This trip was conceived in the early part of 2008 with the intention of making the most of the cheap airfares from Brisbane to Fiji. We found that by travelling by air from Nadi to Savusavu on Vanua Levu (second-largest Fiji Island) we could then take the passenger-ferry MV Suilven (Bligh Water Shipping) from Savusavu to Waiyevo, on the island of Taveuni (a 4.5 hour trip) Taveuni is one of the last-remaining mongoose-free islands in Fiji so there is still some pristine forest and two ‘must-see’ species, the Silktail and Orange Dove. Both species are still present on Vanua Levu so we decided to include three days at Savusavu.
We flew from Brisbane to Nadi on Pacific Blue on the 1st June, had a stop-over near the aiport in Nadi (Travellers Rest Resort, Newtown) spending the evening celebrating her birthday with a nice curry, wine and Fiji Gold!
On Monday morning we spent a couple of hours before the next flight wandering around the beach and resort area, and we found several species of endemic bird, this was a pleasant surprise as we hadn’t recorded many on our previous visit the year before. (Fiji Woodswallow, Goshawk, Parrotfinch, White-rumped Swiftlet, Wattled and Orange-breasted Honeyeater, non-endemics Pacific Swallow, White-faced Heron, Red-vented Bulbul, Red Avadavat, Jungle and Common Mynah)
In the morning we then caught a Pacific Sun flight in a Twin-Otter, the flight was smooth and in about one hour we were flying into the amazingly small palm-fringed airport at Savusavu. The airport at Vanua Levu’s second city was little more than a shed and the community is based on a sheltered harbour that must have been ‘discovered’ by yachties as there was a plush marina there.
The town is basically one shopping-street with a couple of banks, supermarkets and restaurants. In the block that houses the Bula Re cafe is the Bligh Water Shipping Co office and it is here that you can book ferries to Taveuni or other ports (you can also contact them online) One unexpected sight on the grey beach was steam rising out of ‘fumaroles’ from volcanic activity.
We stayed at the Daku Resort, a couple of kms from town and were ‘upgraded’ to a very nice ‘bure’ which looked across the bay, apparently we were sharing the resort with a (mainly) Australian writers workshop-group who were studying ‘memoir-writing’. We were greeted by the Fijian -manager Kenny who soon integrated us into his ‘family’ and helped us find our way around.
One evening he organised some polynesian-dancing by his children and this was very entertaining, some definite ‘Stars-in-the-making’!
Birds were fairly plentiful here but it wasn’t until the second day that Kenny told me that there was some good habitat up the hill behind the resort, Fiji Goshawk, Swiftlet, Woodswallow, Parrotfinch, Collared Kingfisher (ssp vitiensis), Barking and White-throated Pigeon, Vanikoro Flycatcher, Polynesian Triller, Silvereye, Streaked Fantail, Orange-breasted and Wattled Honeyeater and the aurantiiventris race of Golden Whistler were all recorded along with Red-vented Bulbul, Jungle and Common Mynahs. Kenny also suggested that as he was taking several guests to the Waisali Falls that he could drop us at a rainforest-walk along the way, this we duly did although as it was late-morning we failed to see Orange Dove but did get poor views of Red Shining-Parrot. Streaked Fantail, Silvereye, Scarlet Robin and Lesser Shrikebill were also seen along this trail. He also suggested that he could take us to a spot just outside Savusavu and would arrange a taxi and accompany us to the site, again (due to his managerial commitments) we didn’t arrive there until mid-morning and subsequently failed to track down the Orange Dove, however we did manage to see our first Blue-crested Flycatcher (for Vanua Levu) and many Barking Pigeons, Golden Whistler and Streaked Fantail. Marie joined a group snorkelling from a boat around the reef near the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort.
On the Thursday morning we arose at first light and one of the writers group Andrew, kindly drove us to the nearby ferry-port where we boarded around 7am for the 4.5 hour trip to Waiyevo in Taveuni. I was very excited about the prospects for this voyage with the possibility of seeing some unusual sea-birds, as over the whole-region the outlook for many species is grim with the spread of rats, mongoose and other pests, the island of Taveuni however, is still reasonably pristine. The trip turned-out to be fairly uneventful with showers and an overcast sky with a couple of Black-winged and Tahiti Petrel, Red-footed Booby and some unidentified ‘Sooty/Bridled/Grey-backed’-type Terns however I did see a couple of large feeding-flocks but far too distant to specifically identify anything.
On our arrival at Waiyevo, Taveuni we were greeted by a cab-driver who offered us a reasonable fare for a 20 km trip to Matei, this we accepted and met our ‘chauffeur’ for the nest 10 days, Sukh Lal.
