Feb 15, 2009

WorldTwitch - Fiji Birding Trip Report by Jeff Skevington & Michael Mathieson, January-February 2006

January-February 2006

By Jeff Skevington (JHS) and Michael Mathieson (MM)


All coordinates are taken using GPS with WGS84 planetary model. This was primarily a research trip for me so birding was secondary. Nonetheless, I managed to see most of the expected species. I met MM after the bulk of my research was conducted, and we swung back through the better sites that I had visited with more of a bird focus.

Itinerary, Accommodation and General Birding Notes

17 January 2006: JHS arrived from Honolulu at 06:00. Drove from Nadi to Vereni Falls near Lautoka (17º40'42" S, 177º31'23" E). This area has a nice picnic ground and river access for swimming. Not too many birds. We then continued on to our accommodation at the Emperor Guesthouse near Nadaarivatu (17º34'23" S, 177º57'26" E). This would be a good option for groups interested in exploring this area. It is a large house with several bedrooms, a kitchen, shower, and large living room. Very rustic and Spartan but moderately clean, inexpensive and would work for most people wanting to explore this area. The only semi-difficult birds that we saw in this general area included Many-colored Fruit Dove and Scarlet Robin. The area immediately around the guesthouse is disturbed, second growth forest. There are tracks into nice, montane forest, but permission is needed to enter any of these areas. It is not easy to find out who owns particular areas so permission could be hard to get. Long-legged Warbler apparently occurs about a one-day hike from here (overnight camping and guide would be required).
18 January 2006: Drove up to Koro Ni O northwest of Nadaarivatu (permission required). We collected insects around two communications towers here (17º34'32" S, 177º56'02" E and 17º35'06" S, 177º55'10" E). Metallic Pigeon was the only interesting species that we saw here, but I was not doing much birding. It looked like an interesting area for those with time to explore. Returned to Nadi in afternoon to retrieve our baggage that did not arrive with us. Continued on to Suva where we stayed in the Raffles Tradewinds. This is a bit expensive, but very convenient, clean, has polite and helpful staff, a good restaurant, etc. Note that I will not provide costs for accommodation throughout this report as we were staying at reduced government rates everywhere. I do not know the actual cost in most cases.

19 January 2006: Traveled to Waivudawa west of Lami town (terminus of logging road at 18º04'24" S, 178º21'51" E). Entrance from main highway is at 18º06'52" S, 178º22'06" E. This is private property and permission is essential. Do not enter without permission or you will spoil this for others. Contact Akinisi "Cagi" Caginotoba for permission to enter (Her name is pronounced Thangi. She can be contacted at: work phone: 331-5174; e-mail: atokotaa [at] hotmail [dot] com). We feel that this is the best single birding site in all of Fiji. It is earmarked for designation as a World Biosphere Reserve and hopefully will get protected. The landowners are aware of its significance and are protecting it from logging and development. You will likely need a guide to find your way into this site, even with coordinates. You will also need a 4 wheel drive (4WD) and considerable nerve to negotiate the potholes and washouts. The road is not being maintained to prevent illegal logging in the area. It may be washed out entirely by the time you come. If it is, plan on a long walk (~8 km uphill from the start of the forest). It's worth the walk! Start very early as the best birding is half way up and higher. Virtually all Viti Levu species can be seen at this site, and it is less than 30 minutes from Suva. Among the regular species, we saw Slaty Monarch, Streaked Fantail, Blue-crested Broadbill, Vanikoro Broadbill, Lesser and Black-faced Shrikebill, Golden Doves, Polynesian Starlings, Masked Shining-Parrots, Island Thrush, Golden Whistlers, Wattled and Giant Forest Honeyeaters, Pink-billed and Fiji Parrotfinches, Fiji Woodswallows, Collared Lorys, Peale's Imperial Pigeons, Fiji and Long-legged Warblers here. Coordinates for the rarer of these species are given below under the species accounts. Stayed at the Raffles Tradewinds in Suva again.

20 January 2006: Drove up to Nakobelevu Mountain in late morning (18º03'51" S, 178º25'00" E). This is the large communications tower visible north of Suva . Permission is required to enter this area. The road traverses some excellent mature forest and although we saw few birds (arrived at 11:00 am), it is known to have Pink-billed Parrotfinches and all of the other regulars. We were told that one site for PBPF is at 18º02'59" S, 178º24'37" E. More generally, this is the lower logging road just before the end of the road; to the left and downslope. These birds undoubtedly wander around a lot (in fact, they are thought to be nomadic), so use the specific site only as a starting point if you get up here. We found that PBPF tended to occur in dips in the mountain (mini-passes that cross the roads – fern-filled gullies between the ridges would be another way to describe these sites). The birds may use these 'passes' as they move from site to site. This general area is also apparently good for Black-faced Shrikebill and Golden Doves (we saw none of these but were there at mid-day only). We flew to Kadavu in the afternoon (arrived at 16:30). We stayed in accommodation at the north terminus of the road through Vunisea (turn right out of the airport and follow the road along the ocean until it ends (~2 km). We rented a beach house (2 beds and a crib, all with mosquito nets – necessary). This was really inexpensive and although perhaps not clean enough for everyone, it was a great place to stay. The owners provided meals, and all endemics could be seen from here by foot (or by taxi if you want to go to Solodamu). The cabins required a 500 m walk, so if you have a lot of luggage this may not work for you. There was no electricity when we visited, but there were wires and lights, so this could change. They also had accommodation that did not require a walk, but this involved sharing a large room with anyone else staying there. It wouldn't be for everyone. Snorkeling the reef from the shore here was good during this visit. During our next visit it was windy, and the near-shore reef was murky.

