Tahiti, New Caledonia & Fiji_________________________

 

 

Tahiti, New Calednonia & Fiji 2008

...with Mark Finn

September 1st - 18th

This was the first Birdwatching Breaks tour of the South Pacific taking in the islands of Tahiti, Moorea, New Caledonia, Lifou and the two Fijian islands of Viti Levu and Taveuni. During the tour we recorded 128 species. We started by visiting Tahiti where we quickly located all the remaining endemic birds including the globally-threatened Tahiti Monarch and Tahiti Reed Warbler. A highlight of the islands was a visit to a cave for breeding Tahiti Swiftlets (one of only three known sites) and connecting with the rarely seen Chattering Kingfisher. Moorea was delightful with its endemic sub-species of Tahiti Kingfisher surely a credible split. The sea crossing across to Moorea offered us our first Tahiti Petrels of the trip. New Caledonia was next on the tour agenda an extremely French influenced island although sparsely populated in the interior. Within Parc Riviere Bleau we literally observed the vast majority of the islands remaining endemics including the rather tame and endearing Kagu and the little-know Crow Honeyeater the latter only being known from this area. The area around La Foa was different in many ways with extensive mud flats, lowland marshes (a rare habitat on South Pacific Islands) and high forests. A few unexpected species were located here – Dusky Moorhen, White-eyed Duck and the beautiful New Caledonia Goshawk. The only species to elude us was New Caledonia Grassbird although we did hear it on occasions. The finale of the tour was the Fijian Islands of Viti Levu and Taveuni a truly beautiful place with friendly people and the ambiance of paradise. With our excellent local Fijian guide we located the vast majority of Fiji’s remaining endemic birds including the recently rediscovered Long-legged Warbler. Highlights for many were the two shining parrots, Rainbow Lorikeet and the elusive Fiji Bush Warbler. Taveuni was our final destination where the forest held the little-known Silktail and the spectacular Orange Dove. The tracks here were alive with the endemic sub-species of Island Thrush surely one of the best place to see this ‘elusive’ species.

Special thanks go out to Herve, Tom and Eric on Tahiti for their knowledge and where to locate the endemic birds. Jean-Marc on New Caledonia surely one of the best guides I have come across and finally Vili on Fiji and absolute master in his knowledge of Fijian birds.

September 1st/2nd: Heathrow, Los Angeles, Papeete, Papeeno Valley, Coast Road.

Weather: Overcast with rain showers and sunny intervals, southwest winds 24 C/27 C

After meeting up at Heathrow we boarded an Air New Zealand flight bound for Los Angeles in California. Arrived on time and passed through Homeland Security with no problems or delays. At 2340 we flew south to the isolated island of Tahiti in French Polynesia. Arrived ahead of schedule and passed through immigration and customs. I drove the short distance into Papeete a rather run down French colonial outpost. In the town centre Common Myna, Red-vented Bulbul and Zebra Dove. Breakfast taken at 0800 hours in order to meet up with our guide at 0900 hours. Our main interest was the beautiful Papeeno Valley which holds some remaining natural forest bordered by high cliffs and pinnacles. On the entrance road prospecting White-tailed Tropicbirds and parties of Red Junglefowl. We then entered a closed area and immediately located dark and pale morph Tahiti Reed Warblers - a quite extraordinary bird with a very long bill. In the same vicinity Pacific Swallow, Silvereye and hunting Pacific Harrier. Returned to the main track recording Pacific Black Duck, Common Waxbill and an early Wandering Tattler. At the road end we entered a restricted area (no public or birding access without permits). This was good for Tahiti Kingfisher and the endemic sub-species of Grey-green Fruit Dove. Picnic lunch at a hotel with close views of Red-browed Firetails and nesting Pacific Swallows. Back to the main road and a general exploration of beaches and adjacent grasslands. Offshore Red-footed Booby (white-tailed types), Crested Tern and White (Fairy Terns. On our return to Papeete a summer-plumaged Pacific Golden Plover and two dark Pacific Reef Egrets. Back to base after a good day in the field although by now we were all suffering from the long flight.

September 3rd: Paea Valley, Coast Road.

Weather: Sunny in the morning followed by showers and strong southeast winds 19 C/26 C.