Sukh is a genuine character, very knowledgeable, fair and punctual and we would recommend him to anybody planning to do a trip to Taveuni. He can be reached on 8880517 or 974899 (mobile).
(If he is unavailable there are other taxis and there is a cheap bus-service, but usually only about three on a weekday.)
We arrived at our destination Bibi’s Hideaway, threw our bags in our ‘Bure’ and met the owner James (Jim) Bibi, a very likeable Fijian with a nice family who made us feel very ‘at-home’, their property is full of fruit-trees such as Coconuts, Paw-paws, Passion-fruit, Oranges, Cumquats and Bread-fruit and Jim’s daughter Paulina told us that we were free to help ourselves! We could order a curry from a nearby local, Chris Prasad and go snorkelling just down the road at Beverley’s Beach. Paradise?….pretty close!
Despite the garden-nature of Bibi’s we recorded twenty-two species in our ten days there, the highlight probably being a Many-coloured Fruit-Dove which I found after hearing it calling, Collared Lories were plentiful but seldom came down low enough for photos but on one occasion I spotted a pair almost at eye-level and was well rewarded! I also found several Polynesian Starling, a species which I had only a very brief encounter with at Abaca in 2007, here they were a daily sighting.
On one occasion Jim and I spotted 8 Lesser Frigatebirds flying in a line low over the Coconut-palms on the property but despite it being a fantastic view, Jim thought it was probably a sign of impending rough-weather, which was certainly the case a few days later!
Whilst planning the trip we had read many trip-reports and some had some interesting contacts, Jon Hornbuckle who visited Taveuni in 2007 had mentioned that he had visited Bobby’s Farm in the south of the island and had seen Orange Dove very easily. Bobby has now created a website and we contacted him from Matei enquirying about birding-tours of his property, I was very surprised when he agreed to show us around but not before three in the afternoon. As Marie was keen to snorkel he told us that if we arrived earlier we could swim from his jetty, have lunch and then go birding. After lunch Bobby told us that he seldom sees the Orange Doves for long in the early-morning but after three they often come close to the homestead. He took us for a walk indicating many useful bush-medicine and told us how his grand-parents had bought the land after coming to Fiji from India as indentured labour many years ago. He also indicated to us that his property is the only one remaining on Taveuni with native-forest all the way from the higher-ground on the island down to the sea, as the vast majority of the lower-slopes had been cleared for cultivation. It was a very impressive education and we hope that his dream of hosting international birding-groups comes to fruition, he is currently fixing up a dormitory for guests. We wish him well and hope to return in the not-so-distant future. Oh and BTW, the Orange Doves were superb, as were the great views of Many-coloured Fruit-Dove and Red Shining-Parrot!
Several trip-reports that we had read mentioned a bird-guide called Isaki or Sake who could show Silktail from the village of Vidawa in the Bouma Heritage Park on the eastern-half of the island, so we travelled there on the friday and asked at the park reception if it was possible that we could speak to him, the villagers told us that he did, indeed reside in the village and took us to his home. Isaki invited us into his house where we joined him for lunch , however he was rather unwell with ‘flu and told us that as he was in his late-sixties unable to take us on a hike to the rainforest but would contact his protege Ben, who was away from the village planting Dalo (Taro potato). Miriama, Ben’s wife spent time with us explaining how the villagers preserved the park to keep alive their culture and not lose their land to development. We were very enamoured with the way all the generations looked after each other and lived in harmony, something lost to our western-‘civilization’. She explained the concept of saying ‘chillo’, something akin to ‘excuse-me’ in western-society. The village children were lots of fun and we hope Paolo turns into a birder like his dad, Ben.
We arranged for Sukh to pick us up at 5.30 am on Tuesday morning and despite the wet-weather headed down to Vidawa, spotting a Barn Owl on the powerlines. On arrival Ben met us and asked if we thought that it was too wet and whether we wanted to postpone, we thought about it for a minute then told him that we wanted to go ahead, setting off up the mountain in the rain. Ben showed us where his ancestors had fought with Tongan invaders and showed us the ‘Basket’ where the enemy were thrown-down the sides of steep defensive banks., we saw the original villages on the slopes where the houses were built close-together so that the approaching enemy would not hear them as they evacuated and also the ‘sacrificial-stone’ where enemy prisoners were killed. Soon we arrived in pristine-rainforest and the rain eased, Ben spotted a Red Shining-Parrot and Marie found a superb male Orange Dove, it seems that here the rainforests species form loose aggregations and once one species was seen many others would be in the same area. It wasn’t too long before I spotted a small black bird staring down at me from a branch and I squawked ‘Silktail!’ It disappeared down a gully but Ben kept on it and pointed it out, I filmed it with my handycam but all I could see was the ‘dayglo’ white tail bobbing-around! At the same time we had great views of male Golden Whistler of the torquatus race and were amazed at the display of a male Blue-crested Flycatcher, with it’s neck outstretched and red-bill pointing sky-ward. In the same area we saw Streaked Fantail, Slaty Monarch, Lesser Shrikebill and Wattled Honeyeater. We returned to Vidawa wet but very happy and were treated to lunch with Ben, Miriama and her friend (who had both contracted ‘flu and were rather unwell) The half-day tour was good value at F$40 and was well worthwhile, hopefully helping to keep a culture alive.
