My Birding Blogs

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Some soothing songs from Tahiti

Still dreaming of my great time in Tahiti last Aug 2007. Like to share some nice songs and a video from Tahiti. Sit back and relax......

Romantic Sunset in Polynesia

TE VARUA MAITAKI E sélectionné dans Musique et Chanson


This is how we had our lunch on the islet in Rangiroa where I saw the Polynesian Ground Dove. Fresh Coral-Barbecued fish - just speared by our host in nearby water.



The islet we saw the Polynesian Ground Dove and Bristle-thighed Curlew is about the same size as the one featured below, but a lot more pristine!!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Deniliquin - SW Plains of NSW - 28th to 30th Dec 2007

The plains in the west of Deniliquin, said to be flatest on earth, is the home to endangered Plains-wanderer.

There is one peculiar(and cute) bird in Australia which has no close relative that it is placed in its own family - Pedionomidae. The Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus), found in inland grasslands across eastern Australia, is of great scientific interest as it may be an ancient member of Australia's avifauna, with origins dating back to when Australia was part of the Gondwanan supercontinent.
A strange looking bird greets us by sticking out its neck and tip-toeing. This female is as much inquisitive towards us as we are towards it.
The Plains-wanderer was once regarded as closely related to Button-quails but recent research has shown that its is closer to shorebirds. Superficially, the plains-wanderer looks similar to the seed-snipes in South America.
Due to habitat loss, Plains-wanderer is listed as Endangered according to BirdLife International.

I will never forget the first moment of seeing this bird - A small quail-like bird standing motionlessly with its necked stretched. I wonder how I would able to find one by myself amid the sea of grass at night.
Seeing Plains-wanderer has been one of my top wishlist since coming to Australia. Its retiring behaviour as well as the plumage that provides perfect camouflage make the Plains-wanderer almost impossible to find without the help of experienced guide.
After trying for more than 2 years to fit my schedule and the best season, I have finally signed up to take part in a tour in December 2007.
Male Superb Parrot feeding his young. Superb Parrot (Polytelis swainsonii) is a Vulnerable species according to BirdLife International, due to its dwindling restricted and fragmented distribution.
Unexpectedly, this tour was quite an intensive birding that we had also seen a number of interesting birds, such as Superb Parrot, Australasian Bittern, Little Bittern, Little Button-quail.
I am very poor in owl so seeing a Barn Owl in broad daylight is really a surprise.
It was my first ever bird tour, although I had paid for some trips before but those were more for logistics. The tour worthed the very tiring and long drive from Sydney. It was not just for the ticks but also great companion with the tour leader as well as other tour participants. I would highly recommend the tour organised by Philip.

This Australasian Bittern really put up a good show. It hovers above us for more than 5 minutes!

This should be a juvenile female as it has some traces of neck pattern and reddish breast patch which is feature of female. Note that its upper mandible is dark which is a male (or young) feature.



Little Button-quail - female. Found not far from where the Plains-wanderers were found. The Little Button-quail is found in habitat slightly different from those optimum for Plainswanderer - Plains-wander prefers sparser grass.



This is how the female looks like when it is calling for its mate. She has inflated her neck so much until the neck is as thick as her body. This must be a rare sight as I did not expect it to perform some courtship display right infront of us!!

Other related links:-

Australian Ornithological Services (http://www.philipmaher.com/main.htm)

Information from Bird Australia http://www.birdsaustralia.com.au/threatened-bird-profiles/plains-wanderer.html

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Coffs Harbour (22/12/2007 - 24/12/2007)

I took the opportunity of Christmas - NY holiday to travel to North Coast of NSW. Main purpose of this trip is to look for Beach Stone Curlew (or Beach Thick-knee) as well as Lesser Yellowleg, a very rare visitor from North America.
Well we were not disappointed with both species sighted and photographed. Thanks to Ken from Southwest Rocks who showed us the Yellowlog as well as those who gave useful information and direction.
Places visited:-
Southwest Rock - Jerseyville
Main highlights: Lesser Yellowleg (this is one of very few confirmed record of this American bird in Australia)

Urunga
Main highlights: A lone Beach Stone Curlew foraging at close range in the late afternoon on 23 Dec.

