The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Australia & The Pacific Islands

WESTERN PACIFIC ODYSSEY – New Zealand to Japan via New Caledonia, Solomons & Micronesia

Monday 20th March – Monday 17th April 2023

Leaders: Heritage Expeditions leaders and a Birdquest Leader

29 Days Group Size Limit 12
Thursday 21st March – Thursday 18th April 2024

Leaders: Heritage Expeditions leaders and a Birdquest Leader

29 Days Group Size Limit 12

WESTERN PACIFIC ODYSSEY: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Western Pacific Odyssey birding tours are remarkable ‘positioning cruises’ from New Zealand to Japan that not only offer fantastic pelagic birdwatching in two hemispheres but also visits Norfolk Island, New Caledonia (with its remarkable Kagu, the sole member of its family), the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Truk (or Chuuk) in Micronesia and the Bonin and Izu islands off Japan. This is most definitely a birding tour ‘with a difference’!

When one thinks of the remote places on our planet, one often thinks of the far flung polar regions or the difficult to reach high mountain ranges such as the Andes or the Himalayas. With four fifths of the globe covered in water, some of the most difficult areas to reach and explore are the great oceans and in particular the vast Pacific Ocean, where a number of endemic seabirds and landbirds are quite literally way off the beaten track. Anyone who has been on a birding expedition at sea will know just how exciting it is, and what a privilege it can be to be cast into the middle of the most difficult habitat to access, surrounded by seabirds that few have had the opportunity to see.

The Western Pacific Odyssey birding tour has been designed by birders for birders, taking advantage of the fact that the ship has to move from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere, passing through many little known and seldom explored areas. Whilst it could never be a comprehensive birding trip to the areas it visits, Western Pacific Odyssey does give some great opportunities to get a taste of the birds of the region. During the Western Pacific Odyssey voyage, we will cover over 5,000 nautical miles, taking us right across the Western Pacific from New Zealand to Japan. En route, we will visit several remote islands and atolls, themselves home to some exciting endemic birds, and we should also encounter some rarely seen cetaceans. It is a unique opportunity for those who love the thrill of a cruise in the Pacific, and in particular, for the seabird enthusiast, gives one a fantastic opportunity to see a great cross-section of the seabirds inhabiting the western parts of this vast ocean.

Our  adventurous Western Pacific Odyssey birding tour will begin at Tauranga, situated in the Bay of Plenty on New Zealand’s North Island, and we will spend our first day at sea looking for seabirds as we pass the outer reaches of the productive Hauraki Gulf. Here we hope to find such interesting species as Grey-faced and Black Petrels, Little Shearwater, Grey Noddy and the recently rediscovered New Zealand Storm Petrel.

We will then make our way towards Norfolk Island. As well as several species of albatross more associated with colder water, we will also be on the lookout for a number of interesting petrels, such as Black-winged, White-necked, Tahiti and Kermadec Petrels. Weather permitting, our first landing will be on Norfolk Island, where we hope to find the endemic Norfolk Island Parakeet, Norfolk Island Gerygone and Slender-billed White-eye, as well as the more widespread Pacific Robin.

Western Pacific Odyssey continues north to New Caledonia, looking out for new seabirds, such as Collared and Gould’s Petrels, as we go. On New Caledonia, a visit to the Rivière Bleue National Park will be the highlight, for here we can find most of the New Caledonian endemics including the curious and unique Kagu. Other endemics may include New Caledonian Imperial Pigeon, Horned Parakeet, Southern Shrikebill, Yellow-bellied Robin, Streaked Fantail and Red-faced Parrotfinch and, with luck, Crow Honeyeater and Cloven-feathered Dove.

During our passage to the Solomon Islands we will again keep our eyes on the sea and should find more interesting species such as Providence Petrel and Polynesian Storm-Petrel. In the Solomon Islands we aim to visit four islands: Rennell, Makira, Gaudalcanal and Kolombangara, and although the montane endemics which require time and effort will be out of the question, we hope to see a good number (around a third) of the Solomon endemics, with highlights likely to include Rennell Shrikebill, Rennell Fantail, Rennell Starling, Rennell White-eye and Bare-eyed White-eye on Rennell; Chestnut-bellied Imperial Pigeon, White-headed Fruit Dove, Ochre-headed Flycatcher, San Cristobal Starling, San Cristobal Melidectes, Sooty Myzomela and Mottled Flowerpecker on Makira; Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeon, Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, Ducorps’s Cockatoo, Yellow-bibbed Lory, Buff-headed Coucal, the striking Ultramarine Kingfisher, Brown-winged Starling, Black-faced Myzomela and Midget Flowerpecker on Guadalcanal and Yellow-vented Myzomela, White-capped Monarch, Solomon Islands White-eye and, with luck, Roviana Rail on Kolombangara. We will also find some of the more widespread endemics such as the impressive Solomon Sea-Eagle and a number of splendid pigeons and parrots.

