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NEW ZEALAND TO KAGU, August 2010 (1 Viewer)

Chlidonias

Well-known member
yes I know, not *quite* as epic in scope as "Bristol to Kagu" given that there's only a three hour flight separating New Zealand and New Caledonia, but Mr. Wheatland's thread had inspired me to finally get off my buttocks and go see some of the birds there (and he gave me kind permission to usurp his thread title for my own purposes). The thing that had always put me off was actually the cost, but Larry assured everyone in his thread that it wasn't really too expensive if one camps and eats supermarket food. Also New Caledonia's international airline Air Calin ("fly the cuddly skies") has teamed up with Air New Zealand to get more tourists over there for less money, bringing the airfares right down. What is a bit sneaky, however, is that if you book with Air Calin you pay two or three hundred dollars more than if you book with Air New Zealand -- for exactly the same flight! Just goes to show you always need to check all the alternatives...

Larry was quite right about the costs. Over the course of two weeks I spent less than NZ$600. Now some people would argue that sleeping in a tent and eating supermarket food doesn't sound like a very good holiday but I would beg to differ. Those people are entitled to their opinion, even if its the wrong one. I had been intending to also visit the Loyalty Islands which lie just to the east of New Caledonia's main island (Grande Terre) but because I was travelling by public transport around Grande Terre I ran out of time so no Lifou white-eyes or Ouvea parakeet for me. On New Caledonia I found the birds to be very patchy, probably in large part due to my general crapness at finding birds. Several species I saw only once or at just one site whereas I should by rights have been seeing them all over the show. I didn't see Pacific swallows and some other common birds at all -- or maybe I did and just didn't pay them any attention, I'm not sure. Two common endemics remained hidden from me, the white-bellied goshawk and the New Caledonian cuckoo-shrike, even though I saw the supposedly "uncommon" Melanesian cuckoo-shrike almost everywhere I went.

Anyhow....

Noumea, 3-4 August 2010:

New Caledonia may be sunny but Auckland sure wasn't when I arrived there from Christchurch in the early morning. The rain was lashing down and the onward flight was then delayed on account of fog (they couldn't find the plane....) so when I finally got to the intended Pacific isle it was quite a bit later in the day than anticipated. The first birds seen on the trip were, as may perhaps have been expected, common mynahs at Tontouta Airport, followed by an Australasian harrier and spot-necked doves on the ride into Noumea. The airport is about 45km away from Noumea, I suppose due to geographical reasons, so it takes a while to get back and forth. I had been going to book the bus to Yate for the next day to get me to the main bird-spot, Riviere Bleue national park, but the ticket booth at the bus station had already closed up for the day by the time I got there. However Noumea really is very birdy itself, and while wandering round town I came across various common introduced birds (house sparrow, feral pigeon and red-vented bulbuls), some local forms of other birds (silver gull, glossy swiftlet and rainbow lorikeet), and also a couple of regional specialities, the unimaginatively- (and rather inappropriately-) named dark-brown honeyeater and the green-backed white-eye. This last one had me a bit confused for a while because the field guide suggested it should only be in the forests, yet it was common all over Noumea. I thought maybe the local subspecies of silvereye looked really odd and that that's what I was seeing but, no, I was right the first time (although in fact I saw very few silvereyes anywhere, somewhat surprisingly seeing as how they should have been common too). In a patch of wasteground next to the Noumea Aquarium was a small flock of the introduced common waxbills which was nice.

I was staying at the only cheap accommodation option in Noumea, the Auberge de Jeunesse (the Youth Hostel), which is about NZ$25 for a dorm bed. Its a very nice friendly place, and in the bathroom were resident house geckoes which is always a plus. As well as random town-bird-watching on this first day, I also had to drop by the supermarket to stock up on food because I was going to be camping when at the places I was visiting over the course of the next two weeks. Have I mentioned New Caledonia has a reputation for being expensive? The supermarket chain is called Casino, a very apt name given the rate you lose money when there. Before I'd left someone had told me that a loaf of bread in Noumea cost the equivalent of NZ$20, a story which I had scoffed at on the reasonable assumption that if it was true then how could the locals possibly afford to live there? Turns out....it is true! The budget brand of white sliced bread is about NZ$4 a loaf, but the better quality stuff (from Quality Bakers) was about NZ$18!!! I doubt many people actually buy these loaves however as the baguettes (French sticks) are only about NZ$1.50. Which would you choose?

