Sunday, 22 July 2012

The mud flats near Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Either side of the coast next to Tonga's capital, Nuku' alofa are mud flats and mangroves yet I suspect many tourists don't notice! because they are off the main tourist track.

As is my want on holidays, I prefer to walk where possible because it does my fitness a lot of good and because there are birds to be seen. 

I actually walked from the hotel towards the north coast, forsaking a cab ride into the town and consequently starting out from there. Driving isn't an option this holiday because I am waiting to receive my 10 yearly renewal of my driving license when I get back. This has proved a nuisance in some ways but forced me to walk more which is a real positive.

So as I walked from the hotel towards the north coast, the first sign I was nearing some wetlands were five purple swamphen grazing in a field. 

purple swamphen

They looked out of place until you realised that the mangroves and wetland start the far side of the fields. And the mud flats at the coast are barely 100 metres north of that.

typical mud flat

These mud flats are a great place for pigs to root around in and that's what they do. They also look like treacherous to navigate around. indeed there are at least four large ships rusting away.

On the eastern flats in an area known as Sopu there are many people who seem to be making a living catching oysters.

There are plenty of birds too.

my first white faced heron

It was here I saw my first white faced heron. This is a lifer for me and it isn't found in Samoa so Tonga was my first real chance to see one. 

long distant greater crested tern

There is a real irony in my next lifer from the mud flats. It was great crested tern (aka swift tern). It's ironic because it is a fairly common sight along the Arabian coast and yet I missed it on trips to both Jeddah and Jizan.

a slightly closer greater crested tern

It's actually quite common on Tongatapu's coastline. I later saw it on the south coast too (see a later blog). Indeed it was the only tern I observed. 

Pacific golden plover

Unlike in Samoa I had failed to see any pacific golden plover inland on grass. nevertheless they were common on the muds flats. I can't speculate why they seem to chose different habitat.

ruddy turnstone

Two other birds seen in Samoa were present in the same type of habitat on Tongatapu. These were ruddy turnstone and wandering tattler.

non-breeding wandering tattler

I had more opportunity to look closely at wandering tattler. In particular there is a distinct difference in plumage between breeding and non-breeding birds.
breeding wandering tattler

Writing about differences, there were two morphs of the pacific reef heron on the mud flats. The dark morph seems to be the more common. 

dark morph pacific reef heron

However, I was pleased to see a so called intermediate morph bird too.

intermediate morph pacific reef heron

Continuing the theme of differences, I came across three pairs of kingfisher. All were the same sub species of white collared kingfisher (or full species as some sources say  - chattering kingfisher). Each pair had a bird with a very broad rufous supercilium and a bird with a white one. This looks like clear sexual diamorphism again. 

male white collared kingfisher

My guidebook pictures the bird without the rufous which I suspect means they have shown the female. 

female white collared kingfisher

I must mention two birds in the areas that I failed to photograph. One was the white rumped swiftlet also seen in Samoa. The other was the pacific swallow. This is yet another lifer. It looks like a barn swallow but the white areas have been replaced with dark grey.

A final comment on the north coast, its not just pigs that can be seen in the area. There are chickens too, although not actually  in the mud. Many of these are feral red junglefowl. This bird is on many polynesian island lists.

red jungle fowl

By the way, all the way along the mud flats are signs telling you to retreat to higher ground  if you think a tsunami is coming. This would be a bit difficult as the island very gently rises to a maximum of 67 metres on the other (south coast) where there are cliffs. I think you would need a formula one racing car to make it. Actually this would be very serious for the locals if it happened.

dangerous birding?

As luck would have it, it was to those cliffs on the south coast that I went the next day. The lonely planet guide recommends it for birding. Who was I to refuse. My next blog tells what I saw.

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