South Pacific Tour – September 2011

The revamped tour was a little later this year and it seemed to make some things a bit easier, note how well we did with the rare Crow Honeyeater, and Kagu was as ever a standout. One first-year bird was rewarded with a nice juicy scorpion that our guide found, and this really is a fabulous bird to see, another down on Harlan’s famiy quest, too, as an added bonus to what is a quite unique bird. Cloven-feathered Dove was also truly memorable, and watching one give that strange, constipated hooting call was fantastic and this really is one of the world’s best pigeons.

Air Calin did their best to make life hard with a somewhat late flight to Lifou, and I have to say the contrast with the Aussie pilots in Vanuatu was remarkable – these French guys must still be learning as they landed the ATR 42’s so hard and had to brake so fiercely! Still, it all worked out and the day trip for the Ouvea Parakeet worked nicely, whilst the 2 endemic white-eyes on Lifou were got really early for once.

Nice food, an interesting Kanak culture, with a trip to the amazing Renzo Piano-designed Tjibaou Cultural Center also feasible this year, and a relaxed pace make this a fun birding tour with some terrific endemic birds as a bonus.

Part I: New Caledonia – Sep 5, 2011 to Sep 15, 2011

My thanks to Karen at the Field Guides office for hard work on the complex logistics for this South Pacific tour, to the very helpful Armstrong at Arc en Ciel, Jean-Marc at Riviere Bleue, and to Harlan and Bart for helping me with my bags when I had a back problem. My trip participation looked doubtful at one point as I left to come here, but it all came good. Thanks to everyone for coming and making it all possible, hope to see you again at some point!

This was an enjoyable inaugural Field Guides trip to Vanuatu, with great looks at some of the lowland endemics including Buff-bellied Monarch and Vanuatu (Chestnut-bellied) Kingfisher, and some really lovely people who are still not overly used to tourists. Our lodge manager was a circus artiste and gave us a show one night which was unusual to say the least! At no time in my entire life could I have done any of the acrobatics and balancing he did.

Taveuni was very nice, though our lodge folk were surprised to see us having messed up the booking, but they then gave us the lovely premium spa rooms. Due to flight timings we had to cram it all into one day here, but the weather gods smiled with just a little rain at the top of the hill, and we basically had a good morning on the peak where we scored the key birds nicely – Silktail was excellent after a muddy scramble down, the Taveuni Giant Forest Honeyeater very obliging, and Barking Pigeon was easy, as was Maroon Shining-Parrot and a single Blue-crested Flycatcher. My site for Orange Dove was terrific, we had amazing views of this sunburst orange marvel and also the gorgeous Many-colored Fruit-Dove and Collared Lory, then we caught the boat back from the nearby jetty in calm conditions.

Luckily I picked up a swarm of birds over a tuna shoal and we were soon surrounded by Red-footed and a few Brown boobies, Brown and Black noddies, Black-naped Tern, and best of all Tahiti Petrel, always a great bonus on this foray. Great and Lesser frigatebirds were additional pluses, and it was very nice run back to the lodge after a fabulous day.

Part II: Fiji & Vanuatu – Sep 14, 2011 to Sep 23, 2011 

Conditions on Viti Levu were less favorable, and we encountered cold weather and heavy rain on our full day, but we got off to a good start with lovely looks at Fiji Parrotfinch, then had Masked Shining-Parrot and a super pair of Golden Doves at Colo-i-Suva, the male glistening yellow with dark streaks. Pacific Robin and Slaty Monarch behaved well, and next day we did get Giant Forest Honeyeater well. Suva waterfront was interesting with the most Wandering Tattlers I’ve ever seen, something like 150 feeding on the mudflats with a couple of Gray-tailed Tattlers for comparison, plus Bar-tailed Godwits, Eurasian Whimbrel, and Ruddy Turnstones.

Kadavu was a new addition for this tour and our small Polynesian homestay lodge something of a surprise, but the group rose to the occasion and we enjoyed the cultural side especially with our own kava ceremony that evening — my advice is indulge and sleep well! The only Polynesian Starling of the trip was right by the lodge, and Kadavu Honeyeater was obliging here, whilst Red Shining-Parrot and Kadavu Fantail plus the endemic White-throated Whistler showed nicely on our walk. Whistling (Velvet) Dove was tough, however, and didn’t seem to be vocalizing at all; some of us only got fly-bys but time was again very short due to the flight schedules.

It was a fun trip at a relaxed pace and we saw some great birds, it was a lovely intro to South Pacific birding and the much slower pace of life here, with friendly people too. My thanks to Karen at Field Guides for grappling with frequent flight variations, to Kenneth on Santo, Vido on Viti Levu, Boro and Wani on Taveuni, and Sam and Mere on Kadavu for their help with birding and access to sites.

Why not join us on this interesting itinerary in 2012 and get to see the legendary South Pacific for yourselves?

Published by Phil Gregory (sicklebill AT

Participants: Phil Gregory and Field Guides Inc tour

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