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THE SOLOMON ISLANDS

Friday 3rd July - Wednesday 29th July 2015

Mark Van Beirs

The brilliant Black-faced (or Solomon's) Pitta (Lars Petersson)

The brilliant Black-faced (or Solomon's) Pitta (Lars Petersson)

The undisputable Birds of the Trip of the 2015 Solomon Islands tour were Black-faced Pitta, Fearful Owl and Solomons Frogmouth. The pitta because it took several days of hard work to finally see it and the reward was the most amazing eye-ball to eye-ball encounter I have ever had with this very difficult pitta. The magnificent Fearful Owl had not been seen on a Birdquest tour since 2004 and the views of this amazing owl in its large fig tree, after a sweaty and steep scramble up a sheer limestone ridge were out of this world. The glorious Solomons Frogmouth looks so comically bizarre and unique and behaved so very well. These three most appreciated birds of the tour were all seen on the island of Santa Isabel! Praise also went to the majestic Sanford’s Sea Eagle and to the fine-looking Duchess Lorikeet. Our tour total includes a great selection and a large percentage of the endemic birds and specialities. We had good looks at four genera that are endemic to the Solomon Islands (of which two were amongst the highlights of the trip): Nesasio (Fearful Owl), Rigidipenna (Solomons Frogmouth), Meliarchus (Makira Honeyeater) and Woodfordia (Bare-eyed White-eye). The Solomon Islands comprise Endemic Bird Areas 198 and 199 and the total area of this archipelago is smaller than Belgium. It has more restricted range species (confined to an area less than 50,000 km²) than any other Endemic Bird Area in the World! This tour is definitely one of our toughest trips through a combination of intense physical effort, unpredictable weather and capricious logistics. The tough hike and overnight high on Kolombangara volcano and the sometimes brutally steep, slippery trails of Santa Isabel will long be remembered by all participants. On the 2015 trip we sure had our share of logistical and weather related problems. We arrived in the islands when Tropical Cyclone Raquel was still strafing the airstrips, so that domestic flights were totally disrupted. We experienced flight delays of one to several days on a number of occasions. Rain was, fortunately, and in contrast to previous tours, never a problem on our hikes or walks. Engine trouble of the regular Malaita – Guadalcanal ferry resulted in an interesting overnight boat trip on a cargo ship. Because of a landowner dispute we, sadly, were unable to visit the highlands of Makira, but, luckily, we managed to see the majority of the Makira specialities in a nice stretch of lowland forest. We birded the islands of Guadalcanal, Rennell, Malaita, Gizo and Makira by road or via logging tracks, cruised into Ranongga and Vella Lavella by boat and trekked up into the forested mountains or hills of Kolombangara and Santa Isabel.

An incredible encounter with Fearful Owl was a trip highlight (Lars Petersson)

An incredible encounter with Fearful Owl was a trip highlight (Lars Petersson)