Trip Report: New Caledonia, August 16-21, 1998
Richard Fairbank, Sussex, England;
For introductory comments, see
South-east Australia trip report.
Saturday 15th August
Aircalin flight from Melbourne to Noumea. Arrived at
Tontouta International Airport, 45 kms N of Noumea at 23.00 hrs where a
pleasant lady was waiting for us with our hire car. Drove to Rivière Bleue
(c80kms) and camped at park entrance, although this was not quite as
easy as it sounds as there are very few road signs on New Caledonia.
Sunday 16th August
Up at dawn and into the park at 7 am when it opened.
It was not possible to camp as the reserve closed at 5pm and was not open
on Mondays! Were given directions to Yves Letocart's house, although as
we were not sure if our fax to him had got through we decided a visit early
on Sunday morning might not be appropriate. Red-throated Parrotfinch
beside the road a couple of kms into the park was a very encouraging
start. Continued to drive through very degraded habitat around a large
artificial lake (the result of a large dam downstream) before finally
entering superb forest. Concentrated on the excellent trail by the Grand
Kaori tree (which in itself was most impressive), finding a good selection of
the New Caledonian endemics (including Notu Pigeon, Southern Shrikebill
and Horned Parakeet), but no Kagu. Decided to visit Yves early afternoon
to find out where best to see Kagu, but after negotiating a very rough and
in places muddy track arrived at his house to find nobody in. We left a
note and rather reluctantly drove out of the park before it closed. Arrived
at Mont Koghi just as it was getting dark and camped by the car park. 25
species seen of which 14 were new. Best bird: Notu Pigeon.
Monday 17th August
Up at dawn and once tent was packed away spent
most of the morning on the main trail up towards the summit of Mt Koghi.
Few birds were evident, possibly due to a quite strong wind. Nothing was
seen or heard in the 'ferny' sections where we'd hoped we might encounter
the New Caledonian Grass Warbler. Returning to the car park we spent the
afternoon scanning the adjacent forested slopes eventually finding two
distant Cloven-feathered Doves. A short walk part way along the trail
towards the waterfall gave much better views of the Doves (a very smart
bird) and an amazing view of a Parrotbill feeding on berries growing
directly out of the trunk of a tree. Left Mont Koghi just before dusk to
return to Rivière Bleue, stopping at a supermarket to buy bread and fruit on
the way. Camped at entrance to Rivière Bleue. 22 species seen of which 3
were new. Best bird: Cloven-feathered Dove just ahead of Red-throated
Tuesday 18th August
Entered the park when it opened at 7 am, having got
a permit to camp for 2 nights. We were told that Yves would be waiting
for us on the road to the Grand Kaori tree, and with a growing sense of
anticipation we set off to meet him. Our desire to see Kagu must have
been evident to Yves right from the outset, and without further ado he took
us to an area nearby where he had heard Kagus earlier that morning.
Within a couple of minutes of him playing a tape recording, two Kagus ran
in, circled us curiously for some time before eventually wandering off. A
dream realized! Yves took us to another patch of roadside forest where a
strange Crow Honeyeater immediately flew in to investigate the tape
recording of its song. We were very fortunate to see one so easily, and it
turned out this was our only definite sighting of the species. After an hour
or so Yves left us to continue with his work (as the Park superintendent),
having first imparted much helpful information. We spent the rest of the
day on the Grand Kaori trail and walking along the road between there and
Pont Germain where we set up camp at the picnic area (where there was a
good supply of drinking water and basic toilet, but note that no food is
available in the park). One of a pair of New Caledonian Crows near the
camp site was fascinating, carrying a long stick in its bill (something noted
of two others seen subsequently too). Returning for a meal (of bread and
tuna) before it got dark we were delighted to have 2 Kagus feeding around
the tents in a plover like fashion (running then stopping and listening) for
nearly half an hour before dusk. When disturbed, or clumsily bumped into
each other, they would display to each other for a minute or two. This
consisted of standing bolt upright in very close proximity to each other
with belly stuck out, crest raised and wings partially opened and inverted
- a ridiculous posture! The less dominant of these two had yellow rings on
each leg. A truly magical place. 26 species seen, 4 being new. Best bird:
Wednesday 19th August
All day at Rivière Bleue walking the road from the
camp site to the Grand Kaori tree and beyond. A good day's birding with
most of the New Caledonian specialities seen and several Kagu sightings.
