Fiji Pelagic Trips – May – September 2012

While living in Fiji (May-September 2012), I did several “pelagic” trips.

These involved riding on scheduled ferry trips or on chartered fishing trips.

There is limited information (almost none) on pelagic birding in Fiji.

Thus, I have compiled the data I gathered to help someone trying to see pelagic species in Fiji.

Trips

June 25: Suva to Gau Ferry with Consort Shipping
June 30: Fishing trip south of Pacific Harbor with Freedive Fiji
July 23: Suva to Gau Ferry with Consort Shipping
August 13-14: Suva to Taveuni Ferry with Goundar Shipping
August 24: Kadavu to Suva Ferry with Goundar Shipping

Weather & Clothing

It was warm on the trips and I was generally in shorts and a t-shirt. I also had a rain jacket as it did get cool on the ferry once it got dark (June-August is winter in Fiji). For overnight trips (Suva-Taveuni or Suva-Kadavu) make sure that you have “warm” clothes as it can get “cold” in the cabins. In addition, some of the ferries, you may have to sleep on the floor unless you get a cabin.

Advice (Fiji Petrel)

Fiji Petrel copyright Hadoram Shirihai.

Fiji Petrel copyright Hadoram Shirihai.

Pelagic birding in Fiji is difficult and slow. There are not enough birders to organize a dedicated pelagic trip. Thus, you are dependent on riding the ferries which do not always go through the best areas during daylight hours and certainly do not allow for stopping or chumming. Regardless, there are some excellent species that occur in Fiji waters. Multiple trips are needed to give yourself the best opportunity to see some of these.

Most people will target Fiji Petrel. I would recommend reviewing the article on the rediscovery:

Fiji Petrel rediscovery article

Research (in 2009) demonstrates it is regular (seen almost daily from chumming expeditions) at least to the southwest of Gau in May and October, but not to the east of Gau. The best time of the year is not known but May was better than October in 2009. A one-day trip to the southwest of Gau in November did not see Fiji Petrel. I saw it on my June trip.

If riding the Suva-Gau Ferry, you will pass through the waters to the west of Gau (this area was not chummed in 2009). I saw Fiji Petrel here but the waters due west of Gau were not chummed in 2009. The theory is Fiji Petrels feed to the south of Gau (open, deep water).

In discussion with some others who have done some trips in Fiji waters, the belief is that the triangle bounded to the north by Gau, to the west by Kadavu, and to the east by Matuku island is the best area for pelagic birds.

Ferry Companies:

Note all schedules are subject to change (information that I found on the internet from travel websites gave incorrect times of departures for all companies). It is best to look at the company’s website (Consort shipping), email the company, or call them for up to date schedules. These ships are docked at the Narain Wharf (just north of Walu Bay). The dock is located between Matua and Tofua Streets. Matua street goes west from Foster Street at the Budget Rental Car location. Coordinates for the dock are -18.125766, 178.428199

Specific Ferry companies as follows:

Consort Shipping (ship = Sofi) – The Sofi is the 2nd best ferry operating in Suva, but the only one that goes to Gau Island. There are cabins (no facilities) and suites (with facilities) for sleeping if taking an overnight ferry (the Suva-Taveuni ferry is overnight). Positioning yourself for best pelagic viewing is difficult as there is no easy access to the front of the boat. You will want to ask permission to stand next to/inside the bridge (normally off limits). Note that you cannot be on the bridge while the ship is inside the reef. They allowed me to be on the bridge on the open ocean but I had to leave as we approached the reef and were inside the reef.

The boat docks at Narain Wharf. Their office is on the south side of Matua street just before the jetty. The phone is (679) 3303389. They also have a ticketing office at the Thompson arcade open Mon-Friday (phone is 3302877). Consort shipping runs regular trips to Taveuni. They also go (at the time of this report) to Gau. They were running the trips to Gau on the 4th Monday of each month. However, that changed in August when they did a trip on Sunday in the middle of the month and then scheduled the next trip on September 3. Thus, it would be best to call/check their internet schedule. I was able to ask questions by phone. I emailed the company twice and got a response once.

The Gau ferry departed Suva at 0900. It takes about 6 hours to get to Gau. About 3.5 hours of this trip is good for pelagic species. The rest of the time is spent inside the reef or just offshore (in relatively shallow water). On arrival to Gau, supplies are off loaded and produce is loaded up. The website stated that we would depart Gau at 1800 but we departed early both times I went. We were only at Gau for 1 hour on my second trip so if you get off to go birding make sure you find out how long the ship will be docked or you run the risk of getting left. Note that I was always told different times when I asked about how long we would be docked (this was also true for Goundar shipping).

The price for the ferry from Suva to Gau (one way) was Fiji $70.

