Samoan Trip Report: July 2015

Birds of the islands and waters of the South Pacific.
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RussCannings
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Samoan Trip Report: July 2015

Postby RussCannings » Thu Jul 09, 2015 3:24 pm

Hi all,

Have just returned from 11 days in Western Samoa. Nice to escape the chilly winter for a bit! I don't have a ton of time so I'm afraid this will be somewhat abbreviated.

This was not a dedicated birding trip, more of a traditional beach/resting getaway, but naturally I brought my bins and thought I would share an annotated trip list for those interested. Although my girlfriend Lisa and I visited both main islands (Upolu and the quieter but larger Savai'i), we both got very sick on our first day in Savai'i so the first half of the trip was basically a write-off (Just slept inside the fale and plunged into the ocean briefly to cool off every once in a while). Therefore the vast majority of the 'birding' (ie Getting outside) was done back on the more populated island of Upolu, which still has some fantastic birding/beaching opportunities.

In all, we tallied 38 species, which is pretty respectable I think considering we only seriously birded for 1 day, the rest being more or less incidental. Had we visited a few other key sites, I'm sure 45 or so could have been reached. We circumnavigated both islands by bus/taxi but only spent significant time at: Vaimoana Beachside fales (NW end of Savai'i), Apia area (main city of Samoa in north-central Upolu. The native bush in the hills around town make for convenient and productive birding with Mount Vaea and Dave Parker's Eco Lodge being the main places we visited), and Lalomanu Beach (East end of Upolu). Will add some more thoughts/comments/recommendations on birding Samoa at the end.

Here is a list of the birds encountered with some brief notes on their abundance and where we saw them.

* signifies endemic to Samoa

Pacific Black-Duck (Grey Duck): With very little in the way of ponds and lakes in Samoa, these guys are pretty scarce. We did however find a group of 25+ on some golf-course ponds near the main airport.

Feral Chicken: Not everyone's favourite bird to put on a list but apparently they have been feral throughout the jungle as well as the villages for hundreds of years. Pretty similar to a pigeon or bulbul I suppose--just easier to catch and eat.

White-tailed Tropicbird: Saw a couple on the ferry crossing between islands, but they're dead-easy to see soaring above their forest nesting grounds in the hills south of Apia. An awesome sight. Mt Vaea (Hike to Robert Louis Stevenson's tomb) and Dave Parker's Eco Lodge are two good spots to see them.

Great Frigatebird: Apparently the less common of the two, I only confirmed one sighting for the trip--an adult male at To Sua Ocean trench, along the southeast coast of Upolu.

Lesser Frigatebird: Fairly common off the east end of Upolu.

Brown Booby: Several seen from the inter-island ferry. Also present off Lalomanu (east end of Upolu) in good numbers.

Red-footed Booby: Common to abundant off all coasts of Samoa, though not always visible from shore.

Pacific Reef-Heron: Fairly common in coastal areas, especially around reefs. Also saw one in the interior of Upolu (several km from the sea) hunting along a stream.

Buff-banded Rail (Banded Rail): Abundant in open grassy areas, wetlands, and forest edges, even at the top of Mt Vaea

Purple Swamphen (Pukeko): Only saw 4-5, but likely common in all freshwater wetland habitats.

Pacific Golden-Plover: Despite it being the boreal summer, this species was still relatively common in open grassy habitats such as cricket pitches and school fields near the coast.

Wandering Tattler: One bird fly past me at Lalomanu beach (east end of Upolu) while I was scanning for seabirds.

Brown Noddy: Quite common in most coastal areas. Hundreds gather at dusk in Apia harbour before flying inland to breeding sites around Mt Vaea and beyond. Did not note any Black Noddies though I'm sure a few were around (Did not visit any coastal breeding islets and did not have a scope).

White Tern: Saw them on both ferry crossings and were also seen soaring daily with WT Tropicbirds and noddies in the forested hills above Apia.

Bridled Tern: Only saw 1, on the first ferry crossing over to Savai'i. I don't think they nest in Samoa but are likely regular visitors offshore.