After our action packed four days in the Solomons, Western Pacific Odyssey heads for Bougainville and New Ireland where, although we will not be landing, we will be hoping for two rare and very poorly known seabirds, Beck’s Petrel and Heinroth’s Shearwater.

The passage north through equatorial waters is likely to see a lull in bird activity before we arrive in Micronesia. On Truk (or Chuuk), we will seek a series of endemics which include the delightful Caroline Islands Ground Dove, Caroline Islands Swiftlet, Caroline Islands Reed Warbler, Oceanic Flycatcher, Micronesian Myzomela, Caroline Islands White-eye and Micronesian Starling and, if weather permits, we will visit Tol South to look for Truk Monarch and, for those who can climb into the island’s interior, Truk (or Faichuuk) White-eye.

Western Pacific Odyssey is then a long, and for periods quiet, passage to the Bonin Islands, though we should pick up our first Bannerman’s Shearwaters, Bonin Petrels and Matsudaira’s Storm-Petrels on this leg.

Eventually we will arrive in the Bonin Islands, where we will visit Chichi-jima in search of the rare Bryan’s Shearwater.

As we head for Tokyo Bay we will stop not far from Torishima Island, home of the much-wanted Short-tailed Albatross, surely one of the greatest prizes of this epic voyage. As we continue our journey we can also expect Streaked Shearwaters, Tristram’s Storm-Petrels and Japanese Murrelets.

After a landing on Miyake-jima, one of the Izu islands, where the endemic Izu Thrush, Ijima’s Leaf-warbler and Owston’s Tit are our main targets, our Western Pacific Odyssey birding tour will come to an end with our arrival at the port of Yokohama in Tokyo Bay.

We shall be sailing on the Heritage Adventurer (capacity 140 passengers), a ship operated by Heritage Expeditions. She was constructed in Finland’s Rauma Shipyard, was launched in 1991 and was formerly known as the Hanseatic. Heritage Adventurer is 8378 tons and is 124 metres (407ft) long and has the highest passenger ship ice-class rating (1A Super) and has an impressive history of Polar exploration. She has held records for the most northerly and most southerly Arctic and Antarctic navigations, and for traversing both the Northwest and Northeast Passages. It is important to understand that expedition-style passenger ships are, of course, not ‘cruise ships’ in the traditional manner and will appeal most to those for whom exploring wild places and enjoying wild nature, rather than enjoying huge and luxurious surroundings and ‘black-tie’ dinners with the officers, is the prime attraction.

Cabins are furnished with one to three beds (depending on category) and have private bathrooms, some storage space and an outside view. Public facilities include a restaurant, a lounge/bar, lecture facilities and a library. Food is plentiful, of good quality, mostly waiter-served and prepared by experienced chefs. The ship carries a complement of expedition staff, including one or more naturalists, who guide shore excursions (and point out seabirds and cetaceans at sea in the case of the birders/naturalists among them) and give informal talks on the environment, wildlife and history of the region.

As much of the sailing as possible is done at night, thus maximizing opportunities for going ashore and enjoying the beautiful subantarctic landscape to the full. Landings are carried out by means of a fleet of zodiacs or naiads, the rugged, fast-moving type of inflatables that were first developed by Jacques Cousteau for expedition work and which allow safe landings on remote coastlines in all types of conditions. The speed and efficiency with which the crew carry out these landings, coupled with the small complement of passengers, allows everyone plenty of time ashore.

Further information about the cruise, including photographs and details of the ship layout, including cabin layouts, are available on the Heritage Expeditions website at this address: https://www.heritage-expeditions.com/about/ships/heritage-adventurer/

The great advantage of taking this particular cruise, if you are especially interested in seeing the fantastic wildlife of the remote Western Pacific, is that the itinerary and day to day schedule are strongly wildlife-orientated. Heritage Expeditions, who operate this cruise, always have at least one experienced birder/ornithologist amongst their expedition leaders.

A Birdquest leader will also accompany the cruise provided there are more than 6 Birdquest participants.

Birdquest has operated Western Pacific Odyssey birding tours since 2011.

Accommodation & Road Transport: For details of the ship, see the introductory section. During the cruise, any transport on land is usually by coach.

Walking: The walking effort during our Western Pacific Odyssey birding tour is easy almost throughout, but there is the possibility of an optional strenuous uphill hike on Tol South, if time and weather allows (an easy alternative birding option will also be offered).

