|Americas | Asia | Australasia & Pacific | Africa & Middle East | Optics | Books||
by Phil Gregory
Sicklebill Safaris Report #2
Composite list 29th December 1996 - 5th January 1997
Phil, Sue, Kaja and Rowan Gregory from PNG and Chris Eastwood from Australia.
We arrived from Honiara at Nadi on 29.12.96 skirting cyclone Fergus en route, and spent the first two days in the Nausori Highlands, having hired a small Suzuki at the airport. We did well and saw all that we could expect, including good views of male Golden Dove and Black-faced Shrikebill, so headed over to Taveuni on 31.12 for a 3-night stay. Prior to going to Taveuni we checked up on flights to Kadavu, which used to have just a couple a week, and were delighted to find that we could fit it into our schedule as flights are now daily.
Taveuni had the Silktail as the priority, with some anxiety as a recent Aussie trip had failed to find it. Fortunately we had no such problems and saw it easily on both of our visits to Des Voeux Peak, along with male Orange Dove and the Giant Forest Honeyeater that we had heard but not seen at Nausori. The weather was problematic on New Year's Day, and poor on January 2nd, but we did very well and failed to find only the Red-throated Lorikeet, Charmosyna amabilis.
We flew back to Suva on 3.1.97. and then over to Kadavu that afternoon for two nights at Reece's Place, on an island near the airport. This was brilliant as his lodge is just a 5 minute boat ride from forest that holds all the Kadavu endemics. That afternoon we saw all except the Whistling Dove, even Mayr's Flycatcher that we had dipped thus far. Chris began next morning in spectacular style by scoping the Whistling Dove from Reece's Place on the mainland opposite! I missed it so was a little apprehensive, but we had no problem locating it in the tall trees along the creek opposite Reece's Island.
* and bold italic Latin name denotes a Fiji endemic.
Species Latin Name (if lifer) Number Date Locality
White-tailed Tropicbird 1 31.12 Off Taveuni
Pterodroma sp . 2+ 2.1
Brown Booby 2 & 2 2 & 3.1.
Masked/ Red-footed Booby 3 5.1.
Lesser Frigatebird 2 4.1.
Frigatebird sp. 1 1.1 Taveuni
Reef Egret 1 and 3 on Taveuni, 2 on Kadavu 3.1.
Black Duck 3 29.12
Fiji Goshawk * Accipiter nuditorques 1 imm. on 31.12. and 1 pr, 1 ad 1 imm 1.1. Des Voeux Peak road, Taveuni.
Swamp Harrier 1 or 2 daily Nausori Highlands road 29 & 30.12.
Banded Land Rail 1 1.1. Taveuni
Pacific Golden Plover 6 31.12. Vanua Levu 6 & 4 2.1/4.1 Taveuni Kadavu
Wandering Tattler Tringa incanus 2 on 4.1. on rocks by beach restaurant en route to Nadi. Lovely wispy trilled call.
Tattler sp . 5 4.1. as above
Black-naped Tern 2 4.1. Kadavu
Crested Tern 2 & 4 4& 5.1
Common Tern 1 4.1. Kadavu
Noddy sp. 120 3. 1. Off Taveuni
Feral Pigeon 60 4.1. Suva
White-throated Pigeon 2 30.12 Nausori 1 4.1 Kadavu
Spotted Dove Common 29 & 30.12 Nausori 4 & 4 31/12 & 1.1 Taveuni
Friendly Ground Dove Gallicolumba stairii: 1 on 4.1. on Kadavu
Many-coloured Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus perousiii 30 on 29.12 and 15 on 30.12 Nausori Highlands
Golden Dove * Ptilinopus luteovirens 1m 2 f on 29.12 and 3m and 2 f 30.12 Nausori Highlands
Orange Dove * Ptilinopus victor: 1 male and 2 f on 31.12. and 3 females on 1.1. Des Voeux Peak road
Whistling Dove * Ptilinopus layardi 2 males on 4.1. Kadavu
Peale's Pigeon * Ducula latrans: 10 on 29.12 and 10 on 30.12 Nausori Highlands; 8 on 31.12 and 10 on 1.1. Taveuni
Collared Lory * Phigys solitarius 7 on 29.12, 5 on 30.12 Nausori Highlands; 6 on 31.12, 6 on 1.1. 4 on 2.1; Kadavu 6 on 3.1 and 8 on 4.1.
