Australia's Norfolk Island - 26th - 29th January 2013

Published by Phil Gregory (info AT

Participants: Phil, Sue Gregory


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Pacific Robin
Pacific Robin
Golden Whistler
Golden Whistler
Pacific Robin
Pacific Robin
Red-tailed Tropicbird
Red-tailed Tropicbird
Sacred Kingfisher
Sacred Kingfisher
Grey Fantail
Grey Fantail

Two hours and one minute flight from Brisbane on Air New Zealand Boeing 777, (their “Lord of the Rings” themed safety video is a classic, Air Middle Earth indeed!) We stayed at Cumberland Resort and Spa in Burnt Pine just 5 min from the airport, with car included in the $915 flight and accommodation package, though $23 a day insurance is extra. Internet service was fair, seemed slow and dropped out at night at times, $20 for 5 hours when it’s free in Cambodia, Ghana etc!

Weather quite good throughout, fairly sunny and warm at 24-26°C, but very windy as the remains of Cyclone Oswald passed over, rising to gale force on Jan 27 and sabotaging my attempts for the Morepork x Boobook that night, though despite similar conditions next night we did manage to locate one calling.

Life birds were Norfolk Island (Tasman) Parakeet, Slender-billed White-eye and Norfolk Island Gerygone, whilst Oz ticks were Feral Chicken, California Quail and Pacific Robin, though why Feral Greylag isn’t included on the national checklist is mystifying. The Norfolk Island Golden Whistler must be a strong candidate for a split, and work on what currently constitutes Pacific Robin might yield up another as these sure don’t look or sound like the Fiji birds. Trip List total ended up at 45 plus one large raptor sp. I missed Goldfinch and Nankeen Kestrel and had no sign of Shining Bronze Cuckoo, and think we are maybe just too early for Little Shearwater (though they say two taxa breed here, one in summer and one in winter), whilst White-necked Petrel again eluded me despite seeing so many Black-winged from shore.

I used a couple of Internet trip reports from Dave Torr and Tim Bawden as a primer but it all seemed pretty easy. I was amazed at how good the infrastructure was, at how beautiful the island is, and at how good were the trails and facilities in the national park, it is really easy to do and even the unfit should manage quite well. The Botanic Garden was amazing with a great trail and boardwalk system that must have cost a fortune, and it has most if not all of the endemics. Mt Pitt at just 219m and with a paved road up it is my kind of mountain. Be aware that shops and cafes seem to be erratic in opening, but there was always somewhere and also a good choice of places to go eat or buy food. The Chinese Restaurant and Takeaway opposite Cumberland Resort was very good as is the Olive Cafe. I really should have contacted the resident local birder Margaret Christian, who offers part-day tours and would be a mine of information, but somehow we just never got round to it, I recommend her 2005 book “Norfolk Island…the birds” as the standard reference anyway and also the excellent “Norfolk Island’s Fascinating Flora” by Peter Coyne.

Species Lists

Feral Chicken Gallus gallus
Common around the north, even seen on the airstrip and very well-established, we saw about 40 on Jan 26 and 90 on Jan 27 including some males in very fine wild type plumage, though most seem to be grey-backed or very dark derivatives. An Oz tick no less.

California Quail Callipepla californica
5 up the Mt Bates Track and 5 near Puppies Point on Jan 26, covey of 15 near Point Howe and 7 near Capt. Cook Lookout turn-off Jan 27, 5 at Rocky Point Jan 28 and 6 along Capt. Cook Road Jan 29. Also an Oz tick.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus
Dozens offshore from Point Howe Jan 26-27. 70+ W off Cascade Jetty Jan 28.

Black-winged Petrel Pterodroma nigripennis
About 20 on Jan 26 around the Point Howe area where they are clearly nesting, with burrows visible in the long clifftop grass, and then dozens next day heading S past Point Howe and off the Capt. Cook lookout. 100+ W off Cascade Jetty Jan 28 1530-1600. Very vocal and often heard, the call a shrill “whik whik whik whik” but sadly too windy to be able to tape it.

Masked Booby Sula dactylatra tasmani
30-50 offshore from Point Howe and Cook’s Lookout, with a small colony on Green Pool stack, next to the delightfully named Moo-oo (a kind of Cyperus sedge or grass) stack. 18 there on Jan 29.

Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda roseotinctus
Quite common with 30-50 each day off the north, most without red tail streamers. One in the bushes at Rocky Point Jan 28 was amazingly tame and just sat there.

Little Pied Cormorant
1 flying over Kingston Beach Jan 27.

Little Black Cormorant
1 flying past Rocky Point Jan 28.