My plan for the start of the trip had been to get out to Riviere Bleue as soon as I could. It would be my birthday in two days and I wanted to see a kagu (the national bird) on that day. A storm blew through in the night though and because the information I had was that Riviere Bleue closes up when it rains, I booked a bus instead for the next day to get me to Farino which is the second main bird spot. So that I wouldn't be sitting around doing nothing for the spare day, I visited the Aquarium des Lagons (otherwise known as the Noumea Aquarium) and then took a wander in the drizzle around the Ouen Toro Forest Park in the south of the town, where I saw a few more birds, namely grey fantail, rufous whistler, shining cuckoo and fan-tailed gerygone, all of which were seen at once in a nice bird wave along with green-backed white-eyes and dark-brown honeyeaters. I kept a lookout for the white-bellied goshawk that Larry had seen here the year before but no luck. Back in town I spotted a white-faced heron flapping around in the sky. It looked very odd because it had its neck stretched out in front like a stork rather than tucked in as herons normally do. Even more oddly, of the many white-faced herons I saw in New Caledonia about half of them flew like this. I've never seen them do that in NZ or Australia.

The Aquarium really is very nice. Its not terribly big but that's only to be expected given that the Noumean population isn't very large and there's only a limited number of tourists. Its situated very conveniently for the majority of those tourists, being directly between the two main beaches; and also conveniently for me, being on the way to the Ouen Toro Forest Park! (I of course had no interest in the beaches *cough cough*). Everything displayed in the tanks is local. Some of the fishy inhabitants are fairly standard but something you don't see every day are corals displayed under ultra-violet light which makes them glow in the dark! It is a well-known fact, but I haven't seen it shown in an Aquarium before, especially on the scale as here. Also most fascinating were the flashlight fish, which have flashing lights in pockets under their eyes so when in the dark all you can see are green spurts of light blinking on and off. Very cool.


BIRDS (bold are new species for me):
1) Common mynah Acridotheres tristis
2) Australasian harrier Circus approximans
3) Spot-necked dove Streptopelia chinensis
4) House sparrow Passer domesticus
5) Silver gull Larus novaehollandiae forsteri
6) Glossy swiftlet Collocalia esculenta albidior
7) Red-vented bulbul Pycnonotus cafer
8) Feral pigeon Columba livia
9) Rainbow lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus deplanchii
10) Dark-brown honeyeater Lichmera incana incana
11) Green-backed white-eye Zosterops xanthochroa
12) Common waxbill Estrilda astrild

13) Grey fantail Rhipidura albiscapa bulgeri
14) Fan-tailed gerygone Gerygone flavolateralis flavolateralis
15) Rufous whistler Pachycephala rufiventris xanthetraea
16) Shining cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidus plagosus
17) White-faced heron Ardea novaehollandiae nana (or Ardea novaehollandiae novaehollandiae if you want)

REPTILES:
House gecko Hemidactylus frenatus
 

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
A pleasure to read Chlidonias, and bringing back some lovely memories, nice one :t:

Looking forward to reading how it was for you at Farino.
 

Chlidonias

Well-known member
I'm trying to stretch out the postings over several days because the thread's only about five entries long....

if anyone notices any stuff-ups (taxonomic changes etc) just let me know.
 

Chlidonias

Well-known member
Farino, 5-8 August 2010

By the next day when I left for Farino the rain had all cleared away which was good as I had a lot of walking to do. There's no bus specifically to La Foa anymore but most of the buses heading north pass through there so its not a problem and there are several options for times. No tourist travels by the local buses in New Caledonia, they all hire cars and it soon became obvious why -- the buses don't go anywhere near the places you want to get to! To get to Farino without a car you first take a bus to a little town called La Foa -- although you can get the driver to drop you off a bit further on at the Fonwharry junction a couple of kilometres past La Foa -- and from there you have to get a further 5 or 6km to Farino, and then to the Refuge de Farino which is another few kilometres further on from there. It doesn't sound far but most of the distance is uphill, its very hot, and of course you've got all your gear on your back so its pretty slow going. Hitching is supposed to be easy in New Caledonia, but not on this day. I walked for a long time before what must surely have been the hottest girl in the country stopped to give me a lift. On the plus side of the walk was that I saw a New Caledonian crow (you may think a crow isn't very exciting but the New Caledonian ones have funny-shaped beaks: so there!), as well as the first silvereyes of the trip. I also started up rusa deer several times. These are very common introduced animals in New Caledonia and they don't seem overly shy. The campground at the Refuge de Farino is a good place to stay -- only about NZ$14 per night to pitch your tent, which is cheap for this country. I set up house in light drizzle while New Caledonian myzomelas, striated starlings, horned parakeets and cloven-feathered doves played in the surrounding trees. These latter two were two of my most-wanted birds in New Caledonia. I had first heard of the cloven-feathered dove from reading a book called "Rare Birds Of The World" by Guy Mountfort and Norman Arlott back in 1989. There was a fabulous painting of a male cloven-feathered dove in the book and it instantly became one of those animals that jammed itself into my memory as a species I wanted to see one day. In fact it was the bird I most wanted to see when here, even overshadowing the kagu which is the bird that most birders go to New Caledonia for. The dove is a stunning bird, brilliant green with a yellow belly, white stripes across the wings and tail as if its been sitting on a freshly-painted park bench, and ridiculous pompoms of white feathers on each leg like a high-class bantam. They aren't the easiest bird to actually see although they are very easy to hear as they sit hidden in the canopy droning out their monotonous "oow oow oow" like little green foghorns.

