Norfolk Island, Oct 2022

Summary: Lovely isolated island with a couple of alluring endemic species and excellent seabird watching from windy headlands

Date of visit: Oct 6 to 11, 2022

Norfolk Island is an Australian external territory in the Pacific Ocean island about 1450km east of Brisbane. It makes for an intriguing birding destination due to a couple of endemic species, as well as an abundance of seabirds that can be watched from land.


Norfolk Island is only about 7.75km across, with the main town of Burnt Pine and the adjoining airport roughly in the middle. Despite the island’s small size, you’ll need a car to access all the sites detailed below. The various accommodation options often bundle in car hire, and it is normal for someone managing your accommodation to meet you at the airport.

At the time of writing, the fresh food supply was somewhat dire, with the supermarket stocking only carrots, potatoes, onions and wombok – there were no eggs and other common staples were sometimes hard to come by. Several cafes and eateries appeared shuttered (probably due to the recent pandemic), and some cafes were not able to offer everything on their menus. That said, we did eat out a couple of times (“The Olive” cafe was quite good) and enjoyed it.

Norfolk Island National Park

Norfolk’s large National Park is likely to be one of your first birding/nature destinations and is the best place to try to find the Norfolk Island Robin and the more elusive Norfolk Island Parakeet (also known as the “green parrot”). The Parakeet population was once down to an estimated 50 birds but has recovered to some several hundred due to conservation efforts.

The National Park contains most of the last remnants of subtropical rainforest that once covered the entire island, so it is quite densely vegetated. Fortunately the trail network includes quite a few wide paths so there is enough light and space to spot birds. The Summit Track and Mount Bates Track are both good starting points; the former offers panoramic views across the island (though only a handful of car parks), while the latter has barely any space to park a car but gets you into the thick of the birding straight away.

The Grey Fantails here, like most places on Norfolk, are incredibly confiding. They will come close enough to flutter around you, and are remarked upon with big smiles by all the non-birders that are out for a stroll. Interestingly, their call sounds a little different to the Grey Fantail of mainland Australia, featuring a super-cute descending melody that we came to recognise quite well (for a snippet of this fantail call see 43 seconds in to this video).

The Norfolk Island Robin, closely related to the mainland’s Scarlet Robin and split off as a distinct species in 2015, is definitely one endemic bird you’ll want to find. They inhabit most areas of the National Park with very few sightings outside of this area. The Summit Track is a good place to start, though we also found them on the Palm Glen Circuit and Bird Rock Track.

Our first Norfolk Robin was a female and was seemingly in a quite placid mood – it sat quietly (on the edge of the Summit Track) and only moved to other branches sporadically. In fact while we were watching it, the bird fell asleep! And we were only about 3 or 4 meters away.

We saw the male robin near the female (as seems to often be the case), though much closer and more prolonged views were had of another male robin on the Palm Glen Circuit track a little later in the morning.

This male gave us an incredible encounter and we captured the bird singing on video (the latter part of the video features the sleepy female from the other pair).

The Palm Glen circuit (a 900m loop track) can be approached from the south via Selwyn Pine Road, where there is plenty of car parking, or by foot from the Red Road Track. At the south-eastern end of the circuit there is a picnic table and bench seat and the impressive view extends all the way to Norfolk’s south-east coast and to Philip Island beyond. It is a top spot for lunch or a snack, where you can watch the White Terns cruising about below while munching on a sandwich.

Another endemic bird to try and find in the National Park are Slender-Billed White-eyes. These present the hardest (actually probably the only) identification challenge you’ll hit with Norfolk’s forest birds, because this species is quite similar to the more ubiquitous Silvereye. One clue is habitat: Silvereyes are more likely outside the National Park. In terms of physical characteristics, Slender-Billed White-eyes are larger and have a more greyish back and underparts and a longer, decurved bill. If your bird has brown or coppery flanks, that’s another clue it is a Silvereye rather than a Slender-Billed. We think we found mostly Slender-Billed White-eyes rather than Silvereyes in the National Park, but at times weren’t 100% sure.

Golden Whistlers are quite prominent on Norfolk Island especially in the National Park, where at times we heard up to four whistlers calling out loudly to each other. We didn’t see any males in bright yellow breeding plumage.

We found the Norfolk Island Parakeet, also known as the “green parrot” (or just “the parrot” if you’re exchanging notes with other birders on the island – they’ll know what you mean!) to be the most elusive of the forest birds. We had tried twice at the Botanic Gardens and kept a good look out on a couple of longer excursions into the National Park, but only gained a fleeting view of the it on the Palm Glen Circuit, where the bird flushed out from near ground level then hid itself cunningly in some dense lower-storey foliage before disappearing never to be seen again. Frustrating!

