Norfolk Island Tour Report
En route from the airport to our accommodation, Nick called "Sparrow!", Elisabeth called "Blackbird!" and we knew that the tour had officially begun...our first 'real' bird (that is, not introduced) was spotted again by Elisabeth, the Sacred Kingfisher, along the driveway to Castaway.
Pacific Robin by Greg McCarry
Heading to Hilli's for lunch, we got our first views of the stunning White Terns, such a ubiquitous aerial feature of the island, flitting between Norfolk Pines. After lunch with the sparrows and chooks, it was off to the Botanic Gardens to find some real birds. Walking a short way back down Grassy Road, we tracked down a calling Golden Whistler ('Tamey' as it's known locally). Many Norfolk Island birds are renowned for their confiding behaviour, but although we were close to the whistler, it wasn't making it easy for us to get a good view! We had to stand almost directly underneath it and peer up through the foliage for an eyeful of yellow vent.
Grey Warblers (Gerygones) were calling and flitting artfully behind the leaves (once again giving the lie to that well known truth about island birds), so we ignored them and turned our attention to a large citrus tree in a paddock over the fence which was playing host to all sorts: Starlings, black chooks (descendants of Jungle Fowl) and Silvereyes. A pair of White Terns performed acrobatics over our heads.
Norfolk Gerrygone by Greg McCarry
Filing into the Botanic Gardens, we had our first glimpse of one of the island's rarest birds: the Norfolk Island Parakeet (or Green Parrot). Admittedly, it was a giant replica, housed in the garden's information centre, but it certainly caused some initial excitement (rapidly followed by disbelief and annoyance!). Shortly afterwards, a 'kek-kek-kek-kek' call was heard, and, with a short burst of playback, the real thing (yes, the critically endangered Norfolk Island Parakeet) flew in for a look at us! It sat happily watching as everyone reached for their cameras and fired off a few hundred shots, then nonchalantly cruised off up the hill.
Next, a Song Thrush was seen hopping along the boardwalk ahead of us, but it was very shy and required some stealthy stalking for a glimpse. With hindsight, it seems quite amusing that we tried so hard to see this introduced species, because it appeared nearly every successive day on the lawn outside our rooms at Castaway. A Pacific Emerald Dove was marching purposefully along, looking for seeds in the leaf litter and a Grey Fantail made an appearance. There were more Grey Gerygones and something a little larger: two Slender-billed White-eyes had joined the Fantails, hopping up and around a tree-trunk, tantalising the group with occasional glimpses.
Masked Booby by Greg McCarry
Following the boardwalk as it looped back, we saw another Pacific Emerald Dove, Blackbirds and some Crimson Rosellas (introduced, and causing problems for the smaller Parakeets by evicting them from valuable tree hollows). A new call was heard and tracked to a male Pacific Robin, who flew out from the forest to land on a liana directly in front of the group for some beautiful views. Having ticked off all the endemics, we headed back to our accommodation, securing a good look at the Sacred Kingfisher on the way.
The following morning's walk introduced us to rush hour on NI - it was certainly noisier than anticipated. The road to Kingston, although almost bereft of birds (a Silvereye in hibiscus on the Castaway driveway was memorable), did give us some idea of the local real estate value. Elisabeth wondered what the different pine trees were...we later learnt from Margaret Christian that young Norfolk Pines have upward growing fronds to more efficiently harvest water, while in older trees, the branches droop, giving them quite a contrasting appearance. After breakfast, a bevy of California Quail surged across the lawn, their tear-drop crests quivering nervously as they hastened away to avoid the paparazzi (twitcherazzi?).
Greater Frigatebird by Nick Giles
Pacific Golden Plovers lined the way to Anson Bay, where we alighted with the scopes for our first good look at Red-tailed Tropicbirds, which, along with White Terns, were catching the updrafts on the steep-sided slopes. Black Noddies flew by and an incoming Greater Frigatebird drew a chorus of "ooooh"s from the on-lookers.
At Point Howe, a fluffy head peered through the grass at us: a Masked Booby chick was perched on the cliff edge, waiting for a feed. Black-winged Petrels wheeled around, calling cheerfully, seemingly having a fantastic time in the wind, plus adult and immature Boobies and more Black Noddies.
Golden Plover by Nick Giles
We stopped for an early lunch at the Argonaut Shell Museum. There was a Gerygone calling and a White Tern perched on an overhanging Moreton Bay Fig branch. The fig trees were very large, at least 150 years old, having been brought here by the early settlers.