Once the tent was up I set off for the 8km walk to the hopefully-bird-filled forest of the Parc des Grandes Fougeres. Along the road I saw more New Caledonian birds such as metallic pigeons, New Caledonian friarbirds and other funny-named things. Also along the way were my first experiences with New Caledonian dogs. These are NOT pleasant! Larry never mentioned dogs at all in his thread so maybe he just got lucky or maybe it was because I was alone, but almost everywhere I walked in New Caledonia I was threatened and several times physically attacked by dogs. I dislike dogs at the best of times, and I was pretty much freaked out for half of my trip with the aggressiveness of the dogs here. It really did put a severe dampner on my enjoyment of the holiday! There are no licensing laws here, no vaccinations, no leash laws, nothing. There are so many dogs that you regularly see them dead on the main roads. No-one cleans up the carcasses so they range from the freshly-killed all the way through to simply greasy smears of fur and bones flattened into the tarseal by hundreds of passing vehicles. The dogs here have real split personalities. When you're walking along a road one will come running out of a property barking its head off at you, but its tail is wagging so you think "no problem" and go to continue on past in a carefully casual fashion, and that's when it comes at you, snarling and jaws chomping and you have to beat it off with your bag -- but all the while its tail is still wagging away! Its like its got an angry deranged brain in its head and a happy brain in its tail. The worst times were when three or four dogs would come out of a property all together and circle me, snarling and foaming; luckily none of these groups did anything more than act menacing. These aren't small dogs either: one at Farino (luckily confined behind a fence) was by my estimation the size of a horse; it could have bitten my face off without even lifting its front paws off the ground. In various human cultures the same gesture can mean completely opposite things -- eg, in some cultures shaking one's head means "no" whereas in another it means "yes"; a hand gesture that means goodbye in Western cultures means "come here" in Thailand -- so I have formulated a theory regarding the tail-wagging attack-dogs which says that dogs also have cultural gestures that differ from country to country. New Caledonian dogs are in effect behaving like cats by wagging their tails when they are angry. Dogs are stupid.

Once past the 2km-long dog section of the walk and onto the 6km unpaved road leading up to the park, I got in sightings of New Caledonian whistler, red-throated parrotfinch, brown goshawk and long-tailed triller (well, one long-tailed triller, the only one of the trip which was just a little surprising for a bird that I should have been seeing absolutely everywhere every day!). I'm pretty sure a bird that shot off through the trees on the way up was a white-bellied goshawk but it was only a brief view so I wasn't sure and it didn't go onto my list. The park itself was already closed by the time I got there, as I had known it would be; I was merely trying out the walk for time. Did I mention today was my birthday? Nine "new" species was a nice present. Cloven-feathered dove was definitely a way better bird to see for the first time on my birthday than a kagu would have been.

All of the next day was spent in the Parc des Grandes Fougeres. There is a tale in this land of an imaginary bird called the New Caledonian grassbird which is said to live in areas of rough grass and bracken in open patches within forest. One such patch is in the Parc des Grandes Fougeres. Because the bird is imaginary I did not see it but I did see New Caledonian flycatcher, Melanesian cuckoo-shrike, streaked fantail and yellow-bellied robin, none of which were imaginary at all, as well as a whole bunch of birds I'd already seen (fifteen other species). Overall though there didn't seem to be many birds around in the park that day, it was just one of those quiet days.

