SOLOMON ISLANDS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Solomon Islands: Day 1 The tour begins this evening at Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands and situated on the island of Guadalcanal, where we will stay for two nights.
Solomon Islands: Day 2 The name Guadalcanal is still synonymous with huge air and naval battles and bloody jungle warfare, for some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific between Japanese and Allied forces took place on and around this island. Relics of that great struggle can be found littered throughout the island and its offshore waters, a stark reminder of darker days, when for a brief period in history Guadalcanal was thrust to the forefront of the world’s stage. Now largely ignored and forgotten by the rest of the world, Guadalcanal, like the rest of the Solomons, is a sleepy backwater which receives few visitors from the outside world. Pacific Swallows, Willie Wagtails, Olive-backed Sunbirds, Singing Starlings and introduced Common Mynas are conspicuous around Honiara and Brahminy Kites are often seen at the airport.
We will spend most of our time at nearby Mount Austen. As we walk along an old road through patchy forest we should encounter such Solomons endemics as Pied Goshawk, Solomons (or Ducorps’s) Cockatoo, the attractive Ultramarine Kingfisher, Chestnut-bellied Monarch, Steel-blue Flycatcher, Midget Flowerpecker and Brown-winged Starling, and we should also find the uncommon Black-headed Myzomela, which is restricted to Guadalcanal. We also have a fair chance of finding the rather elusive Guadalcanal form of the endemic Solomons Boobook (or Solomons Hawk-Owl). There is also a slim possibility of finding the very rare White-eyed Starling amongst the many Metallic Starlings and Long-tailed Mynas (the latter split from Yellow-faced). More widespread species include Buff-banded Rail, Pale-vented (or Rufous-tailed) Bush-hen, Claret-breasted, Superb and perhaps Yellow-bibbed Fruit-Doves, Glossy and Uniform Swiftlets, and Grey Fantail.
We will also visit the Betikama wetlands, haunt of Little Pied Cormorants, White-browed Crakes and Australian Reed Warblers, while Red-backed Buttonquail may be found in the surrounding grassland.
[The remote highlands of Guadalcanal hold the beautiful but almost unknown Moustached Kingfisher (endemic to Guadalcanal and Bougainville), as well as the endemic Guadalcanal Thrush (split from San Cristobal Thrush) and the endemic Guadalcanal Honeyeater, but this difficult-to-access area still remains effectively off-limits to visiting birders.]
Solomon Islands: Day 3 Today we will take a flight to Rennell, a World Heritage Site. Landing on the rough grass airstrip, we will disturb numbers of Australian Ibis which are remarkably tame and widespread across the island, behaving almost like farmyard chickens. We will stay on Rennell for three nights at a basic guesthouse. Later we will commence our exploration of the island.
Solomon Islands: Days 4-5 On Rennell birds are abundant along the trails through the forest which grows on this raised coral reef, situated far out in the Coral Sea and very unlike most of the other Solomon Islands, which are mountainous. The Rennell endemics, Rennell Fantail, the beautiful Rennell Shrikebill, Rennell Starling, Rennell White-eye and the weird Bare-eyed White-eye, are generally common and confiding, but the Rennell Whistler (split from Golden) is uncommon.
The other passerines in this forest include three Melanesian endemics, Cardinal Myzomela, Fan-tailed Gerygone and Melanesian Flycatcher, as well as Yellow-eyed Cuckooshrike and Island Thrush (the latter found here at sea-level). As elsewhere in the country, there is very little hunting in the extensive forests and we will see large numbers of the endemic Silver-capped Fruit-Dove, as well as Pacific Imperial Pigeon, Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove and Song (or Singing) Parrot. A highlight is the abundance of diminutive Finsch’s Pygmy-Parrots nibbling away at the trunks and branches of the roadside trees. Other species likely to be seen are Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Moustached Treeswift and Collared Kingfisher, whilst this is the only island in the Solomons with Brown Goshawk.
Providing the flight schedule remains the same and we have to have three nights on Rennell, we will try to make an excursion to a more distant part of the island where a large freshwater lake holds Australasian Grebe and an island in the lake provides a nesting area for Red-footed Boobies and Great and Little Pied Cormorants.
Solomon Islands: Day 6 After some final birding on Rennell we will take a flight back to Honiara for an overnight stay.
