New Caledonia: The Quest for Kagu wth Tropical Birding - 4th - 8th July 2007

Published by Sam Woods/Tropical Birding (sam AT

Participants: Sam Woods


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The very, very odd KAGU. Here seen giving his great 'punk-hair do' display to his mate.
THE main reason for visiting New Caledonia is to see this incredible bird.

ALL photos in this report were taken on this tour

New Caledonia makes a superb short break, as an add-on to a longer more demanding trip elsewhere (New Guinea or Australia for example). The reason for this is simple: the birding is easy, with the possibility of getting most of the endemics even at a relaxed birding pace by visiting only a few close sites; the place itself is very relaxing and very easily accessible from Australia, just a few hours away by plane. The few main birding sites are all under two hours drive from the modern capital city of Noumea on the main island of La Grande Terre, that is more of a chilled-out beach resort than a bustling capital city. Therefore all the sites can be visited by staying in a good comfortable hotel in the relaxed atmosphere of the islands relaxed capital Noumea. With around 20 endemics to New Caledonia and surrounding islands readily available there is plenty to keep the avid listers happy, and almost all of these are fairly easy to come by by visiting only a few easily accessible sites. Of course most birders have only one real motivation for coming here - Kagu. If you are after something a little bit different, then this truly unique, flightless, semi-nocturnal, monotypic and endemic family fits the bill perfectly. This quirky bird is worth the entrance fee alone, although to ignore some of the other avian attractions is to do New Caledonia an injustice, as although the bird list is small a high proportion of the birds are endemic, and many of these are very cool birds in their own right. On top of that many of them are fairly common on this thin strip of an island, making getting repeated views of them likely and this also leads to another great aspect to a New Caledonian birding trip - good photographic opportunities are often available of many of these island specialties.

On this trip we spent three very enjoyable days covering the three main sites on La Grande Terre: Parc de la Rivière Bleue (Blue River Park), Mont Khogi and Farino. We managed to find all but one of the endemics, including two of the especially tricky ones - Crow Honeyeater and New Caledonian Grassbird. On top of this we ran into Kagus on three separate occasions, and were treated to an amazing courtship ritual on one occasion that was filmed, photographed and never to be forgotten.

A very 'cute' common endemic in Parc de la Rivière Bleue

Parc de la Rivière Bleue

Day 1

We began by visiting Parc de la Rivière Bleue, that has all but one of the endemics, and more importantly is the best place in the world to see the Kagu. As this is many people's raison detre for coming to New Caledonia we decided to head for after New Caledonia's flagship bird first to ease the pressure. Shortly after arrival we were boarding the park bus, (the only vehicle permitted into this key area of the reserve), that runs along a tranquil rainforest road in the park that is within the core breeding range of the Kagu. As it turned out we literally almost ran into our main target bird, as we were greeted with the site of a pair of Kagus sitting slap bang in the middle of the deserted forest road. We quickly jumped off the bus and feasted on these incredible close up views of Kagu. Literally our first endemic and virtually the first bird of the trip turned out to be this awesome target bird. After we had well and truly soaked them up, (getting some nice flashes of their black-barred ash- gray wings in the process), we carried on a little further in the park and ventured onto a short forest trail. At first all was quiet and then suddenly we hit a flock and a flurry of endemics ensued. First a Streaked Fantail was found, and then a little higher in undergrowth a bright male New Caledonian Whistler appeared. Way up in the canopy this varied flock was dominated by an inconspicuous warbler, Fan-tailed Gerygone, while a flash of red in the understorey had us homing in our first very smart Red-throated Parrotfinches. The flock lingered for a while, allowing the parrotfinches to settle in by a stream and start bathing in the open in front of us, and just long enough for us to pick out a beautiful ivory-billed Southern Shrikebill that tried to sneak quietly by.

