The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Australia & The Pacific Islands

PITCAIRN & FRENCH POLYNESIA – Islands at the End of the World

Tuesday 30th September – Thursday 23rd October 2025

Leader: János Oláh

24 Days Group Size Limit 12
Cook Islands Extension

Thursday 23rd October – Wednesday 29th October 2025

7 Days Group Size Limit 10

PITCAIRN & FRENCH POLYNESIA BIRDING TOUR: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Pitcairn & French Polynesia birding tours are one of those epic birding tours to the back of beyond! Our Pitcairn & French Polynesia birding tour is a remarkable journey that takes in islands that really are a tropical paradise, with extraordinary seabirds (so tame you can almost touch them), trusting little Tuamotu Sandpipers and many other wonderful endemics of this largely uninhabited and very special ‘Edge of the World’ place. By using a boat to access remote islands, we can see such very special birds as Henderson Crake, Polynesian Imperial Pigeon, Marquesan Ground Dove, Henderson and Makatea Fruit Dove, Stephan’s Lorikeet, Tuamotu Kingfisher, Marquesan Kingfisher, Pitcairn and Henderson Reed Warblers and Marquesan and Fatuhiva Monarchs, never mind a host of more accessible endemics including the spectacular Kuhl’s, Ultramarine and Blue Lorikeets. All in all this remarkable itinerary enables the intrepid birder to encounter numerous endemics and other major specialities, including some seldom-seen seabirds.

How many chances does one have to visit a scattering of largely uninhabited tropical islands where deserted white sand beaches are fringed with luxuriant vegetation, haunted by rarely seen endemics, and the seas are enlivened by a host of little-known seabirds? Not many, but here is one fantastic opportunity! Add into the mix the romance and violence of the Mutiny on the Bounty story, the classic, real-life tale of putting love before duty and its tragic consequences, and you have something extraordinarily alluring.

The Polynesian triangle between Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island stretches about 8000 kilometres across the central Pacific Ocean. This vast area is dotted with numerous tropical islands, many of them of volcanic origin and never connected to the continents. Amongst this scattering of tiny isolated dots on the map of the world, there are two broad island types: the first being the high volcanic islands where erosion has produced gentle windward slopes that often contrast with the steep and rugged leeward cliffs, frequently encircled by fringing reefs. The second consists of the low-lying islands, mostly coral atolls or raised former atolls. Both island types have evolved endemic birds, reptiles, plants and insects, the existence of many of which is under threat from introduced rats and human activity, and during our travels we shall explore fascinating examples of each.

This exciting journey focuses on some of the rarest and most exciting island birds in the entire Pacific region. The Pitcairn Islands and French Polynesia cover a vast expanse of the South Pacific, equivalent to a region stretching from Finland to Morocco, and once you add in the Cook Islands the expanse is even more vast! The farthest flung outposts of French Polynesia are the remote Gambier Islands at the eastern end of the Tuamotu Archipelago, and still more remote, far beyond the Gambiers, are Pitcairn, Henderson and Oeno Islands.

We will be cruising amongst the Pitcairn Islands, the Tuamotu Islands and the Marquesas Islands on a well-equipped vessel with a capacity for 12 passengers plus the expedition leader and crew. The ship is ideal for expedition-style cruising. The vessel has six comfortable air-conditioned twin-berth cabins for passengers and there are en-suite toilets and showers. She has all the modern safety equipment required for sea journeys in remote areas has zodiacs for making landings. There is a fairly spacious dining area and a smaller lounge/library area. The deck is excellent for seawatching. She is the perfect kind of vessel for an expedition-style cruise of this nature.

On the way to join this expedition, you will travel via Tahiti, the largest and highest of the Society Islands. Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, is a cosmopolitan city with over 100,000 people and will provide a great contrast with sparsely inhabited or uninhabited islands you are soon to visit. Here, on this beautiful island, many of the Bounty’s crew fell for the local ladies, and, following the famous mutiny, it was from there that they eventually set sail to seek refuge from the King’s justice on remote Pitcairn Island.

From Papeete, we will travel far to the southeast, to Mangaréva in the remote Gambier Islands of easternmost French Polynesia. Here we will board our vessel and set sail for the end of the world, or so it will seem to us.

