Friday 3 August 2012

Swallows and lookalikes, Efate, Vanuatu

This is the first of three blogs on my visit to Efate, Vanuatu in the south Pacific last week.

I stayed at Benjor beach resort just west of the capital Port Vila. All my birding was done within 10 kilometres of the resort and as the next blog will show the gardens of the resort itself gave me some birding that exceeded all expectations! That birding was particularly of doves and pigeons but this blog looks at swallows and lookalikes. 

The first thing to say about the "swallows" of the island is that there is only one real swallow. It's the Pacific swallow and I didn't find it very common. I only saw it in and around the town of Port Vila itself.  

I have researched this and it appears it is fond of nesting on houses ( a relatively scarce commodity in the south pacific).  Although I understand they nest on cliffs in the more traditional way too.

It's not a new bird for me. I saw a few on the outskirts of Nuku'alofa, the capital of Tonga.

Pacific swallow

However, it was the first time I had managed to get prolonged looks, mostly because one bird (above) was resting on a wire across the main road from Mele to Port Vila.

same Pacific swallow stretching

This looks like the same sub-species as is present on Tonga and Fiji in that it is not as dark underneath as the French polynesian sub-species. Although, its still darker than the welcome swallow of Australia and New Zealand which must be the only possible confusion species.

Port Vila from round the coast

There is a species of wood-swallow on the island. It is the white-breasted wood-swallow and was very common near and in my hotel gardens. I also saw it in the botanical gardens of "the summit" and near Port Vila but not so abundantly.

white-breasted wood-swallow

Apparently wood-swallow are not closely related to swallows at all but to the Australian butcher bird.

They seem to be insect eaters which take on the wing and were more often seen in shaded areas rather than in open spaces hence the "wood" part of their name).

white-breasted wood swallow in flight

They have an obvious white rump and look superficially like the white-rumped swiftlet I saw on Tonga and Samoa. Don't be fooled though especially as white rumped swiftlet is on the list of Vanuatan birds. However the swiftlet is a thinner looking bird.

Not only didn't I see the white rumped swiftlet but the two birders whose trip reports I have read never saw it either.

glossy swiftlet flying away from me

The closely related cousin of the white rumped swiftlet is the glossy swiftlet. It is dark blue-black on top with the vaguest hint of a slightly lighter rump (not seen in the photos). In contrast to the white-breasted wood-swallow it much prefers open spaces. 

I got my best views of this lifer on a playing field just outside Port Vila.

underside of glossy swiflet

It's behaviour looked very similar to its cousin.

glossy swiftlet flying towards me

There is a third swiftlet on the island. This is the uniform swiftlet. This was common everywhere. However it was almost always high in the sky, a phenomenon commented on by one of the previous birders in his report too. Its a little larger than the glossy swiftlet and is grey-black rather than blue-black. It too was another lifer.

In the next blog I will look at four lifers I observed among the doves and pigeons. 

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