leave the box until mid to late March. Until then, it's expected the parents will continue to fly in and feed their baby, preparing it to leave the artificial nest.
The teams have also installed nesting boxes on the island for another seabird, the white-faced storm petrel. So far, there has been no eggs, but after the arrival of the baby Gould's petrel, hopes are soaring.
"It's a very positive step and, for us, it's a good indication that the island's recovering and it's healthy," said Susanne Callaghan. "It's an opportunity for us, now that we've had some success, to possibly extend the project or put some more nest boxes up there to see if we can replicate the outcome."
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