RFI New Caledonia

To: "Frank O'Connor" <>
Subject: RFI New Caledonia
From: David Adams <>
Date: Sun, 21 Dec 2014 20:10:22 +1100
> Two American friends and I will be visiting New Caledonia next October.
I  am
> trying to plan the trip, so I would very much appreciate any information.

So glad you asked! I'm posting to the list as I can't recommend New
Caledonia highly enough to Aussie birders. It's close, fantastically
beautiful and full of interesting landscapes and birds. The avifauna is
limited, but outstanding. Coming from here, the families are entirely
familiar (apart from the Kagu) and the individuals lovely. It's pretty
special to see a different variety of Friarbird, for example. For someone
coming straight from America, the families would be wholly exotic.

The roads and other infrastructure are of excellent quality (usually),
however he population density is quite low so services can be thin on the
ground. New Caledonia is not cheap. You can get by with English around
Noumea a bit but elsewhere, the European language in use is definitely
French.  We've been over twice and have managed a drive around Grande Terre
and a visit to Lifou. Briefly:

* It's okay to concentrate on the south end of Grande Terre as that's where
the most accessible birding sites are to be found.

* The international and domestic airports are in no way connected or close
and the flight schedules aren't aimed at getting you to or from an outer
island on a day you leave or arrive.

* Lifou is definitely, definitely worth more than a day. If any of you
snorkel, Lifou has *amazing* snorkeling spots. Fantastic reefs full of
fish. Some large and toothy fishes included (ulp)...but lots of life.

Overall, the island looks like a mixture of small-scale farms and bush
fragments. It's a French mining posession. The roads are so good because of
the nickel - the traffic or population wouldn't justify roads of the
quality you'll see.

> The main object of our trip is of course the Kagu, but I am told that
this is
> quite easy to find, and there are almost thirty birds I would like to
see.  A
> few other questions.

The Kagu is readily visible in Rivière Bleu which is also the only place
you have a chance at the Crow Honeyeater. It's one of the better spots for
birds, as you'll have gathered already. When we visited, it turned out that
you can camp at the very end of the park for a fee. There are no services
to speak of and my information is old enough to be suspect. You can't drive
in, but there's a bus available from the parking area. This would be the
optimal way to try for the Crow Honeyeater, given the park's normal hours
of operation.

We tracked down the (then) coordinator of the Kagu Recovery program five
years back and asked her about the Crow Honeyeater. That was my top
hoped-for bird. She'd worked in the park on the Kagu for four years and
could count clear views of the Crow Honeyeater on one hand. I see reports
of people finding it in a day trip, so I presume they're using tapes
(there's one recording of the Kagu available on CD possibly available on
island.) The recovery program for the Crow Honeyeater is....there isn't
one. I'd question hassling or disturbing them in any way, despite them
being a bird I would dearly love to see.

> 1. How long would you recommend we spend there?  I was thinking four or
> days on the main island, and a day trip to Lifou.

You could do fine with four or five days on Grande Terre, but give yourself
a bit more time (and a car) on Lifou. For Grande Terre, you'll have seen
trip reports listing the main sites. I used to have a report from our first
trip five years ago but let the domain lapse. I've reposted it here, in
case it's useful:

(Warning: Some links look stale.)

We've been back to Farino since and the manager we last saw didn't speak
English. Other than that, the site is still a fantastic place to spend a
few nights. You're right at the base of one of the best tracks in southern
Grande Terre - our bird list from there is is as good as from anywhere
else. This has been our best site for the Cloven-feathered Dove, a top bird
by any standard.                                                Also good
for other doves and both parakeets. (The Horned is another top bird.) It's
also a great access point for the Parc des Grandes Fougères (more below.)

Noumea will be a good base if you're trying to get to the domestic airport
or to drive out towards Yate and Rivière Bleu.

