New Caledonia is a group of islands 2 1/2 hours northeast of Sydney Australia and just above the Tropic of Capricorn. French is the language but English is spoken at many places in the capital, Noumea. For us it was an expensive place to visit with the currency (CFP) tied to the French franc. There are NO health requirements to enter the country including malaria tablets.
There are 122 bird species recorded. The most interesting is the Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus), a large flightless bird with silky-grey plumage, a large crest, reddish bill and legs. It is the sole member of its family. There are 15 endemics including the two white-eyes on Lifou. There are cracking pigeons, a blue Goshawk, 2 species of Cuckoo-shrike, a Triller, 2 parakeets, 5 honeyeaters and 2 parrot-finches.
Once covered in sensational forest, land clearing and erosion have taken a heavy toll on the landscape. There are a few remnant pockets of forest left, and this is where the birds are. The rainforest is strikingly attractive and pleasant to walk through. There were no biting or stinging insects or leeches when we were there.
There are many international flights per week and, as it is a popular tourist destination from Australia, there are many flight/accommodation packages. We chose to stay at the Hotel Ibis, Baie des Citrons, just south of Noumea.
We did not need a 4WD to see any of the birds. From Australia we hired a Renault Clio (small car) from Hertz for $121 Australian per day. Petrol was expensive. The only place we could not reach was Le Thy Parc Territorial but the species seen here may be seen elsewhere.
There are two necessary sites: Parc Territorial de la Rivière Bleue and Mt Koghis. Other sites are Le Thy Parc Territorial and Jardin Botanique et Zoologique. We spent our first afternoon finding our way around town and visited the Jardin Botanique et Zoologique which has a nice amount of forest surrounding and is an easy place to see a few species. There are Kagu and a few other natives in cages, and one can get an idea of the jizz of the birds.
This can be a challenge but a good map would help enormously. The map given to us by Hertz was of very limited use and not clear enough. From the international airport, take the toll road into Noumea. The two important sites are on the Yate Road. Look out for it on the way into Noumea. When you get to your hotel and have your hire car, try and go back to the Yate road, taking the road to the international airport from Noumea. Once on the Yate road, there is a sign for Parc Territorial de la Rivière Bleue and soon near an overhead bridge, a sign for the Auberge de Mt Koghis.
This park is closed to the public on Mondays. From the turnoff to the left on the road from Noumea to the park gates is about 10 minutes and from the entrance to the rainforest is about 40 minutes. The park opens at 7am, and there is a charge of 500 francs per vehicle and 100 francs per person. We had good birds immediately after we hit the rainforest and mostly near the Giant Kauri tree picnic area.
M. Yves Letocart is a scientist ranger who works in the park and helped us with many of the birds. He speaks good English and knows the park inside out. He is probably responsible for the vastly increased numbers Kagu today.
To find the Kagu you need bit of luck, we felt. While with Yves, we met Derek Scott from Birdquest who, with Harry Howard from the UK, were ticking all the families in the world in one year. They said they had just seen one at the picnic table. We rushed back, and it was still there and allowed to be approached closely. When we went back to thank them, Derek spotted another, which stood beside the road while we photographed it and ourselves standing next to it!! The next day we were in the park again and didn't see one. The following day Derek and Harry returned. They saw lots of footprints but no Kagu. However I don't know of a birder who hasn't seen it when there. More about the other birds when I list the birds at the end of this report. Most birders seem to stay in the park.
This spot is where birders go to look for the New Caledonia Grass Warbler which we didn't see but we did see lots of nice pigeons. From the car park, walk into the rainforest and follow the Grande Piste signs. After crossing a rope and wooden bridge, the habitat changes to ferns around a land slip. It is here that the Grass Warbler has been seen. Some of my friends have stood in the rain for four days to see it... we didn't.
There are many supermarkets about. We found the most convenient one on the way to Rivière Bleue. It was in a shopping centre called Casino, and had bread and cheese for our lunches and fresh fruit. We took Muesli but could have bought it here, and we also saw fuel for Trangia stoves on the shelves. There are any number of restaurants in Noumea for dinner.
We took a tape recorder and directional microphone which did help to see some birds. We took two cameras, a Nikon F90X with 400 & 28-200mm lenses, and an Olympus Centurion APS for prints. It is possible to get some good shots of the birds, and the forest has many orchids and other beautiful plants. In the end we used both cameras to photograph the Kagu, it was so close. We took a compass which we used in the rainforest, light backpacks and light raincoats. We carried water at all times and drank about 1 litre per day between us.
We experienced mostly very pleasant warm temperatures with light clouds. We had some very hot patches and some light rain.
We didn't have one. However we did have a description of the birds. There are two field guides in print: (1) Oiseaux de Nouvelle Calédonie et des Loyautés, Volumes I & II, by F. Hannecart and Y. Letocart. Photographs of birds and text in French and English. (2) Birds of South-west Pacific by Ernst Mayr, in English.
