To visit contact Doris Raumae: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I joined a Birdquest tour to Solomons in July 2017 (led by Mark Van Beirs and Josh Bergmark) that visited a number of the islands, including the highlands of Makira. All of the mountain areas in the Solomons are extremely complicated to reach, and Birdquest organizes the only birding tour that visits them regularly (every two years). The previous Birdquest tour in 2015 had not made it to the Makira highlands because of a land tenure dispute in their regular site, so they tried a new place this time on the recommendation of a trip report by Markus Lagerqvist.
12 July. We flew into Kirakira, then drove east along the north coast of Makira until the end of the road (a village called Naoghioghi). From town, you hike south along the wide Ravo river, through cocoa plantations, crossing a few streams then wading across a larger one. After a couple of hours, the river enters more hilly country, and because of the terrain you have to cross the river numerous times with a canoe. I counted 12 crossings on the way up and 11 on the way back (the discrepancy because on the way up the first complete crossing was done in two parts separated by a hike along a river island, but on the way back when the river was flooded we crossed all at once in a spot further downstream).
After you cross 3 or 4 times, there are some sections with nice lowland forest, including one section where you actually stay on the same side of the river for a kilometre or two. This was the only place we saw Dusky Fantail (the same true for Markus Lagerqvist) and was also an excellent spot for Makira Dwarf-Kingfisher, with many heard and a pair seen in the forest on the hike back. There are Common Kingfisher along the large river itself.
The final river crossing takes you into Naara village, about 80m altitude according to my low-tech altimeter. It was well after dark by the time we arrived on the way in, and we were greeted with an amazing meal, the first of many—not just different types of sweet potato as we´d expected but heaps of different green vegetable dishes, crayfish from the river, chicken stir fry, taro dumplings, and delicious fresh papaya. The village also boasts a ceramic flush toilet—we couldn´t imagine how someone how someone had carried or boated this up the river. Birds around the village (some seen the next morning) include Sooty Myzomela, Makira Honeyeater, Pied Goshawk and Chestnut-bellied Monarch.
13 July. The next morning we left for the next leg of the hike further into the hills, climbing up a muddy, slippery forest trail steeply to a ridgetop and following it up most of the day. The birds were very quiet early on with just a few Oriole Whistler, Rufous Fantail, and Barred Cuckooshrike, but we eventually started picking up some of the endemics like White-collared Monarch, Mottled Flowerpecker, Makira Starling and Makira Cicadabird (with its distinctive bicoloured rufous-and-grey female). A nice fruiting tree had plenty of White-headed Fruit-Doves and Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeon, and a stop in a clearing produced a group of the only Chestnut-bellied Imperial-Pigeon of the whole Solomons tour, as well as Yellow-bibbed Lory. Yet further up, a Crested Cuckoo-Dove was calling near the trail and flew in briefly a couple of times, a Sanford´s Sea-Eagle soared past, and small groups of Gray-throated White-eye (a species confined to the hills) appeared.
At about 730m, we took a side trail to the left and descended steeply to a village called Bagohane, at about 530m, stopping at some viewpoints to look at mixed flocks with Makira Leaf-Warbler and Long-tailed Triller. We were amazed to find the village had built a brand-new house for our visit, decorated beautifully with flowers, everyone with individual rooms with our names hanging outside. We certainly didn´t have to suffer as in addition to feasts at every mealtime, we were well supplied with coffee and biscuits, and the strong porters from the village had carried up all our bags (including a purple monstrosity owned by yours truly), in many cases containing cans of beer and even bottles of wine.
14 July. The early morning treat was a hike back up the steep, slippery trail to the ridgetop before dawn to try for Makira Boobook. After getting confused with the very similar calls of Makira Honeyeater, a pair of owls eventually responded in a clearing near to the trail (exactly where our guide Joseph said they would be), but kept their distance (like many of the birds in the Solomons). Climbing up to about 900m during the course of the morning, we entered Shade Warbler territory, with several calling near the trail, mixed flocks with more leaf-warblers and Gray Fantail, then an area with a number of calling Yellow-legged Pigeon. One flew in right above the group and gave great views for the lucky few, while others of us had to keep trying as the rain started. This was also the only place in the Solomons I saw Pacific Robin (a female perched quite high in a tree fern). I wasn´t carrying a GPS, but looking at a map, we must have hiked over half way to the south coast of Makira to arrive at this altitude.
Torrential rain started this afternoon and continued for the remainder of our Makira trip, and we were also woken up in the middle of the night by an earthquake.
15 July. It was already time to start hiking back, and we took a different, lower route back to Naara this morning—it seemed just as far and slippery, but meant we didn´t have to climb back up to the ridge. A pair of Duchess Lorikeet flew over the village during breakfast. Makira Thrush was singing from a few gullies in the first part of the trail, and eventually we all managed to see it.
Unfortunately, my photos are extremely blurry, as the inside of my camera lens was persistently fogged up after all the rain and mist (and never recovered). The hike back took a lot longer than expected, partly because we kept seeing birds, including a much more cooperative Crested Cuckoo-Dove, and great views of a pair of Ochre-headed (Makira) Flycatcher in a flock.
After a very late lunch on arrival back in Naara, some opted for more birdwatching (but didn´t see very much) whereas others played football in the rain with the local kids on an increasingly muddy pitch. In fact, all the paths in Naara had turned into mud (not helped by the presence of so many booted tourists of course).
16 July. The rain had continued the whole day yesterday, so the Ravo river was now a torrent, making the trip out much more of a challenge—our guides towing us across the current during the 11 river crossings on the way back, alternated with hikes along the muddy trails along the river banks, first through forest, and as we approached the coast increasingly through cocoa plantations again—many of the trails were now flooded in a foot or more of standing water. Because of the wet conditions, the truck could no longer reach the village where we´d been dropped off and started the trek, so we had to continue a couple of kms further across a marsh (picking up Buff-banded Rail on the way out).
Best of all for me, the village had saved my watch, which I´d mislaid there at the start of the trek and hadn´t expected to see again—thank you!!
17 July. After arriving back at Kirakira, we took a walk the final morning along the coastal road towards the airport finding a few new birds like Cardinal Myzomela (together with Sooty), Osprey, and Pacific Baza. All the rain meant that our flight was delayed by a day—Kirakira has a grass runway—but we managed to leave the following day on a bigger plane complete with an air hostess and biscuits, which flew well despite being called “Megapode”.
Finally, a big thanks to our guides from Naara: Doris (her email listed at the start of this report), Jemimah, Joseph, Selwyn and Ruben. Their endeavour and energy now makes it possible for solo tourists to visit the hills of Makira, and I very much hope it is rewarded.