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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Vanuatu, 7th-15th September 2002,
There are many excellent reasons to visit Vanuatu but
the opportunity to see a large number of birds is not one of them.
My wife, Jenny, and I spent 9 days on the island of Efate to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The weather was mostly warm and sunny, the people were friendly and helpful, the food was great, our hotel was the best we saw and the snorkeling was wonderful. The only problems we had were choosing what activities to do next and learning how to cross the road safely in a country where cars drive on the right.
We were based at "Poppys on the Lagoon" about 10 minutes walk from the centre of Port Vila, the capital city of Vanuatu. An overnight trip to Tanna island failed to eventuate due to travel agent stuff-up so we only visited Efate and a few tiny offshore islands. We visited most coastal parts of Efate but were not able to get access to the mountainous interior.
According to the "Birds of Vanuatu" by Heinrich Bregulla (Anthony Nelson, 1992), 121 species of birds have been recorded in Vanuatu. This total includes many vagrant seabirds and waders and a handful of introduced species. There are seven endemic species but only three of these occur on Efate. I managed to see 24 species and nine were new to me.
There is very little information on the birds of Vanuatu and I strongly urge any visitor to purchase a copy of Bregulla's book. The only other field guide is Chris Doughty's "Birds of New Caledonia, the Solomons and Vanuatu". I borrowed both books from the Birds Australia library and found the style of Bregulla's book preferable. The Internet has a trip report to Santo and a few bird lists. Hopefully this report will add something - particularly to those visiting only Efate.
Collared Kingfisher (Todirhamphus chloris)
Individuals or pairs seen occasionally in many areas. Compared to Australian birds these are more blue than green and some individuals have substantial amounts of orange-buff colouration on the flanks.
Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus)
This species was occasionally seen screaming over Port Vila. We saw it in most areas of the island but only in small numbers. Essentially the same as the birds common in eastern Australia although the call is somewhat different. Commonly caught and kept as a caged pet by villagers.
Glossy Swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta)
Common in all areas visited. These birds are tiny - smaller than Martins - and often fly along bush paths at near ground level. They seem to prefer the more densely vegetated areas and leave the open sky and lagoons to the Uniform Swiftlet although both species are often seen together. Probably my favourite bird from this trip. We saw very few insects so I don't know what they might have been eating.
Uniform Swiftlet (Collocalia vanikorensis)
Much larger than the Glossy Swiftlet, this species was common and encountered in all areas visited. It seemed to prefer to fly higher in the sky and over water compared to the Glossy Swiftlet.
Rock Pigeon (Columbia livia)
Three seen together in Port Vila on our last morning. Begulla mentioned that this species had not been recorded for Vanuatu. I don't know if the three I saw were truly feral or someone's homing pigeons but two were grey and one was reddish-brown.
Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica)
Most village gardens seemed to have one or two of these. They are usually seen flying across tracks but one was sometimes seen wandering around on the ground behind Poppys. Often hunted by boys with slingshots they are quite wary compared to those I've seen on Lord Howe Island and in Australia.
Red-bellied Fruit-Dove (Ptilinopus greyii)
There are two Fruit-Doves on Efate - the other is the endemic Vanuatu Fruit-Dove which I didn't manage to find. Every large banyan seemed to have one or two Red-bellied Fruit-Doves calling all day. They were almost impossible to see even when you have identified the branch they are on. After several frustrating days I managed to see one fly and land. Subsequently I saw several around Poppys, on the Mele golf course and on the walk up to the Mele Cascades.
Pacific Imperial Pigeon (Ducula pacifica)
Only one seen - flying over the lagoon near Eratap. Another was in a tiny cage outside a shop in Port Vila.
Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)
The only wader seen. One was on a reef off Castaway Island and three were in a grassy area adjacent to the Parliament House in Vila.
Crested Tern (Sterna bergii)
Individuals were seen in the lagoon near Poppys and other coastal areas. A roosting flock of 30 was seen on a reef off Castaway Island.
Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)
One seen over the lagoon at Poppys, and several along the road to Mele.
Eastern Reef Egret (Egretta sacra)
Both grey and white forms occur in Vanuatu. Bregulla says the grey form is more common. I saw a white bird and one or two grey birds in the lagoon near Poppys. On reefs off Castaway Island the score was three grey and one white. Elsewhere around the island a few grey birds were seen.
Silver-eared Honeyeater (Lichmera alboauricularis)
This is one of only two Honeyeaters on Efate (the other is the Cardinal Myzomela). Common in all areas of the island we visited. It strongly reminded me of the closely related Brown Honeyeater of Australia. Although it is common it can be hard to get good views of as it is constantly on the move. The loud calls are a feature of any walk through village gardens or forest. One newly fledged bird was seen in the gardens of Poppys indicating breeding was underway earlier than usual (Oct-Jan).
White-breasted Woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus)
Small numbers (2-10) seen occasionally around the island. One or two frequently seen behind Poppys.
Grey Fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa)
This is the same as the Australian species and was encountered twice - a pair on Mele golf course and one on the walk up to the Mele Cascades.
Streaked Fantail (Rhipidura spilodera)
A pair was seen in coastal forest near Eratap and a couple of individuals were seen on the walk up to the Mele Cascades. This species is larger and darker above than the Grey Fantail with strong dark streaks and spots on the throat and chest.
Melanesian Flycatcher (Myiagra caledonica)
A pair of these birds were seen near Poppys and individuals were seen at Eton beach in Mele Maat village. They are similar to the Leaden Flycatcher of eastern Australia but have a broad bill like the Broad-billed Flycatcher of northern Australia.
Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)
Introduced in the 1880s after a ship carrying caged birds
to Fiji was wrecked on Tanna, this species was common in all settled areas.
It apparently hasn't become an economic problem but it must be competing with
pigeons and parrots.
Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica)
This species was only seen, in small numbers, around the covered market area in Port Vila. It appeared larger, darker and to have a less-forked tail compared to the Welcome Swallow of Australia.
Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis)
Occasional in small numbers in gardens above Poppys, in village gardens and the Mele golf course. Doesn't seem to mix with the Yellow-fronted White-eye.
Yellow-fronted White-eye (Zosterops flavifrons)
The only Vanuatu endemic I saw. Occasionally seen in village gardens and several on the Mele golf course. Also seen at Klem's Hill Lookout above Mele and on the walk to the Cascades. Hard to see in the dense foliage but the bright yellow contrasts well with the white eye ring.
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Not common but a few were seen in the Port Vila area and in some of the larger villages. This species possibly arrived as stowaways on ships from Australia or New Caledonia. It was first reported in Vila in 1926.
Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild)
This African species was established from escaped caged birds in Vila and has spread around the island. I'm not sure how common they are but we only saw a few in Vila on the last morning.
Blue-faced Parrotfinch (Erythrura trichroa )
The only place these beautiful birds were seen was the Mele golf course where several small flocks (6-20 birds) were feeding on the fairways. They were quite tame but could easily be overlooked. Ask at the clubhouse for permission to wander around and have a Tusker beer before leaving.