21 January 2006: Kadavu. Explored Solodamu (Forest Reserve); guide and entrance fee required. Locals will know who to take you to for this. This is a great birding site a few km's from the airport. Hire a taxi to take you to the site to meet your guide. Entrance to the trail is near 19º04'09" S, 178º07'38" E (coordinates taken down the trail a ways). We saw all of the endemics here easily. Also saw Golden Whistlers, Slaty Monarchs, and Black-faced Shrikebill here. Also visited Namalata Creek (19º02'31" S, 178º10'46" E). This site had a nice, fast-flowing stream and waterfall. Great for insects and nice, mature forest. We arrived in mid-afternoon and thus saw few birds. It looked good for birding though. Stayed at beach house in Vunisea again.

22 January 2006: Walked from our beach house up to microwave towers behind town. Permission required (land owned by beach house owner's family so permission was easy to get). This is about a 30 minute walk at the most. There is a fair bit of forest around the tower, including some large trees. It has been logged but still held all of the endemic species except Whistling Dove (this was likely also there but I was focused on insects). This is a great site for someone who is going in and out of Kadavu on a flying trip. Flew to Suva in afternoon and stayed at the Raffles Tradewinds again.

23 January 2006: Flew to Taveuni in afternoon. Drove part way up road to Mount Devo. Saw Red Shining-Parrots and Orange Dove, but little else on this short trip. Stayed at the First Light Inn. This was clean and very affordable compared to most places on the island. I had a nice room facing the ocean where I could watch Frigatebirds and Fruit Bats early in the morning and in the evening. A rental car is needed if you stay here. This is expensive but allows you to stay in cheaper accommodation away from the airport and gives you mobility to explore the island. We rented a car this trip and used taxi's and buses the next time we visited. I preferred the car rental option and staying at First Light Inn. We ate next door at an upscale accommodation but could have eaten more inexpensively at the First Light Inn.

24 January 2006: Up Mount Devo today. Entrance Fee. Stayed at First Light Inn again. Coordinates for relevant locations: Mount Devo road entrance off main road (16º48'15" S, 179º59'26" E); there is no sign for where to pay, pay at the house on the west side of the dirt road at 16º48'27" S, 179º59'52" E; gate (as far as you can drive) (16º50'23" S, 179º58'09" E); entrance to inconspicuous woodland trail near summit, less than 1 km walk above gate (16º50'35" S, 179º57'58" E); entrance to best birding trail roughly 1 to 2 km below gate (16º50'20" S, 179º58'12" E). The latter site was certainly the best birding site on the island and perhaps our favourite birding site on the trip. It would be easy to spend an entire day on this trail. We saw all of the endemic birds for Taveuni along this trail. Also visited the 'official' date line site near the island hospital today (16º47'47" S, 180º00'00" E).

25 January 2006: Flew from Taveuni to Vanua Levu in morning. Little time for birding. Stayed at Geoff Taylor's Guesthouse less than 5 km west of Savusavu (16º48'37" S, 179º19'35" E). Very inexpensive, clean, well maintained, beautiful gardens and view of ocean, good snorkeling offshore. Not particularly good birding, but Golden Whistlers and Many-colored Fruit-Doves around the property. Need your own mosquito net to put above the beds (2 bedrooms, 3 beds).

26 January 2006: Drove to insect collecting site at Vatudiri about 4 km SE Lomoloma Village (16º37'46" S, 179º12'29" E). White-throated Pigeon and Giant Forest Honeyeater the only significant birds observed here. Stayed at Geoff Taylor's Guesthouse again.

27 January 2006: Collected insects and did a bit of birding in second-growth forest near coast near Nauavanadi at 16º46'32" S, 179º30'58" E. Also went to area of predominantly farmland near Rotusalisa. Only significant species were White-throated Pigeon, Orange Dove, Giant Forest Honeyeater and Red Avadavat. The latter was in agricultural land near Rotusalisa, and the former 3 species were scattered through the mountains en route. Stayed at Geoff Taylor's Guesthouse again.

28 January 2006: Flew to Taveuni to meet Michael Mathieson and do some more serious birding. Still collecting and doing field research, but focus now more on birds. Travel day. No significant sightings. Stayed at Bebe's Hideaway near airport. Fairly expensive but clean with food available nearby. For inexpensive food, order Indian Food from the proprietor (they buy it from the neighbour's). The options near the airport are generally very expensive.

