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.