We crossed the road and entered 100 Acres Reserve with Margaret Christian. The main attraction was a large colony of nesting Black Noddies and some White Terns, too. The foliage below the nests had a slightly frosted look about it due to the large quantity of guano raining down. Out on the cliff edge, we tallied three Red-tailed Tropicbird chicks on the ground, in precariously vulnerable spots; there was a group of photogenic Black Noddies standing about (Margaret Christian had primed them for the Twitcherazzi). We learned from Margaret about the extinct 'giant Tasman' booby, known only from fossil bones until researchers compared the DNA with Lord Howe and Norfolk Island Masked Boobies and found them to be one and the same species (one field characteristic being their honey-coloured iris).
There was a bit of a climb up through the Pines and Bird-catcher Trees...Caper Whites and Norfolk Island Swallowtails bobbed by. On the approach to the gate, we glimpsed Slender-billed White-eyes cavorting around the pine trunks and Crimson Rosellas feeding on the ground.
Black-winged Petrel by Nick Giles
Margaret provided afternoon tea at Palm Glen, where everything (Janene in particular) was enjoying the Cherry Guavas. There were great photo opportunities for the Twitcherazzi: Silvereyes, Slender-billed White-eyes, Norfolk Island Parakeet, Pacific Robin (2 males and one female) - the place was hopping! Grey Gerygones and Golden Whistlers were calling, adding to the bird bounty.
After every single angle of every available bird had been photographed, we finally got away to Cooks Monument to try and catch the Red-footed Booby that had been recently photographed. Many minutes of intense scope work brought us to the conclusion that the bird in question appeared to have flown the coop ("They're all Masked: I know my boobies" quipped Margaret Crane). No matter, there were plenty of other seabirds to keep us entranced, including a Sooty Tern, and a feeding frenzy off-shore with Black Noddies, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Bottlenose Dolphins.
The morning walk on Day 3 was around the apartments where we had good views of Grey Gerygones and Silvereyes in the Moreton Bay Figs. A family of roving chooks leisurely worked their way across the lawn, poking in the grass for a breakfast treat.
Golden Whistler by Nick Giles
At the National Park, we took the Bridle Track, a beautiful walk through the rainforest, with the calls of Gerygones and Golden Whistlers all around. There were other calls, too, the Norfolk Island Parakeet was close by, but views were thwarted by the thick canopy cover. We turned our attention to some of the vegetation: Evergreen (Alyxia gynopogon) was in flower (it had small, white, fringed flower-tubes) and fruiting at the same time (bright orange berries); many types of fern sprouted from the soil or wound their way up tree trunks; White Oaks displayed an array of lichen on their bark. Nick forged ahead in search of some award-winning shots while Janene came from the opposite direction for a quick hello before heading back to the carpark to pick up Bus 2.
The path broke out of the forest and onto the cliff-tops. We marvelled at stunning views of basalt-columned islands and wheeling seabirds. Trees were laden with Spanish Moss (a beard-like lichen) blowing in the breeze. A Green Turtle put its head above water for a breath before sinking out of sight. The path wound through giant Norfolk Pines and brought us out at Cooks Monument.
Green Parakeet by Nick Giles
Heading towards Kingston, we made a brief stop at Watermill Dam: the chooks were very happy to see us, as were the hybrid (and Muscovy) ducks. There appeared to be nothing more special hiding in the water hyacinth, so we continued to Slaughter Bay. Along the rock-scattered beach, a Ruddy Turnstone took flight, Glenda saw a Wandering Tattler and Tom spotted Red-necked Stint. We walked to Emily Bay for lunch where Jill was joined by an over-friendly pigeon.
Back to the pier in preparation for our pelagic trip to Phillip Island. The boat launch was very novel: the boat raised off the trailer and onto the sea by an enormous pulley and winch (which was attached to the front of a 4WD). As we started off across the waves, the birds began to gather: a curious young Grey Ternlet (not to be confused with the Blue Noddy, which is darker grey on the belly) was a particular favourite as it accompanied us across the strait. Along the northern cliffs of Phillip Island there were plenty of Wedge-Tailed Shearwaters, Black Noddies, White Terns, Black-winged Petrels, Masked Boobies, Great Frigatebirds and Red-tailed Tropicbirds to watch and photograph. We motored into a small cavern, effectively putting us underneath the island, quite an eerie experience. Once back on the open wave, Dave threw out a line baited with liver and the Shearwaters squabbled vociferously, while the Black-winged Petrels looked enviously on. Then a Bonze Whaler turned up to try its luck..!
We headed further around the island, past the only 'landing' site, which looked quite precarious - the climb from the rocks was vertical and required a rope...Glenda and Nick were quite relieved that our walking trek had been cancelled! Katherine greatly enjoyed the exhilarating trip back across the surf and once back on shore, we drove back to Burnt Pine and a quick look in the information centre.
White-faced Heron by Nick Giles
After dinner, some of the group joined a spot-lighting expedition for Morepork along Steelyard Road. If the owls were present, they were very quiet...