Great Frigatebird Fregata minor
One past Point Howe Jan 26 and 2 off Capt. Cook Lookout Jan 27, no doubt the remnants of Cyclone Oswald have caused the very strong winds these two days which favour frigatebirds.

Feral (Greylag) Goose
21 at Mission pond and 25 at Kingston pond, clearly long-established and should be on the Australian list as such, a puzzling omission.

A few around Kingston were of the farmyard duck persuasion

Pacific Black Duck
6 on Mission Pool and 7 at Kingston pond, 10 there next day, though some hybridization with Mallard looks likely.

Royal Spoonbill
1 at Mission Pond Jan 26-27

White-faced Heron
1 at Mission pond Jan 26, and 3 at Kingston Jan 27 and Jan 28.

Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus
Two along Mission Road and 1 at Kingston Jan 27, 1 Kingston Jan 28.

Raptor sp.
I over Burnt Pine Jan 26, which looked quite like Whistling Kite, but I did not see it well enough to be sure and they are not known here.

Pacific Golden Plover
5 Slaughter Bay, Kingston Beach Jan 27, 1 Jan 28 and 1 at airport.

1 Slaughter Bay, Kingston Beach Jan 27

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
1 Slaughter Bay, Kingston Beach Jan 27

Grey-tailed Tattler
1 Slaughter Bay, Kingston Beach Jan 27, distant, then flew closer and called. Again on Jan 28 with 2 tattler sp.

Wandering Tattler
1 Slaughter Bay, Kingston Beach Jan 27 and Jan 28

Ruddy Turnstone
5 Slaughter Bay, Kingston Beach Jan 27, 27 there Jan 28.

Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus kermadeci
A few in the north around Cook’s Lookout where they were on the little stack to the E in the original landing bay, where you could hear them calling the nasal “wideawake’, and small number <10 seen at Point Howe and Cascade Jetty

Black Noddy Anous minutus
Quite common, with several hundred both days. A nesting colony in the pines at Rocky Point Jan 28 had around 80 birds.

Brown Noddy Anous stolidus pileatus
Very scarce, just a couple off Cook’s Lookout Jan 27

Grey Noddy Procelsterna albivitta albivitta
Two distant singles off Point Howe Jan 26, 4 off Capt. Cook’s Lookout Jan 27 and one off Point Howe same day. 1 W past Cascade Jetty Jan 28 and 1 on the stack E of at Cook’s Lookout Jan 29.

White Tern Gygis alba candida
Quite common in the N with over 100 both days, evidently nesting in the Norfolk Pines, and a colony at Rocky Point in the pine forest there with the Black Noddies.

Feral Pigeon
About 30 on Jan 27, many quite dark coloured and all seemingly descended from 2 birds from Brazil and South Africa which arrived in 1790 on the Sirius, which was wrecked here at Slaughter Bay.

Pacific Emerald Dove Chalcophaps longirostris rogersi
1 juv. Jan 25 near Point Howe, and 2 at Mt Bates Jan 27, much more golden-bronze above than mainland birds and pinker less rich below, with grey and blackish rump bands and yellow bill. Heard at Rocky Point Jan 28 and one over Mission Road Jan 29.

Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus norfolkensis
One on Jan 26 and 5 on Jan 27 and Jan 28 with few heard, seems quite widespread. Most were very whitish below with buff loral spot and bluish rump, also quite well angled lower mandible on a fairly big bill. Call much as Sacred Kingfisher.

Crimson Rosella
5 on Jan 26 and 10 on Jan 27, inc. one subadult with green feathering on wings. Small nos. Jan 28-29. Seems like a good plan to cull them even on the chance of competition with the native Parakeet.

Norfolk Island (Tasman) Parakeet Cyanoramphus cookii
One flying over and one heard Mt Bates Jan 26, a brief view but the short harsh call gives it away, sort of quadrisyllabic quite harsh flat “kek” notes. Another fly-over calling en route to Capt. Cook’s Lookout Jan 27, and then had a terrific flyby near eye level, seeing the red crown. This one landed and began calling, so I was able to get some recordings of it. Also heard twice at the Mt Bates track late pm. Seems pretty darn rare, this 200 birds population estimate may be a tad optimistic, but they are easily overlooked. Available habitat does not seem all that large to me either, and no doubt the rosellas compete for nest holes. I think Norfolk Island Parakeet is more precise than the horribly generic Tasman Parakeet, with the name Tasman being used for species on both Lord Howe and here, whereas the parakeet was not on Lord Howe. The IOC’s Norfolk Parakeet is even more misleading and really requires the Island modifier.

