Norfolk’s wildlife

Norfolk Island used to be covered in Norfolk Island pines packed close together – the same terrain you’ll find around Mt Pitt and Mt Bates in the national park. When the white man came, all that changed. The trees were cut down to make room for cultivation and exotic animals were introduced – horses, sheep, cattle, goats, rabbits, dogs, rats, mice, pigs. And a few avian interlopers like chickens,  sparrows, and blackbirds. Later, crimson rosellas came across from Australia and set up their own population. And then there was corn, bananas, mangoes, paw paws, peaches, grapes, a failed attempt at wheat, and even cold season fruit like apples. I’m sure that’s not an exhaustive list.

A gannet chick under a pine right next to the bloody bridge

The gannet chick up close. Or maybe that’s mum.

For a long time there was no restriction on what you could bring to Norfolk. That’s all changed now and you have to get past the clever little beagles at the airport who can sniff food a city block away. But a lot of damage has been done. On an island with no native mammals, birds could nest on the ground. It’s still possible but rather a lot more dangerous. I’m sure gannets have nested under this Norfolk Island pine right next to the bloody bridge for probably longer than human settlers. We could see a chick in the nest when we visited last year and there was a chick there this year, too. Or maybe it’s an adult bird sitting on eggs.

A crimson rosealla, introduced from Oz. They’ve changed a little from the Australian birds.

When the thick rainforest began to be cleared nesting sites for the local birds became in short supply. The feral rosellas compete with the endemic green parrot for nesting hollows and until recently the local birds were facing extinction. Fortunately, the national park people stepped in and carried out a breeding program, providing nesting boxes. Today the parrot population is in a far less parlous condition. Although I didn’t get a photo, I saw one cross the road in front of us as we drove down Mt Pitt. Read the whole story here.

The native owl, the morepork, is effectively extinct. A very closely related species is alive and well in the forests – but only because two male owls from a closely-related New Zealand species were brought to the island in the hope that the sole surviving female would mate with one of them. She did. But the birds are very inbred and are consequently under threat. Read more about it here.

A tern chick waits to be fed

Adult tern

Not sure if this one is incubating

The sea birds can roost on the islets around the shores where they are protected. The tern, however, has an interesting way of raising chicks. They lay eggs on a branch of a pine tree, using the same location every year. If the egg falls, they’ll lay another one. The chick hatches and spends its days clinging to the perch while the parent birds feed it until it can fly. Some will inevitably fall prey to a raptor but that’s life.

I mentioned that once you have your own car you can go off to find interesting things. One of them was a waterfall. A Waterfall! On Norfolk Island. But then when you think about it, there are creeks and when there’s  a lot of rain the water has to go into the sea somehow. So when we saw the sign on the map for Cockpit waterfall we had to take a look. There was water in the creek but not enough to activate the waterfall, a ledge of rock in a steep-sided valley overlooking the sea.

It would be quite spectacular when the creek was running.

That’s it for another year. I doubt we’ll go again but if you haven’t been I’m sure you’ll agree the island is worth a visit. Do take the tours, though. Old ruins are so much more interesting if you know what they are. Here are a few websites you might want to look at.

Norfolk Island Travel Centre Covers accommodation, tours and the like

Ten things you might not know about Norfolk Island This one is particularly interesting

Discover Norfolk Island This site covers the island’s history as well as other aspects