Birding Tour New Caledonia: Kagu and Other Endemics
Birding Tour New Caledonia: Kagu and Other Endemics
This small group, short tour, visits the island of Grande Terre, New Caledonia, and focuses on the many exciting endemic birds found across the island. Grande Terre is part of an ancient archipelago of Gondwanan (continental) origin. Most of the island is covered in tropical evergreen forest at higher elevations, while savanna and maquis dominate the lower elevations. Most famous for being the home of the unique Kagu (a highly sought-after monotypic family), Grande Terre hosts a total of 22 island endemics as well as about a dozen more Melanesian endemics. We will spend time birding at the following areas: Parc de la Rivière Bleue, Mt Koghi, and La Farino reserve. The prime target will be finding the endemic star bird of New Caledonia, the charismatic Kagu.
Kagu, our main endemic target of this trip which we will hope for repeated great views.
Most endemics found on Grande Terre should be encountered during our time here, and these include White-bellied Goshawk, Kagu, Cloven-feathered Dove, Goliath Imperial Pigeon, Horned Parakeet, New Caledonian Parakeet, New Caledonian Myzomela, Barred Honeyeater, New Caledonian Friarbird, New Caledonian Whistler, the tool-using New Caledonian Crow, New Caledonian Cuckooshrike, Yellow-bellied Flyrobin, Green-backed White-eye, Striated Starling, and Red-throated Parrotfinch. Two species, the Critically Endangered (IUCN) Crow Honeyeater and the increasingly rare New Caledonian Thicketbird, are becoming more difficult year on year but we will still try to find them in suitable areas where they may still be hanging on. Unfortunately, four endemic species are now considered likely to be extinct with no recent sightings, these include New Caledonian Nightjar, New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar, New Caledonian Rail, and New Caledonian Lorikeet.
New Caledonian Crow is a fascinating species because it uses tools to forage.
If you would like to extend your time in New Caledonia after this short tour finishes, we can offer extensions to visit either, or both, of the nearby islands of Lifou and Ouvea (both part of New Caledonia). These islands are home to several endemic and range-restricted species not found on the main island of Grande Terre such as Ouvea Parakeet, Small Lifou White-eye, Large Lifou White-eye, Red-bellied Fruit Dove, Melanesian Whistler, Cardinal Myzomela, and Blue-faced Parrotfinch. Please just ask us about these optional extras and we would be happy to help.
The striking Cardinal Myzomela can be found on the smaller islands of Lifou and Ouvea.
Itinerary (6 days/5 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in New Caledonia
Arrival at La Tontouta International Airport, Grande Terre, New Caledonia, and transfer to our hotel in Nouméa. Afternoon at leisure relaxing in our comfortable beachside hotel.
Day 2. Full day birding at Mount Koghi
We will spend the full day birding Mount Koghi and the surrounding area for a range of endemic birds, such as the simply spectacular endemic Cloven-feathered Dove, which is a real assault on the eyes. We could also find White-bellied Goshawk, an endemic raptor that nests in the forests here. We will also look for the unique, tool-using New Caledonian Crow, and we may also get our first look at the humongous Goliath Imperial Pigeon, this is the largest arboreal pigeon in the world. Plenty of other great birds will be found throughout the day, we have recorded almost 50 species here during our tours in the past, no mean feat in New Caledonia! Some of the species we will look for include Metallic Pigeon, Melanesian Flycatcher, Southern Shrikebill, Striated Starling, and Green-backed White-eye.
Cloven-feathered Dove is one of the best-looking pigeons in the world! It needs to be seen to be believed!
Day 3. Full day birding at Parc de la Rivière Bleue
We will travel to Parc de la Rivière Bleue in search of endemic birds, including the star endemic, the flightless and extremely rare Kagu. We will focus our attention on finding this great bird and getting the best views, and hopefully photographs, possible. While searching for the Kagu we are likely to come across many other endemics and regional specials in this excellent reserve, such as New Caledonian Parakeet, New Caledonian Myzomela, Barred Honeyeater, New Caledonian Friarbird, Green-backed White-eye, Fan-tailed Gerygone, Metallic Pigeon, Goliath Imperial Pigeon, Sacred Kingfisher, South Melanesian Cuckooshrike, New Caledonian Cuckooshrike, Horned Parakeet, Southern Shrikebill, Yellow-bellied Flyrobin, Red-throated Parrotfinch, White-bellied Goshawk, Cloven-feathered Dove, and New Caledonian Crow. This is our best chance for the Critically Endangered Crow Honeyeater, a bird getting harder and harder to find each year, unfortunately.
