Video highlights Grande Terre, New Caledonia, part 1

16 Jun 2016 - 14:56 -- Pieter de Groot...

Pieter de Groot Boersma's grand end to its big trip involved its trip to New Caledonia, a much anticipated visit. Here part two of this journey, part 1 of his visit to Grande Terre.

Grande Terre, New Caledonia's main island. This island is approximately 350 km long and, along most of its length, 30-50 km wide. This island, and some of its satelites, is the only Pacific Island (or nearly so?) which is essentially a mountain rising from the sea. It belongs to the former continent Zealandia (before part of Gondwana) which now mostly lies underwater. Therefore, many ancient lineages still occur on the island, most famously being the endemic flora.

Farino, a small village in the mountains of SC Grande Terre. Its winding road up a mountain towards Parc Grandes Fougeres (see my next news feed) is world famous by visiting birders to see the following species:

  • Cloven-feathered Dove, endemic to Grande Terre and the small island of Ile des Pins, New Caledonia. A truly iconic species, which is locally common in (especially) humid forest up to 1000 m. altitude. Its feathered tarsi are a special feature of this species. However, its name points to the fact of an even more remarkable adaptation. Its wing feathers are cloven which allows for a distinctive whistling sound in flight. This sound and its calls are the best indications of its presence, as it normally is very unobtrusive in the forest canopy
  • New Caledonian Sparrowhawk (aka White-bellied Goshawk), endemic to Grande Terre, New Caledonia. A fairly common and small goshawk of forests. Mostly found in undisturbed patches, but also in degraded habitats. It mostly hunts from perches in the canopy, where it sits-and-waits for passing prey. It is thought that it primarily feeds on lizards, geckos, insects and small mammals, but I think it also takes birds. I've seen a foraging flock of passerines sounding the alarm when this bird flew through the trees. No other similar birds of prey occur on the island
  • New Caledonian Crow, endemic to Grande Terre, New Caledonia. Introduced on Maré and Lifou (Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia) where now extinct on the latter island. World famous due to its intelligence and the use of tools. It uses sticks as a hook to get to large grubs in trees. When a tool proves to be efficient, it even carries it around. Recent research unveiled very complex cognitive learning abilities with this species. It can even take eight steps to solve a problem! Here an incredible video of research by Auckland University, and here another one. It's an uncommon species of forests, and to a lesser extent, savannas. It lives in groups of up to five, and they are very inquisitive. Their calls are very unlike other species of crows
  • New Caledonian Whistler, endemic to Grande Terre and the small island of Ile des Pins, New Caledonia. Recently split from the Melanesian Whistler (see location Ouvéa). A reasonably common species, mostly in degraded areas and edges of wet forests in the lowlands, but also at higher altitudes
  • Green-backed White-eye, endemic to Grande Terre and the small island of Ile des Pins, New Caledonia. A very common species in both wet and dry forests, but less so above 1000 m. Also, mostly replaced (but not entirely) from suburban areas and scrub by the Silvereye
  • New Caledonian Imperial-Pigeon (aka Goliath Imperial-Pigeon), endemic to Grande Terre and the small island of Ile des Pins, New Caledonia. The largest arboreal pigeon in the world at a maximum length of 51 cm. Only the three Crowned-Pigeons of New Guinea surpass it in size. It's still reasonably common where it's not hunted. Obviously, due to its size, an expected threat. It will have a profound effect on several species of plants which are dependant on this Imperial-Pigeon for dispersal of their seeds. Due to hunting pressure it can be difficult to actually see this species, cautiously following up its call being the best strategy
  • Horned Parakeet, endemic to Grande Terre, New Caledonia. Recently split from the Ouvéa Parakeet (see location Ouvéa). Rather uncommon to rare and patchily distributed. Where found it prefers humid forest valleys in hilly terrain. It seems it is most often found on limestone soil. It is suspected that predation of adults and eggs/nestlings is a significant threat. This species is known to regularly breed on the ground, hence its vulnerability while nesting
  • Melanesian Flycatcher, only found on Rennell Island (S Solomon Islands), Vanuatu and New Caledonia (including the Royaly Islands). A common bird in the latter country, where it favours open forests and the edge of forests in the lowlands. Also found in mangroves and in mountains up to 1200 m. This species behaves like many related species. It can often be seen flycatching from trees, and its scaffolding calls are very distinctive
  • Rufous Whistler, near-endemic to Australia with the only other populations occuring on Grande Terre, New Caledonia. A common bird which nearly always outnumbers the New Caledonian Whistler in its forest habitat. Also found, equally common, on savanna woodlands and scrub, on all altitudes. Here a female and here a singing male
  • South Melanesian Cuckoo-shrike, only found in Vanuatu and New Caledonia (Grande Terre and the Loyalty Islands). A fairly common and large cuckoo-shrike encountered in many types of woodlands and savanna. It spends most of its time in the upper canopy, where it forages in groups of up to five, mostly flycatching for insects