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A WEEK IN SAMOA, May 2013 (1 Viewer)


Well-known member

Back in the tropics again. Thirty-one degrees of tropicality to be precise. Now I’ll be honest, but I hate the tropics. That probably sounds odd given that pretty much everywhere I go is in the tropics, but I can’t stand the heat and especially the humidity, I just put up with it because that’s where all the best wildlife is. All things considered I’d rather be in Iceland. But the tropics are what call me and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Samoa’s international airport is 35km from the capital Apia, and most people take a shuttle for 25 Tala or a taxi for 60 or so. The other option, the one I and exactly no-one else on the plane took, is to walk fifty metres out of the airport building onto the road outside and catch a local bus for 3 Tala. (There are roughly 1.9 Tala to one New Zealand dollar, according to XE.com). The bus takes about an hour to get to Apia – cheaper usually does mean slower – so I had plenty of time to scenery-watch. The only birds I could note down firmly were common mynahs, jungle mynahs, red-vented bulbuls and Polynesian triller. I did see a Samoan fantail and what was almost certainly a Samoan starling, but because they are both endemics I pretended I didn’t so that I could see them for the “first time” in better viewing conditions than from a bus window.

From the bus Samoa reminded me of the Lesser Sundas; same sort of villages and in-between bits. But as soon as we hit Apia it reminded me immediately of Aranui where I grew up in Christchurch. I swear you could take a street from Apia, plonk it down in eastern Christchurch (pre-quakes) and nobody would notice. I was staying at the Hotel Elisa, in the hidden-out-the-back budget rooms of course, which were 50 Tala per night. They were very budget but a penny saved etc. Samoa is actually a relatively expensive place, especially in comparison to southeast Asia. When I went looking for something to eat I found a major difference to Asia: no food stalls! It was so bizarre, the whole place looked like there should be little stalls on every corner but instead there were just tourist restaurants. Eventually I found a cheap Philippines place which became my regular eatery. In the evening that place was closed so I ended up at Samoa’s only McDonalds where I discovered that you apparently can’t order burgers by themselves, only as a part of meals. The girl at the counter got very confused, and then I got very confused when she started trying to explain the system and how she could replace drinks with extra burgers, and somehow I ended up walking out with two single cheeseburgers, two double cheeseburgers and two lots of fries, all of which cost me 30 Tala which I could have used to buy real food at one of the restaurants. So that was (supposed to be) my only foray into Samoa McDonalds.

Before that though I had tried my hand at sea-watching from the foreshore walkway. It might have helped to have had a scope because the few birds I did see out there were too far away for binoculars. I did see a wandering tattler very close up on the rocks though, and also lots of snake-eyed skinks.
DAY TWO: MT. VAEA (10 May)

Today was a most excellent day for birding. Also there was a partial solar eclipse which isn’t something you see every day! I looked at it through sheets of microfiche so I’ll probably go blind. Or blinder. In the morning I took a taxi to the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, about 3km out of town. The Museum is set in a very nice tropical garden, but of more interest is the forest-covered Mt. Vaea Nature Reserve behind it, on the summit of which is Stevenson’s now graffiti-covered tomb. He was a writer; perhaps he wouldn’t mind the graffiti.

Most of Samoa’s surviving bird species can be found in the forest of Mt. Vaea. I’d always wanted to visit Samoa to see one of the most unusual pigeons in the world, the tooth-billed pigeon or manumea, dubbed the “dodlet” by early European naturalists because it was like a little Samoan version of the dodo. Unfortunately the dodlet is now almost extinct, probably down to just a few dozen birds scattered across Upolu and Savaii. There are no dodlets on Mt. Vaea any more, and I was also too late for the Samoan moorhen (almost certainly now extinct), and even for the Polynesian sheath-tailed bat (critically-endangered). But most of the other species are found here still, so it was a good first stop.

The habitat had been severely trashed by the big cyclones in December but the park staff had managed to clear all the trails up the mountain. I had a little wander around the Museum gardens first. Banded rails were everywhere: even from the taxi on the way here I had seen them walking through peoples’ yards like chickens. I still haven’t seen a banded rail in New Zealand. Polynesian starlings and the huge grimly-coloured Samoan starlings were abundant, both in the gardens and on the mountain itself, and I saw a few of the brilliant crimson-crowned fruit doves as well. Then it was on to the reserve.

