After spending 5 months studying avian diseases in Hawaii, I stopped by Fiji for two weeks of birding on my way to Australia. Two weeks was more than enough time to see the endemics found on Viti Levu, Taveuni, and Kadavu. I saw all of the findable endemics, including the recently rediscovered Long-legged Warbler. I missed Red-throated Lorikeet (no confirmed sightings for at least several years) and Pink-billed Parrotfinch. I have included details on sites for Long-legged Warbler, though permission to get to the site where I saw it will need to be obtained from the Fiji Electrical Authority (FEA).
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Guy Dutson of Birdlife Pacific (based in Suva) for letting me tag along with him to Monasavu and for generously providing information on finding birds in Fiji. In addition, the people of Fiji are incredibly friendly and hospitable; a few of my nights were spent either sleeping in their houses or camping in their yards.
2 November 2004
I arrived at Nadi airport early in the morning, got in a taxi, and headed to Lautoka to catch a bus to Suva. On the way I stopped at the Saweni Flats, but as it was low tide few birds were present. All that was there were a few Wandering Tattlers, Pacific Golden-Plover, Pacific Black Ducks, and Ruddy Turnstones. In Lautoka I caught a return taxi to Suva ($15). Many common species were seen along the drive, including Fiji Woodswallow, White-rumped Swiftlet, Fiji Goshawk, and Pacific Swallow. After meeting Guy for lunch, I headed to the Suva Point flats, which were full of birds. This area is best at low tide. (I went later in my trip at high tide and saw virtually no shorebirds.) Species seen include Crested Tern, Lesser Frigatebird, Eastern Reef- and White-faced Herons, Pacific Golden-Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Whimbrel, Wandering Tattler, and Ruddy Turnstone. I missed Fiji’s first Laughing Gull, which Guy had found a couple weeks earlier. The gardens next to the Fiji Museum were a good place to see my first land birds, including Fiji Parrotfinch, Wattled Honeyeater, Vanikoro Broadbill, Orange-breasted Myzomela, and Silvereye. When in Suva I stayed at South Seas Private Hotel ($13.50 for a dorm bed), which is convenient for going to Suva Point.
3-6 November, Monasavu Dam area, Viti Levu highlands
These four days were spent in the Viti Levu highlands around Monasavu Dam with Guy Dutson and Birdlife Pacific. It was a great four dayswe saw all the possible endemics except Pink-billed Parrotfinch and Red-throated Lorikeet. This area is good for the former, and both species should be looked for in this area. This is also the area where we found the recently rediscovered Long-legged Warbler, and had great looks at Shy (=Friendly) Ground-Dove.
We found a couple of especially productive areas for birding, though permission may be need either from FEA or the local residents.
One good location was a dirt track near km 42 along Nadrou Rd. on the left side of the road if coming from Monasavu. We saw a pair of Black-faced Shrikebill and heard and briefly saw Shy Ground-Dove along this track, and found nests of Scarlet Robin and Vanikoro Broadbill.
Another good spot was a new road that had just been cleared to allow the building of another dam. This road is just past Nadrou village (if coming from Monasavu). There is a small bus stop-type shelter on the right just before the intersection and a house on the right just after it. Four-wheel drive was necessary as the road was rather muddy. We drove in a couple of kilometers, then walked until we reached the river. The road may have not been passable because of mud, so it was a good thing we parked and walked. The lower part of the road was most productive (there was one split in the road, we went right). We got great looks at (and heard an amazing array of vocalizations from) a very tape responsive Black-faced Shrikebill, watched a pair of Shy Ground-Doves (the male was displaying!), and saw our first Blue-crested Broadbills and Slaty Monarchs.
Long-legged Warbler spot: Access to this spot must be obtained from FEA, as they will need to open a gate for you. We parked just before crossing the dam, then walked across it and up the road. Guy first identified the Long-legged Warbler by its song on the evening of 5 Nov, but we were unable to see it until the following morning. We first heard one just across the dam, but one or two were more consistently heard and most easily seen just up the road. The site is at telephone pole W-W 137 (and between W-W 137 and W-W 136) where a small stream goes under the road. This is by the third set of small yellow-painted posts and the second tall gray/white cement post past the dam. The song is distinctive and they stayed rather close to the road, but seeing them proved to be incredibly difficult. It took much waiting, patience, and tromping through the bush to finally obtain satisfactory views. There was at least one bird singing on either side of the road and I once saw two birds fly across the road.
