Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Sunday 30 April 2023

Western Pacific Odyssey: Part 3 (New Caledonia)

26th March 2023

After our arrival into port, and after a swift lunch, it was time to disembark onto New Caledonia for an afternoons birding up Mt Koghi. With 50+ birders, it of course started rather hectic, but myself, Barry Reed and Ed managed to sneak off pretty much by ourselves and away from the crowds, enjoying a wealth of endemic birds along the forest trails, and eventually, on the approach road. 

The forests here were lush and there was constant activity - in fact, we managed to see pretty much everything during only a three hour vigil. The highlight for many was a responsive New Caledonia Thicketbird, a true mega in every sense and a very smart bird. However, the Red-throated Parrotfinches were just stunning and very tricky to see. 

We first hit the forest and soon found mixed species flocks containing NC Myzomelas, NC Whistlers, Fan-tailed Gerygones, Streaked FantailGreen-backed White-eyes and Yellow-bellied Flyrobins, but the call of a few New Caledonia Crows soon had us watching what is renowned to be the world's most clever bird - we even saw one with a twig in its bill, plucking out food from a small hole in a tree! A couple of South Melanesian Cuckooshrikes dwarfed everything close-by. 

As the light began to fade, we headed out of the forest and walked down the approach road, finding our only Long-tailed Triller of the trip, both Barred and Grey-eared Honeyeaters, a NC Friarbird, all while Satin Swiftlets were buzzing around us. The views looking back down to the coastline were superb. We had seen lots, but we still had a few more bits to see, and we basically struck gold. We just happened to luck into another group who were watching a NC Thicketbird - probably the hardest endemic to see on the island! It even showed well enough for many to get some excellent photos, though I was wrongly positioned. Next up was a Melanesian Flycatcher, which meant we had pretty much cleaned up on the mountain - always a nice feeling, but we still had one more magical birding experience on the island the following day.

New Caledonia Crow

Grey-eared Honeyeaters

Red-throated Parrotfinches

views from Mt Koghi

27th March 2023

Today was the day I had long been waiting for. Kagu has been on my wish list for years, and this trip provides an almost guaranteed opportunity to see this bizarre, flightless bird. However, one still has to get up to Grand Riviere Bleue, perhaps a 90-minute drive from Noumea. It didn't start too well when our bus decided to go AWOL, with a dodgy braking system which gave off an unwelcome alarm, but thankfully the driver ignored this and kept going... Kagu wins all day over safety, in my opinion!

We eventually arrived at the park, but then had to scramble into minibuses to the start of the actual forest. By now, it was very light and time was ticking by. As we waited at the start of the forest for other group members, we scored NC Cuckooshrikes and New Caledonia Parakeets, so an excellent start and my target list had lost a few more. 

After a introduction by the foghorn that was Chris Collins, in true army style, we began the 'charge' into the forest along the main track. I was upfront with the keenest, and we were told to not pass the leaders, make any noise, or anything else. Anyway, a tracker slowed the charge and off to our right, a ghostly figure emerged from the forest... a magnificent Kagu! Just such an amazing moment!!

After a few more Kagu sightings as I went off-piste into the forest, Barry Reed and I again managed to lose the crowd and we rushed off down the track until we were on our own. This proved to be an excellent move. We had lovely views of the remarkable Cloven-feathered Dove (probably the best dove I've seen), no fewer than three Crow Honeyeaters, a Southern Shrikebill and a few Horned Parakeets. More of the other endemics seen yesterday were seen again in good numbers today, making this a most enjoyable morning. Barry and I had some mega Kagu sightings next to the Le Grand Kaori tree, which is apparently 1,000 years old. 

I then walked back to the forest entrance by myself having seen all I had wanted from the morning and again saw several Kagu. 

It was then a case of being picked up and driven back to the vessel for our afternoon departure from New Caledonia. There was just one endemic which I failed to find, this being the NC Goshawk... one of the easiest, but I wasn't too fussed. 23/24 endemics in only 8 hours of birding was nothing short of a miracle. 

The late afternoon journey was inside the reef system and through the southern part of the island and out onto the Vanuatu side of NC. Many good bits were seen in the few hours we had, with several Sea Snakes, a Turtle, Ospreys, hundreds of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a few Tahiti Petrels


New Caledonia Parakeet

New Caledonia Cuckooshrike

Crow Honeyeater

Coaches to buses

The forest entrance

Moments before the charge

Riviere Bleue reserve

Le Grand Kaori

Saturday 29 April 2023

Western Pacific Odyssey: Part 2 (Norfolk Island; then sea days to New Caledonia)

This next post follows on from the couple of sea days we had as we travelled NNW from New Zealand. 