The following day we tried the nearby Mclachlan’s Lane trail at about 2pm, and we again startled a parakeet which was feeding on small orange berries (of a lily pily-like bush) near ground level; it then flew up into the tree behind. This time, however, the bird stayed there for a short time, cleaning its beak on a branch before flying off. It was the best view we could hope to get of this hard to find but charming bird.

Botanic Gardens

The Norfolk Island Botanic Gardens is 5.5 hectares and is technically part of the National Park. It is less a garden and more of a rainforest – very thick and densely vegetated. There is a most excellent Discovery Centre here with information about the flora and fauna. Entry to the gardens and Discovery Centre is free.

There are a few little circuit walks here as well as the slightly longer Rainforest Gully Circuit, totalling about 260m of track overall. Most are well set up with wooden steps and handrails where it is steep, though some parts we found quite muddy due to recent rain.

A very young Song Thrush was a highlight here, who was completely unafraid of humans and cheeped incessantly along the edge of the boardwalk (the adult was foraging close by). We also saw a few Slender-Billed White-eyes, and Brown Gerygones were moving about the trees too. A couple of White Terns flew into the tops of the trees at Rainforest Gully. These ethereal birds actually don’t bother making a nest, merely depositing their egg on a branch and hoping for the best. We didn’t see any Norfolk Parakeets here despite a couple of decent attempts; though according to eBird it is a semi-reliable spot for them.

A comical moment came when we saw a Grey Fantail accompanying a chicken who was pecking through leaf litter on the forest floor. The Fantail was no doubt enjoying whatever insects the chicken was kicking up.

The Botanic Gardens is pleasant and interesting enough but it is quite dark and gloomy inside the dense canopy with only a couple of open spots to let light in. This makes it horrendously difficult for photography.

Captain Cook Memorial, Bridle Track and Bird Rock

This area is also part of the National Park but warrants a separate mention as it involves a different type of experience – because you’ll probably want to come here mainly to watch seabirds from the cliff tops!

You can walk to this section of the National Park from the eastern side, but it is a long way. It’s also a long way by car (comparatively speaking, as Norfolk Island isn’t very large), as you have to circle right around the park to get to its north-western tip. Here there’s a spacious car park (which may feature a small tour bus or two…), some picnic tables and toilet facilities. The monument to Captain Cook is a stone obelisk commemorating his 1774 landing on Norfolk Island.

From the headland you can see well along the coastline to both north and south. We found it was very, very windy right out on the tip of the headland – hard to keep a camera or spotting scope stable.

Fortunately if you go a few hundred metres along the Bridle Track there is another good viewpoint which is a little more sheltered. Here we set up the spotting scope to good effect and were able to start scanning some of the islands and rock stacks along the coast. A sleepy White Tern in a Norfolk Pine behind us kept us company as we spotted Masked Boobies, a Red-Tailed Tropicbird, and many Sooty Terns (the latter are notably absent from Norfolk Island in winter).

More offshore rock stacks (like Green Pool Stone and Cathedral Rock) come into view as we progressed down Bridle Track, which is a sometimes narrow dirt track with some up-and-down undulations. We then took a further plunge and went down the Red Stone Link Track (quite steep) which offers a short cut to Bird Rock Track – overall about 1.25km (each way) as the crow flies, but probably nearly 2km by these trails.

Bird Rock also proved to be windy but was teeming with seabirds. A spotting scope is recommended to get a good look at the rock itself, but birds are almost constantly soaring over the headland area and sometimes fly very close, so good observing can be had either way.

On our last full day on Norfolk Island we ended up revisiting Bird Rock (via the National Park walking tracks from Red Road) and counted over 100 Sooty Terns along with good numbers of Masked Booby and Grey Ternlet. The wind was not quite as fierce but still made for dramatic avian flights; good photos can also be had here by pointing the camera downwards and capturing pictures or video of the birds below with waves crashing on rocks in the background. It’s a terrific location to watch seabirds, but far from the only such spot on the island (see below!)

Ross Point

At the south of Norfolk Island at the very end of Rocky Point Road is a headland area that is quite pleasant for birding and is very good for Red-Tailed Tropicbirds in particular, as these grass-topped cliffs provide a nesting site for them.

A short walk is required down to the headland, where we found eight Red-Tailed Tropicbirds enjoying the fairly strong winds.

Soon after a Nankeen Kestrel turned up as well, and made flying look exceptionally easy, maintaining an absolutely stationary position as it watched for prey below. It was the only time we would see this bird on our trip. An assortment of Crimson Rosella, a Sacred Kingfisher, a few California Quail, and miscellaneous other birds took our tally for this site to a dozen species.

Hundred Acres Reserve

Hundred Acres is a woodland of White Oak, Norfolk Pine and other trees that lies along the south-west coastline of Norfolk Island. We visited there three times and were very impressed by the 2.3km walking loop, and of course, the birds!