Although I hadn't managed to find the grassbird or a couple of other species I was interested in, I decided not to revisit the park on the third day. The dogs had just got too much for me. If I had to do the trip over I would stay at Les Bancouliers which is a backpackers/campsite about a kilometre or two up the road that leads to the Parc des Grandes Fougeres. Not only would that shave about 3 or 4km off the walk that you do from the Refuge de Farino but it would also mean you miss out the dogs altogether. I had planned to just wander round the vicinity of the Refuge today and spot birds in the trees there, but another storm chose to blow through in the night. It rained and rained and rained all of the day, so I basically just sat in my tent to avoid the waterfalls dropping out of the sky, hoping the tent wouldn't end up sliding into the nearby river, and did absolutely nothing. It got so bad that all the other campers packed up and drove off, until all that were left were myself and an Australian/New Caledonian family. That night their tent caved in and freezing water cascaded through onto them so they also left. They abandoned the potatoes they had baking in the embers of their campfire so after they'd gone I furtively scavenged them like a dog; it may not be dignified but that's what you've got to do to survive in New Caledonia. The one new animal for the day were several fish in the nearby stream that I believe to be Awaous guamensis

The rain had mostly cleared away by the middle of next morning, and I got back to Noumea quite easily with a ride from near the Refuge to La Foa with a gentleman who had five words of English to go with my five words of French, and then a further ride to Noumea with a huge dreadlocked Kanak easily twice my size who spoke not a jot of English but did set a new land-speed record for reaching the capital. A walk round the Ouen Toro forest park in Noumea yielded nothing new bird-wise, although one individual of common litter skink was distinct enough to enable me to identify it. I saw a lot of skinks in the forests around New Caledonia, but even with the help of the field guide almost all of them had to remain unidentified


BIRDS:
18) White-breasted woodswallow Artamus leucorynchus melaleucus
19) Sacred kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus canacorum
20) Pacific black duck Anas superciliosus superciliosus
21) Silvereye Zosterops lateralis griseonota
22) New Caledonian crow Corvus moneduloides
23) Purple gallinule Porphyrio porphyrio samoensis
24) New Caledonian myzomela Myzomela caledonica
25) Horned parakeet Eunymphicus cornutus
26) Striated starling Aplonis striata striata
27) Cloven-feathered dove Drepanoptila holosericea

28) White-throated (metallic) pigeon Columba vitiensis hypoenochroa
29) New Caledonia friarbird Philemon diemenensis
30) New Caledonian whistler Pachycephala caledonica
31) Red-throated parrotfinch Erythrura psittacea

32) Brown goshawk Accipiter fasciatus vigilax
33) Long-tailed triller Lalage leucopyga montrosieri
34) New Caledonian flycatcher Myiagra caledonica caledonica
35) South Melanesian cuckoo-shrike Coracina caledonica caledonica

36) Streaked fantail Rhipidura spilodera verreauxi
37) Yellow-bellied robin Eopsaltria flaviventris

MAMMALS:
House mouse Mus musculus
Rusa Cervus timorensis

REPTILES:
Common litter skink Caledoniscincus austrocaledonicus

FISH:
Awaous guamensis
 
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Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
We might have met some of those very dogs! There were 2 quite feisty ones by the small restaurant near the auberge de Farino, but the owner called them away from us, and another one further along the road in an orchard (luckily behind a fence). We never actually felt threatened though.

Here's a link to a pic Nicky took at Farino of the amazing Cloven-feathered Dove that Chlidonias mentions. (post 625)

http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=100901&page=25

Interesting to hear that there's a camping spot nearer to the birding site. I noticed Bancouliers, but thought it was just a restaurant.

Shame you missed the NC Grassbird, but it's a real sod. Some people miss it even with a tape, and it took me many hours to get shoddy views without one.

You asked about taxonomic issues Chlidonias. IOC now split Melanesian Cuckoo-Shrike in two, with the NC birds now being South Melanesian Cuckoo-Shrike. We too found them commoner than NC Cuckoo-Shrike.
 
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Chlidonias

Well-known member
I think with the dogs the main thing was that I was on my own so the dogs felt braver maybe. As for the grassbird, I don't really believe it even exists. I mean, seriously, it defeats the whole purpose of being a bird if you're scurrying around in the grass like a rat instead of flying around in the sky.

The North/South Melanesian cuckoo-shrike split probably won't affect me as I doubt I'll be getting to the Solomons....although I would like to see that frogmouth....hmm, maybe I should go!

