WESTERN PACIFIC ODYSSEY BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 1 Having arrived in Tauranga, we will make our way to the pier to embark the Spirit of Enderby (Professor Khromov), ready for our voyage of a lifetime. Later in the evening, we will set sail and our Western Pacific Odyssey begins.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 2 During our first full day at sea, we will pass through the outer Hauraki Gulf where we should find a fantastic selection of seabirds, including Flesh-footed, Buller’s, Sooty, Fluttering and Little Shearwaters, Common Diving Petrel, Black and Cook’s Petrels, Fairy Prion, White-faced Storm-Petrel, Little (or Blue) Penguin, Australasian Gannet and perhaps Pomarine Skua (or Pomarine Jaeger). If we are really lucky we will also find the rare Pycroft’s Petrel. Here we will have our only opportunity during the cruise to observe the near-mythical New Zealand Storm-Petrel, which has recently been re-discovered in these waters after a gap of more than a century! We will hope to attract one or two to a slick where we may see them side-by-side with Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, a species that we should see frequently during the cruise. We will also visit some islands in the outer gulf where the uncommon Grey Noddy (or Grey Ternlet) occurs, and we will have a good chance of finding this uncommon species. Other species we may see as we head on towards Norfolk Island include Gibson’s, Campbell Island and White-capped Albatrosses.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Days 3-4 Western Pacific Odyssey continues north towards remote Norfolk Island, involving two full days at sea. We will be passing through some rich waters for seabirds and birding time on deck should be rewarded, with possibilities including Black-winged, Tahiti, Kermadec and White-necked Petrels, as well as some of the species we have seen previously, and as we get towards the island we should begin to see a few more species with a more northerly distribution such as Providence Petrel, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Masked Booby (the dark-eyed form here is sometimes split-off as Tasman Booby) and Common White Tern.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 5 Today, weather permitting, we will make a landing on Norfolk Island. After three whole days at sea, it will be somewhat of a relief to get off and stretch our legs! Norfolk Island is home to the distinctive endemic Norfolk Island Pine (reminiscent of an Araucaria monkey-puzzle tree), though it is four endemic landbirds that will be our main targets. We will visit an area of lush forest to find the rare Norfolk Island Parakeet (which can be tricky to find), the recently split Norfolk Island Whistler, Norfolk Island Gerygone and Slender-billed White-eye, though sadly several other endemics are already extinct! We will also hope to find the colourful and localized Pacific Robin.
Later in the day we will explore the island to look at some of the breeding seabirds, which include the attractive Red-tailed Tropicbird, Black Noddy and Common White Tern. We are also likely to find some migrant Pacific Golden Plovers and Wandering Tattlers and other more widespread species we may find here include Nankeen Kestrel, Emerald Dove, Sacred Kingfisher and Silver-eye, as well as a series of introduced species which include California Quail, Red Junglefowl (though the birds here resemble domestic chickens), Greylag Goose (equally domestic!!), Crimson Rosella and Song Thrush plus others we will already have seen in New Zealand. Later in the day we will set sail for New Caledonia, dreaming of more seabirds and Kagus!
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 6 We will spend the day at sea and will cross a large underwater seamount which produces an upwelling which is a favoured feeding area for a number of exciting petrel species, in particular, a good number of Pterodroma (gadfly) petrels. Species we may well encounter while birding during the crossing include Tahiti, Kermadec, Collared and Gould’s Petrels, as well as Brown Booby, White-tailed Tropicbird and hopefully one or two less common species such as our first Polynesian Storm-Petrel or the seldom recorded White-bellied Storm-Petrel.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 7 As Western Pacific Odyssey continues, this morning the coastline of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France, will come into view. In this area, on recent WPO voyages, an as yet unidentified storm-petrel has been recorded and we will make an attempt to further document this exciting discovery. The bird in question appears similar to a New Zealand Storm-Petrel but seems to be larger and may even represent an undescribed species, so weather permitting we will spend time ‘slicking’ here.
