Megapode survey too late
The first survey of the Tongan island of Late since 1993, when eggs of the Polynesian Megapode Megapodius pritchardii were translocated there as part of a conservation project, has failed to find any sign of the species.
In June 1989, the Government of the Kingdom of Tonga initiated a bird conservation programme with the German-based Brehm Fund for International Bird Conservation. In addition to the programme's 1993 translocation of megapode eggs from Niuafo'ou to Fonualei (which was confirmed as being a success by a 2003 survey), 63 eggs were transferred to Late in two separate visits.
The survey of Late was carried out from 20–25 July 2004, with funding from the Van Tienhoven Foundation for International Nature Protection. It was undertaken by Fiji-based ornithologist and BirdLife representative, Dick Watling, with assistants Eva Taumalolo and Siua Maile.
Late has an area of nearly 19 km², is almost completely forest-covered, and has had no recent volcanic activity. As such, the island had been considered much more likely to provide a secure translocation site for the megapode (known locally as the 'Malau') than Fonualei, which is a vigorously active volcanic island of less than 5km².
The survey on Late concentrated around the brackish inland lake where the megapode eggs were buried in 1993. No sign of Malau nesting was found here or elsewhere. In addition, calls of the Malau were repeatedly broadcast from sites giving a good view of the surrounding area – but no Malau responded and none were seen. On Fonualei, this method had been very successful in attracting curious birds to come to the broadcast site. The survey confirmed the apparently very suitable habitat of the island, but also noted the remarkable devastation caused by Cyclone Waka in 2001 – it is estimated that 30-50% of all large trees on the island had been felled as a result.