Whilst at Parc de la Rivière Bleue we will look for many endemic birds, such as this White-bellied Goshawk.
Day 4. Morning birding Parc Rivière Bleue and transfer to Sarraméa
We will spend the morning birding the Parc de la Rivière Bleue area once more, focusing on getting further good views and photographs of Kagu and keeping an eye out for any other endemics and targets we may still be searching for, such as the very rare Crow Honeyeater.
In the afternoon, we will transfer to the Farino area for a couple of nights’ stay in the central section of Grande Terre. In the afternoon we will look for another of the really rare birds of the island, New Caledonian Thicketbird. This is a super-skulking species and will require patience, but we hope to find them where we have found them during previous tours.
Day 5. Full day birding the Farino area
We will spend the full day birding around Farino and the surrounding area, such as Parc des Grandes Fougères. Again, we will target the rare New Caledonian Thicketbird while in suitable habitat, where we may also find Red-throated Parrotfinch. Other special birds here may include Cloven-feathered Dove, New Caledonian Crow, and Horned Parakeet among many other species such as Southern Shrikebill, Yellow-bellied Flyrobin, New Caledonian Whistler, and Striated Starling. The forests here also have a population of Kagu that is increasing in size due to predator control, so we may again bump into this unique species. White-bellied Goshawk and New Caledonian Crow are often around our accommodation so we will also look out for these.
The endemic Red-throated Parrotfinch is one stunning bird and it can be seen in the Sarraméa area.
Day 6. Transfer from Sarraméa to La Tontouta International Airport, departure
We will have time for some morning birding around our hotel grounds and the local area, seeking out any other endemics or regional specials, such as Red-throated Parrotfinch, Melanesian Flycatcher, and Cloven-feathered Dove. A small group of waterbodies near our accommodation often hold a range of wildfowl and we will check this area for anything interesting, on previous tours we have found some great birds here, such as White-browed Crake, a national rarity.
After our final birding session we will transfer back to La Tontouta International Airport, where this short but endemic-packed tour concludes in the mid-afternoon.
Overnight: Not included
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors such as internal flight availability. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
New Caledonia – Kagu Tour Trip Report, December 2018
10 – 15 DECEMBER 2018
By Andy Walker
DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT
This short and highly successful New Caledonia set departure group tour followed our Western Australia tour (see a variety of our trip reports here). The tour started in Nouméa on the 10th of December 2018 and concluded back there on the 15th of December 2018. The tour focused on (and was successful in) finding all of the endemic birds found on Grande Terre, the main and largest island of New Caledonia, as well as several regional endemic species and a number of distinct subspecies that may warrant full species status in the future.
A total of 62 bird species were seen (plus one species heard only). Full species lists are provided at the end of this report. The main highlight bird seen was undoubtedly Kagu, the endemic, Endangered (BirdLife International), and flightless bird that is the main reason most birders come to New Caledonia. We had some amazing views of a group of five birds all feeding together and then having a bit of a territorial dispute which involved a lot of posturing, crest flaring, and hissing sounds! It was a magical experience to witness at such close range.
We had several other major highlights during the tour, none as incredible as finding New Caledonian Thicketbird, a species teetering on the edge of existence and easily the most difficult of the country’s endemic species to track down and then actually see. This is a mega-skulker, and we were over the moon to get good views of one. Another huge highlight of the tour involved two sightings of the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Crow Honeyeater, an endemic species in fairly-rapid decline and far from easy these days, unfortunately. Additional major highlights included great views of nesting White-bellied Goshawk and multiple sightings of the tool-making New Caledonian Crow, an intriguing species to observe foraging.
Other, no-less-impressive endemics seen well on multiple occasions included Cloven-feathered Dove, Goliath Imperial Pigeon, Horned Parakeet, New Caledonian Parakeet, New Caledonian Cuckooshrike, New Caledonian Whistler, Green-backed White-eye, Barred Honeyeater, New Caledonian Myzomela, New Caledonian Friarbird, Yellow-bellied Flyrobin, Striated Starling, and Red-throated Parrotfinch.
