Sunday, December 26, 2010


As predicted when the young boobies were hatching, the frigatebirds are now a regular feature over our breeding colonies at the north end of the island and on the rocky offshore stacks.

Easily identified by their bent wings and forked tail, the differentiation between Greater and Lesser is made by the size (not always easy to discern as they fly at height) and the extent of the white markings on the breast.

In years gone by these birds were remarked upon as they were only seen after storms had passed through, but there seems to now be a resident population. They are seen at many times of the year, and may be breeding on the offshore stacks and at the inaccessible southern part of Phillip Island. They are far more obvious and numerous when the boobies are breeding.

We see up to 8 at a time, slowly soaring across the clifftops where the young boobies wait for their food to be delivered, and a similar number has been reported perched in trees near the colony offshore from (Captain) Cook's monument. As most will know, the frigatebirds are robbers and will harass any bird carrying food back to its young, until the food is dropped or regurgitated and the frigatebirds will swoop down and catch it before it hits the water.

Although we have seen both greater and lesser in the area in the past, we have so far seen only the Greater frigatebirds this year.
An interesting note about their scientific names : when they were first described it was thought that these birds were part of the pelican family, so the Greater frigatebird was named Fregata minor (being smaller than pelicans) and the Lesser frigatebird is Fregata ariel.

Thanks to Andrew Marshall who provided these images.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


The ocean and the land are dependent on each other. The forest is nourished by the sea, through the droppings delivered there by the nesting seabirds, and the inshore zones provide shelter and safety for many marine species.

Living on an isolated island, with no other land for over 400km, our lives are necessarily closely associated with weather conditions, breeding times and migrations so we are interested in anything that comes our way. Of special interest because we know so little about it, is this large squid that was found near death on one of our beaches recently.
We know that bird migrations and breeding cycles depend on the marine food availability, and for many years we have seen flying fish and small squid regurgitated near bird breeding colonies.
As the squid seen here is causing considerable interest among the fishermen as well, it must be an unusual find.

If anyone knows a squid specialist out there we would welcome any information that can be provided to help us build our knowledge of the squids; if this one is common or rare, its normal distribution, prey, predators and how many different types of squid are there?

David Bigg, seen here holding the squid so you can get an idea of its size, kindly provided these images to share.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


These big black cormorants with yellow faces were first captured in the lens of Adrian Oosterman's camera late in the afternoon of 17 October this year.

 The sun was setting when we left the Kingston area where whale watchers Merv Whicker and Adrian had spotted these big birds circling over the wetlands near the southern coast of the island.

In December they were still resting here at Norfolk before resuming their journey to who-knows-where, and were taking advantage of the very low tide to sit on a briefly exposed rock platform in the middle of Slaughter Bay in the early morning. Buildings seen in the background are part of the World Heritage listed historic area, dating from 1788 to 1855.

The cormorants have been spotted by a number of people in the evenings, circling the large pine trees near the beach where they are probably roosting.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More Pectoral Sandpiper images

Thanks once again to John and Sue O'Malley for providing the images seen here.

John writes:  "I think this one is a younger bird as markings are not as strong as the other 2 birds. Yes! Sue and I observed that we have had three birds (maybe a family) feeding quietly in the drainage area to the left as you drive over the main bridge at Kingston."

The area John refers to is the wetland seen in this overview of the Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area (KAVHA). This part of the island was recently added to the World Heritage List recognising the immaculately conserved Colonial Georgian  architecture of the buildings that remain from the penal colony period covering the late 1700s to the mid 1850s when convicts were deported to the island from England. The ephemeral wetlands provide a source of interest that changes daily as birds rest there during their long flights from the Arctic Circle to New Zealand.

Monday, December 13, 2010

First Record!? - Bullers Shearwater

This week there has been a possible new record for Norfolk Island with the sighting of a Bullers shearwater amongst a group of Black (White-capped) Noddies fishing behind Nepean Island, (about 1km south of Norfolk).
They are generally described as wide-ranging in New Zealand waters and their breeding range has expanded recently as far as the Three Kings Islands, where our bird has possibly come from. An appropriate source so near Christmas.
Andrew Sutherland, a visitor to Norfolk, made the observation and has kindly provided the images seen here. He was returning from a trip to Phillip Island 7km south of Norfolk, where there are a number of seabird species nesting now, some of which have only one or very few alternative breeding sites in the world.
Some of these species are extremely sensitive to disturbance and the guide is cautious about going too near them. Phillip Island is an extension of the Norfolk Island National Park and the permit to operate tours there is dependent on proper regard being given to the rare and unique wildlife there, especially during breeding times. (Tours to Phillip Island are available only through   operated by David Bigg) ,

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Baby Boobies

The Masked (Tasman) boobies are having an extended breeding season in the island's north, as usual. At Nepean Island if the chicks are to be banded they need to be caught before they are flying, by about August/September. Phillip Island chicks, only 5-6 kilometres away to the south, are still unfledged by January. An unexplained difference of many months for the same species separated by just a short stretch of water. It would be interesting to track where their feeding grounds are to find out if the two groups go to distinct and separate areas, where the food availability may be different.

