Lee and I have just returned from back to back trips to Norfolk and
Lord Howe Islands. They weren't explicitly birding trips, but I got
to see the birds I wanted to see.
Although they are both high elevation subtropical islands and there
are easy taxa level ticks on both, they are chalk and cheese. Norfolk
Island is like a country town (very much like Mt Tambourine which is
at a similar latitude or Maleny), while Lord Howe is more like a
rainforest island tourist resort.
As we were flying from Brisbane, we did a Sat - Sat trip to Norfolk,
followed by a Sun - Sun trip to Lord Howe. The unfortunate aspect of
that was persistent high winds prevented us getting to Phillip Island
when we were at Norfolk, and Ian Hutton was running his annual
birdweek when we were on Lord Howe - this meant that Ian was tied up
with his birders, Jack's boat was tied up with Ian's birders (so we
had to go on Gary's boat to Balls Pyramid) and that meant I had to go
with Ian's oversized group up Mt Gower rather than with Dean (who took
his group up on the day we went to Balls Pyramid).
Anyhow, to the story. We flew over on an Air New Zealand A320 (code
share with Virgin) departing from the international terminal.
[Norfolk Airlines went broke and I heard that a C'wealth bail out was
required to break the contract with Palau Airlines - owners of the
plane NA was leasing]. A lot of freight went into the rear hold of
the plane. While watching the plane being loaded, I saw a suitcase
fall off the conveyor at a height of 2 metres - a reminder that you
need to exercise care packing fragile items.
As has been noted before, passengers on the plane could accurately be
described as "newly wed or nearly dead", the ratio being around 1:10.
There was a large group of line dancers from Mareeba boarding the
plane. (There was some event happening on the island and there was a
group swaying to "Achy Breaky Heart" when we visited the market the
The Island economy is 95% dependent on tourism for its non-Cwlth
funding. Because it is self-governing, there is no Medicare (so you
have to cover your own medical bills) and I don't think NI residents
get Aus social security payments. There are no campgrounds and most
visitors stay in motels or lodges and go on bus tours. We stayed in a
self-contained cottage at Jacaranda Park. This was a nice and quite
spot with views from the back deck down a creek system to the coast.
There were often White Terns wafting about and chooks working their
way through the joint.
Because the island's administration is somewhat light on in the
finance stakes, the roads are generally in a poor state - the patches
have patches, and the potholes open up when it rains. The island
speed limit is 50 km/hr, virtually no one walks anywhere and there are
few cyclists (other than kids riding to school). The main street was
always busy during daylight hours.
We had a hire car as part of our package (I think it worked out at $35
per day for a Hyundai Accent which had about 9000 km on the clock -
for a flat fee of $15 we had unlimited km - given the size of the
island the risk of excess km was not overwhelming, but we preferred
not to worry about it). The manager of our lodge handed us the keys
at the airport when we arrived and we completed the paperwork on the
Monday (as the business - Crest Autos - wasn't open for most of the
weekend). The price of petrol was about $2.60 per litre, so the 25
litres I put into the tank at the end of the trip cost a fair amount
(there are 3 service stations to choose from). Given the small size
of the place and low speed limit, we were bemused by some people's
choice of car - one lass, for example, was driving around in a WRX.
If you want to have phone/email access on the island, you have to
purchase a sim card from one of the local telcos. I don't recall
seeing any public phone boxes. We had the use of a mobile phone
supplied by our lodge manager, so only had to pay for the calls we made.
Norfolk doesn't have a regular sea port - goods have to be trans-
shiped by light craft, so stuff on the island is relatively expensive
(food in the store can be twice the price here). Sea freight goes via
Auckland, while the air mail goes via Sydney.
Fresh stuff grown on the island, fish and bakery items are more
reasonably priced. Fresh stuff is hard to come by in the shops
however - the shelves are bare for many items (except potatoes, onions
and pumpkin). The trick is to get into the stores early before the
fresh stuff has gone or to check out the occasional stalls out the
front of the farms (for things like bananas). However the produce is
often on the green side, so you have to guess whether it will ripen
before you leave the island.
Otherwise, there is plenty to choose from in the Supermarket. We were
bemused by the 3 kg cans of baked beans and spaghetti produced by
Watties (perhaps the motels use it for their cooked breakfasts). If
you want to eat out, there are quite a few reasonably affordable cafes
and restaurants. Governors Lodge, for example, has a handy $10 lunch
deal - just the thing when you want a quick meal before heading out to
There is surprising relatively little emphasis on eco-tourism.
Margaret Christian's (there are lots of Christians on the island)
Birdfinder Tours (ph +6723)22800 or 50901 ) are
the exception. Margaret charges about $65 for a 4.5 hour transit of
the key birding areas on the island (Mon, Wed, Fri, 8 am to 12.30).
Given that most of the people who go on them aren't birders, they are
more of a natural history tour (Margaret was a parks ranger for a
number of years). I think you get a cheaper rate if you book directly
with her (rather than going through an agent) and you get her guide to
the birds of Norfolk at a cheaper rate (the photos are good). You end
up having morning tea at her place - perched on top of the northern
cliffs where you can watch the seabirds cruising past. She operates a
cat exclusion zone, so she has nesting boobies, petrels and
shearwaters on her block. She also has a whale watching platform.