Any areas along the Monasavu Road where there are streams (they seem to prefer areas along streams) should be checked for Long-legged Warbler. There is a stream along this road (very roughly about 10 km down from the turnoff to the dam) where they have been seen twice in the last couple of years, but unfortunately I didn’t write down the precise location.
Additionally, we heard Fan-tailed Cuckoo from the dam and saw and heard a couple Barn Owls flying around the dam and the FEA buildings on 5 Nov.; both were my only sightings for the trip.
7-8 November, Colo-I-Suva, Viti Levu
I spent most of 7 Nov and the morning of 8 Nov birding Colo-I-Suva Park near Suva. This is a great spot close to Suva with a nice lodge (Raintree Lodge). I spent the night in the dorm for $18. There are two good birding trails here. One is a narrow and inconspicuous (and rather muddy when I was there) dirt track that Guy told me about. It is on the left side of the road (if coming from Suva) just before reaching Colo-I-Suva Park and is marked by a old dilapidated wooden signpost. The other good trail is a nice gravel road in the park itself on the right side of the road (again, as coming from Suva). Both tracks contained some excellent mixed flocks. Along these tracks I got my best views of male Golden Dove, Island Thrush, Giant Forest Honeyeater, and Masked Shining Parrot (all of which I had seen only briefly or distantly around Monasavu). Blue-crested Broadbill, Golden Whistler, and Slaty Monarch were common along here as well. This is an excellent place to visit if you only have a short time in Suva.
9-12 November, Ferry from Suva to Taveuni and Des Voeux Peak, Taveuni
On 9 Nov I tried to get to Kadavu flying from Suva, but some sort of technical difficulties caused the flight to be cancelled, so I ended up spending the night in Suva. An afternoon visit to Suva Point produced very few birds because it was high tide. Because of the flight cancellation I decided to change my plans, so I went to the Air Fiji office and changed my flight. The next morning I boarded a ferry from Suva bound for Taveuni (via Savusavu on Vanua Levu). I had low expectations (but high hopes!) for the birding on the ferry trip as I had been told that it was pretty boring for birds. I had been told correctly. Birds seen were Red-footed Booby, Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwater (probably Short-tailed), Crested Tern, Black-naped Tern, Bridled Tern, noddy sp., and Lesser Frigatebird. Apparently the Suva-Vunisea (Kadavu) ferry is much better for Collared Petrel, but the schedule is erratic and the trip can take anywhere from 8 to 48 hours depending on where and how often the boat stops.
I arrived in Taveuni at about 6 AM, took a cab to Kool’s accommodations, dropped some things off, hitched to the base of Des Voeux Peak, and started walking up. It’s a long, hot walk, so I was very lucky to be able to hitch a ride to the top with a Fiji Telecom truck. There is a dorm at the top of the mountain for Fiji Telecom workers who stay there to do maintenance work, and I was planning on staying there. However, I ended up spending the night in the village at the base of the mountain instead. The weather on the mountain is, as they say, unpredictable, meaning it rains a lot. My trip was no exception, but it was generally fairly light and sporadic, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. The lower part of the road is all cleared for crops; Red Shining-Parrot was very common in this area. The higher part of the road is rainforest with excellent birding.
I was able to see all the target species in one day, though it wasn’t until the next morning that I got great looks at male Orange Dove. Silktail was fairly easy to find and really is an outstanding bird. It was best found, as Watling suggests in his field guide, by walking into the forest. One spot where I found them was along a muddy walking track on the right side of the road (if going up the mountain). This was the only track I noticed going into the forest, so it should be easy to find. I also saw Silktail a couple other places by walking into the forest, and once saw one flying across the road being chased by a Wattled Honeyeater. Orange Doves were heard frequently with their unique and utterly undovelike call, but I only saw females my first day there. I only got to see males when Tomasi (who I stayed with) from the village took me to his father’s farm where there were some fruiting trees, with some 15 Orange Doves including two males flying around. I’m sure he would be happy to guide birders to Silktail and Orange Dove. Island Thrush was much easier to see here than in the Viti Levu highlands, and the distinctive races of Golden Whistler, Streaked Fantail, and Polynesian Triller were also easy to see.