Sites: A = Parc Territorial de la Rivière Bleue; B = Mount Koghis
Little Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos A White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae A Rufous Night-Heron Nycticorax caledonicus Noumea Whistling Kite Haliastur sphenurus A Swamp Harrier Circus approximans Noumea White-bellied Goshawk Accipiter haplochrous B Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus Noumea Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis A & B Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio A Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus A Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus Noumea Silver Gull Larus novaehollandiae Noumea Great Crested-Tern Sterna bergii Noumea Metallic Pigeon Columba vitiensis A Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis everywhere Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica A Cloven-feathered Dove Drepanoptila holosericea A & B New Caledonian Imperial-Pigeon Ducula goliath A Red-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae A Horned Parakeet Eunymphicus cornutus A Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus common Brush Cuckoo Cacomantis variolosus A & B Shining Bronze-Cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidus A & B Glossy Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta A White-rumped Swiftlet Collocalia spodiopygius A & B Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus common Fan-tailed Gerygone Gerygone flavolateralis A & B Dark-brown Honeyeater Lichmera incana very common New Caledonian Myzomela Myzomela caledonica A & B New Caledonian Friarbird Philemon diemenensis A & B Crow Honeyeater Gymnomyza aubryana A Barred Honeyeater Phylidonyris undulata A & B Yellow-bellied Robin Eopsaltria flaviventris A & B New Caledonian Whistler Pachycephala caledonica A & B Rufous Whistler Pachycephala rufiventris common Grey Fantail Rhipidura fuliginosa A & B Streaked Fantail Rhipidura spilodera A & B Southern Shrikebill Clytorhynchus pachycephaloides A & B New Caledonian Flycatcher Myiagra caledonica A New Caledonian Crow Corvus moneduloides A & B White-breasted Woodswallow Artamus leucorynchus common Melanesian Cuckoo-shrike Coracina caledonica A & B New Caledonian Cuckoo-shrike Coracina analis A Long-tailed Triller Lalage leucopyga A & B Striated Starling Aplonis striata A & B Silver-eye Zosterops lateralis A & B Green-backed White-eye Zosterops xanthochrous A & B Red-throated Parrotfinch Erythrura psittacea B Chestnut-breasted Munia Lonchura castaneothorax near airport 49 SPECIES
Flights leave daily and cost us $310 Australian each. A lot of money for a half hour flight! We caught the 6.30 am flight to Lifou from the domestic airport in Noumea. From the air as the plane is landing, good forest is visible all around. From the airport terminal, walk out and up the road about 1 km. As you are walking on the left is a football field. It has long grasses where others have seen the Blue-faced Parrot Finch. We saw it in a garden further along.
At the T-intersection walk left down to the coconut grove, then turn around and walk the other way. Keep going until you get to the coconut grove up the other road. You repeat this until you have seen all the birds. We did. The main aim is to see the two endemic white-eyes. The harder one to see doesn't have a white-eye. To compensate for these dull birds, there is a beautiful Fruit-dove and a red & black honeyeater (Cardinal).
Food: We took our food (baguette and cheese) with us as well as water. At the football field there are taps to top up your bottle. In the Lonely Planet guide, it mentions a new cafe open at the airport. It was open when we arrived but remained closed after we left. We had coffee and tea and a croissant (the only food they had).
Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis 1 beside road Red-bellied Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus greyii relatively common Shining Bronze-Cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidus calling Asian Golden-Plover Pluvialis fulva 6 seen on the airport grass Long-tailed Triller Lalage leucopyga 1 Silver-eye Zosterops lateralis common Small Lifou White-eye Zosterops minutus common Large Lifou White-eye Zosterops inornatus 2 birds in trees near 3 large electricity poles before the coconut grove to the left of the main airport road Dark-brown Honeyeater Lichmera incana common Cardinal Myzomela Myzomela cardinalis common Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus common Striated Starling Aplonis striata 4 Streaked Fantail Rhipidura spilodera in more open forest than on the mainland Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis common; the call was very different from the Australian one Fan-tailed Gerygone Gerygone flavolateralis common White-breasted Woodswallow Artamus leucorynchus 2 Melanesian Cuckoo-shrike Coracina caledonica 1 Blue-faced Parrotfinch Erythrura trichroa 2 in garden of the last house on the left as you leave the airport going towards the first T-intersection 18 SPECIES
At the airport terminal one can see large photos on the walls showing that this is a beautiful island in areas we did not reach. Of all the airports in the world, this one could be the most entertaining when the plane arrives carrying those who had been on the main island, being greeted by those coming to meet the plane and those leaving with us. The amazing baggage pick up with boxes of every imaginable thing. The greetings, the order of importance of certain people, communication with facial expressions and eye movements, made up for marching up and down the road in the blazing sun.
It may be the airline staff can sense it if you have not seen both White-eyes and you may have to stay another day!
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