Anyway, here's the next installment:
 

Chlidonias

Well-known member
Riviere Bleue, 8-12 August 2010

The day after getting back into Noumea I set off again on my next stop, Riviere Bleue national park (actually its called a regional park, what with New Caledonia really being in France and all). Although Riviere Bleue is closed on Mondays I took the Yate-bound bus on the Monday to the park. There's only one bus a day to Yate and it doesn't leave Noumea till 11.30am, so I figured it would make sense to go there the day before and pitch my tent at the nearby camp-site of Les Bois du Sud so as to be on hand to enter the park first thing in the morning. The landscape in this part of New Caledonia is all red earth and dry scrubby vegetation called maquis, rather like what Mars must have looked like before the apocalypse and not at all what one expects when heading to a rainforest!

Have I mentioned how almost no tourists travel by bus? Rather inconveniently (and once again!), you can only get easily to this best-known and most-visited of the country's national parks if you have a car. From where the bus drops you off on the highway there's first a 2.4km walk to the park HQ and then a further 10km to get to Pont Perignon before you can get a shuttle for the next 10km to the camping area of Pont Germain where the kagu can be found. Why the shuttles don't just run all the way from the HQ I do not know. Fortunately, as has been said before, hitch-hiking is easy in New Caledonia, so you can usually (probably always) get a ride in some passing car to Pont Perignon.

The turn-offs to Riviere Bleue on the left and Les Bois du Sud on the right are only 150 metres apart on the highway which is handy. From the highway there's a 2 or 3 km walk to the campsite (so if walking to the park from the campsite its about a 5km hike to the HQ). The campsite is quite nice, with yellow-bellied robins and green-backed white-eyes begging for hand-outs and trails going off through the forest where I found some New Caledonian whistlers and fan-tailed gerygones as well as lots of streaked fantails. I could not find any white-bellied goshawks. At dawn on the Tuesday I packed up and hiked back to the highway and on to the park HQ. On the way -- just past the gate to Les Bois du Sud when coming out into the maquis -- I saw my first New Caledonian parakeets, very much like the New Zealand red-crowned kakariki from which they've been split, but with noticeably yellower plumage. Then right near the junction of the highway and the road running to the park HQ I saw my first barred honeyeaters and a whistling kite, as well as various other birds I'd already seen (rainbow lorikeets, friarbirds, rufous whistler, swiftlets, etc). At the HQ I paid the surprisingly low fees (about NZ$7 entry and another NZ$7 for several nights camping), and then got a lift with a convoy of French people to Pont Perignon. They were only staying for one night but had boxes and boxes of food so I was hopeful of getting fed by them but they ended up at a different camping area from me. There is a very abrupt change of landscape on the way between Ponts Perignon and Germain. One minute you're driving through hell-blasted scrublands then in a literal blink-and-you-miss-it moment you're suddenly in thick verdant rainforest which immediately brought to mind the Gerald Durrell books I read as a boy in which he describes the West African rainforests as being underlain by gluggy red clay soils which exactly describes these New Caledonian ones as well.

Camping at Riviere Bleue is officially called "bivouacing" which means you are only allowed to have your tent up between the hours of 4pm and 8am. The rest of the time you have to pack up and just leave your belongings under one of the picnic tables. There's not much risk of theft so long as the bags are padlocked because as far as I could tell -- presumably to stop people tearing the place up in private cars -- you can only come in on the shuttle unless in a tour group so no-one is going to nick off with your stuff in their car.

Riviere Bleue is exactly the sort of place I like when I'm travelling. Get up in the morning, go wander round the forest looking for birds, go to sleep, and then repeat the next day. That is all. Nothing else to do, and nothing to spend money on. I had already seen a lot of the endemic birds at Farino so there were only a few I was specifically looking for at Riviere Bleue, the main ones being the New Caledonian imperial pigeon, the crow honeyeater and the kagu. So after getting dropped off at Pont Germain by the shuttle I set off along the road to look for birds, of which I found plenty. The Grand Kaori trail was particularly productive, giving me my first southern shrikebill in a birdwave of local passerines (green-backed white-eyes, streaked fantails, fan-tailed gerygones, New Caledonian whistlers, New Caledonian flycatchers and a Melanesian cuckoo-shrike). It really did look a bit ridiculous amongst all the little dainty-billed passerines with the enormous secateurs it has on its face! I finally also managed to find some New Caledonian imperial pigeons, reputedly the largest arboreal pigeon in the world (their specific name is goliath which speaks for itself) and they really are most magnificent birds. These are actually locally-common in most of the island's forests, although declining due to hunting, and they can be heard calling where-ever you are but like many forest-dwelling pigeons they can be difficult to actually see because they spend most of each day just sitting motionless in the canopy pretending not to be there at all.

