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Location Antarctica
Central coordinates 64o 6.00' West  64o 46.00' South
IBA criteria A4ii
Area 40 ha
Altitude 0 - 48m
Year of IBA assessment 2011





Site description Litchfield Island lies less than a kilometer to the south of Norsel Point, Anvers Island, at the western extent of Arthur Harbour. The IBA is defined by the boundary of Antarctic Specially Protected Area No. 113 Litchfield Island, which was designated to protect an unusually rich and diverse terrestrial habitat, with a wide range of wildlife (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2009).

The geology of Litchfield Island comprises tonalites, granites and other volcanics (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2009). Relief is varied with numerous low summits, the highest of which is 48 m, and there are several small ponds on the island. In the 1960s, one finest examples of maritime Antarctic vegetation existed on Litchfield Island, including an extensive moss carpet dominated by Warnstorfia laculosa, and several areas covered by Polytrichum strictum and Chorisodontium aciphyllum (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2009). By 2001, Antarctic Fur Seals (Arctocephalus gazella) had severely reduced the abundance and variety of vegetation on Litchfield Island’s lower slopes. However, on higher slopes, vegetation remains intact and recent declines in the population of Antarctic Fur Seals may be facilitating regrowth of vegetation on previously damaged slopes (W. Fraser, pers. comm, 2009). Other species described on Litchfield Island include the two species of flowering plants found in Antarctica: Deschampsia Antarctica and Colobanthus quitensis.

The nearest scientific station is Palmer (US), ~1.5 km to the east. See Ant012 for more information on Palmer Station and local climate.

Key Biodiversity At least six bird species breed on Litchfield Island, making it one of the most ornithonologically diverse sites in Arthur Harbour. Census records for the South Polar Skua (Catharacta maccormicki) indicate up to 50 breeding pairs breed on Litchfield Island, although the number fluctuates widely from year to year (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2009). Breeding pairs of Brown Skua (Catharacta lonnbergi) and hybrid Skua have also been observed in the past. However, an outbreak of fowl cholera in 1979 is thought to have killed many of the Brown Skua and only two pairs were recorded in 1980-81 (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2009). There were 57 breeding pairs of Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteusi) on Litchfield Island in the 2008-09 season (W.R. Fraser, pers. comm., cited in ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2009) and a few Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata) nests are recorded each year. Kelp Gulls (Larus dominicanus) breed in low numbers in this IBA, whilst Wilson’s Storm-petrels (Oceanites oceanicus) are also a confirmed breeder at the site.

Around 1000 pairs of Adélie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) were nesting on Litchfield Island in the early 1970’s (Parmelee & Parmelee, 1987). However, Adélie numbers declined over subsequent decades and by the 2006-07 summer season all nests had been vacated (W. Fraser, pers. comm., 2007 cited in ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2009). Population decline of Adelie breeding sites in the Palmer area has been linked to regional changes in sea ice extent and snow accumulation rates (Emslie et al. 1998; McClintock et al. 2008).

Other non-breeding bird species frequenting the site include the Imperial Shag (Phalacrocorax atriceps), Chinstrap Penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) and Gentoo Penguins (P. papua). Occasional observations are made of Snow Petrel (Pagodroma nivea), Cape Petrel (Daption capense), Antarctic Petrel (Thalassoica antarctica) and Southern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides).

Non-bird biodiversity: Antarctic Fur Seals (Arctocephalus gazella) commonly haul out on Litchfield Island from February onwards each year, although numbers have reportedly decreased in the Arthur Harbour area in recent years (Siniff et al. 2008). Elephant Seals (Mirounga leonina) haul out along the shoreline of Litchfield Island for much of the year and Weddell Seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) are also occasionally observed. Crabeater Seals (Lobodon carcinophaga) and Leopard Seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) are regularly observed on ice floes near the IBA (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2009). See Ant 012 for information on other species observed nearby.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
South Polar Skua Catharacta maccormicki breeding  2009  max 50 breeding pairs  A4ii  Least Concern 

Protection status ASPA No.113

References ASPA No. 113 Litchfield Island: Management Plan; ASMA No. 7 Palmer Basin and Southwest Anvers Island: Management Plan (2008); Palmer LTER project URL: http://pal.lternet.edu/, accessed: 04/08/2010.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Litchfield Island. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 18/12/2014

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