24th March 2023

We awoke to a distant view of Norfolk Island, though it was immediately apparent we were close to land as the number of seabirds we were encountering was superb. Countless Black and Brown Noddy, White Tern, Red-billed Tropicbird, Masked Booby and Great Frigatebird all numbered rather handsomely. We also saw a fair few Grey Ternlets, many Black-winged Petrels and our first Wedge-tailed Shearwaters as we coasted between the two landing areas. After failing the test at the first landing area, we were thankfully given the green light to land on the eastern side of the island. Apparently the landing hit rate on Norfolk is only 1 in 4, so we felt very fortunate. 

Once on dry land, and in stunning conditions, we gathered at the minibuses which would take us up to a nature reserve, full of Norfolk Pines. As we waited, Black-winged Petrels were displaying overhead and White Terns were constantly flying back and forth.

We arrived at the reserve and were told we would have three hours on site. As we had to find four true endemic birds, we wasted no time. Within five minutes, we had already scored two of these: Slender-billed White-eye and Norfolk Geregone. Norfolk Robin took some finding, but the parakeet was proving highly problematic. A few Golden Whistlers were also found with ease.

It wasn't until the last half hour when a Norfolk Parakeet was eventually found. I happened to be on my own not too far away, as maybe 30 birders came running up the path towards me. I joined the peloton and we soon gathered at its location, where it thankfully flew below the canopy and landed briefly in the open, before melting away into the forest. A major result, which allowed for a calm stroll back to the minibuses and back to the zodiacs.   

It was then a full two days at sea before we would see land again, but this being what would prove to be the highlight of the trip - New Caledonia. 

During the course of the afternoon, seabird activity was good, but not too much variety, the best being a Kermadec Petrel and two Providence Petrels, three-figure count of Black-winged Petrel and two Tahiti Petrels.

Slender-billed White-eye

Norfolk Robin

Red-tailed Tropicbird

Black-winged Petrel

Masked Booby

Tahiti Petrel

Norfolk Island

25th March 2023

The seawatching today was surprisingly poor, with just a couple of Providence Petrels, a fair few Tahiti Petrels, and as the evening arrived, our first Gould's Petrels appeared. Some White-tailed Tropicbirds also provided some interest, but there wasn't much on offer. 

26th March 2023

Today was the day we were to land on my most anticipated destination during this voyage, New Caledonia - the land of the Kagu. However, much to my displeasure, we weren't to go for Kagu until the following day, which was slightly grueling, but understandable all the same. 

We will still had plenty of sea to go through before sailing through the reef and onwards to Noumea, where plenty more Gould's Petrels were seen. As we got closer to the reef, Black-naped Terns were relatively common, and four Ospreys were on one of the marker buoys. A potential duo of Grey's Beaked Whale surfaced all too briefly and a Sea Turtle was also spotted, but too brief for me to even attempt identifying it. A few Pacific Reef HeronsWhite-faced HeronsGreater Crested Terns, and as we docked, our first Silver Gulls for a few days. 

Wedge-tailed Shearwater

Gould's Petrel

arriving at New Caledonia

Monday 24 April 2023

Western Pacific Odyssey: Part 1 (New Zealand to Norfolk Island)

The next few blog entries will be on the Western Pacific Odyssey trip which I have only just recently returned from. The WPO is a trip which I'd been long wanting to be apart of, and was first brought to my attention by John Cooper way back in 2007(?). John kindly supplied me a CD of images back then which I very much enjoyed trawling through, and with seabirds already in the forefront of my birding, the opportunity to go this year with Edward Paxton was too much of an opportunity to ignore. 

Monday 20 March

I had overnighted in Auckland, relatively close to the harbour front and not too much of a walk from the Auckland Sky Tower. After tentatively walking around the outer rim of the Auckland Sky Tower during the morning (under controlled circumstances might I add), it was then a case of chilling for a few hours, before grabbing a taxi to the Grand Millennium Hotel, where expedition staff from Heritage (Matt Jones and Frank Lambert) were ready to greet me. I also met up with Ed, as well as the other Birdquest gang. 

