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GRAND COMORE BIRDING
Peter G. Kaestner
23 February 1999
I recently visited Moroni for three days to pick up the endemics. All went well, and I thought I'd share some 'gen.'
The hardest bird was the Drongo, which is found above Kourani on the far southern part of the island. I got a taxi from the Istandra Sun Hotel (FF300) for the afternoon. Kourani is about 75 minutes from Moroni. At the village, I found a guide named 'Cyclone,' who was knowledgeable and knew the Drongo. Since the village is at 800+ meters elevation, you only have to follow the Mt. Karthala trail an hour or so until you reach the habitat--a mosaic of original moss forest and secondary growth at about 1000m elevation. Cyclone actually spotted the bird first, so he knew what he was doing. I saw a couple well foraging under the canopy.
Other endemics that were easily seen here were Humboldt's Sunbird, Comoro Brush-warbler, Comoro Blue Pigeon, and Comoro Fody in that order of abundance. Near endemics (or splits according to Sinclair and Langrand) were Kirk's White-eye (super abundant here), Comoro Cuckoo Shrike, and Comoro Green Sunbird.
The hike up Mt. Karthala was difficult as I could not find anyone to get me to the town on Boboni. We started at a lower village (350m) and walked through two hours of gardens before we got to the forest. The guide and taxi were arranged through the hotel. I paid FF500 for the guide and a porter (who was the real guide, the guide was more of a translator). It took six really hard hours to reach La Convalescense, a clearing at about 1700m where you can camp. The camp site is beautiful, except that there is no water. (You must carry all your water for the entire trip up the volcano.) It is an old farm, complete with fruit trees and garden flowers gone wild. The view to the west (sunset) is nothing short of spectacular.
On the way up, I saw (with some difficulty) the endemic race of the Cuckoo Roller, all the birds seen at Kourani except the Drongo, and once I had entered the good forest at 1200m, Comoro Pigeon, Flycatcher, Bulbul, and Thrush.
To get the Karthala White Eye (KWE), I walked North towards a ridge above La Convalescense. I soon encountered a mosaic of moss forest and heath. I found a pair of KWE in about the fifth patch of heath that I encountered as I was walking north about 1.5 kms NNE from the camp as the GPS flys. The elevation was about 1900m, or only 200m above the lowest part of La Convalescense, where I had set up my camp. (The lonely Planet Guide trekking map of Mt. Karthala shows a bare area in the direction I was walking.) As it turned out, my 'guide' refreshed himself with red wine at La Convalescense and was plastered when we took off to find the KWE. Fortunately, I had my GPS and we were able to find our way back to the camp.
That evening, I listened for the Scops Owl along the South edge of the clearing. I heard a couple at a distance, but had no luck in taping them closer.
All in all a fabulous trip. A tough, hot walk up the mountain, but then again I'm horribly out of shape. It did not rain a drop, but I think I was lucky in that regard. Seeing almost no sea birds was strange, the only things flying along the coast were huge fruit bats. Only non-flying mammals were a family group of 15 tenrecs near La Convalescense.
One delightful possibility would be to go to the beach resort on the north of the island for a week, and do the volcano trek between your water activities.
Peter G. Kaestner