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New Caledonia Birding
December 9-17 2000
by Phil Gregory
A brief break gave us a chance to take a look at New Caledonia, where I was very surprised at the chronic deforestation in evidence, seemingly a legacy of years of nickel mining that has left most hills and mountains in the south denuded. Nouméa was a large French provincial town, where all major necessities were readily available at a price. We concentrated on the protected forest patches at Rivière Bleue and Mount Koghi, where all the mainland endemics may with luck be encountered. The vegetation on Lifou and the Isle of Pines was happily in much better shape, with dense forest areas fairly extensive on both, and well worth a look for the lovely scenery and superb beaches.
Saturday Dec 9 Cairns/Brisbane/ Air Calin to Nouméa arriving at 1730
Sunday Dec 10 Rivière Bleue National Park (RB) 0700-1600 Heavy and frequent showers;
Mt. Koghi 1700-1830 Fine.
Monday Dec 11 Mount Koghi 0730-1530 Clear morning, some showers pm
Tuesday Dec 12 Nouméa 1200 flight to Lifou arriving 1230, staying at Drehu Village some 19km from the airport. Fine weather.
Wednesday Dec 13 Lifou / Nouméa / Isle of Pines arriving 1600 at Kotu Bay. Fine weather.
Thursday Dec 14 Isles of Pines Kotu Bay area and Pic Nga
Friday Dec 15 Isle of Pines/Nouméa. Fine weather.
Saturday Dec 16 Rivière Bleue NP 0700-1700 Fine weather, a bit hot.
Sunday Dec 17 Mt. Koghi 0530-1030. Fine weather. Nouméa/airport/BNE/CNS.
Endemics are given in bold type, near endemics have an NE after the Latin name. Introduced species have an I after the specific name. Life birds are underlined.
Little Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos): A single over the lake at Rivière Bleue (RB).
Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus pacificus): Common in the late pm offshore from Kotu Bay the Isle of Pines.
Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor): A male over We, Drehu village, Lifou.
Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa): 2 near Noumea
Rufous Night Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus): A total of 3 birds seen late pm overflying the road near Nouméa, appearing like the caledonicus race rather than the mandibularis form resident here.
White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae): A dead bird on the headland at Kotu Bay, Isle of Pines.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus): Two on the Isle of Pines.
Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus): A single over the lake at RB.
Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans): Two at Mt. Koghi, and a single on the Isle of Pines.
Accipiter sp. One from the car en route to Noumea on Dec 9.
White-bellied Goshawk(Accipiter haplochrous): An adult perched atop the radio tower at Mt. Koghi and being mobbed by wood-swallows on Dec 11. A scarce and difficult endemic.
Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus): 5 birds at Rivière-Bleue on Dec 10, and at least 8 on Dec 16, readily seen in the forest by the Grand Kaori and at the picnic site by the start of the Piste Pourina. On wet days we saw them from the road several times. A world-class bird, long one of my most wanteds. Brings my flightless bird list up to 18, plus 3 heard only.
Purple Swamphen (Porphryrio porphyrio): 3 near Tontouta airport.
Buff-banded Rail (Rallus philippensis): Singles glimpsed on Lifou and the Isle of Pines.
Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva): Four on Lifou on Dec 12.
Silver Gull (Larus novaehollandiae): Quite common on the coast at Nouméa and Isle of Pines.
Crested Tern (Sterna bergii): A few at Kotu Bay, Isle of Pines.
Black-naped Tern (Sterna sumatrana): One distant at Kotu Bay.
Sooty Tern (Sterna anaethetus): A few off Kotu Bay, Isle of Pines.
(Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus): One probable very far out from Kou-Bougny, Isle of Pines.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantus flabelliformis): Amazingly distinctive calls, quite unlike Australian or PNG birds and a real surprise when I tracked down the singer. The bird is also very chestnut beneath and seems to have a small or non-existent eye-ring. Very vocal at Mt Koghi, and one was being chased by a NC Friarbird at RB. A possible split?
Shining-Bronze Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus): Heard at RB, and seen well on Lifou where I saw a pair mating on Dec 13.