There are two routes up to the top of the mountain, the half-hour steep one and the 45-60 minute meandering not-as-steep one. I took the meandering trail, which took me three hours. A rather odd sight all along the way was groups of white terns drifting around above the trees like gossamer angels, accompanied here and there by the larger white-tailed tropicbirds which were even better in real life than I had imagined. There were also a few noddies passing by but they remained unidentified (too high up to tell). Loads of African land snails all along the trail as well. Lizards were abundant, with all the ones I saw being Pacific black skinks and Samoan skinks (the latter being endemic tree-dwellers which I had been hoping to see). I even saw a Samoan fruit bat having a lazy glide between the trees.

The birding wasn’t too easy, and the photographic opportunities virtually non-existent because they just didn’t want to come close enough or stay still long enough. Wattled honeyeaters were common, the smaller and more brightly-coloured cardinal honeyeaters less so. The bright yellow Samoan whistler was fairly common, as was the very dull Samoan fantail (its scientific name is nebulosus), and I got poor photos of both. I saw Pacific robins only twice, and I completely failed to find Samoan broadbill flycatcher, Samoan triller, many-coloured fruit dove or Samoan parrot-finch. Most birders’ trip reports on the internet gush about how easy finding the birds on Samoa is, so I suspect the damaged habitat here has changed that, at least for now. I spent some time in the clearing around the tomb hoping for parrot-finches at least but no luck. I was also surprised by the lack of other visitors. I imagine weekends might be busier but even on a Friday I expected other tourists to be here, and yet I saw only one (doing the usual thing you see tourists do in the forest, just motoring along, head down, looking at nothing but the path in front of them as if the end of the world is coming and they need to get back to civilisation as fast as possible).

Back at the bottom I had an acceptable fly-by of the endemic flat-billed kingfisher and a completely unacceptable fly-by of blue-crowned lorikeet (I think!). I never did see another lorikeet while in Samoa, and that was my second most-wanted bird there after the manumea. I got a taxi back to Apia where I added feral pigeon to the Samoa trip-list! Woot.

So a good day all up, with many nice new birds. Hoping for tomorrow to be as good....

I’d had a strange feeling that today was going to go badly and I was right. The bird I was going to find was the ma’o-ma’o, a giant forest-dwelling honeyeater (just called a mao in “English”) which is dependent on mature rainforest. They used to be found at Mt. Vaea until maybe a decade or so ago but no longer. Instead I was going to the Vaisigano watershed outside of Apia. I had several trip reports from other birders’ visits to Samoa but they didn’t all tally very well in their directions and name-usage so I wasn’t entirely sure I’d even be able to get there. The one thing they all did agree on was that it was easy to get a taxi to the start of the walking point, a reservoir tank at the top end of the 6km Magiagi Road. I guess the road has degraded in the meantime because it is now more of a four-wheel drive track than anything else. The taxi driver was not happy!! He decided that he couldn’t come back later in the day to pick me up because the road was just too bad. This could have been tricky because there’s nothing up there except forest and plantations – that is, no villages – but fortunately we passed a group of workers planting taro who said that if I could get back down to them by noon then they would give me a lift back to Apia in their truck. It meant I’d only have a few hours to look for the bird but beggars can’t be choosers!

The taxi dropped me off at the reservoir tank and I headed further up the road/track until I found the old trail leading off towards the valley. I was pretty sure this was the right spot but since the December cyclones the trail has been left to its own devices and it was heavily overgrown with waist-high vegetation and with numerous fallen trees. The trip reports all seemed to agree that the trail was about half a kilometre to the valley floor and then another kilometre or so up the valley itself, but after almost an hour I was still nowhere near the valley floor or the forest. I was literally soaked to the skin from the waist down from the dew-laden plants I was pushing through, and I became certain this just couldn’t be right. None of the trip reports, for example, had mentioned part of the trail being a near-vertical series of mud foot-holes!! Eventually the trail just disappeared altogether into a flooded taro swamp. I turned around and climbed all the way back up to the road again. By the time I got up there I was so drenched in sweat I looked like I had reached the river and had then fallen into it! I tried walking further along the road , which soon became little more than a rough trail itself, but there was nothing up there but more plantations. It was a thoroughly disappointing morning, made even worse through having a time limit for my ride back so I couldn’t keep trying. I headed back to the tank, hoping I might see some parrot-finches there, but no, so I walked back down the road until I found the workers.

