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FRENCH POLYNESIA, PITCAIRN & HENDERSON

Saturday 4th October - Friday 31st October 2014

Derek Scott

Tuamotu Sandpiper (Phil Tizzard)

Tuamotu Sandpiper (Phil Tizzard)

Birdquest’s third tour to remote French Polynesia, Pitcairn and Henderson was, like its predecessors, a great success. An eight-day pre-tour extension took us to five islands in the Marquesas; the main tour began with a day’s birding in Tahiti before travelling on to the Gambier Islands to join the R.V. Braveheart for a two-week cruise to the remote Pitcairn Islands and Actaeon Group of the Tuamotus; and the short post-tour extension gave us two days on the lovely little island of Rimatara in the Austral Islands. Thanks to the efficiency of Air Tahiti, French Polynesia’s domestic airline, our inter-island hopping all went very smoothly, and thanks to the skill and determination of Matt and his crew on the Braveheart, we were able to make landings on all the islands on our cruise itinerary, despite some unfavourable winds and choppy seas. By enlisting the help of local experts and guides for some of the trickier birds, we had no difficulty in finding all 24 of the endemic land birds on our list, while by putting in long hours of sea-watching from the deck of the Braveheart, we saw most of the seabirds that we were expecting plus a few that we weren’t. No fewer than 25 of the 68 naturally occurring species that we recorded are currently listed in Threatened Birds of the World as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable, a sad reflection of the disastrous impact that human colonization and the associated introduction of rats has had on the native fauna of the eastern Polynesian islands. As was to be expected, the friendly and inquisitive Tuamotu Sandpipers on Tenararo Atoll were voted the most popular bird of the trip, but the cute little Henderson Crakes on Henderson, the amazingly confiding Polynesian Ground Doves on Tenararo and the colourful Ultramarine Lorikeets on Ua Huka in the Marquesas were also much admired. Other great birds included Murphy’s, Juan Fernandez, Kermadec, Herald, Henderson, Phoenix and Tahiti Petrels, White-bellied and Polynesian Storm Petrels, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Blue and Grey Noddies, Grey-green, Atoll, White-capped and Henderson Fruit Doves, Marquesan Imperial Pigeon, Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo, Tahiti and Marquesan Swiftlets, Society and Marquesan Kingfishers, Kuhl’s and Stephen’s Lorikeets, and Tahiti, Iphis and Fatu Hiva Monarchs. Somewhat less exciting but no less interesting were the six endemic reed warblers (Northern Marquesan, Tahiti, Southern Marquesan, Rimatara, Henderson and Pitcairn). Mammals were hardly a feature of this tour and cetaceans were surprisingly uncommon, but we did enjoy spectacular views of a Humpback Whale breaching repeatedly off Henderson Island.

Henderson Island Fruit-Dove (Phil Tizzard)

Henderson Island Fruit-Dove (Phil Tizzard)