Today we made the short journey down to Paea and the valley of the same name the latter being a closed and restricted area to the Tahitian pubic and visitors alike. We met up with Tom our local guide and parked up near an extensive area of forest. From the parking place we had good views of Chattering Kingfisher calling from an exposed perch. On the forest perimeter Tahiti Kingfisher and Grey-green Fruit Doves. Once in the forest we followed tracks across fast-flowing streams and an understory of volcanic rocks and creepers. The route was tough going for around thirty minutes when we stopped to scan natural trees and the canopy overhead. No sign of the monarch so we walked up into a fissure among the rocky hillside. This dark place held c80 Tahiti Swiftlets a little-known and endangered endemic with only three known colonies. Very close views obtained with several birds sitting on rather flimsy nests. On our return up to three Tahiti Monarchs flitting around in the canopy. Excellent views of this extremely rare flycatcher with a population of 30 pairs. We returned to the van and said our goodbyes to Tom. In the afternoon we spent a leisurely drive along the coast searching for birds. Nothing new except for a flock of Pacific Black Ducks on a freshwater lagoon. On returning to Papeete heavy rain curtailed birding to a degree. Filled up the van and dropped it off at the airport. Tomorrow we take a boat to Moorea for a days birding on this rugged and mountain dominated island.

September 4th: Moorea.

Weather: Mixture of sunshine and showers, strong southwest winds, 24 C

An early departure from the hotel with a short walk down towards the ferry terminus for Moorea. After buying tickets we boarded the fast-ferry service across the Strait of Tahiti which separates Tahiti and Moorea. The crossing produced Lesser Frigatebird, Tahiti Petrel, Audubon's Shearwaters and flocks of Brown Noddies. Once on Moorea we headed towards the airport and its adjacent lagoons and marsh. Pacific Black Ducks, Pacific Golden Plover and Wandering Tattlers observed. At 0800 we stopped for breakfast. Further along the coast road another stop produced Brown Noddies sitting in trees whilst nearby cliffs and palms attracted White-tailed Tropicbirds and White Terns. Next on the agenda was the high ground at Belvedere reached by taking a dirt road through farm land and pineapple plantations. Short grassy areas attracted Common Waxbill and the attractive Chestnut-breasted Munia. On reaching Belvedere we were greeted by 'tame' Red Junglefowl. Walking along the excellent trails here was rewarding for the endemic Moorea races of Tahiti Kingfisher and Grey-green Fruit Dove. The afternoon was spent taking a slow drive around Moorea. The shrimp ponds look a good place for any unusual waders and terns. Mid-afternoon breaks at a coastal hotel with Red-footed Boobies offshore and the unusual site of a Pacific Harrier hunting over the shallow seas. Back to the ferry port where offshore waters looked extremely choppy. The return ferry was rather quite with similar birds to the morning crossing plus Great Frigatebird, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Brown Boobies.

September 5th/6th: Papeete, Noumea, Mount Koghi.

Weather: Hot and sunny with light southeast winds 30 C.

The taxi arrived at 0400 to take us to Papeete Airport and the flight west to Noumea in New Caledonia. In effect we lose a day as we cross the International Date Line. On arrival in Noumea we passed through immigration and customs into the arrival hall. We then travelled to Noumea the capital of New Caledonia. Along the road we recorded White-faced Heron, White-breasted Woodswallow, Sacred Kingfisher and Spotted Dove. Along the waterfront at Noumea our first Silver Gulls of the trip. Checked in at the hotel and proceeded to pick up supplies in a supermarket before visiting Mount Koghi. The latter still holds a reasonable amount of forest and we started to walk some of the trails in search of birds. Around the car park the distinctive calls of New Caledonia Friarbird. On the lower trail Yellow-bellied Robin and Fan-tailed Gerygone plus the far-sounding calls of New Caledonia Imperial Pigeons. We stopped in an open area to observe Clothen-feathered Dove, Metallic Pigeon, Green-backed White-eye and several New Caledonia Whistlers. New the hut we waited for birds to appear which included Melanesian Cuckoo-shrike, New Caledonia Flycatcher, Grey and Streaked Fantails and New Caledonia Myzomela. Returned to the car park where we observed Striated Starlings and a fly-by New Caledonia Crow giving its distinctive calls in flight. Back to base after an excellent first day in New Caledonia.

September 7th: Noumea, Pacific Ocean, Signal Island.