Red Shining Parrot * Prosopeia tabuensis 8 on 31.12 Taveuni, 20 + on 1.1. Taveuni Des Vouex Peak road base; 1 and 2 hrd on 3.1 and 1 on 4.1. of the Kadavu form P. (t.) splendens
Masked Shining Parrot * Prosopeia personata 1 on 29.12 and 2 on 30. 12 Nausori Highlands, unexpectedly sparse.
Barn Owl 1 at dusk on 4.1. near Nadi, a bird with very grey upperparts.
White-rumped Swiftlet common Nausori; 10, 20, 20 Taveuni, 5 and 10 Kadavu.
( Pacific Swift ) 1 probable seen briefly Taveuni 3.1.97.
Collared / Sacred Kingfisher 6, 4, Nausori; 4, 6, 6, Taveuni ; 6, 4 Kadavu.
Pacific Swallow 4 on 30.12, then 2, 10, 6 to 2.1. on Taveuni
Polynesian Triller Lalage maculosa Common, Nausori area, 10, 6, 1, 1, nil
Australian Magpie (introduced) 2 near Des Voeux Peak track 31.12 and 1 at the Maravu Plantation resort 1.1.97.
Red vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer ( Introduced) Common in Nadi and Nausori Highlands on 29 and 30.12. 2 were on Taveuni 2.1. which may be a new (and regrettable) species for the island
Scarlet Robin 3 on 29 12 and 1 on 30. 12. Nausori, in pine plantation. Amazing to see this Australian derived species here in mid-Pacific.
Golden Whistler 1 on 30.12 Nausori Highlands, I on Taveuni 1.1. 2 on Kadavu on 3.1 and 1 m and a juv on Kadavu 4.1.
Fiji Shrikebill Clytorhynchus vitiensis 2 on 1.1. Taveuni Des Voeux Peak road, 3 on 3. 1 and 2 on 4.1. on Kadavu
Black-faced Shrikebill Clytorhynchus nigrogularis 1 m and 1 f /imm 29. 12 and 2 m and 1 f / imm 30.12 Nausori Highlands
Shrikebill sp. 1 on 29. 12 Nausori
Slaty Flycatcher * Mayrornis lessoni 4 on 3.1. Kadavu
Vanikoro Flycatcher Myiagra vanikorensis 1m and 2 f 29.12 and 2 on 30. 12 Nausori, 2 on 31.12 and 2 on 1 and 2 .1. Taveuni
Blue-crested Flycatcher * Myiagra azureocapilla 1 on 31.12. and 1 and a juv. on 1.1. on Des Voeux Peak Road, Taveuni.
Silktail * Lamprocolia victoriae 2 on 31.12 and 2 on 1.1. Des Voeux Peak, Taveuni
Streaked Fantail Rhipidura spilodera 6 on 31.12 and 8 on 1.1. on Des Voeux Peak, Taveuni
Kadavu Fantail * Rhipidura personata 2 on 3.1 and 2 on 4.1. Kadavu
Fiji Bush Warbler * Cettia ruficapilla 4 on 30.12 Nausori, 3 on 31.12 4 on 1.1. on Taveuni, 3 on 3.1 and 6 on 4.1. Kadavu
Island Thrush 10 on 31.12 and 6 on 1.1. on Taveuni
White-breasted Wood-Swallow 15 and 10 Nausori, 4,2, 4 on Taveuni, 4 on Kadavu. Split by some as Fiji Wood-swallow A. mentalis
Polynesian Starling Aplonis tabuensis 10 on 29.12 1 on 30. 12 Nausori ; 2 on 1.1. Taveuni; 1 on 3.1 and 4 on 4. 1. Kadavu. Quite uncommon, usually perched high in trees on forest edge.
Indian Myna Common on Viti Levu and Taveuni
Jungle Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) Common in the lowlands of Viti Levu
Orange-breasted Myzomela * Myzomela jugularis 1 30.12 Nausori Highlands, 5 on 31. 12 and 6 on 1.1. on Taveuni, then 1 on Kadavu 3.1.