Black-naped Tern: Appeared to be fairly common in small numbers in most coastal areas.

Feral Pigeon: Common around human habitation on both islands.

Metallic Pigeon: Only saw 1, a flyby at dusk at Dave Parker's Eco Lodge.

Many-coloured Fruit-Dove: Heard only at 2 locations on Savai'i at at Lalomanu Beach. In the native bush above Apia they were less numerous than CC Fruit-Dove but still fairly common. Easily seen at Dave Parker's.

Crimson-crowned Fruit-Dove: Abundant in native forest around Apia. Also heard 1 in a patch of native forest at Lalomanu

Pacific Imperial-Pigeon: Frequently seen flying over the beach at Lalomanu. Common in native forest in hills around Apia.

White-rumped Swiftlet: Common in all habitats on both islands, especially close to dawn/dusk

*Flat-billed Kingfisher: Heard at several places on Savai'i though appeared to be much more abundant throughout Upolu (Mostly open country habitats) though I didn't get out birding around Savai'i much.

Blue-crowned Lorikeet: Heard once or twice in NW Savai'i then saw them frequently while staying at Dave Parker's

Cardinal Myzomela: Common throughout both islands. Gorgeous little honeyeater.

Eastern Wattled Honeyeater: One of the most common birds in Samoa.

*Mao: Heard one on two occasions at Dave Parkers. Unfortunately didn't have time to go to any of the more reliable spots to try and see them.

Polynesian Triller: Quite common in all habitats including downtown Apia

*Samoan Triller: Finally managed to see 1 on my second last day in the country. A lone bird foraging silently at Dave Parker's

*Samoan Whistler: Common on Mt Vaea. Not sure of status in native forest elsewhere

*Samoan Fantail: Common in native bush around Apia

*Samoan Flycatcher (aka Samoan Broadbill): Had a couple on Mt Vaea

Red-vented Bulbul: Common throughout both islands--mainly near human habitation but also in disturbed native forest

Polynesian Starling: Didn't see these guys until the last couple days while birding in native forest above Apia. Appeared to be rare around towns, villages, and plantations. Could have just been unlucky though.

*Samoan Starling: By far the most abundant endemic. Common everywhere.

Jungle Myna: Saw a few on Savai'i but appeared more common on Upolu, especially in plantations.

Common Myna: Fairly common around main towns/villages

*Samoan (Red-headed) Parrotfinch: Only saw them around Mt Vaea and Dave Parker's but if I had been familiar with their call earlier on, I may have detected them elsewhere.

---The only endemics I missed were Samoan White-eye (Only possible by seeking permission to hike Savai'i's highest mountain--requires time and apparently a lot of cash to pay local chief and guide. The endemic subspecies of Island Thrush is also only possible up there) and Tooth-billed Pigeon (Tough at the best of times, perhaps like trying to go see a Great Spotted Kiwi. I was never in any good spots for them anyway).

Please let me know if you're ever planning a trip to Samoa or if you have any questions about the birds I saw/didn't see. If I go back, I would definitely make time to visit more of the native bush reserves on both islands, especially the offshore islands on the east coast like Nu-utele Island which apparently has Tooth-billed Pigeon and reliable Friendly Ground-Doves. I missed the endemic ssp of Pacific Robin, mainly because I only visited one site (Mt Vaea) where they were possible, and didn't know their song etc. Will be more prepared next time.

We didn't hire a car. Taxi/bus allows for fairly easy access to much of both islands. Try to avoid travelling on Sundays when everything is shut and people are hard to get a hold of. Hitch-hiking appears to be quite easy for those looking to save some $.

I would also be keen to try a pelagic trip off Samoa to see what tubenoses might be around. Had I brought my scope I may have been able to pick up some Wedge-tailed and/or Tropical Shearwaters off Lalomanu but bins made IDing the passing distant specs tough.