First, we will explore famous Pitcairn Island, the last refuge of the Bounty mutineers, their Tahitian ladies and some male relatives (the ancestral mix of today’s Pitcairn islanders), where Pitcairn Reed Warbler will be the main target.

Moving on to uninhabited Henderson Island, we will be looking for the fearless Henderson Island Crake, Henderson Island Fruit Dove, the stunning Stephen’s Lorikeet and Henderson Reed Warbler, while on Oeno we will see an extraordinary seabird colony at eyeball to eyeball distance.

After we leave the Pitcairn islands group behind, we will explore the Actaeon Group in the easternmost Tuamotus in French Polynesia we will visit Tenararo, home to that Holy Grail of Pacific birding, the extraordinary little Tuamotu Sandpiper (surely one of the most endearing birds of the trip). Considered one of the rarest shorebirds in the world, this unusual endemic species is most definitely a long-dreamed-of bird for many people. Tenararo is also the haunt of Atoll Fruit Dove, the delightful Polynesian Ground-Dove and the endangered Bristle-thighed Curlew (another of the world’s rarest shorebirds, the majority of which winter in the Tuamotus).

To cap it all, as we sail between these tiny specks in the vastness of the Pacific, we are going to see the most glorious collection of tropical and subtropical seabirds possible, including Tahiti, Phoenix, Murphy’s, Kermadec, Herald, Henderson and Juan Fernandez Petrels, Christmas and Tropical Shearwaters, Polynesian Storm Petrel, Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds, Masked, Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Spectacled (or Grey-backed), Sooty and Common White Terns, and Black, Brown, Grey and perhaps Blue Noddies, plus a selection of visitors to the area such as Juan Fernandez, Collared and Cape Petrels, and perhaps White-bellied Storm Petrel.

Exploring the Marquesas, a chain of rugged, volcanic islands some 1500 kilometres (or around 940 miles) to the northeast of Tahiti, will surely be a highlight of our French Polynesia adventure. Here we will explore seldom-visited Fatu Hiva, Tahuata as well as Ua Huka and Nuku Hiva, and some even more remote uninhabited islands, in search of such endemics as the strange Nukuhiva Imperial Pigeon, White-capped Fruit-Dove, the critically endangered Marquesan Ground Dove, the beautiful Ultramarine Lorikeet, Marquesan Swiftlet, Marquesan Kingfisher, Marquesan, Iphis and Fatuhiva Monarchs, and Northern Marquesan and Southern Marquesan Reed Warblers, as well as the delightful near-endemic Little White Tern, Blue Noddy, Polynesian Storm-Petrel, and Bulwer’s and Tahiti Petrels.

In the western Tuamotu Islands, where we will visit Rangiroa Atoll and the remote islands of Niau and Makatea, we will track down the critically endangered Tuamotu Kingfisher at its last known haunt and also admire endemic Polynesian Imperial Pigeons, Atoll Fruit Doves, Makatea Fruit Doves, gorgeous Blue Lorikeets and Tuamotu Reed Warblers.

At the end of our cruise, on the spectacular island of Moorea near Tahiti we will look for the endemic Moorea Kingfisher, a proposed split from Tahiti Kingfisher.

Finally, on Tahiti, the beautiful island where so many of the Bounty’s crew fell for the local ladies, and from where they eventually set sail to seek refuge from the King’s justice on remote Pitcairn Island, we will mainly be birding in the interior highlands, dominated by two old volcanoes. Here we should find such endemics as Grey-green Fruit-Dove, Tahiti Swiftlet, Tahiti Kingfisher, the extremely rare Tahiti Monarch and Tahiti Reed Warbler.

During the optional Cook Islands extension, we will explore these equally far-flung islands, where we have a very high chance of seeing all eight of the islands’ endemics and near-endemics.

The attractions on Rarotonga are the endemic Rarotonga Monarch and Rarotonga Starling, plus the restricted-range Pacific Imperial Pigeon, while the steep ridges of the towering mountains hold White-tailed Tropicbirds. We will also explore the island of Mangaia for Mangaia Kingfisher and Cook Islands Reed Warbler and Atiu for the rare Atiu Swiftlet, Cook Islands Fruit-Dove, Chattering Kingfisher and the reintroduced Kuhl’s (or Rimatara) Lorikeet.