Coffs Harbour
Our accommodation base.

Red Rocks
- Another 3 more Beach Stone Curlews sighted

Dorrigo
- Beautiful highland town west of Coffs Harbour.

Sunset at the boardwalk in Urunga. This is a river estuary with extensive mangrove estuary.









Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tahiti Trip 2007 - 03 Aug to 11 Aug 2007

White Terns (Gygis alba) - Rangiroa Atoll, Tuamotu
The main purpose for my trip to Tahiti is to see some of the spectacular and endemic birds in French Polynesia. For a small island state with many island groups that scatter around the Pacific Ocean as vast as Europe Continent, it is not possible for a visitor to cover all the endemics in the island state. Anyway, my intention is just to concentrate on a few rare birds which until recently, were almost impossible to see. Thanks to rigorious conservation efforts and survey these years, many dangerously threatened birds' situations have been reversed.

French Polynesia is really a very beautiful island paradise with friendly people. (I do not need to further elaborate that). However, it may not be the best place to add a long list of new birds, considering the high cost and low number of native birds. It is rather more appealing to those who are fascinated by the native endemic Polynesian birds and are keen to know a bit more on how these highly threatened birds are actively managed to reverse their current deteriorating situation through combined efforts of local and international organisations as well as locals. The Ornithological Society of Polynesia - "Manu",(http://www.manu.pf/E_Sommaire.html) and the people behind it, should be commended for their proactive hard works to help save the birds of French Polynesia, which many of them are among the rarest birds species on Earth.

Putting birding aside, there are still a lot a travelling birdwatcher could gain: Making acquaintances with the local birdwatchers and conservation groups; Trying out local food (not the pricey hotel food); Understanding the local custom and culture (including Tahitian dance, of course); Picking up local language and brushing up my elementary level French; And last but not least, simply enjoying the beautiful scenery and friendly people in French Polynesia.

Overall, both my wife and I enjoyed this trip tremendously. My wife as a non birdwatcher and non nature lover was initially rather obliged to accommodate the trip to suit my itinerary. It turned out that she had found her favourites unexpectedly in an unexpected holiday destination - local food - simultaneously exotic and homely. We found inexpensive and great food at the “Wagon Restaurant” in the city centre - Chinese stir fry, French crepes, and barbecue fish. Having dinner in the setting of tropical open air crowded eating places reminded us of eating out at night in crowded city/towns in Malaysia/Singapore/Thailand.
Spectacular waterfalls in Papenoo Valley, Tahiti.



We may have missed many MUST DOs in French Polynesia such as beach going, snorkelling, scuba diving, some interesting sites like museums, etc. That is why one can never get enough and should never get enough of everything a place can offer. Leave it for some other time or for someone else to fill the story. After all the islands group is as big as the Europe Continent, if you include the journey to connect the islands from one end to the other. Putting aside the world famous Bora Bora and Moorea Islands, French Polynesia still has a lot to offer.



Inter-Continental Resort, Tahiti. (Moorea Island in the background)


Our 10-days-8-nights trip started from departing in early morning Fri 03 Aug 2007 from our home base in Sydney to returning to Australia on Sun morning, 12 Aug 2007. The direct Sydney - Papeete flight by Air Tahiti Nui took about 8 hours in going journey and 9 hours in returning journey. No visa is required for most nationalities.Following is our itinerary in chronological order.

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 1 - Fri 03 Aug 2007 Sydney - Thu 02 Aug 2007 Papeete

Due to crossing the international dateline, we gained one day upon arrival in Tahiti.

