Video highlights Grande Terre, New Caledonia Part 2

17 Jun 2016 - 10:19 -- Pieter de Groot...

This is Pieter de Groot Boersma's last news feed from his big trip! He travelled extensively from August 2014 to August 2015, covering a whopping 47,000 km by car alone, excluding the travels made by bus throughout New Zealand in November 2014. He hopes that people have enjoyed his videos, which he started uploading to the IBC in September 2015 until June 2016, never missing a day! The news feeds grew over the months, from just a line per species to extensive background information per species. We at the IBC hope other contributors will follow his example when uploading exciting material in the future! Many thanks, Pieter!

Parc Le Grandes Fougeres, an UNESCO park, which, translated in English, is called "the park of the large ferns", covers more than 4500 hectares of rainforest between 400 m and 700 m of altitude, and protects many endemic life forms. These include 500 plant species, of which 70% are endemic to New Caledonia. At the gate, there used to be prime habitat for the endemic New Caledonian Thicketbird. A few years ago they cleared the area of vegetation to make room for picnic and parking spots, basically driving this elusive species away from that location. Already a difficult bird to pin down, this made finding this species even more difficult. Although I could have spent many hours looking for this species, at the end of my big year I also wanted to enjoy snorkelling at the exquisite reefs surrounding the island, hence this is the only missed species of my trip to New Caledonia:

  • Kagu, endemic to Grande Terre, New Caledonia. This truly iconic species is thought to be the sole survivor of the clade Rhynochetidae. Another (larger) species, found as subfossil remains on New Caledonia, has been called the Lowland Kagu (Rhynochetos orarius). The extinct adzebills from New Zealand (Aptornis) and the extant Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) are thought to be the closest relatives of the clade. The Kagu, although still having quite large wings, is flightless. This feature, as with so many already extinct ground birds, is one of the main reasons for its previous decline. Although still rare over much of its range and being considered Endangered, this species has grown in numbers during the last decade or two. The main reasons for this increase is attributed to the control of feral dogs. It is now thought to number between 1000 and 1500 birds. Its elaborate display is famously known; its incredible calls and impressive crest leave a big impression on any lucky observer (see Josep del Hoyo's video). Its habitat consists of rainforests from sea-level up to an altitude of 1400 m, where it forages for invertebrates in family groups. Here you can see a foraging bird, and a close-up of the head (filmed at Parc de la Riviére Bleue).
  • New Caledonian Parakeet, endemic to Grande Terre, New Caledonia. A recent split from the Red-fronted Parakeet complex (see location Ulva Island, New Zealand). It is a localised and uncommon-to-rare species of several types of forests, including humid rainforests, scrub and stands of Casuarina. Larger than its former conspecific Red-fronted Parakeet, it spends its time from the ground to the high canopy, although possibly less so on the ground as the Red-fronted Parakeet.
  • New Caledonian Myzomela, endemic to Grande Terre and the small island of Ile des Pins, New Caledonia. A fairly common species of forests, savannas and scrub. Mostly found as lone birds or as in pairs, often joining mixed species flocks.
  • Southern Shrikebill, only found in Vanuatu and New Caledonia. A fairly common species of wet rainforests, from sea-level up to 1100 m. It forages for invertebrates in thick tangles of vegetation, from the lower storey to the sub-canopy. It spends most of its time in mixed species flocks, where it can be quite unobtrusive. Its calls and the ruffling of the dead leaves are the best indications of its presence.
  • Fan-tailed Warbler, only found on Rennell (S Solomon Islands), Vanuatu and New Caledonia. A common bird of forest edges and secondary growth, where its sweet song resonates through the trees.

Parc Riviére Bleue, translated as "the park of the blue river", is a protected area that lies in between old and still-active mining operations. Mining has destroyed much of the surrounding habitat, but the creation of two more protected areas in the area enhanced the importance of these combined 22,400-hectares-large parks. It protects the core area of the Critically Endangered Crow Honeyeater:

  • Crow Honeyeater, endemic to a restricted range on Grande Terre, New Caledonia. A unique species, being the only one of its genus, this species is largely unknown. Indeed, in HBW, and the HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World the bird is depicted having a yellow cere/wattle around its eye, but this can be seen in the video as red. Critically Endangered, it seems clear that the species is undergoing a very alarming population decline. Probably found over much of Grande Terre before human colonisation, this species has recently been recorded only once in the north of the Island (Mt. Panié) in 2011. Predation by feral mammals, mostly by rats, along with habitat destruction, seems to be the most important factor in its decline, although this is yet to be confirmed by scientific research. The rangers at Parc Rivière Bleue, its stronghold, told me that they build their nests in trees, but in a very exposed manner. In addition, they tend to leave the nest unattended for long periods of time, giving rats easy access to their contents. No action plan to save the species has been devised yet, and, in order to do so, more information is needed on their general behaviour. The rangers, most of them French-born, told me no funds are available for the necessary study. As a result, the future of this species seems bleak. Estimates of its total numbers were given in the year 2000 as 1000-3000 birds. These estimates were very probably greatly over-estimated. Pairs occupy humid rainforest at an altitude of 100-850 m. There, pairs occupy territories of 1 km2. Recent estimates are that there are less than 250 birds surviving. Again, this is a provisional estimate until more is known about the species, which will hopefully happen before it's too late. This sound clip, which I also uploaded to the IBC, is the only one I can find on the web.
  • New Caledonian Cuckoo-shrike, endemic to Grande Terre and the small island of Ile des Pins, New Caledonia. A fairly common bird of forests and scrub, mostly above 600 m (but sometimes down to 200 m). It mostly lives in pairs. It spend most of its time in the sub-canopy and the canopy, where it often perches in the open.
  • Yellow-bellied Fly-robin, endemic to Grande Terre and the small island of Ile des Pins, New Caledonia. A common bird, which prefers the lower storeys and the undergrowth of wet and shady parts of rainforests. However, locally it can also be found in both dry and open forest. Where found, this little gem can be very confiding.

Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia, has a feel of a mixed European and Pacific lifestyle:

  • Coconut Lorikeet, a recent split from the Rainbow Parakeet species complex. The Coconut Lorikeet is common on New Caledonia in open forests, but it can even be abundant in suburban areas. Its range stretches from New Caledonia in the south through the strain of islands of the W Pacific and New Guinea to the Moluccas in E Indonesia.
  • Fairy Tern, a Vulnerable species which can be found in four disjunct subspecies, one in SW Australia, one in SE Australia, one in New Zealand (Critically Endangered, only around 30 birds left) and one in New Caledonia. Here is an adult and a view of some chicks and adults in a breeding colony on one of the offshore islands near Nouméa (good for snorkelling!).

Endemic or near-endemic species seen in New Caledonia, but not filmed: Large Lifou White-eye, White-rumped Swiftlet, Pacific Imperial Pigeon, Barred Honeyeater and Red-throated Parrot-finch.

And all of a sudden, that completes Pieter de Groot Boersma's big year! He has shared it with us through daily uploads from the 17th of September 2015 to 17th June 12016. We strongly encourage others to follow his example! Thanks again, Pieter!