All in all, this is a remarkable opportunity to explore one of the most remote and least touched places on planet Earth today, and see some of our world’s most seldom-seen birds! Put simply, this wonderful voyage is sheer magic!

Birdquest has operated Pitcairn & French Polynesia birding tours since 2008.

Rimatara Option: With only two flights a week, this island in the Austral group of French Polynesia, situated far to the south of Tahiti, is hard to fit into an itinerary. If you are interested in going, we can arrange this for you either before or after the tour. This pleasant but remote island holds the only originally surviving Kuhl’s (or Rimatara) Parakeets (they have been reintroduced to the Cook Islands after becoming extinct through trapping and hunting) and the endemic Rimatara Reed Warbler. Please contact the Birdquest office if you are interested in visiting Rimatara.

Raiatea Option: With only a few flights a week, this island is situated far to the northwest of Tahiti. If you are interested in going, we can arrange this for you either before or after the tour. This pleasant but remote island holds the endemic Raiatea Fruit Dove. Please contact the Birdquest office if you are interested in visiting Raiatea.

Accommodation & Transport: For details of the ship, please see the tour introduction. The hotels in Papeete and Rarotonga are of a good standard. Elsewhere, the guesthouse accommodation ranges from good to simple, but very clean and comfortable (bathroom facilities may be shared at some locations). Road transport will be by minibus and roads (where they exist) are mostly good.

Walking: The walking effort during our Pitcairn & French Polynesia birding tour is easy to moderate.

Climate: Warm or hot and humid. Occasional rain is likely. At sea, it can feel noticeably cooler, especially early and late in the day.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Pitcairn & French Polynesia birding tour are good, sometimes very good.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Exploring some of the most remote islands on the planet, thousands of miles from major land masses, including several islands that very few humans, let alone birders, have ever set foot on!
  • Seeing all of the extant endemics on our route, including some extremely rare and endangered species, some of which have been brought back from the brink of extinction
  • Spending time with the fearless and brilliant Tuamotu Sandpiper (they even climb onto you, if you are still!)
  • Visiting historic Pitcairn Island with its unique character and endemic reed warbler
  • Visiting brilliant Henderson Island, home to the wonderful endemic Henderson Island Crake and stunning Stephen’s Lorikeet
  • Watching and hearing the amazing breeding tubenoses: Henderson, Herald, Kermadec, Murphy’s and Phoenix Petrels and Christmas Shearwaters
  • Seeing sought-after seabirds during the journey, including the fabled Polynesian Storm Petrel, numerous Tahiti Petrels and rare Pterodromas
  • Finding the stunning and Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground Dove
  • Watching boobies, frigatebirds and glorious Red-tailed Tropicbirds hovering just overhead!
  • Wondering along coral beaches, watching Bristle-thighed Curlews, stunning White Terns, Grey Noddies and much more
  • Finding a series of beautiful endemic kingfishers
  • Seeing the wonderful Blue, Ultramarine and Kuhl’s Lorikeets
  • Enjoying a fabulously colourful array of fruit doves on various remote islands
  • Seeing several critically endangered monarchs, some of which only survive thanks to intensive conservation efforts
  • Hopefully seeing the stunning and poorly-known Marquesan Ground Dove on a remote uninhabited island
  • Encountering the huge and impressive Marquesan Imperial Pigeon, with its unique horned bill and extraordinary calls!
  • Experiencing the fine hospitality of our ship and her captain and crew
  • Exciting zodiac rides to remote palm-studded beaches, surrounded by amazing coral reefs and colourful tropical fish
  • A good chance of some exciting sightings of the huge Humpback Whale!
  • Telling your friends (even non-birders) you have been to Pitcairn Island and met the descendants of the Bounty mutineers...

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Midday tour start at Mangareva, Gambier Islands. Embark our ship and set sail.
  • Days 2-21: Exploring Pitcairn, Henderson, Oeno, the Tuamotu Islands, the Marquesas IIslands and Moorea.
  • Day 22: Travel to Tahiti. Overnight at Papeete.
  • Day 23: Exploring Tahiti. Overnight at Papeete.
  • Day 24: Morning tour end at Papeete.
  • COOK ISLANDS EXTENSION
  • Day 1: Flight from Papeete to Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
  • Day 2: Rarotonga.
  • Day 3: Rarotonga, then fly to Mangaia.
  • Day 4: Mangaia.
  • Day 5: Fly to Atiu via Rarotonga.
  • Day 6: Atiu.
  • Day 7: Atiu, then fly to Rarotonga. Morning or afternoon tour end depending on schedule.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff when ashore.

