South-west Queensland July 2012


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During the early-part of 2012 I spent time with a visiting Canadian birder John Reynolds,  we had made a couple of local trips to find some of his missing species and he expressed his desire to spend a few days exploring the outback area of South-west Queensland. As I have had a reasonable experience of the area between St George and Thargomindah over the past twenty-odd years I suggested that we rent  an AWD vehicle and stay in accommodation rather than tents (the temperature can be very chilly in the evenings out there at this time of year!) Over the past 3 or 4 years drought had lifted in the region so I was keen to see how this had affected the bird-life.

John negotiated with a car-hire company and got 5 days in a Nissan Dualis with unlimited kilometres for AU$345, however on the pick-up day they tried to ‘palm’ us off with a Renault Megane but John stuck to his ‘guns’ and managed to get the original vehicle (with $100 discount for his trouble, he used this to add the insurance excess, which proved very helpful….more on that later)

Nissan Dualis

 

 

 

 

 

We left Brisbane at 2pm on Thursday afternoon and traveled to St George through a thunderstorm, arriving there around 7.30pm and booking in to a seemingly over-priced motel (the price you pay for coal-seam gas, cotton-farming and frequent-flooding?)

After a nice nights sleep, we had a good breakfast and commenced the adventure, driving to the Mulgaview area approximately 30 kms west of St George, in the past this has been a good area for Spotted Bowerbird, Splendid Fairywren, Red-capped Robin, Singing Honeyeater and Black-eared Cuckoo and Friday morning was no disappointment, we even saw a pair of White-browed Treecreeper there which I had not seen there before.

White-browed Treecreeper

Black-eared Cuckoo

Black-eared Cuckoo
Black-eared Cuckoo

White-browed Treecreeper
White-browed Treecreeper

 

Further along the ‘Adventure’ Highway between Bollon and Cunnamulla we came across a pair of Pink Cockatoos feeding on small roadside melons, John was elated when they allowed us to drive close and both get some reasonable images.

Pink Cockatoo

Pink Cockatoo

We took lunch in Cunnamulla and continued on to Eulo picking-up some of the interesting species of the area such as Black-breasted Buzzard, Chirrupping Wedgebill, Black-faced Woodswallows and our first Budgies!

Black-faced Woodswallow/Budgerigar

Juvenile Black-breasted Buzzard

 

Cunnamulla Scenery

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southern Boobook
Yellow-throated Miner

 

We stopped at Eulo Bore and the nearby ridge but failed to find any of the ‘specials’ such as Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush or Hall’s Babbler though we did have an interesting sighting of a ‘diurnal’ Southern Boobook just to the west of Eulo.

Eulo Ridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

and so continued on, finding a Red-backed Kingfisher and getting poor-views of a Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush west of Carpet Springs. Towards late-afternoon we arrived at the causeway of Lake Bindegolly, which is currently quite full and home to many breeding waterbirds such as Pelicans, Cormorants, Darters, Terns, Coots, Grebes and Brolgas (amongst others).

 

Caspian Tern

Australian Darter

 

We made it to Thargomindah at dusk and were greeted by thousands of White-browed, Masked and Black-faced Woodswallows, this was wonderful but we were behind schedule and had to get to Kilcowera Station and so headed south on the (only partially-sealed) Hungerford road, arriving there at nine pm. We were greeted and shown our accommodation for the next two nights by our hosts Greg and Toni Sherwin and then turned in for a well earned-sleep.

 

White-browed/Black-faced Woodswallows

Masked Woodswallow

On waking on Saturday morning we realized that the temperature was close to freezing so using the outdoor-shower was somewhat daunting but we seemed to survive the ordeal and began our next leg of the trip driving from Kilcowera to Noccundra. Until now I hadn’t traveled further west than Thargomindah so this was certainly going to be an experience for me too!

About halfway between Kilcowera and Thargomindah we stopped at a dry-creek bed for some Crimson Chats and this proved to be one of the most ‘birdy’ areas, initially only intending to stop for 5 to 10 minutes we were there for over two hours! (….but it was to be worth it)

 

Banded Lapwing

Australian Ringneck

Bluebonnet

Black-faced Woodswallow

Red-capped Robin

Red-capped Robin

Crimson Chat

Brown Falcon

Wedge-tailed Eagle

White-necked Heron
   

John found a lot of new species here, and we also recorded a Pied Honeyeater which was the first that I have ever seen in breeding attire. Both Brown and Rufous Songlarks, Plum-heased Finch, Bluebonnets, Banded Lapwing, Chestnut-crowned Babbler and Brolga, Crested Bellbird and Cockatiel were some of many.