The mid-afternoon was better, because I went to sleep back at the hotel. The late afternoon was also good. I took a taxi back to Mt. Vaea to see if I could at least find a Samoan broadbill flycatcher. There was a stiff breeze and the sky had clouded over, so it was quite pleasant up there. I saw most of the same bird species I’d seen yesterday and another (or the same) Samoan fruit bat, and then finally – drum roll – a male Samoan broadbill!! Result. He really was a little pearler of a bird, with his salmon-reddy-orangey throat and satin back. I didn’t get any photos although he posed very nicely for several minutes within comfortable binocular range. Shortly after I saw a pair of broadbills attacking a Polynesian starling; perhaps they were nesting somewhere nearby.

Back in the grounds of the Museum below it was just coming on to dusk, and the lawns were speckled with banded rails. They really are absurdly visible in Samoa! I thought I’d do a quick count-up of how many I could actually see at one time, but was distracted by the realisation that one off near the bushes had a red bill. I had a better look and it turned out to be a purple gallinule. Hmmm, maybe I should do the count through binoculars I thought. Good plan. Amongst the banded rails (twenty of them, by the way) were two Pacific golden plovers and a rooster! Before leaving to find a taxi I finally got a perch-view of a flat-billed kingfisher instead of the fly-by views I’d had to accept before. It looks much like a sacred kingfisher so not too exciting, but still nice to see.

Another up and down day. I had been going to go to Lalomanu at the eastern end of Upolu today but it was Sunday and there are no buses on Sunday, so I decided on a return assault on the Vaisigano watershed. The head worker that I’d got a lift from yesterday was named Phineas and he had told me that I was on the right trail down to the valley (annoyingly!) and he arranged for one of his workers, called Alibut, to take me back there today so I could actually get to where the birds were. That’s Alibut as in the Samoan version of Albert, not the Pirate version of a large flatfish (“Arrh matey, I’ve ‘ooked meself an ‘alibut! Pieces of eight, etc”).

So in the morning I arrive at Phineas’ house at 7am as arranged, and waited for Alibut who was supposed to take a taxi from his house to Phineas’ house and then we would use that taxi to get up to the reservoir tank. Phineas and his wife went off to fill up their truck with petrol and I sat on their verandah and waited. When they came back I was still waiting. Phineas rang Alibut’s wife who said that he was walking but he would be there soon. At 8am Phineas got a call from Alibut’s wife that in fact Alibut was back home again! Apparently he had got to the corner, seen there was no truck outside Phineas’ place, and rather than walk the extra hundred metres to see if I was there had just assumed nobody was home, turned around, and walked all the way back to where he lived!! Phineas was pretty angry and because it was Sunday all the passing taxis were occupied with people going to church, so eventually he drove me himself up the road till we found Alibut, and then I got out, Phineas headed back so his family could go to church, and Alibut and I started walking. I had been under the impression that a taxi had been arranged to meet up with us but apparently not, and we ended up walking the entire 6km length of Magiagi Road to the top. I was drenched with sweat – the whole road is through shadeless plantations of taro and bananas, and I was told later the temperature that day was 34 degrees – and I knew what the trail ahead was like, to say nothing of the return trip! I had been anticipating an early start, in the forest by say 8.30am, probably back in town by noon. No chance! It was already past 9am when we reached the tank.

The trail down to the valley (yes, I had been in the right place after all!) took only half as long as yesterday, partly because I knew where all the foot-falls and logs were under the vegetation, and partly because we took a (steep!) short-cut which took off maybe 15 minutes. When we got to the flooded point where I had quit Alibut didn’t look too sure on where the trail was supposed to be, but he had a better idea than I and we were soon on our way, forcing through the triffids that call this place home. I actually don’t think I’d have found it even if I’d tried a second time by myself. I was feeling quarter-dead by this stage after the energy-sapping walk from town and now the battle through the growth. Eventually we got out into a more open sort of path following the river course. To be honest I was already struggling to keep my feet moving. Suddenly Alibut pointed up into a high tree and silhouetted at the top was a mao! I wasn’t convinced at first, but when it moved I saw the shape of the beak so I knew it was. Unfortunately it was against the sky so I couldn’t make out any details. There was its mate up there as well in an even worse position, and then they both flew off across the river and vanished.