Weather: Sunny and warm with light sea breezes 30 C

Around the hotel grounds and gardens we recorded Rainbow Lorikeet, Dark-brown Honeyeater, Glossy Swiftlet and the localised Red-vented Bulbul. At 0800 we set off for Noumea Docks where we boarded a catamaran for a days birding in the Pacific Ocean and small islands off the mainland. The shallow inner lagoon held Silver Gulls, Crested and Roseate Terns and several groups of Black-naped Terns. Beyond the extensive coral reef we started to encounter Black and Brown Noddies, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Tahiti Petrels. On the outer limits a lone Brown Booby and a few Sooty Terns. The calm seas and bright sunshine restricted the number of seabirds present. On our return to Noumea we stopped off at Signal Island an exceptional area for birds. From the catamaran several Ospreys sitting in the tops of dead trees. On the island trails several species were seen including Banded Rail, Rufous Whistler, Fan-tailed Gerygone and a calling Shining Cuckoo. On an offshore reef Pacific Golden Plover and Grey-tailed Tattler. Returned to Noumea after a relaxing and rewarding day on the ocean.

September 8th: Noumea, Parc de la Riviere Bleu, Yate.

Weather: Cloudy with afternoon rains 26 C.

We left the hotel at 0500 in order to be at the entrance gate to the national park. On arrival bird life was high with sightings of Rainbow Lorikeet and the rather uncommon Horned Parakeet. Other species present included Sacred Kingfisher, White-breasted Woodswallow and Dark-brown Honeyeaters. Our guide, Jean-Marc appeared on time as we travelled to the bridge and reservoir area. The latter held Little Pied Cormorant and Whistling Kites. After transferring vehicles we set off into an area of rain forest. In no time at all a Kagu appeared on the roadside in search of food. Very close views of this remarkably rare bird of New Caledonia. Next on the agenda was a walk around a small patch of forest. Luck was with us again as Crow Honeyeater the rarest of the islands endemic species appeared in a tall pine tree. New Caledonia Friarbird, New Caledonia Flycatcher, Cloven-feathered Dove and up to three New Caledonia Pigeons were also seen from the boardwalk. Parked up on the entrance road and waited for birds to appear. This turned out to be an extremely productive session for Red-fronted Parakeet, Glossy and White-rumped Swiftlets, New Caledonia Myzomela, Yellow-bellied Robin, Streaked Fantail, Barred Honeyeater and Melanesian and New Caledonia Cuckooshrikes. On the return journey to park headquarters a stop was made for Southern Shrikebill a rather shy and skulking bird. Near the headquarters a short walk around the plantation added Long-tailed Triller, Red-throated Parrotbill and feeding Horned Parakeets. After the park we headed to the small coastal village of Yate. Along the shoreline Great Frigatebird, Grey-tailed Tattler and Crested Terns. Returned to Noumea after an enjoyable days birding in the forests of New Caledonia.

September 9th: Noumea, Mount Koghi, Lifou.

Weather: Overcast with occasional sunny spells 25 C

A later start today followed by a return visit to Mount Koghi. First stop was at the hippodrome and the lake within its boundaries. To our surprise we located Grey Teal, Pacific Black Duck, Rufous Night Heron and Purple Swamphen around the lake fringes. En route to Mount Koghi an area of mudflats held passage Bar-tailed Godwits. At Mount Koghi where we walked along the lower trails. Similar birds to a few days ago plus great views of Fan-tailed Cuckoo and Cloven-feathered Dove. Time was running out as we visited the Zoological Gardens for lunch - plenty of Glossy Swiftlets and nesting Rufous Night Herons. At the internal city airport we boarded a flight to the Lifou in the Loyalty Islands our base for the next night. The runway at Lifou attracted Pacific Harriers and a party of recently arrived Pacific Golden Plovers. Transferred to We and our hotel for the night.

September 10th: Lifou.

Weather: Sunny although cloudy in the afternoon 25 C/30 C.

Before breakfast we visited several areas around We searching for birds. In the hotel grounds Glossy Swiftlet, Silvereye and Small Lifou White-eye. Near We an area of houses and adjacent scrub had the rare and localised Large Lifou White-eye. On telegraph wires several Sacred Kingfishers looking out for prey. Next on the agenda was a track running by a quarry. This was productive for the Lifou endemic sub-species of New Caledonia Friarbird, Fan-tailed Gerygone, Long-tailed Triller and Dark-brown Honeyeater. A Pacific Harrier flew by as we were watching the first Cardinal Myzomela of the tour. Back to base for a late breakfast with a perched Brown Goshawk in a vegetable plantation. At 0930 we set off to explore another area of Lifou. Walking along a very straight track through the thick forest eventually produced Red-bellied Fruit Dove feeding on berries. Further down the track views of Grey and Streaked Fantails, Bronze Shining Cuckoo and Striated Starlings. Returned to the hotel for lunch. At 1430 we visited several areas on Lifou for birds without adding any new species. The flight back to Noumea was on time, on arrival we transferred back to the Le Pacifique Hotel.