We also include these flights for those taking the extension: Papeete-Rarotonga (but see below) and all inter-island flights in the Cook Islands.

Deposit: The initial deposit is US $1000 or the equivalent at the time in Pounds, Euros or Australian Dollars. If you are sending the deposit in another currency, our office will let you know the deposit amount due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

As this expedition involves an expensive boat charter, there will also need to be two interim payments/deposits (unless you are booking less than 12 months before the expedition starts).

18 months before the expedition starts there will be a second deposit due of 20% of the total expedition cost minus US $1000.

12 months before the expedition starts there will be a third deposit due of 20% of the total expedition cost.

If you are booking less than 12 months before the expedition starts there is a single deposit due of 40% of the total expedition cost.

Kindly note that as this is a special whole-boat charter, which must be fully paid for far in advance, the tour invoices for the balance will be sent out approximately six months before the tour start date, rather than the usual four months.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)






2025: provisional £15590, $19490, €18510, AUD27870. Mangareva/Papeete.
Cook Islands Extension: £2790, $3490, €3310, AUD4990. Papeete/Rarotonga

Single Supplement: 2025: £200, $260, €240, AUD370.
Cook Islands Extension: £380, $480, €450, AUD680.

Please note that the Cook Islands Extension price is based on using the once-a-week direct flight from Papeete to Rarotonga. At the time the tour dates were indicated this flight operated on a Thursday. In the event that the schedule changes, and as the tour start date cannot be changed because of the ship’s commitments, it will be necessary to stay in Papeete until the new flight day or, alternatively, find something else to do in French Polynesia (there are possibilities for additional endemic birds, depending on time available, such as Raiatea Fruit Dove or Rimatara Reed Warbler), or else fly to Rarotonga via Auckland (there are frequent flights). In this event, all additional costs (over and above the value of the Papeete-Rarotonga air ticket) are the responsibility of the participant.

The main tour single supplement excludes the nights on the ship. The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a roommate of the same sex available.

Single occupancy of twin-berth cabins on the ship can be obtained in return for a 90% supplement on top of the main tour price. Please note that if you are willing to share a cabin on board but no cabin-mate is available you will not have to pay the single occupancy supplement while on the ship.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

PITCAIRN, HENDERSON & TUAMOTU ISLANDS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Pitcairn & French Polynesia: Day 1  Our adventure begins in earnest today at Mangaréva airport in the remote Gambier Islands at the far eastern end of the scattered Tuamotu archipelago.

The journey from Papeete is broken by a refuelling stopover at a remote atoll. As we descend over this huge atoll, so large that one cannot even see the far side, it will be brought home to us how little land there is in the Tuamotus: just thin barrier islands and numerous tiny islets (known locally as motu) projecting above the water on top of the coral reef forming the atoll and protecting a huge, impossibly turquoise lagoon. Everywhere are beaches of white sand, backed by the deep greens of coconut palms and native island ‘bush’.

Once we arrive at Mangaréva (typically around midday), where Pacific Golden Plovers favour the grassy edges of the runway, we will transfer by ferry from the airport island to the harbour of the main island, where our vessel will be waiting for us.

During the afternoon we will set sail for the magical, largely uninhabited world of the islands that await us. As we head southeastwards, towards Pitcairn island, we will keep a lookout for Phoenix and Herald Petrels, Christmas Shearwater, Polynesian Storm Petrel, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Greater Crested Tern, and Brown and Black Noddies.

Pitcairn & French Polynesia: Days 2-21  During our expedition we shall explore the very remote Pitcairn, Henderson and Oeno Islands as well as the eastern and central Tuamotu Islands and the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia.

The run to Pitcairn Island will take about 36 hours, but the journey will provide some interesting seabird opportunities. In addition to some of the species likely as we left Mangaréva, we will be keeping a look out for our first Murphy’s and Henderson’s Petrels, Tropical Shearwater (split from Audubon’s) and White-faced Storm Petrel. Even Juan Fernandez Petrel and some other wandering Pterodroma petrels are possible in these waters.

