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New Caledonia, April 2012 (1 Viewer)

Murray Lord

Well-known member
Three of us just had a great three days of birding in New Caledonia. This was a much more successful trip than my 2003 one, where cyclone damage prevented me getting into Riviere Bleue.

However it wasn’t without a few nervous moments as when we got to Riviere Bleue on the Thursday morning we were met with a “Parc Ferme” sign, and sure enough it was closed because of high water levels. Luckily I had emailed the head ranger a few weeks ago, and I was able to find him and plead that this was the second time I had come from Australia and found the park closed. He took pity on me and arranged for us to be taken into the rainforest for a few hours by one of the staff while they did some work nearby. With hindsight this isn't the best time of year to go birding in New Cal; it is the wettest time of year so the risk of Rivière Bleue being closed is highest.

Whilst waiting we saw an NC Goshawk overhead and had our first Barred Honeyeaters. It didn’t take all that long before two Kagu appeared on the road in front of us and we had reasonable views as they walked off into the forest. As we walked along we added various species such as Melanesian Cuckoo-shrike, NC Friarbird, Yellow-bellied Robin, Horned Parakeet, Yellow bellied Gerygone, Striated Starling and NC Myzomela. At one point a group of four Kagu chased each other across the road in front of Dave and me. When we caught up with Tony he had been photographing two Kagu in the forest. When the rangers came to pick us up they started making lots of noise and calling “kagu, kagu, kagu” and no less than five emerged from the forest and came towards us. We had them running around us for several minutes and got great photos.

That afternoon we had a look around Mt Koghi and added a few species including Southern Shrikebill, NC Crow and Goliath Imperial Pigeon.

On Friday we headed back to Riviere Bleue as it was open to the public once again. We spent a couple of hours walking through the forest, mainly looking for Crow Honeyeater, and NC Cuckoo-shrike. We played their calls now and then, seeing a few other birds around the place. Eventually a NC Cuckoo-shrike flew in to a high tree above us. But it was soon forgotten when we realised that three Crow Honeyeaters were feeding in a tree near us. We had good brief views. The most pessimistic population estimate is that there are only 250 left and I hadn’t really expected we would find them at this time of year. At the Grand Kaori tree we were able to sit and watch a Kagu feeding quietly for about ten minutes only a few metres away.

With all the Riviere Bleue specialties out of the way we headed back to Mt Koghi. This time we concentrated on the area near the communications tower, which we had read of as being a site for the NC Grassbird, always the hardest endemic for birders to get onto. Pretty much straight away we had one calling, and playing the tape got it to literally a metre from our feet, but we didn’t get a glimpse despite an hour’s work. We spent the last hour of the day scanning the forest nearby, adding Cloven feathered Dove and NC Parakeet.

So with one day left, the grassbird was the only target species left. Dave’s baggage had been left behind in Sydney and despite promises from the airline they hadn’t delivered it to the hotel, so we had to go out to the airport the next day. That took us half way to the other grassbird site at Farino so we decided to go there. It had been developed a bit since my last visit, which made it easier to drive up to higher elevations. We decided to try likely looking vegetation along the entrance road to the Parc de Grands Fougeres. Despite it being the middle of the day, we heard one calling at our second stop before we had resorted to playing calls. The response once we played the call couldn’t have been more different to the previous day’s bird – this one hopped up on a tree stump and showed well. In fact there were two birds here, and later Dave found another pair only about fifty metres along the road. The spot was near the highest point of the road, a couple of hundred meters before the Parc entrance. I have a GPS reading for anyone heading out that way.

With all the New Cal and regional endemics now seen, we spent a few hours birding around Farino, seeing NC Crows and Cloven feathered Doves amongst others. Dave had the only Metallic Pigeon of the trip fly over. And then we returned to Noumea and flew home. Total trip list for all of us was only about 51 species, but they have some great birds there.

So all in all a very successful trip, with all four of my target birds seen, some good Kagu and grassbird photos, and the total trip including airfares costing only A$1200 ex Sydney.

I have posted some photos from this trip and the previous one at http://www.pbase.com/mklord/newcal

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