Saturday, 21 July 2012

Savaii, the "other" island in Samoa

On my last day in Samoa, I made a trip which in retrospect I should have made earlier. I took the ferry to Savaii. It the slightly larger but much less populated neighbour of Upolu.

meeting the opposite ferry en route to Savaii

It was a miserable morning with poor visibility but that didn't dampen my enthusiasm. On the crossing I had good views of several brown booby. This was a lifer for me even though it breeds off the south west coast of Saudi Arabia where much of my birding is done.

At the terminal I took a taxi to the nearest rain forest reserve near Tofua. I have no regrets about my choice. Time was limited to making the last ferry back at four p.m so a trip into the highlands wasn't feasible. This meant Samoan white-eye and tooth-billed pigeon wouldn't be seen.

a flat billed kingfisher

Nevertheless I soon bumped into one of the other endemics. Actually I saw two flat-billed kingfisher together.

a pair of flat billed kingfisher

This clearly looked a different kingfisher to me than the (assumed vagrant) white collared kingfisher seen on Upolu. Its bill is bigger and its colours varied  considerably.

My guidebook on this region says that most kingfishers don't show sexual diamorphism. However, there appear to be differences within this pair (and later and even more obviously with a pair of a different species on Tonga - see later blog).

The differences appear to be subtle just like on the white throated kingfisher I see in Riyadh (the male has a much deeper red bill). Here one of the two flat billed kingfisher appears to have deeper rufous tones covering a wider breast and collar area. 

the reserve near Tofua

I'll write more on this in future blogs. 

The rainforest I visited on Savaii only had primary growth in its middle core. Round the sides there is secondary growth and subsistence crops such as banana and bread fruit. Indeed many locals survive on these crops.

Despite not being pristine forest, I was surprised to see birds at almost sea level which I had had only seen at elevation on Upolu. For example I could hear doves all around even though I couldn't get a clear view of most of them. 

metallic pigeon (Aka white throated pigeon)

One I did identify (and it was another lifer) was metallic pigeon. The subspecies found in Samoa has got another name, white throated pigeon.

purple swamphen

In one wet area, I walked into two purple swamphen. I don't know who was more shocked, me or the birds. This was my first sighting in Samoa although a man I spoke to at my hotel had seen them on the south side of Upolu while visiting a beach!

Samoan whistler

One of the best examples of a bird not seen at sea level on Upolu but present here, even in the plantations, is Samoan whistler. This more amenable environment for seeing the bird allowed me to finally take some half decent photographs.

another view of the same Samoan whistler

Likewise wattled honeyeater was seen easily and was very common.

wattled honeyeater

And again the Samoan flycatcher (aka broadbill) was present in a more open and lower habitat. Unlike the picture taken on Upolu you can see why the second name for this flycatcher is broadbill.

Samoan flycatcher (aka broadbill)

Polynesian starling and Samoan starling were very much in evidence but strangely I can't remember seeing any Samoan fantail. Sadly I didn't go high enough to spot Samoan white-eye which is apparently only found in the highland of this one island.

the rear of a white rumped swiftlet

The miserable, wet mornings weather (it brightened up later) had one very useful side-effect. I found that the white-rumped swiftlet were more likely to come down to ground level to catch insects. Furthermore, they have in these circumstances this habit of flying directly down the roads and paths.

white rumped swiftlet flying towards me

This made photography of this fast moving species possible for me. I got photos of them flying directly away and head on towards me! 

three white rumped swiftlet

And you can see from above they like to fly in mini squadrons!

flying fox

I can't leave Savaii without mentioning the bats. I hadn't seen any on the other island but they were plenty in the Tofua reserve on Savaii.

coming back into harbour on Upolu

The journey back on the ferry was uneventful until we were just about landing in the harbour on Upolu.

dark morph pacific reef heron

I finally got a chance to have a good look at pacific reef heron which I had glimpsed several times before on my stay.

a couple of pacific reef heron

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Samoa. There were plenty of lifers but in retrospect I really should have spent a two days on Savaii. Sadly, there probably won't be a next time. I have many more places in the world to see first before I can think about returning to Samoa.

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