Surveying one of the world’s rarest birds: Part one

The Norfolk Island morepork owl has a lot on its plate right now (and I’m not talking about insects). This owl has overcome serious threats to its existence, and isn’t out of the woods yet. It’s listed as an endangered species under the EPBC Act, and while it shares this label with a number of other plant and animal species on the island, few hold the same place in the hearts of Norfolk Islanders.

Lonely Miamiti

In 1985 there was only one morepork on Norfolk and two male New Zealand moreporks were brought to breed with the bird, nicknamed Miamiti.

That’s why, when local park staff asked the local community to help conduct a rigorous population survey of the owl, the response was inspiring and resulted in the collection of a lot of valuable information about potential owl numbers and distribution.

The initial survey showed that a dedicated team of surveyors was required to work the odd hours the owls are active across Norfolk Island national park. This work, to be conducted during peak breeding season, would aid in the collection of much needed information about the island’s owl population and potential nesting sites.

And that’s where we come in! Eight staff from the Department of Environment and Energy were selected through an Expression Of Interest process, to conduct the work.

It was an early start on our first morning as the majority of us were on the 6 am flight out of Canberra. We may have grumbled a little about the time, but truth be told this was a sleep in! Over the next two weeks we would be starting as early as 2.30 am!

After about two hours on the plane, the remote island began to appear through the low grey clouds. Rather than taking away from the sight, the foreboding weather gave the view a strong element of misty romanticism.

Adele pic

And of course, the story of Norfolk Island has been deemed dramatic enough to be given the Hollywood treatment on several occasions, thanks to the remarkable story of the HMS Bounty (well worth a Google).

At 6.30 am we were greeted by park staff with coffee! There was a presentation on the ecological demise and more recent regeneration of neighbouring Phillip Island, and another that gave us a helpful background of past Norfolk Island morepork owl surveys.

With our minds good and exercised, we headed off to work out our legs with an orientation tour of known owl locations in and around the park.

Adele, Parks Australia

Surveying one of the world’s rarest birds: Part two