Later in the day a pilot will guide us in through the reef that surrounds this part of New Caledonia and we will arrive at the capital, Noumea, situated in the southeast of the island, just before sunset. Silver Gulls and Greater Crested and Fairy Terns are likely to be present to greet us. Situated near the western edge of the South Pacific, the island is inhabited by people of Melanesian origin. The moisture-laden southeast trade-winds have swept the island for millions of years, ensuring that many of the valleys and hillsides are draped with lush, tropical rainforest, resulting in an endemic-rich avifauna. Indeed the New Caledonia group has at least 22 endemic species, of which two are feared extinct, but even on this short visit we have a very good chance of seeing many of them, including the spectacular Kagu, the sole member of its family.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 8 Our day on New Caledonia will largely be spent birding in the rich forests of the attractive Rivière Bleue reserve. The reserve preserves the finest remaining forests in New Caledonia and is home to the incomparable Kagu. The Kagu is an extraordinary bird: like much of the flora and fauna of New Caledonia, it seems to belong to another age, having evolved in isolation during the millions of years since the island broke away from Gondwanaland and drifted eastward into the Pacific Ocean. The Kagu is a little larger than a domestic chicken. It is flightless, the only member of the family Rhynochetidae, and is thought to be most closely related to the rails and cranes, although it superficially resembles a pale night heron. The Kagu is endemic to New Caledonia and is the island’s national bird, but due to deforestation and predation by dogs the species is now in serious danger of extinction: estimates put the remaining population at 500 to 1000 individuals. A puppy-like yelping echoes though the forest as the Kagu gives its far-carrying call. We should all be able to observe this intriguing and unusual bird, and with luck we will even witness the bird’s spectacular display, in which the wings are spread wide and moved in a fanning motion.
With just half a day in the park, it will be difficult to ‘clean-up’ but we should see a good variety of the species mentioned here. We should happen upon the strange and rare endemic Horned Parakeet, a beautiful parrot with a wispy crest. Other species seen regularly within the reserve include a series of additional endemics: White-bellied (or New Caledonian) Goshawk, New Caledonian Imperial Pigeon (the world’s largest arboreal pigeon), New Caledonian Parakeet (split from Red-fronted), New Caledonian Myzomela (sometimes lumped in Scarlet Myzomela), Barred Honeyeater, New Caledonian Friarbird, Yellow-bellied Robin, New Caledonian Whistler, New Caledonian Cuckoo-Shrike, Striated (or New Caledonian) Starling, the uncommon tool-using New Caledonian Crow, Green-backed White-eye and the superb Red-throated Parrotfinch. If we are lucky we will encounter the crow-sized Crow Honeyeater, whose rather dull name belies the beauty of both its melodious song and its striking appearance, complete with large red facial wattles, or the beautiful Cloven-feathered Dove.
We should also see a variety of the more widely distributed species such as Whistling Kite, Rainbow Lorikeet, Glossy Swiftlet, Dark-brown Honeyeater, Fan-tailed Gerygone, Streaked and Grey Fantails, Southern Shrikebill, New Caledonian (or Melanesian) Flycatcher, Rufous Whistler, White-breasted Woodswallow and Long-tailed Triller, as well as the introduced Spotted Dove.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Days 9-11 We will once again be at sea, this time heading for the far-away Solomon Islands. Once again, petrel spotting will be the order of the day, and we should have more chances to view some of the Pacific’s special Pterodroma species such as Providence, Kermadec, White-necked, Gould’s and Collared Petrels. We should also see a variety of other seabirds during our birding sessions, such as Tahiti Petrel, Short-tailed Shearwater, Red-footed Booby, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy and with luck the spectacular Polynesian Storm-Petrel. During quieter periods we can entertain ourselves looking at the superb variety of tropical flying fish (many of which are quite colourful) that often fly up in front of the vessel!
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 12 After another long sea passage, we will again be delighted to be back in sight of land, as this time we arrive at the unique Solomon Islands. 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. 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. Difficult to reach and travel around, our opportunity to explore the archipelago by boat, rather than through a complicated series of flights, makes for an interesting and rewarding introduction to the fascinating avifauna of these islands.
The first island we will visit will be Rennell, a World Heritage Site, and we will spend this morning exploring this beautiful island. Australian Ibises are remarkably tame and widespread across the island, behaving almost like farmyard chickens. Rennell is actually a raised coral reef, situated far out in the Coral Sea and is very different to most of the other Solomon Islands, which are volcanic in origin and mountainous. Birds are common along the trails through the forest: 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 highly distinctive local form of the Golden Whistler (a potential split) is uncommon and difficult to find. Other passerines in this forest include three Melanesian endemics: Cardinal Myzomela, Fan-tailed Gerygone (the form here perhaps being best treated as a separate species Rennell Gerygone) and Melanesian Flycatcher, as well as Yellow-eyed Cuckoo-Shrike and Island Thrush (the latter found here at sea-level and resembling a small Common Blackbird). As elsewhere in the country, there is very little hunting in the extensive forests and consequently we should be able to find a number of the larger species, including the endemic Silver-capped Fruit Dove, Pacific Imperial Pigeon, Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove and Singing Parrot, and we should also find the charming and diminutive Finsch’s Pygmy-Parrot nibbling away at the trunks and branches of the roadside trees.