After a day’s delay because of a full flight, I flew back to Suva.
13 November, Suva Point, Viti Levu
Due to another one-day delay because of a full flight to Kadavu, I spent the day in Suva with a low tide visit to Suva Point. All the birds mentioned previously for Suva Point were still present in good numbers, and this time I was able to find the Laughing Gull, an adult in non-breeding plumage, though I had to walk way out onto the flats to get a good view of this first Fijian record.
14-16 November, Kadavu
I arrived in Kadavu at about midday and went searching for accommodations. I went over to the airport inn, directly across from the airport, made friends with the guys running the inn, and ended up camping in their backyard. If you have a tent, are on the cheap, and want to mingle with locals, it’s a great option. Just go to the inn and ask for Savi. Say you’re friends with the American who came for birding and I’m sure he’ll let you stay in his yard. As I mentioned earlier, Fijians are incredibly welcoming and hospitable. Just be polite, friendly, and helpful; for example buy the kava if they hold a sevusevu (welcoming ceremony) in your honor. Weiss, who when I visited lived in the house with Savi, knows the birds very well and could show you all the endemics if you want a guide.
Another non-Reece’s Place (the birder’s favored choice) option for Kadavu has recently been set up by a Peace Corps volunteer in a village west of Vunisea. A network of trails has been established through the forest and guides have been trained to show visitors the birds. It is worth contacting Birdlife Fiji for more information.
I had no trouble finding any of the endemics in one morning of birding. From the village I followed the road east through Vunisea. It didn’t take long until I was in the first patch of forest ringing with the distinctive song of Kadavu Fantail. It took a bit longer to see Whistling Dove, but with perseverance I got excellent views of a singing male. Kadavu Honeyeater and Kadavu Shining-Parrot were seen along the road as well, though they were also common around the village. I also saw Black-faced Shrikebill, the local races of Island Thrush and Golden Whistler, and heard Shy Ground-Dove along the road. I flew on Sun Air directly back to Nadi, then on to Melbourne.
Nomenclature follows A Guide to the Birds of Fiji and Western Polynesia by Dick Watling.
1. Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwater Puffinus griseus/tenuirostris: a few small groups seen on ferry between Suva and Taveuni
2. Red-footed Booby Sula sula: common from Suva-Taveuni ferry
3. Lesser Frigatebird Fregata ariel: seen in Suva harbor, at Suva Point, and on Suva-Taveuni ferry
4. Crested Tern Sterna bergii: common in coastal areas
5. Black-naped Tern S. sumatrana: seen just outside the reef leaving Suva on the Suva-Taveuni ferry, also probably seen very distantly at Suva Point
6. Bridled Tern S. anaethtus: one sitting on floating debris near Taveuni on the Suva-Taveuni ferry. Gray-backed Tern probably does not occur in the region, according to Guy Dutson.
7. Noddy sp. Anous sp: several groups seen on the Suva-Taveuni ferry
8. Laughing Gull Larus atricilla: a vagrant adult at Suva Point, first found in October by Guy Dutson
9. Eastern Reef-Heron Egretta sacra
10. White-faced Heron Ardea novaehollandiae: several at Suva Point
11. Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa
12. Fiji Goshawk Accipter rufitorques: seen on all islands visited. Ian Morely showed me a nest on the University of the South Pacific campus.
13. Pacific Harrier Circus approximans
14. White-throated Pigeon Columba vitiensis: fairly common, but not as common as Barking Pigeon
15. Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis
16. Shy (Friendly) Ground-Dove Gallicolumba stairi: seen and heard on Viti Levu in the Monasavu area, including a displaying male. Also heard on Kadavu. A difficult species to see well, as the name implies.
17. Barking Pigeon Ducula latrans: very common in forested areas
18. Many-colored Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus perousii: fairly common in forested areas. More often heard than seen, but not a particularly difficult bird to see.
19. Golden Dove Chrysoenas luteovirens: common on Viti Levu, though it was frustratingly difficult to get good views of a male. I eventually was able to at Colo-I-Suva.
20. Orange Dove C. victor: common on Des Voeux Peak, Taveuni. Like Golden Dove, females were much more easily seen than males. As other observers have noted, this bird must be seen to be believed.