Solomon Islands: Day 7 From Honiara we take a flight to Gizo for a two nights stay. While on Gizo we will walk along a road through a mixture of scrub, gardens and plantations looking for the endangered endemic Gizo (or Splendid) White-eye, which is often found in mixed flocks with Yellow-vented Myzomela, Rufous Fantail and White-capped Monarch.
Solomon Islands: Day 8 Today will see us exploring two of the smaller islands in the Solomons by boat. During the crossing to Ranongga, we will look hard for the rare and poorly-known Heinroth’s Shearwater amongst the more common seabirds, such as Brown Booby, Lesser and Great Frigatebirds, Black and Brown Noddies, and Greater Crested, Roseate, Black-naped, Common and Bridled Terns. Once we reach Ranongga we will find the smart endemic Ranongga White-eye and the endemic subspecies of several other forest passerines. Island Imperial-Pigeons are usually conspicuous and the large Beach Kingfisher frequents the coastline. Across another 8-kilometre strait, we reach Vella Lavella, another island with its own endemic, the Vella Lavella (or Banded) White-eye.
Solomon Islands: Day 9 This morning we will travel by boat across to the volcanic island of Kolombangara where we will spend the night in a basic guesthouse.
Our main target in the Kolombangara lowlands is Roviana Rail, a species which was only described in 1991 but which emerges onto short grassland at dawn and dusk together with Australasian Swamphens. A goose-like honking is likely to reveal a pair of Sanford’s (or Solomons) Sea-Eagles sparring high overhead or an individual being mobbed by an Eastern Osprey. Kolombangara, with its rich reefs and forests, is a stronghold for this threatened endemic predator. Another highlight is the huge Buff-headed Coucal, and we will search through large numbers of Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeons for Pale Mountain-Pigeon, and through the many Rainbow Lorikeets for the beautiful endemic Duchess Lorikeet and Meek’s Lorikeet. The endemic Solomons White-eye is a common bird here, while the endemic Grey-capped Cicadabird (split from Common) is straightforward to find.
Other more widespread species include Pacific Reef Egret, Striated Heron, Pacific Black Duck, Pacific Baza, the dashing Oriental Hobby, Stephan’s Emerald Dove, Cardinal Lory, Eclectus Parrot, Sacred Kingfisher and White-bellied Cuckooshrike.
Melanesian Megapode (or Melanesian Scrubfowl) are frequently to be heard, but we will need a bit of luck to see this retiring species. Much rarer, but occasionally seen, are Meyer’s Goshawk, White-rumped Swiftlet and North Melanesian Cuckooshrike.
Solomon Islands: Day 10 Early today we will start our ascent of the mountain. Walking slowly through primary forest, we will be hearing forest birds all the way. Lowland forest species include four rather scarce endemics, White-winged Fantail, Kolombangara Monarch, Oriole Whistler (split from Golden) and Solomons Cuckooshrike. Walking quietly, we are also likely to encounter Metallic (or White-throated) Pigeon, Brush Cuckoo, Variable Dwarf Kingfisher and Blyth’s Hornbill. In the stunted moss forest near the summit, we will camp overnight amongst montane species such as Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrot, Island Leaf Warbler, Pacific Robin (now treated as distinct from the Scarlet Robin of Australia) and large flocks of endemic Kolombangara White-eyes.
Solomon Islands: Day 11 This morning we will awake to a dawn movements of pigeons and parrots. Walking to the top of the mountain, our objective is to find the Kolombangara Leaf-Warbler, which has an extremely tiny range around the rim of the volcanic caldera atop Kolombangara. Once we have succeeded we will descend to the lowlands and take the boat back to Gizo for an overnight stay and some well-deserved creature comforts.
Solomon Islands: Day 12 This morning we will take a flight back to Honiara where we connect with an afternoon flight to the adjacent island of Malaita for a two nights stay at Auki.
Solomon Islands: Day 13 Today we will explore the forested hills of the island’s interior. Malaita is the only island in the Solomons with heavy forest clearance and we will drive between forest patches. The endemic Malaita White-eye is fairly common, but the endemic Red-vested (or Red-bellied) Myzomela will take some time and luck to find. Other species such as White-winged Fantail and Brown-winged Starling have distinctive subspecies on Malaita which may soon be split as full species. We may also encounter the as-yet-undescribed subspecies of Woodford’s Rail that occurs on this island.