Not many travellers have the chance or the privilege of stepping ashore on rugged Pitcairn Island, so we shall join a select band as we explore this fascinating spot where the Bounty mutineers ended up. As with almost all of our landings, we will not be able to get ashore directly from our vessel, so we will use the naiads or the island longboat instead. Although Pitcairn and its dependencies are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, the islands are effectively administered from New Zealand, itself amazingly distant. Pitcairn’s isolation is exacerbated by the lack of an airport, and there are no regular shipping connections, so visitors are a rare event! We are sure to be made most welcome and no doubt some of us will want to visit the post office in the small settlement in order to buy those sought-after Pitcairn stamps to put on the ritual postcards. Pitcairn’s single-island endemic, the Pitcairn Reed Warbler, is common on the island, so we will have no trouble finding some, and we will also be able to admire the pretty little Grey Noddy and a small colony of Masked Boobies.

As we wait for the boat to take us back to our vessel, we will be only about 100 meters from where the blazing hulk of the Bounty sank after the mutineers decided to burn her to leave no easily visible trace of their presence. As with any such tale, both sides have strong views. From the islander’s perspective, Captain Bligh was a cruel tyrant who virtually compelled Fletcher Christian and his allies to mutiny, yet if that were truly the case one wonders why so many of the crew elected to join Bligh in a small open boat when the mutineers put him off the ship in the then unknown seas off Tonga, facing almost certain death. And one marvels at a man who could then save his men by a remarkable feat of seamanship, sailing that tiny boat 3700 nautical miles, all the way to Kupang in Timor, in the then Dutch East Indies.

As we sail northeast from Pitcairn Island to Henderson Island, we will encounter more and more Henderson’s Petrels, a species that only nests in this remote, uninhabited place (and which was formerly, mistakenly, considered a dark morph of Herald Petrel), and we should also come across Kermadec Petrel. We will reach the southernmost point of our voyage in the waters around Pitcairn and its dependencies, so we will be looking out for cool-water wanderers throughout the region, such as albatrosses, giant petrels, and Cape and White-chinned Petrels.

Unlike rugged Pitcairn Island, Henderson Island is a raised coral reef and so is basically a flat, thickly vegetated plateau of limestone rising 30 metres or so above sea level. After finding our way from the beach up onto the plateau we will start looking for Henderson’s four single-island endemics. Most of the flightless crakes of the Pacific islands have long been extinct, but sheer isolation and unsuitability for human settlement have allowed the bold little Henderson Island Crake to survive. We should eventually be able to find several of these rather inquisitive little birds wandering around under the scrubby woodland, feeding in the leaf litter. Henderson Reed Warbler (split from Pitcairn) is a common species on the island, but we will probably have to work harder for good views of the stunning Stephen’s Lorikeet and the attractive Henderson Island Fruit Dove.

From Henderson, we turn to the west and sail to Oeno Island, the last of the Pitcairn islands group that we will visit. Oeno is a coral atoll with a perfect ‘desert island’, covered in luxuriant vegetation and surrounded by white coral sand beaches, in the middle! The seabird colony here is truly spectacular, with breeding Murphy’s Petrels running into the thousands (the calling birds hovering over the colonies are a true marvel to behold), along with smaller numbers of Christmas Shearwaters, Great Frigatebirds, Masked and Red-footed Boobies, Red-tailed Tropicbirds, and Spectacled (or Grey-backed), Sooty and Common White (or Fairy) Terns. As with all remote and uninhabited tropical islands, the seabirds are unafraid of man, so we will be able to enjoy some extraordinary views and will feel truly privileged to be able to wander around in such a wonderful place. In particular, watching the lovely Common White Tern at such close range that one can see its ‘mascara-like’ dark eye smudge (which enhances its already huge eye, perhaps adapted for seeing in the forest interior) and the blue base to the dagger-like bill, is a real delight. Long-tailed Cuckoos (or Long-tailed Koels) from New Zealand spend the Austral winter on Pacific islands like Oeno, so we will keep a lookout for this interesting but uncommon species. This is also a good island for seeing Bristle-thighed Curlew, a species that flies south from Alaska to remote Pacific islands to winter in paradise, and Wandering Tattler.