Wattled Honeyeater Foulehaio carunculata 15 29. 12 and 15 30. 12 Nausori; 10 on 31. 12 and 2 on 1.2.1. Taveuni, 3 on 4. 1. Viti Levu
Kadavu Honeyeater * Xanthotis provocator 4 on 3. 1 and 4 on 4. 1 Kadavu
Giant Forest Honeyeater * Gymnomyza viridis Heard on 30.12 Nausori; 4 on 31. 12 Taveuni Des Voeux peak, heard on 1.1. An amazing large greeny honeyeater with on Taveuni an orange bill. Usually low down on forest edge.
Layard's White-eye * Zosterops explorator 20 on 29. 12 and 10 on 30. 12 Nausori; 10 on 31.12 and 15 on 1.1. Taveuni, 6 on 3.1 Kadavu
Silvereye 10 on 29. 12, 5 on 30. 12 Nausori ;6 on 3.1 Kadavu
Red Avadavat Amandava amandava (Introduced) 50 on 29. 12 near Nadi 3 on 2.1 on Taveuni which may be a new species for the island. Same day and same place as the Red-vented Bulbul.
Red-headed Parrot-Finch * Erythrura (cyaneovirens) pealii 6 on 29.12 and 12 on 30. 12 Nadi/Nausori; 6 on 31. 12 and 6 on 1.1. Taveuni
I recommend you use Dave Sargeant's report as the basis for sites, I have avoided duplicating that information.
A whitish-bellied Pterodroma was flying out in the channel between Taveuni and Vanua Levu on the evening of 3.1. Too distant to identify, but typical wheeling flight, up and down in shallow arcs. Collared Petrel seems the likeliest.
Red Shining Parrot Prosopeia tabuensis Taveuni form
Maroon coloured underneath, blackish facial feathering, orange eye, blue primaries and blue in tail, a spectacular bird and reminding me of a massive chunky King Parrot type. Tail broad and rounded at the tip. Liked the taller trees lower down the mountain, flight slow and with deep flaps.
Kadavu Form P. (t.) splendens
Really distinct, a bright shining red bird, not maroon like the Taveuni form. Calls sound the same, a harsh squawk. Like a pumped up shiny version of a King Parrot. Blue primaries and some blackish feathering on face, not as marked as on the Taveuni form.
Many-coloured Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus perousii
Excellent views of this near-endemic in fruiting trees beyond Nausori, a strange parti-coloured looking bird, males not as yellow as the plate in Pratt.
Golden Dove Ptilinopus luteovirens
Good views of several males beyond Nausori, though my first was in flight only. The plumage has a strange glistening quality and the call really is very like a small dog yapping.
Orange Dove Ptilinopus victor
The first was a male that I picked up sat on a branch by the road, an unbelievable bright flame orange dove with a greeny head and yellow wing edgings, truly spectacular. Scope views, but flew just as Sue was going to look at it !
Females very similar to female Golden Dove, with yellowish specklings on belly, yellow under tail coverts and tail with some yellow mottlings on the under surface. Bright green above with a paler green head, greenish eye ring and cere, bill tip seems to be dark.
Silktail Lamprocolia victoriae Taveuni December 31st 1996 and January 1st 1997
We drove up to the top of the road to the radio station, and then began to walk back down. I said to Chris “This bird is going to be a matter of luck and instinct”, and promptly went into a small opening by the roadside where the first bird I saw was a Silktail! Two of them were foraging up and down along mossy trunks and branches in the manner of an Ifrit, in smallish stunted native trees. They seemed unconcerned by our presence, and stayed in the vicinity for about ten minutes before moving off into the forest. The birds were hardly on the ground at all, foraging in the middle stratum.
A smallish dumpy generally black bird, with metallic blue spangles on head and coming down onto throat, also centre feathers of tip of tail had metallic blue iridescence. Tail black and quite short with a buffish white area on central tail extending about 1/3 of way down and rounded at the outer end, a quite unique tail pattern. Lower back and rump silky white but tinged with buff on both birds we saw when seen really close.
Bill, legs and eye dark, chest also blue spangled like a breast band across. Rest of underparts smoky greyish-black. Bird not really like anything I've seen before. Bird reminded me of a fat, short tailed robin, but also like an Ifrit or even a miniature bird of paradise with fat stocky body shape and rounded wings.
Call a high pitched whistle, quite noisy, the two birds on January 1 were towards top of a smallish bush on the steep bend below the final turn to the radio station, just where we happened to stop the car. We had quite good views in misty conditions before they flew across the road into more shrubby undergrowth up-slope.
A very pleasing find on both days, as a trip here not long before had failed to find them, always a bit unnerving to be aware of information like that. Poor weather on January 1 meant we basically got rained off, a pity as I was going to wait by the flowering tree with the spectacular red and white flowered endemic Tagemoucia creeper growing on it, in the hope of Red-throated Lorikeet Charmosyna amabilis.
Streaked Fantail Rhipidura spilodera
Brownish above, pale tips to tail, white eyebrow, rufous wash on flanks dark streaks on underparts and whitish centre of belly. A distinctive small fantail, an unexpectedly good species.
Black-faced Shrikebill Clytorhynchus nigrogularis
Excellent views in a forest patch beyond Nausori village, the male a very striking creature indeed with a strange mournful whistled song.
Fiji Shrikebill Clytorhynchus vitiensis
Good views on both Taveuni and Kadavu, latter again with pale tips to tail feathers . Rather Phyllastrephus Brownbul-like, foraging among hanging bunches of dried leaves and keeping to mid-stratum. Rufous brown above, underneath paler but still very brownish but paler grey on throat with under tail coverts fawn, and contrasting with belly and flanks as per Pratt. Long dark rather warbler-like bill.
The first Shrikebill we saw was in the Nausori Highlands by a small roadside stream: Greyish throat, brownish grey upperparts, buffish white beneath; whitish tips to outer tail feathers, extending some way down the sides of the tail. Call a 4 note mournful whistle, bright blue-grey legs, a whitish gape, bill with a dark upper mandible and bluish below. Rather heavy billed, slightly upturned looking. Later I saw a bird looking a bit greyer but otherwise very like this one, with a male Black-faced Shrikebill, so I suspect this was actually what we saw here too
Blue headed Flycatcher Myiagra azureocapilla
Orange bill, and head pattern rather like that of a Blue Magpie! Juvenile was brownish above with pale tips to tail, and white crescents above and below the eye, with an orangey bill.
Fiji Bush Warbler Cettia ruficapilla
Contrary to the comment in Pratt's book, the Taveuni form of this species does have a faint pale supercilium, a dark eyestripe and a bright gingery-rufous crown and wash across cheeks. Shy, but we saw it at Nausori as well as Taveuni and Kadavu.
Kadavu 3rd and 4th January 97 We unexpectedly obtained a flight, having thought they did not come daily.
Reece's Place. Then 5 min boat trip to adjacent forest for the endemics:
Whistling Dove Ptilinopus layardi
Chris scoped one from Reece's Place, but we found one in a tall tree as we took the boat up the small creek opposite the island. Excellent views, and another later in forest near where I saw the Friendly Ground-Dove. Greeny-yellow head, green plumage and yellow under tail coverts, loud whistled call rather like some of the calls of the Kadavu Honeyeater, and quite unlike any Fruit-Dove I've ever heard, so much so that I didn't initially realize that this was the dove.
Kadavu Honeyeater Xanthotis provocator :
Fairly large, a bit like Spotted Honeyeater from PNG, but with a yellowish green bare skin eye-patch, bordered by light green feathering around the back end of it on the ear coverts. Dark streaked beneath with a whitish unstreaked central strip, upperparts greenish grey with pale fringes to wing feathers. Loud ringing Friarbird-type calls, the birds liked the tall mangroves along the creek. The only place we saw them (at least 4 seen, others heard), none in the drier forest nearby.
Kadavu Fantail Rhipidura personata
Distinctive, 2 birds in the same general area as the Bush Warbler, in thicket on the edge of a garden as you begin to enter the forested slope. Browny above, long dark tail with white outer feathers, unstreaked whitish buff beneath, with a black fairly thin but quite well defined breast band and a black throat mark on some birds. White loral stripe, and a white semi-circle one over and behind and one underneath the eye. Reminiscent of Grey Fantail head pattern, no calls heard on this day.
Slaty Flycatcher Mayrornis lessoni
An unexpectedly and amazingly distinct species. Also horribly boringly named for such a strange taxon, an ashy grey bird reminiscent of Blue-grey Flycatcher in Zambia. Cocks its tail and drops wings, with harsh chattering calls. 2/3 adults and a presumed juvenile shivering wings and assuming a begging posture. Bright white eye ring, white lores, clean grey above, underparts greyish white, sides of tail white with broad white tips to tail in fantail- like pattern. Underside of tail appears white with a black central stripe. Soft parts all dark. We had missed this bird on both Taveuni and Viti Levu, so a great relief to find it here.
