Re: [Birding-Aus] 2015 on Norfolk Island – the year in birds [SEC=UNCLAS

To: "Doolan, Craig" <>, "" <>
Subject: Re: [Birding-Aus] 2015 on Norfolk Island – the year in birds [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]
From: Jenny Stiles <>
Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2016 05:28:18 +0000
Hi Craig,
Thanks for the detailed report about the birds on Norfolk Island. I was
wondering though as cats & rats are having a big impact on bird numbers and
breeding attempts if there are programs to control or eliminate them?

>From Jenny Stiles, Sydney

-----Original Message-----
From: Doolan, Craig
Sent: Thursday, January 21, 2016 1:27 PM
Subject: 2015 on Norfolk Island – the year in birds

I thought it might be useful to pen a bit of an update on the year’s bird
watching and bird conservation highlights for our often forgotten little
part of the world. 2015 was my first full year on Norfolk Island so still
plenty to see for me and a few rarities turned up throughout the year.

Native bushbirds
It was another great breeding year for our Green Parrots (on the island the
Norfolk Island Parakeet and Crimson Rosella are referred to as simply ‘Green
Parrot’ and ‘Red Parrot’ and I’ll follow that convention here) with more
than 70 fledged young in the predator proof nesting sites throughout the
national park. Sightings from outside the park appear to be getting more
frequent including far away. I live more than 2km away from the park, across
farmland and regularly get green parrots in my yard. Recently a flock of
more than 20 was seen feeding on peaches in a property close to the park.
Hopefully we’ll have some firmer population figures soon, but the disastrous
2013 surveys which showed only about 45 birds seems a fair while ago now
after a couple of good breeding years. Red parrots are common over most of
the island although they are actively removed from the national park where
they compete aggressively for nesting sites with the green parrots.

For the other native bush birds, anecdotally we are being told there haven’t
been this many robins in years (note that the Norfolk Robin has just been
elevated to full species status in the latest IOC nomenclature) and they
seem to be benefitting from the extra cat and rat control inside the
national park. I have seen many, many young birds recently along the Summit
Track, the easiest spot to find them, and they are also enjoying the
eucalypt plantations where they are one of the more common species. Records
outside the national park are still very rare, and they appear to be unknown
from the southern half of the island.

I’m less certain about the status of Slender-billed White-eye with no real
inkling one way or the other as to which way it is going. They are still to
be seen in good numbers, sometimes in mixed flocks with the abundant
Silvereyes, especially along the eastern area of the park, and are in
Hundred Acres Wood on the south-west corner of the island, though seeming
not over other parts of the island. Another year has passed without anything
resembling a good sighting of White-breasted White-eye. It is now about 10
years since any reasonable sightings of these birds. Despite being listed as
vulnerable, the local form of the Golden Whistler appears to be in very good
numbers in the park and in moderate numbers in some other parts of the
island where there is forest, native or otherwise. The NI Gerygone is common
across most of the island while the fantail is patchier outside the park, it
is seemingly secure.

It was a good year for cuckoos with a sighting of a Pallid Cuckoo
(admittedly right at the end of 2014) and an Oriental Cuckoo. Shining
Bronze-cuckoo are sparse but present through spring and summer while there
were quite a few sightings of Long-tailed Cuckoos through October as the
migrated. I didn’t hear of any sightings in April on the way back. They are
probably not uncommon but given that they typically don’t call on the island
they are probably missed. If the Shining Bronze-cuckoos didn’t call, I doubt
I would have seen a single bird on the island yet. Masked Woodswallows still
inhabit the island in reasonable numbers with a flock of 26 observed at the
airport and a single White-browed Woodswallow was observed in December, the
first seen for quite some time. The two colonised the island at the same
time in 1996 but neither have flourished, but the Masked appear to have been
the more successful of the two. Kestrels appear to maintaining their modest
numbers and I observed a cliff-side nest near Cascade jetty while the
kingfisher is abundant across the island and the Emerald Dove seems to avoid
the feral cats reasonably successfully.

