My Birding Blogs

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tahiti Trip 2007 - Day 8 - Thu 07 Aug 2006 Papeete, Papenoo Valley, Round Island Trip

Left resort at 8am and headed to Papenoo valley. Papenoo town is situated 17 kms from Papeete and 10 km from our resort. Papenoo River is the longest river in Tahiti. Before crossing the river bridge over Papenoo River, we turned right from the main coastal road and headed inland. The valley road is well paved only in the first 4 kms from the coast and it gets very bumpy afterwards with many potholes and often I had to drive as slow as 10kmph. At distance of 7 kms we came to a very peculiar one-vehicle narrow iron bridge and a cement river bed crossing in parallel to it. According to the signboard, one must use the iron bridge in going direction and cross the river bed in returning trip. The river bed crossing is a depression cement road which is constantly submerged by the flow of Papenoo river. When the water level is low, one could just drive through the shallow river. However I could imagine that the car could be washed away when the water level is high. After crossing the iron bridge, I had the opportunity to witness another local’s 4WD that still used the narrow iron bridge on his way back to the coast. That means no many drivers are game enough to use the cement river bed crossing.
My main purpose for this trip is to look for another endemic of Tahiti Island - the Tahiti Reed-warbler (Acrocephalus caffer).
This species used to have other races in nearby Moorea and Huahine Islands but all these have become extinct recently. This species is also unique in having two colour morphs - the more common yellow morph and the rarer dark brown morph, which is very unusual in passerine birds. (Let me know if you know of this phenomenon in other birds besides the hepatic/normal morph in some cuckoos, black/brown morph in Asiatic Paradise Flycatcher and Black/Red/Yellow face in Gouldian Finch). Due to its low number and narrow distribution on the island, the Tahiti Reed Warbler is considered as Vulnerable according to BirdLife International. (See link

Alas, after driving for an hour at low speed, the Reed-warbler was still nowhere to be found; despite we had stopped at every bamboo clumps we had passed by. Also watch out for the very abundant mosquito as this part of the valley is still at low altitude. These mosquitoes looked like Aedes Mosquito with zebra-like legs and are very active in daytime. Feeling disappointed with no target found, we parked our car at about 10km where there was a proper parking lot at the right side of the road. There was a signboard at further 100 meters warning that the road afterwards is strictly for 4WD vehicle. Standing in front of my rented car, I heard some non-melodious gecko like call 'Chrrr..chrrr' coming out from a 8 meter tree. This is an isolated small patch of scrubs sandwiched between the road and the wide stream. Took a look with my naked eye and blind me - a chunky yellow passerine bird hopping from one twig to another. This must be the Reed Warbler and I quickly grabbed my camera to take a few shots. It stayed for about 10 minutes on the tree before flying across the road to the bamboo forests at the foothill and finally disappeared and stopped calling altogether. By recognising the call, I could remember that I only heard 2 others throughout the journey. The Reed-warbler either calls infrequently or is genuinely rare. Other birds seen are White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus dorotheae), Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer), Grey-backed White-eye, Chestnut-breasted Manikin and Red-browed Firefinch.

We left Papenoo valley at 11am and continued our clockwise round island trip for simply scenic drive. The northwest coast of Tahiti is the steepest part of the valley, where the sea wave is almost 3 meters from the paved road. This part is the least developed part of the island. According to the guide book that this part of the road is often closed due to soil erosion. This was true for us as at one part we waited for 20 minutes on the road while a fallen tree was being removed. The Taravao at the isthmus or the neck of Tahiti is surprisingly the only decent town in the eastern region. Further southeast in the Tahiti Iti is the Teahupoo which is unexpectedly quiet. Even a public toilet at the end of the road near Teahupoo is closed.
We back tracked to Taravao Ishmus and had our lunch at a friendly Tahitian Chinese restaurant across the police station. The drive back to Papeete along the south coast gave us the other look of the Tahiti Island. We must have missed out many highlights along the road such as Gauguin Museam and the Museam of Tahiti and the Islands. We stopped at Sofitel Hotel briefly to take the photo of the Moorea in the background, without realising that about 2 hours earlier, a plane departing from Moorea crashed soon after take off, killing all 21 passengers and crews in it. According to our contact in Tahiti, this is the fourth plane accident in French Polynesia and the first avian accident that
involved commercial aircraft.
"Melting Pots" of Tahiti? Our lunch at Taravao consists of French baguette, chinese sweet and sour chicken and local fruit Pomme Etoile ("Star Apple").