The drive from Thargomindah to Noccundra was longer than I had expected (approximately 140 kms) but it was quite scenic and we found some interesting species, Chirruping Wedgebills, Bourke’s Parrots and Rufous Songlarks.

 

SWQ Panorama
SWQ Panorama

We finally arrived at Noccundra mid-afternoon and followed the advice of a Birding-Aus  member Mick Brasher who had discovered Grey Grasswren in a previous year in lignum near the waterhole. However after spending over an hour searching in vain we finally gave up and returned back to Kilcowera. Obviously more time is required for this elusive species!

Eremophila?

Eremophila?

 

On arrival at Kilcowera we caught up with Toni Sherwin who told us that she had seen Pied Honeyeater near the homestead,  feeding on freshly-flowering eremophilas,  we resolved to get up the following morning and search for these before our departure.

Sunday began very chilly and after the tortuous shower ritual we said our goodbyes to the other guests and headed out for a last brief look around the nearby billabong and homestead, on the lake John ‘scoped an unusual duck which was probably a Freckled although we couldn’t get a better view. As we passed the homestead I thought I glimpsed something interesting and we stopped for a quick look and John saw a small passerine which sounded like a Black Honeyeater, this was indeed it’s identity and soon we also found White-fronted and Pied Honeyeaters. A thornbill almost had me believing that there were Slaty-backed in the area (…whose status I’m still not convinced about in SW Qld) this duly turned out to be Chestnut-rumped.

 

Pied Honeyeater

Chestnut-rumped Thornbill

 

This area turned-out to be far more interesting than we had anticipated so once again we put our schedule out by two hours and finally arrived at Lake Bindegolly just before lunch on a search for the handsome but elusive Orange Chat. In recent years the area has been declared a National Park and more restrictions have been made to public access,  we were unable to drive right around the northern edge so walked out to it instead, how different conditions are in winter compared with the rest of the year, lower temperatures and no blowflies made life far easier! Soon I spotted a handsome male Orange Chat on the samphire and endeavoured to get a photograph, as with previous experiences of the species the moment that he realised I was ‘stalking’ him he took off and flew about 100 metres away, consequently all the shots that are displayed are heavily ‘cropped’. In the immediate area I was surprised to see at least 9 birds fly off at one point, they can be extremely cryptic in the glaring sand.

 

Orange Chat

Orange Chat

Orange Chat

Orange Chat

 

From Bindegolly we headed east and searched for a creek-crossing where I had seen Grey-headed Honeyeaters many years before, fortunately I managed to find it and after a bit of ‘squeaking’ managed to get at least 3 birds.

 

Grey-headed Honeyeater
Grey-headed Honeyeater

Grey-headed Honeyeater
Grey-headed Honeyeater

 

Our next challenge was to try and get to Bowra and see if we could find a couple of missing species. I had tried to book accommodation earlier and had been told that it was full, so thought that it might be worth putting in an hour or two to try and find Grey Falcon or Hall’s Babbler. We drove out to the ‘Stony Ridge’ area but found very little although we heard several Black Honeyeater calling and I saw a very Splendid Fairywren which would have made an awesome photo had it have stayed long enough for me to get the camera!

 

Bowra Stony Ridge
Bowra Stony Ridge

Splendid Fairywren
Splendid Fairywren

 

Soon the light was fading and so were John’s chances of getting his last two ‘lifers’ so we decided to set off for St George, I thought that it might be a good idea to let the Motel know that we would be arriving late (St George is 290 kms from Cunnamulla) and the receptionist told us that was OK but warned us to be careful of macropods on the highway after dark. Unfortunately her words came true around 20 kms before the town of Bollon when we hit a large male Red Kangaroo and smashed the offside headlight and dented the front bodywork. Personally I’ve travelled the same stretch of road on several occasions but never seen quite as many as we passed on this evening. Fortunately despite a few ‘near-misses’ we managed to crawl into St George without inflicting any more damage on the ‘Roo population, though another car arrived after us and had suffered a similar calamity. We were certainly thankful that John had had the foresight to take up the insurance excess at the start of the trip.

Our return  was via a different route, Goondiwindi to Brisbane.  John still required Turquoise Parrot and several other species such as Singing Bushlark, Black-chinned Honeyeater and Red-kneed Dotterel so I thought that it might be worthwhile to try for these in the Inglewood to Warwick area, .In an area near Talwood we came upon several parrot species Red-winged, Ringneck and Pale-headed Rosella feeding on the road with Apostlebirds,.However when we finally arrived at Coolmunda Dam, Cement Mills and the Durakai water-hole it was around lunch and consequently fairly unexciting.

