3 Nov 2014

3 Nov 14 - Finally Off To See Some Tahitian Endemics

Finally, it was time to get in the two 4WDs to head off to the Papenoo Valley for some endemic species. It isn't possible to see all of the endemics in one location, so this afternoon the plan was to look for Grey-green Fruit-dove, Tahiti Kingfisher & Tahiti Reed Warbler. First it was a slow drive around the island. Basically, Tahiti is composed of two connected islands, Tahiti Nui & the smaller Tahiti Iti to the South East. Each island has a central volcano. Nearly all of the population living on the flatter coastal strip at its edge and many seem to spend a lot of time on the main coastal road which circumnavigates the islands. As a result, getting anywhere involves a slow journey. First task was to get through Papeete.
Cruise Ship: Glad we were not booked on this ship. We had to ensure about an hour of cruise ship punters as we waiting to check in for our flight back to Los Angeles at the end of the the trip: which was an hour too long
Tatitian homestead: This is typical of many houses we saw
Finally, after about 30 or 40 minutes drive, we reached the start of the Papenoo Valley. This is a valley with a dirt road which roughly follows the river which runs from the centre of the island. There is plenty of forest on both sides of the road and the whole area is used as a water catchment area & for hydro electric power.
Papenoo Valley: It looks great forest, but our guide on the last day of the trip told us most of the large trees have been introduced to Tahiti, which perhaps helps to explain why the forest Birding is slow & hard going
Papenoo Valley: It would be very difficult to explore away from the valley bottom with these steep sides
The first stop was along the riverside for some food & drinks, where we quickly found the first of  about 10 Tahiti Reed Warblers I was to see or hear during the afternoon.
Papenoo Valley: Our first Tahiti Reed Warbler was seen in the forest on the opposite river bank to this food stop 
Tahiti Reed Warbler: Forget the European ideas of Reed Warblers living in reed beds. The Tahiti Reed Warblers are large, long-billed, dark species, which act more like a forest version of Philippine Glossy Starling than a Reed Warbler in Europe
During the lunch stop, a Pacific Black Duck flew by. After getting some views with the bins, there was only time for a tail on view of it going away. But it was the only one I saw on the trip, although some of the others saw a family party later on in the afternoon.
Pacific Black Duck: At last a species that is native to Tahiti. This is the pelewensis subspecies which occurs in the Pacific in Micronesia, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands & French Polynesia. Other subspecies occur in Indonesia to PNG, Australia & New Zealand
Wandering Tattler: I've always associated Wandering Tattlers with rocky shorelines, so was surprised to find this one on a freshwader river. Will keep an eye out on the Cornish rivers next time I'm looking for Dippers down West
We carried along the dirt road, either walking & Birding or getting rides in the 4WDs to the next stop.
Papenoo Valley: Another view of the river
The Birding was fairly slow, but every now & then we entered another Tahiti Reed Warbler territory.
Tahiti Reed Warbler: Despite being the commonest of the endemic species we saw, they were shy & not keen to come out into the open to pishing
Tahiti Reed Warbler: This is the nominate caffer subspecies. The other subspecies occurs on the nearby island of Moorea
The dirt road follows the river, but fords it at one point. Fortunately, we were in the 4WD at the time, so no wet feet.
Papenoo Valley: Given the steepness of the mountain valleys, there are warnings about crossing during heavy rain as the water level can rise very rapidly here
Papenoo Valley: Birding along this moderate sized reservoir which held a couple of Eastern Reef Herons, but nothing else
In the more open areas there were good views of the hillsides & the occasional White-tailed Tropicbird flying over the distant hillsides.
White-tailed Tropicbird: I'm not going to win any awards for this photo, but as it's a Family Photo Tick, then I wasn't going to throw it away. We only saw them on Tahiti & I don't think I got any photos of the White-tailed Tropicbird, I saw at the end of the trip. This is the dorotheae subspecies which occurs throughout the Pacific. Other subspecies occur in Atlantic & Indian Oceans
The open areas were also good for occasional parties of Silver-eyes, Waxbills & Red-browed Firetails: three more for the introduced list. But none were approachable to allow decent photos.
Silver-eye: The natural range includes Australia, New Caledonia & Fiji. It is also introduced into New Zealand
Waxbill: The natural range is more or less the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa
Red-browed Firetail: Another Eastern Australian introduction. I was pleased to find this photo in a group of Waxbill photos as I didn't think I had managed to photograph any Firetails. The only one I saw with the bins disappeared before I could raise the camera
Orchid: There were also a small group of this great looking Orchid
Further up the valley we were taken up a track to this sacred Polynesian site. It was certainly sacred to me when the guide pointed out our only Tahiti Kingfisher of the day, as we arrived in the clearing. Sadly, another species that failed to give decent, prolonged views.
Sacred Polynesian site: The guide said that they believe human sacrifices were practiced here
Tahiti Kingfisher: This is the nominate veneratus subspecies with the other subspecies being found on Moorea
By the time, we had to turn around we were disappointed to not have seen any Grey-green Fruit-doves. At this point, one flushed out just in front of us & briefly landed in nearby trees. I was lucky to get the following photo, while Richard was giving directions, as several in the group struggled to get more than a flight view. We did see it again, over the next few minutes, but too brief & distant for photos.
Grey-green Fruit-dove: This is the nominate purpuratus subspecies. There are two other subspecies: one on Moorea & the other on Bora-bora & neighbouring islands
It was time to head back to the hotel. Still we had seen the 3 endemics we had hoped to see so everybody was happy, although we would have preferred better views. I was surprised that we had made it back to the 4WDs dry, as it had been threatening rain for the final hour. But the heavens finally opened on the drive back.
Another couple of local houses on the way back: Surprisingly this area is still dry & sunny
The main road around this island: Starting to get wet
Looking towards Papeete (in the far distance)
The Tahitian's really like their roundabouts