Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The grounds of the Bahai temple, Samoa

My hotel location on Upolu couldn't not have been much more fortuitous for birding on that island. And it was luck. I didn't plan to be close to some of the best places. 

The grounds of the Robert Louis Stephenson estate were within walking distance on the cross island road. having come back from there, I asked a couple of people who had been at the invasive birds conference meeting there, where else for birding?

The grounds of the Bahai temple were recommended. It turns out that it is  also on the cross island road. In fact it was two kilometres further up the hill from Robert Louis Stephenson's place, at the highest place on the road, just before it starts to fall down towards the south coast.

many coloured fruit dove

So it needed a car short car journey but that wasn't much trouble. 

The grounds of the Bahai temple are immaculate and close to primary forest but perhaps crucially contain several types of fruit tree such as fig and bread fruit.

After a couple of minutes, I met Steve, a Bahai volunteer who welcomed me to walk round the gardens so any thoughts about access were dispelled.

The Bahai temple (nine sided roof represents the "9 great religions")

I quickly added many coloured fruit dove to my life and Samoan lists. They seem to particularly like perching in the very big trees within the gardens. 


one of several large trees holding fruit doves

After much searching I failed to find the very similar crimson crested fruit dove which on Samoa has a yellow vent rather than purple vent of the many coloured fruit dove.

a different view of a many coloured fruit dove

Even up here the invasive threesome of common  myna, jungle myna and red vented bulbul are present in numbers.

the grounds of the Bahai temple

Indeed common myna according to Steve, chose the same tree to congregate in every evening before dusk in their hundreds.

By the way it was this habit that cost 300 of them their lives down in the town when the government experimented with poisoning some baited food put directly under such a tree just before dusk. This risky manoeuvre worked. However apparently no myna has returned to the same tree again and in the town they haven't fallen for this trick again.

Samoan fantail

Despite the invasives there were several natural species in the gardens themselves. I saw my first (and probably last) Samoan fantail nest strapped to the main stalk of a small ornamental bush in the lawn. There was a Samoan fantail sitting on the nest too!

cardinal myzomela

This is a good place to see cardinal myzomela too.

Pacific golden plover

I still can't get over seeing Pacific golden plover in gardens. This one had just taken a drink from a small stream running at the side of the grounds.

Buff banded rail kept darting in and out of the low shrubbery too.

wattled honeyeater in the gardens

I spoke to Steve about the rare and endemic Mao which I had been told was a possible sight at the temple.

Steve told me it definitively was a possibility. Indeed Mao are so noisy and close that they often keep him and his wife awake at night. And i could see Steve's house in the grounds!

Steve said they are most easily found just outside the Bahai grounds in the gardens and near-by forest of another Steve - Steve Pritchard.

He showed me the way and suggested I visit him, which I did.

Steve Prtichard is an independent wildlife producer who showed me lots of footage of Mao and other rare birds and most of the footage was taken near his house.

This Steve lead me to a tree where Mao have been building a nest. I got to see one! but didn't get a photo.

I leant a lot about the Mao. Apparently he describes the common myna as its sworn enemy. There are always territorial wars - at least in areas where their ranges overlap and that it when Mao chose to nest near man. 

The other enemy of the Mao is apparently the rat. Steve had put traps at the bottom of all adjacent bushes to the Mao tree. 

Steve P is hoping to show a programme on the Mao on Samoan TV to raise awareness of their precious bird. 

I think this bird will survive. 

polynesian starling

While the fruit doves and Mao got most of my attention, I spotted another lifer in the forest just outside the Bahai gardens as I was about to leave. They were a pair of polynesian starling. Apparently in Samoa there are a bird of the forest and its edges whereas on many polynesian islands they can be seen in the towns and villages. Presumably this is a case of competition not only from mynas but from the Samoan starling too.

You will note their eyes are yellow. I'll come back to that subject in a future blog.

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