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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Fiji, 27th Nov - 5th Dec. 2004,Paul Noakes
This is a report on a birding trip that I did with Chris McGuigan to see as many of the Fijian endemics as possible. It was part of a longer birding trip in which we visited New Caledonia and Hawaii, with a few days in California on the way back home to the UK.
There are no endemic bird families on Fiji although the odd Silktail is most unusual and has uncertain affinities. There are about 25 endemics although some of these are extinct and others only occur on very distant offshore islands which are difficult or time consuming to visit. There are several species only shared with a few neighbouring island groups such as Tonga. Pigeons are particularly well represented with some stunning fruit-doves. For the average birder there are three main islands to visit, Viti Levu, Taveuni and Kadavu.
This is the main island and holds a good number of species. Golden Dove and Masked Shining Parrot are endemic. It is also the island on which you are most likely to see Black-faced Shrikebill and the recently rediscovered Long-legged Warbler is also here. The traditional sites include the Nausori Highlands which we did not visit. Instead we stayed in the east at Suva and birded around the Rainforest Lodge and Suva Forest Park. We also visited Monsavu Dam which is a day trip from Suva in a four-wheel drive. This is very good for many species and a site for Long-legged Warbler.
Although there are no endemics there are several species shared only with nearby Vanua Levu. More Fijian endemics can be seen here than anywhere else including the stunning Orange Dove and Silktail. The best site is Des Voeux peak. To reach this you really need a vehicle to take you up at dawn to just below the peak. It can then follow you back down and return you to your hotel. This should be arranged the day before in order that you can collect the key to the gate across the road in the morning. We did not do the Vidawa forest hike on the other side of the island.
This small island has four endemics which can be seen easily in a day. However you really need to stay overnight on the island as the flights do not give you enough time otherwise.
Flights. All our internal flights were booked via the Air Fiji website. They were reasonably good value and ran exactly on time. Our time in Fiji was dictated by the limited flights from New Caledonia and to Hawaii. We could easily have spent less time on Viti Levu.
Accomodation on Taveuni was booked in advance at The Garden Island Resort (www.aquatrek.com ). This is mainly a dive resort but is used to looking after birdwatchers. It is very good value if you book a dormitory. For this you get a standard room but with four beds in it. If it is not busy, then like us, you get it to yourself at a fraction of the cost of a standard room. It is handily located for Des Voeux Peak.
On Viti Levu we stayed at the very good Rainforest Lodge (www.raintreelodge.com) near Suva which was excellent value for money and was also very good for birds. Again this was pre-booked over the net. We also stayed one night at West's Motor Lodge in Nadi and just turned up here. On Kadavu we stayed at Biana's which we booked over the phone from Taveuni.
Money This is the Fiji dollar. There are about 3 to the pound sterling. Prices are on the whole pretty cheap although they are higher around tourist areas.
English is very widely spoken and all the people we met were extremely helpful and friendly. NB the letter N although not written is often pronounced before the letter D, hence "Nandi and Kandavu"
27/11 We flew in from New Caledonia arriving at 11 am at Nadi airport. We then collected all our tickets from the Air Fiji check-in desk and caught the flight 2 hrs later to Taveuni. We were collected by the Garden Island Resort bus and taken to the hotel. This was set right on the rocky shore with good views across the straight of Somosomo to Vanua Levu. We wandered around the small grounds that afternoon and explored some of the local fields. Highlights were Collared Lories, Fiji Woodswallow and Polynesian Starling. At reception I booked a taxi up to Des Voeux Peak for the following morning at 05:00 which cost FJ$110. A seawatch produced lots of moving noddies, probably Brown, as well as Red-footed Boobies and frigatebirds roosting on a small offshore island. Several distant terns were either Grey-backed or Bridled.