Parc de la Rivière Bleue

Parc de la Rivière Bleue

The flock was soon on the move again and the 'deathly' quiet returned once more. A pause by the entrance to the trail and a sudden movement on the ground saw us picking up our first Yellow-bellied Robins, an endemic species that was common and conspicuous in the park. Although we also heard our first New Caledonian Imperial Pigeons we would have to have a little patience on this one, as they steadfastly remained hidden on this day. A little later in the morning a large dark bird was seen moving furtively in the undergrowth and so we quickly focused our attention on it, and soon after were happily taking in our only sighting of Crow Honeyeater of the trip. This massive and strange honeyeater is like no other and definitely rates as one of Caledonia's real oddities. There are estimated to be only around 400 birds left, almost all of which are found in this large park. This was undoubtedly the rarest bird we saw in our time there, and is never a guaranteed species due to its unretiring nature and genuine rarity. The performance of the day occurred late in the afternoon when we again ran into the same confiding pair of Kagus we had seen in the morning. However, on this occasion they outdid themselves by treating us to the amazing full range of display behavior when we could really begin to appreciate to the full how fantastic, bizarre and truly unique this weird endemic really is. One bird would walk in chest pumped out and flare up his huge white crest in the face of the other individual - just superb to see again and again over the course of a really magical half an hour. Birding some edge habitat later brought us many of the common endemics to the more open habitats, Barred and Dark-brown Honeyeaters and a fine perched White-bellied (New Caledonia) Goshawk, in addition to some further Red-throated Parrotfinches, Rufous Whistler and several Long-tailed Trillers . While on the way out of the park a pair of cuckoo-shrikes turned out to be beady-eyed Melanesian Cuckoo-shrikes.


Because you can simply never have enough photos of KAGU can you!

Day 2

We began the day by returning to Parc de la Rivière Bleue for a little while to pick up a further couple of species that had eluded us the previous day. Sure enough the distinctive calls of New Caledonian Cuckoo-shrike were heard early on and we soon enjoyed good looks at this rusty-vented endemic cuckoo-shrike. And a little later some monarch-like sounds brought us onto a fine pied male Melanesian Flycatcher, with another red-breasted female bird being picked up later that morning. Most interesting sighting of the morning though was getting our first good looks at New Caledonian Crow. This uninspiring crow initially has little obvious appeal. However, this species is one of very few species in the world that actually uses tools. On this morning we watched fascinated as this corvid carried around his 'comfort stick', that he tucked away under his foot when not being used to attack a branch in search of some unseen prey item. We also saw another group of Kagus, this time three very shy birds that crossed over the road, nervously ran back into the forest and promptly vanished.

Mont Khogi

The world's largest arboreal pigeon
Mont Khogi

In the afternoon we focused our attention on Mont Khogi, specifically to try and get some of the parrots and pigeons we were missing as this site, with its scenic views over the canopy of the rainforest, can be a better bet for those species. Sure enough Khogi did not let us down. First off a group of three Horned Parakeets spent the best part of an hour feeding in a fruiting tree right beside where we'd parked the car. This eye-catching parrot turned out to be bird 5000 for Nick, who was hoping that he could 'warp' the Kagu into number 5000, although had to concede he was still shy 10-15 birds at that point! In any case this attractive parrot was a deserving species for that special landmark, with its beautiful bright red 'horns'. A little later on we ran into a garden that held a few welcome fruiting trees that attracted first up to 3 separate New Caledonian Imperial Pigeons - the largest arboreal pigeon in the world and one that is increasingly under threat from hunting and habitat loss; and secondly one of the most attractive of the melanesian pigeons - the gorgeous Cloven-feathered Dove. So-called as it has some clove-like feathers on the wings that give this bird a very distinctive whistling sound when it takes off, a convenient aid to finding this species when it's around. Other notable birds in the area included several very handsome scarlet-and-white male New Caledonia Myzomelas, a few New Caledonia Friarbirds in the local gardens, and several Metallic Pigeons perched on roadside wires.

Mont Khogi

Mont Khogi

Day 3

Our final day also brought us the longest day trip of the tour, as we made the one and half hour ride to Farino. The main reason for making this journey was for arguably the toughest of the New Caledonian endemics. Trawling along the road in Lantana gulleys and around the grassy verges brought little reward, until suddenly and quietly a bird responded with a single note. The i-pod was swung into action and soon tempted a New Caledonia Grassbird into view, only a few meters away. Mission accomplished, that hardest of the endemics was in the bag. We also enjoyed further looks at the strange tool-carrying New Caledonian Crow, handsome Horned Parakeets and several Melanesian Cuckoo-shrikes.

The strange, tool-using crow species

Parc de la Rivière Bleue

We also picked up some other trip ticks like Swamp Harrier and Brown Goshawk near there. It was a fairly relaxed day as we'd seen most of our target birds now so we simply enjoyed some great views of some of the cooler endemics we had seen before, like brilliant red New Caledonia Myzomelas, a clean-cut White-bellied (New Caledonia) Goshawk a few New Caledonia Whistlers and Long-tailed Trillers, and a bunch of Fan-tailed Gerygones, Streaked Fantails and Gray Fantails. We then returned to the quiet capital, Noumea for a final farewell dinner in this chilled-out beachside resort.