After this exciting day the heavens opened for the remainder of the week forcing us to consider snorkelling as the only alternative to birding, however the fresh water flooding into the reef made the under-water visibility poor so we were forced to do domestic chores like washing and writing-up notes! One day we walked to the nearby Tramanto Restaurant (IMHO one of the best sea-watching spots that I’ve ever visited, cheap but fantastic-grub, beer and sunsets to die-for!) Marie called me over and from the clifftop she had seen a sea-snake, (a Yellow-lipped sea krait Laticauda colubrina a species which had given her a fright whilst snorkelling nearby a few days earlier) after the elation of seeing this I spotted a lone Collared Kingfisher and took a couple of shots, then realised that it’s partner was next to it, I had been searching for this image to show the strong sexual-dimorphism that occurs in this species in Fiji, however the light wasn’t very good so the pictures aren’t as useful as I would have hoped. In the same area we found the Vutu tree with it’s beautiful flowers that only come out at night, fall into the sea and drift off. Apparently these flowers were used by local fisherman to act as ‘floats’ to attach their caught fish to.
On Friday afternoon the wet-weather appeared to be easing so we arranged for Sukh to pick us up early Saturday morning and take us to the base of the De Voeux Peak track, where we hoped to hike up through the cultivated land to the rainforest area near the peak and try and find some our last remaining Taveuni species, Island Thrush, Giant Forest Honeyeater, Shy Ground-dove and Black-faced Shrikebill. Fortunately on arrival the weather was perfect and we set-off, though I soon realised that my ill-fitting boots were going to cause me problems (I’m still recovering from the blisters as I write this!) As we worked our way through the farmland we got nice views of Fiji Goshawk, Wattled Honeyeater, Red Shining-Parrot, White-rumped Swiftlet, Orange-breasted Honeyeater, Polynesian Triller and heard the curious ‘tok-tok’ call of the Orange Dove on several occasions. However as we entered the undisturbed forest area Marie spotted a bird on a rock above a stream which I failed to pick up…she had great views of an Island Thrush. A few metres further up I saw a large green bird land on the flowers of some native-ginger (or something similar) with it’s pale-bill we soon realised that it was the viridis ssp of the same Giant Forest Honeyeater that we had seen (and heard) at Col-I-Suva in Viti Levu the previous year, however that one had a dark-bill and had a ‘kookaburra’-like yodelling-call which all the literature says is absent in the Taveuni one. As the bird fled from it’s food-plant it called with a very similar yodelling-call, so it appears that this conclusion may be just due to infrequent observation.
Soon we realised that we would have to start heading back down the mountain as we had arranged to be picked up by Sukh at twelve-noon, so after getting some reasonable views of Fiji White-eye I tried again (in vain) to see the Island Thrush at Marie’s creek-spot. We finally reached the main road at 12.30pm where we were picked up and taken back to Matei with Sukh and spent the rest of the day recovering our poor feet!
Saturday morning saw us saying our goodbyes and taking ourselves to Matei Airport for the flight back to Nadi, we would love to say thanks to all who made our trip such a memorable-one, but a very special one to Jim, Paulina, Moses and Eleanora at Bibi’s, Chris Prasad at Matei, Ben Miriama and Paolo at Vidawa, Bobby at Nabogiono Farm, Sirilo from Kanacea, Terry Allen and the staff at Tramanto Restaurant, Kenny and his family at Daku and the man himself, Sukh the cab-driver!
Hope to see you all soon,
Tom & Marie Tarrant, Brisbane 2008
List of Species Seen
Tahiti Petrel Pterodroma rostrata From MV Suilven off Vanua Levu between Savusavu and Waiyevo.
Black-winged Petrel Pterodroma nigripennis From MV Suilven off Vanua Levu between Savusavu and Waiyevo.
Red-footed Booby Sula sula From MV Suilven off Vanua Levu between Savusavu and Waiyevo.