Two were seen along the road about 1 km from camp site, one chasing the
other off across the road. Near the Grand Kaori tree a ringed individual
(pale green & yellow) did three running passes in response to a brief play
of the tape before crossing the road where it started calling very loudly. It
was soon joined by a second (unringed bird), and a duet, if two barking
calls can be described as such, ensued for several minutes while the birds
were in full view less than 10 m from us. They eventually wandered off
into the forest, and almost immediately after three were seen on the road
100m away by John and Gary. Although two had gone by the time I'd
caught up with them, these may have been the noisy pair which had gone
in that direction, the third bird had a pale green ring on one leg. Later, at
the camp site before dusk, the two birds that had been seen previously
appeared again, but only for 5 minutes this time. 28 species seen, one
being new. Best bird: Kagu.
Thursday 20th August
Morning at Rivière Bleue walking the road to the
Grand Kaori tree. An unringed Kagu was seen in the forest by a small
picnic table about 0.5 km from campsite then, when walking down the
road before the Kaori tree, a pair started hissing at me. I hissed back and
one approached to within 4 m. I took a photo of it with a pocket camera
and promptly ran out of film. Both birds, which were unringed, wandered
off but further hissing when I'd changed the film enticed them back, one to
nearly as close as before enabling a few more photos to be taken.
Somewhat surprisingly the photos came out very well! [A scanned
photo may be obtained upon request from the author.] Kagu had got to be
one of the best birds ever. Further down the track a calling New
Caledonian Sparrowhawk was seen perched on an exposed tree top branch.
Reluctantly returned to the camp site, packed up and left Rivière Bleue.
Drove to west coast near Yaté where 12 summer plumaged Wandering
Tattlers were seen on the shore. Continued parallel to the coast to Goro but
few places seemed to allow access to the beach, although we did see
another sparrowhawk in patchy forest beside the road. Drove back to
Noumea Airport in fading light, seeing a superb sunset en route. Camped
by airport car park. 36 species seen, one being new. Best bird: Kagu.
Friday 21st August
Returned hire car to a different and much less pleasant
lady at 6 am. She insisted the voucher we'd presented was not valid as it
was in Nick's name and wanted payment again. We refused and
eventually, and with very bad grace, a written statement to the effect that
we'd had the car booked and paid for by Nick in England seemed to satisfy.
Flew with Aircalin to Sydney arriving just after 10.30 am. 2 species seen on
Back to Australia
Species List: New Caledonia
Sightings by RJF, * new species, + possible new
species, depending on taxonomy.
- Little Pied Cormorant [Phalacrocorax melanoleucus]: 1 Rivière Bleue on 16th
and 1 at Rivière Bleue dam on 20th.
- White-faced Heron [Ardea novaehollandiae]: singles at Rivière Bleue on 18th
- Pacific Reef Heron [Egretta sacra]: 1 on offshore reef near Yaté on 20th.
- Osprey [Pandion haliaetus]: 2 along Yaté-Goro road on 20th.
- Whistling Kite [Haliastur sphenurus]: 6 at Rivière Bleue and 1 along Yaté-Goro
road on 20th.
- *White-bellied Sparrowhawk [Accipiter haplochrous]: singles at Rivière Bleue
on 19th and 20th (the last calling from an exposed branch of a tall tree by
the river) and along the Yaté-Goro road on 20th. A small accipiter, all
blue-grey with pure white lower breast and belly. Yellow cere and legs.
Call typical of an accipiter: ki-ki-ki-ki-ki
- Swamp Harrier [Circus approximans]: a very pale adult above the forest at
Mont Koghi on 17th and 1 beside the Rivière Bleue dam on 20th.
- *KAGU [Rhynochetos jubatus]: 4 at Rivière Bleue on 18th, 7 on 19th (5
different) and 3 (probably two different) on 20th. Most gave stunning
views. All were seen from, or near, the road from 1 km before the Grand
Kaori tree to the camp site at the river. Truly amazing birds.
- *Wandering Tattler [Tringa incana]: 12 in summer plumage on coast along
Yaté-Goro road on 20th. Call a four note trill.
- Silver Gull [Larus novaehollandiae]: 10 on coast along Yaté-Goro road on
- Crested Tern [Sterna bergii]: 6 on coast along Yaté-Goro road on 20th.
- Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis]: 8 seen on 3 dates around inhabited
- Emerald Dove [Chalcophaps indica chrysochlora]: 2 at Rivière Bleue on 18th
and 19th. On each day one was present at the camp-site.
- *Cloven-feathered Dove [Drepanoptila holosericea]: 3 at Mont Koghi on 17th,
1 at Rivière Bleue on 18th and 3 on 19th. Very nice pigeon. Small, rotund
and bright green. Red eye, small black bill, white throat wattle. Whitish
tips to coverts forming 3 wing bars, thin white line and then thick black
band separating green head from green breast. Bright yellow belly and
vent, but green flanks. Puffy white feathering on legs. Call a deep,
regular 'oo-oo-oo-oo', appeared to be given with great effort.
- *Notu Pigeon [Ducula goliath]: 3-6 daily at Rivière Bleue and 2 at Mont Koghi.
A very large and impressive pigeon. Dark grey with chestnut shoulders,
belly and tail and buffy undertail coverts. Red eye, yellow bill with black
tip. Call a deep booming 'ooom'.
- Rainbow Lorikeet [Trichoglossus haematodus]: 2-6 daily at Rivière Bleue and
12 along Yaté-Goro road on 20th.
- +(New Caledonian) Red-fronted Parakeet [Cyanoramphus (novaezelandiae)
saisetti]: singles at Rivière Bleue on 16th and 20th. Green, paler below,
with red crown and eyeline, bluish wing coverts and black primaries.
- *Horned Parakeet [Eunymphicus cornutus]: 1-7 seen daily at Rivière Bleue.
Most seen in trees while walking the road. Largish, full-tailed green
parrot with a yellow head and two red-tipped black crest feathers. Heavy
black bill. Blue wings and tip to tail.
- [Barn Owl [Tyto alba]: one flushed by JFC at the park entrance on morning of
- *White-rumped Swiftlet [Collocalia spodiopygia]: 10 at Rivière Bleue on 20th,
probably overlooked earlier (as spent most of time looking in and below
trees). Larger than following species with slower flight and greyish
underparts. Tended to fly higher, making white rump hard to see.
- White-bellied Swiftlet [Collocalia esculenta]: 2-10 seen daily. Smaller, more
dashing that previous species and often encountered low over forest,
below tree top level. Glossy black with white rump and whitish
- Sacred Kingfisher [Halcyon sanctus]: 1-6 seen daily.
- *Melanesian Greybird [Coracina caledonica]: 2 at entrance to Rivière Bleue on
16th and 4 at Mont Koghi on 17th. A large dark grey cuckoo shrike with
long full tail and an obvious white eye.
- *Caledonian Mountain Greybird [Coracina analis]: 8 seen at Rivière Bleue on 3
dates. Noticeably smaller than previous species, though still quite large.
All grey with dark eye and rufous undertail coverts.
- *Long-tailed Triller [Lalage leucopygia]: 1-2 seen daily at Rivière Bleue with 2
at Mont Koghi on 17th. Black above and white below with white rump,
wing coverts and sides to tail.
- *Fantail Gerygone [Gerygone flavolateralis]: 4-15 seen daily at Rivière Bleue
with 8 at Mont Koghi on 17th. Small and active. Greyish head with
indistinct whitish supercilium, yellowish belly and flanks. White tail
- *Southern Shrikebill [Clytorhynchus pachycephaloides]: 4 by the Grand Kaori
tree at Rivière Bleue on 16th and one there on 19th. Disproportionately
large pale horn coloured bill. Pale rufous brown with buff tips to the tail.
Not particularly active, but quite agile, sometimes hanging upside down
on branches for several minutes.
- *Wide-billed Flycatcher [Myiagra caledonica]: a male at Mont Koghi on 17th,
a male and 3 females at Rivière Bleue on 18th, 2 males and 2 females on
19th and 3 males on 20th. Active in mid canopy. Quite vocal, a typical
'schnapp' call. Male all bright, but dark, blue with white lower breast,
belly and outer tail feathers. Female paler above with thick white
eyering, orange throat, vent and at bend of the wing and white breast and
- Grey Fantail [Rhipidura fuliginosa]: 1-6 daily at Rivière Bleue with 4 at Mont
Koghi on 17th.