28/11 Our driver met us at the hotel and got us to just below the top of Des Voeux Peak soon after dawn. On the way up we had views of a perched Fiji Goshawk and Crimson Shining Parrots. It was very misty and soon started to drizzle. One of the hotel staff had told us the best site for the Silktail was the trail about 120m below the top gate, on the left of the track as you come down. We found it easily and entered the mossy forest with great anticipation. We soon had seen several Fiji Bush-warblers and a very noisy Giant Forest Honeyeater with its great yellow bill and legs. The wind was getting quite strong and the rain was dripping off the trees very heavily now and for the next hour we barely saw anything else. We decided to head out and go lower for better conditions. Lower down it was clearer but there were no Silktails. We kept going into the forest whenever we could but there were no trails until much lower down. We got good views of several Fiji Shrikebills, all of which responded to the Black-throated tape. Other good species were very smart Blue-crested Flycatchers and a female Many-coloured Fruit-dove. Best bird though was a male Orange Dove which started calling above us. A quick search produced an amazing, glowing, green-headed, orange blob sitting watching us. They are vivid! Unfortunately we had still had not seen our target bird so decided to go back up to the 1st trail. Although the weather was somewhat better we were totally unsuccessful and so eventually decided to call it a day and head back for a late lunch. Somewhat despondent, we sat down and debated what to do for the following day. The original plan had been to do the Vidawa forest hike which would have given us a chance for Friendly Dove and possibly Pacific Imperial Pigeon. However, Silktail was by far and away the most important bird for us to see on Fiji so we decided to book a taxi again for the following morning.
29/11 A new taxi driver picked us up at 5am and took us to the top gate again. As it was very misty and quite gloomy we decided to walk up the road beyond the top gate this time. At the first corner I noticed a bird perched over the road that I assumed to be an Island Thrush. Amazingly this first bird of the day revealed itself through bins to be a Silktail. We had good views of a slim, blackish, long winged bird with brilliant white upper central tail feathers. It flicked around for thirty seconds or so before disappearing. Although we had not really been able to pick out any spangling the relief of getting to see one was enormous. Far happier with life we continued up the road but as we got higher onto the exposed ridge, the wind and mist made birding impossible so the decision was made to try yesterday's trail again. The same Giant Honeyeater was still present but after twenty minutes we still had not picked up another Silktail. Again it was misty with rain dripping off the trees, but our perseverance paid off when I spotted a pair feeding on the trail in front of us. They gave excellent views before disappearing. Over the next hour we ended up seeing a further two pairs and a lone immature along exactly the same trail that we had walked twice yesterday.What a difference a day makes! Silktail's family relationships have been controversial over the years and they certainly appear odd, like a long winged, glossy flycatcher that could conceivably be related to birds of paradise. The weird upper tail pattern is unlike anything I can recall and it is all set off by blue spangling which is particularly prominent around the lateral crown and shoulder. Some birds were feeding on the ground, others on low branches and some gleaning along moss covered branches.
Having watched Silktails for as long as we liked we headed down to dryer climes. Along a newly cut trail off to the right we watched some of the commoner species like Golden Whistler, Wattled Honeyeater, Blue-crested Flycatcher, Island Thrush and Peale's Pigeon. I was very pleased to pick up a Scarlet Robin amongst a bird flock in the sub-canopy. I had missed this species previously in Australia so it was a bit of a bonus for me. We were now more than satisfied with our time on Taveuni, without a doubt seeing seven Silktails (on the same trail where yesterday we had seen none) being the highlight. So we returned to the hotel for food.