The entry to the wood is a little subtle, being merely a gate and an understated sign. The easiest landmark to look for is “The Homestead”, a property and restaurant on Homestead Road – Hundred Acres is opposite this.

Blackbirds are common within the woodlands, and we observed two separate instances of these birds fighting each other on the forest floor. Also common are roaming groups of Silvereye, the occasional Grey Fantail, pairs of Crimson Rosellas, and the ever-present Norfolk Gerygone with its musical call. On our first visit we also saw three Pacific Emerald Doves. We counted between 14 and 16 species on our checklists here.

As the track slopes down towards the water, there is a large grassy clearing where Noddies and Terns fly through, sometimes circling as if for the mere fun of it.

The track then descends via a wooden boardwalk and follows the cliff line for around 100 metres. The boardwalk passes over an area where the summer-time burrows of shearwaters punctuate the ground. On the cliff line there is a bench seat and it is a fantastic spot to watch seabirds swoop and dive.

Black Noddies are fairly obvious in flight but seem harder to capture shots of than the other seabirds. On our first visit, which was late afternoon, we counted nearly 80 Noddies in total, the majority roosting in the Norfolk Pines, sometimes as many as 20 to a tree.

Red-Tailed Tropicbirds nest in the grasses along the cliff line, and we watched one land in the grass and disappear into it completely. Quite the magic trick!

White Terns fly around singly, in pairs and sometimes triples, and they can be witnessed as tiny white specks further out to sea as well.

On our second visit to the reserve, a couple of Black Noddies were cruising through the forest silently, sometimes quite close to where we were standing on the track, and then landing to gather nesting material.

On our last evening on Norfolk another birder had posted a sound recording of a Long-Tailed Cuckoo (an occasional visitor to the island) taken from Hundred Acres that day, and so we made a quick third visit to try and find it the following day, but to no avail.

This forest has to be one of the most Instagram-able I’ve ever seen, with plenty of photogenic moss-covered branches and roots, wind-swept foliage, and serene clearings grabbing the attention of the keen nature photographer. Of particular worthiness are the massive Moreton Bay Fig trees that line the road (and that can also be found along one stretch of trail within the reserve) – they are truly majestic.


Kingston is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the south side of Norfolk Island and is a mish-mash of several different areas: a Government House, ruins of old gaols and buildings from the former penal colony, a golf course, two lookouts, a rocky reef which becomes exposed at low tide, and the island’s only proper permanent wetland area. We stayed at the rather good Islander Apartments just up Middlegate Road with a view across Kingston and the ocean, so we popped down several times to watch birds in our “local patch”.

The afternoon we arrived in Norfolk Island was gloomy and a little rainy, but there were plenty of birds about. On the main grassy field were several cows and Song Thrush, Blackbird, over 40 Common Starling, five Pacific Golden Plovers and a Ruddy Turnstone, a trio of Crimson Rosellas, a few Welcome Swallows, plus a handful of House Sparrows (with a Greenfinch hiding amongst them). This was just on one field!

Between the main fields and the remains of the gaol complex is a stretch of wetland area which is the best place to find wetland birds on Norfolk. Swamphens, a seemingly resident group of four Royal Spoonbills, and several Pacific Black Duck/Mallard hybrids hid out here, while nearby were also White-Faced Herons (mainly on the fields, actually… we counted seven at one point).

The hybrids are easy to tell as they have less striking facial markings than Pacific Black Ducks and have bright orange legs (and often a curly tail).

On October 8 word reached us (and was also posted on the Norfolk Island Birds Facebook page) that a Canada Goose had been seen at Kingston, so we headed down the following morning to find it swimming along the reed edges. This was apparently the first record of this bird on Norfolk and there was speculation it had blown in from the population of these geese in New Zealand. Quite a large bird and the most unexpected one of the trip.

In Slaughter Bay (as the bay at Kingston is named), a rocky reef becomes exposed at low tide and here we found three Bar-Tailed Godwits, a Wandering Tattler, more Ruddy Turnstones and Pacific Golden Plovers. Most of these migrating birds are here only between September and March. We had to use the spotting scope to get good views of these birds, and didn’t end up with any particularly good photos.

Kingston became a bit of a go-to spot for relaxed bird photography in between visiting other sites on the island. The tops of the stone walls of the ruins were often used by Sparrows, Rosellas, and Starlings as staging points as these birds flew up and down from the many grass sections. Once or twice we even saw Rosellas checking out holes in the rocks, presumably for use as nesting holes.

Starlings and Sparrows proved to be difficult to get close to – they always seemed to fly off before getting close enough for a detailed photo. (The sparrows in the town are much more obliging!)