Website: Consort Shipping http://www.consortshipping.com.fj/

Goundar Shipping (ship = Lomaiviti Princess) – This is the best ferry (currently) in Suva. It was brought from British Columbia, Canada in July 2011. It has private sleeper cabins. There is also a first class section with reclining chairs (that are not comfortable enough to sleep in). I slept on the floor in the first class on my trip from Suva-Taveuni. The economy class has some tables and regular chairs. The economy section was packed with people both times I went on the ship.

The boat docks at Narain Wharf. Their office is on the north side Tofua Street.

Goundar shipping runs trips to Taveuni (via Koro, Nairai or Savusavu) and to Kadavu. Typically, the Kadavu ferry departs Suva at 11pm on Wednesday and arrives Vunisea, Kadavu at 0600 on Thursday morning. It then departs Vunisea at 0900, stops in Kavala Bay and ultimately arrives at Suva at 1900 on Thursday night. The schedule is subject to change as I took the ferry from Vunisea to Suva on a Friday.

The price from Suva-Taveuni in first class was Fiji $90 (one way). The price from Kadavu to Suva was Fiji $50 (one way).

Email: goundarshipping@kidanet.com.fj
Website: none
Suva phone: (679) 3301035 or 9141311

Venu Shipping (ship = Sinu-I-Wasa) This is the most basic ferry of the three main ferries in Suva. It is also docked in Walu Bay and makes one trip/week to Kadavu. They depart Suva on Tuesday at 10pm and arrive Vunisea, Kadavu on Wednesday morning (around 0630am). They then depart Kadavu around 1000 (or as soon as they unload and load all the freight). Note that once a month their trip to Kadavu stops first at Nabukelevu before going to Vunisea. When this happens, they do not arrive at Vunisea until noon. They have sleeper cabins (3 bunkbeds/cabin with a sink).
The price from Suva to Kadavu was Fiji $35 (one way). A sleeper cabin was an extra Fiji $20.
Suva Phone: (679) 3307349
The boat docks at Narain Wharf.

Seaview Shipping Services also departs from Narain Wharf. They go to Rotuma once per month. It is a 2.5 day trip from Suva to Rotuma and then another 2.5 days back to Suva. Rotuma is home to the Rotuma Myzomela. To minimize the time, you could fly to Rotuma and then take the ferry back (or vice versa).

The office is on the south side of Matua Street (near the Consort Shipping office).

Suva office: (679) 3309515, Mobile (679) 9920515, Mobile (679) 8377477

It is also worth contacting Patterson-Brothers Shipping. One of their ships, Island Navigator, reportedly did monthly trips to Gau (on Tuesdays), but it was not running this route while I was there. Apparently, this schedule is highly variable. Phone 3315644, address: Suite 1 & 2 Epworth House, Nina Street, Suva

Finally, there are several boats that depart from Denarau Island (west of Nadi) that go to the Mamanucas & Yasawas. These boats are essentially transport boats to drop people off at the various island resorts. Pelagic birding was not very rewarding on my two trips on these boats as I only saw expected shallow water species. I did, however, have my only Great Frigatebird while in Fiji near Mana Island (Lesser Frigatebird is much more common). Otherwise, I only saw Black and Brown Noddies, and Brown Booby. This route is not recommended if you are seriously looking for pelagic species. If you are still interested, try South Sea Cruises

Smaller boats

The Royal Suva Yacht Club is located off Foster road opposite the Suva Prison. This is north of the Narain Wharf/Walu Bay area. The coordinates are -18.122457S, 178.429792E

There are numerous small boats (both commercial and private) that are moored here. If you wanted to charter a boat for a trip to Gau, there are several possibilities. Feel free to contact me for information regarding such a trip as I collected information for such an endeavor.

Royal Suva Yacht Club

Freedive Fiji – runs fishing trips from Pacific Harbor (the boat departs from the jetty at the Pearl Resort). See my trip report below but the routine gamefishing trip is unlikely to yield many pelagic species. Freedive Fiji http://www.freedivefiji.com/

Species Lists

Suva – Gau Ferry (June 25, 2012)

Pacific Black Duck – 10 birds seen from the Gau jetty
Tahiti Petrel – 4 birds
Gould’s (Collared) Petrel – only 1 bird seen

Fiji Petrel – one bird seen flying across the front of the boat (and crossed in the same binocular field as a Tahiti Petrel). 18°02.25S and 179°02.72E
Masked Booby – one in a small group of feeding birds about half way across ferry
Brown Booby – one in the Suva Harbor on a channel marker and one about half way across the ferry
Red-footed Booby – six birds along the ferry, then a group of 16 birds feeding along the edge of the reef at Gau
Lesser Frigatebird – one at the Suva Harbor and one at Gau
Frigatebird species – 4
Pacific Reef-Heron – one at the Gau Jetty
Wandering Tattler – two as we departed Suva
Bar-tailed Godwit – two at the Gau Jetty
Brown Noddy – 4 (likely more in the large flocks of Noddies but this was all that I confidently identified.
Black Noddy – 350, several large flocks close to Suva
Great Crested Tern – 8 in Suva Harbor, 9 at the Gau Jetty
Pacific Swallow – 7 at the Gau Jetty