30/11 This morning we caught our flight to Suva and then another one onto the island of Kadavu. We got a truck to drop us off at Biana's accommodation having booked it a couple of days earlier by phone. Having settled in after some drinks and paid Biana (an expensive FJ$150 for two, full board but there seem to be few options) we headed off to the area of forest described in Tony Clarke's report. Taking the second road on the left after the hospital we quickly located our first endemic in the form of Red-shining Parrot. These proved to be common and as with the other shining parrots they have a bizarre, floppy, pretty useless looking flight. Slaty Monarch and Kadavu Fantail soon followed in patches of scrub by the side of the road. The remaining two endemics proved to be a bit harder though. Whistling Dove we knew would require some work and we concentrated on areas where we could look into the tops of tall trees. Eventually we heard a distinctive upward inflected whistle which we guessed had to be the bird. I decided just to watch the area of forest from where the call appeared to be coming. Within a few minutes a distinctive dumpy bird flew in and was quickly followed by another as a male Whistling Fruit-dove pursued a female. Even this, the dullest of the Fiji fruit-doves was impressive with its lime green body and yellow head. Although not close they showed well. We had no luck however with the Honeyeater and headed back to our accommodation. One of the most conspicuous sights over the island was the distinctive weird shape of loads of Samoan Fruit-bats flying around in broad daylight.
1/12 We decided this morning to head for the mangroves near the airport which was supposed to be a good area for the honeyeater. However after only a couple of hundred metres a loud call from the top of a tall mango tree in the village revealed our target. Kadavu Honeyeater is a large pale streaked bird with an enormous, round, yellow facial wattle. Having scored so very early we headed back to the forest road. Again we saw all the endemics of the previous day along with our first male Many-coloured Fruit-dove and a close Bush-warbler. The local race appeared to have a far brighter rufous crown. We had our best views of Fiji Goshawk but could not get to see the local race of Island Thrush. With a flight back to Suva to catch, we headed back to Biana's where a few more Kadavu Honeyeaters were feeding in the mangroves just behind the houses. While waiting at the airport we bumped into a Peace Corps worker who is involved in setting up a reserve on Kadavu. Apparently they are also going to train up guides as well.
We caught a taxi for FJ$12 to the Rainforest Lodge. This turned out to be extremely comfortable and with loads of birds in the grounds. Within ten minutes I had had great views of Fiji Parrotfinch and then found a perched Masked Shining Parrot. Even better was a close Many-coloured Fruit-dove feeding in a low fruiting tree. As I started to comment to Chris that if Many-coloured could be here, then why couldn't Golden, he pointed out that actually there was one right above us! Amazingly it fed just a few feet from us. It was absolutely stunning with long golden hackles This left us with one remaining endemic to try for; Long-legged Warbler.
Before we had left the UK I had contacted Vili Masibalavu (firstname.lastname@example.org ) who works for Birdlife Fiji. He very kindly met us at the lodge that evening to discuss details of how to try and see this recently rediscovered species. He was incredibly helpful and gave us precise details of one site at Monsavu Dam along with a tape and his four-wheel drive jeep. This we arranged to hire from him for FJ$150 on the 3rd.
2/12 Today we decided to try birding the Colu Suvu Park. This was a great disappointment being a mahogany plantation with secondary growth. Best bird was the Viti Levu form of Golden Whistler which lacks the black breast band. We also had Blue-crested Flycatcher, Fiji Shrikebill and Streaked Fantail. Back at the Rainforest Lodge there were far more birds, including several Giant Forest Honeyeaters. The race here is quite different from that on Taveuni and has largely dark soft parts.
3/12 Today was going to be our attempt to see the skulking and very rare Long-legged Warbler. The drive to Monsavu dam was fairly straightforward and took about two and a half hours. The last section definitely needs 4-wheel drive. We had several flocks of fruit doves by the road and loads of Parrotfinches on the way up. We soon located the gulley where the Warbler has been seen but completely failed to hear or see any. We heard what we took to be a Friendly Ground-dove calling but were unable to get close to it in the thick vegetation. We did, however, get excellent views of Black-throated Shrikebill. It is a very impressive beast indeed but the bill is not obviously that much heavier than Fiji Shrikebill. I would be very doubtful about claiming any unaccompanied females. Unfortunately that was to be the highlight of the day and after many hours of clambering up and down narrow stream beds we decided to call it a day and head back to Suva before dark.
