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Birdquest's Solomon Islands birding tour explores these rarely-visited but endemic-rich islands that lie to the east of New Guinea. Our Solomon Islands tour offers a very comprehensive coverage of the islands for the more adventurous birder who longs to see its rich birdlife, including that final glorious pitta right at the edge of the family's world range.
Thursday 8th August —
Tuesday 3rd September 2019
Leader: Josh Bergmark
Group Size Limit: 8
Tour Category: Easy to demanding walking and comfortable to very basic accommodations
Scattered in a loose oval to the east of New Guinea, the Solomon Islands are a quintessential South Pacific idyll, combining a classic landscape and tourist-free, easy-going island life with exotic endemic birds. The nation is an archipelago of volcanic islands, still largely cloaked in luxuriant rainforest, sweeping down to golden sand beaches and fringing coral reefs. Who else has a national flag symbolizing sea, sand and forest?
The environment is still remarkably pristine as most Solomon Islanders pursue their traditional life of fishing on the reefs and tending lush gardens hidden in the forest. Few tourists have discovered this Eden, and the Solomon Islanders remain overwhelmingly friendly and generous to visitors whilst retaining much of their cultural heritage. Beyond the central island of Guadalcanal, famous for some of the most heroic battles of the Second World War, and Gizo, a fledgling scuba-diving destination, we may well encounter no other visitors.
During our journey through the Solomons we will visit nine of the largest islands, allowing us the opportunity to find the great majority of the Solomons endemics. The Solomons form a chain of islands stretching out beyond Papua New Guinea into the deeper Pacific. They are close enough to retain a reasonably high bird diversity yet isolated and fragmented enough to enable an amazing level of speciation of endemic birds. Here, islands only eight kilometres apart have evolved their own endemic bird species!
The central Solomons is the richest ‘Endemic Bird Area’ in the world, with 62 completely endemic species. Combined with Rennell and the Santa Cruz islands, the Solomons have a total of 73 endemic birds plus another 20 endemics shared only with other isolated Melanesian islands. Many more species are due to be recognized in future if current concepts of species limits are applied. Whilst searching for many of these incipient species, we will marvel at the subspecific variation between islands and come to our own ideas about species limits! Still yielding undescribed species and rediscoveries of birds long feared extinct, this region has truly been overlooked both by scientists and birders.
This exciting tour aims to see as many as possible of the accessible Solomon Islands endemics. While much of the tour involves nothing out of the usual, and has moderate or even easy walking, this tour also involves some quite demanding hiking and very basic village accommodation at times, so will definitely appeal to the more adventurous birder!
We will begin our explorations from the small and quiet capital town of Honiara, where the local forests hold such endemics as Pied Goshawk, Solomons (or Ducorps’s) Cockatoo, Solomons Boobook, the attractive Ultramarine Kingfisher, Chestnut-bellied Monarch, Steel-blue Flycatcher, Midget Flowerpecker, Brown-winged Starling, and the uncommon Black-headed Myzomela.
Next we will fly far to the south to the remote island of Rennell, a raised coral atoll that is a World Heritage Site and holds no fewer than five single-island endemics, Rennell Fantail, the beautiful Rennell Shrikebill, Rennell Starling, Rennell White-eye and the weird Bare-eyed White-eye, as well as the slightly more widespread endemic Silver-capped Fruit-Dove.
After a brief pause in Honiara we will fly to Gizo, where the endemics include Yellow-vented Myzomela, the smart White-capped Monarch and Splendid White-eye. From here we will make a day trip by boat to the islands of Ranongga and Vella Lavella, each with endemic white-eyes and the chance of Heinroth’s Shearwater en route.
Afterwards we take a boat to Kolombangara (or Kulambangra), a steep volcanic cone with a series of exciting endemic birds including the magnificent Solomons (or Sanford’s) Sea-Eagle, the flightless Roviana Rail, Buff-headed Coucal, Pale Mountain-Pigeon, Meek’s Lorikeet, the beautiful Duchess Lorikeet, White-winged Fantail, Kolombangara Monarch, Solomons Cuckooshrike and Solomons White-eye. For Kolombangara Leaf-Warbler and Kolombangara White-eye we will have to trek up into the highest moss forest.
On Malaita we will be seeking the endemic Malaita White-eye and the endemic Red-bellied Myzomela.
On Santa Isabel we aim to see some of the most spectacular Solomons birds, concentrating on the recently-described Solomons Frogmouth and the recently rediscovered Black-faced Pitta at its single known site. Other endemics include the flightless Woodford’s Rail, Scarlet-naped Myzomela, White-billed (or Guadalcanal) Crow, Solomons Cuckoo-shrike, Black-and-white Monarch and Yellow-throated White-eye, not to mention the enigmatic Imitator Sparrowhawk and the rarely seen Fearful Owl.
Finally, on Makira (or San Cristobal), we will trek into the highlands where a very distinct array of endemic birds includes the attractive White-headed Fruit-Dove, the bizarre Crested Cuckoo-Dove, Chestnut-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Sooty Myzomela, San Cristobal Melidectes, the shy San Cristobal Thrush, Shade Warbler, San Cristobal Leaf-Warbler, White-collared Monarch, Ochre-headed Flycatcher, Dusky Fantail, San Cristobal Starling, Grey-throated White-eye and Mottled Flowerpecker. This is the only island where we stand a good chance of seeing the little-known Yellow-legged Pigeon.
As this ground-breaking tour unfolds, the presence of large flocks of parrots, especially the raucous Ducorps’s Cockatoo, and many large pigeons, remind us just how unspoilt these wonderful islands still remain.
Birdquest has operated tours to the Solomon Islands since 1996.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels at Honiara and Gizo are of good standard. The hotel on Malaita is fairly simple, although it usually has functioning air-conditioning. The guesthouses on Rennell, Kolombangara, Makira (near the airstrip) and Santa Isabel are fairly basic but provide mattresses, clean sheets, cold showers and toilets. Accommodation is very basic at Hauta on Makira, where we will sleep communally on bamboo beds in traditional village houses, washing under piped stream water or in the local river. One night will be spent in a basic camp on the mountain on Kolombangara. Road transport will be by minibus and 4x4 vehicle. Roads away from the Honiara area are mostly bad, but in any event we do not travel far on them.
Walking: This tour mostly involves moderate physical effort, and while there are a few easy areas there are also some physically demanding ones. On Kolombangara the upper part of the trek to the summit is demanding. The trek on Makira up to Hauta and back involves a steep climb/descent on muddy trails lasting for a number of hours (and possibly one or more river crossings) and there is also a steep climb/descent of two hours on Santa Isabel from the coast to our accommodations and back, as well as rather rough and often slippery trails in the surrounding forest.
Climate: Hot and humid. Although it is the ‘dry’ season, rain is still very likely and it can be heavy. Boat journeys and the camping night on Kolombangara can be cool.
Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.
Important: Flight schedules in the Solomons change frequently, and delays are also not uncommon, so participants need to be aware of this and have a flexible and relaxed approach. Changes to the order in which the islands are visited are almost inevitable and changes to the amount of time on each island are also likely. The itinerary has a built-in safety margin to allow for such eventualities.
These are provisional prices
Tour Price: £8390, €9900, $10990 Honiara/Honiara.
Price includes all transportation (including all inter-island flights in the Solomons), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Single Room Supplement: £748, €883, $980 (Honiara, Gizo and Malaita only).
Deposit: £1050, €1260, $1370.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
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