If you follow the road to the east there are some nice spots with views over neighbouring Emily Bay, and following a little further (across “Bloody Bridge”, a stone bridge with a story behind it…), the road climbs up to a terrific headland which overlooks Cemetery Bay, where you might see Red-Tailed Tropicbirds and White Terns soaring.

Anson Bay

Anson Bay is possibly Norfolk’s most picturesque spot. It lies at the north-east of the island and has a little car park and reserve, and a (mostly grassy but partly muddy) zig-zagging track that leads down to the sand. There’s nothing special about the birds here – we encountered quite a few Silvereyes, and there were a couple of Golden Whistlers, Gerygones and Grey Fantails, and of course White Terns. It’s more a place to admire the scenery, particularly gorgeous if the sun is out.

Further up the road at the extreme north of the island at the end of Fisherman’s Lane is a grassy headland which is a known breeding spot for Masked Boobies. A little wander over a farm fence might be required to see them, but do keep your distance and take photos and observations from a non-threatening distance.

Other locations around Norfolk Island

You’ll see decent numbers of birds most anywhere you drive around Norfolk Island, though most chance encounters will be of non-endemic birds. California Quail, a prettily patterned bird (introduced to Norfolk in the 1800s), are seen everywhere though they tend to scurry out of sight fairly quickly if startled. The best photo I got was of one jumping up to the fence around our accommodation when we arrived home one day!

There is a large feral chicken population so you’ll see chickens almost everywhere, from families of them roaming the main town to “oh! what’s that bird? it’s only a chicken” moments in the depths of the National Park. Sacred Kingfishers are also all over, often heard with their “yip-yip-yip” calls. Occasionally you will see Cattle Egrets near cows in fields, and we heard there were Masked Woodswallows “near the airport”, though we didn’t go specifically looking for those birds.

Blackbirds were common everywhere we went, whether it was forests or in the grasses along the sidewalks near town; here a spot of “car birding” (sticking the camera out of the car when you see a bird on the side of the road) proved an effective photographic strategy, particularly along some roads where there is a steep verge and birds are near eye-level on the grass.

I managed some good shots of Starling this way which were otherwise difficult to approach without startling them (see above); I even next-levelled my car birding skills by having the driver approach slowly, with my camera already aimed and poked out of the passenger side window (previous attempts had scared Starlings off just by the movement of the camera!). A similar technique worked a treat along the roads through the farms and reserves south of the airport (Country Road and New Farm Road in particular), where I was very happy to capture a European Greenfinch on a fence line – a bird I had struggled with in Tasmania.

We also explored a few other spots around Norfolk including Cascade Bay, which apparently has plenty of seabirds but was totally lacking in that regard when we went there; a few of the headland reserves which often featured Norfolk Pines on grassy cliff-tops with dramatic coastline views; and we also undertook a rather random hike on the western side of the National Park (from Anson Bay Road) which provided a different type of forest experience and a couple of robins.


Norfolk Island provides a decent location for at least a couple of days birding with the attraction of a couple of endemic species. I would suggest only that much time is needed to comprehensively cover the island (more if you take a more leisurely approach). Most of it is pretty easy – there are plenty of good accommodation options and it is relatively quick to get around the island (noting several of the country roads have epic numbers of potholes that you’ll just have to get used to); you also don’t have to worry about snakes and sand flies, as there are none here. The main annoyance we found was tracks that were muddy from rain, though not to the point that they were impassable.

As well as the couple of endemic species, Norfolk is an excellent place to watch usually ocean-going seabirds without having to undertake pelagic boat trips. We had a terrific time in this regard and fell in love with the White Terns, Red-Tailed Tropicbirds, Masked Boobies, Black Noddies and Sooty Terns. At various times of year you should also be able to get onto Great Frigatebird and Little Shearwater and, with luck and persistence, might be able to find a seabird rarity or two as well.

Interestingly, though there are plenty of eBirders who go there, birds like the Norfolk Island Gerygone and Slender-Billed White-Eye have only about 40 photos on eBird. Even the Parakeet has only around 50 photos. Perhaps that is due to the difficulty of getting good shots of these birds, or maybe most birders aren’t as interested in photography as they are in checklisting – who knows?
Note that Norfolk Island is its own territory on eBird so birds seen there won’t count towards your eBird Australia list!
Region hotspot: Norfolk Island (125 species)
Our eBird Trip Report comprising all checklists
Our Videos: Robins, Grey Fantail, Masked Booby, White Terns, Sooty Terns, Song Thrush, California Quail

Pluses and minuses:
+ Lovely endemic birds to find
+ Watching seabirds from the headlands is awesome
+ Some very lovely scenic spots
+ Mostly pretty easy to get around and explore
– Some harder birding in the denser rainforests
– Not as much bird diversity as the mainland
– Can get muddy and some trails are a little steep
– Have to fly to get there 🙂

AUTHOR: Andy Gee
BIRDERS: Andy Gee, K-A

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