Arrived Tahiti’s Faaa International Airport at 9pm local time. Despite situated in one of the most remote corner in the world, the airport can be crowded even at late evening. As advised by my colleague who had been to Tahiti a month earlier, we did not book for pre-arranged hotel shuttle and walked straight out of departure hall to the taxi stand less than 20m in front. The taxi fare at this hour can be very pricey. We had to pay XPF4300 (~USD43) to get to Radisson Resort which is only 10 km away. We could have got XPF4000 but the XPF300 was added for the 3 extra luggages that the taxi driver has the right to charge. The lady taxi driver drove us past the Papeete town centre and gave us a brief introduction of the city landmarks in French as we drove along. It would be helpful if you have done some research at home beforehand and understand some basic French. By the time we checked in at the Radisson Resort (newest resort on the main island), it was already past 10pm. No more room service as the kitchen has closed at this hour. No shops outside of the Resort and even though there are, do not expect this is Bangkok where you can find food easily in late hours. Luckily, the cup noodles tucked in the luggage became very handy in this type of ‘hunger’ emergency.








Restarant and Pool at Radisson Resort, Tahiti.

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 2 - Fri 03 Aug 2007 Papeete

Breakfast appointment at Radisson with my wife's colleagues in Tahiti.
Some says everyone in Tahiti is friendly, including animals and the creepy crawlies. Here there are a Domestic Hen (Gallus gallus) and two of her chicks wondering around in the resort restaurant. A few moments later I saw my first Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) swooping over the guest sofas from the trees beside the swimming pool. Other birds that can be seen easily within the resort compound are Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata) and Red-browed Firetail Finch(Neochmia temporalis).








Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) , an introduced bird from India. Found commonly in hotel resorts.


There were white birds flying over the beach which I suspect to be White Tern due to its pure white plumage. Too bad I did not have binoculars with me but I later ticked this bird 3 days later in Tuamotu.

We missed the free shuttle bus to the town centre at 8am but the bus stop was just outside the resort and the service was frequent in daytime, about every 15 minutes. All buses (some have not been upgraded and is still ‘Le Truck’ among them) go to the town centre and the fare is XPF200 (~USD2) - very reasonable by French Polynesia's standard.

Cathedrale de l'Immaculee Conception, Papetee, Tahiti
The rest of the noon is mainly shopping for souvenir or simply window shopping. I also took this opportunity to enquire for the car rental which I planned to drive a week later. We went along Rue des Remparts which is mentioned by Lonely Planet that is good place to enquire for car rental besides the car rental counters at the air port. It seemed that Avis has better branding here and can be seen from the price. Avis also imposed daily surcharge for peak season. Europcar, on the other hand, offered a 20% discount (valid for Tahiti Island only) for international traveller travelling by Air Tahiti Nui.

Other places worthwhile to recognise are the Tourist Information Centre at the water front of the town centre and the auto money changer teller machine just across the street. We also visited the Post Office which is at west side along the water front main road, Boulevarde Pomare. My main purpose of visiting the post office is the buy 2 stamps - at our time of visit, French Polynesia Post Office had issued a set of 2 fabulous stamps featuring Polynesian Ground-dove and Tuamotu Sandpiper - what a timely souvenir for a visiting birdwatcher cum bird stamps collector!

Today is the first Friday of the month, which coincidently is the monthly meeting day for MANU members. As the bus system was efficient (during daytime only and not during rush hour), we had decided to hop onto one to the east of the town to pay a visit at MANU's office. Blessed by tourist luck that we found the white building where MANU was located without much trouble. Our intention of visit was not really to attend the meeting, but rather to ask for more guidance on looking for those targeted birds within our short time frame in French Polynesia. As the expected turn up of members was few due to major school holidays, Philip had kindly invited us to join in for a small informal social meeting attended by 3 other members at the bar of Sheraton Hotel. It was nice to make acquaintance with the local ornithology club members and know how they work to promote and conserve the birds of French Polynesia. For example, it was interesting to get the first hand information in conversation of Rimatara Lorikeet, Fatuhiva Monarch and Marquesas Imperial Pigeon. It would be great for me to visit one day the islands where are found. Generally the conservation and survey works are very challenging in this part of the world. For example, due to remoteness of some islands from modern civilisation, transportations to some islands are very costly and difficult to organise.

