Monday 23 July 2012

South coastal cliffs, Tongatapu

Tucked away towards the back of the latest lonely planet guide to Samoa and Tonga is a small section on bird watching in Tonga.

The writer alludes to the fact that there are sea colonies of noddies, terns, great frigate birds and tropic birds on all the main islands. I begin to doubt his wisdom when in the next sentence he says "possible twitching spots include Hufangalupe on Tongatapu ..." and he continues to call birders as twitchers throughout. 

Despite the fact he doesn't know the difference between a twitcher and birder, I decided to take his advice and visit Hufangalupe on the south coast.

white faced heron on highest point of the island 

I was taken by taxi to the place that the locals think of as Hufangalupe. It's the highest point on the island and there is a crater there so you have to mind your step or else you end up in the sea through the side entrance.

rainbow over Hufangalupe

Unfortunately, the only birds I saw at the spot were wattled honeyeater, red vented bulbul and a lone white faced heron.

I had a choice to make, give up or a move down the coast to find the right spot. I chose the latter course and then had to decide whether to walk west or east. I chose west mostly because it looked possible to walk that way whereas the other route looked blocked.

the headland in the distance is where I started out

As it happens the walk westward was far from easy. I kept having to go to the surfaced road and take tracks to the sea, repetitively 4 or 5 times.  Each time I tried to get a view of the cliffs ahead looking for sea birds. On the fifth try (and as the cliffs were getting a little lower by the way), I spotted some brown noddy in the distance.

brown noddy over-head

Eventually I came to a grassy headland which gave me clear views of the area the brown noddy were operating in. This was some 3 kilometres west of  Hufangalupe crater.

two brown noddy skimming the sea

To be honest they gave me marvellous displays. I just couldn't photograph them easily as their flight was never direct. It appeared that some birds were being taught how to fish. And on more than one occasion they tried to mob me. I don't think they liked me there even though I was 100 metres and a cliff face away from where they would land (I hesitate to call this a breeding place). 

white tailed tropicbird

Ironically I managed to get better photos of a white-tailed tropicbird even though I saw many less of them and less frequently. This was simply because they flew in a straight line.

a second view of the white-tailed tropicbird

I found no sign of any other type of noddy or tropicbird although I did spot a couple of greater crested tern. I suspect the near-by island (and "eco-tourism destination") of Eua might have more variation and larger numbers because it has more cliffs in its coastline and is more isolated. 

You may ask why I didn't visit there or the northern islands with the two endemics. The simple answer is cost. This 28 day holiday in the south pacific has cost limits! The slightly more complicated answer in the case of Eua is that I found that the internal flights were all booked up anyway and the ferry requires an over-night stay returning at 5a.m.

female white collared kingfisher

I had to leave the coast early to guarantee my return to the north as there is no transport in that area. Two highlights of the return journey was the sighting of another white collared kingfisher. This time it was inland on a plantation which proves they can be found pretty much anywhere on the island. 

bat roost

There was also a very large roost of flying foxes near the golf course. I wonder what they find so attractive about the venue?

This is the last blog from Tonga. The next one will be from north island New Zealand where I have spent a few days an the Bay of Islands. The birding was more varied than the birding in Auckland's park earlier in my trip. I am happy with 11 lifers from the bay. 

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