Plenty of other regional endemics were also seen, such as South Melanesian Cuckooshrike, Melanesian Flycatcher, Southern Shrikebill, Long-tailed Triller, Grey-eared Honeyeater, Fan-tailed Gerygone, and Streaked Fantail. We also found a rarity in the form of White-browed Crake!
Day 0, 9th December 2018. Pre-tour arrival in Nouméa, New Caledonia
Andy and Tom arrived in Nouméa, New Caledonia, and transferred to their comfortable beachside hotel after having traveled to Nouméa from Perth (via Sydney), Australia, after completing our set-departure Western Australia: Southwest Specialties tour.
After checking into our hotel the afternoon was spent at leisure (maybe listening to and watching the Grey-eared Honeyeater and Coconut Lorikeets that are so common here) ahead of the tour starting the next day.
Day 1, 10th December 2018. Tour started, birding at Mount Koghi
Our first day birding in New Caledonia was spent at Mount Koghi, not far from the capital city of Nouméa. The forest here offers some great birds, and we got our trip off to a great start with Barred Honeyeater, Grey-eared Honeyeater, and Striated Startling in the parking lot. As we entered the forest we found Rufous Whistler and South Melanesian Cuckooshrike and could hear the distinctive sound of the huge Goliath Imperial Pigeon echoing around the forest. As the day progressed we had some great views of several of them (these are the largest arboreal pigeons in the world!). We also heard the distinctive sound of Cloven-feathered Dove as one flew through. Small passerines were all very vocal, and we had plenty of repeated views of New Caledonian Whistler, Yellow-bellied Flyrobin, Green-backed White-eye, Fan-tailed Gerygone, Streaked and Grey Fantails, New Caledonian Myzomela, Melanesian Flycatcher, and Southern Shrikebill giving amazing views.
One of the reasons that these birds were all very vocal and wary was because there was a pair of the rare, endemic White-bellied Goshawk breeding in the forest. This is a really beautiful accipiter, and it was great to get some prolonged and repeated views of them. We were able to watch some very interesting behavior, as it appeared as though the pair were doing a food-swap with the male bringing prey to the female, who would then take it to the nest.
Other birds seen during the course of the day included Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, Sacred Kingfisher, Satin Swiftlet, White-rumped Swiftlet, and (brief views of) New Caledonian Parakeet. Both cuckoos are potential future splits, so it was good to find both of them.
While driving back to our hotel late in the afternoon we saw the introduced Common Waxbill, to go along with the introduced House Sparrow, Spotted Dove, Common Myna, and Red-vented Bulbul we had seen during the day.
Day 2, 11th December 2018. Parc de la Rivière Bleue
As we ate breakfast on the beach we were surrounded by a range of introduced species and also more local ones in the form of Coconut Lorikeets and Silver Gulls. After breakfast we hit the road and headed southeast to the Parc de la Rivière Bleue, seeing Whistling Kite and Swamp Harrier along the way.
We had one target in mind and so went straight for that first. As we entered the forest full of anticipation we didn’t need to worry, as in no time at all we were watching our first Kagu. This is always a special moment. Kagu is probably one of the most highly-sought species in New Caledonia (if not in the whole world!), and so it is always great when the first one walks into view. We spent a good hour or so in the company of not just one, but five Kagus. It was fascinating watching them as they foraged in the leaf litter for a range of insects (and larger prey like lizards). While we were watching them all of a sudden three of the birds ran toward each other and had a bit of a face-off. They stood up tall with crests erected and wings out, showing their incredible wing patterns. They proceeded to hiss at each other and maintained that position for a while. An amazing sight!
It’s always tough to pull yourself away from watching a Kagu, more so a group of them! But we needed to move on as the temperature was soaring and we could hear the constant noise generated by several New Caledonian Friarbirds, so we took some time to watch them, as this was our first proper view of them of the tour. As we started to move away from the friarbirds we heard the distinctive call of a Crow Honeyeater. This species is Critically Endangered and in a state of rapid decline. However, luck was on our side as one flew in and across the road, allowing an all-to-brief glimpse. It was frustrating yet thrilling to see that the species is persisting here. It moved on and unfortunately wasn’t relocated.
We moved to another section of the forest and found Goliath Imperial Pigeon, New Caledonian Whistler, a very brief New Caledonian Cuckooshrike, Satin and White-rumped Swiftlets, Melanesian Flycatcher, and several other species. We also had further looks at a few more Kagus! Eventually it was time to return to the car and head back into Nouméa after a really enjoyable day.