We were soon coached down to the harbour and stepped onto our home for the next month, the beautiful Heritage Adventurer. The previous vessel used for this specific trip - the Spirit of Enderby - is no longer available and is therefore why we were using this grander vessel, which worked in some sense, but it was thought the size/noise of the vessel meant the seabirds' proximities to the boat never meant they were super close.

The rest of the afternoon was spent doing all the usual practicalities and meeting our expedition leader, Chris Collins, and the entire crew etc. 

Tuesday 21 March

As is typical for the first morning, excitement ensured an early awakening and light soon gave way to Great Barrier Island, our first landing of the trip. Our first Pterodroma - a Cook's Petrel - overflew us as we steamed into the bay. Another Cook's Petrel was even found on deck, so we all got some excellent views of the bird in the hand before releasing it.

The walk around the conservation area of Great Barrier was plenty enough time to see all of the birds, but as I had spent some time in NZ before the trip, there was only one species I was after here, this being the New Zealand Kaka. As this was the case, after landing, I went off on my own (the usual theme for me and this continued throughout the trip... nothing worse than being in a big group) and soon found some Kaka. It was then a case of slowly walking the forest trail which looped back down to the landing area. Overall a decent selection of birds were found: Tui, Buff-banded Rail, Grey Geregone, Brown Teal, a Sacred Kingfisher and New Zealand Pigeons

After this and lunch, it was then a case of being out on deck as we sailed through the Harauki Gulf. This gave way to some excellent seawatching, and as the evening progressed, we chucked out an oil slick and found numerous New Zealand Storm Petrels! Totals:

Cook's Petrel - ca. 25
Common Diving Petrel - 10
Buller's Shearwater - 35
Flesh-footed Shearwater - 10
Fluttering Shearwater - 3
White-faced Storm Petrel - 1
Black Petrel - 25
Grey Noddy - 15
Grey-faced Petrel - 15
Fairy Prion - 3
White-capped Albatross - 3
White-necked Petrel - 5
New Zealand Storm Petrel - 15
Providence Petrel - 1
Black-winged Petrel - 1 

New Zealand Kaka

New Zealand Fantail

Cook's Petrel

Black Petrel

White-capped Albatross

New Zealand Storm Petrel

New Zealand Storm Petrel

Buller's Shearwaters

Wednesday 22 March

Another fine morning and we arrived at the Bay of Islands, situated on the north-eastern tip of New Zealand. The seas here were beautifully calm and clear, giving way to coral reefs and pristine sandy beaches. 

We left the vessel and onto a smaller inter-island ferry, bound for the island of Urupukapuka. As we arrived at the jetty, a party of New Zealand Plovers were ready to greet us. I then walked off on my own as I stayed behind to photograph the plovers, meaning the group had left me, which was fine for me. I walked the south-western edge of the island first, finding most of the endemics already seen in NZ, but a Red-crowned Parakeet was new for me. I then found a beach and decided to go for a swim as it was desolate of people, in fact, I hardly saw anyone for a couple of hours.

Afterwards, I walked towards the centre of the island and down a trail to a beach where I thought I would be able to coast back to the jetty. With only 20-minutes until we had to depart, I found myself unable to coast, and in a panicked state, had to run back up the hill and over the island and back to the boat... somehow I arrived with a minute to spare, and even had time to look at a Stingray below the jetty. This mishap was worth it though, as a Tomtit, several North Island Saddlebacks and Whiteheads were seen, making this a productive visit. The views were also incredible from the high points. 

The afternoon was spent sailing north and away from New Zealand, but the seabirding was strangely quieter than imagined, with pretty much the same stuff seen as the day before, although a Bottlenose Dolphin became friendly with the vessel for a short time. 

New Zealand Plovers


views from Urupukapuka Island


Thursday 23 March

Today was a day at sea as we sailed NNW towards Norfolk Island. The day started well with a stunning Gibson's Wandering Albatross hanging at the back of the boat for a few minutes - it still amazes me how big these are!! It was then a case of scanning the seas for most of the day. Probably the highlight for me here were the White-necked Petrels. As the day progressed, we were starting to lose the Cook's Petrels, which were to be replaced by another smart Pterodroma... the Black-winged Petrels, which breed on Norfolk. 

White-necked Petrel

Black-winged Petrel

One of many sunrise photos