The exact thinking behind how the Seabird Island Series came about may be lost in the mists of sea spray from the surf that pounds some of our most prized seabird islands, but one thing is certain, had it not been for the vision and hard work of Bill Lane and Durno Murray the ‘Mother Ship’ that this series has become, would never have landed.
Durno Murray recalls that at about the time the concept of producing a series on seabird islands was being formulated, the RAOU had also started to talk about forming a Seabird Group. Durno Murray (President of the Australian Bird Study Association at the time) entered into discussions with Bill Lane and Peter Fullagar and a joint agreement regarding documentation of where seabirds were located and in what numbers they were breeding should be established. A format for presentation was established and this was tabled with the RAOU executive of the day. ABSA undertook to publish, and a committee comprising Durno Murray (Chairman), Bill Lane (Editor) and Peter Fullagar was formed to oversee the project.
Durno Murray remembers that the stimulus that guided the format was how the problem of cataloguing the numerous new arbo-viruses, that seemed to be found weekly, was being tackled. It was a field with which Durno was familiar as he was studying the biting midges that transmitted them to livestock. The committee agreed to a format that has subsequently not changed much over the years. Three general principles were adopted in presenting the series:
1. A map and, if possible, a photograph of the island were to be included with all descriptions.
2. References were not to interfere with the reading of the abridged text and, hence, the system adopted would avoid sentences full of references in the usual style of journal articles.
3. Where possible, descriptions followed a previous publication, although this lapsed over the years.
To instigate the series, Bill Lane, ably assisted initially by Harry Battam, then a young bander who was keen on seabirds, began visiting islands off the New South Wales coast in Harry’s boat. Islands off the New South Wales coast were conveniently placed for these birders and, as there were relatively few of them compared with other states, the target of publishing the complete complement of New South Wales seabird islands was a goal that was achievable.
Bill was then in a strong position to encourage ornithologists in other states to undertake seabird island visits and to prepare manuscripts for publication in the series. In Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia he started visiting islands and this stimulated much interest. Among those who became involved initially were Brian King and Terriss Walker in Queensland; Ian Norman and Michael Harris in Victoria; Nigel Brothers, Garry White and then Irynej Skira in Tasmania; Joan and David Paton, Colin Gill and Allen Lashmar in South Australia; Glen Storr, Ian Abbot and Ron Johnstone in Western Australia; and latterly Ray Catto in the Northern Territory. As Bill became ill, the momentum declined but the objectives had been obtained. The series had become an important source of information, although much follow-up has still been required; particularly for islands near urban centres with rapidly changing vegetation, such as for the Five Islands off the southern coast of New South Wales.
Some states have built on the work and publications of the Seabird Island Series and produced their own publications on their seabird islands. This has included a good book by Nigel Brothers and others on the seabird islands of Tasmania. In the Northern Territory, even though a book was desired, a disk was produced owing to lack of funds. There has been a regular flow of articles from Western Australia over the years from both amateurs and professionals, and much of the information has been included in the two volumes on Western Australian birds. Ron Johnstone of the Western Australian Museum, an author of the Western Australian bird volumes, has remained a great supporter of the ABSA Seabird Island Series, and has continued to be a referee for new contributions from Western Australia.
The drive and enthusiasm for visiting seabird islands and producing seabird island manuscripts has waxed and waned for various reasons over the years, but has never permanently run aground. The reasons for variable enthusiasm are as diverse as the seabirds on our islands. Some government officers have been discouraged from visiting small difficult islands by the increasing complexities of insurance policies covering the risks. The lapse in descriptions from South Australia may be over with the stimulation that Peter Shaughnessy’s articles may produce. In Queensland, the production suffered a major set back with the tragic and untimely death of Terriss Walker, who was passionate about seabirds, seabird islands and the Seabird Island Series.
Similarly as Durno Murray became more involved in midge studies he had to decrease his involvement in the series. Nevertheless, he continued with the production of maps and thus provided the solution to a major problem for both amateurs and professionals involved in production of manuscripts. Durno has produced a stunning 121 maps for the series!
There is no doubt the Seabird Island Series has produced a wealth of information valuable to both researchers, bird watchers, resource managers, documentary producers and countless others. Its significance was acknowledged by David Baker-Gabb and Peter Dann in their chapter in ‘The Status of Australia’s Seabirds’. Without the series, we would have little appreciation of the ecology of the seas around us, the biology of our seabirds or the basis for monitoring changes in seabirds and ocean resources in an ever-changing world. The information contained in the series will be invaluable in terms of monitoring change in an increasingly warming world. A recent example of the kind of information that really makes you appreciate how valuable the seabird island work is the recent recovery of a Crested Tern banded in South Australia on Penguin Island as a chick and recently found dead in Victoria after 32 years and two months. Such important information on longevity is crucial to understanding the life history characteristics and management of this ubiquitous seabird.
We hope that you have and will continue to enjoy the Seabird Island Series and that this compilation of the Seabird Island Series and associated seabird articles, that have appeared in the Australian Bird Bander and Corella over the years, will be a valuable and convenient information resource for your continuing interest in seabirds. It may even stimulate you the reader to describe a few undocumented islands or visit some islands not visited for a number of years.
Seabird Island Series
Australian Bird Study Association