3 July 2017

Fiji - Part II - Seabirding east of Viti Levu

Viti Levu, Fiji

Tropical Cyclone “Ella” had stirred up Fiji’s weather, and we started out towards Gau from Port Denerau near Nadi, not Suva as originally planned.

The main reason for going to Fiji had been to look for Fiji Petrel.

Fiji Petrel is about as enigmatic as seabirds can get. The original specimen was secured by the crew of HMS Herald in 1855 on Gau Island, to the east of Viti Levu. In 1984 an adult was found on Gau Island (Watling 1985), and since then several - mostly juveniles - had been found around one of the villages at the foot of the mountains where the petrels are presumed to breed. This Critically Endangered species is the subject of joint conservation efforts on and around the island of Gau by Birdlife International and Nature Fiji Mareqeti Viti. 

Hadoram Shirihai had photographed Fiji Petrels at sea in 2009 and from his reports we knew that there were a couple of sea mounts south of Gau where there was a lot of bird activity.

Viti Levu, Fiji

Red-footed Booby - Sula sula

Great Frigatebird - Fregata minor

We had a relatively easy passage around the north of Viti Levu (Fiji’s main island) and at the end of day 2 docked near Ovalau, where there were many exotic creatures in the lagoon.

Many pipefish and squid in the lagoon....



The following day the seas had calmed enough for us to head east across towards the island of Gau, visible in the distance.

As elsewhere in the tropical pacific we found a lot of the seabird action centred on clouds of seabirds feeding where shoals of Yellowfin Tuna forced smaller fish to the water surface.

Feeding flock of Black Noddys - Anous minutus 

Black Noddys - Anous minutus - over Yellowfin Tuna
On our first day in the target area (May 19th) our one -and-only Fiji Petrel glided into the middle of this great throng of birds.  I missed it completely, and no-one managed a photograph.  I took a few shots of the cloud of seabirds, hoping to find Fiji Petrel in the shots later, but I failed.

Black Noddys - Anous minutus - over Yellowfin Tuna

The morning's first cup of coffee is filled with the promise of the birding to come...

Chumming with fish oil and Rice Krispies suddenly seemed like  an ineffectual way to attract birds compared with the power of the Tuna/Noddy natural phenomenon, but we persisted with it and turned up some other interesting seabirds. 

Black-winged Petrel - Pterodroma nigripennis
Collared Petrel - Pterodroma brevipes

Gould's Petrel - Pterodroma leucoptera

Gould's Petrel - Pterodroma leucoptera

Sooty Shearwater - Puffinus griseus
Wilson's Storm-petrel - Oceanites oceanicus

Wilson's Storm-petrel - Oceanites oceanicus

Wilson's Storm-petrel - Oceanites oceanicus
Some of the seabirds photographed here are rarely recorded in Fiji waters, but this may be due to relative lack of coverage.

White-faced Storm-petrel - Pelagodroma marina

Perhaps the highlight of this period was the sighting of a "Stripe-bellied" - type Storm-Petrel (certainly new to Fiji and reported on elsewhere).

Flesh-footed Shearwater - Puffinus carneipes

Tahiti Petrel - Pseudobulweria rostrata

Tahiti Petrel - Pseudobulweria rostrata

Black-bellied Storm-petrel - Oceanodroma melania

Black-bellied Storm-petrel - Oceanodroma melania

Black-bellied Storm-petrel - Oceanodroma melania
Cyclone Ella held to a westerly course, but locally, strong winds caused us to spend two and a half days sheltering inside the reef at Gau. Basically, we had lost half our sea birding time due to the weather.  I blame Climate Change !

Church near Herald Bay, Gau, Fiji

It transpired we were in “Herald Bay” where HMS Herald had anchored 162 years earlier. On 24th and 25th May, when the seas had calmed, we re-visited the sea mounts south of Gau,

Off Gau - still scanning
As it happened, there were no big feeding Noddy flocks but on our final morning at sea we saw many heading south at first light as we headed back to Suva.  

Black Noddys, Viti Levu

Still, plenty of time to reflect on Fiji and it's birds...

