A rare bird normally found in the central Pacific, which lost its way and ended up on a pub balcony in Sydney, has been released back into its natural habitat.
In the first officially recorded appearance of a live Bulwer’s petrel in Australia, the bird – nicknamed Buggerlugs – is thought to have been blown south by adverse weather.
He might even be an undiscovered species.
He was found on the balcony of the Cronulla RSL, and later dug in his claws when two attempts were made by well-meaning wildlife carers to release him onto the chilly waters off Sydney.
Ornithologist Lindsay Smith from the Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association in Wollongong said Buggerlugs was a long way from home.
“He didn’t have ID so couldn’t get a drink,” he said of the appearance at the RSL.
When Buggerlugs was identified as a Bulwer’s petrel, the international birding community became excited.
“To release Buggerlugs here off Wollongong would be like releasing it in the desert,” Mr Smith said.
Travelling in style
Instead, Buggerlugs was fattened up with southern bluefin tuna (at $130 per kilo), wombaroo, insectivore mix and sea water.
Money was raised and tickets booked to take Buggerlugs to Darwin on a scheduled commercial flight.
He was checked into the luggage compartment like any other pet, and was in the Larrakia Nation Rangers’ boat Mardma within an hour of arriving in Darwin on February 14.
Rangers battled an outgoing tide of only two metres and unpredictable wet-season winds to get Buggerlugs back into a hospitable environment as quickly as possible.
Larrakia Nation Land and Sea ranger Javadd Andersen said it was anything but hospitable for humans.
“It was very rough and we had a lot of swell coming over,” he said.
“We couldn’t head out too far because we had a bit of water coming over the front deck and we decided not to push ourselves too far.”
Leap of faith
Damien Stanioch from NT Parks and Wildlife was also on board.
“The conditions were ideal for the bird – a good strong headwind and fairly choppy, so he could use the wind to gain lift,” he told the ABC.
“Lindsay gave him the final check to make sure he was still bright-eyed.
“We simply held him in the hand and as soon as that offshore wind hit him in the face he just started flapping.
“It was one of those now-or-never moments.
“Lindsay opened his hand and he flew off beautifully – nice and strong into the wind.
“He went off down toward the water and used that air pressure from the water and just beautifully followed the waterline until he disappeared over the water and then reappeared over the swell.
“It was just so good to see.”
The team waited for 20 minutes before heading for home once they were confident Buggerlugs was safe.
“Because he was housebound for a week or so, we weren’t sure how his flight patterns would be,” Mr Stanioch said.
“We were all very, very nervous.”
Mr Anderson said: “I hope the bird survives and lives a long and healthy life. It flew off pretty strong, so I hope it flies off in the right direction.”
The Bulwer’s petrel is typically found in the latitudes between 10 degrees south and 40 degrees north.
By comparison, Cronulla RSL is close to 34 degrees south.
The Bulwer’s petrel has also been found in the Indian and Atlantic oceans.
Blood samples have been taken for DNA testing.