The Tasman Booby differs from other Masked Boobies, in being larger and having brown eyes. It was thought to have been an extinct species when fossilised bones were unearthed in the 1960s, but recent work utilising DNA sequencing has shown that the brown-eyed birds are the same as the 'extinct' Tasman booby. This brown-eyed group are found only in Norfolk, Lord Howe and the Kermadec islands, (north-east of New Zealand at about the same latitude as Norfolk).

Chicks are at that awkward teeenage stage now on Norfolk. A few still look like Sesame Street's Big Bird but many have preened and waved their wings about enough that their first flight feathers are coming through and only patches of down remain.

The juvenile plumage is mottled brown and these birds are often mistaken for 'another' species.

The boobies in these photos are part of the same group whose images appeared in the article in Australian Geographic in January 2010. Along with other seabird species that nest on the ground, these birds are breeding regularly on private property, where they are not disturbed. Ground-nesting seabird species have been all but obliterated from Norfolk's main island where feral cats, domestic cats and dogs, and rats kill them or drive them away. Humans have played their part in pushing these charismatic boobies off Norfolk Island in the past by disturbing them at their breeding grounds in the mistaken belief that the birds didn't mind the intrusions of people who had to get up close and personal for their photographs or just because they could. The parent birds seem unconcerned but are staunchly protecting their eggs or small chicks, and often when people have departed the stress of their presence will cause the parent birds to regurgitate the hard-won fish they have been diving for at sea to feed their chicks. The chicks don't leave because they can't fly, and cannot escape even if they wanted to.
 The birds in these photographs are given protection through constant trapping of feral cats and rat baiting in the area. Dogs are not allowed on the property unless restrained and people are kept at a distance or under close supervision.
We believe that all species are constantly looking for areas into which they can extend their territory and the only things stopping them all over Norfolk are predation and interference.
It may be that the increasing number of boobies now breeding at the northern coast of Norfolk and on the offshore rocky stacks (seen across from Cooks Monument and the Bridle Track) are moving from Phillip  Island where greater visitation is disturbing them in recent years. It may also be that as their numbers increase they simply need to find more areas to occupy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Kelp Gulls

Apologies for the break in transmission. I've been away for a short while.

 Bird observations were in good hands during my absence with these Kelp gull photographs being captured and the birds identified by 11 year old Lilli King before my return. Lilli snapped the two gulls in these pictures at Emily Bay one morning by sneaking through the grass without a zoom lens to assist. From further observations we think that there could be as many as 3 birds present, as the unusual black bar across the tail (seen in the in-flight image) of the adult-looking bird was absent in another seen at Kingston near the pier on Thursday 2 December.

The bill confirms the    identification, and the black bar on the tail is presumed to be unmoulted juvenile plumage. Discussion welcome.

Presumably these are the birds mentioned to me prior to my departure as possible Pacific gulls.

New Zealand books refer to this bird as the Southern Black-backed gull.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Briefly... this week

We saw a Long-tailed cuckoo at 100 Acres on Wednesday (good spotting by Rachel) , and another was reported run over by a car in Kingston. I went looking for parts but it was a number of days later, and found nothing. One is also being heard in the valley below Hemus Road.
Very reassuring was the sight of Pacific robin chicks in more than one site in the Mt Pitt area. We can only hope they survive to contribute to the population numbers.

I had a third-hand report of a Pacific gull, seen flying over the Kingston coastal area sometime this week, and the observer was a visitor so I have little chance of getting details.

Our group on Wednesday was surprised to see a large half-feathered/half downy booby on the hillside opposite Lone Pine at Kingston. There was a strong sou'easterly wind blowing into Kingston and the awkward and rather surprised-looking juvenile was probably picked up and carried across to Norfolk from Nepean Island when he was stretching his wings, exercising for a first flight that was likely planned for a later date. While we watched he managed to waddle to the top of the hill and let the wind take him away again, flying in a large arc in an attempt to get back home. We lost sight of him halfway across the water and can only think positively about the outcome. I've seen reluctant and unplanned first flights before, and the surprise and fear the boobies feel is easily read in their body language, with feet outstretched trying to reach the ground as it moves farther and farther away, and their neck craning downwards watching it recede. I could almost feel sorry for them if they didn't look so funny.