19 June 2017

A welcome stranger - HK’s First Black Noddy

Black Noddy - Anous minutus

Three species of tern breed on the rocky islets off the northeast coast of Hong Kong’s New Territories. Bridled, Black-naped and Roseate Terns brave  man-made hazards such as anglers who land on the islands and disturb their nesting areas, and the storms of summertime. Typhoon “Merbok” - first of the season -swept up from Luzon a few days ago, and a lot of rain has fallen since.

The breeding success (or otherwise) of the tern population is monitored by counters from the HK Birdwatching Society, who are subsidised by the Government’s Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department.

During Sunday’s Tern Count - yesterday (18th June 2017) an unusual, darker bird with a light cap was seen on one of the rocky outcrops popular with the terns - Kung Chau near Tap Mun Island.  It was initially put out as a Brown Noddy, but it seems that viewing conditions were not very good. It has been raining heavily for days.  

Roseate Terns (Sterna dougalli) in the rain

HK’s only previous Brown Noddy was seen and photographed by Geoff Welch from Po Toi Island back in 2006,  in the wake of Typhoon “Chanchu”.  As it was a single-observer record, all the other listers in HK still “need” Brown Noddy,  including me.  After a couple of phone calls five keen "Twitchers" had agreed to meet up on the Tap Mun Ferry at 08:30 today and head for HK’s eastern waters - Mirs Bay.  We had hired a speedboat to go and look at terns in 2016 and Jemi still had the boatman’s card. Contact had been made, but the boatman (a Mr. HO) had expressed misgivings about going out at all, the thunderstorm warning was up and visibility could be poor during squalls.  

However, when we arrived on the pier at Tap Mun at 10:00 the rain was easing off (Think:”From torrential to heavy”) and there wasn’t much wind at all. Mercifully, the sea was calm.  Then a WhatsApp message came to the effect that yesterday’s Noddy - upon review of some photos taken - could be Black, rather than Brown Noddy. Black Noddy would be a “First” for Hong Kong.

We were clad in our full rain gear, but with a spring in our step we piled into Mr HO’s speedboat and he cruised round the south of Tap Mun and up to Kung Chau.

A lot of wind and rain had passed since yesterday’s sighting, but as we approached the rocks we could seen and hear the Roseate and Black-naped Terns.  

We scanned anxiously, while the rain pattered on the sea surface around us. Suddenly, there was the Noddy, about twenty metres away - we had practically driven right up to it. 

Black Noddy - Anous minutus

Black Noddy - Anous minutus

It was still raining, but the bird wasn’t concerned about us, in a small bobbing boat camera shutters whirring.  LANDING on tern islands is out of the question, but we had a great view from the boat.

We all knew we were lucky to get the bird so readily.  High Fives all round !  Many photos were taken.

Other people "braving the elements"

After a while the Noddy followed the terns to feed on  shoals of sprats in the waters of Mirs Bay....

Black Noddy - Anous minutus

Black Noddy - Anous minutus

Black Noddy - Anous minutus - with Black-naped & Roseate Terns

It later returned to almost exactly the same position on the rocks.

Black Noddy - (Anous minutus) with Black-naped & Roseate Terns

Black Noddy - (Anous minutus) with Black-naped & Roseate Terns

Black Noddy - (Anous minutus) and Black-naped Tern (Sterna sumatrana)

The Noddy was quite a worn individual.  The nearest known population of this species is in the Sulu Sea, between the Philippines and Borneo.

It actually stopped raining while we had the bird in view, but the light could not have been described as bright.

Black Noddy - Anous minutus

Black Noddy - Anous minutus

Black Noddy - Anous minutus

Well pleased with ourselves, and grateful for the diligence of the Birdwatching Society's Tern Surveyors, we headed to Wong Shek Pier.  

It had started raining again.

15 June 2017

Fiji - Part 1 - Land birding near Suva

Golden Fruit Dove - Ptilinopus luteovirens

This trip was centred on a ten-day boat trip to look for the Critically Endangered Fiji Petrel, of which, more later. 

Fiji is a direct ten-hour flight from Hong Kong, but despite the Fiji national team's success in the Hong Kong Sevens Rugby Tournament (and the Rio Olympics) I confess I had never been inspired to go there before.

The prospect of some land and sea birding spurred me to do some research.

I scoured my extensive library and found this: -

Much more usefully, after searching online, I got hold of Dick Watling’s “A Guide to the Birds of Fiji and Western Polynesia…”. Apart from illustrations and species accounts there are good sections on conservation and the ornithological history of the region.

