Vanuatu - September 2023

Birds of the islands and waters of the South Pacific.
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Steve Wood
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Vanuatu - September 2023

Postby Steve Wood » Wed Nov 08, 2023 7:47 pm

Vanuatu Sept 2023.

I have recently finished nearly three weeks birding trip around Vanuatu by boat, which included 11 of the 80 plus Islands.Most landings were frustratingly brief mainly 5-6 hrs maximum which was limiting.
Some of the Islands were well off the beaten track and due to lack of info available, rarely birded.

Island visited : Started on Efate and then headed north, Moso, Epi, Malakula, Ambrym, Ambae, Santa Maria, Vanua Larva, Ureparapara,Torres Island,and Espiritu Santo finished on Efate.

The most popular birded Island is E.Santo which has two conservation areas,and regularly visited by overseas birder’s : Loru and Vathe in the north.
I visited both these areas at the end of my trip, both have good habitat and good knowledgeable guides available in the nearby village.
You should be able to see 7 of the 11 endemics in theses two areas:
Vanautu white-eye, Vanuatu Kingfisher, Vanuatu Megapode, Buff-bellied Monarch,Vanuatu whistler and Tanna fruit dove plus the recently split Vanuatu streaked Fantail.If time allows, 5 other endemics: Bakers Imperial Pigeon,Palm Lorikeet,Vanuatu honey-eater, Santo thicket bird and Mountain Starling are mainly restricted to altitude on Santo. The Mountain Starling is rarely seen and numbers appear to be critically low.
Strangly enough,I did see good numbers of Vanuatu Honey-eaters on Vanua larva, at sea level and not on any other Islands. Not to say they were totally absent.
There is also some other tasty near endemics at altitude - Sant cruz ground dove and Royal parrot finch and Rusty winged Starling.
A return trip at altitude is in the planning.

Sea birding was very disappointing, considering the distance covered and time viewing.Highlights were painfully few:
1 Melanesian Shearwater, 1 Tahiti Petrel.1 distant Frigate bird sp. plus all 3 booby’s once in northern waters. Obviously to early?? for Vanuatu, and Magnificent petrels.
Crested tern were common.

Endemics seen *8 - trip list 53 species.

*Vanuatu Honey-eater.
*Vanuatu White-eye.
*Vanuatu Kingfisher.
*Vanuatu Megapode.
*Vanuatu Fantail.
*Buff -bellied Monarch.
*Tanna Fruit dove.
*Palm Lorikeet.

Mountain Starling.
Baker’s imperial Pigeon.
Santo Thicket-bird.

Royal parrotfinch.
Santa cruz ground dove
Rust winged Starling.

Flying fish were good entertainment , 3 plus species.
Dugong seen once in Ambae in the shallows.
Spinner and Bottlenose Dolphin.
Two Flying fox species.

What was most interesting was the variability in Pacific Kingfishers, IOC have 5 ssp. listed for the Islands of Vanuatu and IOC 13.2 list a total of 22 Pacific Kingfisher sub species to date. I suspect this is another species complex that awaits unravelling.
5 individual variations of a theme were seen plus the distinctive Vanuatu Kingfisher.
When comparing the plates from Guy Dutsons birds of Melanesia, there is some striking resemblance to the Pacific Kingfisher ssp. from further a field ie. Northern Fiji, Solomon’s and Boganville.
IMG_1051.jpeg (640.91 KiB) Viewed 1485 times

Any further info you my require happy to help.
Last edited by Steve Wood on Mon Dec 11, 2023 7:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Michael Szabo
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Re: Vanuatu - September 2023

Postby Michael Szabo » Fri Nov 10, 2023 4:43 pm

Sounds like a great trip, Steve. Do those letters A-E correspond to any of the named subspecies?
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Re: Vanuatu - September 2023

Postby andrewcrossland » Sun Dec 10, 2023 12:30 pm

Hi Steve, did you see many waders? And did you have an opportunity to look at some of the braided riverbeds on Santo?
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Steve Wood
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Re: Vanuatu - September 2023

Postby Steve Wood » Mon Dec 11, 2023 6:55 pm

Hi Andrew,

Unfortunatley not. I didn't see any good habitat whilst traveling between Island, not even a Tattler which was really suprising.
I was however focused on the endemics so waders were not high on my list to check out, but as I said no potential habitat that I saw.
Only two reef Herons seen in the far north - one white and one grey. A couple of Swamp hens briefly and a White Faced Heron in a swampy bit.
However I did see a pic that someone took on there phone later on of two Whimbrel on one of the beaches on Santo.
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Steve Wood
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Re: Vanuatu - September 2023

Postby Steve Wood » Mon Dec 11, 2023 8:41 pm

Apologies Mike for not answering your question,I got busy and dropped the ball so I will endeavour to explain what I think they are with limited resources.
There is 5 ssp.listed for Vanuatu but my images don’t fit all the description of those described on the specific islands of Vanuatu.

A) not sure but might be a juv or female t.c juliae ? Bold supercilium to come maybe ?

D & B) Birds seen on Aore Island off Santo. - t.c santonesis.
This ssp I believe is sexually dimorphic and male and female illustrated here.

C) Is an interesting bird also photographed on Aore Is. as it shows no supercilium and has distinct black fringes on the breast. fits best with t.c. Melandorus from Vanikoro is. (Santa Cruz) ?
Which is just up the road kind of :).

E) Is the nominate Pacific Kingfisher on Efate t.s juliae.

This pic below is of a Pacific Kingfisher photographed on Makira (Solomons ) and looks very similar to Image A) above in my original post.
IMG_1191.jpeg (368.86 KiB) Viewed 1112 times
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Michael Szabo
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Re: Vanuatu - September 2023

Postby Michael Szabo » Sun Dec 24, 2023 12:33 pm

No worries Steve, same here - been so busy I hadn't been back to this thread for a while.

It's great to have clear photos of these subspecies at named locations 'off the beaten track'.

I saw Pacific Kingfisher on Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands but Melanesian Kingfisher seemed to be the default species on the other islands I've visited there.
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