After the meeting had finished before sunset, Philippe dropped us at the water front of the town centre where we had our very nice dinner at the famous open air wagon food outlets. This is where one can find many affordable choices of barbecue fish, Chinese dishes, pizza, and last but not least the crepes which is a must try. Took an expensive taxi ride back to hotel at XPF3000 (If we had left before 8pm it would have been XPF2000)/ Back at Radisson Resort where we managed to catch up with the Tahiti Dance show before it finished. I have also confirmed with Jean on my next day quest for the Tahiti Monarch.

Tahitian Dance at Radisson Resort, Tahiti

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 3 - Sat 04 Aug 2007 Papeete, Tahiti

Meet up with Jean at 730am and we were at the SE side of Tahiti where a few narrow forested valleys in the areas are the last piece of land where the critically endangered Tahiti Monarch (Pomarea nigra) survives. These less accessible valleys are the few last remnant natural habitats which are least affected by all sorts of invasive species. Currently there are only about 40 individuals that have been accounted for. Furthermore half of them are non breeding single birds. Hope its situation will improve after intensive rat poisoning, habitat management and population monitoring. There are some initial signs that the birds are increasing slowly and a possible small population may be found in another inaccessible valley.

Tahiti Monarch (Pomarea nigra) - Adult






See BirdLife’s link for more information on the Tahiti Monarch.
http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=6077&m=0
We hiked from the foothill for about 3 kms further into the steep and narrow valley. We crossed many shallow streams and Jean had to chop off many entangled twigs and fallen branches along the way. In the beginning of the journey, the floor of the track was filled with wilted flowers of the beautiful African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata), indicating that this part of forest is nothing but a land dominated by introduced species. No wonder the Monarch has been pushed to the further up in the valley. It took us 45 minutes before coming to the first territory according to Jean. Probably due to overcast in the morning, there was no bird call, no bird activity for nearly an hour before we finally spotted the first Tahiti Monarch near the canopy of the forest. By noon, we saw all the 3 flycatchers (A pair and a single, all adults in black) in the territory. Jean also showed me a clump of debris which was formerly a nest a year ago. This flycatcher can be surveyed relatively easier from the perspective of monitoring forest dwelling bird. This is because the bird is highly territorial and amazingly that there is no other passerine living in the territory, at least from my observation.

African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata). Beautiful plant but detrimental to native ecology

The only other birds observed at this site was a Gray-green Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus purpuratus purpuratus) on a highest canopy as well as a few Tahiti Swiftlets (Aerodramus leucophaeus) flying above the canopies. We then hiked for 20 minutes further up to look for the second territory. Unfortunately no flycatchers turned up at that territory and the only other bird recorded was the crows of the feral Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus). We then went into a canyon where another Tahitian endemic - the Tahiti Swiftlet (Aerodramus leucophaeus) is found nesting. I only had a fleeting view of an all brown swiftlet and there were about 20 nests cluttering on an overhanging wall. The area was very dim the stream that flows through the canyon was rather rapid.

Precipitous canyon in the interior of Tahiti island


We returned to our car at 2pm and next to the car we heard of the introduced Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) in the thick scrubs. Very well known among the locals, this white-eye's local name 'Vini' has been adopted as the name of the national mobile phone network service provider (http://www.vini.pf/wps/portal). Back to Radisson Resort for a shower and nap. At night the hotel hosted yet another Polynesian dance show, this time it is the Marquesas dance which is different from the Tahitian dance the night before.