 

Red-winged Parrot
Red-winged Parrot

Red-winged Parrots
Red-winged Parrots

 

Overall, a great 4-days birding with John seeing plenty of ‘lifers’, as he is a great ‘devotee’ of Ebird I thought it might be worth providing a link to one of his  lists (from this trip) If this is popular I might add more as he puts them up. At the time of writing I don’t have a full species-list but will put one up when available.

I would like to thank all those that gave advice (especially for the grasswrens) and Toni and Greg Sherwin at Kilcowera (I look forward to returning…..with lots more time!)

Species trip-list

Darwin 2010

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After all the exertion of the Gulf-trip I had built up quite a few days in lieu from work and had intended to spend a week searching for grasswrens with a couple of friends in the Corner-country (SW QLD/SA/NSW). Unfortunately due to wet-conditions this was postponed and so I had to find a way of using up a weeks leave, I decided to contact some old friends and take them up on their previously-issued invite. Sheryl and Arthur Keates have become stalwart members of Darwin’s birding-elite and I knew I would be up for some great-birding, I was given the ‘green-light’ and booked tickets with Qantas (….as they seemed to arrive and depart at civilized times, unlike Jetstar & VirginBlue!)

Alas, my in-flight optimism from Brisbane was soon eroded as the 767 was delayed for two hours after an engine ‘warning’ light was detected (see previous experience on the trip to the Gulf) Approaching Darwin the flight was delayed again for a storm (…and this is supposed to be the ‘dry’ season?), we finally landed after at least seven ‘circuits’, and I was relieved when I saw Sheryl waiting at the ‘passenger pick-up’.

Barking Owl (Ninox connivens)

One of the main targets of the trip was to find Rufous Owl (which I’ve yet to see on numerous trips to North Queensland), Sheryl suggested we do a tour of Darwin Botanic Gardens where a pair had been resident for some time. Unfortunately despite combing the area every day for a week they now seem to be absent, although I had cracking views of a pair of Barking Owls near the fountain (a species I have only encountered once before.)

Saturday morning began with a visit to Lee Point, Arthur and Sheryl were keen to check new wader arrivals and I was pleasantly surprised when Sheryl spotted a pair of Rainbow Pitta in the scrub near the beach, one of these was very tame and allowed reasonable photographs. The metallic-blue shoulder-patch on a black body is almost day-glo, making them particularly easy to track through the vegetation and they seem to spend more time on branches than other pitta species that I’ve encountered.

Pitta iris

Another species that I was keen to photograph was the Green-backed Gerygone and they were plentiful and vocal in the area.

Green-backed Gerygone (Gerygone chloronota)

On the high-tide roost Arthur had found quite a few Sanderling and lots of Greater Sand Plovers with a Lesser-crested Tern, later we were joined by a Dutch birder Bas Henson and a couple of old friends, Peter Kyne and Micha Jackson.

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

Pete and Micha

We returned to Darwin for lunch then went up to the Royal Darwin Hospital  for an afternoon walk. The area around the hospital is excellent for birding with a mixture of monsoon forest, mangroves and grassland, I was keen to see a Little Kingfisher which is frequently recorded at Sandy Creek, however I failed to catch up with one on this trip but did see Black Butcherbird, Broad-billed and Shining Flycatcher. Returning to the car we came across many honeyeaters drinking from a small creek, Banded, Rufous-throated and Rufous-breasted, and Bar-breasted.

Bar-breasted Honeyeater (Ramsayornis fasciatus)

Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula)
Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula)

Leaden (Satin?) Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula)

I also came across an odd ‘myiagra’ flycatcher which I initially suspected to be a Satin but after photographing it and questioning it’s identity on the Birding-Aus mailing-list, I’m still no wiser. Personally I think it’s an aberrant Leaden Flycatcher but I’ve had plenty of response suggesting that it is a Satin (although I don’t have a great deal of experience with this species, so will have to reserve judgment)  There are more images on my Picasa site, would welcome any more comments. (Please note: I’ve uploaded most of this birds images in a Gallery, please visit this for better-quality pics and comparison shots)

Gouldian Finch (Chloebia gouldiae)

Gouldian Finch (Chloebia gouldiae)

We were up early on Sunday, Arthur, Sheryl and myself headed out east towards Kakadu, near Mt Bundey Arthur stopped at some old gravel-pits where he had seen Gouldian Finches in the past. We noticed other visitors positioned close to the water but probably preventing birds from coming in to drink, then spotted a flock of 20-30 Gouldian’s landing in the trees between us. Unfortunately they were obviously being deterred from drinking by the other party but we ended up counting nearly 80 birds, including red, black and orange-faced individuals and lots of juveniles. Apparently 2010 has been a very successful year for this species though I don’t want to be too precise with the location of this sighting publicly but can provide details via email if required.

