Saturday, May 7, 2011

Norfolk Island Birding Trip Report

Simone and I recently returned from 7 nights on Norfolk Island from the 22 to the 29th of April. I ended up with 13 new birds and a fiance so all in all a successful, relaxing trip. Simone had surprised me by booking the trip as a "babymoon" for us as she is due in August. To prepare I used the many previous trip reports on Birding-aus and also had some good advice from a number of people, especially Barry Davies. Probably the only downer was that we did not get out to Phillip Island due to weather and sea conditions. We had booked through Charter Marine before leaving and were in regular contact with Dave but unfortunately the sea conditions just never came good.

One thing that was immediately apparent when we boarded the plane from Melbourne - Norfolk Island is a destination for the ancient or the pregnant! It did mean that we had most of the walks in the National Park to ourselves. A car is essential for getting around the island and we had a clapped out old one included with the accommodation which was more than adequate... we did over 400 km for the week. We stayed at the Cumberland in a brand new (or newly refurbished) apartment which was perfect for us. Food was excellent and a definite highlight - we ate out every lunch and dinner and I put on over 2kg in a week despite walking extensively every day! Dino's and Norfolk Blue are certainly worth an evening meal!!

Weather was very wet for the first couple of days and the extensive runoff stained the sea with silt. Sunny weather followed but it was still windy which meant the sea on the south side of the island was quite rough.

Margaret Christian's half day birding tour is good value and well worth doing even if you have already seen "all" the birds... she is a wealth of information on all things Norfolk - feathered or otherwise and is a lovely person too. This was the only real organised tour we did... nothing else appealed.

I birded in most of the places recommended in previous trip reports, particularly spending a lot of time in the National Park, Kingston and at Rocky Point. On the first day I managed to see all the endemic land birds despite the rain and was able to see or hear them on most days subsequently. We walked almost every trail in the National Park including some which are not marked on the maps.... most are short but some like the Bird Rock track are steep enough to get the pulse up a little. I was lucky enough to see or hear the parrot every day but only in 1's or 2's. Considering the small size of the National Park and anecdotal information from a number of locals who are seeing far fewer of them, the offical figure of 250 birds needs to be questioned. I would be quite interested to see just what the most recent survey results actually say. About half way up the Mt Pitt Road at the first hairpin there is an un-signposted track which leads down to an old dead pine tree, this was an excellent place for all the bush birds and I checked it most days.

As it looked unlikely that I would get out to Phillip I spent at least 2 hours seawatching everyday, generally from Captain Cook's monument or more often Rocky Point. While I didn't get a White-necked Petrel I still saw a lot of very nice birds and found it very relaxing. At Rocky Point there is a nice soft ledge of grass which is a perfect height for relaxing and looking through a scope. After a week of looking at 1000's of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters I really hope I won't forget their flight pattern!

All in all it was a very relaxing week! I think if I were to choose the time of year it would be earlier in the year as most of the summer breeding birds had finished or nearly finished nesting - perhaps the weather and sea conditions might be a little more friendly.

Annotated Bird List - Birds in CAPS were new birds for me
  • Mallard/Black Duck cross types - nowhere did I see anything that was remotely close to a pure Black Duck, in fact it was hard to see any Black Duck traits in a lot of birds. Seen in numbers particularly Kingston and paddocks in the northwest of the island.
  • CALIFORNIA QUAIL - Commonly seen in coveys from 6-15 birds in cleared areas all over the island.
  • Feral Chicken - Obviously feral all over the island. Their scratchings could be seen in parts of the National Park. To call them Junglefowl is a big stretch but there are some impressive looking roosters around.
  • BLACK-WINGED PETREL - seen regularly in good numbers while seawatching, particularly from Rocky Point, occasionally very close to shore. One bird seen briefly over land at Margaret Christian's property.
  • Wedge-tailed Shearwater - Very common at sea from any part of the coast. Several over land at Rocky Point in the evening. I must have looked at 1000's while seawatching.
  • LITTLE SHEARWATER - Odd birds had been noted while seawatching over the first few days but too far out to positively ID. A small raft of around 10 birds was observed well through scope close to shore on the final afternoon with a lot more birds noted in the area.
  • Red-tailed Tropicbird - Common around the island with some nice noisy display flights. Chicks seen at Bloody Bridge and Rocky Point. Unfortunately a locally famous chick at Bloody Bridge was killed and decapitated by a cat during our stay....

  • Great Frigatebird - Up to five birds seen on several days from Captain Cook's monument and other places along the northern National Park shore. Females and juvenile birds.
  • MASKED BOOBY - Seen in small numbers during any seawatch. Larger numbers of birds seen on stacks off the North Shore and scoped on Nepean Island. Of interest were a small number of birds on the main island near Bird Rock and at Margaret Christian's property.

