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A Report from

Birds of Vanuatu, Nov-Dec 2002,

John Seymour

I saw Steve Clark’s list for Vanuatu 7-15 September 2002, and thought my own list for 16 Nov - 5 Dec 2002 might be of some interest. I saw 39 species, all on Efate, including one not recorded by Bregulla (“Birds of Vanuatu”, 1992). Like Steve, I recommend Bregulla, and I’ll use the scientific names that appear in that book.

This was a nice time of year to be there, just before the cyclones and with quite a few species nesting and feeding young. It’s meant to be the dry season, and mostly was, but our first week was wet, with the humidity ranging from 94% to 99%. When the sun came, the landscapes were spectacular.

Sunrise about 5:05 a.m. At this time of year Vanuatu and Sydney set their clocks to the same time.

Some tips. Hire a car (Discount Rentals is said to be cheapest). Spend time going round the island on what is virtually the only road outside Port Vila. Stop anywhere you can find rainforest vegetation coming right down to the road; for the most part, the road travels through cultivated and modified vegetation.

Take a few moments to look at rock pools and in the sea at the water’s edge; the tropical marine life is fascinating and colourful. If you run out of money for restaurants, live on French bread (supermarket) and bananas (market).

And if you see anything significant, avian or otherwise, visit or drop a line to the Biodiversity Project in Port Vila:

Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus
From singles up to parties of about 50 flying offshore, NE Efate.

Eastern Reef Heron Ardea sacra
Fairly common, singly, on coastal inlets. The grey and the white morphs seemed equally common. One individual was mainly of the white form, but the bill and lores were black. (Hancock & Kushlan say that the bill may be dark brown, but do not mention dark lores.)

Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa
Only one seen, flying over a wet field by the unsealed road that leads from Port Vila to White Sands Country Club (this field is on the east side of the Baie de la Teouma).

Swamp Harrier Circus approximans
Seems fairly common, mainly over open country. One flew up the inlet in front of the house we were staying in (Erakor Lagoon), so we didn’t even have to leave the veranda to see that one.

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Only two seen: one briefly glimpsed through the windscreen as it swooped over a gap in the trees, NE Efate; the other was compensation while I recovered from a heavy cold. I was in the back garden on the outskirts of Port Vila and one flew over.

Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis
Commoner than you at first suppose. At least one, and probably two, resided across the road from Mangoes Resort, Port Vila. I think it was this species that was responsible for some extraordinary sounds, ranging in pitch from grunt to scream with little in between. These birds stayed in dense cover, except for one morning (about 5:15) when one wandered about in an open field. Outside Port Vila, quite common. Two adults with two young (? hatched 7-10 days previously) on 20 Nov.

Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
Only one seen, that ran off the road into dense vegetation as we approached in a vehicle.

Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva
Common. Occurred here and there around the coast, and in a wet field about 1 km inland. This was the last species we saw in Vanuatu, because they abounded on grass near the runway.

Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
One in the company of three Golden Plovers on the shore at Beachcomber Resort, NE Efate, 22-23 Nov. At the time Bregulla compiled his book this species had not been recorded in Vanuatu, but the author clearly expected it any time, and included a paragraph about it under Golden Plover. Unfortunately the Vanuatu Natural Science Society that Bregulla mentions has died, and the contact for the Society named in the Lonely Planet guide to Vanuatu has disappeared. I lodged this record with the Biodiversity Project in Port Vila; they hope one day to produce an update to Bregulla’s book, so that seems a good place for people to lodge information that should go into a revised edition (see the intro to this list for an e-mail address).

Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Four at the top of the beach or, sometimes, in the disturbed ground a few metres inland, Beachcomber Resort, NE Efate, 22-23 Nov.

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Occasional around the coast, singly or in groups of up to four. Seemed to have a particular liking for the eighth hole at Le Meridien golf course.

Wandering Tattler Heteroscelus incanus
Two on the beach at Beachcomber Resort, 22 Nov.

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
One on beach, Le Meridien Resort 28 Nov. I have seen this species in more parts of the world than any other.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata
A few in the wet field mentioned under Pacific Black Duck, 20 Nov. Difficult to say how many, as most of the time they were hidden in furrows.

Great Crested Tern Sterna bergii
One resting, on shore of Efate mainland at its closest point to Hideaway Island.