Breeding seasons on Phillip Island and Norfolk Island have been steady for
Masked Booby and Red-tailed Tropicbird, both seemingly maintaining good
numbers. The Black Noddies and White Terns get hammered by feral cats in
some areas but with such large numbers of both, they seem to keep their
populations steady. The Grey and Brown Noddies seem to be restricted to
Phillip Island and costal islets where predation is less and they are in
lower numbers. Despite this, I saw winter flocks of 500+ of the Grey Noddies
on Green Pool Stone off the northern coast. Black-winged Petrels continue to
be the most abundant petrel and are commonly seen all over both islands in
summer. They seemed to have great breeding success on Phillip Island but
their persistent attempts to re-colonise Norfolk Island are met with failure
through cat predation. That said, I think it is only a matter of time until
they do establish on Norfolk. There are similar issues with the main island
population of Wedge-tailed Shearwater with significant predation and I think
there probably needs to be a question mark over the future of this
population on Norfolk as a result. The more rarely seen petrels, Providence,
Kermadec and White-necked were all observed on Phillip Island this year, and
all believed to have bred there this year, but beyond that we know little
about their populations.

The increased regularity of frigatebirds around the island has continued
with 12 Great Frigatebirds staying for a few months, roosting but not yet
nesting, on the Moo-oo Stone off the northern coast. They disappeared in
winter and have returned again this summer, their numbers doubled to a
maximum count of 24. Up until just a couple of years they were vagrants
bought in by storms but they are now regular. There are no adult males in
the birds seen so far, so the dispersal of younger birds could be a factor.
Time will tell if they establish here properly, where they could potentially
provide another predator issue? To the best of my knowledge there have been
no sightings at all this year of Australasian Gannets, that previously bred
in small numbers (<5 pairs) on Phillip Island.

There are also continued concerns about the Sooty Tern breeding population.
The 1000+ breeding pairs that used to be on Phillip Island largely up and
left for the 14/15 breeding season, and only a couple of hundred pairs
returned in 15/16 year, around Moo-oo Beach, though there were smaller
numbers in other locations. Most have moved to the northern coast of Norfolk
Island, especially around Captain Cook’s monument. This is a concern because
here they have to contend with cats and rats where Phillip Island is
predator free. Despite this, and clear signs of predation by cats in some
areas, at least several hundred young were fledged from Norfolk in early
2015, mostly around The Cord, near the national park. For the 15/16 breeding
season, they have spread out a bit more, on both sides of Captain Cook and
so far, so good. The likely cause of the desertion of Phillip Island was
predation by Purple Swamphen who’s numbers have increased across that
island, though other birds they predate upon have remained steady.

Feral birds
It has been a bumper year for chooks all over the island and their numbers
are at record highs. This poses great concerns for the invertebrate fauna of
the island, especially the 5 Critically Endangered land snails that occur on
the island. Probably not any noticeable difference in other species, though
I know I certainly saw more European Goldfinches as the year went on, but I
suspect that was more about them flocking in winter and me getting my eye
in. A flock of 40-50 Common Redpoll landed on the Summit Track in the
national park through August and September before dwindling to a few, just
as discussions were being had over whether they should be eradicated, and
then disappearing altogether. A Common Chaffinch was also spotted in
December, in a similar location, feeding with California Quail. I wouldn’t
say there had been any significant changes in other feral populations on the
island, though the number of feral ducks would have to be of some concern on
the few waterways. I have not seen any bird here that I would call a genuine
Pacific Black Duck.

Waders and other vagrants
Norfolk get’s relatively few waders outside of Pacific Golden Plover
(records of over 400 at the airport), Ruddy Turnstone (about 100 at the
airport), Whimbrel (rarely more than a few) and small numbers of Wandering
Tattler around the coast. During winter we had about 20 Double-banded
Plovers take up residence in the southern bays, especially Slaughter Bay.
Other recorded waders included a flock of 20 or so Red Knots in October, 3
or 4 Bar-tailed Godwits in late 2015, a single Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and a
snipe, presumably Latham’s, seen in October and December at the Kingston
Common. The Whimbrels and tattler appear to overwinter on the island.

A flock of 3 Oriental Pratincoles was resident at the airport through March
and April, about the same time as several White-winged Terns were there as
well. We also had a South Island Pied Oystercatcher at Kingston Common for a
few weeks in August and September. Oystercatchers seem to turn up every few
years and while historically several have been put to the Australian
species, I doubt these have been reliably identified and I imagine most
visitors would be SIPOs. A single Great Egret has been seen intermittently
on the island all year while the usual winter flocks of Cattle Egret turned
up briefly before also moving on. Also in winter were a couple of Swamp
Harrier, a normal winter visitor to the island, with at least 2 different
birds seen over several months. A couple of Little Black Cormorants were
observed on Cathedral Rock early in the year. Overall a good year on Norfolk
with more good news than bad on the bird front, a pattern that will
hopefully continue into 2016.

Craig Doolan
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