Trip Report - Norfolk Island February 2013
My wife and I flew from Sydney to Norfolk Island on Friday 22nd February and
returned on Friday 1st March. We stayed at the Hibiscus Aloha in Burnt Pine
and rented a car for the week. Our time was divided evenly between tourism
The weather was warm and fine all week, albeit very windy on most days.
Therein lies a tale: We were keen to visit Phillip Island, a nesting sea
bird destination which lies about 7 km off the coast of the main island.
The Phillip Island Tour only takes place when seas are calm. Unfortunately,
we had seriously high seas from Sunday to Wednesday. Thursday seemed
possible to me, but the trip did not go ahead. The seas were calm on Friday,
but we had to fly home.
Nevertheless, to quote the eminent Australian writer and Norfolk Island
resident, Colleen McCulloch, "Tis an ill wind that blows nobody any good."
In our case, the high winds made for spectacular bird watching along the
headlands and coastal cliffs. Birds, including great frigatebird, masked
booby, red-tailed tropicbird, black noddy and white tern, came very close,
and at times hovered a few metres away at eye level. Black-winged petrel
zoomed all around. On the two windless days, species numbers were down, and
birds tended to stay offshore.
Places good for sea birds include Captain Cook Monument and the Bridle Trail
to Bird Rock, the escarpment at Simons Water, and the Hundred Acres Reserve
to Rocky Point. Many birds were nesting or roosting on offshore islets and
rocks. These were a little difficult to see without a scope, which we didn't
have with us. Birds that were present but scarce included sooty tern ( one
or two sightings a day, apart from distant views on the offshore islets),
grey ternlet ( at times present around or on Cathedral Rock), and
wedge-tailed shearwater (one seen once).
The beautiful Norfolk Island National Park is great for birding. Access is
good, the walking tracks are mostly wide, and covered with bark; boardwalks
abound. We did manage to see all the endemic species and races there. Some
of the birds leap out to greet you: the NI golden whistler, the NI grey
fantail. Others continue about their business when in your presence: NI
gerygone, slender-billed white-eye, silvereye, emerald dove. Song thrush and
California Quail, more common early in the day, were shy.
However, it was 5 visits, some hours and some luck before we saw our one and
only NI parakeet, next to the Mt Pitt-Mt Bates Trail. We had moved off-track
into the forest to see a gerygone, when a large bird flew through the dark,
low-canopy to a clump of palm berries about 8 m away and settled to feed. It
was a NI parakeet, and it sat feeding for at least 3 minutes. While
watching, we heard another parakeet make the "kek-kek-kek" call from some
distance away. This was the only time in the whole week that we heard the
call. Furthermore, at the beginning of our stay, we had been very excited
(and confused) because we heard "kek-kek-kek" everywhere but couldn't see
any parakeets. It transpires that the white tern, found all over the island,
has a call that could be written down as "kek-kek-kek".
Ten minutes later, we happened upon Pacific robin - 2 males and one female -
foraging on the forest floor at a distance of 3 m, unconcerned by our
presence. This, too, was our only sighting. According to trip reports over
the last 3 years, a number of birders have found Pacific robin to be scarce.
With regard to finding the endemics, we had advice from trip reports and
islanders that a good strategy is to go to Palm Glen between 4 and 7 pm. We
did this one and a half times, and got everything except the parakeet and
With regard to plumage, note that the male golden whistlers apparently do
not colour up - they are similar to females. The white-necked heron has much
white on its head and neck, rather like a hybrid with white-necked heron.
Some of the house sparrows have bills that are quite yellow. The one common
greenfinch that we saw (Mt Bates Trail, National Park) was largely grey.
We did Margaret Christian's Bird Tour and found it to be enjoyable and
educational. Among other things, she took us to her home, where there are
nesting boobies and petrels. Margaret has things to say about important
relationships between sea birds and NI pines, and has a fascinating story on
the NI rock dove. It was her advice that led us to find Pacific robin.
Birding is perceived to be a very minor activity from a Norfolk Island
tourism viewpoint. The booking agent on Norfolk was unaware of the bird tour
until I pointed it out in the brochure. (During our stay, some other tours
were promoted endlessly.) The island appears to have the sacred kingfisher
as its unofficial bird mascot - wouldn't be my choice. The otherwise
excellent National Park information and signage gives but one brief mention
of the "Green Parrot". Advertisements for the Phillip Island Tour do not
mention the rare birds to be seen. Gift shops sell souvenir items that
portray kingfishers and, I think, terns. You can buy a framed picture
showing the NI house sparrow, but not anything that depicts the NI parakeet.
To conclude, we found birding on the coast of Norfolk Island to be exciting.
It afforded surprisingly good views, and birds were coming and going
constantly. We ultimately did get good views of all four 4 endemic species
in the National Park, but could easily have missed out on two, and we were
thankful that we had chosen to stay a week. We would go back, if a trip to
Phillip Island could be guaranteed.
Species List (34+1)
Blackbird common: ubiquitous in urban areas
Booby masked: seen most times at coast, nesting in a few places.
Dove emerald: seen twice in NP and once in Hundred Acres.
Dove rock: small flock at Kingston.
Fantail grey, NI: common in NP and Botanic Garden.
Frigatebird great: seen at coast on windy days, mostly females.
Gerygone NI: common in NP, Botanic Garden, and at Anson Bay.
Goose greylag: flocks at Kingston & elsewhere; not a tick yet - we live in
Greenfinch (un)common: one only, in NP.
Heron white-faced: two pairs on reef at Kingston; more white than on
Junglefowl red: present on all farmland.
Kestrel nankeen: two pairs seen, hawking over farmland.
Kingfisher sacred: on all farmland.
Noddy black: common on coast; nesting at Hundred Acres.
Parakeet NI: seen and heard once at the same time.
Petrel black-winged: moderately common at the coast on windy days.
Plover oriental: possible oriental p. seen at the reef, Kingston (didn't
twig till later).
Plover Pacific golden: common at the airfield (?high tide), and the reef,
Quail California: reliable mornings and evenings in NP; groups turn up
Robin Pacific: one sighting of 3 birds in NP.
Rosella crimson: moderately common, on farmland, in Botanic Garden, and in
Shearwater wedge-tailed: one seen briefly from Captain Cook Monument.
Silvereye grey-backed: seen on most visits to NP.
Sparrow house: abundant in urban areas.
Swallow welcome: moderately common throughout island.
Swamphen purple: present in small numbers at Kingston and elsewhere.
Tattler wandering: seen once at the reef, Kingston.
Tern sooty: distant views on Bird Rock and Cathedral Rock; uncommon in
flight along coast.
Tern white; ubiquitous, present wherever there are large NI pine trees.
Ternlet grey: distant views on and around Cathedral Rock; one seen at Rocky
Thrush song: 4 sightings, mornings in NP; twice on roadsides.
Tropicbird red-tailed: very common in flight along coast; one seen close-up
nesting at Kingston.
Turnstone ruddy: group seen with plovers at airfield and Kingston.
Whistler golden: common in NP; also at Botanic Garden.
White-eye slender billed: uncommon; seen at Palm Glen in NP; also Botanic
We did not include any of the mallards that we saw, as they seem to be
hybrids, typically with Pacific black duck.
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