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South Pacific Islands

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Birds and bird-watching

Cagou (kagu)
Cagou (kagu)

The existence of so many islands has created enormous opportunities for evolutionary experimentation in life, and perhaps the best example of this is with birds. No matter how remote or far-flung, birds have always managed to find islands to colonise. The result is a fantastic array of birdlife on islands throughout the Pacific.

Our tours focus on western Pacific islands, which have favoured species diversity. Being close to large land-masses increases the chance of more colonisations and large size allows for species divergence and occupation of a wide range of habitats.

In the Pacific, birds have evolved slightly different forms on each island in a group, resulting in each island having a unique complement of species (endemism). For example the humble white-eye has many different species and subspecies, on adjacent islands. We will also see migratory species, for example shorebirds travelling through the region, or birds that migrate to the region from Australia or New Zealand such as shining cuckoo.

An important feature of some Pacific Islands is the existence of endemic families, some with just a few members. Perhaps the most interesting is the kagu or cagou from New Caledonia, belonging to its own endemic family, Rhynochetos.

Golden-maned hornbill
Field sketch of Blyth's hornbill

Some birdwatching highlights are:

  • Huge 'golden-maned' hornbills sounding for all the world like steam trains as they fly across the tree-tops, landing to feed on fruit - throwing their heads back and opening their bills to reveal a giant gape - or to preen and call.
  • Waking up after a night of rain, in the early morning dimness seeing 'grey ghosts' running through our camp site and experiencing their morning communal calling ritual echoing in the rainforest. (Click to hear the cagou calling)
  • Frigatebirds swooping to catch flying fish mid air as they flee tuna, a huge active school of gleaming fish leaping and swimming at great speed across a lagoon, an exhilarating sight, metres from our boat.
  • Moving silently through dense jungle on Taveuni, looking up through the foliage, and spotting the 'flaming' orange dove, like a huge bright leaf about to fall to the forest floor.
  • Standing on the edge of the primary forest and watching a garrulous mob of 15 eclectus parrots swarming over a tree at dawn, feeding noisily with sunlight catching wings and tails (Click here to hear eclectus parrots)
  • Watched a pair of beautiful green and pink doves (red-bellied fruit-dove) sitting close together on a low branch near our bungalow on Malekula, Vanuatu, while listening to the fabulous song of the golden whistler in the background (Click here to hear the golden whistler)
  • Dawn chorus 1000 metres up on Kolambangara, in the Solomon Islands (Click here to hear the dawn chorus)

Listen to a variety of bird calls in the sound gallery.

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