Sailing now to the northwest, leaving the Pitcairn islands behind at last, we will have a full day at sea with great opportunities for a selection of Pterodroma species (including Collared and possibly Juan Fernandez Petrels) and other deepwater pelagics, including Tahiti Petrel and White-bellied Storm Petrel. We could also come across some Humpback Whales at a seamount, enjoying watching them breaching before they crash back into the ocean in spectacular fashion, sending up a huge sheet of spray.

Eventually, we come to the Actaeon group of islands and in particular the island of Tenararo. This beautiful and remote uninhabited island, which is rat-free, is one of the last breeding sites for the rare and enigmatic Tuamotu Sandpiper. As we step ashore on this pristine desert island and our footprints mark the virgin white sand we will feel quite Robinson Crusoe-like! It should not take long before we find the little sandpiper, which feeds mostly along the tideline (they may run down the beach to greet us!) but also spends much time walking on the leaf litter under the tangled jungle of the island’s interior, or can even be watched walking up tree branches. When the birds display they hover and veer in the manner of Temminck’s Stint, all the while uttering their beautiful trilling call. Even better is their confiding manner (not a help with rats, sadly) and we should be able to walk right up to them without causing any concern! On Tenararo this wonderful bird remains extraordinarily common and we should see numerous individuals during our visit!

Amongst the trees and bushes on Tenararo we should easily find another Tuamotu endemic, the beautiful Atoll Fruit Dove. We will also search for the unobtrusive but dazzling little Polynesian Ground Dove, which as its name suggests spends its time on the ground. We will have to search patiently and carefully, for these birds are both slow-moving and unafraid, so they can even be spotted walking along right next to one’s feet! If we are in luck we will be able to watch the male displaying close to us, stretching out its wings to display their purple iridescence. Sadly this species has disappeared from most of its range in the Tuamotus owing to the depredations of rats.

From Tenararo it is a long haul to Fatuhiva in the Marquesas Islands, but the cruise will give us a great opportunity to look for many of the pelagic seabirds already mentioned above.

Fatu Hiva is a rugged and very beautiful island with much remaining forest on the steep mountainsides. It is known for its dramatic Baie des Vierges (Bay of Virgins), famous for the phallic rock formations that led the early whalers to name the place Baie des Verges (Bay of Penises) before some outraged missionaries re-christened it! Here we will walk up a partly cultivated valley and check out some forest patches for the rare and now, following the introduction of Black Rats, critically endangered Fatuhiva Monarch (numbering only about 50 individuals).

On our way northwards to Tahuata from the remote island of Fatu Hiva we will, subject to conditions at the time, try to make a landing on uninhabited Mohotani, last haunt of the Marquesan Monarch. The journey is good for pelagic seabirds and we should encounter Tahiti and Bulwer’s Petrels, Wedge-tailed Shearwater and the impressively large and well-marked Polynesian Storm-Petrel.

The sparsely inhabited island of Tahuata lies to the south of the western end of the much more populous Hiva Oa. This is very likely the last surviving haunt of the smart Marquesan Kingfisher, which has probably now died out on Hiva Oa. With some persistence, we should get great views of this very rare bird. Southern Marquesan Reed Warbler is common here.

Next, we will visit the island of Ua Huka, which still holds the beautiful endemic Ultramarine Lorikeet. This endangered species is now extinct on the other inhabited islands in the Marquesas but remains fairly common here. We will also want to see the endemic Iphis Monarch (now also restricted to Ua Huka).

If conditions at the time permit, we will also visit a remote, uninhabited and very rarely visited islet that is one of the last two strongholds of the beautiful Marquesan Ground Dove.

Our final port of call in the Marquesas is Nuku Hiva. Nuku Hiva is the largest of the Marquesas and is nearly 1500 kilometres from Tahiti, a greater distance than that between London and Rome!

This very scenic island has many high rocky peaks, rising to 1224m at the summit of Mount Tekao, and sheer coastal cliffs that rise to over 500m in places. We will visit the best part of the island for finding the endemic Nukuhiva Imperial Pigeon. This huge dark and rather lethargic pigeon has a broad, flat, white-feathered protuberance projecting above its bill, giving it a decidedly strange appearance, and its weird, rather unpigeon-like calls simply add to the mystique of this very rare bird that now numbers only about 300 individuals (shared between Nuku Hiva and Ua Huka, where the species has been reintroduced). We should be able to find some sitting in some large fig trees and obtain splendid views of this unusual species.

