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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
New Caledonia, 22nd - 27th Nov 2004,
This is a report on a trip that Chris McGuigan and I did to New Caledonia from the 22nd to 27th of November 2004. It was part of a longer birding trip to see the endemics of Fiji and Hawaii as well as New Caledonia. We also had a few days at the end in California before returning to the UK.
Kagu is the most well known and sought after bird on New Caledonia. It is in its own unique family and is quite unlike anything else. It was probably my most wanted species in the world. There are also some 20 or so endemics which can be seen of which Cloven-feathered Dove is in my opinion the most spectacular. Some of these endemics occur on the Loyalty Islands to the north-east. Two of these are on Lifou [Large Lifou White-eye, Small Lifou White-eye] and one on Ouvea [Ouvea Horned Parakeet which is a split from the mainland form]. We did not try for this last species. There are also several species which are only shared with neighbouring islands such as Fiji and Vanuatu.
Do not expect a large list but the quality is high.
New Caledonia is an overseas dependency of France and the French influence is apparent everywhere. Unfortunately this includes the costs which are very high. We therefore tried to keep cost as low as we could without slumming it. We stayed at the Youth Hostel in Noumea which has both twin and dormitory rooms. These work out as very good value and enabled us to cook our own food which was very useful in the morning and evenings. We booked our room by e-mail.
We hired a Renault Clio through Hertz which cost £130 in total including all extras. The roads are good and driving easy. People have commented that road directions are difficult but we had few, if any problems.
These were arranged through the ever efficient and helpful Wildwings. The whole trip [including Fiji, Hawaii and California, total cost just under £3000] involved some 18 different flights. We booked a round the world ticket for just under £1400.This gave us a 24 hr stopover in Sidney before catching an Air Calin flight to Noumea.
Yves Letocart has supposedly retired but is still working at Riviere Bleu. His replacement is Jean-Marc Meriot who is also very good and knowledgeable. We were unable to contact them directly except via the travel company Voyages Arc en Ciel who can organise everything for you in New Caledonia if you want. They are very expensive though and we just used them for Riviere Bleu and booking our flights to Lifou. The rest of the sites can be easily done on your own. It makes things far easier if you speak French but it would not be a problem if you do not.
We had none but there is a new CD of the birds of New Caledonia by Yves which now has all the species including Grassbird on it. We made a very poor copy of the grassbird from the copy that Arc en Ciel had. It worked and I am sure if we had taken more care with the recording we would have done better. I have no idea how to get hold of the CD.
We made use of several trip reports from the web including Dave Klauber's, Phil Gregory's, John Hornbuckle's, Tony Clarke's and Richard Fairbanks'. Murray Lord also helped with directions to Farino. We also had the New Caledonia Lonely Planet guide. There is a fieldguide.to the birds of the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia but the illustrations are not good and we did not bother taking it as there are no real ID problems.
This was good with just a small amount of rain on some days. It was clearly very wet on the mainland when we were on Lifou. November/early December is supposed to be a good time to go because it is still relatively dry and many birds are beginning to breed.
This is by far the most important site and the only place you are likely to see Kagu. They are easy here even without guides. Unfortunately since the cyclone of 2003 one can no longer drive over the access bridge at Riviere Bleu. As a result there are two main options to visit this site.
1. To drive to the bridge and then walk the 10km or so to the best forest areas for Kagu. This works out very cheap but as the main gate does not open until 7am it means you cannot get in to good birding habitat until late. Also it means you cannot arrange as easily to meet with Yves, so finding the specialities is then difficult.
2. Book access via Arc en Ciel (www.arcenciel-voyages.nc/ ). They will supply a 4 wheel drive vehicle with driver and arrange guiding by Jean-Marc Meriot. Access is then via a very rough road around the edge of the reservoir which takes about 1hr 45mins. The park authorities will not let you do it on your own. However, as you are then guided by Jean-Marc [he also took us to Yves who showed us several species including Crow Honeyeater] all the specialities are then virtually guaranteed. This does not come cheap though as Arc en Ciel seem to have a monopoly and also charge per person and not per vehicle/trip. We paid an exorbitant £150 each for this. They also wanted us to sign an insurance form that basically meant if the vehicle was damaged we paid for it! I refused and after a bit of arguing and bad feeling they waived this. (It helps to speak French)
Despite these hassles the day we had there was very efficient and we had excellent views of all of the Riviere Bleu specialities. Key species here are Kagu, Crow Honeyeater, the two parakeets and New Caledonian Cuckoo-shrike.
A third possibility would be to hire bikes, put them on the back of a car, drive to the bridge and then it would be an easy flat ride to the forest.
The park is closed on Mondays.
This site is just outside Noumea and easily reached in about 20mins. Most of the species we saw here were also seen elsewhere but it was well worth visiting nevertheless. The viewpoint from the Auberge over the forest was very productive and we saw quite a few birds in the forest itself. The Grassbird is found in the more open heathy and bracken areas below the forest and in gaps amongst it.
This site is approx 100 km north of Noumea on a very good road and is a far better site for Grassbird, Crow, Goshawk and Cloven-feathered Dove. The Grassbird is supposed to occur in lantana filled gulleys here but I suspect looking for them amongst some of the bracken areas would prove successful as well. The nearby transversal road is good for the Goshawk and Dove.
Directions to the best area at Farino are as follows. From the main Noumea road turn off to La Foa. Head for Refuge de Farino [signposted] beyond La Foa. 5 km north of La Foa you head down a steepish hill with a small chapel on the right. Immediately after the chapel turn left over a bridge and then turn immediately right so that you are following the river along a track. Continue up this track for approx 1km or so until you come to a gate across the track which was open while we were here. Park at this spot as driving beyond this may be difficult. The Grassbird has been seen in gulleys further up this track but we dipped. It was very good for Crows and many of the common species. We also saw Cloven-feathered Dove and perched Goshawk here.
There are two endemic white-eyes on Lifou and also a dove and myzomela that cannot be seen on the mainland. There are regular flights to Lifou and all the important birds can be seen on a day trip. We caught the 06:00 flight to Lifou from the domestic airport in Noumea and returned on the 12:30 flight. There is a later afternoon flight but this would leave far too much time on the island. Transport is not needed as all the important species can be seen within easy walking distance of the airport. The two white-eyes are endemic and easy to see. There is also an endemic subspecies of Silvereye which is extremely distinct. Other important species are Red-bellied Fruit-dove and Cardinal Myzomela. Blue-faced Parrotfinch is occasionally seen and there are several other endemic subspecies on Lifou including Long-tailed Triller, Melanesian Flycatcher, Striated Starling and Sacred Kingfisher.
We saw all these species, except the Parrotfinch, within an hour in the 1st patch of scrubby forest just beyond the football pitch, less than 1km from the airport.
Note there is no water or food available here except at the airport which only opens when planes take off or land.
The return flight worked out at about £140 which for 4 ticks is pretty expensive especially as two of these are white-eyes. However, as our flights in and out were totally fixed we had a spare day and it was a good use of this.
21/11/04 After a very good flight [I managed a good night's] sleep we arrived on time in Sidney to be met by Murray Lord who took us out birding for the day. I managed seven ticks, the best being Origma and Lyrebird. A very successful 1st day.
New Caledonian Imperial-pigeon
22/11/04 Arrived at Tontouta international airport at 11:55. Collected the car and drove to the Youth Hostel in Noumea. Then went to Voyages Arc en Ciel office to collect our Lifou plane tickets and confirm our trip to Riviere Bleu. Heated discussions followed when we were asked to sign a form for the four- wheel drive the following day. Although they were supplying a car with driver they wanted me to be responsible for any damage. I refused and after a lot of hassle we finally got them to wave this.
We then drove up to Mt Khogis and had a couple of hours around the Auberge. We had excellent views of Melanesian Cuckoo-shrike, Long-tailed Triller and Barred Honeyeater in the trees around the car park. Best of all was an incredible, close Cloven-feathered Dove at head height that posed superbly for photos. I knew that this could be a difficult species and to get such stunning views on our first day was brilliant.
New Caledonian Whistler
23/11/04 Day at Riviere Bleu. We were picked up from the hostel at 6am. The driver had a copy of Yves' CD which we listened to so realising we had heard Goshawk and Imperial-pigeon on the previous day. We were driven to the park entrance where we were met by Jean-Marc, also in a 4 wheel-drive, at 7 am. We then drove in convoy for over 1hr 45 minutes on the track around the reservoir to reach the other side of the bridge. Why on earth we could not have walked over the bridge to meet him on the other side I have no idea. It would have saved nearly 4hrs driving in total.
On arriving at the forest near the Giant Kaori tree we met Yves who took us to a Crow Honeyeater nest that he was monitoring. After about 15 minutes one appeared with a giant spider. An enormous honeyeater with large bare, red facial skin it was far bigger than I had expected.
Having seen the most difficult of the today's target birds we soon discovered that most of the birds in the forest were very tame. We had excellent views of Yellow-bellied Robins, Friarbirds and Whistlers. Then Jean-Marc put on a tape of Kagu and immediately a bird responded and circled us. Although the bird was wary we got reasonable views and Jean-Marc assured us we would see more. We then went to a New Caledonian Parakeet nest where two adults gave excellent views. While waiting, a Kagu walked right up to us and fed for ten minutes or so almost by our feet. It was absolutely amazing, very ghost like with huge eyes staring at the ground and then digging away with its red bill. It clambered over logs spreading its wings for balance before finally walking off through the forest.
Other good species seen were Southern Shrike-bill, Horned Parakeet, New Caledonian Cuckoo-shrike and New Caledonian Imperial-pigeon as well as another close Kagu.
It was an excellent day's birding with the one of the few species we failed to see being the Parrotfinch. Yves and Jean-Marc assured us that the Crow, Goshawk, Parrotfinch and Grassbird were best seen at Farino and that we were very unlikely to see any of them at Riviere Bleu. So we headed back to Noumea. We quickly copied the CD of Goshawk and Grassbird from the car's speakers. Unfortunately our driver was in a bit of a rush as Jean-Marc had left his bag in the back so he had to drive all the way back to Riviere Bleu to return it. As a consequence we did not check that the recording had worked and it turned out to be of very poor quality.
24/11/04 We caught the 6 am flight to Lifou. Unfortunately a problem with the plane meant there was a one hour delay but we eventually took off and arrived 45 minutes later. Flying in I was surprised to see just how heavily forested the island was. We then headed for the 1st patch of scrubby forest about 1km from the airport just beyond the football pitch. There were several short paths into the forest and walking in quickly produced all four species we were looking for. The Large Lifou White-eye was the most "difficult" but even this was easy to find. They were very large, uniform green with a long decurved bill, bright orange legs and lacked any white eye ring. The easiest way to locate them was by their liquid songs. Unlike the two other white-eyes we only ever saw them singly. The Red-bellied Fruit-doves were also easily seen although were pretty wary. We spent most of the rest of the time wandering around the villages searching for Blue-faced Parrotfinch but were unsuccessful. The heat and time of day were hardly on our side though.
The flight back to Noumea was on time and on landing we headed straight up to Mt Khogis. While driving past the houses at the bottom of the hill I spotted a Red-throated Parrotfinch by the side of the road. We got good if brief views of it before it disappeared. Nothing new was seen at Mt Khogis.
25/11/04 We drove down to Farino seeing several whistling Kites on route. The site was easy to find and we soon had good views of a couple of groups of Crows, one of which was carrying a stick. They had strikingly chisel shaped bills and long floppy tails. Climbing up the track we heard a Goshawk calling and played the tape. It came straight in and perched in the open. Having heard but failed to see them, on each occasion we had been on Mt Khogis, this was a great relief. It was an excellent bird as well. We also saw a couple of Parrotfinches but completely failed to get any response to the tape of the Grassbird and eventually gave up when it started raining. We managed to blag a half priced meal at an excellent nearby restaurant and then drove up the nearby road to Col d'Amieux hoping for further views of Goshawk. We soon found one perched on a roadside pole which allowed us to get pretty close. A stop for half an hour overlooking some good looking forest produced more Cloven-feathered Doves. After a few minutes it became apparent that there really were quite a few doves present with males calling and then chasing any females that appeared. The whirring of wings as each bird hopped and then flew from tree to tree was audible all the time. The males held their heads pointing straight down while uttering their booming type call. We debated looking for Grassbird again but could not be bothered so returned to Noumea.
26 /11/04 Our last day was spent at Mt Khogis. We got good views of perched Imperial-pigeons and thought we would have a last go for the Grassbird. We decided to try the site on the col to the radio station where Phil Gregory had heard a bird. Amazingly I straight away heard a bird in the really short ferns. It responded to the tape but was very wary and kept tight to the ground. Although Chris manage naked eye views of its head all I got was brief, unsatisfactory flight views.
27/11/04 Our time in New Caledonia finished this morning as we caught the morning flight to Nadi, Fiji.
It had been an excellent trip with really only the Grassbird being a disappointment.
E = endemic.
NSp = new species for me.
Little Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) 3 at the domestic airport in Noumea.
White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) 6 on Grand Tierre.
Rufous Night-heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) 2 by the domestic airport at Noumea.
Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) 15 between Noumea and Farino.
Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans) 8 birds seen.
Brown Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus) 1 on the edge of Noumea.
White-bellied Goshawk (Accipiter haplochrous) E. NSp. 1 at Farino and 1 by the road across the centre of the island near Farino. Both perched, the 1st came in to tape. Frequently heard at Mt Khogis.
Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) 1 near Noumea.
Buff-banded Rail (Gallirallus philippensis) 2 at Farino.
Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) 2 near Farino.
Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus) E.NSp. 3 Riviere Bleu. Absolutely amazing birds. First taped in but others seen without help. One came right up to us while we were waiting for some parakeets in the forest. It paid no notice of us at all as long as we moved slowly.It gave views down to a few feet. Another was right next to the road and allowed close approach as well. Definitely the bird of the trip.
Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva) 1 Noumea and 200 Lifou.
Silver Gull (Larus novaehollandiae) Lots around Noumea harbour.
Great Crested Tern (Sterna bergii) 1 Noumea.
Metallic Pigeon (Columba vitiensis) 9 birds seen on Mt Khogis.
Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica) 2 Lifou and 1 Farino.
Red-bellied Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus greyii) NSp. 5 Lifou.
Cloven-feathered Dove (Drepanoptila holosericea) E.NSp One of our first birds in New Caledonia was a female perched really close on Mt Khogis. Four more were seen at Farino and the cross island road from there. An absolutely stunning dove and brilliant to see so well. The best technique seemed to be to find a forest overlook where we could hear them calling and just wait. After a while we noticed males chasing females around just under the canopy.
New Caledonian Imperial-pigeon (Ducula goliath) E.NSp 1 perched close at Riviere Bleu and 3 more at Mt Khogis. Several large pigeons seen in flight on Lifou were presumably this species.
New Caledonian Parakeet (Cyanoramphus saisseti) E.NSp. 3 at Riviere Bleu. Split from Red-fronted.
Horned Parakeet (Eunymphicus cornutus) E.NSp. 2 taped in by Jean-Marc and Yves at Riviere Bleu. Heard at Mt Khogis.
Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) At least 11 birds seen.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis) 1 on Mt Khogis. Commonly heard calling.
Glossy Swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta) Very common. We were unable to pick out any White-rumped Swiftlets amongst them but after subsequently seeing this sp on Fiji they are far more similar than the guides would lead you to believe.
Sacred Kingfisher (Todirhamphus sanctus) At least 18 seen.
Fan-tailed Gerygone (Gerygone flavolateralis) E.NSp. Over 20 seen.
New Caledonian Myzomela (Myzomela caledonica) E.NSp. 5 seen.
Cardinal Myzomela (Myzomela cardinalis) NSp. 10 on Lifou.
Dark-brown Honeyeater (Lichmera incana) E.NSp. Very common, the most abundant passerine.
New Caledonian Friarbird (Philemon diemenensis) E.NSp. 20 Riviere Bleu, 10 Farino.
Crow Honeyeater (Gymnomyza aubryana) E.NSp. 1 at a nest staked out by Yves in Riviere Bleu.
Barred Honeyeater (Phylidonyris undulata) E.NSp. 10 birds seen, at Riviere Bleu and Mt Khogis.
Yellow-bellied Robin (Eopsaltria flaviventris) E.NSp. 3 Riviere Bleu, 1 Farino, 2 Mt Khogis.
New Caledonian Whistler (Pachycephala caledonica) E.NSp. 3 Riviere Bleu, 1 Mt Khogis.
Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris) 1Farino, 5 Mt Khogis.
Melanesian Cuckooshrike (Coracina caledonica) NSp. Seen at Mt Khogis and Farino, 11 in total. Bright yellow eye and very dark all over.
New Caledonian Cuckooshrike (Coracina analis) E.NSp. 2 at Riviere Bleu. Dark eye, smaller, greyer with rufous vent.
Long-tailed Triller (Lalage leucopyga) NSp. 7 seen, at both Mt Khogis and Lifou which has its own subspecies.
Grey Fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa) 11 seen.
Streaked Fantail (Rhipidura spilodera) NSp. 8 seen in forested areas. They looked very different to the birds in Fiji.
Southern Shrikebill (Clytorhynchus pachycephaloides) NSp. 2 Riviere Bleu.
Melanesian Flycatcher (Myiagra caledonica) NSp. 1 on Lifou and 6 on Grand Terre.
Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) 20 on Lifou and 4 Mt Khogis. The Lifou birds were very different and it was difficult to believe that they were this sp. The head was very striking with a black mask and pale pinkish bill.
Large Lifou White-eye (Zosterops inornatus) E.NSP. 4 were found quite easily.
Green-backed White-eye (Zosterops xanthochrous) E.NSp. Very common.
Small Lifou White-eye (Zosterops minutus) E.NSp. At least 3 seen. Probably many more as we initially got these and the Silvereyes the wrong way round as the Silvereyes were so different despite not being in the slightest bit yellow. Small Lifou White-eye is a fairly uniform yellow.
New Caledonian Crow (Corvus moneduloides) E.NSp. 1 Mt Khogis and at least 30 Farino. One at the latter site carrying a stick.
White-breasted Woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus) 25 seen.
Striated Starling (Aplonis striata) E.NSp. Just under 30 seen. Another subspecies on the Loyalty Islands.
Red-throated Parrotfinch (Erythrura psittacea) E.NSp. 1 below Mt Khogis and 3 Farino.
New Caledonian Grassbird. We had no joy at Farino which is supposed to be the best site. Chris had had views of it at Mt Khogis. Despite being only a metre away or so at the time I only managed utvs as it flew off.
Blue-faced Parrotfinch. No sign of any on Lifou.