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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
NEW CALEDONIA, 11-18 OCTOBER 98,
(This Report appears with the permission of
Bren McCartney of the Berkshire Birds Web-Page see links)
New Caledonia is a group of islands 2 ½ hours north east of Sydney Australia and just above the Tropic of Capricorn. French is the language but English is spoken at many places in the capital, Noumea. For us it was an expensive place to visit with the currency (CFP) tied to the French franc. There are NO health requirements to enter the country including malaria tablets. There are 122 bird species recorded, the most interesting is the Kagu (Rhynocetos jubatus) - a large flightless bird with silky-grey plumage, a large crest, reddish bill and legs. It is the sole member of its family. There are 15 endemics including the two white-eyes on Lifou. There are cracking pigeons, a blue Goshawk, 2 species of Cuckoo-shrike, a Triller, 2 parakeets, 5 honeyeaters and 2 parrot-finches. Habitat: Once covered in sensational forest, land clearing and erosion have taken a heavy toll on the landscape. There are a few remnant pockets of forest left and this is where the birds are. The rainforest is strikingly attractive and pleasant to walk through. There were no biting or stinging insects or leeches when we were there. There are many international flights per week and, as it is a popular tourist destination from Australia, there are many flight/accommodation packages. We chose to stay at the Hotel Ibis, Baie des Citrons, just south of Noumea. Hire car. We did not need a 4WD to see any of the birds. From Australia we hired a Renault Clio (small car) from Hertz for $121 Australian per day. Petrol was expensive. The only place we could not reach was Le Thy Parc Territoriale but the species seen here may be seen elsewhere.
Where to go. There are two necessary sites. Parc Territorial de la Riviere Bleue and Mt Koghis. Other sites are Le Thy Parc Territoriale and Jardin Botanique et Zoologique. We spent our first afternoon finding our way around town and visited the Jardin Botanique et Zoologique which has a nice amount of forest surrounding and is an easy place to see a few species. There are Kagu and a few other natives in cages and one can get an idea of the jizz of the birds.
Navigating. This can be a challenge but a good map would help enormously. The map given to us by Hertz was of very limited use and not clear enough. From the international airport, take the toll road into Noumea. The two important sites are on the Yate Road. Look out for it on the way into Noumea. When you get to your hotel and have your hire car, try and go back to the Yate road, taking the road to the international airport from Noumea. Once on the Yate road, there is a sign for Parc Territorial de la Riviere Bleue and soon near an overhead bridge, a sign for the Auberge de Mt Koghis.
Parc Territorial de la Riviere Bleue. This park is closed to the public on Mondays. From the turnoff to the left on the road from Noumea to the park gates is about 10 minutes and from the entrance to the rainforest is about 40 minutes. The park opens at 7am and there is a charge of 500 francs per vehicle and 100 francs per person. We had good birds immediately we hit the rainforest and mostly near the Giant Kauri tree picnic area. M. Yves Letocart is a scientist ranger who works in the park and helped us with many of the birds. He speaks good English and knows the park inside out. He is probably responsible for the vastly increased numbers Kagu today. To find the Kagu you need bit of luck, we felt. While with Yves, we met Derek Scott from Birdquest who, with Harry Howard from the UK, were ticking all the families in the world in one year. They said they had just seen one at the picnic table. We rushed back and it was still there and able to be approached closely. When we went back to thank them, Derek spotted another, which stood beside the road while we photographed it and ourselves standing next to it!! The next day we were in the park again and didn't see one. The following day Derek and Harry returned. They saw lots of footprints but no Kagu. However I don't know of a birder who hasn't seen it when there. More about the other birds when I list the birds at the end of this report. Most birders seem to stay in the park.
Mons Koghis This spot is where birders go to look for the New Caledonia Grass Warbler which we didn't see but we did see lots of nice pigeons. From the car park, walk into the rainforest and follow the Grande Piste signs. After crossing a rope and wooden bridge the habitat changes to ferns around a land slip. It is here that the Grass Warbler has been seen. Some of my friends have stood in the rain for four days to see it... we didn't.
Provisions There are many supermarkets about. We found the most convenient one on the way to Riviere Bleue. It was in a shopping centre called Casino, and had bread and cheese for our lunches and fresh fruit. We took Muesli but could have bought it here and we also saw fuel for Trangia stoves on the shelves. There are any number of restaurants in Noumea for dinner.
Gadgets We took a tape recorder and directional microphone which did help to see some birds. We took two cameras, a Nikon F90X with 400 & 28-200mm lenses, and an Olympus Centurion APS for prints. It is possible to get some good shots of the birds and the forest has many orchids and other beautiful plants. In the end we used both cameras to photograph the Kagu, it was so close. We took a compass which we used in the rainforest, light backpacks and light raincoats. We carried water at all times and drank about 1 litre per day between us.
Weather We experienced mostly very pleasant warm temperatures with light clouds. We had some very hot patches and some light rain.
Field Guide We didn't have one. However we did have a description of the birds. There are two field guides in print. Oiseaux de Nouvelle Caledonie et des Loyautes, Volumes I & II, by F. Hannecart and Y. Letocart. Photographs of birds and text in French and English. Birds of South-west Pacific by Ernst Mayr, in English.
Species seen (49) on the Grande Terre (main island) of New Caledonia: Sites: A = Parc Territorial de la Riviere Bleue B = Mount Koghis
Lifou Island, one of the Loyalty Islands, east of New Caledonia (Species seen - 18) 16-10-98 6.30am to 2.30pm. Flights leave daily and cost us $310 Australian each. A lot of money for a half hour flight! We caught the 6.30 am flight to Lifou from the domestic airport in Noumea. From the air as the plane is landing, good forest is visible all around. From the airport terminal, walk out and up the road about 1 km. As you are walking on the left is a football field. It has long grass where others have seen the Blue-faced Parrot Finch. We saw it in a garden further along. At the T intersection walk left down to the coconut grove, then turn around and walk the other way. Keep going until you get to the coconut grove up the other road. You repeat this until you have seen all the birds. We did. The main aim is to see the two endemic white-eyes. The harder one to see doesn't have a white-eye. To compensate for these dull birds, there is a beautiful Fruit-dove and a red & black honeyeater (Cardinal). Food: We took our food (baguette & cheese) with us as well as water. At the football field there are taps to top up your bottle. In the Lonely Planet guide, it mentions a new cafe open at the airport. It was open when we arrived but remained closed after we left. We had coffee & tea and a croissant. (the only food they had).