Attending a scientific meeting in Suva, Fiji, at the end of September gave me the opportunity for some quick nearby birding trips. A couple of years ago I had birded the Fijian islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni, plus the dry leeward side of the main island of Viti Levu (in the highlands above Nadi); this time my targets were the 4 island endemics of Kadavu, and the Pink-billed Parrotfinch that is restricted to the wet (Suva) side of Viti Levu, where it "may not be uncommon locally" according to F.Clunie, 1984, Birds of the Fiji Bush, or is "very rare" according to N. Wheatley, 1998, Where to watch birds in Australasia and Oceania.
Kadavu is a 50km-long fairly mountainous island only 75km south of Viti Levu, and just a half-hour hop from Suva's airport (Two flights a day at 1 and 2 p.m. plus a supposed daily flight from Nadi --I was booked on it-- that apparently only operates when there's a tour group to fill the plane). Kadavu's grass airstrip, well populated by PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVERS just in from Siberia, stretches the length of a narrow isthmus between the northern and southern halves of the island, and is just south of the main village of Vunisea. Eager to bird ASAP, I immediately headed into the southern half of the island; I was guided or misguided by Where to..., which describes (presumably based on an old trip report) a site at Waikana 1-2 km S of the airstrip. This area proves to have a growing human population and is completely deforested. I walked S for an hour or two without finding decent habitat, or much bird life, and was glad to accept a lift back with a very helpful lorry driver who dropped me at the cheap-but-comfortable Vunisea Guesthouse. He told me I was daft to look for forest and birds in the south; the road to the north, to the village of Namara, was the place to go. He was right.
An hour before dawn I crept out of the guesthouse (setting off about two dozen barking dogs) and started up the gently inclined dirt road to Namara. Within a half-hour I was in pretty good forest, and by dawn it was the real thing -- as beautiful as on any other island I've visited, and as full of noisy but initially invisible birds. Not hard to see at all were the spectacular CRIMSON SHINING PARROTs; they were raucous, common and bold. Loudly barking PEALE'S IMPERIAL PIGEONS were calling from the exposed crowns of the tallest trees -- to me they sound more like a troupe of Howler Monkeys, rather than the pack of hounds they're usually compared to. The even less pigeon-like calls of male WHISTLING DOVEs were all around, but it took me some time to find the perpetrators, sitting motionless and very trogon-like on tree-limbs halfway up the canopy, remarkably well camouflaged despite their flashy appearance in field-guide pictures. Gradually I found the smaller forest birds: the distinctive Kadavu ssps. of FIJI WARBLER, GOLDEN WHISTLER, and ISLAND THRUSH, and eventually a KADAVU FANTAIL. All too soon it was time to head back down the road for my return flight to bustling Suva.
In number of species Kadavu can't quite compare to Taveuni, Fiji's most popular birding destination, lacking such special birds as the Silktail and Red-throated Lorikeet. But its parrot is more attractive to my eyes that its cogenor on Taveuni, as is its endemic Ptilinopus dove. In pleasant contrast to Taveuni or other Fijian islands, it does have its own species of Fantail and Honeyeater, and does not have the bedevilling plague of introduced Bulbuls and Mynahs. It's an easy-to-get-to place with friendly people, adequate lodgings, good and accessible rain-forest, and a few wonderful birds.
(*=Kadavu endemic,and lifer; #Fiji endemic, mostly with distinct ssp)
Joske's Thumb is a precipitous volcanic plug on Suva's western skyline; the sun sets over it on the rare rain-free evenings. The thumb, and the good forests around it, are a few km inland from the main Suva-Nadi Queen's Road. Take a 50cent Shore Buses Ltd bus, heading for Naboro, to the Naikorokoro Road (dirt/gravel) turnoff -- or if you want to go before the buses start at 0630 take a $5 taxi there. Walk up Naikorokoro Rd 2-3km (ignoring the major right turn-off after about 1km), through wet grazing fields with lots of FIJI PARROTFINCH, til you cross a ford to a village. Ask permission of the village chief to vist their forest (graciously given), then continue up the gravel road to the left (W) of the village for a km to its end at a river. Wade across the knee-deep river, then follow a muddy forest track that soon recrosses and temporarily follows the river, and after a km joins a severly eroded jeep track that comes in from some other place (further W on Queen's Rd ?). I went up the track for 2-3km to the base of the thumb's rock walls, over several short stretches where landslides had taken the track away. The whole trail is pretty easy, and easy to find; no guide is necessary. Once you're on the jeep trail you're in good tree-fern forest habitat, full of noisy MASKED SHINING PARROTs, yodelling bands of GIANT FOREST HONEYEATERS, and slowly moving mixed-species flocks. But none of the flocks, best I could tell, had Pinkbilled Parrotfinch.
It was the same story at the closer-in Wailoku Valley, a forest remnant in the hills behind Suva, en route to Tholo-i-Suva Park (which I didn't visit). [Take the hourly Waikolu bus, or a $3 taxi, to the end of semi-paved Wailoku Road; continue along the dirt road across a bridge (the 2nd bridge on Wailoku Rd), then follow a path along the river for 200-300m to a waterfall (probably a popular picnic site at weekends, judging from the garbage); climb around the waterfall to the right -- there's actually an easy path that bypasses the falls, taking off from the main trail 100m before the falls -- then walk up the stream (in the dry season only knee-deep over slippery boulders) as far as you like.] I saw the best flocks by taking short trails into the woods, away from the rather noisy stream; there are several ill-defined trails just near the main waterfall, and one about 1km upstream, around a lower fall with a deep (unwadeable) pool at its base.
My birdlist was about the same at Joske's Thumb and Wailoku. MASKED SHINING PARROTS were much commoner at J'sT, and that was the only place I saw BLACK-THROATED SHRIKEBILL. Both sites had good populations of GOLDEN DOVE, GIANT FOREST HONEYEATER, BLUE-CRESTED FLYCATCHER, SLATY MONARCH, GOLDEN WHISTLER, FIJI BUSH-WARBLER, STREAKED FANTAIL, SCARLET ROBIN, LAYARD'S WHITE-EYE, ISLAND THRUSH and POLYNESIAN STARLING.
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