Very nice people and cool to be there during the All Blacks vs. Manu Samoa festivities! Other than getting sick (From the water?), we enjoyed much of the local food, and though a lot of the reefs were smashed by tsunamis a few years ago, fish life is still quite good and a few corals are making a come-back.

Sorry for the haphazard style of report but I've got a lot of other stuff on the go! As I said, drop me a line or leave a comment if you want clarification on anything mentioned above.

Russ Cannings
Cambridge, NZ
phil hammond
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Re: Samoan Trip Report: July 2015

Postby phil hammond » Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:00 pm

Hi Russ

Thanks for posting that----fascinating reading
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RussCannings
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Re: Samoan Trip Report: July 2015

Postby RussCannings » Thu Jul 09, 2015 5:38 pm

Cheers Phil,

Samoa appears to be severely underbirded so it would not surprise me if many species are more numerous and widespread than previously known. I don't doubt that rare endemics such as the Tooth-billed Pigeon and Mao (A giant forest-dwelling honeyeater) are declining due to habitat loss/fragmentation and other pressures, but I bet there are still more out there than the sightings suggest. Seabird distribution is especially lacking and I'm very interested in the all-dark storm-petrels that apparently nest on Nu'utele Island.

Another cool aspect of Samoan birding is that, in addition to the lack of mammalian predators (as NZ), Samoan birds also evolved without avian raptors such as eagles, hawks, and falcons to worry about. The only owl is an endemic form of the Barn Owl, and it is known to hunt at all hours of the day--owing to a lack of competition as well as danger from other raptors, or magpies/corvids etc. Samoan Flying-Foxes (Giant fruit bats) also can be seen flying at all times of the day. Over in Fiji on the other hand, the birds and bats have to deal with Peregrine Falcons and Fijian Goshawks. And it never gets tiring seeing birds like Banded Rails, that are so secretive here in NZ, but so abundant and almost fearless in Samoa. And like in Hawai'i and I'm sure other Pacific Islands, golden-plovers seem quite at home on an average front lawn, rather than out on coastal mudflats.

So the species diversity may be low, but there is no shortage of fascinating naturalizing to do and think about. Looking forward to returning with a more dedicated plan in mind, as well as visiting other Pacific islands over the coming years.

Russ
Paul G

Re: Samoan Trip Report: July 2015

Postby Paul G » Thu Jul 09, 2015 5:42 pm

I tend to dislike pointless replies to postings that just say.. "oooh, what pretty pictures! ", or "what a super report!".
But this is the exception, Russ. Thank you. VERY useful, very helpful, and I'll definitely benefit from this when I do an islands trip.
So here goes: Oooh, what a super report!

cheers
Paul
PS. Hope you made it to the big footie match?
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RussCannings
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Re: Samoan Trip Report: July 2015

Postby RussCannings » Fri Jul 10, 2015 2:55 pm

Alas, we booked our flights before hearing about the match--we were actually in the Apia airport when the game started. Still got to watch the parade and take part in the festive atmosphere leading up to it. It clearly meant a great deal to the Samoan people and I hope the ABs return again soon.
Will Parsons
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Re: Samoan Trip Report: July 2015

Postby Will Parsons » Wed May 29, 2019 8:49 am

We are travelling to Samoa from the 3rd to the 18th June 2019 so I found your report most helpful. Would you recommend any particular books.
Cheers Will Parsons
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RussCannings
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Re: Samoan Trip Report: July 2015

Postby RussCannings » Thu May 30, 2019 6:05 pm

Hi Will,

There are several Polynesian guides that include Samoa. None are spectacular but since the diversity isn't too wild in Samoa it's really only the seabirds that might cause ID issues. I used Dick Watlings guide to Fiji and Wrstern Polynesia which is probably the best under the circumstances in terms of including info on local ssp.

Pacific Robin is now split along with both the myzomela and parrotfinch so a couple more endemics there :)

Russ
Will Parsons
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Re: Samoan Trip Report: July 2015

Postby Will Parsons » Thu May 30, 2019 6:25 pm

Thanks Russ will after our return.

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