Red-bellied Fruit Dove Ptilinopus greyii
Seemed fairly common in suitable large trees, even on the edge of Port Vila, e.g. in the vegetation between Le Meridien and rue de Wales. It’s worth getting to know the calls of this and the Green-winged Ground Dove, as they are more easily heard than seen. (So what’s new? cry all the people who have ever tried to see pigeons in rainforest.)

Pacific Imperial Pigeon Ducula pacifica
Perhaps a dozen in one fruiting tree (sorry, I’m no botanist!), NE Efate, at a point where the rainforest comes to the road.

White-throated Pigeon Columba vitiensis
Two briefly perched in the top of a large tree a few minutes after dawn, NW Efate, at a point where the road passes near rainforest.

Rock Dove (feral domestic pigeon) Columba livia
Bregulla in his book says that this species has not been recorded in Vanuatu, but anticipates their arrival by giving them a mention. Around the high end of avenue Edmond Colardeau I could see some flying about any morning, especially shortly after dawn. Perhaps these are for the moment in private ownership, but I could not establish where they roost and nest. Presumably it is only a matter of time before they become feral, if they are not already.

Green-winged Ground Dove (= Emerald Dove) Chalcophaps indica
Common and sometimes quite approachable. Seen on the ground, also in trees. Likes to have large trees nearby, but occurs close to Port Vila, like the Red-bellied Fruit Dove.

Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus
Common in wooded areas, and of course noisy. The call seemed more high-pitched than in my home town of Adelaide.

Barn Owl Tyto alba
An owl seen several times on two dates in NE Efate was presumably this species, as this is the only owl species Bregulla records for the entire archipelago. It flew about in broad daylight, but was never in view more than fleetingly.

White-bellied Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta
Abundant. One morning I noticed that the bats flew until 4:45 a.m. then, almost as if someone had thrown a switch, the swiftlets took over. The shifts change back in the evening.

Uniform Swiftlet Aerodramus vanikorensis
Common, but less numerous than C. esculenta.

White-collared Kingfisher Halcyon chloris
Common in wooded areas, and even in gardens on the outskirts of Port Vila.

Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica
Occasional, including one sighting in Port Vila’s busiest street, near the market. A fledged young was being fed while perching on the beach volleyball net, Le Meridien Resort, 16 Nov.

Long-tailed Triller Lalage leucopyga
Widespread in urban gardens and rural areas.

Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis
Common among trees. One female was sitting on naked young that had hatched about 18 Nov.

Broad-billed Flycatcher Myiagra caledonica
Fairly common among trees.

Grey Fantail Rhipidura fuliginosa
Common in wooded areas. Fledged young being fed at end of Nov. - early Dec.

Spotted Fantail Rhipidura spilodera
One seen, NW Efate, in a well-wooded area.

Silver-eared Honeyeater Lichmera incana
Abundant. Fledged young being fed, second half of Nov. Very approachable species.

Vanuatu White-eye Zosterops flavifrons
Abundant in wooded areas, including urban gardens. Favour large trees. Sometimes in mixed flocks with Z. lateralis.

Grey-backed White-eye Z. lateralis
Fairly common, often in mixed flocks with Z. flavifrons.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Refreshingly few seen. Mainly Port Vila.

Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild
An introduction from Africa, this species always did exactly as the book ordered, hanging on the fruiting heads of grasses.

Blue-faced Parrotfinch Erythroa trichroa
A small party seen in a village on the E coast of Efate.

Indian Mynah Acridotheres tristis
Probably accounted for at least half of all the birds I saw in Vanuatu. I saw one dislodge a (smaller) Lichmera incana from a large red flower, but I don’t know whether they actually displace indigenous species ecologically.

White-breasted Woodswallow Artamus leucorhynchus
Common, especially perched on telephone wires and soaring overhead hunting insects.

There may not be huge numbers of birds, and you may have to go to Santo to twitch, but if you are after a taste of the South Pacific, Vanuatu is worth a visit. Do try the buses (the vehicles with a red “B” at the start of the number plate). They are really shared taxis. They ply no particular route; you tell the driver where you want to go, and he (I never saw a woman bus driver) mentally fits your destination into the itinerary. On the way you get to see villages and back roads that you would not have known about if you had been in your own vehicle or a taxi. And they are cheap!

Try speaking a little Bislama (pidgin) and have fun.

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