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 4 - Sun 05 Aug 2007 Papeete - Rangiroa

Checked out from Radisson Hotel at 9am and hopped into our pre-booked taxi to Faaa Domestic Airport - both International and domestic airport are sharing the same building. Note that there is only 20kg baggage limit for domestic flight if you are connecting from international flight within 7 days, scuba diver could have even more allowance. Otherwise the baggage limit is so miserable at 10kg for domestic travel. Knowing the limitation, we had left some large luggage at the hotel. Since we arrived early at the airport (luckily no traffic congestion in the city), we had decided to booked our rented car in advance at the Europcar Airport counter for our trip back in Tahiti three days later.



Arial view of Lagon Bleu - Blue Lagoon, "Lagoon within Lagoon", Rangiroa Atoll



The domestic flight took off on time. The lady officer at the departure hall checkpoint was curious of us and probably had never seen our Malaysian passports. She tried to read my name 'Lelaki' which actually means male gender in Malay. There was no allocated seating for the small domestic aircraft. My wife and I had to sit separately on the aisle seats and that made us miss the golden opportunity of taking photos from the air the islands of Moorea and Tetiaroa (Famous for late Hollywood star Marlon Brando). However I still managed to take some decent photo of Tetiaroa as well as Blue Lagoon of Rangiroa. It was an easy one hour flight in clear and sunny day. Norbert, our bungalow owner had already waited for us at the small airport of Rangiroa. With him was his very cute five year old son Brian. After putting down our luggage at the bungalow, Norbert drove us to the Pizzeria nearby. Our first day was free and easy.



View from our bungalow - Traditional Polynesian Hut

Rangiroa is the 2nd largest lagoon atoll in the world. It consists of 200+ flat motu (islets) which make up the chain of the atoll. The turquoise blue lagoon is so beautiful that you have to see it to believe it. Norbert also drove us to the nearby 'main' town of Avatoru and then to the other end of Tiputa village overlooking Tiputa Pass which is famous for drift scuba diving. We did not have any luck with dolphin while waiting briefly at Tiputa pass. We later took Norbert's bikes to wander about the nearby Avatoru main village.



Motu Fara, an islet at Avatoru Pass. Rangiroa

Dinner prepared by our host, Norbert and Tildi was brilliant (Tuna in Vanilla Cream, a specialty from French Polynesia as well as 'poisson cru' the raw fish in coconut milk, rice and dessert). That gave us a good experience of living with the Polynesian family. We had the privilege to be the first English speaking guest Norbert had ever received. French love the traditional 'Pension' and Norbert's guests have been almost exclusively visitors from France. 2 different families we met at the other Norbert's bungalow on separate nights coincidently come from Toulouse of France.




Our host's sons playing canoes during their school holiday. Photo taken from our bungalow's veranda. Rangiroa Atoll, Tuamotu

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 5 - Mon 06 Aug 2007 Rangiroa

Today's itinerary is the main purpose of the whole trip. The weather is clear and the sea is calm in the morning. At 9pm, we hopped on a small boat heading to an uninhabited islet (Motu) owned by an extended local family. Permission must be obtained before hand. This is the tiny islet where the critically endangered Polynesian Ground-dove was discovered in 1990's.

Polynesian Ground-dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera) - Male foraging on scrub floor


Polynesian Ground-dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera) is originally found widely throughout Society Islands and Tuamotu Archipelago. It soon became extinct in Tahiti after arrival of Europeans as it fell prey to black rat that came together with the ship. Later it had also become extinct on many Tuamotu islands where it was formerly reported by locals.

See BirdLife's link for more information (http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=2614&m=0).
The islet is very pristine with lots of seabirds hovering over it as well as many nestings on the island. Due to shallow corals fringing around the islet, we had to get off the boat and waded for 100 meters before reaching the sandy coral shore. It was the first-timer's luck that I found my first stunning and tame male Polynesian Ground-dove within 5 minutes of reaching the scrubs. It was feeding nonchalantly on the buds and seeds on the floor. All together I counted 4 males and 1 female where one male has some pink paints on its breast done by researcher earlier for monitoring purpose as well as one male with paler grey head and nape, probably suggesting old and worn plumage.