The environment on Norfolk is heavily modified - by logging, hunting,
ferals, and war infrastructure. A number of species have been lost.
Virtually none of the environment is pristine, less than a quarter
could be classified as "natural". The main areas of birding interest
are the National Park (run by the Cwlth), the Botanical Gardens, the
100 acre forest and the coastline.
Most of the native land birds on Norfolk are either endemic species or
subspecies. There is the "Green Parrot" (Norfolk Parakeet), the
Slender-billed White Eye, and the Grey Geregone. The Golden Whistler
is a highly likely to be classified as a stand alone species (it is
not sexually dimorphic), and the local Sacred Kingfishers and Grey
Fantails are also taxa ticks. I'm not sure, but Norfolk may also be
the only place in Australia to pick up the Pacific Robin.
Most of these species are easy to see (they come in close) and the
Silvereyes and geregones are widespread on the island.
The green parrot is the exception - it might be a case of "last chance
to see". The current population estimate is 50-80 birds with no more
than 10 breeding females. I only clearly saw and photographed one
bird - probably a breeding male. A local told us about its call - the
territorial call sounds a bit like a cackling Kookaburra. The one we
saw made that call.
There is no shortage of parrot food on the island and they do visit
fruiting trees in neighbouring properties (on a seasonal basis). I
think rat predation is possibly the main threatening process - details
in the national recovery plan ( http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/0444528b-6a68-470e-b536-a6fe4453e28b/files/norfolk-green-parrot.pdf
As for other species, the Emerald Ground Doves were fairly common and
there were a few Welcome Swallows out and about. The introduced
(feral) Crimson Rosellas were particularly abundant and an annoying
distraction when I was looking for Green Parrots. The only raptors I
saw were the kestrels flying around Kingston.
Chooks, Common Starlings, House Sparrows and Blackbirds were the
abundant ferals. Song Thrushes and Californian Quail were mainly
around the wooded areas. The quail were my favourite ferals and were
easiest seen while driving along the lanes near the national park.
Green and Gold Finches were thin on the ground.
There are 4 main entrances to the National Park - Cooks Monument, Mt
Pitt, Palm Glen and Red Road. There are plenty of reports of green
parrot sightings around Palm Glen and the Palm Glen track (I heard a
likely call on the PG track). The only sighting I had was on the Red
Rock track, near the junction with the Bridle track (http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/b5755029-e952-4fd8-ab65-3cfb58c3facc/files/walkingtrack.pdf
) The parrots were more commonly seen early in the morning or late
in the afternoon, but my observation was early in the afternoon. If
you are looking for the parrots, talk to the rangers (office at the
The main place to see shorebirds is the grassy surrounds of the
airport runways - the birds clump towards the end of the cross runway
when a plane lands or takes off. I saw mainly golden plovers and
turnstones. I don't think I saw any waterfowl on the beaches (apart
from some ducks paddling through the one swimming bay on the island).
There were plenty of White-faced Herons wandering the golf course, PF
Swamphens "Tarler Birds" poking around the wetlands as well as
Mallards / Pacific Black ducks. The locals were of the opinion that
the Swamphens were doing a spot of nest raiding on Phillip Island - I
can't remember which species they were preying on.
Norfolk is obviously a place to go seabird watching. One of my
favourite memories involved a late afternoon fish fry at Puppy Point -
after enjoying about 8 pieces of freshly caught and BBQ'd fish, I
watched the Great Frigatebirds, Black-winged Petrels, Black Noddies
and White Terns cruising past the setting sun in front of the sea
White Terns "nest" on tree branches all over the Island. Margaret
Cameron took us to see a juvenile tern camped on a lowish branch
hanging over the road. Its parent arrived with a load of fish neatly
arranged in its bill and fed the young one in front of our cameras.
We also walked past a Black Noddy colony on our way down to Rocky
Point (some birds were collecting pine needles from the track). It
was blowing a gale when I poked my nose out at the end of the path - I
turned around and noticed a mostly fledged tropicbird chick parked in
the bush behind me.
Most of the Sooty Terns scarpered shortly after we arrived, but there
were a few immatures flying along the northern coastline. We enjoyed
the walk down to Bird Rock. Cook's Monument is probably the easiest
place to do a sea watch - there are plenty of birds cruising past,
plenty of off shore rock stacks and excellent park facilities
(toilets, scenic seating and picnic tables). Palm Glen, Mt Pitt and
the Botanical Garden also have excellent facilities.
Overall I found it easy to fill the time during the week I was there.
The locals were friendly and we were invited out a couple of nights.
March is a fairly good time to go weatherwise, but perhaps not the
best for boating. If I were to go back to the Island, I would go at a
time of year when the weather was better suited to getting over the
Phillip Island (http://www.trekking.nf/ ) or during winter/spring when
the Long-tailed Koels are in town.
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