September 11th: Noumea, La Foa, Farino.

Weather: Sunny in the morning, cloudy later 17 C/24 C.

Checked out at the hotel and visited the hippodrome area again. Similar birds to our previous visit two days ago. Next was a boardwalk running through an area of mangroves. Few birds here apart from a pair of Grey Teal and an obliging Rufous-crowned Night Heron. Near the car park a small pool of water attracted Common Waxbill, Chestnut-breasted Munia and Green-backed White-eyes. Mid-morning we travelled towards the international airport and beyond to the town of La Foa. We turned off to visit a coastal area bordered by stands of mangrove. Open country here attracted good numbers of Whistling Kites and Pacific Harriers plus a male Brown Goshawk perched on top of a building. On checking the coastal mud flats we located Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey-tailed and Wandering Tattlers, Whimbrel and Pacific Golden Plovers. Also of note was the first 'pale phase' Pacific Reef Egret of the trip. After passing through La Foa (very provincial French town) we headed to a fort overlooking a freshwater marsh. This produced Australasian Grebe, White-eyed and Pacific Black Ducks, Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Pacific Swallow and Glossy Swiftlets. Returned to La Foa and checked into our lodge for two nights. Lunch taken at the local park with a Buff-banded Rail feeding in the stream below us. In the afternoon we headed to Farino and into the extensive forests above the village. The old logging track attracted Red-throated Parrotfinches. At the top we parked up and wandered around the trails recording Metallic Pigeons, Green-backed White-eyes, Rufous Whistlers, Yellow-bellied Robin and Melanesian Cuckooshrikes. The light started to fade as we returned to base, another excellent day on New Caledonia had come to an end.

September 12th: La Foa, Farino.

Weather: Overcast with steady rain showers 15 C

An early start up to Farino to search for the last two remaining endemic species. Around the top car park similar species to yesterday afternoon. We started to walk slowly down into the valley searching for birds. After about an hour we located our first White-bellied Goshawk perched in a dead tree, a truly beautiful bird of New Caledonia forests. Further down the track we encountered a few feeding flocks mainly of Green-backed White-eyes. Back to the van where we found another two goshawks hunting low and fast over the lower forest - impressive. New Caledonia Grassbird was heard but we could not entice this skulking and shy species into view. Before lunch we checked the coast and mangrove lagoons with little success. An early return to base as the weather worsened.

September 13th: La Foa, Nadi, Tomanlivi Nature Reserve, Wananavu.

Weather: Hot and sunny 30 C

We left La Foa at 0500 hours in order to reach the international airport and the short flight eastwards to Fiji. The flight arrived on time at Nadi situated on the east coast of Fiji. Pacific Swallows, Fiji Woodswallows, Common Myna and Red-vented Bulbuls were common on airport buildings. After picking up two 4x4's we set off along the coast towards the north and turned inland to Tomanlivi Nature Reserve. Birds along the road included the endemic Fiji Goshawk and Pacific Harrier. In the gardens of the first village flocks of Red Avadavat and a pair of Wattled Honeyeaters. The road towards the high forest is in poor condition and passes through extensive sugar cane fields and smallholdings. Our first stop produced Barking Pigeon, Polynesian Triller and Vanikoro Flycatchers. At the summit a late lunch was taken, afterwards a short walk along the forest edge. Many birds were only heard here with sightings of Orange-breasted Myzomela, Fiji White-eye, Fiji Parrotfinch, Scarlet Robin and Collared Kingfishers. Returned to the main road and onto our accommodation situated on the north coast.

September 14th: Wananavu, Vatu-I-Ra.

Weather: Sunny with afternoon showers 26 C.

