Monday, 16 July 2012

Robert Louis Stephenson's grounds, Samoa

A couple of kilometres up the hillside from my hotel in Apia, Samoa is the estate of Robert Louis Stephenson author of Treasure Island. It is where he spent his last years and where he died.

The estate is now a museum, botanical gardens and forest. There are two marked walks up through the forest to the top of mount Vaea where Robert Louis Stephenson is buried.The whole area is a nature reserve and was  recommended to me as a birding area.

buff banded rail

As I said in the previous blog, the invasive species are less in evidence outside the towns and villages. Whether this effects the distribution of native birds, I don't know. However I do know I saw a different mix  species up in the reserve.

One bird which was easily seen in the town and in the more grassy areas of the reserve was the almost ubiquitous buff banded rail.

Robert Louis Stephenson's house in Samoa

For me through, it was when I got into the wooded areas that things got interesting. The information centre had a lot of information on birds. One poster that caught my eye was an enlarged photograph of a bird labelled as a white collared kingfisher.

This confused me as my new guidebook says only the endemic flat billed kingfisher is present in Samoa. The list of Samoan birds in wikipedia also only says only the flat billed kingfisher is present. Just to add to my confusion, another picture elsewhere in the information centre showed flat billed kingfisher which I thought at the time looked a little different in structure but quite different in colour. 

one of the signs in the reserve

As luck would have it, the first new bird I saw in the lightly wooded area just outside the centre was a kingfisher. And to me it looked exactly like the white collared kingfisher pictured in the centre.

I don't want to tell you the complete story yet but I saw a different kingfisher elsewhere in Samoa which I will blog about in a couple of days. However my confidence is high that I saw two kingfishers in Samoa and that others have done the same.

Presumed white collared kingfisher

Over the past couple of days I have corresponded about the kingfisher issue with the two people who are arguably the most knowledgeable in the Western Pacific region on birds. Both say that flat-billed kingfisher is the only recognised resident. Both also said that other birders have claimed to see white collared kingfisher over the past few years but haven't claimed breeding. One said that vagrant or rare visitor status might be apt assuming the claims are right. Both experts were quite reasonably reluctant to pass judgement on my photo.

However I am very confident it isn't a flat-billed kingfisher. I got good and prolonged views of both species during my stay. Indeed I saw the white collared kingfisher on two days in two quite different light conditions. 

So I believe this is one of those rare or vagrant visitors.

I'll post pictures of both kingfishers together in a later blog.

Well after that confusing start, things got a lot more straightforward as I walked out of the botanical gardens and up the long trail to the top of mount Vaea. This turned out to be a mistake. The short trail I took on the way back down had plenty more birds and the long trail turned out to be a waste of valuable time!

wattled honeyeater 

One of the birds in the gardens, long trail and short trail was wattled honeyeater. Its fair to say its common in varied habitat outside settlements. it can apparently be found in the central core islands of polynesia. For example I expect to see it when I visit Tonga.

Samoan fantail

I met Samoan fantail in the town and it seems to be fairly common in all but dense forest at least on Upolu which is the Samoan island I stayed on.

Samoan flycatcher

Two birds with red breasts were observed. One was a female scarlet robin which is restricted to Samoa and Fiji. The second was the Samoan flycatcher which is even more restricted. Indeed it is a Samoan endemic. It has another English name used, for example, by the information centre. They call it "broadbill". unfortunately the photograph taken at mount Vaea doesn't show its bill but I have better in a later blog!
Samoan whistler

The endemics didn't stop with flycatcher. The forest contained many Samoan whistler. I struggled to photograph this bird most because of the back lighting in the forest. Above is the best I got. I improved on it later as a future blog will tell.

Finally at the top of the mount is a clearing where both Robert Louis Stephenson and his wife are buried. here you can see not only some woodland birds but in the air I saw brown noddy and white rumped swiflet. Two more lifers for me. Indeed they are common sights throughout the islands.

No comments:

Post a Comment