  • White-faced Heron - Quite common on small wetlands and wet paddocks across the island. Particularly noticable around Kingston. Apparently they have learnt to take tern chicks so may need their numbers thinned.
  • Cattle Egret - Up to 9 birds seen in the evenings ar Mission Swamp. Smaller groups encountered from time to time following cattle during the day.
  • Nankeen Kestrel - Seen regularly in open country and sea cliffs. Saw them several times try to attack Grey Ternlets at Captain Cooks without success.
  • Purple Swamphen - Common on the Kingston Common and in lesser numbers at various small swamps and wetlands around the island.
  • Pacific Golden Plover - 2 birds only seen once at the airport. Colouring up quite nicely.
  • Double-banded Plover - around 15 birds seen on most visits to Kingston. Seemed to be quite adept at dodging the dogs and people walking around them.
  • WANDERING TATTLER - an absolutely stunning bird in full breeding plumage seen on the first day in Kingston. This bird was probably only just shaded by the parrot as the bird of the trip.... it even had the courtesy to call a couple of times!! Other birds seen at various rocky headlands around the island including 3 scoped on the rocky platform on Bird Rock.
  • Whimbrel - Single bird seen at Kingston
  • Ruddy Turnstone - Single bird seemed to like hanging out on the Kingston Pier. Other birds seen regularly on rocky shorelines around the island.
  • Common Noddy - Most easily seen from Captain Cook flying to and from the Moo-oo stone. Other birds were noted from time to time while seawatching.
  • BLACK NODDY - Very common around the coast. Still a few birds nesting at 100 Acres.
  • GREY TERNLET - Most easily seen from Captain Cooks, particularly late in the day. Small to good numbers seen every seawatch.
  • WHITE TERN - Lovely bird that was common across the island and the coast. Still a few odd fluffy chicks around.

  • SOOTY TERN - Thought I might miss this species as I didn't get out to Phillip Island and there seemed to be none around. On the final afternoon seawatch a bird flew over me at Rocky Point, circled around to check me out then continued on its way.
  • Brown Skua - Single bird seen off Rocky Point being mobbed by terns and noddies. It made another pass before flying strongly towards Phillip Island. A rare record for Norfolk apparently.
  • Emerald Dove - Regularly seen and heard in bush and forest areas around the island, even close to Burnt Pine. Easily seen at 100 acres.
  • TASMAN PARAKEET - Was lucky enough to see or hear this lovely bird daily. Particularly good views at Palm Glen and the first hairpin up the Mt Pitt Road. Also Red Road Track, Bridle Track, Mt Bates Track and McLachlans Lane. Considering the small size of the National Park, the amount of walking done and anecdotal information from various locals it would seem that the official count of 250 birds may be a bit generous.
  • Crimson Rosella - Common across the whole island, even saw a pair flying back from Bird Rock! Did not see any birds in green plumage.
  • Southern Boobook - Heard calling near the Red Road Carpark. I had brought a spotlight but alas it had failed in transit so we did not pursue it.
  • Sacred kingfisher - "Nuffka" as it is known locally. These are common across the whole island and can be seen on nearly evey powerline or fence line. It did take me about 3 days to stop getting a little excited everytime a kingfisher flew across the front of the car.
  • NORFOLK ISLAND GERYGONE - This was the first new bird I saw in the tree outside our apartment. Was commonly heard and less often seen across the island in areas of bush and forest.
  • Masked Woodswallow - On the last morning 15 minutes before we had to catch our plane we did a quick run down to Kingston and there on the side of the road were 6 birds - including 2 juveniles with a group of starlings.
  • Golden Whistler - Certainly lives up to its local name of "Tamey" with birds often approaching to within a metre. Commonly seen and heard in the National Park, Botanical Gardens and also at Anson Bay and Puppies Point. This is a subtlely plumaged bird with the males so very different to ours and must be a candidate for splitting one day.
  • Grey Fantail - competes with the whistler for the title of tamest bird. These would often buzz through my legs or past my head chattering madly in the National Park and Botanical Gardens.
  • PACIFIC ROBIN - After reading previous trip reports I thought this might be somewhat hard to find. I ended up finding them quite common in the National Park and Botanical Gardens, particularly on the inland sides of the ridges like Palm Glen and Mt Pitt Road. Quite curious like many robins.
  • Welcome Swallow - Seen across the open areas of the island. Particularly noticable during the days when it way raining.
  • Common Blackbird - Common
  • Song Thrush - odd birds seen, not common
  • SLENDER-BILLED WHITEYE - Once the call is learnt this is quite easy to track down. Seen daily in the National Park, Botanical Gardens and 100 acres. It is particularly common/noticable at 100 acres.
  • Silvereye - Possibly the most widespread bird.
  • Common Starling - Some quite large flocks. Common in cleared and disturbed country across the island.
  • European Goldfinch - Only see once. A small flock on the road into Captain Cooks.
  • House Sparrow - Common in cleared and disturbed country across the island. The first bird I heard on the first morning.
  • Feral Goose - flocks at Kingston and Mission Swamp are apparently truely feral - a larder for the island if the ship stops coming.
  • Muscovey Ducks - Flock at the mill pond in Kingston
  • Cats - 3 collarless cats seen at night where they shouldn't be. Cat scat with feathers seen on Bird Rock track in the National Park
  • Rat - live rats seen at 100 Acres and outside our accomodation
  • Green Turtle?? - Large sea turtles were regularly seen while seawatching and were probably this species

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