Finally for the day, after I'd set up my tent and was writing up notes, a kagu came wandering out of the forest and started feeding on the campsite lawn. The kagu is what most visiting birders want to see. They are quite rare -- about 1000 birds or so -- and over half the remaining population lives right here in Riviere Bleue. Honestly, though, the kagu was a bit of an anticlimax. It is a most peculiar bird but at the same time it has a sort of wierd "familiar" look to it, looking rather like a cross between a seagull and a spur-winged plover. I thought at the time it was the 1000th bird I'd seen in the wild but it later turned out that I hadn't seen long-tailed triller before so in fact the kagu comes out as number 1001 (on my current list, until taxonomic changes shuffle it again). A kagu I found the next day in the forest - where it should be seen - was a much better experience, so I think the campground surroundings had something to do with the unexciting aspect to today's kagu. A short night walk produced a knob-headed giant gecko up in a tree which I was most elated about. Its not the best time of year for finding geckos; apparently in summer they're all over the roads as males go searching for females.

All-in-all my most favourite bird of all the ones I saw in New Caledonia wasn't the cloven-feathered dove or the horned parakeet or the kagu; it was the crow honeyeater. This huge black honeyeater is such a rare and reclusive bird that many birders fail to see it and so, given that I rank up there with the world's worst birders, I wouldn't have been at all surprised if I had done likewise. On the morning of my second day at the park, at about 7.30am while walking the road looking to see what was about, a harsh call attracted my attention and a big black blur shot across the road and disappeared into the forest. I knew what it had to be, mainly because I'd already seen all the other big black birds and it wasn't any of those, but at the same time it was just a whirr of feathery darkness, so it didn't get noted down as "seen: crow honeyeater". Fortunately just a couple of hours later, right near the entrance to the Grand Kaori trail, further calls alerted me to the presence of more of the birds and I found a pair of them chasing each other between the trees and got about two minutes of good stop-start viewing (that is, I'd get a good look, then the bird would fly to a different perch and I'd have to find it again for another good short view). Far and away the best bird New Caledonia has to offer in my opinion, exceeding the kagu many-fold. They're not the most attractive or colourful of birds -- in fact they're all black apart for the red facial skin that flares out in the forest gloom, they're about the size of a crow, and they have the heavy flight of a demon-spawned pheasant as if they're afraid of falling out of the sky -- but they have more charisma in one primary feather than most birds do in their entire body.

Half an hour after the crow honeyeaters had departed, while I was just sitting in the little shelter by the Grand Kaori entrance out of the drizzle, one of the shuttles pulled up and dropped off a couple of Italian birders doing a birding trip of the Pacific. Their itinerary? Three days in New Caledonia, two in Samoa and two in Tonga. That's it. They had no field guides, no idea of what birds were on the islands, and no idea of sites to find the birds. Just wierd. They had never heard of the grassbird or even the cloven-feathered dove, and they expressed surprise when I said they could easily find rainbow lorikeets anywhere in Noumea.

Back at the camp-site I spotted a lone fruit bat hanging in a tree on the opposite side of the river, which upped my hopes of it being the endangered endemic ornate flying fox Pteropus ornatus, but I had to admit it was instead the more widespread Pacific flying fox. I also happened to run into Francois Tran from Caledonia Tours, there with an Australian tourism journalist, and he invited me to join them for lunch. Top notch bloke he is. So instead of bread and cold sardines I had barbecued wild pig sausages, wild venison, prawns, couscous and coffee. And then he left me the left-over food as well because he didn't want to take it back with him. You can get in touch with him at [email protected] if you need a guide on the island (he had been taking Phil Gregory's group a couple of weeks beforehand, so you know he's good).

I had been going to stay at Riviere Bleue for a few more days but seeing as how I'd found both the kagu and the crow honeyeater in double-quick time I decided to go back to Noumea early to see what else I could squeeze into my trip (not a lot as it turned out, and in retrospect I should have stayed for longer to try and find the goshawk and New Caledonian cuckoo-shrike, but oh well). Funnily enough I saw a fourth crow honeyeater the next morning while waiting for the shuttle, in a tree on the opposite bank of the river. It was a fairly distant view but the bright facial skin made it easily identifiable. There was also a New Caledonian crow in the tree which appeared to chase the honeyeater off (Francois had told me the two species really don't like one another). I made what may have been a strategic error in heading out of the park in the morning when all the visitors were coming in rather than later in the day when there was more chance of getting a lift, but it turned out fine. After no more than ten minutes walking from the shuttle drop-off I was picked up by a couple of park surveyors who took me out to the highway, and after just six minutes wait I was picked up by a passing mining truck. Hitching really is very easy in New Caledonia, even if you don't speak a lick of French. It was a good thing I left Riviere Bleue early as it happened, because yet another big storm rolled on through that night and then it rained non-stop all through the next day.