Other species we may see here include Glossy and Uniform Swiftlets, Moustached Treeswift and Sacred and Collared Kingfishers (the latter represented here by a very distinctive subspecies which may deserve specific status), whilst we may also find Brown Goshawk (Rennell is the only island in the Solomons where this largely Australian species occurs). We should also see the spectacular Rennell Flying Fox.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 13 After sailing through the night, we should awaken just off the volcanic island of Makira, where we will go ashore and explore an area of forest which is accessible along a logging road. Whilst the montane endemics are beyond our reach, we hope to find a good number of lower altitude endemics and specialities. These may well include Makira endemics such as the attractive White-headed Fruit Dove, the impressive Chestnut-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Sooty Myzomela, San Cristobal Melidectes, Ochre-headed Flycatcher, White-collared Monarch (we’ll need a bit of luck for this one!), San Cristobal Starling and Mottled Flowerpecker, as well as a number of regional endemics such as Pied Goshawk, Red-knobbed and Island Imperial Pigeons, Yellow-bibbed Fruit Dove, Cardinal and Yellow-bibbed Lories, and Chestnut-bellied Monarch as well as the more widespread Brahminy Kite, Rufous Fantail and Singing and Metallic Starlings. We will also have our first chance of finding the magnificent, and rare, Solomon Sea Eagle.
Having enjoyed a fine morning’s birding, we will transfer to the nearby Anuta Village where we will enjoy the fine hospitality of the delightful and friendly local folk before returning to our ship and setting sail for Honiara on Guadalcanal. We should see a few seabirds as we go, such as our first Bridled Terns.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 14 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 the 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.
An early start will see us landing on this island where we will concentrate our efforts on the endemic-rich Mount Austen. As we walk along an old road down through patchy forest we will find a variety of Solomons endemics which may include Ducorps’s Cockatoo, the attractive Ultramarine Kingfisher, the remarkable Buff-headed Coucal, the rather smart Solomon Cuckoo-Shrike, Chestnut-bellied Monarch, Steel-blue Flycatcher, Midget Flowerpecker and Brown-winged Starling, and we may also find the uncommon Black-headed Myzomela, which is restricted to Guadalcanal. In the more open areas, Willie Wagtails, Olive-backed Sunbirds, Singing Starlings and introduced Common Mynas are conspicuous, and other widespread species we may see include the spectacular Blyth’s Hornbill, Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, the spectacular Eclectus Parrot, Pacific Swallow, White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike and Common Cicadabird.
Late in the morning we will return to the ship and set sail for Kolombangara, further west in the Solomons Archipelago. We will keep a keen eye open for Tropical Shearwater as we go.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 15 From early in the morning, the imposing Kolombangara volcano will be in view and after dropping anchor we will make a landing on this impressive volcanic island. Time and logistics require that we ignore the imposing volcano and instead concentrate on the lower areas where our main target will be the Roviana Rail, a species which was only described in 1991 but which, with a good deal of luck, for it can be very difficult to find, will emerge onto short grassland. A goose-like honking may reveal a pair of Solomon Sea Eagles sparring high overhead or an individual being mobbed by an Osprey. The endemic Solomon Islands White-eye is also found here and other lowland forest species include Yellow-vented Myzomela and the spectacular White-capped Monarch as well as two rather scarce endemics, White-winged Fantail, Kolombangara Monarch, both of which can be elusive. Other more widespread species include Pacific Reef Egret, Striated Heron, Pacific Black Duck, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo and Sacred Kingfisher. Afterwards we will set sail towards Bougainville, where rare seabirds await!
Western Pacific Odyssey: Days 16-17 Although we spend many days at sea during Western Pacific Odyssey, some are more eagerly anticipated than others, and these two days are in that category! We will spend as much time as possible birding above a deep water canyon on the southwest side of Bougainville and cruising past New Ireland in rich tropical waters which are a very productive area. Boobies, frigatebirds, tropicbirds and tropical terns (including with luck the localized Grey-backed or Spectacled Tern) are abundant here, but it is two rare and poorly known species, Heinroth’s Shearwater and the recently rediscovered Beck’s Petrel, that we will be particularly eager to find. We are also likely to come across migrant Arctic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas (or Parasitic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers), and will hopefully connect with some poorly-known cetaceans such as Dwarf Sperm Whale or Pygmy Killer Whale.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Days 18-19 During these days Western Pacific Odyssey continues north through equatorial waters. Although our daylight pelagic watches for birds and mammals will continue, this is often a pretty quiet period and a good time to relax. Species we may well see while birding include Bulwer’s Petrel, Wedge-tailed Shearwater and more boobies, tropicbirds and tropical terns, and we will keep an eye on the often calm seas for cetaceans.
We can expect a visit from King Neptune as we cross the Equator, and those of us who have never crossed the Equator by ship before will be ‘invited’ to pay their dues to the king in the customary fashion!