So I had seen a mao (when I really didn’t think that I would!) but not a great sighting so we pressed on. The sighting had energised me but only for a short while and then my body went downhill again, needing more frequent stops for rest. Surprisingly we saw mao twice more but always right at the tops of the trees making them difficult to see. My shaking hands didn’t make looking through the binoculars easy either! I also managed to see a couple of Pacific imperial pigeons which I was very pleased about. Eventually I deemed it prudent to head back because I was in a bad state. I’m glad I went and I’m even more glad I saw a mao because I’m sure as hell never going up that valley again! Every trip report makes it seem like an absolute doddle: drive up a nice road to the tank, a casual stroll down to the river and then up the valley. No, no and no – not now at any rate!! I was half-dead by the time we got back to where I’d quit coming in yesterday. There’s nothing worse than having to lift your legs high with each step to get through logs and undergrowth when you’re absolutely shattered. But it was the bank of mud steps where the exhaustion really hit home. I didn’t think I was ever going to make it up those. Once up that I had to stop about every fifty metres to rest all the way back to the road at the top. Every time I stopped it would be harder and harder to stand back up again. It took a looong time!!! I think it must have been simple heat exhaustion; I felt like I was going to die that day. You know you’re getting too old when Samoa defeats you!!

Once back on the road I drained what little water I had left. There was still the whole of Magiagi Road to go and no chance of any lift because it was Sunday so no workers in the plantations. The road, as it happened, wasn’t so much of a problem because I could just trudge along on auto-pilot, and the fact that it was sloping downwards certainly helped. Still, it was two hours to get down to a point where I could finally get a taxi back to the hotel. It was 2pm.

Back at the hotel I had another unpleasant surprise: nothing is open in Apia on a Sunday! Not shops, not restaurants, nothing. Well nothing except McDonalds, so that is where I ended up because I needed food and liquid. And then I got scammed. I’ve been scammed before of course but usually I know it’s happening – over-charging the foreigner for bus-rides or whatever. This time I got well and truly hoodwinked and I can only blame the fact that my brain had clocked out somewhere round midday and not bothered to come back to the desk. So I had just left McDonalds and was heading for Aggie Grey’s Hotel because my hotel’s receptionist had said there might be a little supermarket open there. A passing Samoan woman called out for me to stop, said she liked my hair (as they always do), asked me where I was from, where I was going, the usual stuff. She said the supermarket I was looking for was closed but Farmer Joe’s Supermarket was open because that’s where she was going. So far, so normal. At the supermarket I mentioned that I was going to Lalomanu tomorrow and she said she was also going there today, or maybe tomorrow – if it was tomorrow perhaps we could share a taxi to cut the costs (there being no buses on Monday either because it was a public holiday celebrating Mothers’ Day). I did think this was a little coincidental but it passed because she never stopped talking. Outside the supermarket she said she would call her taxi-driver friend to see what sort of price she could get us, and he duly arrived. They talk to each other in Samoan so I have no clue what is being said. Then she tells me we will go to Lalomanu at 9am tomorrow, she will pick me up from the hotel in the taxi, and the price will be 60 Tala total (the regular price being 90 Tala). 30 Tala each sounds good to me, so I agree, and then they kindly give me a lift back to the hotel. All well and good. But then, and this is where I was kicking myself afterwards, when I get out of the taxi she says the driver would need to fill up with petrol before the trip so I can just give my 30 now – no wait, better make it 40 and I’ll give you back the other 10 tomorrow. Without even thinking I handed over40 Tala and as the taxi drove away the cogs in my brain finally clicked into place and I was like “wait, what? Damn it!”. At least it was only 40 Tala; and I hadn’t had to pay for taxis to and from the top of Magiagi Road so I guess it evens out. I still felt damn stupid though!
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Suspect from your trip report, we would benefit from some help so will probably arrange some guiding when we go
After this introduction I guess its no coincidence it's been a while since you were on the road!

Glad to hear that you got some pretty good birds for all the pain.

Suspect from your trip report, we would benefit from some help so will probably arrange some guiding when we go
to be fair my trip report is a complete contrast to every other Samoa trip report I've ever read where the participants only have to sit back in a deck chair next to a tree, gin & tonic in one hand and a pair of opera glasses in the other, and the birds line up to be viewed.

