Jun 30, 2009

TAHITI, NEW CALEDONIA AND FIJI Trip Report September 1 - 18 2008


...with Mark Finn
September 1 - 18

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. 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.
I am sure the following trip report will bring back happy memories of an excellent trip.
September 13th: La Foa, Nadi, Tomanlivi Nature Reserve, Wananavu

Weather: Hot and sunny 30c
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 26c
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 28c
Collared Lory - Barry LancasterWe 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 27c
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
Final species total: 128

Weather: Overcast with occasional sunny spells 24c
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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