- *New Caledonian Spotted Fantail [Rhipidura spilodera]: 4-12 daily at Rivière
Bleue with 4 at Mont Koghi on 17th. Rufous brown above with buff tips to
the tail, white supercilium and throat, black spots on the breast.
Generally found to be commoner in good habitats than previous species.
- *Yellow-bellied Robin [Eopsaltria flaviventris]: 8-21 daily at Rivière Bleue
with one at Mont Koghi on 17th. Small, tame and often on the ground.
Brown above, pale grey throat and upper breast, rest of underparts pale
- *New Caledonian Whistler [Pachycephala caledonica]: 4-12 daily at Rivière
Bleue with 4 at Mont Koghi on 17th. Male like dull Golden Whistler with
grey head, narrow black breast band and orangy belly. Mostly mid
canopy. Females more often on or near the ground. Olive brown above,
dull whitish below, brighter on throat.
- Rufous Whistler [Pachycephala rufiventris]: 2 at Rivière Bleue on 16th, one at
Mont Koghi on 17th and one at Rivière Bleue on 20th.
- *New Caledonian White-eye [Zosterops xanthochroa]: 4-30 daily at Rivière
Bleue with 15 at Mont Koghi on 17th. Olive green above with clear white
eye-ring, greenish-yellow breast and dull whitish undertail. Typically
noisy. Note presence of next species, at least in secondary growth.
- [Grey-breasted Silver-eye [Zosterops lateralis]: 4 unidentified white-eyes
seen briefly in scrub near Yaté on 20th might have been this species.]
- *Silver-eared Honeyeater [Lichmera incana]: 6 in scrub at Rivière Bleue on
16th, 1 on 18th and 3 on 20th. Smaller than Barred with shorter bill.
Olive brown above with greenish wings. Pale grey ear coverts and
- +New Caledonian Myzomela [Myzomela (dibapha) caledonica]: 2-4 daily at
Rivière Bleue with 4 at Mont Koghi on 17th. Small. Scarlet with white
flanks and black wings and tail.
- *New Caledonian Friarbird [Philemon diemenensis]: 4-21daily at Rivière
Bleue with one at Mont Koghi on 17th and 3 along Yaté-Goro road on 20th.
Generally brown with white streaking on breast, greyish head with pale
malar and bluish on closed wing. Surprisingly nice for a friarbird!
- *Crow Honeyeater [Gymnomyza aubryana]: one taped in by Yves by the
lagoon at Rivière Bleue on 18th, a bird seen poorly in the same general
area on 20th was probably one too. Size of a small, but rather slender,
crow. All black with bright orange skin on face and orange wattles at
base of bill. Long decurved black bill with yellow lower mandible. Large
yellowish legs and feet.
- *Barred Honeyeater [Guadalcanaria undulata]: 2 at Rivière Bleue on 16th, 4 at
Mont Koghi on 17th, 4 at Rivière Bleue on 19th and one on 20th. Medium
sized honeyeater with long decurved bill. Greyish brown above, white
bellow with fine greyish bars from throat and ear coverts to flanks.
- *Red-throated Parrotfinch [Erythrura psittacea]: 3 at Rivière Bleue on 16th,
one at Mont Koghi on 17th, 2 at Rivière Bleue on 19th and another 2 on
20th. Brilliant. Small and bright green with very extensive bright red
face and breast. Red upper and under tail coverts. Longish, pointed tail.
- House Sparrow [Passer domesticus]: 3 at Noumea Airport on 21st.
- *Striated Starling [Aplonis striatus]: 3 at Mont Koghi on 17th, 1-4 at Rivière
Bleue on 18-20th and 4 along Yaté-Goro road on 20th. All dark with red
eye and short tail. Female (juvenile?) paler grey above indistinctly
- Common Myna [Acridotheres tristis]: 114 seen on 4 dates in inhabited areas.
- *White-breasted Wood Swallow [Artamus leucorhynchus]: 1-3 daily at
Rivière Bleue, 2 at Mont Koghi on 17th and 10 along Yaté-Goro road on
20th. Sootier than in SE Asia, mantle had a brownish cast.
- *New Caledonian Crow [Corvus moneduloides]: 3 at Rivière Bleue on 18th and
2 on 19th. Smallish. All black. Very wedge shaped bill, particularly the
lower mandible. Often to be seen carrying a stick. Quite noisy.
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November 20, 1998