Black-tailed Treecreeper (Climacteris melanurus)

From Mt Bundey we headed back towards Darwin then went south on the Marrakai Track, unfortunately there appears to be ‘development’ occurring along the northern part of the road and sub-division looks imminent. However we did manage to see one of the ‘target’ species early on, my second ‘lifer’ for the day, the Black-tailed Treecreeper. Further along we found another bird which I was keen to catch up with, the ‘leucoptera’ race of the Varied Sittella, this has white rather than orange wing-panels and black on the head, although the sexes have differing amounts of black on their heads, males are ‘capped’ whilst females appear to have a full-‘hood’.

Varied Sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera)

Varied Sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera)

Continuing along the track we stopped at a dried-up creek-bed with flowering melaleuca, there was an intense ‘gingery’ smell (if only you could ‘bottle’ it!) and singing their plaintive  “three-blind-mice” song, I found my first stunning Buff-sided Robins.

Buff-sided Robin (Poecilodryas cerviniventris)

Also present in the same creek-bed was a nice male Shining Flycatcher and a Banded Honeyeater feeding on the melaleuca blossom. From there we moved to a dry open flood-plain where I spotted a Red-backed Kingfisher. We stopped for lunch at a wonderful river crossing, heard Azure Kingfisher, saw more Shining Flycatcher and Arthur spotted a large fish. In a nearby billabong we had a Black-necked Stork, some Radjah Shelduck and a White-bellied Sea-Eagle perched near it’s large nest. Before reaching the Stuart Highway we passed through a nice rainforest area known as “Bamboo Creek”, here we saw a pair of Brown Goshawk, and a flock of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo.

Broad-billed Flycatcher (Myiagra ruficollis)

Grey Whistler (Pachycephala simplex)

View of beach and mangroves at Kulaluk

Red-banded Jezebel (Delias mysis)

Female Mangrove Golden Whistler (Pachycephala melanura)

Arafura Fantail (Rhipidura dryas)

Red-headed Myzomela (Myzomela erythrocephala)

During the following couple of days before Sheryl left for a brief return to Brisbane. I concentrated my efforts on the greater Darwin area and visited some of the more accessible areas such as Kulaluk Reserve at Coconut Grove, East Point Mangrove Boardwalk, Royal Darwin Hospital and Aralia Road at Nightcliff. The search for the elusive ‘Rufie’ Owl continued in the Botanic Gardens without success, though we did find an Orange-footed Scrubfowls wing, which raised my hopes somewhat. At Kulaluk we managed to find a pair of Mangrove Golden Whistler, Mangrove Robins and an Arafura Fantail, at Aralia Road I saw 3 species of Kingfisher (Collared, Forest and Sacred), plus several species of wader. Despite several returns to the hospital I failed to re-find the mystery flycatcher.

White-throated Honeyeater (Melithreptus albogularis)

Rufous-banded Honeyeater (Conopophila albogularis)

Banded Honeyeater (Cissomela pectoralis)
Banded Honeyeater (Cissomela pectoralis)

Before leaving for Brisbane Sheryl generously took me around and late-afternoon on Monday we visited Buffalo Creek to search for the big red ‘Chook” (…or Chestnut Rail) She decided that it our chances were greater observing from the bank further upstream and as the tide started to return we entered the muddy world of northern mangroves by crossing ‘dubious’ bridges and covering ourselves in ‘deet’ to combat the hordes of mossies and inevitable Saltwater Crocodile attack! Even the fisher-folk seemed to be packing up to go home , but as I was endeavoring to photograph a wily female Shining Flycatcher was amazed when she told me to look over to the other bank…..there it was, a big red chook wandering along the mud for a few seconds before re-entering the dark-jungle from whence it came! I managed to get some shots but they were distant and quite heavily ‘cropped’.