Suva – Gau Ferry (July 23, 2012)

Pacific Black Duck – Gau Harbor
Petrel species: 18°07.63S and 178°48.58E – It was distant but appeared to be some type of Pterodroma
Gould’s (Collared) Petrel – one bird, 18°06.59S and 178°51.19E
White-necked Petrel – one bird, 18°00.58S and 179°06.22E
Polynesian Storm Petrel – one bird 18°01.38S and 179°04.22E
White-tailed Tropicbird – one adult 18°00.91S and 179°05.35E
Brown Booby – 2
Red-footed Booby – 18 birds. The majority were in a feeding flock just outside the reef off of Gau.
Lesser Frigatebird – inside the reef
Pacific Reef-Heron – Gau Harbor
Swamp Harrier – Gau island
Fiji Goshawk – Gau Island
Wandering Tattler – Gau Harbor
Bar-tailed Godwit – Gau Harbor
Black Noddy – only singles or groups of 2-4 on way over to Gau (total 18). On the way back, there was a steady southerly flight as it was getting dark (total 34)
Sooty Tern – 18°02.47S and 179°01.64E
Black-naped Tern – a total of 17 birds sitting on various objects inside the Suva reef
Great Crested Tern
Peale’s Imperial-Pigeon – Gau village
White-rumped Swiftlet – Gau
Collared Kingfisher – Gau village
Vanikoro Flycatcher – Gau village
Pacific Swallow
Golden Whistler – Gau village

Pacific Harbor Fishing trip (June 30, 2012)

The trip was organized by FreeDive Fiji. I asked about the planned itinerary prior to going but was informed they would not know until the day before where we would go and that it would depend on the weather and prior fishing results.

We departed at 0745 and headed southeast. Once off the east coast of Beqa Island, we began to troll. We then turned southwest, following the reef. We stayed in relatively shallow water for most of the day (30-70 meter depth). We spent a brief period of time in deeper water (up to 220 meters). We followed the reef around and headed north towards Yanuca Island before returning to Pacific Harbor around 1545. From talking to the skipper, this appears to be the “routine” gamefishing trip.

Birds seen included:
Brown Booby 32
Red-footed Booby 11
Black Noddy 3 (an additional 60 noddy terns were seen at distance too far to identify but presumed to be Black Noddy)
Bridled Tern 1 (far southwest side of the reef, we were in the deepest water of the day at this time)
Black-naped Tern – 4 (two pairs)
Great-crested Tern – 6 (all close to Beqa Island)

Suva-Taveuni Ferry (august 14, 2012)

Trip departed at 6:50pm (late) on August 13. Sightings below are from August 14:
0600 – 0730 outside of the reef and into Savusavu harbor: 8 Great-crested Terns just outside the reef. I also saw 3 whales but somewhat distant. From the distant view, I thought they were Humpback whales.

Savusavu – Taveuni (0945 – 1330): sightings below are from outside the Savusavu reef to Taveuni. This trip parallels the coast of the island of Vanua Levu before it crosses the Somosomo straight (water between Taveuni and Vanua Levu). Sightings included:
Tahiti Petrel: three birds at 16.5154 S 179.3938E. then a flock of nine birds sitting on the water and then flushed at 16.5108 179.4172
Brown Booby: 2 just outside the reef
Red-footed Booby: 61, birds were reguarly flying northeast and passing the boat. 39 birds were seen in the first hour.
Lesser Frigatebird: 1
Brown Noddy: 1
Black Noddy: 12
Noddy Spedies: 9
White Tern: 2
Sooty Tern: 1
Bridled Tern: 3
Black-naped Tern: 2 at the reef

Kadavu (Vunisea – Suva ferry via Kavala Bay) August 24, 2012

We departed Vunisea at 1035am and arrived at Kavala Bay at 1305. I saw two birds: Red-footed Booby and Brown booby during this entire time.
We departed Kavala Bay, Kandavu at 1445 today and went north to Suva, arriving around 1945. It was too dark to bird by 1815. Thus, my observations represent 3.5 hours of birding. It was pretty uneventful. From talking with others who have done the Kadavu-Suva Ferry trip, it appears to be very unproductive for pelagis birds.
Sightings included:
White-tailed Tropicbird 1
Red-footed Booby 24
Noddy species (presumably Black) 3

Published by Jim Holmes (jfholmes AT ucdavis.edu)

Participants: Jim Holmes

http://www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=2212

Speak Your Mind

*

Find us on Google+