Norfolk Island Boobook x Morepork Ninox novaeseelandiae undulata x Ninox novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae.
We tried along the Mt Bates track at dusk on Jan 28 but the wind was so strong it was hopeless. Next day we tried around 2030 at Red Road NP car park, where it was again way too windy, then once more up Mt Bates but only near the main road area, both unsuccessfully. I then made a final try from the Display platform at the Botanic Gardens where there was broad vista across a valley and potentially good soundlines in a more sheltered spot, and this got a quick response from at least one bird, way down across the valley. It sounded much like Southern Boobook and was interested in both that tape and the Tasmanian taxon leucopsis, calling for several minutes. I did not brave the trails and steps in the dark and was content to just hear it, maybe 0.5 of an Oz tick?

Welcome Swallow
About 30 on wires near Burnt Pine both days, small numbers at Kingston and 2 at Capt. Cook’s Lookout.

(Norfolk Island) Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta
Two at Mt Bates Jan 26 and one near Capt. Cook Lookout Jan 27, hen plumaged and very distinctive, has dull whitish chin and throat and a diffuse buffy breast band with brown upperparts and tail. Voice typical Pachycephala but short phrases were all I heard. 2 in Botanic gardens Jan 28, with a pale mark at bend of wing and pale yellowish vent and belly. One at Mt Bates Jan 29 but I was unable to get any calling birds close enough to tape and they were very quiet, just giving short song phrases. Must be a good candidate for a split as very distinctive, if Rennell Whistler is a split then so is this one.

Masked Woodswallow Artamus personatus
2 males and a female along New Farm Road near the airport Jan 29, one of the more surprising colonists here and in very low numbers as yet.

(Norfolk Island) Grey Fantail Rhipidura albiscapa pelzelni
Small numbers on Mt Bates and near Cook’s Lookout, surprisingly distinctive with pale grey upperparts, buff wing bars (juvs and subadults), not much white in tail and very buffy underparts, reminded me of Mangrove Fantail. Vocally some notes like Grey Fantail, but also a tinkling silvery trill quite like Mangrove Fantail, which sadly I failed to record.

Eurasian Blackbird
Quite common

Song Thrush
Fairly common, far more so than in the UK these days!

Norfolk Island Gerygone Gerygone modesta
Quite common at Mt Bates, it was the first endemic we heard with its short sweet typical Gerygone-type song. Lacks an eyestripe, very brown above, dull below with whitish chin and belly, pale tail tips and a broad diffuse dark bar when it fans its tail. Bill black, legs dark brownish, diffuse pale area just above eye and thin broken white eye ring. A presumed juv. had pale yellow chin and throat and seemed paler below with a faint eye-ring. Also heard in the gardens in Burnt Pine at the Golden Orb Café and Cumberland Resort.

Pacific Robin Petroica multicolor multicolor
Seems very scarce, but likes dense gully forest and thickets so you need to be in or near deep cover. A F at Mt Bates Jan 26 had a red breast, small black stripe behind eye and a very quiet high-pitched drawn out call, also looked quite large for a Petroica. A pair at the Botanic gardens in Ferny Gully Jan 28, male singing well, and 2 F in the Rainforest Gully, then a fine male just past “Lindisfarne” in the forest on the bend on Capt. Cook Road en route to Capt. Cook Lookout, with 2 others singing close by. Legs browny, bill blackish. One call is a distinctive harsh scolding series not unlike the parakeet call, and the song is a quiet dry rattly sequence. An Oz tick anyway and an interesting taxon, be good to know what others in the assemblage sound like, these seem big to me with longish tails, and I don’t recall the Fiji birds singing or calling like this one.

Common Starling
Common, saw c. 100 Jan 27 and good numbers in the more open country to the south on Jan 28 and 29.

Silvereye Zosterops lateralis lateralis
Common, one of the most frequently seen or heard birds, but hard to see well, looked big billed with a pale flesh-pinkish lower mandible.

Slender-billed White-eye Zosterops tenuirostris tenuirostris
Uncommon, saw 2 Jan 26 at Mt Pitt, 3 or 4 Jan 27 in the NP there and a couple on Jan 28 at the Botanic Gardens, the bill looked very long and slightly decurved when seen close but not so obvious at distance. Upperparts greenish tinged grey-green on mantle chin, throat and upper breast yellow. A presumed hybrid at the Botanic gardens had greyish-green mantle, quite extensive yellow chin and throat, dirty greyish underparts and yellow undertail coverts, with a Silvereye-type stout bill. I was unable to distinguish any obviously distinctive calls amongst the general Zosterops notes, but it was hard to see what was actually calling

House Sparrow
Quite common in the towns

Rare, just 2 by the airstrip Jan 28.