Day 3, 12th December 2018. Parc de la Rivière Bleue
The lure of what we had seen the previous day was too hard to resist, so we headed to Parc de la Rivière Bleue once more. Again, in no time at all we were watching Kagus, at least five of them, to be precise. We again spent some time watching them go about their morning activities and after a while decided to move on ourselves and see what else we could find. This proved to be a good plan, and straight away we were rewarded by finding a pair of New Caledonian Cuckooshrikes (much better views than on the previous day), quickly followed by discovering a nesting pair of Yellow-bellied Flyrobins. A bit further along the road we found one of those highly-sought endemics – New Caledonian Crow. This bird was out foraging and had its tool (a small twig) in its bill as it was digging into small crevices for insect prey. Fascinating to watch this behavior! A short while later we were watching New Caledonian Myzomela, New Caledonian Friarbird, and Melanesian Flycatcher, all very nice birds.
In the midmorning a young couple came walking past us. They had binoculars and a Kagu primary feather, a rare find! I asked if I could photograph it, which I did, and as I was taking a photo a sharp call behind me caused me to swing around, where I found two Crow Honeyeaters suddenly sitting not 12 feet away from us! Panic stations as these two Critically Endangered honeyeaters moved through the bushes before flying over our heads and away. With a bit of juggling of the kagu feather, camera, tripod, and a few other things it was possible to grab a quick record shot. Amazed, we were extremely happy to have got some great views of these rare birds before they vanished as quickly as they had materialized.
Over the course of the rest of the morning and early afternoon we added several species to our day lists, such as Goliath Imperial Pigeon, Metallic Pigeon, Barred Honeyeater, Grey-eared Honeyeater, New Caledonian Whistler, Streaked Fantail, and New Caledonian Parakeet, as well as getting plenty of further views of species such as Yellow-bellied Flyrobin, Melanesian Flycatcher, and New Caledonian Myzomela, which appeared super-abundant today. Not that we were complaining at having to repeatedly look at such a stunning bird! As we sat down to have our picnic lunch we noticed a Kagu suddenly appear out of nowhere from right next to us. Further great views were had.
Calling in at the lake area on our return to the car we found Swamp Harrier, Whistling Kite, and Little Pied Cormorant.
Satisfied with our haul for the day, and with the temperatures rising and the activity dwindling, we headed back to our comfortable hotel for a couple of hours’ relaxation before yet another wonderful dinner.
Day 4, 13th December 2018. Mount Koghi to Farino
We had a great morning birding at Mount Koghi once again, and we found several new birds with relative ease, including a few big targets. A bit of activity caught our eye on the entrance road, and suddenly we were face-to-face with the gorgeous and tiny endemic, Red-throated Parrotfinch, which was great to see so well, along with several other species such as South Melanesian Cuckooshrike and Fan-tailed Gerygone. Nearby we also had our first proper looks at Metallic Pigeon. As we entered the forest we found another Red-throated Parrotfinch, and, even better, our first Horned Parakeet, a rather odd-looking endemic parrot, which was busy feeding. It did, however, show fairly well and even vocalized occasionally. We walked around in the forest for a couple of hours and found lots to keep us occupied, such as White-bellied Goshawk (the nesting pair from a few days earlier seen again), Goliath Imperial Pigeon, New Caledonian Whistler, Yellow-bellied Flyrobin, Striated Starling, and Barred Honeyeater, along with plenty more! Just as we were ready to leave a bit of activity drew our attention first to a male Long-tailed Triller and second to a feeding New Caledonian Parakeet, which showed well as it fed and in doing so gave us our best looks so far after a couple of very brief views earlier in the tour.
By now it was midmorning and time to start our drive north to Farino for the final two nights of the tour. During the journey we noted Eastern Osprey, Swamp Harrier, and Whistling Kite, and a stop at some pools that had turned up some good birds on our previous tours again delivered a cracker in the form of White-browed Crake, a New Caledonian rarity no less! Lots of other new trip birds were found and included Grey Teal, Pacific Black Duck, Australasian Grebe, Little Black Cormorant, Australasian Swamphen, Zebra Dove, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, Silvereye, and Welcome Swallow. A rather satisfactory haul, especially the crake!