We will also have our first encounters with three more endemics: White-capped Fruit-Dove, Marquesan Swiftlet and Northern Marquesan Reed Warbler, all of which are common. Little White Terns (or Little Fairy Terns), a near-endemic species, will be seen flying high overhead or perching in roadside trees, sometimes alongside Black Noddies. Along the rugged volcanic coastline we will keep a lookout for the pretty Blue Noddy (formerly lumped with Grey Noddy under the name Blue-grey Noddy)

We have a fair haul southwards to the Tuamotu Islands, with good pelagic seabirding opportunities along the way, including chances for Phoenix Petrel.

Here our first port of call will be the huge Rangiroa Atoll, where we will be looking for the lovely, near-endemic Blue Lorikeet in particular, as well as the beautiful endemic Atoll Fruit Dove and endemic Tuamotu Reed Warbler. We may also have time to seek out the endemic Polynesian Ground-Dove.

The island of Niau is unusual in the Tuamotus in that its rather small lagoon is cut off from the sea (although there are underground connections). Here we will track down the rare Tuamotu Kingfisher, which nowadays is thought to only occur here (it is now thought to be extinct on Mangareva, in the far eastern Tuamotus). Even here the bird is uncommon (the most recent survey found 51 individuals!), so it may take us some time to locate a pair, perhaps at their nest hole in one of the coconut palms. As with so many birds in the Tuamotus, they can be incredibly tame, posing for their photographs just a metre or two away.

The remote, hilly island of Makatea (a raised coral reef) is still inhabited, even though its phosphate mining industry has closed down, but is rarely visited as it lacks an airport and has no regular ferry service. We will be landing here to see the Makatea Fruit-Dove, restricted to this one island, and the now endangered Polynesian Imperial Pigeon, a species that has vanished from much of its original range.

Finally, we will be hoping to track down the uncommon Moorea Kingfisher on the spectacular island of Moorea in the Society Islands. This interesting form has recently been proposed as a full species, distinct from the Tahiti Kingfisher.

Pitcairn & French Polynesia: Day 22  This morning we will take a ferry from Moorea to Papeete for a two nights stay. We will commence our exploration of the island of Tahiti today.

Pitcairn & French Polynesia: Day 23  With the help of a local guide, we will explore one of Tahiti’s deep forested valleys. Here we will find the endemic Tahiti Monarch, now critically endangered with perhaps only about 40 individuals surviving, and we will also be able to visit a colony of endemic Tahiti Swiftlets, watching the adults whizzing along a narrow, rocky defile as they return to, or leave, their nests. Two other endemics we should find today are the attractive Grey-green Fruit-Dove and the noisy Tahiti Kingfisher.

During another excursion, we will explore the mountainous interior of Tahiti in search of the endemic Tahiti Reed Warbler, which favours tall bamboo thickets. We are also likely to encounter Pacific Black Duck, Pacific Swallow (the nominate race here is dark and very different to most other populations) and the introduced Swamp Harrier and Red-browed Firetail.

Many introduced birds are present on Tahiti, including Zebra Dove, Red-vented Bulbul, Common Myna, Silvereye, Common Waxbill, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin and Crimson-backed Tanager.

Pitcairn & French Polynesia: Day 24  Our tour ends this morning at Papeete.

 

COOK ISLANDS EXTENSION

Cook Islands: Day 1  We will take a flight from Papeete to Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, where we will spend two nights.

Cook Islands: Day 2  Our primary birding on Rarotonga will be our visit to the Takitumu Conservation Area. This project was established in 1996 by local landowners, mainly to protect the endemic Kakerori, better known outside the islands as Rarotonga Monarch, as well as native plants and other animals. With a local guide, we will explore part of this 155-hectare forested area. As well as the rare and endangered Rarotonga Monarch, which has recovered from near-extinction to a total population of over 200 individuals (and some have recently been introduced to the island of Atiu to try to establish a second population), we should see the uncommon endemic Rarotonga Starling, the restricted-range Pacific Imperial Pigeon and the introduced Red Junglefowl. As the afternoon wears on huge Insular Flying Foxes begin to awake and flap across the forest canopy.