4/12 After some morning birding around the Lodge where both male Golden Dove and two female Many-coloured Fruit-doves were feeding, we caught a taxi into town and then the coach to Nadi (FJ$11.50). We booked into West's Motor Inn and arranged a day out on a boat to the Yasawas for the following day. The hope was maybe to get Collared Petrel or Grey-backed Tern.
5/12 We took the Yasawa Flyer to Botaira resort. This stopped at multiple islands in the Yasawa group on route but unfortunately being a catamaran it really was too fast to really ID much stuff. We saw plenty of Noddies, (probably Brown) and quite a few terns. Unfortunately even with the close ones it was impossible to be one hundred percent sure as to whether they were Bridled or Grey-backed. I think that they were probably the latter. There was no sign at all of any Pterodromas though. After landing we had a couple of hours to wander around and do some snorkelling which was pretty impressive. Birds were limited to Silvereye, Slaty Monarch, Vanikoro Flycatcher, White-throated Pigeon, and Orange-breasted Myzomela.
So our last day on Fiji was passed doing tourist stuff but the only other real option would have been to visit Monsavu again and we had decided against that. Fiji had been an excellent place to visit with some superb birds and beautiful islands. Our one disappointment had been to dip on Long-legged Warbler which I had been convinced we would get. At 22:55 we boarded our plane to Honolulu and set off on the next stage of our trip.
E= endemic, NSp= new species for me.
Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) NSp. Up to 20 seen each evening roosting on the small island opposite the Garden Island Resort.
Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) Up to 30 seen each evening roosting on the small island opposite the Garden Island Resort.
Great Frigatebird (Fregatta minor) 1 from the Garden Island Resort.
Lesser Frigatebird (Fregatta ariel) Up to 30 each evening off the Garden Island Resort.
White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) 2 on the runway at Suva.
Pacific Reef-egret (Egretta sacra) 7 off the Garden Island resort.
Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) 5 at Suva airport.
Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciosa) 2 off the Garden Island Resort.
Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans) 2 on Kadavu, 4 on Viti Levu
Fiji Goshawk (Accipiter rufitorques) NSp. 3 on Taveuni,7 Kadavu and 1 Viti Levu
Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva) birds seen on all islands particularly on the airstrips.
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa laponnica) 12 Nadi
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) 1 Nadi
Great Crested-tern (Sterna bergii) Some 50 seen in total
Black-naped Tern (Sterna sumatrana) 6 off the Garden Island resort.
Tern sp. 30 or so birds seen on the boat trip from Nadi were either Grey-backed or Bridled Terns. Unfortunately the boat was too fast to really be certain as to which they were, although I think that they were probably Grey-backed.
Metallic Pigeon (Columba vitiensis) 2 on Kadavu, 20 or so around Monsavu dam and two at Botaira.
Many-coloured Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus perousii) NSp. 1 Taveuni, 3 birds seen on Kadavu and 1 male and 2 females at the Rainforest Lodge. These last birds gave excellent views as they fed low in a fruiting tree.
Orange Dove (Ptilinopus victor) E.NSp. 2 males on Des Voeux Peak, one only in flight.The other seen perched after tracking down its clicking call. An amazing bright orange bird glowing in the tree tops.
Golden Dove (Ptilinopus luteovirens) E.NSp. A stunning male feeding with the Many-coloured Fruit-doves gave incredible views. Several females around Monsavu Dam.
Whistling Dove (Ptilinopus layardi ) E.NSp. 4 seen on Kadavu. Best tracked down by listening for the very distinctive whistling call and then watching the trees in the area for movement.
Peale's Imperial-pigeon (Ducula latrans) E.NSp. Very common on forested areas on most islands although only 1 seen on Viti Levu
Crimson Shining-parrot (Prosopeia splendens) E.NSP. Ten seen on Taveuni.
Masked Shining-parrot (Prosopeia personata) E.NSp. 5 on Viti Levu, mainly around the Rainforest Lodge.
Red Shining-parrot (Prosopeia tabuensis) E.NSp. Over 20 seen on Kadavu.
