Wednesday 8 August 2012

The other birds on Efate

This is the last of the blogs about my visit to Vanuatu. I have already looked at the doves, the swallows and their lookalikes. This blog is a round-up of all the other species I saw on Efate.

No trip to a part of the south pacific seems to be complete without seeing a kingfisher or two and having to decide what species it is. To add to the difficulty even one of the experts I corresponded with admitted the taxonomy is a bit of a mess.

Many of the island kingfishers are said to be separate sub species of white collared kingfisher (called collared kingfisher in the pacific of the world) OR they are accorded full species status. I'm not sure how this has been worked out because on sight there seems to be just as much variation in the look of the sub species as for the full species. Furthermore in many cases its not possible to test whether they can/will inter-breed because they don't meet. I'm not sure much DNA testing has been completed either?

Nevertheless, the list for Vanuatu has three kingfishers: white collared kingfisher, sacred kingfisher and chestnut bellied kingfisher. There, the three are noticeably different. Furthermore, few people doubt that the two latter birds are definitely full species. 

one of a pair of white collared kingfisher

All the kingfishers I saw were white collared kingfisher and once again I needn't have moved away from the gardens of my beach resort to find them. Although I also them at various other locations near the coast.

a pair of white collared kingfisher

I was on the look out for sexual dimorphism since I seemed to be picking this up among kingfishers (both in alleged full separate species and alleged sub species of white collared kingfisher) on other pacific islands in contradiction to the bird guide I used. In very crude terms the male of any particular pair seems to have more rufous in one part or another.

the other one of the pair

Whilst there were noticeable variations in the pairs I saw on Efate, I couldn't draw any conclusions this time. I'm not going to speculate but I think the whole arena of pacific kingfishers is worth a big study!

The summit garden

Very near my resort is a private botanical garden on the nearest hill side (at about 400 metres). Its open to the public for a fee and they can visit an essential oils laboratory too. This is since the area supports an perfumery materials industry especially sandalwood. The place is called "the summit" and it has a small flow of minibuses carrying tourists up and down the hillside from the various resorts. Needless to say, I walked up the hill because my resort was the closest one and there could have been birds to be seen en route.

yellow fronted white-eye

I found the various themed gardens of "the summit" were an excellent place to see the endemic yellow- fronted white-eye (sometimes called Vanuatu white-eye). Although it too was viewable at my resort! It is a flocking bird and if you look carefully you can sometimes see silver-eye also in the flock. Indeed I didn't any silver-eye except when flocking with yellow-fronted white-eye.

a dark brown honeyeater

The summit gardens are also a place to get good views of dark brown honeyeater (sometimes called grey-eared honeyeater or even silver-eared honeyeater).  Both yellow-fronted white-eye and dark brown honeyeater were yet more lifers for me.

a different dark brown honeyeater

I forgot to mention that it was worthwhile walking rather than taking a minibus up the hill. The reason was two birds of prey flying above me as I walked up.   

Now, I am self-confessed poor at identifying birds of prey particularly outside my geographic comfort zone. There are three possibilities in Vanuatu: brown goshawk, swamp harrier or peregrine falcon.

one of a pair of swamp harrier

All my views were underneath but even I know that sparrowhawks and goshawks have relatively short and broad wings. So that ruled out the brown goshawk despite the overall colour appearance.

Peregrine falcon has longer wings but they are pointed and furthermore it has a short tail so by default I concluded my birds were swamp harrier. I must admit I don't often see harriers on hill sides or soaring.

Talking of birds with swamp in their name, another surprise was to see a purple swamphen in one of the ornamental gardens at the summit.

Purple swamphen

At various places in the gardens and during my walk to it, I came across grey fantail. To me they look the same as the light morph New Zealand fantail. Indeed they were once thought to be co-specific. They also sound the same too. However you couldn't get a more different behaviour.! Whereas the New Zealand fantail is so inquisitive it will come right up to you, I was chasing shadows all the time with grey fantail.

grey fantail

Who knows why the behaviour is so different?

Other noticeable birds at the summit were glossy swiftlet.

common myna

There were very few common myna unlike down the hill on the coast where they are everywhere unfortunately including in my resort's gardens.

dark morph Pacific reef heron

The small beach at my resort had the only water bird I saw during my whole stay! I got up early in the morning before any other guests in the hope of seeing shore birds. I was rewarded with the sighting of a single pacific reef heron.

crabs on the coast

It was been commented on several other birders who visited Vanuatu as to how few birds can be seen on the easily accessible shores. Gulls and terns in particular are only rarely seen on Efate. 

house sparrow in central Port Vila

I end my blogs on birding in the pacific with one last bird: the house sparrow. I travelled across half the planet and one of the last birds I saw was the house sparrow which has a healthy population in Port Vila. Apparently it made it across by boat probably from New Zealand.

After 27 days, it reminded me it was time to go home. 

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