I think the birds had heard I like to do things the hard way and just played along.

Although I was sure I had been scammed yesterday I believe that people in general are honest, so in the morning I waited in the hotel lobby just in case my ride did turn up at 9am. I had the number of another driver, Jerry, who’d said he would take me to Lalomanu for 80 Tala so I was going to hold off until 9.20 and then call him. At 9.20, just as I was about to call Jerry, the woman from yesterday walked in. I’ll call her Violet, because that’s what she said her name was. Immediately the reception lady said she’d have to give me my receipt and when I went to the desk she wrote on a bit of paper “this woman is no good, she is a thief and will steal all your money”. I had a hurried discussion with her and found out that Violet used to stay at this hotel a lot and scammed a lot of money from other tourists and had been in a lot of trouble with the police. We debated what to do and decided that because I’d already given her the money for the ride then I may as well still go, but don’t let her take any more money (doi!). But sure enough, no sooner had the taxi left the hotel than Violet asked if she could get 30 Tala for petrol and she’d pay me back when we got to “her shop” in Lalomanu which she apparently owned. So I just said to take me back to the hotel and once there I called Jerry to take me instead. Obviously I never got my 40 back off her but them’s the breaks.

The reason most tourists go to Lalomanu is for the beach. I was staying at the Taufua Beach Fales which was actually very nice, much nicer than my usual style of accommodation, but it was overflowing with hot girls in bikinis. I felt a little out of place in my cargo pants and boots. I never was much of a beach person. My reason for going to Lalomanu was to try and get across to Nu’utele Island which lies directly off the coast. There I would have a very very very slim chance of finding a manumea (tooth-billed pigeon) which apparently still occur there. No boats go to the island as a matter of course, due to it being inhabited by evil spirits and the graves of lepers, so I didn’t know if I was going to be spending the next couple of days struggling through jungle looking for birds or sitting by a beach looking at girls.

The ace up my sleeve was a trip report by Lorand Szucs from October 2012 (yes, before the December cyclones that I keep harping on about!) in which he had the phone number for a chap called Foki who lived in Lalomanu, had a boat, and had taken Lorand across to Nu’utele where he *thinks* he probably saw what was possibly a manumea maybe. I got the owner of the fales, Tai, to ring up Foki and we arranged a meeting for the next afternoon to discuss prices and so forth, and then we would go across to the island on Wednesday (fingers crossed for weather permitting!).

And then I did nothing for the rest of the day. It wasn’t fun. The next morning I got up at 6am as I do, and did nothing. That also was not fun. The price of the stay at Taufua (90 Tala per night) includes breakfast and dinner so it’s a very good deal, especially considering the quality and quantity of the food! At the dinners I was like Homer Simpson at the eating competition in The Slaughterhouse restaurant in Maximum Homerdrive: “What’s happening to me? There’s still food but I don’t wanna eat it! I’ve become everything I’ve ever hated!” Anyway, breakfast is at the ridiculously late hour of 9am. So I sit on the porch of my fale looking at the sea, watching the bulbuls bopping about on the sand, and I do this for a couple of hours until it must be near breakfast time. But when I look at my watch it’s only been twenty minutes! And there’s another twelve hours in the day to go!! If there’s a choice between slogging through the wilderness risking fatal heat stroke or relaxing by the beach, I’d take the slog any day. But balancing that is I did want to be rested for tomorrow’s visit to Nu’utele because it was bound to be tough, so I forced myself to stay where I was. Sigh. It’s a hard life.
So I sit on the porch of my fale looking at the sea, watching the bulbuls bopping about on the sand, and I do this for a couple of hours until it must be near breakfast time.

Do bulbuls bop about on the sand in Samoa, or is that a euphemism?

I'm enjoying your report very much. Top marks to the lady in reception.
I'm so hoping youre going to tell us next that you saw a Tooth-billed Pigeon. You cerainly deserve it. And congrats on the Mao, you seem to have cracked this Pacific isles big honeys malarky. Not that I'm still smarting about the Crow Honey of course ;).

Wasnt there an intriguing report a few years back of a likely Samoan Moorhen sighting? Forget the details.
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After this introduction I guess its no coincidence it's been a while since you were on the road!