Parc de la Rivière Bleue

Parc de la Rivière Bleue

Species Lists

Taxonomy and nomenclature follow Clements, J. (5th ed. updated 2004) Birds of the World. A Checklist. Pica Press. Birds that are endemic to the sub-region (that includes the island of Vanuatu) are marked as ENDEMIC.

CORMORANTS: Phalacrocoracidae

Little Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos A few were seen in Parc de la Rivière Bleue.


White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae A few were seen in Parc de la Rivière Bleue.


Whistling Kite Haliastur sphenurus Fairly commonly seen in a few areas on New Caledonia, including Parc de la Rivière Bleue.

Swamp Harrier Circus approximans Only recorded on the one day when two or three birds were seen on our trip to the Farino area.

Brown Goshawk Accipiter fasciatus Again only seen on our one day in the Farino area.

New Caledonia Goshawk Accipiter haplochrous ENDEMIC This is one very smart endemic accipiter, that we ran into twice in our time in Parc de la Rivière Bleue, and also once around Farino.


Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis One ran across our path in the Farino area.

Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio Two were seen by the roadside near Farino.

KAGU: Rhynochetidae

Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus ENDEMIC The undisputed highlight of this (or any) New Caledonia trip is getting to grips with this cool endemic bird and family. Very much Caledonia's flagship bird donning their currency notes and also readily displayed on road signs around Noumea, frankly a must-see bird. We almost ran into our first pair that were literally standing in the middle of a quiet rainforest road in Parc de la Rivière Bleue. This same friendly pair were hanging around in the same area on our return journey the same day. However on this occasion they put on the full Kagu show, with a full-on display seen involving one bird pumping out his chest aggressively and approaching the other with his huge crest raised. Absolutely superb and the unquestionable trip highlight. On another day three much shyer birds in another area of the park were seen nervously crossing the road and soon disappeared into the forest. The completely predictable BIRD OF THE TRIP.

GULLS: Laridae

Silver Gull Larus novaehollandiae A few were seen hanging about on wires right in the heart of Noumea.

TERNS: Sternidae

Great Crested Tern Sterna bergii A few were seen off the coast close to Farino.


Metallic Pigeon Columba vitiensis A strangely difficult bird in much of its range (e.g. in the Philippines), these birds were shockingly easy around Mont Khogi, where they were found perched on roadside wires and feeding on fruiting shrubs in the local gardens. Another was also seen at Parc de la Rivière Bleue.

Cloven-feathered Dove Drepanoptila holosericea ENDEMIC A stunningly-colorful dove, with bright lemon-yellow breast and vivid emerald green upperparts, a real 'cracker'. One was found feeding in a fruiting tree, in a garden that also held several New Caledonian Imperial Pigeons enjoying the same feast.

New Caledonian Imperial Pigeon Ducula goliath ENDEMIC As implied by the scientific name this is one very big pigeon. Not quite the biggest in the world (that title goes to the breathtaking Southern Crowned Pigeon of New Guinea), although it is the largest arboreal pigeon species in the world. Their distinctive deep calls were first heard around Parc de la Rivière Bleue, although had to wait to pick them up on Mont Khogi, where three birds were found feeding in a garden that was loaded with fruiting trees.

PARROTS: Psittacidae

Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus A common and conspicuous bird at many sites, including in the capital Noumea.

Horned Parakeet Eunymphicus cornutus ENDEMIC Another stunning endemic, that was seen at all the main sites on the island. When first picked up on Mont Khogi this species became the landmark 5000th bird for one person in the group. This odd-looking parakeet with its flashy red horns was a very worthy species to take that significant position on his world list.

Red-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae (H) ENDEMIC Our undoubted one disappointment of the trip was only hearing this bird distantly on one occasion on Mount Khogi.

SWIFTS: Apodidae

Glossy Swiftlet Aerodramus esculenta A common daily bird on New Caledonia.

KINGFISHERS: Alcedinidae

Sacred Kingfisher Todirhamphus sanctus Two were seen in the Farino area.