BIRDS:
38) New Caledonian parakeet Cyanoramphus saissetti
39) Barred honeyeater Glycifohia (Phylidonyris) undulatus

40) Whistling kite Haliastur sphenurus
41) Southern shrikebill Clytorhynchus pachycephaloides pachycephaloides
42) New Caledonian imperial pigeon Ducula goliath
43) Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus
44) Crow honeyeater Gymnomyza aubryana

45) Little pied cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos melanoleucos

MAMMALS:
Pacific flying fox Pteropus tonganus

REPTILES:
Knob-headed giant gecko Rhacodactylus auriculatus
 
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Chlidonias

Well-known member
the birds are certainly nice there, and don't stop looking till you find the crow honeyeater; well worth it! Take my advice though and hire a car to get around if you can - so much easier and quicker! - or just get hold of Francois to sort you out [I know I sound like an agent but, honestly, he didn't pay me to advertise his services!]

I forgot to mention that Francois told me he'd seen a grassbird at Riviere Bleue a while back so they are there too.

I hope that Italian couple I mentioned aren't members on here, or that could be embarrassing!
 

Azzy

Well-known member
What a great read, very entertaining and really sounds like you had a great time (apart from the dogs of course). Many fascinating birds that I've never heard of :)
 

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Well done on the Crow Honeyeaters Chlid. Most gripped off! At first I thought it might be a time of year thing, and that they might be easier to see at the time of your visit, and that I must go back one day at that time. But it turns out that we went only a couple of weeks earlier in the year, so no excuses there! From your description I can imagine the experience and location in great detail, so it now feels like I've seen one thanks to you. Fantastic stuff.

I very much hope of course that Tripple B will see them when he goes ;)
 

Birdingcraft

Well-known member
Yes, great trip report and good to see that it can be done more cheaply than imagined. Cloven-feathered Dove has been one of my most wanted birds for some time (because it looks like a cross between a broadbill, cotinga, and alien) and Crow Honeyeater sounds pretty darn fantastic too. Oh yeah, not to mention the Gull-Spur-winged Plover thing (aka Kagu).
 

Chlidonias

Well-known member
birdboybowley said:
Just so long as all the birds look how I painted them I'll be happy!!
I was going to say make sure you wait till that guide comes out then you can see how well it fares in the field (and take the Chris Doughty one too for comparisons). You can consider it a work trip.
 

Chlidonias

Well-known member
back in Noumea again, 13-14 August 2010

The 13th was an indoor day, sitting inside the Auberge de Jeunesse trying to pass the time while the storm raged outside, but the next day was all blue and sunny. The weather here changes like it does in New Zealand! I spent this day at the Parc Zoologique et Forestier (the Noumea Zoo and Botanic Gardens) getting photos of the endemic birds, the wild ones being just a bit too uncooperative in this regard. I know a lot of people on this forum have anti-zoo views so I won't discuss it here, but this place is also probably the easiest place to see the local subspecies of nankeen night heron, which nest plentifully around the lakes in the bamboo and eucalyptus trees. The zoo was also the only place I saw two introduced species, the chestnut-breasted munia and the zebra dove. Other birds common in the grounds include common waxbill, purple gallinule, white-faced heron, grey fantail, etc. There were also a few obviously-escaped birds that I did not add to the day list (imperial pigeon, crow and friarbird).

BIRDS:
46) Nankeen night heron Nycticorax caledonicus caledonicus
47) Chestnut-breasted munia Lonchura castaneothorax castaneothorax
48) Zebra dove Geopelia striata
 

Chlidonias

Well-known member
Birdingcraft said:
Cloven-feathered Dove has been one of my most wanted birds for some time (because it looks like a cross between a broadbill, cotinga, and alien)
that is a pretty good summary of the bird. Now that you've mentioned it, there is a very cotinga-ish look about it!
 