Glad to hear that you got some pretty good birds for all the pain.

it has been a while! Last proper trip was the 2011 Indonesia one. Apart for that there was just a ten day one to Auckland in September last year. I've never suffered so much from a day stroll before, so I think it was probably coming from the NZ winter and after just a couple of days in Samoa going on a strenuous 8am to 2pm hike! Bah, it was one day out of my life, who cares right?!
Do bulbuls bop about on the sand in Samoa, or is that a euphemism?

I'm enjoying your report very much. Top marks to the lady in reception.
hmm, it might be a euphemism. I don't know what bopping means to a Manxman. In the mornings the beach was party to small flocks of bulbuls which flew here and there picking up food scraps around the fales. So bopping as in, I guess, jumping around looking for food.
I'm so hoping youre going to tell us next that you saw a Tooth-billed Pigeon. You cerainly deserve it. And congrats on the Mao, you seem to have cracked this Pacific isles big honeys malarky. Not that I'm still smarting about the Crow Honey of course ;).

Wasnt there an intriguing report a few years back of a likely Samoan Moorhen sighting? Forget the details.
I wrote that I would never go up that valley again, but if I go back to Samoa then I probably will have to because while I saw mao they were all high in the trees so no really satisfying sightings, just make-do sort of sightings.

Crow honeyeater was quite pleasant to see, yes. |8)|

There was a reported sighting of the moorhen on Savaii in 2003, but no confirmation of it as I understand.

Access to Nu’utele Island is only possible from Lalomanu at high tide because the reef has no channel so the sea needs to be high enough for the boat to ride above the reef. Fortunately the high tide today was at 8am, perfect for going birding. An Austrian chap called Walter from the place I was staying was also interested in going to the island for no real reason, so in the morning Foki picked us up and we set off in his little tin boat. I’m a bit erratic when it comes to sea-sickness: sometimes I don’t get it at all, and sometimes I get it bad. It’s only about thirty minutes across to Nu’utele’s beach but I was already feeling pretty queasy by the time we got there.

I was going looking for the tooth-billed pigeon, a long shot if ever there was one because it is rarely seen and I would only have a couple of hours on the island due to needing to leave to get back across the reef before the tide fell too low. The best thing to do really would be to sleep on the island for a few nights to get the most of your time, but I didn’t have that option (next time though!). Although the island is uninhabited there is a little house there used by teams who go over every so often to lay poison baits in an attempt to wipe out the rats on the island, so it is possible to stay there even if you don’t have a tent. Foki said he takes tourists to the island a few times a year but otherwise the locals steer clear of it. Apparently fishermen off the coast at night hear babies crying and people talking in the darkness. To me that says petrels and shearwaters but most people were aghast that I would even contemplate staying on the island, especially by myself. It is a bad place.

The beach is fringed with a wall of coconut palms with scrubby vegetation behind, extensively dug over by feral pigs of which we saw a lot, and then real forest up the slopes. There used to be a rough track up to the rim of the caldera but it no longer seems to exist. Foki had come ashore with us to show us the way but unfortunately we basically ended up walking in at least one circle (we passed the same roosting fruit bat twice), and by the time he found where the trail should have been the tides were changing and we had to leave. There are loads of birds of all sorts on the island, they were calling all around us, but the bush was so thick that it was near-impossible to see anything. We never did manage to progress much up towards the top of the island and needless to say we did not see any tooth-billed pigeons. I didn’t even see any shy ground doves which are meant to be common on the island (apparently it is the only place in Samoa where they occur), but I guess they live up to their name just as much here as they do in Fiji where I have also failed to see them! A return trip with a proper length of stay on the island is definitely in order!!

After launching off the beach we motored round to the back of the island. The cliffs here were thronged with clouds of noddies, although I’ll be jiggered if I know how to ID them properly! Most appeared to be brown noddies. There were probably “smaller and darker” ones in there which would be black noddies but I couldn’t say. There were also white terns and brown boobies. No doubt others as well, almost certainly masked and red-footed boobies, but I was starting to feel really nauseous again so couldn’t use my binoculars without wanting to throw up. I made do with the seabirds that were close enough to see with the naked eye!

We headed to the smaller island that lay beyond Nu’utele where Foki hoped to show me storm petrels in some clefts in the cliffs, but they weren’t there. The first birders he had taken out some years before were looking for an all-dark form of Polynesian storm petrel and when they found some on those cliffs they were so happy, said Foki, that it was like they had won a lottery! He didn’t understand it at all; they were just little birds. The next birders to come by just wanted to see those storm petrels, so he took them straight there, they took some photos, and then back to shore. Birders are a weird lot. The sea out round the islands was very rough and I was getting really sick. I was glad when I got back to dry land again!