The red-tailed tropicbirds have a distinct blush of pink about them now, as they are dressed in their breeding plumage. It's strong enough colour to be clearly discernible even as they fly by. The colour is beautiful, and I have only ever seen it elsewhere in ethereal paintings by Italian masters.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Long-distance Visitors

Two new species have been spotted over the weekend, reported by John O'Malley again who provided the images here.

The Black-tailed godwit is a less common visitor to Norfolk Island than the Bar-tailed godwit, but they are here together right now, very conveniently providing a  great opportunity for comparison. The substantially longer  beak of the Black-tailed is easier to discern when you can see what it is longer than, ie the Bar-tailed's beak. Yesterday there was one Black-tailed pecking at the mud alongside two of its Bar-tailed relations in Kingston.
These birds breed in Iceland, Russia, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Poland and France, as well as many locations throughout the UK. It amazes me to think of the many perils it may have encountered on its way through China, Burma and the Philippines on its way to our little island, where we hope it can safely rest and recharge before moving on to New Zealand, where the Bar-tailed godwits are a more common occurrence.

The Red Knot seen at the right is another that breeds in the northern hemisphere, notably Greenland, Siberia and arctic north America, before undertaking the long and hazardous journey through Asia and Australia on its way to New Zealand. Various groups migrate by different paths, some to South Africa and others to Patagonia in South America. This bird was seen with a flock of Ruddy Turnstones in Kingston also.
To those of us who have never seen these birds in their breeding plumage, the name is a bit mysterious. Descriptions provided by those in the north paint a picture full of colour ; 'upperparts feathered black, heavily mottled and flecked with chestnut. Entire underparts rich uniform chestnut orange.' Clearly they are no longer dressed to kill when they arrive here to relax after their exhausting time of attracting mates and breeding. Norfolk Island is the place for that relaxing getaway that not only people love to experience, it seems. The word has been out amongst the world's bird populations for centuries. You don't need to dress up, just come to Norfolk and recuperate.

One other observation ~ last night we heard the first Black-winged petrel of the season coming onshore to breed. Cat traps are fully activated to protect these gentle birds in our area. Most of the Black-winged petrels that attempt to breed on Norfolk's main island will be killed by cats.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Yella Rosella

I've been asked if the talk about a yellow rosella is true.
Not being an expert on genetics and gene manipulation I am not going to make profound statements about recessive genes, additional y chromosones and splits. I'm happy to learn if anyone wants to comment.

What I can say is that there is a yellow rosella, which has been frequently seen in the south eastern parts of the island recently, and for at least the past 12 months or more. It seems to be moving out further now to the west and has been reported as far up the hill as just below Panorama Court, near the Cenotaph and along the road near the football field.

The bird is a naturally occurring colour variation which may have been caused by the family group staying together and creating a genetic bottleneck.
Patchy red can be seen around the breast and head, and the tail is blue.

When Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease was denuding both the crimson rosellas and NI parakeets (red parrots and green parrots to the locals) survivors would sometimes be very patchy looking like this individual, but not yellow. Generally they would regrow their usual colours in a random way, looking as if someone had thrown red and blue paint at them.
A year ago we caught this yellow rosella in a quiet moment with a friend and can say that she is almost undoubtedly a female.

The photograph was taken by Adrian Oosterman, who was here to watch whales but made some great bird sightings while he was here as well.

Other Notes
On Wednesday Archie and Matt report seeing a Long-tailed Cuckoo flying near Matt's house at Steeles Point.
The first Red-tailed Tropicbirds are settling in to nest. This is a really important time to be trapping feral cats, and to be keeping pet moggies indoors, or at least confined to their home properties, before there are chicks left for them to take while the parent birds are foraging.

(NB Although I am writing this on Thursday, there seems to be some disjointedness with the dates, as I suppose the posts are timed against USA clocks. We are slightly ahead so any anomalies are  less than 24 hours.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Continued strong winds are providing great opportunities to find unexpected birds taking shelter here. It's amazing to think that they find this little place, and how relieved they must be when they've covered miles and miles of ocean and suddenly see a place to land. I often wonder how many birds are blown out to sea and never do find a landing place. There must be thousands.

Thanks to John O'Malley who has provided this image of a Pectoral Sandpiper, and thought there may have been two there today when he went to get the picture in Kingston.

These two cormorants were hung out to dry at the Watermill Dam this morning, and still there after 3pm. Although a common sight to mainland dwellers, they are only occasionally seen at Norfolk Island. They are currently being seen circling over Emily Bay and the football field in the late afternoons, and have been roosting in the trees either near the Salt House or the first bridge at Emily. (Thanks to Adrian and Merv, and to Kath for their sightings.)