Collared Lory (Phigys solitarius) E.NSp. Common on all islands.
White-rumped Swiftlet (Collocalia spodiopygius) NSp. Common on all islands.
Sacred Kingfisher (Todirhamphus sanctus) Several seen on each island visited. There is still a lot of debate as to whether they are this species or Collared.
Orange-breasted Myzomela (Myzomela jugularis) E.NSp. Common on all islands.
Wattled Honeyeater (Foulehaio carunculata) E.NSp. Birds seen on all islands, just under 20 in total.
Kadavu Honeyeater (Xanthotis provocator) E.NSp. 4 on Kadavu, mainly around the village and in the mangroves behind our accommodation.
Giant Honeyeater (Gymnomyza viridis) E.NSp. 5 of the yellow billed form on Des Voeux peak. 11 sightings on Viti Levu where easily seen around the Rainforest Lodge.
Scarlet Robin (Petroica multicolor) NSp. One male high in the subcanopy on Des Voeux Peak.
Golden Whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis) 10 of the yellow throated form on Taveuni and 3 of the white throated form on Kadvau. 1 yellow throated bird on Viti Levu lacked the black breast band of the Taveuni birds.
Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica) Common
Polynesian Triller (Lalage maculosa) NSp. Seen on all islands with far browner subspecies on Viti Levu and Kadavu.
Island Thrush (Turdus poliocephalus) Common on Taveuni and only seen in flight on Viti Levu
Fiji Bushwarbler (Cettia ruficapilla) E.NSp. 7 on Taveuni, 6 on Kadavu and 3 on Viti Levu. They were very inquisitive and easy to see. Those on Kadavu had a far more rufous cap.
Streaked Fantail (Rhipidura spilodera) 6 on Taveuni and 3 on Viti Levu. They are very different from the birds in New Caledonia. They are far more lightly streaked here while on NC they are very heavily marked like heavy spots. The flanks are also light rufous here. Overall the NC birds appeared much darker as well. ? a split.
Kadavu Fantail (Rhipidura personata) E.NSP. 7 on Kadavu
Slaty Monarch (Mayrornis lessoni) E.NSp. 18 on Kadavu, 4 on Viti Levu and 2 Botaira.
Fiji Shrikebill (Clytorhynchus vitiensis) NSp. 14 birds seen, present on all islands. Note they respond to the very similar call of Black-throated Shrikebill.
Black-throated Shrikebill (Clytorhynchus nigrogularis) NSp. 1 very smart male at Monsavu dam.
Vanikoro Flycatcher (Myiagra vanikorensis) E.NSp. Common on all islands.
Blue-crested Flycatcher (Myiagra azureocapilla) E.NSp. 3 on Taveuni and 6 Viti Levu
Silktail (Lamprolia victoriae) E.NSP. None seen on our first trip to Des Voeux peak despite doing the trail twice. We had 7 on exactly the same trail the following day. Usually in pairs feeding either low on or above ground or creeping up moss covered branches and trunks. Stunning birds.
Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) 1 Kadavu and 10 on Botaira, possibly overlooked elsewhere.
Layard's White-eye (Zosterops explorator) E.NSp. Common on all islands.
Fiji Woodswallow (Artamus mentalis) E.NSp. 19 birds seen, spread over all islands.
Polynesian Starling (Aplonis tabuensis) NSp. 2 Taveuni, 2 Kadavu.
Fiji Parrotfinch (Erythrura pealii) E.NSp. Very common around Monsavu dam and others seen at most sites.
Friendly Ground-dove. A difficult species which some people do get. We heard what I am pretty certain was one at Monsavu.
Long-legged Warbler. Somehow we failed to see this.
Red-throated Lorikeet. This has not been seen for several yrs.
Pink-billed Parrotfinch. Very difficult. Joske's thumb used to be a site.
Samoan Fruit-bat. Common on Taveuni and Kadavu.