Pieter de Groot Boersma concluded his big trip in New Caledonia, home of 23 endemic species of birds (of which three are feared extinct) and, formerly, many extinct birds after colonisation by man. A dream come true, he remembers looking at species like Kagu, Cloven-feathered Dove, Horned Parakeet and Crow Honeyeater in the HBW series thinking "not in this lifetime". Never say never...
Loyalty Islands, a group of islands about 190 km east of New Caledonia's main island Grande Terre. New Caledonia is a former French colony. It's the first major island group east off the Pacific east of Australia. I visited two of the Loyalty Islands, namely Lifou and Ouvéa.
Lifou is the largest atoll in the world (1.146 km2), shaped by fossil coral reefs. During its development, its centre was raised with the result that it doesn't hold any more seawater. Two endemic species of bird inhabit the island, the Large Lifou White-eye (seen but not filmed by me) and the Small Lifou White-eye. In addition, an endemic subspecies of the widespread Silvereye is a possible split:
- Small Lifou White-eye, endemic to Lifou in the Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia. This is an abundant species, greatly outnumbering the other endemic species of white-eye of the island (see Josep del Hoyo's video). The two species are very distinct, the latter being more secretive while it mostly stays in thick vegetation in forests and secondary growth. The Small Lifou White-eye is, as previously mentioned, abundant and omni-present on the island. It's mostly forages in parties, and its calls are in the top two of the most heard bird sounds of the island, probably only surpassed by the equally common but much louder Grey-eared Honeyeater
- Red-bellied Fruit-dove, only found on islands belonging to Temotu (Santa Cruz), Vanuatu and New Caledonia. On the latter it's rare (to uncommon in a few locations) on the main island of Grande Terre, but common on the Loyalty Islands. It can be locally nomadic due to its frugivorous diet, when it also flies from island to island. Seemingly more adapted to live on small islands, where it can be found in forest (including second growth) and, to a lesser extent, savannas. Here an adult and here a juvenile
- Metallic Pigeon, a widely spread species which can be found from the Phillippines and the Lesser Sundas (E Indonesia) through the Moluccas and New Guinea and from there on south-eastwards to many Pacific Island groups. It's abundance differs greatly, being rare in most of its range in the W to E New Guinea, and being common on most Pacific Islands in spite of heavy hunting pressure. Mostly confined to forests, where it utilises al layers, from the high canopy to the ground
- New Caledonian Friarbird, endemic to New Caledonia. A beatiful species of friarbird, which is fairly common on both the mainland (Grande Terre) and on the Loyalty Islands. This conspicuous and loud bird can be found in all sorts of forests and in open areas, provided there are some large trees present
- Cardinal Myzomela, only found on Makira and Rennell, (S Solomon Islands), the Temotu Islands (Santa Cruz), the Vanuatu islands and the Loyaly Islands of New Caledonia. It's a common bird on the latter, where it's mostly confined to forests, as other suitable habitat is heavily defended by the larger Grey-eared Honeyeater. At 12 cm, it's rather large for a species of myzomela
- Grey-eared Honeyeater, aka Dark-brown Honeyeater, only found on islands in C and S Vanuatu and New Caledonia. A very common bird of many types of vegetated habitats, preferably open forest and scrub. A conspicious and noisy bird, which can also be found in suburban areas. It's rather protective of its nectar supply, and it actively chases away many other species of birds
- Long-tailed Triller, only found on Makira (S Solomon Islands), Vanuatu and New Caledonia. It's a common bird which can most commonly been found at forest edges and scrub. However, it can also found in secondary growth and in well vegetated villages and primary forest. It spends most of its time in the upper layers of its chosen habitat
- Silvereye, a species with a vast range from Australia to New Zealand and many Pacific islands. Many subspecies are involved, which probably involve a few valid species on their own. Zosterops is a genus which are known to have many endemic species on many Pacific Islands. One of those possible valid species is subspecies melanops, which is endemic to Lifou. It's a very dark form, and if indeed proving to be a valid species, will make Lifou home to three endemic species of White-eye. It's reasonably common on the island, where it can be found in secondary growth, bushes and gardens
- Streaked Fantail, only found in Vanuatu and New Caledonia. It's a common species of closed forest and, to a lesser extent, degraded forest and secondary growth. Less active as most fantails, this species is often outnumbered by the Grey Fantail (in New Caledonia at least)
Ouvéa, another atoll, this time a crescent-shaped one. It's about 50 km long and, at its broadest, only 7 km wide. It's populated with 3.000 tribespeople from Polynesian, Melanesian and Walisean decent. As I experienced it, probably the most hospitable people I've encountered during my world-wide travels. A large proportion of the local community takes great care of their now endemic Ouvéa Parakeet. They told me that they even stopped a plane with a German avian collector some decades ago, threw him in jail and releasing the birds afterwards:
- Ouvéa Parakeet, now endemic to the small island of Ouvéa. Recently split from the Horned Parakeet of New Caledonia's mainland. Formerly also occuring on nearby islands in the Royalty Islands. Re-introductions have been attempted, which failed due to the rats. Ouvéa is still free of these exotic rats. Recently split from the Horned Parakeet from Grande Terre (the main island of New Caledonia). An Endangered species, 30-50 % of its habitat has been destroyed in the last 30-40 years. It favours forests, but it will venture in the green patches of land of the locals. This consist of many huts interspersed with large trees, many of which are mandarin trees. The parrots also feed on these, as well as on nectar of several species. However, figs seem to be the most important source of food. Since a awareness campaign in the local community, the population of the birds has increased from 617 in 1993 to 2.090 birds in 2009. I suspect the number would be even higher now. Most birds live in the north of the island (20 km²) although 60 km² of suitable habitat seems to remain.
- Striated Starling, endemic to New Caledonia with two subspecies. Subspecies atronitens occurs on the Loyalty Islands where it's common. The females of both subspecies differ significantly, with birds from the Loyalty Islands being much darker. Both male and female on the Loyalties have larger bills and the sound differently from the birds of New Caledonia's Grande Terre. It can be found in many types of habitat, ranging from forests, plantations and villages. Here a male and here a female
- Melanesian Whistler, only found on the Temotu (Santa Cruz) Islands, Vanuatu and the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia. Formerly included the now split New Caledonian Whistler from Grande Terre (New Caledonia's main island) and, south of it, Ile des Pins. The Melanesian Whistler is common overall, but less so on the Loyalties. It can be found in forests, but it prefers degraded forests and forest edges
- Silvereye, another dark subspecies, this one being endemic to Ouvéa
- Pacific Emerald Dove, recently split from the (Common) Emerald Dove. It occurs from the Lesser Sundas and the Moluccas (Indonesia) through E New Guinea, N and E Australia and east to islands groups in the W Pacific. A common and mostly ground dwelling species
- Glossy Swiftlet, a species with a vast range stretching from Malayan Peninsula to many island groups in the W Pacific. In New Caledonia it can be confused with the White-rumped Swiftlet (occuring in the Solomons and New Caledonia, also seen by me). The latter seemingly outnumbers the Glossy Swiftlet on the Loyalty Islands, with the reverse situation on Grande Terre (New Caledonia's main island). White-rumped Switlet is said to avoid mountainous terrain