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.