Solomon Islands: Day 14 After spending the morning on Malaita we will fly back to Honiara for an overnight stay.
Solomon Islands: Day 15 This morning we will catch a flight to Santa Isabel. The airstrip is on the small offshore island of Fera, where we will search for Island Monarch. After crossing the channel to the main island, a steep walk up into the hills takes us to Tirotonga village, home of some of the most sought-after Solomons endemics, where we will stay for five nights. The village is intending to build a simple ecotourism facility for visiting birders and the like, but we will probably have to sleep in the village houses, enjoying some wonderful hospitality. In the afternoon we will begin our exploration of the surrounding area.
Solomon Islands: Days 16-19 Our prime target on Santa Isabel will be the beautiful endemic Black-faced Pitta, which has been seen by very few birders. Although very shy, it is highly vocal and we should all hear and with persistence and a bit of luck eventually see what may be the least-known pitta in the world. White-billed (or Guadalcanal) Crow, an endemic species with an outlandish huge bill and remarkable calls, is common, as is the endemic Yellow-throated White-eye. Less common endemics are Solomons Cuckooshrike, Black-and-white Monarch, Scarlet-naped Myzomela and the flightless and threatened Woodford’s Rail. The very poorly-known endemic Imitator Sparrowhawk is a secretive forest raptor that requires an unusual amount of luck to get to grips with.
We will also want to find the endemic Solomons Frogmouth (split from Marbled, and now placed in its own genus) and, if we are really lucky, the imposing endemic Fearful Owl. We also have another chance here for Solomons Boobook (or Solomons Hawk-Owl). All are difficult to see at night, although we will try hard if necessary, but our keen local guides will hopefully have found us roost sites for these rare and little-known species so that we can observe them in detail in daylight.
Solomon Islands: Day 20 After some final birding on Santa Isabel we will return to Honiara for an overnight stay.
Solomon Islands: Day 21 Another flight will take us to Kirakira on the island of Makira (or San Cristobal), from where we will drive along the few kilometres of road and then walk inland to the Hauta conservation area for a four nights stay. This is a classic example of integrating conservation with traditional values. The hike takes several hours and is steep and may involve one or more river crossings, depending on the state of the water levels, but we will take it easy, enjoying lowland forest species along the way. We will see our first Makira endemics such as the attractive White-headed Fruit-Dove, Makira Cicadabird (split from Common), Sooty Myzomela, Makira Honeyeater (or San Cristobal Melidectes), White-collared Monarch, Makira (or Ochre-headed) Flycatcher, Makira (or San Cristobal) Starling and Mottled Flowerpecker, as well as the regionally-endemic Yellow-bibbed Fruit-Dove and Yellow-bibbed Lory.
Makira is the easternmost limit for several bird species and groups, including Common Kingfisher, whilst this isolation has lead to divergent evolution of others such as the distinctive local form of the Spangled Drongo (found only on Makira and Guadalcanal).
Solomon Islands: Days 22-24 Staying at about 1500ft (450m) in the Hauta conservation area, we will enjoy the traditional village hospitality and skilled local guides while we explore a network of trails in pristine hill and mountain rainforest.
This is the best site in the world for the threatened and virtually endemic Yellow-legged Pigeon and endemic Chestnut-bellied Imperial-Pigeon, which are both uncommon but join other pigeon species in the fruiting trees. We will trek to the higher ridges in the area to search for Shade Bush Warbler in the dark forest understorey, whilst the White-bellied (or San Cristobal) Thrush is very shy and requires luck and patience to see well. Endemics in the mixed species flocks here include Dusky Fantail, San Cristobal Leaf-Warbler and Grey-throated White-eye, together with the more widespread Long-tailed Triller.
Whilst looking for thrushes and other birds we may also encounter Bronze Ground-Dove. Throughout our time in the area we will be listening carefully for the distinctive call of the endemic Crested Cuckoo-Dove. With time and persistence we should be able to lure one into view, allowing us all to admire this most bizarre pigeon.
Solomon Islands: Day 25 After a final morning at Hauta we will return to the lowlands and stay overnight in a guesthouse close to the airstrip. Here we will have another chance to catch up on lowland forest species.
Solomon Islands: Day 26 After taking a walk in the lowland forest close to the airstrip, we will take a flight to Honiara for an overnight stay.
Solomon Islands: Day 27 After some final birding on Guadalcanal the tour ends around midday.