Buffalo Creek

Northern Fantail (Rhipidura rufiventris)

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Chestnut Rail (Eulabeornis castaneoventris)

On Wednesday I had the good-fortune to meet Darryel “Biggles” Binns, a local Darwin birdo and well-known guide. He drove up from his home at  McMinn’s Lagoon and attempted to find ‘Rufie’ for me at the Botanic Gardens, failing again we headed out to Howard Springs Nature Reserve where we saw Rainbow Pitta and Large-tailed Nightjar with ease.

Large-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus)

From Howard Springs we headed for Fogg Dam, a nature-reserve I had visited twenty-one years ago in a vain search for White-browed Crake, which Biggles found within ten minutes of our arrival! I re-acquainted myself with Pied Heron and near the hide my guide had a conversation with a Barking Owl, which remained invisible…..most entertaining, especially as it was lunch-time.

Fogg Dam Scene 1

Forest Kingfisher (Todiramphus macleayii)

Fogg Dam Scene 2

Pied Heron (Egretta picata)

From Fogg Dam we proceeded on to the Adelaide River, where the crocodile-cruises run from. Here we hunted for Mangrove Golden Whistler eventually finding a male in a large tree behind the restaurant, much to the delight of the patrons. A Paperbark Flycatcher was nest-making near the bridge.

Male Mangrove Golden Whistler (Pachycephala melanura)

Paperbark Flycatcher (Myiagra nana)

Early start on Thursday, Biggles had agreed to drive down to Mataranka to help find the nesting-pair of Red Goshawk on the condition that we had a look for the northern race of Crested Shrike-tit. The journey is approximately 4 hours straight driving from Darwin so it was some relief when we arrived at Pine Creek and I managed to photograph one of my target species the Hooded Parrot, we also had great views of Northern Rosella, a species that I had only seen once before, twenty-one years ago at Howard Springs.

Hooded Parrot (Psephotus dissimilis)

Northern Rosella (Platycercus venustus)

After a coffee-stop at Katherine, we headed towards Mataranka turning east along the Central Arnhem Highway to look for the Shrike-tit, some of the areas had been extensively burnt and bird activity was very low (probably due to the time of day) but we did manage to see Yellow-tinted,  Golden-backed Honeyeaters, Black-tailed Treecreepers and a small group of Varied Sittellas. At the point of giving up, we reached the distance-marker sign 10 km to Stuart Highway and I thought I heard the birds plaintive-calling, similar to the eastern race. Suddenly Biggles announced that he was on one and we had a total of three birds, I managed to get a couple of reasonable shots.

Kilometre Sign

Northern Shrike-tit (Falcunculus frontatus)

From this good-fortune we continued on to Mataranka, in search of the Red Goshawks. Apparently the birds have moved their previous nest-site across the road and it didn’t take long to find the new one with a bird sitting, though we thought we would hang around and wait until it’s partner turned up. After 15-20 minutes Biggles heard a call which sounded similar to a Brown Falcon and looking on the outside of the tree we realized that the other bird had been perched there all along (…and it was practically asleep!) I’m fascinated how a bird that has taken me 23 years to find can be so obvious and easy to see here.

Mataranka Scene

Red Goshawk nest

Red Goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiatus)

Red Goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiatus)

Elated by the latest ‘lifer’ we headed back towards Katherine and resumed our search for Chestnut-backed Buttonquail (we had stopped at several likely-spots with no success)  At Chinaman and Chainman Creeks on the Victoria Highway west of Katherine we drew ‘blanks’ but I was quite worried at one point when Biggles disappeared into the scrub and then I saw a large ‘willy-willy’ in the same area. Fortunately he returned several minutes later, safe but quail-less!

Big Willy-willy
Big Willy-willy

Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnsoni)

At Katherine Sewage-works I was rewarded with a new reptile, a Freshwater Crocodile (or ‘Freshie’) was photographed basking on the bank. We continued on to Copperfield Dam,  just outside Pine Creek and had a look around for the buttonquail but the highlight here was another surprise, I had heard a slight noise which I attributed to a small reptile, and so scanning the rocky-ridge, I got a great fright when about ten Partridge Pigeons erupted at my feet! As they flew off like rockets in totally random directions views were poor but I did manage to see the red eye-colour on one bird. Despite the sun having set Biggles decided to try for the buttonquail at Pine Creek Sewage-works (…where we had searched in the morning) and this time we had more luck and flushed a group of about ten birds. We then returned to Darwin after an incredible day’s birding!

The last two days were taken up trying to find a few odds’n’sods and we visited Palmerston Sewage-works, Lee Point, the Hospital and other spots, though the Leanyer Sewage Works were still out-of-bounds to birders (supposedly from fear of a croc attack!)