Climate: During this epic voyage we will experience a wide variety of climates! In New Zealand at the beginning of the trip, conditions at this time of year are typically cool, with sunny periods and showers. As we head north the climate will gradually become warmer and by the time we reach New Caledonia it will be very warm and fairly humid. Further north, from the Solomons until the Bonin Islands, it will generally be hot and humid, with a mixture of dry and sunny weather and overcast, rainy periods. Further north in Japan, conditions are likely to be cooler and less humid, with the possibility of rain. There is the possibility of some windy weather at sea, and during these periods, it can feel distinctly cooler.

Bird/Sea Mammal Photography: Opportunities during our Western Pacific Odyssey birding tour are quite good.

Important: Please bear in mind that circumstances may be encountered during the voyage which will make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the planned itinerary. These circumstances include poor weather conditions and unexpected opportunities for making additional zodiac excursions. The ship’s expedition leader will keep us fully informed throughout.

Important: Owing to the possibility, however small, of a severe airline delay, we would recommend that all participants not already in New Zealand travel out a day early and spend a night in Auckland. The same applies to departure from Kokopo. Kindly note that in the event you do not arrive in time, the ship will not wait and neither the cruise operator nor ourselves can make a refund in such circumstances. Arriving a day early also has the advantage that your luggage could still catch up with you, should it go astray. We can make hotel bookings for you on request.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Experiencing the most amazing variety of tubenoses available on any single voyage, from the albatrosses of New Zealand to the Bonin Petrels of Japan
  • Finding an excellent array of cetaceans as we move through the Pacific from south to north
  • Great chances for poorly-known southwest Pacific seabirds including Beck’s Petrel, Heinroth’s Shearwater and New Zealand and 'New Caledonia' Storm Petrels
  • Birding the rich seas south of Japan with Short-tailed Albatross, Bonin Petrel, Bannerman’s Shearwater and Tristram’s and Matsudaiara’s Storm Petrels
  • Visiting remote Norfolk Island for its endemic Norfolk Parakeet and Slender-billed White-eye
  • Sailing towards New Caledonia, watching Kermadec, Gould's, Collared and Black-winged Petrels and a plethora of other seabirds
  • Visiting New Caledonia for amazing views of the unique Kagu, sole member of its family, and a majority of the other endemics
  • Visiting the friendly outlying island of Rennell in the Solomon Islands for its endemics including the smart Rennell Shrikebill
  • Enjoying day trips on Makira, Gaudalcanal and Kolombangara for an array of Solomon endemics, including the huge Solomons Sea Eagle, the rare Solomons Cockatoo and the excellent Ultramarine Kingfisher
  • Visiting the famous Truk Lagoon, with plenty of Micronesian endemics including the beautiful White-fronted Ground Dove
  • An optional excursion across Truk Lagoon to the remote island of Tol South for the rare Teardrop White-eye and the smart Chuuk Monarch
  • Pausing at the equator for a swim!
  • Visiting the remote Bonin (or Ogasawara) Islands for the seldom-seen Bryan's Shearwater
  • Stopping off at Hachijo-jima in the Izu Islands for the Izu endemics including Owston’s Tit and Ijima’s Leaf Warbler
  • Passing through Japanese waters for other rare possibilities such as Bryan’s Shearwater and Japanese Murrelet
  • Completing such an amazing journey, from New Zealand to Japan!

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Embark at Auckland, New Zealand this afternoon. Set sail this evening.
  • Day 2: Hauraki Gulf and beyond.
  • Days 3-4: Heading for Norfolk Island.
  • Day 5: Norfolk Island.
  • Day 6: Heading for New Caledonia.
  • Day 7: Arriving at New Caledonia.
  • Day 8: Rivière Bleue and the Kagu.
  • Days 9-10: Heading for the Solomon Islands.
  • Day 11: Santa Ana Island.
  • Day 12: Anuta Island, Makira Group.
  • Day 13: Honiara on Guadalcanal Island.
  • Day 14: Tetepare Island.
  • Day 15: Kolumbangara Island.
  • Days 16-17: Pelagic birding off Bougainville and New Ireland.
  • Days 18-19: Heading for Micronesia.
  • Day 20: Arrive at Truk (Chuuk) Lagoon.
  • Day 21: Weno (Moen) Island, optional excursion to Tol South, then head for the Bonin Islands.
  • Days 22-25: Heading for the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands.
  • Day 26: Chichi-jima and Haha-jima.
  • Day 27: Torishima Island.
  • Day 28: Hachijo-jima in the Izu Islands.
  • Day 29: Arrive at Yokohama. Disembark this morning.

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.

