My wife and I took a much needed break from our hectic life to the quiet sub tropical paradise called Norfolk Island, a small island in the south pacific. An Australian territory about 1,400 km east of the mainland. To my surprise the island had remained in a time warp and was very much the same as it was when I visited in 1976, a real ‘laid back and friendly Aussie island lifestyle’. Norfolk Island is famous for its popular seaside tree, the Norfolk Pine which originated from this island, which originally was covered in this tree. This tree is now found throughout seaside areas on the east coast of the Australian mainland. In my next post I will share how this tree is important to the survival of a beautiful sea bird species.
The fronds of this pine unlike those in northern hemisphere point upward, as snow is not a problem here. The tree is depicted on the flag. To understand the political tension here and the three settlements you will need to read elsewhere. Captain James Cook originally claimed it for Britain in 1774 on his second voyage funded by the Duchess of Norfolk (in England), hence the honour of the island name. The first settlement of the uninhabited island was as a penal colony ( see ruins below) later closed leaving buildings intact due to its brutal tortures. Later the English sailors who mutineered the HMS Bounty from cruel Captain Bligh bred with the local Polynesians and settled an uninhabited Pitcairn Island nearby. Queen Victoria later granted them Norfolk to settle in response to their plea for more land. Later, free settlers from Australia and New Zealand came as the the third settlement. There since has been contention with the Pitcairn descendants and the Australian Government over sovereignty.
One of our objectives beside resting and swimming, was to explore the islands rainforest in the National Parks, in search of the rare species endemic to the island. Above is the rare and critically endangered Tasman Parakeet or Green Parrot (to the locals), which we were blessed to see after several days searching, and then on several occasions. The best and easiest place to hear and possibly see this bird is in the Norfolk Island Botanic Gardens, where there are many variety of native island rainforest fruit, fruiting while we were there.
The conservation program to save the remaining birds by relocating the young to nearby Phillip Island, a bird protected sanctuary island, has so far not been successful.
One of the keys to locating the bird is its peculiar call, which gives its position away. The loud kek, kek, kek ,kek can be heard quite a distance away.
The Parakeet is being threatened by loss of habitat, but more so by introduced black and Polynesian rats eating their eggs and young. A program of eradication has been in operation for some time. The other problem is the Crimson Rosella, introduced from Australia’s mainland by former prison officers, being released on their exit from the island. The Rosella outnumber the Parakeet and take their nesting holes.
The Tasman Parakeet is more accustomed to human presence than the Crimson Rosella, and tends to forage in the lower lying fruit tree branches, allowing one time to watch them, before they fly off. We watched one feeding on native fruit in the rainforest, so I apologise for the dark footage, as rainforests do not allow much light in through the canopy. We took many trips to the Botanic Gardens before we finally heard this bird and quickly advanced on its location.
The Norfolk Palms are currently fruiting in the mountains of the National Park and this will provide more food for the fruit eating parakeet.
The second endemic bird which is not so threatened as the parakeet is the Norfolk Island Sacred Kingfisher, which looks very similar to our local mainland species. We did not get many good shots of this bird due to the sun gleaming off its shiny plumage. Pictured below is our mainland Sacred Kingfisher alongside the NI sub species, but three of the birds are juveniles with brown plumage and mottled black chest. These birds were quite shy and flew off when they saw you paying them attention.
The third bird endemic to the island is the Norfolk Island is the tiny Norfolk Island Gerygone (Grey Warbler to the locals). Similar in appearance to our mainland species with the white eyebrow line, they have not suffered too much from human habitation, except for the black rat infestation, similar to the Tasman Parakeet.
This little bird makes a loud beautiful song which rings through the forest as they communicate to one another. It constantly moves, in a similar way to our mainland variety, and is difficult to photograph such a small bird in a dark forest.
The fourth endemic species was that of the Norfolk Island Pacific Robin. This robin is a subspecies of our mainland Scarlet Robin. The male has the distinctive black head with white forehead and bright red chest, and the female and juveniles brown with a very light orange chest, the juvenile having lighter chest colour and more brown plumage.
These were quite tame birds and very curious of humans, coming quite close to view us, especially tame in the deep forest of the National Park in Palm Glen near Mount Bates. This walk up and down steep ex volcanic mountainside was quite strenuous, and very healthy for us sedentary folk. Our legs knew it the next day. The Norfolk Island Tree Fern also endemic to the island are recorded as the tallest Tree Ferns in the world, growing up to 20 meters in height. So tall I can’t get them all in the picture.
The next endemic species which is also very curious of humans is the Norfolk Island Grey Fantail, similar to our mainland species. When we were deep in the forest at Palm Glen one of these birds flew continuously around me from branch to branch, it was so close I could not get focus. It was quite amusing to watch as I spun around with this bird. In the Botanic Gardens we found a pair of juveniles playing together having recently fledged and still having their fluffy front plumage. They landed right next to us without fear. There call is similar to our mainland species.
A rarer endemic to the island is the Norfolk Island Long or Slender-billed White-eye which has a longer and slightly downcurved beak compared with the mainland Australian Silvereye which is also on the island as an introduced bird. I will compare them on a later post. The white-eye has a dull green plumage with a yellow throat.
Our final endemic species for the island is the Norfolk Island Golden Whistler, which is quite different in appearance (especially the male) to the mainland and Lord Howe Island species. The male and female look alike with the male having a slightly golden chest plumage, and the female much less chest coloring. Their call is commonly heard throughout the forest.
Compare the above male with the mainland male below.
You will notice I did not edit out me shushing my wife, she often talks while I am doing live footage, it is one of the challenges of bird photography.
Stay tuned for next weeks post as we explore the sea birds that live and breed on the island. Meanwhile today our family mourns the loss of our dear old dog Bella as she lay in my wife’s arms and fell asleep. It was a very sad and emotional day for us all.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” – John 11:25
Have peaceful and rested weekend.
NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed by the site owner and remains his copyright property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018