Trip Report: New Caledonia, August 16-21, 1998

Richard Fairbank, Sussex, England;

For introductory comments, see South-east Australia trip report.

Daily Diary

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 Parrotfinch.

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: Kagu.

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 New Caledonia.

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Species List: New Caledonia

Sightings by RJF, * new species, + possible new species, depending on taxonomy.

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; November 20, 1998