Through accidents of personal history, I've birded a few dozen islands in
the tropical Pacific. (And as a testament to my lack of skills...dipped on
an embarrassingly high percentage of the rarities and endemics.) I mention
this as it explains my perspective when saying that Lifou is *remarkable*.
When we were landing, what we saw were trees. Lots of trees. Doves
everywhere. I can't remember anywhere better for doves in the oceanic
Pacific. While a lot of these birds aren't endemic, they're usually hard to
see given human pressures (hunting and land use changes - lots of forest in
the Pacific is still getting converted to plantations or fields for sugar,
palm oil, kava, etc.) It's sort of like the situation with Coconut Crab.
They're a widespread species (historically), but where can you see them?
I've only ever seen them on Christmas Island. We found the white-eyes by
driving around and stopping at birdy-sounding places....we kind of slacked
 on hard-core birding because the snorkeling was so exceptionally good.

> 2. Does anyone have contact details of a local guide?  I am told that
> such as the grassbird and the Crow Honeyeater can be tricky to find and a
> local guide would help.  We were thinking of hiring the local guide for
> maybe two days.

I can't help you with a guide. The only Grassbird we found was half-way
down the island on the way back. One of the Kagu Recovery team members that
helped out with "Oiseaux de la Chaine Centrale Province Nord de
Nouvelle-Calédonie" told me Grassbirds are much more common in the north.
Speaking of the north, we really wanted to drive around Grande Terre and
were happy we did. With that said, it doesn't easily improve your birding
chances, for the most part. Like many places in the Pacific, "public lands"
is a pretty alien concept. All of the land belongs to someone and you need
permission to visit. I don't know that this would be hard, but it would
take some effort...and languages could be an issue. I think that there are
a few dozen locally spoken Melanesian languages with French not always
spoken. (Speaking of local culture, the Centre Culturel Tjibaou in Noumea
is worth a visit, although not much for birds.) Driving around, we did
enjoy getting a sense of what was more common - and definitely enjoyed
seeing so many New Caledonian Crows.

> 3. I had thought that we would be based in Noumea, but I have heard that
> birds are easier to find further north.  Where?  And how many days would
> needed?  And I assume accommodation would be available close by?

I'll just mention Farino and the Parc des Grandes Fougères here a bit -
more details on the old report. We've been back since then and this park
remains wonderful. Farino is the right base for Parc des Grandes Fougères,
and I think that it's a must see. If you get up early enough and drive to
the park before dawn, you can hear the Kagu. The park entrance is along a
ridge with valleys on both sides. The Kagu use the bush for cover and the
side of hills for amplification. Amazing. Just amazing. We've done that
twice and the volume was super impressive once and very impressive the
other time ;-) There are lots of tracks of other good birds in the park as
well. I did spend quite some time tracking down a "Kagu" in the bush only
to finally be confronted by a North American Turkey. I didn't even know
they were on island. They are ;-)

For field guides, we've collected images and sounds before departure and
used "Birds of the Solomons, Vanuatu & New Caledonia." I've got here a copy
of "Birds of Melanesia" (Guy Dutson.) The Dutson book looks first rate to
me but I haven't field tested it. Multi-island books are always a bit of a
pain though...Honestly, the species aren't difficult to distinguish if you
can see them.

If you're interested in the overall natural history of New Caledonia, it's
worth checking for recent papers. For whatever reason (the selection of
cheeses and the fresh baguettes?), scientists seem to like New Caledonia.
It has off-the-chart levels of endemism in plants, rivaled by only a few
places. (I guess I shouldn't talk about that to someone from WA.) Their
endemism rates are high both by % (like Hawaii) and in absolute terms (not
like Hawaii.) I'm hopeless on plants so I can't say more. I did read (as
remembered fuzzily off the top of my head) that for a long time Grande
Terre was seen to be a piece of Gondwanan crust that's been floating around
since forever...having once been part of Aus. Later research argues that,
in fact, the island has been underwater for a great part of the time and
that the present pattern of endemism and families present (birds and
plants) are based on more typical oceanic island colonization patterns.
Either way, Grande Terre is beautiful and full of wonderful birds and
plants. The outer islands, by the way, are not geologically related -
they're typical oceanic volcanic remnants, not

Have a fantastic trip and please post a trip report afterwards. There's not
enough birding-oriented information circulating on this magical destination.
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