Aside from reading the bird book, I must admit that we had not done a huge amount of research for our first upcoming Venture to the island of New Caledonia.
The flight took about 2 hours from Brisbane to the island’s capital – Noumea, where we easily picked up our rental car at the very nice new modern airport. As we were not due at our B and B until later that afternoon, we had time to make a couple of birding stops along the way. The very nice Parc Fayard was our first stop where we made our introduction into New Caledonian birds. A pleasant walk around the park produced our first NC endemics – Striated Starling, Green-backed White-eye and Red-throated Parrotfinch. Satin Swiftlet and the local race of Sacred Kingfisher were also both common, as were introduced Common Waxbills.
Our Gite was in the suburb of Robinson – about 15 minutes from the town center where we had our own fully equipped apartments with a wonderful outdoor deck where we could drink a beer and do our evening bird lists. Carole was our hostess and did her best to ensure we had a very comfortable stay and Isabelle was our local guide who met us the next morning. Originally from Avignon, Isabelle and her family have lived in Noumea for several years.
Our first destination was the Parc les Grandes Fougeres – Giant Tree Fern Park and our first chance for the endemic and amazing Kagu. Not our best chance, according to Isabelle, but still a great place for other endemics. It was a beautiful walk with NC Imperial Pigeon, Horned Parakeet, NC Goshawk, NC Whistler and the amazing Cloven-feathered Dove.
We spent the next full day on the island of Lifou which has 2 endemic White-eyes. The Small Lifou White-eye was pretty common, but we hired a local guide to take us to the Large Lifou WE, which actually looks fairly different to most others in the family. Red-bellied Fruit-dove and Cardinal Honeyeater are not endemic, but were fairly common on Lifou and did not occur on the larger island of Grand Terre. The small planes were efficient and quick, but it was the first time I have had to check our lunch on a flight - thankfully no-one ate it!
The next day was spent at sea on a very luxurious ocean-going fishing boat. None of had ever been on a pelagic trip quite like this; beer, lunch and an awesome view from the bridge. Highlights were several White-tailed Tropicbirds, plenty of Tahiti Petrels, Masked and Brown Boobies and several terns.
The next day was la piéce de rèsistance! An early start found at Parc Provincial de la Rivière Bleue where we had an incredible day exploring the fascinating flora of New Caledonia as well as seeing the amazing Kagu – very closely. At times it felt as if we were walking in the Jurassic era, just without dinosaurs! The Kagu easily stole the show, but the supporting cast were also excellent, with NC Friarbird, NC Cuckooshrike, NC Myzomela and Yellow-bellied Robin all being easy to see. It was also fascinating to watch a NC Crow using a small stick – something we had, of course, read about over the years.
Our last day was spent exploring on our own. We drove north to look for the NC Thicketbird, but had to be happy with just hearing it; had great views of Shining Bronze-Cuckoo and Long-tailed Triller and with some local advice, spent the last few hours of daylight at some semi-abandoned ponds. Despite the very low water levels we had a few shorebirds with the best being 16 Double-banded Plovers – a migrant from New Zealand to Eastern Australia.
A week in New Caledonia was a perfect length of time as we had several shots at getting the 20+ endemics, explored new areas and taking our time. We also enjoyed early morning visits to the local patisserie, delicious French food, paved roads and constant electricity (!) and wonderful French hospitality with Carole at our accommodation. Our local guide, Isabelle, was excellent and I can't wait for a return visit.