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Birding Trip to Phillip Island, Norfolk Island National Park (1 Viewer)

My apologies for the delay in posting this, this trip was actually on 12-13 November 2014. Given that I have only just joined Bird Forum and that this is a very interesting site, I thought it would be worth posting now. I've posted a range of photos from the trip on my blog at http://naturalnorfolk.com/wp/?p=107.

I was lucky enough to spend two days on Phillip Island, 12 and 13 November 2014, just off Norfolk Island in the South Pacific (not to be confused with the popular Phillip Island in Westernport Bay in Victoria). The trip was essentially a work trip so I didn't have my binoculars, I had to choose between the camera and binoculars. This made the observations of land birds a bit limited, not there was much of interest to see, but for the seabirds, I don't know that I've ever been birdwatching somewhere where binoculars were less necessary. The second day was all work, but the first day was spent visiting all accessible parts of this magnificently scenic island.

Phillip Island is 6km south of Norfolk Island and is part of the National Park. It was completely decimated by introduced grazing animals (pigs, goats and rabbits) that were only finally eradicated in 1986. It was never home to introduced predators such as rats and cats that so impact on Norfolk Island. At the time of the last rabbit disappearing the entire island was barren with barely a few trees left. In the intervening time it has slowly regenerated itself, unfortunately much of it with the introduced olive. A lot of work has been done by the national parks team in removing the olive which has allowed regeneration of the mostly flax, moo-oo and white oak. A long way to go, but slowly getting there.

Firstly, Phillip Island is hard work. The access is steep and difficult and a quite reasonable degree of fitness is required over any part of the island. The boat access is difficult, variable and all visits to the island require a guide. Don't let that put you off though - the island is quite spectacular, beautiful cliffs all around and amazing colours in the landscape. The initial scramble up the cliffs had us being mobbed by Grey Noddies. At one point we had to step over an egg one had laid right in the middle of the path. The Grey Noddies tend to always be close to the water and off-shore stacks - I didn't see any on the higher parts of the island at all.

The usual numbers of Sooty Terns and Black Noddies could be seen fishing around the cliffs and, as it turned out, this is the only time we would see breeding Sooty Terns on the island. There were two Common Noddies on the way up, sitting on nests, the only ones we'd see. This is an uncommon species in the Norfolk area. The island normally holds many thousands of Sooty Terns but this season there are very few, though some numbers have braved the cats and rats and are breeding at The Chord, in the national park on the main island. The main culprit of this may be the self-introduced Purple Swamphen which have been growing in numbers across the island - was saw about 40 but they are much more secretive than normal on the island.

There were few parts on the island where Red-tailed Tropicbirds couldn't be seen. Right near there the rangers hut there were a few small White Oaks (/Lagunaria patersonia/) with tropicbirds nesting underneath them, enabling extremely close views. They would fly overehad most of the day but in the middle of the day hundreds would take to the wing around the cliff edges and enjoy the wind currents, doing all sorts of acrobatics. In the right parts of the island outstanding views could be had.

We stumbled across Masked Boobies pretty much all over the island, the breeding seemed to be in smaller numbers all around. Some birds were on eggs, some on young chicks and some with large, downy chicks. They were also breeding most rocky offshore stacks.

In the areas where the vegetation was a bit better established, small groups of Black Noddies were nesting in the trees. This is especially near the outstanding, large specimen of Phillip Island Hibiscus (/Hibiscus insularis/), an endemic species to the island, almost extinct but now propagated and widely planted on Norfolk. Oddly, there were virtually no White Terns on the island. I saw a single bird on three occasions, compared with their abundance on Norfolk. This may be due to the few and more exposed nature of tall trees, especially the Norfolk Island Pine.

As previously mentioned I didn't have binoculars so viewing of land birds were limited. I saw Common Starling, Common Blackbird, House Sparrow, Common Greenfinch, Silvereye and Emerald Dove. The only real native was the endemic subspecies of Sacred Kingfisher. I didn't see any endemics, though it is known that most of the Norfolk Island endemics also occurred on Phillip before the destruction of the vegetation.

Most time was spent on top of the island and the most common and obvious bird were Black-winged Petrels. Flying quite low down over the main part of the island, the birds called constantly and regularly seemed annoyed at our presence, flying around until we moved on. We regulatory stumbled across birds in burrows and under bushes and upon arriving at the rangers hut on the middle night, a pair were sitting on the floor of the toilet, apparently they have nested there before. The remains of Owen's Hut can still be found on the island, the home of Owen and Beryl Evans who endured this remarkable environment for months while doing research on the birds of the island. Inside a small tent, a pair of Black-winged Petrels has set up a nest on an old foam mattress - certainly living the life of luxury. In one of the huts we also found a single White-necked Petrel and another pair in a burrow just outside. This species is scarce on the island and rarely seen, but what observations there are seem to come from the Owen's Hut area.

This spot is also home to many geckoes, the Lord Howe Island gecko (though it also occurs here), now extinct on Norfolk due to the introduction of predators. The island is also home to the Lord Howe Island skink, the other native reptile to these islands, also extinct on Norfolk, but I didn't see it. They are apparently scarcer and much more difficult to locate. The island is also home to some very creepy giant centipedes. We found one recently deceased one about 6 inches long and more than half an inch across.

Upon descending back to the coast to wait for the boat to pick us up I saw a single Ruddy Turnstone on the coast and a Tattler, probably Wandering, I couldn't get a good enough look. We only just got out that day, a big swell had come up and while we got off Phillip okay, there was 6-8 foot surf rolling into Kingston so it made for an interesting return. It's probable that had the pick up been an hour later we would not have gotten back that day. All-in-all a truly amazing place but needed a few days to recover after.
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