Chlidonias

Well-known member
Mt. Koghis, 15 August 2010

The next day, on Sunday, I took a day-trip to Mt. Koghis just outside of Noumea to have a last crack at finding the two common endemic birds that had so far completely eluded me, the New Caledonia cuckoo-shrike and the white-bellied goshawk. Once again the bus doesn't really go where you want it to: you get dropped off on the highway half an hour outside of Noumea, then walk/hitch for 8km to the top of the mountain whilst trying to avoid the obligatory vicious dogs. The forest up there is very nice but there were few birds around (eleven species, including another southern shrikebill and more Melanesian cuckoo-shrikes) and I did not find the two I wanted so I had to leave New Caledonia the next day with them lacking from my tally. I did however see a new reptile, the .....

REPTILES:
Southern whiptail skink Tropidoscincus variabilis
 

Chlidonias

Well-known member
Summary

So, summing up New Caledonia: mostly nice weather, very nice birds, very unpleasant dog population, inconvenient public transport. It is an expensive place but I was surprised how little money I spent (relatively speaking). Because I was in a tent most of the time and eating only supermarket food I ended up spending less than NZ$600 over the two weeks. While I greatly enjoyed my time out in the forests looking for birds and was very pleased with the species I did manage to see, overall New Caledonia was the least favourite country that I have been to. I'm not entirely sure why that was -- I figure the dogs played a big part but I don't think that's all and yet I can't quite put my finger on it. What I find interesting is that everyone else who has been there that I have talked to since returning home has also said that New Caledonia is, at best, "average" as a destination. Maybe its just a New Zealand thing.


This is the entire trip list of 48 species. There are some obvious common ones missing, like Pacific swallows....did I see them and just not pay them any attention? I don't know. Ones in bold are those that were new for my life list.

Little pied cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos melanoleucos
White-faced heron Ardea novaehollandiae nana (= A.n.novaehollandiae)
Nankeen night heron Nycticorax caledonicus caledonicus
Pacific black duck Anas superciliosa superciliosa
Australasian harrier Circus approximans
Brown goshawk Accipiter fasciatus vigilax
Whistling kite Haliastur sphenurus
Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus
Purple gallinule Porphyrio porphyrio samoensis
Silver gull Larus novaehollandiae forsteri
Feral pigeon Columba livia (introduced)
White-throated (metallic) pigeon Columba vitiensis hypoenochroa
Cloven-feathered dove Drepanoptila holosericea
New Caledonian imperial pigeon Ducula goliath

Spot-necked dove Streptopelia chinensis (introduced)
Zebra dove Geopelia striata (introduced)
New Caledonian parakeet Cyanoramphus saissetti
Horned parakeet Eunymphicus cornutus

Rainbow lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus deplanchii
Shining cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidus plagosus
Glossy swiftlet Collocalia esculenta albidior
Sacred kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus canacorum
South Melanesian cuckoo-shrike Coracina caledonica caledonica
Long-tailed triller Lalage leucopyga montrosieri

Red-vented bulbul Pycnonotus cafer (introduced)
Fan-tailed gerygone Gerygone flavolateralis flavolateralis
New Caledonian whistler Pachycephala caledonica

Rufous whistler Pachycephala rufiventris xanthetraea
Yellow-bellied robin Eopsaltria flaviventris
Grey fantail Rhipidura albiscapa bulgeri
Streaked fantail Rhipidura spilodera verreauxi
New Caledonian flycatcher Myiagra caledonica caledonica
Southern shrikebill Clytorhynchus pachycephaloides pachycephaloides

Silvereye Zosterops lateralis griseonota
Green-backed white-eye Zosterops xanthochroa
New Caledonian myzomela Myzomela caledonica
Barred honeyeater Glycifohia (Phylidonyris) undulatus
Dark-brown honeyeater Lichmera incana incana
Crow honeyeater Gymnomyza aubryana
New Caledonia friarbird Philemon diemenensis

Chestnut-breasted munia Lonchura castaneothorax castaneothorax (introduced)
Red-throated parrotfinch Erythrura psittacea
Common waxbill Estrilda astrild
(introduced)
House sparrow Passer domesticus (introduced)
Striated starling Aplonis striata striata
Common mynah Acridotheres tristis (introduced)
White-breasted woodswallow Artamus leucorynchus melaleucus
New Caledonian crow Corvus moneduloides
 

halftwo

Wird Batcher
An excellent re-visit that brought back that 'Larry feel'. I devoured it just like those wild pig sausages! Thanks Chlid.
Just one thing, though. No description of the hottest babe on NC. Kind of left me hanging there...
 

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