Brown Booby Sula leucogaster From MV Suilven off Vanua Levu between Savusavu and Waiyevo.
Lesser Frigatebird Fregata ariel Common daily at Matei.
White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae Nesting at Nadi
Pacific Reef-Heron Egretta sacra Seen at Savusavu and Matei
Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa Seen at Savusavu and near Qeleni, Taveuni.
Swamp Harrier Circus approximans Seen at Nadi Airport and over Matei, Taveuni.
Fiji Goshawk Accipiter rufitorques Endemic Seen virtually daily at Nadi, Savusavu and Taveuni.
Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis Seen once near Qeleni, Taveuni.
Pacific Golden-Plover Pluvialis fulva Heard at Matei Airport.
Black Noddy Anous minutus Seen off Taveuni Coast from MV Suilven.
Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus Probable couple of birds photographed off VL coast. Black-naped Tern Sterna sumatrana A couple on mooring outside Waiyevo, Taveuni.
Great Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii Seen most days at Nadi, Savusavu and Taveuni.
Rock Pigeon Columba livia Introduced species Savusavu.
Metallic Pigeon Columba vitiensis Seen at Savusavu, Matei and Bobby’s Farm.
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis Introduced species Seen at Nadi, Savusavu and Taveuni.
Many-colored Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus perousii Seen at Matei and Bobby’s Farm, heard on De Voeux Peak track.
Orange Dove Ptilinopus victor Endemic Seen at Vidawa, Bobby’s Farm and heard at De Voeux Peak track.
Peale’s Imperial-Pigeon Ducula latrans Endemic Seen at Savusavu, Vidawa, Bobby’s Farm and De Voeux Peak track.
Collared Lory Phigys solitarius Endemic Seen near Savusavu, Matei and De Voeux Peak track.
Red Shining-Parrot Prosopeia tabuensis Endemic Seen at Naqara, Vidawa, Matei, De Voeux Peak track and Bobby’s Farm.
Barn Owl Tyto alba Heard at Matei, seen near Qeleni.
White-rumped Swiftlet Aerodramus spodiopygius Seen at Nadi, Savusavu and Taveuni.
Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris Seen at Savusavu, Matei, Vidawa.
Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica Seen at Nadi Airport, Waiyevo, Naqara and Matei, Taveuni.
Polynesian Triller Lalage maculosa Seen at Nadi, Savusavu and throughout Taveuni.
Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer Introduced species Seen at Nadi and Savusavu but not on Taveuni.
Island Thrush Turdus poliocephalus Seen by Marie on De Voeux Peak track.
Streaked Fantail Rhipidura spilodera Seen at Waisali, Savusavu, Vidawa and on De Voeux Peak track.
Slaty Monarch Mayrornis lessoni Endemic Seen at Savusavu, Matei, Vidawa and Bobby’s Farm. Fiji Shrikebill Clytorhynchus vitiensis Seen at Waisali, Savusavu, Vidawa and on De Voeux Peak track.
Vanikoro Flycatcher Myiagra vanikorensis Common at Savusavu and throughout Taveuni.
Blue-crested Flycatcher Myiagra azureocapilla Endemic Seen at Savusavu, Vidawa and on De Voeux Peak track.
Silktail Lamprolia victoriae Endemic Near-threatened Seen only at Vidawa.
Scarlet Robin Petroica multicolor Seen at Waisali and heard at Savusavu, not encountered on Taveuni.
Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis Seen at Savusavu, Vidawa and on De Voeux Peak track.
Layard’s White-eye Zosterops explorator Endemic Seen on De Voeux Peak track and probably at Savusavu.
Silver-eye Zosterops lateralis Common at Nadi, Savusavu and throughout Taveuni.
Orange-breasted Myzomela Myzomela jugularis Endemic Seen at Nadi, Savusavu and Matei.
Wattled Honeyeater Foulehaio carunculatus Seen at Nadi, Savusavu, Vidawa and De Voeux Peak track.
Giant Forest Honeyeater Gymnomyza viridis Endemic Seen only on De Voeux Peak track.
Fiji Woodswallow Artamus mentalis Endemic Seen at Nadi, Savusavu, and Matei.
Australasian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen Introduced species Seen at Matei and near Qeleni.
Polynesian Starling Aplonis tabuensis Seen only at Matei and De Voeux Peak.
Jungle Myna Acridotheres fuscus Introduced species Common throughout.
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis Introduced species Common throughout.
Red Avadavat Amandava amandava Introduced species Seen at Nadi and Savusavu.
Fiji Parrotfinch Erythrura pealii Endemic Seen at Nadi, Savusavu and along De Voeux Peak track.