Last year when the dust storms from Australia reached us in October, there was a spate of unexpected birds being seen around the island. A Dollarbird, 3 types of tern (not all i.d.'ed), a Baillons Crake and an Australasian Grebe; all highly unusual and unexpected visitors and probably just a few of many birds disoriented and blown out to sea.
I have heard it said that there is a high likelihood of another dust storm, when the extensive flooding in Australia these last months subsides and dries out. We should all be on the lookout for the unexpected when it comes.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

More Blow Ins

The wind is still blowing strongly from the north east, and bringing some welcome rain ashore; always welcome from October on into the dry summer months.

I had a call last night from recent arrivals on the island, John and Sue O'Malley, reporting the sighting of a Pectoral Sandpiper near the Kingston pier. They also reported the Pied Stilt at Kingston, which we had previously seen at the Mission Pool last week. It is presumably the same bird as it's been absent from the Mission Pool site for a few days.

Friday, October 29, 2010

From the North

The wind is blowing onto Norfolk's northern coast today, laden with moisture from warmer seas, the rapid rise when it meets the cliffs creating the fog we are so accustomed to in November.

The northerly winds no doubt assist the Long-tailed cuckoos, as they are coming to us from somewhere in the north; maybe Papua New Guinea or anywhere across the Pacific as far as the Marquesas Islands. These cuckoos don't rate much mention in Australian bird books, and are recorded as an 'irregular visitor" to Lord Howe Island. In New Zealand they are expected in October each year and a list of the species they trick into raising their young is provided, showing that they are well known there and have been observed over a substantial period of time.
Long-tailed cuckoos have now been reported as having crashed into windows at two houses on the island. The first survived and was held overnight in a cage adjoining that of some very nervous canaries, enabling us to visit and photograph the bird in some detail (Thanks Archie.) It yelled at us quite a lot and by the time it was released, shooting off like an arrow as soon as it had the opportunity, it was being mobbed by small birds that emerged from the surrounding trees, waiting to see it off their property.

The second bird is waiting in a freezer to assist science.
(All bodies gratefully accepted!)

It would appear that a mob of these birds arrived together as there were two sightings at widely separated locations on one day, followed by the stunning of the temporarily caged one on the same afternoon. Others have been sighted in the last week that are more window-wise.
If you see a strange brown bird it might be a Long-tailed cuckoo. In size and colour they bear a passing resemblance to a kestrel, but their markings are more striking with the striated breast and barring that is typical of cuckoos across their long tail. When they are flying they have an undulating flight and their back appears dark brown.

Shining Bronze-cuckoos are also evident around the island now, more often heard than seen. Their iridescent green and striped breast plumage provide perfect camouflage in the forest, but their loud whistle announces their presence from a long way off. At first sounding like someone whistling a dog (a little slowly) the tell-tale descending note at the end of the call identifies this much smaller bird readily. Fantails and Gerygones (Peurties) beware of strange eggs in your nests!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Welcome to the first post of this new blog.
Look forward to improved quality and lots of images as I learn along the way.

Why a new blog for Norfolk Island? I hear you ask.

MANY people in the local community as well as visitors to the island and researchers, are interested in keeping abreast of what's happening around Norfolk Island in the natural world, on land and sea.
This blog is being created to provide a focal point for observations, and  provide answers to questions, or at least help readers take the right direction to find  their  answers.
Websites already exist to provide lists of species etc, but it is intended that this site will provide regularly updated current information about the many interesting happenings in and around the island group.

I welcome any observations or questions and hope that together we can all learn more about our wonderful and unique environment through sharing our experiences and observations.

... will be a feature as I spend a considerable amount of time outdoors, in the forest and by the wetlands keeping an eye on the comings and goings of migratory species as well as the resident ones. I have the good fortune to often be accompanied by visitors in search of the island's unique species, and we discover new  and unexpected things all the time.

In just the last week we have seen at least one (and possibly 3) Long-tailed Cuckoos, 2 black cormorants, a Pied Stilt, 5 Bar-tailed Godwits, heard Shining Bronze-cuckoos and seen an increasing number of Ruddy Turnstones (17) and Golden Plovers (44). One Tattler was also seen but not identified to species.

Some of the regular breeding seabird migrants are already feeding chicks; Tasman boobies, White terns and White-capped Noddies in particular are obvious. We heard the first returned Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Ghostbird) on 19 October, the Red-tailed Tropicbirds have acome ashore and it won't be long before the Frigatebirds turn up while these chicks are being fed around the coast.

have been under observation for the last 2 months especially, with the annual visit of our whale researchers from Brisbane and Byron Bay. Some new species records for the area have been identified in that time. Their research is mainly concentrating on Humpback Whales, but all sightings of whales and dolphins are of interest.
At this time of year the whales are returning from their calving grounds in the warm waters to the north, and travel slowly back to their feeding grounds in Antarctica while the calves put on enough weight to save them from freezing in the cold Southern Ocean waters.

Until next time.