Below is a more complete report of our recent Norfolk Island trip with some
more details and thoughts for people thinking of going to the island.
Also, as you may have heard I am moving slowly into the electronic 21st
Century. Following my iPod and iPad acquisitions I have now started a blog.
I think blog is a lumpy sort of name but seeing that Google has provided
the format and location free I will go with their name. Personally I would
prefer to call it an online birding diary but hey, what the heck. So if you
want to see a longer version of this report with photos please go to:
Tomorrow I will add a short report on my very wet Townsville visit.
Norfolk Island is small. Very small. The drive from our accommodation to
the Jetty at Kingston took about 5 minutes and there, on the rocks, right
where it should be, was the ringed plover. With the bird safely found,
photographed and oohed and aahed over we slipped back into our
pre-programmed plans for chasing down the island endemics. Our normal trip
technique is to quickly reconnoitre sites as soon as we can, to learn the
terrain, and then come back for a proper look later. So that was what we
did on Saturday; we found Slaughter Bay and the wetlands at Kingston, the
supermarket, likely dinner spots, the airport runways and Palm Glen. We
were set for Sunday, our first full day.
With a late start and a tourist map all scribbled on with notes from my
pre-trip research we headed for Rocky Point Reserve and Hundred Acre [the
only place we found the emerald dove, just as we walked in, and an
excellent spot for the slender-billed white-eye], then Puppy’s Point
[excellent for black noddy, white tern and sea watching], then Captain Cook
Monument [more sea watching, grey ternlet, black-winged petrel, white tern,
masked booby and great frigatebird] and back past the airport runways. The
day finished with a supermarket visit to stock our kitchen with breakfast
and lunch food. Fresh items such as milk depend on what the plane brought
in that day.
While speaking of food I will quickly mention dinner options. There are 30+
eating places on the island, we were told, but because we didn’t want to
dress up we were limited to a few places in town. The prices compare to
mainland prices and the Italian restaurant was excellent. We were going to
try the Chinese restaurant but the first night we chose it was closed and
the second night it was only serving take-away. The Bowls Club had basic
food that was edible. The Leagues Club, I thought, was a bit better but it
was very popular with the rugby-watching crowd.
Back with the birding, Palm Glen was the place to go, with the Norfolk
parakeets turning up most evenings at about 1830 to feed on the fruiting
trees. These trees are a type of guava evidently and we ended up enjoying
the fruit as much as the parrots seemed to. According to the rangers, there
are meant to be some 200 + parakeets on the island and this is quite
possible, but recent reported counts from B-A visitors have been in the
range of 2 to 20 birds sighted per trip. Our high count, seen at one time,
was 8 birds at Palm Glen.
Palm Glen is also a comfortable and reliable spot for all the other
endemics and they can easily be ticked off in few hours. It even has a
toilet block and picnic tables. The morepork was heard there one evening
but as it blew and rained for most of our stay we could never track one
down. The feral species are everywhere and don’t need to be chased, we
tripped over them everywhere.
On Monday we did a morning tour with Margaret Christian and, as everyone
says, it is well worth doing. She drove us all over the island and we heard
about some of the history, and a bit of the island news. We finished the
trip at her place out on Point Howe. She and a few neighbours have worked
on eradicating cats and rats and the Black-winged Petrels were nesting
around and under her house and boobys were nesting along the cliff edge.
More magic came that afternoon when we stopped on Captain Quintal Drive and
peered over the airport’s waist-high, barbed wire and mesh farm fence-like
security fence. Helen had her scope up and said, “What’s that?” First
thought was a pratincole but the head shape and chest colour were wrong. It
was an oriental plover. While we were watching we attracted the airport
staff and the person designated to keep birds off the runway when planes
were coming in came over in his ute for a chat. He got out with a large
manila-coloured book and our first thought was, “now what, are we going to
be chased off?” But no, he was absolutely lovely and the book was an early
edition of the *Readers Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds*. The page
with the oriental plover was marked so maybe our bird was not the first to
be seen on the Island, but it seems it is the first to be reported.
On Tuesday the weather was deemed good enough to go to Phillip Island
[named after Governor Arthur Phillip of Sydney, Norfolk being first settled
the same year that Sydney was] and, after a very bumpy and wet ride over,
we pulled into the small sheltered cove. The climb up the cliffs using
ropes and foot holes was not easy but the views and bird life were
spectacular with Black-winged Petrels and Sooty Terns power-flying all
around us. We had to have a local guide with us and she did a brilliant job
of showing us all the plants and the endemic skink as well as the birds.
The birds seem almost segregated by altitude with the terns and boobys
nesting around the cliffs, the noddys, kermadec petrels and wedge-tailed
shearwaters using the upper slopes in the protection of the trees and then
the white-necked petrels further up the slope again. The couple of hours we
had on the island were not long enough but the boat owner said he would
consider longer trips if the weather permitted and people asked.
The weather is all important. There is no harbour on Norfolk Island and the
boats are lowered off the wharf using a crane, the hoisting and lowering
being powered by a truck hooked to the long hoist-cable. Getting the boats
in and out of the water is a work of art and the owners handle it
masterfully, especially as the swell lifts and lowers the tethered boat
from below as the truck pulls from above. On Phillip Island one gets off
onto a wave-washed rock shelf and makes for higher ground as fast and
carefully as possible.
On Wednesday, the weather packed it in with rain and strong south-east
winds. Luckily there is plenty of shelter on the islands and we enjoyed
lots of birding in the sheltered valleys. The Bridle Path walk and
extension out to Bird Rocks is well worth doing. Make sure you start from
the east end, at Red Road, though because the Bird Rock track is nearly
vertical and walking up it would be very painful.
All the other roads on the island are worth exploring but some are very
steep and our little hire car with four people on board really struggled.
We did not do the track/road to Point Ross and Bumbora Reserve because we
were told our car would not get out again. If you want to get to these
places and there are four of you think about something other than the
bottom end car rental.
After Wednesday we decided that if all you wanted on Norfolk were the
endemics, and you could get out to Phillip Island early on, then three full
days would be plenty. HOWEVER, there are lots of other things to see and do
and there are vagrants to chase.
The airport runways at high tide are well worth cruising and if you get out
and walk to the fence there are not many bits of it that can’t be seen. We
had 137 Pacific golden plover [many in near-full breeding plumage] at one
visit, and amongst them were some double-banded plover, and of course the
oriental and ringed plovers. The paddocks need to be checked too,
especially those along Middlegate Road and Rooty Hill Road above Cemetery
Bay. We found a whimbrel, and other grass-loving vagrants and migrants are
possible. Even bristle-thighed curlew has evidently been reported from the
island; well, yes, rarely, but they are on the list.
If the feral ducks and geese are included we ended up with 48 species for
the week. We stayed at Poinciana Cottages, which are right across from the
airport gate and within walking distance to town so it was perfect for our
needs. The owners were particularly nice and could not have been more
helpful. There is no ocean view but who is in the house during daylight
anyway? Duty free prices are advertised on the island but everything I
looked at cost more than back home. Petrol when we were there was $2.70 a
litre and we used more than one tank full. Food is not cheap but if you
allow for a bit extra in your travel budget and sacrificed some birding
time I think there would be some excellent meals on the island.
In the B-A reports there are lots of comments as to the best time to visit
Norfolk. This middle to late week in March was certainly good for the
migrating waders and we saw all the resident breeding seabirds, even if the
Kermadec and white-necked petrels were only chicks in the nest.
Finally, there is an oft-repeated saying on the island that all the
visitors are either “newly wed or nearly dead”. Apart from the birdwatchers
we met this saying is eerily, scarily, accurate.
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