White-throated Pigeon (Columba vitiensis): Great looks at two singles at Mount Koghi on Dec 17. One was perched on a power line with a Spotted Turtle-Dove at the turn off to the Auberge from the main road!
Cloven-feathered Dove (Drepanoptila holosericea): Heard at Rivière-Bleue and Mt. Koghi, but the only one I saw was a superb male in a fruiting fig at the Hotel Kou-Bougny, Isle of Pines.
Spotted Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) I: Common in urban areas.
Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica): Three on Lifou on Dec 12.
Red-bellied Fruit-Dove (Ptilinopus greyii) NE: Common on Lifou and the Isle of Pines, with 10+ near Drehu on Lifou and 20+ at Hotel Kou-Bougny in the fruiting fig there.
Notou (New Caledonian) Imperial-Pigeon (Ducula goliath): Singles at Rivière-Bleue on both visits, giving lovely views.
Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus): A few at RB and Mt. Koghi, also a few on the Isle of Pines.
New Caledonian Parakeet (Cyanorhamphus (novaezelandae) saissetti): A single seen well in the heath above Pont Germain at RB was the only one I found, much yellower beneath than Red-fronted Parakeet.
Horned Parakeet (Eunymphicus cornutus): Two in flight over the heath above Pont Germain at RB on Dec 10, a hard bird to find these days. None at Mt. Koghi. We did not have time to go to Ouvéa for the other form, which would be well worth doing.
White-rumped Swiftlet (Collocalia spodiopygia): Common on Lifou and the Isle of Pines, but only probables at RB on the mainland.
Glossy Swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta):Common on the mainland, less so on the islands.
Sacred Kingfisher (Halcyon sacra): Small numbers on the mainland, fairly common on Lifou and the Isle of Pines and looking very pale beneath.
Dark Brown Honeyeater (Lichmera incana): A common resident, first seen at the airport. Birds on Lifou looked and sounded much more like Brown Honeyeater than the grand terre birds.
Barred Honeyeater (Phylidonyris undulata): Fairly common in the drier heath areas at Rivière Bleu and Mt. Koghi.
New Caledonian Friarbird (Philemon diemenensis): Fairly common in forest patches at Rivière-Bleue, and common on Isle of Pines.
New Caledonian Myzomela (Myzomela caledonica): Sparse in open forest and heath at Riviere Bleue and Mt. Koghi, also seen in the fig at Kou-Bougny, Isle of Pines.
Cardinal Myzomela (Myzomela cardinalis) NE: Quite common around Drehu, with 10 birds on Dec 12. The black belly is quite distinct, and I suspect the song is also different to Makira birds, I taped it and hope to get a comparison. A potential split methinks.
Fan-tailed Gerygone (Gerygone flavolateralis) NE: Fairly common at Rivière Bleue and Mt. Koghi, as well as on the Isle of Pines and Lifou.
Yellow-bellied Robin (Eopsaltria flaviventris): Widespread in forest at Rivière Bleue, also on the Isle of Pines along the track to Pic Nga. Many young in evidence at both sites.
Golden Whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis): Seen well on the Isle of Pines along the Pic Nga track, though males were lacking a yellow collar as shown in Doughty's book. Calls also sounded rather different. A pair had a juvenile along this track. This complex is long due a thorough revision, breaking it up into a series of allospecies based on the distinct calls and plumages of these island forms.
Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris): Seen in heath and scrub at R-B and at Mt Koghi. Sounds and looks much like Australian birds.
New Caledonian Whistler (Pachycephala caledonica): Fairly common in forest at RB, also seen at Mt. Koghi. A distinctive forest species.
Grey Fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa): I only saw this on the Isle of Pines, though it is meant to be on the mainland too.
Streaked Fantail (Rhipidura spilodera) NE: Quite common at RB and on Lifou.
New Caledonian Flycatcher (Myiagra caledonica): Uncommon in forest at RB and Mt. Koghi, it has typical harsh Myiagra scold.
Southern Shrikebill (Clytorhynchus pachycephaloides) NE: Uncommon at RB, the only place I found it. I saw two at the start of the forest patch there, and heard another.
New Caledonian Crow (Corvus moneduloides): I saw this curiously scarce and somewhat short winged Jackdaw-like species twice in forest by the Grand Kaori, each time just 2 or 3 birds. One was carrying a thin twig in the bill but I did not see it using it to extract grubs, which was a pity.
Long-tailed Triller (Lalage leucopyga) NE: Sparse in the more open heath at RB, but common on Lifou and the Isle of Pines. Some of the mainland birds showed a clear white supercilium extending to just behind the eye, as not shown in Doughty.
White-breasted Wood-swallow (Artamus leucorhynchus): Fairly common on the main island and Lifou.
Melanesian Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina caledonica) NE: Uncommon on the main island at Mt. Koghi, but more frequent on the Isle of Pines, with up to 4 birds coming in to the fruiting fig.
New Caledonian Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina analis): I saw up to 4 birds at RB and a pair in a patch of gully forest near the turning to the park from the road to Plum. They seem to like forest edge, and have a very distinct loud shrill call.
Striated Starling (Aplonis striata) Fairly common, but I only saw about 8 daily at RB, Mt Koghi and on the islands. Males and females were very distinct, but why is it called Striated?
Indian Myna (Acridotheres tristis) I: A regrettably common pest.
Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) I: Two in Noumea near Baie des Citrons.
Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis): I did not find this at all common, seeing it only on Lifou.
Green-backed White-eye (Zosterops xanthrochrous): The common woodland white-eye on the main island and the Isle of Pines.
Small Lifou White-eye (Zosterops minutus): Very common on Lifou, bright yellow and quite small.
Large Lifou White-eye (Zosterops inornatus): A bizarre bird, a large white-eye sans eye ring that sings like a Blackbird. Scarce and shy on Lifou, I saw one nicely near Drehu village, and heard about 3 others singing deep in the dense forest. Why is it a Zosterops?
New Caledonian Grassbird (Thicketbird) (Megalurulus mariei) Heard: I found a calling bird concealed in a dense scrubby gully on the col leading to the radio station on my second attempt there, with just 45 minutes time left before we had to leave. This bird answered my tape several times, but regrettably it remained out of view in deep cover as the day got progressively hotter, and I just ran out of time. The single short scolding alarm call is readily overlooked. Probably the hardest of the gettable endemics, awaits a rematch.
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) I: Widespread in urban areas.
Red-throated Parrot-Finch (Erythrura psittacea): Fairly common at RB in the heath, and also along forest edge on Mt. Koghi and along the Pic Nga track on the Isle of Pines.
Blue and black banded 1.2m sea-snake Laticauda laticaudata 1 on coral rocks on the Isle of Pines Dec 15.
The total trip list was 61 species, leaving me with just 3 of the possible endemics to get: Dipping on Crow Honeyeater (Gymnomyza aubryana) was a pain - Yves Letocart was away and we had no tape for it. Having no time to go to Ouvéa was a pity as I'd have liked to see the Ouvéa Parakeet (Eunymphicus (cornutus) uvaeensis). The NC Grassbird was frustrating too, as most birders find, though we did at least hear it.
Impossible endemics: I assume the NC Flightless Rail (Gallirallus lafresnayanus) is extinct, likewise the NC Lorikeet (Charmosyna diadema) - given the deforestation in the south, if the north is anything like this I would think it may well be gone. As for the NC Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles savesi), who knows?
Doughty, C., Day N., and Plant A. 1999. Birds of the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, Christopher Helm.
Dreyer, N. P. 1999. New Caledonia on the Cheap. Australian Birding Vol 5:2 pp 20-21.
Fairbank, R. 1999. New Caledonia. Australian Birding Vol 5:2 p. 21.
Hannecart, F. and Letocart Y. 1980 Oiseaux de Nouvelle Caledonie et des Loyautes Vol. 1. Les Editions Cardinalis, Noumea.
Hannecart, F. and Letocart Y. 1983 Oiseaux de Nouvelle Caledonie et des Loyautes Vol 2. Les Editions Cardinalis, Noumea.
Logan, L. and Cole, G. 1997. New Caledonia. Lonely Planet.