We will also visit the beginning of the cross-island track where we can enjoy a panorama of the spectacular peaks of Rarotonga’s mountainous interior and where we could see both Herald Petrel and Red-tailed Tropicbird. We may see our first endemic Cook Islands Fruit-Doves here, although they are much easier on Atiu.

Cook Islands: Day 3  We will have time for some birding on Rarotonga before taking a flight across to the island of Mangaia for a two nights stay.

Cook Islands: Day 4  On the island of Mangaia we will stay at a delightful but simple guesthouse run by a Swede who washed up in the Cooks and his islander wife. Mangaia is situated just north of the tropic of Capricorn and is the southernmost of the Cook Islands. Here we will soon locate the endemic Mangaia Kingfisher, which mostly sits motionless on high perches in the tangled coastal woodland and scrub. Another endemic of this habitat is the fairly common Cook Islands Reed Warbler, while Brown Noddies and Common White Terns fly in to their nest sites in the taller trees.

Mangaia is famous for its caves and those who want to be a bit more energetic can have a great time exploring some simply huge caves, complete with giant stalactites and stalagmites, in the forest not far from where we stay. The local guides know all the grisly stories about how people fled there and died there during the island’s endless clan feuds and battles with invaders from other islands (the folk from Atiu were particularly feared, as the fiercest and most cannibalistic of all the Cook Islanders, but missionaries seem to have put a stop to the ‘good old days’)!

It will be well worth giving the grassy margins of the airstrip an inspection, for Bristle-thighed Curlews are fairly regular visitors, finding the short turf just to their liking. Pacific Golden Plovers will surely be present and Wandering Tattlers favour the nearby rocky coastline.

Close to the guesthouse is a great lookout over the Pacific where, if one is lucky, a Humpback Whale will be seen moving along the surface out beyond the reef. In any event, it is a great place for a sundowner!

Cook Islands: Day 5  We will fly back to Rarotonga and onwards to the island of Atiu for a two nights stay.

Cook Islands: Day 6  On Atiu we will be staying at a lovely and very comfortable guesthouse, this time owned by an expatriate Kiwi and his Cook Islander wife. The rooms are so pleasant and the gardens so relaxing that it is hard to drag oneself away, but we have much to see.

This unspoiled little island is rich in coral limestone caves and one of these, the spectacular Anatakitaki Cave, is the main home of the endemic Atiu Swiftlet. The walk takes us through woodland where Cook Islands Fruit-Doves are quite common, as is the near-endemic Chattering Kingfisher. Wintering Long-tailed Cuckoos (or Long-tailed Koels) from New Zealand also occur here, but are often inconspicuous.

As we descend into the cave we will be able to watch the swiftlets sweeping down into the gloom and as we penetrate further we will hear the clicking sounds they use to echo-locate themselves in the pitch blackness. Eventually, we will start to see the birds perched on their tiny, cup-like nests on the walls and roof of the cave, a fascinating sight. The cave has an extra dimension too, with a branch entrance leading to a flooded cavern where you can even take an underground swim if you wish (illuminated by the candles helpfully placed by our local guide).

An exciting development in recent years has been the successful reintroduction of Kuhl’s (or Rimatara) Lorikeet on Atiu, where it once thrived before being extirpated for its colourful plumes for local headdresses! This species is endemic to the Cook Islands and the Austral group in French Polynesia, where it survives only on the remote island of Rimatara.

We will also explore Lake Teroto and its swampy margins. We can expect to find a number of Pacific Black Ducks and we may well see Great Frigatebirds leaving their roost. The real prize here is the secretive Spotless Crake. We may well hear one calling, but luck is required to see one.

In the evening the island’s dance team may come over to perform for us – a very different kettle of fish, and much more authentic and enjoyable than the more formal shows put on for tourists in Rarotonga, let alone the elaborate performances staged in Papeete.

Cook Islands: Day 7  After some final birding on Atiu we will return to Rarotonga, where the tour ends, either this morning or in the afternoon, depending on flight schedules.

PITCAIRN, HENDERSON & FRENCH POLYNESIA TOUR REPORT 2017

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FRENCH POLYNESIA & COOK ISLANDS TOUR REPORT 2017

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PITCAIRN, HENDERSON & FRENCH POLYNESIA TOUR REPORT 2014

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Other mid-Pacific Islands birding tours by Birdquest include: