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Solomon Islands Trip Report 29-6-96 - 21-7-96,Gerry Richards
(This report appears with the permission of Bren McCartney of the Berkshire Birds Web-Page. See links)
This report covers a visit to the Solomon Islands from 29th June to 21st July 1996. For the first two weeks I was accompanied by my wife Lucy, and although we put a fair bit of effort into finding birds, a little time was set aside for relaxation. In addition to the main island of Guadalcanal, I visited Rennell, Ghizo, Kolombangra and Makira. Although many places lack a well developed tourist infrastructure, the local people were almost always friendly and helpful, which for us made this an enjoyable holiday as well as a successful birding trip. Essential for any visit to the Solomons is the Lonely Planet Solomon Islands Travel Survival Kit, which provides a wealth of information on even the most remote of islands. We found the guide to be informative and accurate, although inevitably a few changes have taken place since the most recent edition (1993) was published.
The Solomons are easily accessible from Australia. There are currently three Solomon Airlines flights a week between Honiara and Brisbane, with connections to Sydney and Melbourne. Note however that the time allowed to make the connection in Brisbane (you have to change terminals) is often not very long, and if your flight is delayed you could miss out. We made our connections but I heard of people who did not. If were doing the journey again I would ensure that I had plenty of time to make the connecting flight, even if this meant spending a night in Brisbane. Flying is really the only option for getting to the major islands within the Solomons if your time is limited. There are boats to just about everywhere, but these are notoriously unreliable. We booked all our internal flights, flying Solomon Airlines, from Australia. It is wise to reconfirm all flights the day before as one of ours was brought forward an hour. We rented a car for three days in Honiara. Total cost for a Mazda 121 from Budget was S$560 (there are currently 2.75 Solomon Dollars for one Australian Dollar). If you book in advance they will come out to meet your flight. If not, you will probably find the kiosk unattended and have to travel into town to make arrangements. You can get to most places around Honiara easily by taxi, but bear in mind that many of the roads are rough, and you might find a taxi driver unwilling to take his car along roads that you would happily drive a rental vehicle. There is a bank at the airport that opens briefly when international flights arrive. Otherwise money can be changed at banks or major hotels with a minimum of formalities. You can only change money in the major towns, which are mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide. Once you get off the beaten track there are no exchange facilities.
The potential risk posed by malaria should not be underestimated. This is a serious problem in the Solomon Islands and recent medical advice should be sought and followed. We were prescribed the antibiotic doxycycline, although one of its side effects is an increased risk of sunburn, a point to remember if you go swimming. Many places have tank water which we drank with no ill effects, as was the case with stream water in the mountains. We drank bottled water in Honiara although this is fairly expensive. We were not much troubled by insects, the only things that bit us were tiny red ants (which were accidentally introduced from Queensland on a bunch of coconuts), but the inconvenience was short-lived.
Although there is no Field Guide that covers the Solomon Islands you should not have too much difficulty identifying the birds, particularly if you have some previous birding experience in Australasia. The total number of species in the Solomon Islands is quite small, and while there are large numbers of some potentially confusing species (for example White-eyes), there is generally only one or two species in any particular locality. Mayr's, Birds of the Southwest Pacific gives a brief descriptions of all species, although a bit of detective work is needed to bring the taxonomy up to date. Other useful sources that include Bougainville (ornithologically but not politically part of the Solomons) are Birds of the North Solomons by Hadden, and Birds of Papua New Guinea by Coates. See the bibliography for full details.
I am grateful to a number of people who helped me with information prior to my visit. In particular, David Gibbs for his information on all islands, but especially for his Roviana Rail site. Joy Pegler gave me much information on Rennell, and David Bishop offered helpful comments for Guadalcanal. David Gibbs is planning to produce a comprehensive report based on a three month visit to the Solomons in 1994. He is keen to receive any records of sightings so that they may be included in his report. His address is: 28 Blackamoor Lane, Maidenhead, Berks. SL6 8RD, England
Mt Austen A very good area for birds only a few kilometers from Honiara. We drove here but it should be easy to arrange a taxi to take you there and to bring you back. From Honiara head towards the airport, and turn right a couple of kilometers east of town. This junction has a bakery (open early for breakfast) on one corner and a SDA church on the other. Continue straight ahead, ignoring all turnoffs to the left and right until you reach a lookout at the top of a hill. The road continues steeply downhill from here but is very overgrown. We parked at the lookout and walked down the road, almost to the river at the bottom. Habitat is mostly second growth with a few clearings. We saw a Rail on the track here on two occasions that we have not been able to identify. It was about the size of a Buff-banded Rail with a long, thick based, decurved bill and a short erect tail. Head, neck and underparts were mid grey, the mantle and wings dark slate grey. I would be most interested in any further information about this bird. Other notable species at this site included: Finschs Pygmy-Parrot, Ducorps Cockatoo, Buff-headed Coucal, Ultramarine Kingfisher, Blyth's Hornbill, Black-headed Myzomela, Solomon Cuckoo-Shrike and Midget Flowerpecker.
Tenaroo Falls. We went here by taxi and arranged for the driver to come back and collect us later in the day. The turnoff for Tenaroo is about 4km. east of the airport, turn right if coming from Honiara. After a few kilometers you reach the village of Ando where there is a sign requesting a S$10 custom fee. After a further lkm. the road forks. Take the left fork which quickly becomes a walking track and follows the river, crossing it numerous times. There are now several. villages along this track, each of which will demand a S$5 custom fee to proceed. We never went all the way to the waterfall, instead we birded in some second growth between the second and third villages. Interesting birds included Buff-headed Coucal, Ultramarine Kingfisher and the only Black-and.-white Monarch of the trip. Unless you have plenty of time I would recommend concentrating on Mt. Austen. The habitat is better, there are fewer people, and you wont be bothered by custom fees.
There are currently two flights a week between Honiara and Tinggoa airstrip on West Rennell. There are a couple of rest houses with cooking facilities near the airstrip but most tourists head for Lake Te'Nggano at the eastern end of the island. At present the only transport is in an open trailer pulled by a tractor. Needless to say you are likely to share the trailer with many other people, animals and agricultural products, all of which will get very wet if it rains. There is no regular timetable but it should be around to meet all incoming flights. If you travel to Lake Te'Nggano remember to arrange for the driver to come and pick you up. If your flight is in the morning it is best to travel back the previous afternoon and spend the night at Tinggoa. The transport situation may soon improve as the island was supposed to be getting a truck in late 1996.
At Lake TeNggano you have a choice of two lodges. We stayed at Kia Koe Lodge which has an idyllic setting on top of a small hill on the east side of the lake (the other is in a village further along the western shore). If you intend to stay at Kia Koa it is best to write in advance to the owner, saying when you intend to arrive, and he will meet the tractor. Also, as there are very few tourists at present visiting Rennell he will make sure there is enough food at the lodge. You should write to: Lance Tango, Kia Koe Lodge, East Rennell, Rennell Bellona Province, Solomon Islands
Accommodation costs S$35 per person per night and meals are S$14. Boat transport from the road to the lodge costs S$10 per person, while boat transport on the lake costs S$35 per hour. The islands with roosting Frigatebirds and nesting Boobies are at the far end of the lake and will need at least a three hour trip (perhaps longer if it is rough), allowing for a bit of time to look at the birds. There are no trails around the lodge so, we came back to the western side of the lake and walked back along the road towards Tinggoa. We saw all the endemics with little difficulty except for the Shrikebill. Our single sighting was about 3km. along the road.
The main ornithological interest on this island is the endemic Splendid White-eye. The bird appears to be reasonably common close to Gizo Town along the road towards Saeraghi, which can be found by following the directions in the Lonely Planet Guide. I saw a few White-eyes in a patch of forest just past the power station, and several more near a cemetery which is reached by walking a little further along the road, turning right, and walking a short distance up the hill. Other birds of note included Pied Goshawk, Yellow-vented Myzomela, and White-capped Monarch.
We arranged our trip to the 1750m high summit of Mt. Veve through the Gizo Hotel. It was not cheap. Total cost for two people was S$1100 which included return boat from Ghizo to Kolombangra, food, porters, and custom fees. In addition, the hotel sent someone across to the starting point at Iriri village to arrange the custom fee with the chief, the hire of the porters, and to ensure that we would be able to stay at the rest house in the nearby village of Kukundu on our return. It would certainly be cheaper to do it yourself, the villagers are quite used to people going up the mountain, but our main priorities were to, save time and hassle; and we were well fed.
The first part of the climb is from Iriri village to, an area known as Camp Professor at about 1000m. We camped here (we had own tent) for two nights, with a walk up to the summit in between. Water is available here from a small stream behind the Camp. It is possible to go to the summit and back in two days, but we felt this would allow little time for birding along the way. If you are reasonably fit the climb is not difficult, although there are lots of fallen logs to scramble over as you approach the top.
Interesting birds below the camp included: Melanesian Scrubfowl, Buff-headed Coucal White-capped and Kolombangra Monarchs and Solomon Islands White-eye. From the camp to the summit we saw Pale Mountain-Pigeon, Meek's Lorikeet, Yellow-vented Myzomela, and Kolombangra White-eye. We missed one of the island's most interesting birds, Kolombangra Leaf-Warbler. It is confined the moss forest near the summit where it is supposed to be uncommon. We did see Phylloscopus Warblers in this habitat but they looked like Island Leaf-Warblers to us. A short distance from Iriri is the village of Kukundu. There is a comfortable resthouse here which offers the chance to take a well earned shower after your trek to the summit, and to see the recently described Roviana Rail in the garden. We saw up to three Rails evening and morning out in the open on the lawn. If they fail to appear, try looking on the airstrip. I saw two birds at the far end (closest to Iriri), and David Gibbs saw four here in 1994.
The main site for birds on this island is Hauta village which is a days walk from the main town and airport of Kirakira. The villagers at Hauta and surrounding settlements have recently initiated an ecotourism project to, raise revenue as an alternative to logging their forests. Although the project is aimed primarily at tour groups that visit three times a year, individual travellers are welcome provided they make contact with the village beforehand. This can be done by writing to, the village chief at the following address: John Waihuru, Hauta Village, Bauro East, Kirakira, Makira, Solomon Islands
The village can also be contacted through SIDT (Solomon Islands Development Trust) in Honiara, or by radio through Solomon Telekom in Honiara or Kirakira (best early in the morning). Guides will be sent down to meet you; outside the government offices in Kirakira would be a good place to arrange a meeting. If you start your walk in the afternoon you will spend the night in a house about half way to Hauta. If you spend a night in Kirakira there is a resthouse with cooking facilities (Meda Lodge in the Lonely Planet Guide).
The cost of accommodation in a traditional village house at Hauta is S$35 per person per day which includes three meals. I paid the guides from Kirakira S$15 each, and during my stay I paid a guide S$10 per day (or part day) day to take me into the forest. Even if you think you do not need a guide it is accepted practice to take one as it provides additional revenue for the villagers-mine was also a good pigeon spotter.
When you see the extent of logging in other parts of the Solomons it is encouraging to see the creation of a revenue raising project that preserves the forest. However there is some pressure within the community to allow logging, so the future preservation of the forest here depends on the success of this tourism venture. As an individual you should be prepared to pay a fair price for the services you receive, and to respect the customs of the villagers.
From the village I birded the track back down towards the coast, and up onto the ridge behind the village. At the time of my visit there were lots of fruiting trees around which were very good for pigeons. The one bird I missed here was Dusky Fantail. It is here but is supposed to be uncommon. Best birds below Hauta were: Yellow-bibbed and White-headed Fruit-Doves, Chestnut-bellied Imperial-Pigeon and Duchess Lorikeet. Above the village: Solomon Sea-Eagle, Yellow-legged Pigeon, Crested Cuckoo-Dove, Bronze Ground-Dove, Duchess Lorikeet, San Cristobal Thrush and Shade Warbler.
The following list uses Clements(1991) names and taxonomy.
Gerry Richards, 15/5 Lister Avenue, Rockdale, NSW, Australia