Australian Pratincole (Stiltia isabella)

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

Azure Kingfisher (Alcedo azurea)

Crimson Finch (Neochmia phaeton)

So ended a great week’s birding, ten ‘lifers’, 179 species and some reasonable images, many thanks to Arthur & Sheryl, Pete & Micha and Biggles for their hospitality and great company. If anyone requires further information on this trip please let me drop me a line.

Fiji Revisited – 2008

Please click on thumbnails for larger versions

Fijimap

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.

Vanua Levu and Taveuni Map

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!

marie973

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)

Marie at Nadi Airport

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.

Savusavu Airport

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.

Daku Resort

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.

Polynesian Dancers

One evening he organised some polynesian-dancing by his children and this was very entertaining, some definite ‘Stars-in-the-making’!

Fiji Parrotfinch

Fiji Goshawk

Collared Kingfisher

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.

MV_Suilven

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.

Black-winged Petrel

Black-winged Petrel

Red-footed Booby

Unidentified Tern

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 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.)

Bibi’s Sign

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!

Marie’s Hammock

Our bure at Bibis

Alfresco shower

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.

Male Many-coloured Fruit-Dove

Polynesian Starling

Collared Lories

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!

Male Orange Dove

Many-coloured Fruit-Dove

Strange fruit

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.

Paolo and the kids

Ben and Tom

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.

Silktail

Golden Whistler

Blue-crested Flycatcher

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.

Sea Snake

Pair of Collared Kingfisher (ssp vitiensis)

Vutu Flower

Sunset Palms

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.

Giant Forest Honeyeater

Fiji White-eye

Fiji Swiftlet

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!

Matei to Nadi Flight

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

Sunset over the Somosomo Straits

List of Species Seen

PROCELLARIIFORMES: Procellariidae
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.

PELECANIFORMES: Sulidae
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.

PELECANIFORMES: Fregatidae
Lesser Frigatebird Fregata ariel Common daily at Matei.

CICONIIFORMES: Ardeidae
White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae Nesting at Nadi
Pacific Reef-Heron Egretta sacra Seen at Savusavu and Matei

ANSERIFORMES: Anatidae
Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa Seen at Savusavu and near Qeleni, Taveuni.

FALCONIFORMES: Accipitridae
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.

GRUIFORMES: Rallidae
Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis Seen once near Qeleni, Taveuni.

CHARADRIIFORMES: Charadriidae
Pacific Golden-Plover Pluvialis fulva Heard at Matei Airport.

CHARADRIIFORMES: Sternidae
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.

COLUMBIFORMES: Columbidae
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.

PSITTACIFORMES: Psittacidae
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.

STRIGIFORMES: Tytonidae
Barn Owl Tyto alba Heard at Matei, seen near Qeleni.

APODIFORMES: Apodidae
White-rumped Swiftlet Aerodramus spodiopygius Seen at Nadi, Savusavu and Taveuni.

CORACIIFORMES: Alcedinidae
Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris Seen at Savusavu, Matei, Vidawa.

PASSERIFORMES: Hirundinidae
Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica Seen at Nadi Airport, Waiyevo, Naqara and Matei, Taveuni.

PASSERIFORMES: Campephagidae
Polynesian Triller Lalage maculosa Seen at Nadi, Savusavu and throughout Taveuni.

PASSERIFORMES: Pycnonotidae
Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer Introduced species Seen at Nadi and Savusavu but not on Taveuni.

PASSERIFORMES: Turdidae
Island Thrush Turdus poliocephalus Seen by Marie on De Voeux Peak track.

PASSERIFORMES: Rhipiduridae
Streaked Fantail Rhipidura spilodera Seen at Waisali, Savusavu, Vidawa and on De Voeux Peak track.

PASSERIFORMES: Monarchidae
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.

PASSERIFORMES: Petroicidae
Scarlet Robin Petroica multicolor Seen at Waisali and heard at Savusavu, not encountered on Taveuni.

PASSERIFORMES: Pachycephalidae
Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis Seen at Savusavu, Vidawa and on De Voeux Peak track.

PASSERIFORMES: Zosteropidae
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.

PASSERIFORMES: Meliphagidae
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.

PASSERIFORMES: Artamidae
Fiji Woodswallow Artamus mentalis Endemic Seen at Nadi, Savusavu, and Matei.

PASSERIFORMES: Cracticidae
Australasian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen Introduced species Seen at Matei and near Qeleni.

PASSERIFORMES: Sturnidae
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.

PASSERIFORMES: Estrildidae
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.