Mayr, E. 1945. Birds of the Southwest Pacific. Macmillan, NY.
Quested, T and A. 1999. Trip Report: New Caledonia. Australian Birding Vol 5:2, pp.17-20.
Wheatley, N. 1998. Where to Watch Birds in Australasia. Helm.
Trip reports from the following: Hugh Buck (1989), Mike Entwhistle (1990), Tony Clarke (1999) and John Hornbuckle (1999).
Thanks also to John Coons for a copy of his Grassbird tape.
I picked up both the Hannecart and Letocart Oiseaux de Nouvelle Caledonie volumes at the Auberge at Mt. Koghi for NCF2 950 per volume. They contain some nice photos. Doughty's field guide is a fearful disappointment, with poor and often inaccurate text, awful maps and no lists of endemics, though the plates are useful and it is a lot better than nothing.
Miscellaneous notes on the more difficult species
Mt. Koghi is a good bet, find a vista across the forest and watch, and don't forget to look up at the radio masts! Vistas at RB should also turn this one up, but good weather helps!
A hard species to see well. Find a fruiting fig is the best bet, though overlooking the forest at either RB or Mt. Koghi might get flight views. The short descending call sounds a bit like a bouncing ball as it tails off, but the birds are hidden in thick forest.
Easy in the forest at RB, there are apparently some 99 birds there now thanks to a program of captive breeding and control of feral dogs, cats and pigs. The Kagu hiss at you, but are relatively unwary, and are amazing when they stick the feathery crest up. Many of the birds are ringed, and they are often in pairs foraging quietly among the leaf litter. One perched on the base of the Grand Kaori was unforgettable, though my first called then walked out across the grass by a picnic site at Piste Pourina before ghosting off in to the forest where I was able to track it easily and see its mate.
Horned and New Caledonian Parakeets:
RB is the best bet, the area around the Pont Germain seems to be good, or if the trees are flowering the Grand Kaori can be a good site. Both are low density species.
RB is your only likely shot, and early morning might be a better bet, preferably with Yves Letocart to assist!
New Caledonian Crow:
We found it readily enough near the Grand Kaori, but it can be hard at times it seems. I did not see it at Mt. Koghi.
New Caledonian Grassbird:
The directions in Wheatley are very misleading, the landslip area is not a few km up the point de Vue trail, it's along the track to the summits and is only about 20 minutes or so from the Auberge. You have to cross a ramshackle rope and wire supported wooden bridge over a gully and it's not far beyond there to come to the grass and ferns of the landslip. The col to the radio mast however is a bit closer, and this is where I heard the species, in a shallow valley in the centre of the open area before you get to the concrete road to the radio masts. There is a seat along a track in the grassy/shrub area here, and the bird was just behind this.
Large Lifou White-eye:
Any forest cover on Lifou should have it, listen for the thrush-like song. It is fairly shy and keeps in cover if our experience is any guide.
The park at Rivière Bleue is open daily from Tuesday-Sunday 0700-1700, but is closed on Monday and shuts the gate for entrance at 1400 on Sunday. The forest is about a 40-minute drive from the entrance on gravel roads, park track maps may be available at the gate. The Grand Kaori area and the Piste Pourina / Pont Germain area are excellent, with camping and picnic sites at both the latter sites. Park entry is NC francs 700, about Au$10.00 or US$6.00 (in Dec 2000 NCF70.00 = Au$1.00, NCF128.00 = US$1.00). Yves Letocart is a park superintendent and would be a useful contact for the harder species. It is no longer necessary to get a park permit in Nouméa, they can be bought at the park gate. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the park entrance which is some 38 km from Nouméa, a good road map is advised but take the Yate road and turn off before Plum.
Mt. Koghi is about a 30-minute drive out of Nouméa, turning off from the Yate road shortly after you come off the route 1. There is a network of trails up through the forest here, but it is also popular with walkers and visitors and can be quite disturbed. Good viewpoints can be had from the Auberge, from the col by the radio masts, or from the viewpoints along the first ridge top. You can stay in chalets here.
© Phil Gregory
E-mail address: sicklebill [at] austarnet.com.au Web site: www.cassowary-house.com.au