Day 4: No morning walk as we had a relatively early (8am) start with Margaret Christian. We arrived at Mount Pitt in heavy mist and light drizzle, and as Margaret began to tell us a little about the geography of the island (now recognised as part of Zelandia), the drizzle intensified...it was time to rearrange the schedule (abandon the walk to Mount Bates) and relocate!
We headed to Kingston, stopping at the Watermill Dam (chook heaven) where vagrant waterbirds (such as Northern Shoveller) occasionally turn up. With much checking of iris, beak, feet and speculum colour, we managed to detect one true Pacific Black Duck and one true Mallard hidden in plain sight among all the hybrids.
At Kingston, we had good views of both Ruddy Turnstone and the lone Wandering Tattler, plus a new species: a Double-banded Plover. Then it was on towards the golf course for a single Whimbrel and plenty of Pacific Golden Plovers, some beginning to show breeding plumage (black in the belly and gold on the back). The rain was settling in now and the wind at the coast made it unwise to stay outside the bus for too long, so Margaret took us around the back of the runway for more plovers and the calls of Masked Woodswallows.
Female Pacific Robin by Nick Giles
At Anson Bay Reserve, Margaret explained the fascinating connection that had recently been discovered between the Providence Petrel (a vital food source for the early settlers) and the Norfolk Pine. The huge harvest of the birds made an impact so profound that it was detected as a sudden drop of nutrients in the trunks of the trees.
Morning tea was at Margaret's house, on her spacious (and, most importantly, dry) veranda. The local coconut cake was a very welcome addition to the hot liquid refreshment. This was closely followed by lunch, as the rain was not conducive to birding, and then a good look at Margaret's boobies (of course, I mean Masked): we were driven around to the back of the property where immature, juvenile and adult birds were hanging out in a paddock. The views were excellent and there was much snapping of cameras!
A couple of hours later, after drying off at Castaway, we set forth to the Whaling Station for a close look at the huge, rusty blubber-rendering vat and some seabirds (Greater Frigate, Red-tailed Topicbird, Black Noddy, White Tern, Black-winged Petrel and Wedge-tailed Shearwater were all present). At Cascade Reserve, a few of us ventured out into the deluge to admire the falls (and a few brave chooks) before returning to our accommodation to find some dry clothes.
Masked Booby chick by Nick Giles
On our final (or was it?) day, we took the road to Ball Bay for spectacular views across the Pacific, speckled with White and Black Noddies. Returning to town, Bus 2 took an accidental detour and was diverted by Nankeen Kestrel (our first good look at this species) and a small colony of nesting Black Noddies. Due to the bad weather, our flight was cancelled and the remainder of the day was spent on non-birding activities.
With an extra day in hand, Nick, Anne and Tiff headed north-west in a hire car, first to Fisherman's Lane (Masked Booby, Black-winged Petrel), then a brief stop at Anson Bay (White Terns and Red-tailed Tropicbirds) and eventually out to Cooks Monument for a fabulous 2 hours of seabird photography at possibly the only dry spot on the island!
After lunch, the Botanic Gardens was our destination for another look at the Norfolk Island Parakeet, which appeared about 2 minutes after we'd asked a couple if they'd seen one ("No, we haven't seen it on this trip"). Once again, a very curious individual approached and posed for photos while munching on fruit in a Cordyline Palm. Walking the Rainforest Gully Circuit was a great decision as all the endemics came out for us, providing superb photographic opportunities. A Golden Whistler hopped about the boardwalk and perched on small tree stems; a female Pacific Robin foraged in the leaf litter; Grey Gerygones searched for insects in the foliage and Slender-billed White-eyes did their treecreeper impersonations. In addition to the birds, we spied an endemic invertebrate: the Norfolk Island Red-horned Spider.
Jill with Rock Dove by Tiffany Mason
Heading to Kingston (and waving to Jill and Glenda on the way) we were too late for ice creams at the Pier Store so had to settle for nourishment of the soul instead. Fortunately, there were lots of White-faced Herons, all the imported finches (Green, Gold and House Sparrow) and Pacific Golden Plovers in various states of plumage to keep us happy. We packed Jill and Glenda into the car and headed back to Castaway for our final dinner. A post-prandial spotlighting expedition by Anne and Tiff bagged one new fauna species, the Pacific Rat (AKA Kiore), but alas no Morepork.
We finally flew out on day 7 having tallied a very respectable 43 (avian) species. Thanks to Anne, Brian, Elisabeth, Glenda, Greg, Jill, Katherine, Margaret, Nick and Tom for a very enjoyable tour and, of course, Janene for her superlative organising abilities. Farewell Follow That Bird!
Black Noddies by Greg McCarry
By Tiffany Mason guiding for Follow That Bird.