It was apparent that the taxonomy and some of the  bird names had changed since the book came out, but we decided to “see ‘em first..." and work out the new names later… If I'm still confused about the names, you'll have to bear with me.

Suva, Fiji’s capital, is a bus ride of about 180kms  from the International Airport at Nadi. It takes about five hours on the buses that ply the route. A throng of would-be bag carriers greeted the coach.

Licenced wheelbarrow porters, Suva Bus Stand

We headed for  Colo-I-Suva “Rainforest Eco Resort”.  Several of the commoner endemics or near-endemics could be seen or heard in the resort grounds. Originally, five out of the six people on our seabirding trip were going to go to Colo-I-Suva first. As it turned out, four of us made it to the Resort. Due to unusually wet weather for the time of the year, more time was spent in the on-site restaurant than originally planned.

Angus and Bob after their second cups of tea

One of the smartest things we did was to secure the services of the local bird guide “Vili” - Vilikesa “Vili” Masibalavu – (vmasibalavuATconservation.org)  - he's on Facebook, too.

Vili led us to the “Pipeline Trail” - much mentioned in Fiji birding trip reports. I was less than confident that we could have identified the trail by ourselves.

Yesterday's rain rises as today's mist

Giant Forest Honeyeaters - Gymnomyza brunneirostris

Collared Lory - Phigys solitarius
Pacific (White-collared) Kingfisher - Todiramphus sacer

Orange-breasted Honeyeater - Myzomela jugularis

Fiji Woodswallow - Artamus mentalis

Chestnut-throated Flycatcher - Myiagra castaneogularis
An afternoon was spent along the Namosi road.  (About 35 km west of Suva on the Queen's Highway, turn inland at a sign for the "Kila Eco Adventure Park")  Nice habitat, and we saw a variety of endemics, but birding was generally slow due to the time of day.

Vili was unavailable later in our stay, but we returned easily to the pipeline trail several times by ourselves.

Taxis are cheap and plentiful around Suva.

Directions to the pipeline trail : LEFT from the Rainforest Eco Resort, go about 1 km to Colo-I-Suva township.
Left again on a paved road and after 200m left onto Savura Road (the road to a Radio Tower) . After 1km, the road dips and there is a large water tank.  Look left here and downhill past the gate is the pipeline trail. Taxi Fare from Resort to trailhead: 3.6 Fiji dollars.  

Most of these shots were taken within a few hundred metres of the pipeline trail entrance gate.

Golden Fruit Dove - Ptilinopus luteovirens

Streaked Fantail - Rhipidura spilodera

Fiji White-Eye - Zosterops explorator

Polynesian Triller - Lalage maculosa

Scarlet Robin - Petroica multicolor

Fiji Wattled Honeyeater - Foulehaio taviunensis

We also birded Colo-I-Suva Forest, but it wasn’t as good as  the pipeline road.

Birding Colo-I-Suva Forest Park

Golden Fruit Dove (f)  - Ptilinopus luteovirens

Fiji Whistler - Pachycephala vitiensis

Barking Imperial Pigeon - Ducula latrans

Fiji Flying-Fox

We did some general sightseeing in Suva city ...

Botanical Gardens, Suva

Dockside Market, Suva

Apart from sightseeing, we went to Suva Point one afternoon. The tide didn’t really come in before it got dark, so we didn’t find the high-tide roost of waders reported from there. We had distant views of a few waders, including Pacific Golden Plover. But mid-May was probably a bit late for most migrant waders, anyway.

Western (Pacific) Reef Egret - Egretta sacra

Plenty for waders to feed on !

Meanwhile, due to Cyclone Emma, there was bad weather at sea, and we had to backtrack to Nadi's Port Denerau to board our boat for the sea-birding leg of the trip, instead of at Suva as originally planned.

While waiting in a dockside bar at Port Denerau, I spied a small group of Fiji Parrotfinches on the grass outside.   I interrupted my glass of Fiji Bitter for a shot of them...

Fiji Parrotfinch - Erythrura pealii

An unusual level of photographic dedication from me, I'll admit.

Some of the mega-yachts in the marina really looked like spaceships (background) but Yacht Sauvage - our home for the next ten days - is a real yacht.  

Seabirding ? We were keen to get started...