21. Whistling Dove C. layardi: common in forested areas of Kadavu. Unlike the other Chrysoenas, I was able to track down and get prolonged looks at a singing male.
22. Collared Lory Phigys solitarius: common, including in Suva.
23. Masked Shining-Parrot Prosopeia personata: common around Colo-I-Suva on Viti Levu. Also seen around Monasavu.
24. Red Shining Parrot P. tabuensis: common on Taveuni. Seen especially well in cleared areas at lower elevations on Des Veoux Peak.
25. Kadavu Shining-Parrot P. splendens: readily seen on Kadavu, including around the airport.
26. Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis: one heard from Monasavu Dam at dusk.
27. Barn Owl Tyto alba: a few seen and heard around Monasavu Dam.
28. White-rumped Swiftlet Aerodramus spodiopygius: common just about everywhere
29. White-collared/Sacred Kingfisher Todirhapmphus chloris/sancta: apparently nobody really knows what Fiji’s kingfishers are.
30. Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica
31. Fiji Woodswallow Artamus mentalis: common and widespread
32. Polynesian Starling Aplonis tabuensis: common in forested areas
33. Common Myna Acridotheres tristis: an abundant introduced species
34. Jungle Myna A. fuscus: another abundant exotic
35. Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer: yet another abundant introduced species, but this one is in all habitats.
36. Island Thrush Turdus poliocephalus: frustratingly difficult to see in the Viti Levu highlands, it was much more easily observed at Colo-I-Suva and on Taveuni and Kadavu. The plumage varies greatly between islands.
37. Fiji Bush-Warbler Cettia ruficapilla: common and easy to see with a bit of work
38. Long-legged Warbler Trichocichla rufa: a few seen and heard around Monasavu Dam. See text on details for finding this recently rediscovered species.
39. Scarlet Robin Petroica multicolour: common in forested areas
40. Silktail Lamprolia victoriae: not too difficult to find on Des Voeux Peak, Taveuni. A remarkable and unique bird.
41. Streaked Fantail Rhipidura spilodera: Common in forested areas of Viti Levu and Taveuni. Taveuni birds have rufous flanks and sparser streaking on the center of the breast.
42. Kadavu Fantail R. personata: common in forested areas of Kadavu.
43. Slaty Monarch Mayrornis lessoni: seen at lower elevations around Monasavu, Colo-I-Suva, and Kadavu
44. Lesser Shrikebill Clytorhynchus vitiensis: much more numerous everywhere than Black-faced Shrikebill. Seen on all islands visited.
45. Black-faced Shrikebill C. nigrogularis: seen on Viti Levu around Monasavu and at Colo-I-Suva and on Kadavu. Females can be distinguished from from Lesser Shrikebills by their larger size; much heavier, pale-tipped bill; and very limited white (if any) on the tips of the outer tail feathers.
46. Vanikoro Broadbill Myiagra vanikorensis: common and widespread. Easily seen even in Suva.
47. Blue-crested Broadbill M. azureocapilla: more of a forest bird than Vanikoro Broadbill, I saw it most easily at Colo-I-Suva.
48. Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis: fairly common in forested areas; seen on all islands visited. Males are markedly different on the each islands.
49. Polynesian Triller Lalage maculosa: common and widespread; seen on all islands visited. Common around villages on Taveuni and Kadavu. Plumage varies between islands.
50. Fiji White-Eye Zosterops explorator: common in forested areas on all three islands visited.
51. Silvereye Zosterops lateralis: common and widespread on all islands visited. Less restricted to bush than Fiji White-Eye; was seen in Suva.
52. Fiji Parrotfinch Erythrura pealii: common and widespread, even on lawns in Suva.
53. Orange-breasted Myzomela Myzomela jugularis: common and widespread on all islands visited, including in Suva.
54. Wattled Honeyeater Foulehaio carunculata: common on Viti Levu and Taveuni, seen in Suva.
55. Kadavu Honeyeater Xanthotis provocator: common on Kadavu, including around villages and in forests.
56. Giant Forest Honeyeater Gymnomyza viridis: Heard very commonly on Viti Levu and a few heard on Taveuni. Shy and fairly difficult to see, I obtained my best views at Colo-I-Suva.