CUCKOO-SHRIKES: Campephagidae

Melanesian Cuckoo-shrike Coracina caledonica This beady, yellow-eyed cuckoo-shrike is also found in the Solomons. We first saw a pair in Parc de la Rivière Bleue, with another pair there later; and also saw one at Farino.

New Caledonian Cuckoo-shrike Coracina analis ENDEMIC Several very vocal birds were seen in the Parc de la Rivière Bleue.

Long-tailed Triller Lalage leucopyga This bird was seen on all of our days in New Caledonia, and at all the sites visited.


New Caledonian Grassbird Megalurulus mariei ENDEMIC Arguably New Caledonia's toughest bird. We found it quickly in our focused search for it in the Farino area, although it was typically skulking even then. However, we did get good close-up views with a little help from our recorder in the end.

FANTAILS: Rhipiduridae

Gray Fantail Rhipidura fuliginosa Both the fantails were very common and conspicuous being recorded a number of times at all the sites on the tour.

Streaked Fantail Rhipidura spilodera Also found on Fiji this near-endemic is a very regular member of the regular mixed flocks in the forests of New Caledonia.


Southern Shrikebill Clytorhynchus pachycephaloides ENDEMIC This subtly handsome, endemic flycatcher was seen twice in passing flocks in Parc de la Rivière Bleue. A much cooler bird than implied by the field guide illustration.

Melanesian Flycatcher Myiagra caledonica Two separate sightings (of a male and a female bird) of this monarch in Parc de la Rivière Bleue.


Yellow-bellied Robin Eopsaltria flaviventris ENDEMIC This cute endemic was very common in Parc de la Rivière Bleue, often hopping down to catch insects just a few meters away from us.

WHISTLERS: Pachycephalidae

New Caledonian Whistler Pachycephala caledonica ENDEMIC This was a fairly commonly recorded bird in the many mixed feeding flocks found in forested areas in the Parc de la Rivière Bleue; and also recorded around Farino too.

Rufous Whistler Pachycephala rufiventris Also commonly recorded in the Parc de la Rivière Bleue, although this species seems to favor the open edge habitat compared to the New Caledonian Whistlers.


Fan-tailed Gerygone Gerygone flavolatoralis This near-endemic was a very regular flock member in the forests of both Farino and Parc de la Rivière Bleue.

WHITE-EYES: Zosteropidae

Green-backed White-eye Zosterops xanthochrous ENDEMIC A common bird at all sites visited on New Caledonia, frequently encountered throughout the trip.

Silver-eye Zosterops lateralis Only recorded the once in the Farino area.

HONEYEATERS: Meliphagidae

Dark-brown Honeyeater Lichmera incana ENDEMIC A common endemic, especially in the open areas. Again recorded at all sites on the tour.

New Caledonian Myzomela Myzomela caledonica ENDEMIC A very welcome daily feature on the tour, this cool red-and-white honeyeater was seen at Farino, Mont Khogi and Parc de la Rivière Bleue.

New Caledonian Friarbird Philemon diemenensis ENDEMIC Just a few individuals were recorded at all the sites covered on the tour.

Crow Honeyeater Gymnomyza aubryana ENDEMIC This is another of the tougher endemics to get to grips with, courtesy of the fact that it is genuinely rare and thin on the ground. We picked one up feeding quietly in the understorey on our first morning at Parc de la Rivière Bleue.

Barred Honeyeater Philidonyris undulata ENDEMIC This is a very common endemic on the island and especially around Mont Khogi where they were feasting on the flowering shrubs at the time.


White-breasted Woodswallow Artamus leucorynchus Several were seen in the Farino area.


New Caledonian Crow Corvus moneduloides ENDEMIC This strange tool-using crow, one of the few bird species in the world known to use tools, was seen first in Parc de la Rivière Bleue and later in the Farino area where they were decidedly more common.

STARLINGS: Sturnidae

Striated Starling Aplonis striata Recorded at all sites visited in the tour, with many especially in the gardens on Mont Khogi.

Common Myna Acridotheres tristis A common introduced species around Noumea.


House Sparrow Passer domesticus Very commonly seen on New Caledonia.


Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild This introduced African species was seen a couple of times in the Noumea area.

Red-throated Parrotfinch Erythrura psittacea ENDEMIC This gorgeous endemic finch was first seen in Parc de la Rivière Bleue where several showy flocks were seen, including a pair that bathed in an open stream for several minutes; and also recorded several times in Farino.