The flycatchers were with Golden Whistler, Layard's White-eyes and the Bush Warbler in a feeding flock in the undergrowth.
The Golden Whistler form on Kadavu has a white throat, and a narrow but complete black chest band, not well defined, broken up a bit but still complete. Yellow beneath with a greeny-grey back. The juvenile was entirely orangey, rufous orange above and orangey beneath. The Nausori male had no breast band, all yellow beneath and with yellow at base of bill. Birds on Taveuni had broken black breast bands and a yellow throat.
Orange-breasted Myzomela Myzomela jugularis
This small myzomela was quite common among coconut palms and hibiscus on Taveuni, but full plumaged birds seemed sparse and the best example I saw was on Kadavu :
Scarlet rump, scarlet nape patch, scarlet throat patch bordered by black, clean broken white wing bars and black upperparts, a very smart species. We saw just one on Viti Levu, in the valley with the flowering trees below the peak in the Nausori Highlands.
Friendly (Shy) Ground-Dove Gallicolumba stairii
A great stroke of luck was the finding of this, the Friendly Ground-Dove of most previous authors except Pratt. He launches into a homily about how the name is totally ridiculous and inappropriate and Shy Ground-Dove is much better etc. He seems unaware that the bird was probably named from a Tongan specimen, in the days when they were the Friendly Isles, and the name Friendly is thus actually a noun not an adjective!
Anyway, walking quietly up into the hill thicket forest on Kadavu I had a hunch it would be right for the dove. I had not gone far when a medium size bird rocketed off at low level from the path, and I decided to sit and wait.
I waited about 15 minutes, getting great views of Fiji Bush Warbler, Kadavu Fantail and Fiji Shrikebill meantime, then I caught a movement on the forest floor up-slope. I had a glimpse of a small-billed chicken type head and a cocked bantam-like tail, and knew it was the dove. It moved out of view and I had a worrying few minutes before it reappeared and came out onto the track, giving splendid views at about 8m range.
Curious chicken-like shape with fanned or cocked tail. Pinkish legs. Breast dusky-brownish with white at edge on lower breast.
The total trip list was 56 species specifically identified, plus a Pterodroma, a Noddy, and a Booby sp. 28 of these were lifers, plus 2 introduced lifers.
18 of these lifers were Fiji endemics, plus Wattled Honeyeater, the Black-faced and Fiji Shrikebills, Vanikoro Flycatcher, Friendly Ground-Dove and Many-coloured Fruit-Dove being near endemics.
I have split the Red-headed Parrot-Finch as E. pealii, and the Kadavu form of the Red Shining Parrot is a good bet to split too, as is the Fiji Wood-swallow. The Fiji Halcyon Kingfishers are the source of much controversy over whether they are Collared (Fry) or Sacred (Pratt). I suspect Collared is the more likely but have not separated them.
We missed, from the main islands, only the Red-throated Lorikeet, which seems rare and nomadic, and the Pink-billed Parrot-Finch Erythrura kleinschmidti for which we had no clear site and no current information on status. Ditto for the mega-rarities Fiji (Macgillivray's) Petrel Pseuodbulweria macgillivrayi. Bar-winged Rail Rallus poecilopterus and the Long-legged Warbler Trichocichla rufa.
Two species are endemic to out-lying islands, which we did not visit: Rotuma Honeyeater Myzomela chermesina on Rotuma and Versicolour Flycatcher Mayrornis versicolor on Ogea Levu only.
Clunie F. 1984 Birds of the Fiji Bush. Fiji Museum, Suva
Kay B. 1986 Fiji : A Travel Survival Kit. Lonely Planet Publications
Mayr E. 1945 Birds of the South-west Pacific.The Macmillan Company, New YorkEssential !
Pratt H. D. Bruner P. L. and Berrett D. G. 1987 The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princetown. Essential.
* Sargeant D. 1992. FIJI : A Birder's Guide. Privately Published. Excellent and recommended.
Sibley C. G. and Monroe B. L. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press.
Thanks to Dr Ian Burrows for previous trip notes, and to Chris Eastwood for good company. Also to my family for their forbearance.
Phone (61) 740 937318