Wednesday, April 25, 2007


We were sitting at the breakfast table this morning, when the phone rang.

It was Charles.

"Quick, Mum, come down to our place, and bring your camera. There is a Boobook owl in the tree in front of our house."

Now I should explain that just a few years ago, the Norfolk Island Boobook owl was the rarest creature on the planet. Loss of habitat, and the predations of rats and feral cats had taken their toll, and there was just one owl left. Maimitti, as the lone survivor was called (after Fletcher Christian's Tahitian wife) seemed doomed to a life of childless spinsterhood, and when she died, her species would be extinct.

It was decided to bring in two Boobook males from New Zealand. New Zealand Boobooks are very closely related to the Norfolk ones. They were released into the rainforest. Safe nesting boxes had been prepared, and programmes of rat and cat control were underway. We hoped for the best.

One of the males was never seen again. But the other one, miraculously, teamed up with Maimitti. He became known as Tintoela, which means "Sweetheart" in the Norfolk language.

Eventually the baby Boobooks arrived, and gradually over the years, the numbers began to increase in the National Park.

It was when the unmistakeable nocturnal owl call began to be heard in other parts of the island that we knew the recovery programme had been a success, and that the Boobooks were once again part of the Norfolk environment.

In recent weeks, we have been hearing the owl call at night in the woodland down behind "Devon" and "Devonside." Charles started playing a recording of the mating call from his window hoping to entice the bird closer, but with no luck.

Imagine his surprise this morning when he heard a fluttering in the Whitewood in front of his house, and there was a Boobook, in broad daylight. The creature did not look well, and seemed to be in some difficulty, using his wings to maintain his hold on the branch. Eventually he managed to gain a better footing.

We rang Cristina to bring her super-duper camera, with its amazing zoom. I myself only managed a couple of shots before my battery gave out! Meanwhile, the bird seemed to be watching us with equally strong fascination!

We also rang Robbie from Parks and Wildlife, and he came quickly with a long net, hoping to snare the bird, and have it checked out by the vet. However, as the net approached the creature, it spread its wings and flew to the branch of a nearby pine tree, too high up to be reached. It was, nevertheless, encouraging to know that it was still able to fly.

Eventually the boobook flew back into the bush. we hope he will be okay. Meanwhile we are delighted and amazed by this opportunity to view him at close quarters in broad daylight.

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