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 20 As we keep steaming north on our Western Pacific Odyssey, it will be a relief to once again spot land as we eventually arrive at Truk, or Chuuk as it is nowadays officially called, part of the Federated States of Micronesia. As we approach the famous lagoon, we will keep a keen eye out for the uncommon local form of the Tropical Shearwater, before heading to the harbour to complete the necessary customs exercises. Truk Lagoon was the scene of a famous naval-air battle in 1944 and the lagoon is littered with the remains of over 60 Japanese ships that were sent to the bottom, as well as numerous aeroplanes. Nowadays the whole area is a paradise for divers, with a worldwide reputation.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 21 Weno (or Moen) is the main administrative centre of Truk, and we will have the morning to find the few Micronesian endemic species which occur here. These should include Caroline Islands Swiftlet, Oceanic Flycatcher, Caroline Islands Reed Warbler, Micronesian Starling, Micronesian Honeyeater (or Micronesian Myzomela) and Caroline Islands White-eye, whilst other species we may well see here include Grey-tailed Tattler, the beautiful Purple-capped Fruit Dove (the form here may merit specific status as Caroline Islands Fruit Dove) and the secretive Blue-faced Parrotfinch. The main challenge, however, will be to find the beautiful Caroline Islands Ground Dove which can be rather elusive.
If weather permits, an alternative programme may be offered to the more energetic in the group. An early start will be required for the long zodiac ride to the island of Tol South, one of the higher islands of Truk Lagoon. Here we can find the same birds as on Weno, but in addition, the critically endangered Faichuuk White-eye and the rare and endemic Truk Monarch. The island is rarely visited by outsiders, so our arrival is likely to cause a stir. Once ashore we have a steep climb in prospect, but our local guides will be able to help us reach the necessary areas. It will take us some time to climb up to the remaining good forest above 300m, but once there the monarch and the white-eye are generally quite easy to locate.
Later in the day we will leave Truk and begin our long passage to the Bonin Islands, the southernmost point of Japan.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Days 22-25 It is a long, long way to the Bonin Islands and Western Pacific Odyssey has over 1200 nautical miles to cover. Many of the tropical species that we have already seen will appear from time to time, and, as we head nearer to Japan, birding sessions should add a few new species such as the striking Bonin Petrel, pale-morph Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (are they really the same species as the dark southern birds?!) Matsudaira’s, Leach’s and perhaps Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, the rare and localized Bannerman’s Shearwater and, with luck, the migrant South Polar Skua.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 26 After clearing Customs and Immigration into Japan at the largest of the Bonin Islands, Chichi-jima, we will take some time to explore the settlement and surrounds. Blue Rock Thrush, Japanese White-eye, Brown-eared Bulbul and Japanese Bush Warbler may be seen.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 27 Haha-jima is the only place in the world where the stunning Bonin Honeyeater can be found, so we plan to spend the morning ashore. In the late afternoon we should be able to look for the recently described and very rare Bryan’s Shearwaters off the east cost of Chichi-jima.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 28 The waters here are rich in seabirds though and if time allows we will chum to attract birds to the boat. Here we hope to see our first Black-footed Albatrosses and perhaps even a Laysan Albatross. We may also attract Matsudaira’s and Tristram’s Storm-Petrels in, giving us great opportunities to compare these superficially similar species. Later in the day we will continue towards near-mythical Torishima Island.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 29 The tiny volcanic island of Torishima is well known in birding circles as the island where just about the entire world population of Short-tailed Albatrosses breed. By now, they will be getting to the end of their breeding cycle as they take advantage of the rich feeding conditions in the North Pacific in the summer. We will spend plenty of time chumming near to the island and we should get to have good views this rare and much-wanted giant of the north Pacific.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 30 Our Western Pacific Odyssey continues north towards Japan, looking out for new species such as Streaked Shearwater as we go. As we approach the Izu Islands we will see our first Black-tailed Gulls and by now will be surrounded by thousands of Streaked Shearwaters.
We land this morning on the island of Miyake-Jima and visit the Tsubota Nature Centre where walks thought the forest around the Caldera provide an opportunity to see species including the endemic Izu Thrush, Ijima’s Leaf-warbler and Owston’s Tit. We will also check a cluster of rock stacks off Miyake-jima where we should find the splendid little Japanese Murrelet before making our way up through the bird-rich waters towards Tokyo Bay. Here we will have more chances to find the diminutive Japanese Murrelet. Streaked Shearwaters will be abundant and we may well see good numbers of other seabirds. All three northern albatross species are possible on this leg, skuas (jaegers) are often present, and new species we could encounter include Red-necked and Red Phalaropes and with luck, Ancient Murrelet and Rhinoceros Auklet.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 31 We will wake in Tokyo Bay at the end of what will have been an epic voyage and will disembark at Yokohama. It will be sad to say goodbye this morning to the ship that we will have grown so attached to during our epic Western Pacific Odyssey adventure, but perhaps quite nice to re-acquaint ourselves with life on dry land! A transfer to Yokohama railway station will be provided.