Trip Report: Taveuni (Fiji), November 28 - December 8, 1998

Sarah Vetault, Tucson, Arizona, USA;

I stayed at the Garden Island Resort for what was primarily a scuba trip, but got a couple of days of birding in. From the balcony of the resort we had Vanikoro Flycatchers and Silvereyes feeding fledglings at eye level, clearly visible without binoculars. As far as I was concerned, that paid for the trip. Even the non-birders were taking photos.

My list (nomenclature per Pratt et. al., reference below) from the resort grounds included:

Also several probable Pacific Swallows (Hirundo tahitica) I never got a good enough look at to call, and a lot of frustratingly elusive birds glimpsed when I was between the hotel and the dive shop, with my binoculars locked in their drybox. So it goes.

A tour of Taveuni Estates added the following birds to the list:

and a lot of noisy, invisible birds.

A walk down the street from the Garden Island turned up a Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incanus) standing on a rock off a sandy beach about 1/2 mile west of the resort.

I dearly wanted to go to the top of Des Veaux Peak for the dawn chorus. Several sources had led me to believe that the resort management could arrange to have me driven up there, and dropped off to walk down. The resort is under new management, which is geared primarily for scuba divers. The new managers are very friendly and accommodating, but they didn't quite get the concept of being at the TOP of the mountain at first light, and the earliest I got there was about an hour later. Since I don't know any of the calls anyway, this was ok because there were a lot of loud, invisible birds up there and I still have no idea what most of them were.

The top of the mountain was shrouded in mist (ok, rain), and I was extremely glad I brought my umbrella, which let me keep birding. There was no view from the top, but the Tagamoucia flowers were in bloom, as were a number of orchids.

Des Veaux Peak is the highest spot on the island. It rises to approximately 4,000 feet, and it has a road to the top because that's where the island's communications tower is located. The road was relatively well maintained when I was there, but it is very steep and required 4WD. Apparently the top part of the peak (beyond the gate, which is about 2/3 of the way up) is some kind of protected area, and we were scowled at by a truckload of phone company workers as we passed them on our way back down. There has been a lot of recent tree-cutting for agricultural fields on the lower half of the mountain. As long as they don't cut above the gate, this makes for decent birding because of the variety of habitats available along the road.

The trip up Des Veaux Peak netted the following addition to the list:

This was my ID triumph. It flew quickly from one side of the road to the other, and that was all I saw of the thing. It was clearly a uniformly olive drab bird with a long, decurved yellow beak, and I have virtually no doubt about its identity. Shortly after it disappeared into the forest, an extremely loud noise erupted from that general area which sounded somewhat like the description of its vocalizations in Pratt, et. al..

In addition to the honeyeater, I am 90% sure I saw the following:

On the way back down the mountain, around 10 a.m., we saw a fruit bat flying around (!). It looked like a large hawk in the distance, except it was flapping strangely. When it banked it showed a perfect Batman silhouette. It was flying over the open agricultural area on the lower slopes of the mountain, and we watched it for several minutes until it flew out of sight. Since I'd never seen a free-flying fruit bat (although I'd heard a few in the trees outside the resort at night), I was as excited about the bat as I was about the birds and the diving.

From the dive boat, which took us to the reefs off Vanua Levu to the north, I could see several feeding flocks of birds. The dive boats are fast and I was usually dripping wet, so I left my binoculars in the drybox and never got a good look at most of the birds. One bird I did get a fairly good look at was a black, tern shaped bird with a considerable amount of white on the forehead, extending to the crown. Due to its location in the relatively narrow strait between Taveuni and Vanua Levu and the fact that there were several of these birds in the flock, I am assuming this was a Black Noddy (Anous minutus).

Coming back from dinner at Matei one night there was a Common Barn Owl (Tyto alba) in the road.

A trip to Lavena on the southeast side of the island added:

At the time I saw it, I didn't even know there was such a thing as a Jungle Myna. The checklist for Taveuni in Pratt, et. al. doesn't show it present on the island, and that was the list I had used for studying. I was sitting in Lavena waiting for a boat to be repaired, idly watching the Common Mynas perform, when I noticed an aberrant myna. It seemed to be dark grey, with no large yellow skin patch. It did have a round yellow spot near its eye which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be the eye itself. I didn't think much about it until later, when I ran across a reference to Jungle Mynas elsewhere and looked them up, only to discover a picture of my "aberrant" myna. As it turns out, others have also seen it on Taveuni.

All in all it was a great trip. Other birds seen in Fiji, but not on Taveuni, were Many-colored Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus perousii) on Matangi Island on the grounds of the Matangi Island Resort, and Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) on Viti Levu in Nadi.

The field guide I used the most was The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific by Pratt, Bruner, and Berrett. This is an extremely useful guide which includes several island-specific checklists for each country. It was temporarily out of print, but appears to be available again. I got my copy at the Tucson Audubon Nature Shop.

Birds of the Fiji Bush by Clunie and Morse appears to be out of print. I borrowed a copy for a few days, but could not find one to buy anywhere.

Birds of Fiji in Color, by Belcher with ornithological notes by Sibson, was available in several stores in Nadi.

Thank you to everyone who responded to my RFI a couple of months ago. You were all a great help in planning my trip.

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; December 17, 1998