Just returned from a 6 day family holiday to Rarotonga. While my wife and I were limited in our ambition by 9 month-old, we still managed to see some birds. We were mainly based in the Titikaveka area on the south east coast (Bella Beach Bungalows). So while we probably would have seen a few more things by venturing further afield, as you'll see below, we still managed some interesting stuff in our quiet little corner of the island. In general, days were passed within 1km of our bungalow. I spent snatches of time scoping the forested hills for thermalling seabirds or perhaps one of the rare island bush birds, but most 'birding' was occasional scoping from our deck looking out over the large lagoon and the open ocean beyond.
Below is a list of the birds seen/heard and some brief notes. At the bottom I have also included some ideas for other birding opportunities available on the island that we didn't pursue.
21 species in all:
Feral Chicken: Abundant throughout island (Seemingly even more densely spread than Samoa). In addition to rural areas, commonly seen picking around beaches and urban cafes etc.
Cook Island Fruit-Dove: 3-4 heard only in the Takitumu Conservation Area. Apparently restricted to interior forests of the island, though will occasionally stray to rural orchards/farms with fruiting trees.
Pacific Imperial-Pigeon: Quite inconspicuous though seen daily in native bush and well-vegetated villages and farms.
Pacific Golden Plover: Scarce during the boreal nesting season but 3 seen on a large soccer pitch in the NE of the island (seen from bus)
Wandering Tattler: A single bird seen briefly at Bella Beach after an overnight king tide brought up lots of seaweed onto the beach.
Brown Noddy: Seen daily in small numbers over the lagoon or beyond the reefs. High count of around 40 on the first afternoon were part of a mixed tern/booby flock working bait fish.
Black Noddy: 3-5 seen in among the large flock mentioned above (first afternoon). Apparently rare in Raro so may have been blown over from Mangaia following a week of 100+km winds from the southeast (which eased after our arrival).
Grey Ternlet: 2 seen flying over lagoon on same day as flock mentioned above though these birds were doing their own thing.
White Tern: Most common native bird around the island. Regularly seen flying over forests, settlements, and offshore.
White-tailed Tropicbird: A regular sight, floating over high ridges of the interior of the island. Usually in pairs or up to 20 birds.
Red-tailed Tropicbird: Most common around rock bluffs near Avarua (& airport)--i.e. NW corner of the island, though a group of 4 briefly circled low over our bungalow in the SE.
Herald Petrel: Seen on 5/6 days with 23 individuals seen overall, including 5 flying over land (To suspected interior breeding areas)
Black-winged Petrel: a single bird seen on day one while SE winds were still blowing. Flew right over lagoon.
Tropical Shearwater: 2 possibles (but too far) seen on morning of 11th then a single bird came close enough for ID on the same day (Just beyond reef at Bella Beach)
Brown Booby: Seen most days from Bella Beach, usually as singles but a group of 30-40 were part of the mixed flock seen on the first day.
Red-footed Booby: Around a dozen birds seen on the first day (Mix of juvs and intermediate adults), then a single white adult seen on another day.
Reef Heron: Common around the entire coastline with white and dark morphs seemingly 50/50.
Eastern Rosella: 2 birds seen in the orchard below Takitumu, part of a small feral population that has apparently been around for at least a few years (Though locals didn't seem to be sure what their origin or duration of time was).
Rarotonga Monarch: Bouncing back from a low of 26 in the 1980s, there are now apparently 400+ on Raro and another few hundred introduced to Atiu. I counted around 20 heard/seen on our morning tour at Takitumu.
Rarotonga Starling: Like the fruit-dove and monarch, also bounding back in numbers thanks to rat trapping etc. Not a conspicuous bird but we did hear close to 10 on our walk through Takitumu and managed to get a great look at one pair. Their calls are reminiscent of NZ bellbird.
Common Myna: Most common bird (introduced) everywhere on the island. Interestingly they seem to frequently mimic Long-tailed Cuckoo (Which winters on the island though we didn't see/hear any). Also has a different contact note from the usual NZ birds. Reminds me of the dry trill of an Evening Grosbeak.
Bristle-thighed Curlews are apparently possible in the austral summer, with Muri Lagoon being the best spot. These tidal lagoons would also be one's best chance for other wader species like tattlers, turnstones, and rarities, though we didn't check it this time (other than eye-balling from the bus). The rocky coast along the west side, should also be best for tattlers and turnstones etc.
For seawatching, while we did pick up some great birds from our accommodation, the large lagoon meant that all pelagic birds were quite far away. Scoping from Black Rock on the west coast (With a higher position above waves, and less of a lagoon) or the north side of the entrance to Muri Lagoon on the east coast would be much better (Or even the Avarua waterfront in the north).
There seem to be a lot of tramping tracks in the highlands of Raro away from Takitumu (which is private land and required a guided tour--which is absolutely worth it by the way). These should afford birders with other opportunities to seek out the 3 island endemics (Avana Valley should be especially good west of Muri) along with soaring seabirds in the afternoons; particularly Herald Petrel being a specialty.
There are multiple fishing charters that have trips out of Avarua. I contacted them all prior to the trip and Akura said they would take me out as a non-fishing 'observer' for $50. In the end I opted to relax in the south and try scoping from land, but this could be a great opportunity to try for more pelagic species, especially outside winter when they have more deep-water trips (At the moment they mostly stick around the 100m mark for wahoo fishing).
**And of course, if you have time and money--check out the other islands like Atiu, Mangaia, etc. Lots still to understand about bird distribution in this part of the world!
Russ, Lisa, and Alex Cannings
Birds of the islands and waters of the South Pacific.
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Thanks Russ for taking the time to post such a detailed helpful report - your usual high standard!