After checking into our accommodation we headed for a final walk of the day along a river. Here we saw several New Caledonian Crows foraging with and without tools, always fun to watch and listen to. We were tantalizingly close to seeing Cloven-feathered Dove as one flew off while several others could be heard calling from places we just couldn’t see despite our best efforts. Several other birds were noted, such as a juvenile White-breasted Goshawk, South Melanesian Cuckooshrike, White-breasted Woodswallow, Striated Starling, and a plethora of very vocal (as usual) New Caledonian Friarbirds.
Day 5, 14th December 2018. The Farino area
Our final full day’s birding of the tour was incredibly successful and very exciting too! Buff-banded Rails were active in the hotel gardens as we left our rooms. First we took a pre-breakfast drive toward the place where we had heard the calling Cloven-feathered Doves the previous night. However, along the way our journey was interrupted when we spotted one sitting in a roadside tree! It was (only) a juvenile, so not the prettiest of things, but nevertheless it was a Cloven-feathered Dove!
After finding this main target of the day so early we decided to switch plans and try and improve on our views of the regional endemic Long-tailed Triller that had been seen briefly on the previous day. This proved an excellent decision. We continued driving along the road, looking for trillers, and in doing so actually found another, much more stunning, adult Cloven-feathered Dove! We had some fantastic views of it, and a short while later we managed to find the Long-tailed Triller we were searching for and got good views of that too. Not bad before breakfast!
We were starting to run out of birds to look for… There was one bird still remaining, though, the toughest of all of the country’s endemics, the Thicketbird, a mega-skulker and known from only a very few locations in the last 10 years, one of those mythical birds. But who doesn’t love a challenge?
After breakfast we drove into the mountains for an hour or so above our accommodation. Along the way we saw a Spotless Crake and several Buff-banded Rails in damp areas. Then we found some suitably dense-looking thickets of grassy vegetation and started to hike through them. We had an old recording of the thicketbird’s song and played it when we arrived at a level section of the track in some shade (it was almost noon and over 30oC by this time). Incredibly as soon as the first note rang out from the speaker there was an identical call! Did this have something to do with the recording? Surely it couldn’t be the bird… We played it again, and again the same call came immediately back at us. It was suddenly clear that we were on to something here. By placing the speaker directly ahead of us we gave another burst of song, and suddenly there it was… Unbelievable! A New Caledonian Thicketbird right before our very eyes! We had found the most unlikely and difficult of birds in the country, and in doing so we had seen all of the island’s endemic species over the past few days. During the next 15 minutes we saw it a couple of times in flight, but it was amazing how it could move through the vegetation without giving its location away.
Very happy with our day we decided to head back to our accommodation, where we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing. Over the course of the day we also had seen plenty of other endemic birds, such as numerous New Caledonian Friarbirds, plenty of New Caledonian Crows, Red-throated Parrotfinches, New Caledonian Whistlers, as well as lots more, such as Melanesian Flycatcher, our best views yet of Pacific Emerald Dove (two sat together), and Metallic Pigeon, but really the day will be long remembered for the stunning adult Cloven-feathered Dove and the New Caledonian Thicketbird.
Day 6, 15th December 2018. Farino to Nouméa, tour concludes
We had an incredibly productive pre-breakfast one-hour walk near our accommodation before we had to head to the airport. A short trail along a river was very busy with birds. We finally saw Shining Bronze Cuckoo after hearing it every day of the tour, and straight after we’d left the cuckoo behind us we were watching a very close feeding Horned Parakeet that was totally unconcerned by our presence. Here too we saw New Caledonian Crow, Melanesian Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flyrobin, Green-backed White-eye, and New Caledonian Myzomela.
A little further along the trail we spotted Red-throated Parrotfinch, Striated Starling, Goliath Imperial Pigeon, New Caledonian Friarbird, and Barred Honeyeater – we were collecting endemics for fun here! There were several Cloven-feathered Doves calling along the trail, and after a while we had views of a young bird and a short while later of a really stunning adult that showed remarkably well for ages. We actually had to leave it sitting there, as it was time for us to head back to our accommodation. What a great way to end the tour, though!
After breakfast we drove back to Nouméa, where the tour concluded in the midmorning with international flights home. We reflected on what had been an incredible trip with Kagu (bird of the trip, as always), New Caledonian Thicketbird, Crow Honeyeater, New Caledonian Crow, Horned Parakeet, Cloven-feathered Dove, New Caledonian Parakeet, and White-browed Crake topping the long list of highlights.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.