29 January 2006: Up Mount Devo again. Arrived earlier than previous trip and focused on trail that we found on previous trip (entrance at 16º50'20" S, 179º58'12" W). A superb day with good numbers of most species that can be seen on Taveuni. A spectacular rainforest walk. The highlight of our trip. Allow a full day or even two days to explore this magnificent trail. This is one of the few spots in Fiji where you can bird from under the canopy. Most birding areas are along logging roads, etc. Stayed at Bebe's Hideaway.

30 January 2006: Took a taxi to what we were told was a good birding site – 'Longilowi'. Wasted best part of morning in agricultural land as a result. The forest here might be worth a visit but expect an hour walk through farmland. Should take a guide and have permission if you try this. After our failure here, we went to Bouma Falls (upper falls is at 16º49'48" S, 179º53'23" W – we did not get coordinates for the entrance). This was a beautiful trail with 3 magnificent rainforest pools for swimming. Birding was disappointing though. The habitat looked good but one Silktail was the only interesting bird. After our hike we found that Ben or Sake are guides that will lead visitors onto their land at Vidawa (the Vidawa Rainforest Hike). Ben seemed moderately knowledgeable but most importantly, would be able to get you into what sounds like some pristine high elevation forest similar to Mount Devo. It would be a good spot to try for Red-throated Parakeet or Shy Ground-Dove if you dip on these at Devo. Ben also knew of the Longilowi site and could lead there (he is from there), but said the habitat at Vidawa is better. Call 921-9671 or 920-5833 to arrange a hike with Ben. Stayed at Bebe's Hideaway.

31 January 2006: flew back to Suva. Little birding today. Had planned to fly to Kadavu but flight cancelled after a long wait at airport due to weather. Stayed at Raffles Tradewinds.

1 February 2006: birded in the morning before flying to Kadavu. Pipeline Road traverses some of the best lowland habitat that we saw on Viti Levu. The area protects the water supply for Suva. We took a taxi from our hotel to the gate. Birding was very good with Masked Shining-Parrot, Peale's Imperial and White-throated Pigeon, Golden Dove, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Blue-crested Broadbill, Streaked Fantail, Lesser Shrikebill, Fiji and Pink-billed Parrotfinch, and Wattled and Giant Forest Honeyeater. Arrived in Kadavu in afternoon. Had a long wait for our boat ride to Mateva (resort – at 19º02'45" S, 178º23'56" E). Mateva was very nice but expensive (particularly the boat ride there) and took a long time to get to. Not a good place to stay for a short trip. It would be worthwhile for several days though if you are interested in diving, snorkeling, fishing and birding. MM went birding and I went snorkeling after we arrived. He cleaned up all of the endemics during his walk.

2 February 2006: Birded around Mateva in the morning. Habitat near the resort is young second growth with few birds. A 45 minute walk above the resort will get you to some good primary forest. MM saw an Island Thrush at the beginning of this habitat (19º02'06" S, 178º23'51" E). All of the endemics were easy to find in this forest fragment. Flew back to Suva in afternoon. Stayed at Raffles Tradewinds.

3 February 2006: Birded Waivudawa again (06:30 to 13:00). This is truly an amazing spot. It would be good to arrive even earlier than we did. We still saw lots of almost all of the Viti Levu forest birds though, including Long-legged Warbler and Pink-billed Parrotfinch. One of the trip highlights. After leaving Waivudawa, we headed through Suva to Suva Point and area. We hit it perfect – right on high tide. The birds started to appear as soon as the tide started to fall. This would be tough to bird at low tide as the birds are spread out then. Within 2 hours either side of high tide is excellent though. We didn't find any rarities but saw good numbers of all the expected shorebirds. This area is worth a visit on any trip. We didn't see concentrations of shorebirds anywhere else. Stayed at Raffles Tradewinds.

4 February 2006: Heading towards Nadi today. Stopped at Ocean Pacific Resort first. Resort entrance off main highway is hard to find – watch carefully for the small sign on the south side of the highway. Some fantastic lowland forest exists back in this resort. Roadside birding is OK but the best area is a short trail with the entrance 2.6 km from highway at 18º10'16" S, 178º15'30" E. This trail gives stellar views from the top of a ridge out over the forest. It is a great spot to see Golden Doves and Pink-billed Parrotfinch. We stayed at the Raffles Gateway Hotel across from the airport in Nadi. Staff were generally miserable, and the cost was high. This is the only place that we stayed where we met unpleasant people. Others I spoke to had the same impression. I would not recommend it, but it is convenient, clean, has a nice pool, etc.

5 February 2006: Nadi to Nasauri Highlands and back. The habitat in the Nadi area is hammered. Even the highland habitat is highly impacted. This area is really only a last resort if you have no time to get anywhere else. We enjoyed exploring it since we had half a day to blow off, but it was pretty desolate. Giant Honeyeater, Fiji Goshawk, Many-colored Fruit-Dove and lots of Red Avadavat's were the highlights. The latter seems more common in the fields around Nadi than anywhere else in Fiji.

WorldTwitch - Fiji Birding Trip Report by Jeff Skevington & Michael Mathieson, January-February 2006