Before breakfast we embarked on a short walk around the hotels grounds and adjacent areas to the hotel. Species were similar to yesterday afternoon with the added sightings of Fiji Shrikebill, Golden Dove, Many-coloured Fruit Dove and Fiji Parrotfinch. Several birds were heard including Fiji Bush Warbler and Slaty Monarch. At 10am we set off to the remote island of Vatu-I-Ra. En route Red-footed and Brown Boobies and Crested Terns. On arrival at Vatu-I-Ra the tide was low so we had to anchor offshore and wait for a rising tide. Several members of the group went snorkeling and the wonders of a living coral reef. At 1300 hours we managed to land and observed nesting Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Lesser Frigatebird and Brown and Black Noddies. Offshore rocks attracted Black-naped Terns, Grey-tailed Tattlers and a single Ruddy Turnstone. A Pacific Harrier flew past with pursuing terns. Little else of note apart from one White-tailed Tropicbird and an impressive gathering of frigatebirds.

September 15th: Wananavu, Central Highlands, Raintree Lodge.

Weather: Warm and sunny 28 C

We left Wananavu at first light in order to join the rough central track towards Suva. At higher elevations birding was tough due to persistent cloud and drizzle. New birds here included Masked Shining Parrot and Giant Honeyeater. Next stop was an isolated village with the first Collared Lory's of the tour feeding on purple flowers. In an area of mature trees and adjacent scrub we stopped for Barking Pigeon, Golden Dove, Many-coloured Fruit Dove, Fiji White-eye and brief views of Black-faced Shrikebill. Further birding areas held similar birds until we stopped for lunch. Lush vegetation next to a river attracted singing Long-legged Warblers with one bird observed near a waterfall. The road to Suva was long and rough in places and we eventually arrived at Raintree Lodge for our last night on the 'mainland'.

September 16th: Raintree Lodge, Colo-I-Suva, Suva Point, Taveuni.

Weather: Warm and sunny 27 C

Before breakfast we embarked on a walk in the hotel grounds and into nearby forest habitats. Flowering trees attracted Masked Shining Parrots and Collared Lory's. In trees along the track Polynesian Triller, Vanikoro Flycatcher, Wattled and Giant Honeyeaters. Returned for breakfast and afterwards a foray into Colo-I-Suva Nature Reserve a long patch of native forest. At the turnaround we made short walks along the trails recording the beautiful Blue-crested Flycatcher and insect-gleaning Slaty Monarchs. Time was running out as we had to pass through Suva the capital of Fiji and onto the airport for an internal flight to Taveuni. We stopped at Suva Point where the commoner seabirds were present on the extensive mud-flats. Checked in with Air Fiji and over to Taveuni which is known as the 'garden isle'. Transferred to our hotel situated on the Somosomo Straits. At 1600 hours a walk along the road and inland along rough tracks added Collared Kingfisher, Fiji Woodswallow, Pacific Swallow, Orange-breasted Myzomela, Polynesian Triller and Vanikoro Flycatcher (the last three being endemic island subspecies). Further up the track a calling Fiji Goshawk and Fiji White-eye. Returned to base for a relaxing evening and entertainment by the hotel staff and traditional Fiji music and dancing.

September 17th: Des Voeux Peak, Somosomo Channel.

Weather: Overcast with occasional sunny spells 24 C

Our last full day of the tour started at 0500 with a drive up to Des Voeux Peak the highest point on Taveuni. The track is only accessible by 4x4 and is badly rutted and muddy in several spots. Near the summit we started to encounter the endemic Taveuni sub-species of Island Thrush. We walked slowly down the track taking two trails into the forest. I had brief views of a Silktail as it flew across in front of us. Further down the track we encountered our first Orange Doves and the Taveuni race of Giant Honeyeater a good candidate for a future split. The birding was good with sightings of Barking Pigeon, Blue-crested and Vanikoro Flycatchers, Wattled Honeyeater, Fiji White-eye and the first of several Red-shining Parrots. On one trail we located a pair of Fiji Bush Warblers, Slaty Monarch and another Silktail feeding low in the vegetation. At 1030 we returned to base and organised an afternoon boat trip into the narrow and deep Somosomo Channel. At 1500 hours the diving boat picked us up and we started to explore these relatively unknown waters for seabirds. After an hour a large flock of Brown and Black Noddies was located following game fish (disturbing smaller fish). In among the noddies were at least two Pomarine Skuas, Brown and Red-footed Boobies, Wedge-tailed Shearwater and at least eleven Tahiti Petrels. On the return voyage Lesser Frigatebirds were noted harassing noddies. Back to base after an enjoyable boat trip.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.


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