At 7am I caught a free ride back to Apia with a van of school-girls. I had been planning on going back to Mt. Vaea for a last try at some of the missing birds but the winding road from Lalomanu had reminded my stomach of yesterday’s seas, the temperature was extremely hot, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my bags if I went into the forest. So I just got some breakfast in Apia then went to the bus station. I found a bus, sat in it for an hour until enough passengers had gathered, and then went to the airport where I sat slowly basting in the heat like a New Orleans plantation owner until my flight which was supposed to be at 3.30pm but turned into 4.30pm because Samoa.

Yesterday I had turned NZ$60 into 90 Tala at the Taufua Beach Fales in case I needed some extra cash for taxis and also because of the 65 Tala departure tax. It turned out that the departure tax had been done away with in the last few months so no need to pay it now. When I got back into Auckland I still had 90 Tala in my wallet. I changed it at the Travelex counter for NZ$37! A $23 loss!!! Pirates.

So, a summary of Samoa. It was too hot. Far too hot. The birds were nice but contrary to everything else I have read it was not easy finding them and there were several “easy” endemics which I didn’t see at all. I’m not sure if this was due to just being unlucky or (more likely) the recent bad cyclones have affected the difficulty for the moment through destroying a lot of habitat. The dogs surprisingly were all friendly! Dogs are always my biggest worry when travelling, and dogs in the Pacific are some of the worst. But without exception every dog I came across was perfectly civilised. Well, I did see two dogs attacking a car – literally attacking it, one hanging off the front bumper and the other trying to rip at the back wheel; and the car was moving!! – but that didn’t affect me so they don’t count. I think I do have to go back. The obvious reason is for the tooth-billed pigeon with a proper attempt at Nu’utele Island, and I’d also like time to go to Savaii to look for the Samoan white-eye which is only found there. Also everyone on Samoa kept telling me that Savaii is the nicer island.

And thus here endeth the Samoan part of my story. I'll put one of those listy things that birders like in the next post.

White-tailed tropicbird Phaethon lepturus -- anywhere over forest, especially Mt. Vaea
Brown booby Sula leucogaster – at Nu’utele Island (I was too seasick to use my binoculars so there were almost certainly red-footed and masked there as well, but I’m not going to claim distinguishing them)
Eastern reef heron Egretta sacra – just one, at Lalomanu
Banded rail Gallirallus philippensis – everywhere, especially the Mt. Vaea area
Purple gallinule Porphyrio porphyrio – just one, in the grounds of the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum (and what was probably one flushed in the Vaisigano area)
Wandering tattler Heterosceles incanus – on the Apia foreshore, and one at Lalomanu
Pacific golden plover Pluvialis fulva – on the lawns at the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum
Brown noddy Anous stolidus – everywhere over forest and especially off Nu’utele Island (I can’t really ID noddies in flight so there were probably black noddies as well everywhere!)
White tern Gygis alba – everywhere over forest, especially at Mt. Vaea
Feral pigeon Columba livia -- Apia
White-throated pigeon Columba vitiensis – Mt. Vaea, Vaisigano, Nu’utele Island (pretty common in every forest)
Crimson-crowned fruit dove Ptilinopus porphyraceus – common at Mt. Vaea and its surrounds, also seen in Apia “suburbs”
Pacific imperial pigeon Ducula pacifica – only seen at the Vaisigano forest
White-rumped swiftlet Aerodramus spodiopygius – everywhere over forest
Flat-billed kingfisher Todiramphus recurvirostris – only seen at Mt. Vaea and its surrounds, and once by the reservoir tank at Vaisigano. I only saw one well, all the rest were just fly-bys
Polynesian triller Lalage maculosa – common in open country everywhere, and also in the forest at Mt. Vaea which I guess tells you the damage the cyclones did to the forest!
Red-vented bulbul Pycnonotus cafer – common everywhere
Samoan whistler Pachycephala flavifrons – pretty commonly seen at Mt. Vaea, also at Vaisigano and Nu’utele Island
Pacific robin Petroica multicolor – hard to find for me, only seen thrice, all at Mt. Vaea
Samoan broadbill flycatcher Myiagra albiventris -- very difficult for me to find, only seen twice, both times at Mt. Vaea within a fairly short time of each other (a male, and a pair which probably included that same male)
Samoan fantail Rhipidura nebulosa – not hard to find at Mt. Vaea, also seen at Vaisigano and not far from the airport
Wattled honeyeater Foulehaio carunculata -- common
Cardinal honeyeater Myzomela cardinalis -- not as common but seen in all forests
Mao Gymnomyza samoensis – just at Vaisigano
Polynesian starling Aplonis tabuensis -- common
Samoan starling Aplonis atrifusca -- common
Common mynah Acridothere tristis – everywhere!
Jungle mynah Acridotheres fuscus – everywhere!