The very little photographed female Ground-dove

Two Bristle-thighed Curlews (Numenius tahitiensis) were found along the beach were very reluctant to fly. So much so that I had 'herded' them for 150 meters along the beach. One tried to tucked under the beach scrub. One finally took off when I wanted to prove if there were really flightless during wing moult at wintering ground.






Bristle-thighed Curlew is a threatened species. More information can be found in BirdLife International link:-

http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=3010&m=0




The larger Brown Noddy










The smaller Black Noddy (below)


Other seabirds seen on this islet are Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor palmerstoni), Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster), White Tern (Gygis alba), Black Noddy (Anous minutus) and Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus).






We then headed to a touristy site which is called Le Lagon Bleu (Blue Lagoon). This is an idyllic shallow turquoise blue lagoon (lagoon within lagoon) fringed with islets of coconut grove. We landed on one of the small islet and heard the Blue Lorikeet (Vini peruviana) even before we came ashore.





Juvenile Great Frigatebird



Once on this small islet, the lorikeet is very easy to find but difficult to have a decent photograph because it flew from one coconut tree to another. Feeding on coconut nectar, the lorikeets often moved in pair and became very quiet when feeding. While chasing after the lorikeet, I also found a quiet Tuamotu Reed-warbler (Acrocephalus atypha) as well as few nesting Brown Noddy.








Blue Lorikeet (Vini peruviana)


Being very satisfied with so many sighting in a day, we finally got back to our boat and called it a day. Unfortunately the weather became windy and even the usual calm lagoon became rather rough. We had to put on special raincoat as it was both bumpy and splashy on our last leg back to the main Avatoru island. There was no need to wipe my face as I was constantly sprayed with sea water - nice drinking of Tuamotu's very clean sea water too!










Tuamotu Reed-warbler picking up left-over rice??

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 6 - Tue 07 Aug 2007 Rangiroa - Papeete

The sea was still rough for the whole day and it was a good choice that we had done all the necessary boat trip the day before. It also rained intermittedly at noon as well as in the afternoon. I had purposely booked a late 430pm flight back to Tahiti because I had earlier planned for a full two days on Rangiroa in case the weather was not condusive for boat riding.
The rest of the day was relaxing and we visited a black pearl farm nearby. Also visited the local post office to send a very meaningful postcard to my parents with the stamp of Polynesian Ground-dove affixed - proving that I had seen the bird from the island I was sending the postcard from.


Rangiroa Airport
It was a very memorable trip to Rangiroa birdwatchigwise as well as travelling wise. Norbert and his wife as well as their two cute sons accompanied us to the airport. I would highly recommend Norbert's family run bungalow for any visitors to Rangiroa atoll. Norbert speaks good English and was very helpful. They have two bungalows where the bigger one is suitable for bigger family with self catering facilities. See his web to know better what a ‘pension’ look like. (http://www.tevahinedream.com/)


Goodbye Rangiroa!!!



The flight home was slightly delayed because of a brief heavy down pour right after the plane had landed. It was very cloudy on way home so there was no need to grab a strategic window seat. By the time we arrived at Tahiti airport, there was a small chaos of baggage retrival where the carousal was stopped every now and then.Considering ourself as familiarised travellers after spending several days in French Polynesia, we had decided to take a bus to the town at 7pm. It was still a bit tricky to get to the bus stop, however with moderate luggage we were able to walk up the steps through the car park and crossed two roads before stopping a bus. All buses (as well as 'Le truck') going to the left (east) direction head to the city. Had dinner at our favourite caravan park "Les Roulottes" at the town centre and then crossed the street to a taxi stand to go back to Radisson Hotel.