(Leaving aside all the seabirds)
Shy ground dove Gallicolumba stairi – apparently only found on Nu’utele Island. Lorand Szucs found them “common” last year; I failed to see any but I never really got far into the proper forest there
Tooth-billed pigeon Didunculus strigirostris -- yeah right
Many-coloured fruit dove Ptilinopus perousii -- I looked, I did not find. At Lalomanu the locals told me that is their favourite pigeon to eat and they shoot them whenever they can....
Blue-crowned lorikeet Vini australis – I heard them in the grounds of the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, and I *think* I saw one flash by so fast through the coconut palms that it may as well have been jet-propelled. One of the birds I most wanted to see in Samoa!
Samoan triller Lalage sharpei – not many people seem to have trouble finding this bird but as a forest-dweller it has probably been affected by the cyclones and made harder to find for now. That’s my excuse anyway.
Red-headed parrot-finch Erythrura cyaneovirens – not a whiff of a parrot-finch did I find

And then there’s barn owl (I wasn’t out at night), Samoan white-eye (only on Savaii), island thrush (also only on Savaii I was told?). I’ve seen barn owl and island thrush elsewhere. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bristle-thighed curlew but I didn’t do enough sea-watching and I don’t know if it was even the right time of year for them.

Samoan fruit bat Pteropus samoensis – one or two seen at Mt. Vaea, one on Nu’utele Island, and a bat at night in Lalomanu which was probably this species. I didn’t see any Tongan fruit bats but that was probably because I wasn’t in the right places. (Although I was told the cyclones had destroyed some bat roosts and forced them elsewhere).

Samoan skink Emoia samoensis – common in the forest at Mt. Vaea and Nu’utele Island (and probably Vaisigano but I didn’t see any there)
Pacific black skink Emoia nigra – common in all the forests
Brown-tailed copper-striped skink Emoia cyanura – seen once, at Lalomanu
Snake-eyed skink Cryptoblepharus poecilopleurus – common amongst the rocks on the Apia foreshore walk
House gecko Hemidactylus frenatus – not as commonly seen as I would have expected! I saw a couple in my hotel in Apia and some in the toilet block at Lalomanu
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hmm, it might be a euphemism. I don't know what bopping means to a Manxman. In the mornings the beach was party to small flocks of bulbuls which flew here and there picking up food scraps around the fales. So bopping as in, I guess, jumping around looking for food.

I forget where I first heard the term "bopping", whether here in the Isle of Man or as a student in the UK in the 1970s, but it referred to dancing, especially in discos. Thinking about it, I haven't heard the term for years, although I haven't been to a bop (the noun) for many years and was cr*p at bopping at the best of times!
re the noddies. This might not be the case, and I'm at work with no time to look it up, but I've got a feeling that Brown Noddies might nest on the ground and Black Noddies in trees??? Might be worth checking Chlid?
re the noddies. This might not be the case, and I'm at work with no time to look it up, but I've got a feeling that Brown Noddies might nest on the ground and Black Noddies in trees??? Might be worth checking Chlid?
hmm yes you are right. It seems brown noddies nest mainly on the ground and sometimes in low shrubs, while black noddies nest in trees.

The noddies I saw over forest (e.g. at Mt. Vaea and the Vaisigano valley) were just flying so I don't know if they were there for nesting or just passing over. The ones off Nu'utele Island were on the cliff faces and in the sky. So I guess the ones on the cliffs must be brown noddies? And the ones in flight...I'll let God sort them out.

How the heck does a person ID a black or brown noddy in flight anyway? Especially if they've never seen a noddy before?
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