Deposit: 25% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

Kindly note that the balance due will be invoiced around 5 months before departure for payment within 14 days.

Cancellation Charges: For cancellations made 180 days or more before the tour start, the cancellation charge is 50% of the total deposit paid. For cancellations made 91-179 days before the tour start, the cancellation charge is 100% of the total deposit paid. For cancellations made 1-90 days before the tour start, or afterwards, the cancellation charge is 100% of the total tour price.

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

 

2023

For Auckland/Yokohama arrangements:

£8220, $10680, €9700 in a Main Deck Triple Cabin: two single beds and one fold-down bed with private bathroom

£8980, $11680, €10610 in a Main Deck Superior Triple Cabin: two single beds and one fold-down bed with private bathroom

£9830, $12775, €11610 in a Deck 4 Superior Cabin: one king bed or two single beds with private bathroom

£10380, $13500, €12160 in a Deck 5 Superior Cabin: one king bed or two single beds with private bathroom

£11810, $15350, €13950 in a Main Deck Single Cabin: one king bed with private bathroom

£12620, $16400, €14900 in a Deck 5 Superior Single Cabin: one king bed with private bathroom

£15350, $19950, €18130 in a Deck 6 Worsley Suite: one king bed or two single beds with private bathroom

£21540, $28000, €25450 in a Deck 6 Heritage Suite: one king bed or two single beds with private bathroom

In addition, there will be a charge to cover landing fees levied by the local government and a contribution to the Discovery Fund (which goes mainly to local causes in the areas the ship visits) of US$1000 per person, payable in cash onboard.

 

2024

For Auckland/Yokohama arrangements:

Prices (and cruise dates) are provisional

£8220, $10680, €9700 in a Main Deck Triple Cabin: two single beds and one fold-down bed with private bathroom

£8980, $11680, €10610 in a Main Deck Superior Triple Cabin: two single beds and one fold-down bed with private bathroom

£9830, $12775, €11610 in a Deck 4 Superior Cabin: one king bed or two single beds with private bathroom

£10380, $13500, €12160 in a Deck 5 Superior Cabin: one king bed or two single beds with private bathroom

£11810, $15350, €13950 in a Main Deck Single Cabin: one king bed with private bathroom

£12620, $16400, €14900 in a Deck 5 Superior Single Cabin: one king bed with private bathroom

£15350, $19950, €18130 in a Deck 6 Worsley Suite: one king bed or two single beds with private bathroom

£21540, $28000, €25450 in a Deck 6 Heritage Suite: one king bed or two single beds with private bathroom

In addition, there will be a charge to cover landing fees levied by the local government and a contribution to the Discovery Fund (which goes mainly to local causes in the areas the ship visits) of US$1000 per person, payable in cash onboard.

 

Gratuities for the expedition staff and crew are not included in the tour price. Gratuities are entirely at your discretion. The staff work very long hours to make such cruises a success, including a great deal of night sailing, and we have been told that most passengers give gratuities of around USD$300-450 for such a cruise.

Please note that if you are willing to share but no cabin-mate is available you will not have to pay the single occupancy supplement.

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.

WESTERN PACIFIC ODYSSEY BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 1  This afternoon we will embark the Heritage Adventurer at Auckland harbour, ready for our voyage of a lifetime. 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  During our full 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 through 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 Cuckooshrike, 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 9-10  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 11  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 is Santa Ana, also known as Owaraha or Owa Raha, a relatively small coral island that was first sighted by Europeans in 1568. Located just a few miles offshore from Makira Island, Santa Ana is one of the most easterly of the main islands in the Solomon Islands archipelago. Santa Ana has a distinctive avifauna so we can expect to find an interesting mixture of birds including small island species such as Silver-capped Fruit-dove mixed with some of the Makiran endemics like the attractive White-headed Fruit Dove, Sooty Myzomela, Makira Honeyeater, Makira Flycatcher and White-collared Monarch. Santa Ana is also home to an endemic and highly distinctive subspecies of Rufous Fantail and we will also be looking for Sanford’s (or Solomon) Sea Eagle and Oriole Whistler.

Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 12  Today we will go ashore on the small island of Anuta.  Here, we hope to find a good number of endemics and specialities. These may well include Makira endemics such as the impressive Chestnut-bellied Imperial Pigeon, 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 and Singing and Metallic Starlings. We will also have a second chance of finding the magnificent, and rare, Sanford’s 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 13  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 that 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 Cuckooshrike, 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 day we will return to the ship and set sail for Tetepare, further west in the Solomons Archipelago. We will keep a keen eye open for Tropical Shearwater as we go.

Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 14  Located in the New Georgia group of islands, Tetepare is an excellent example of a community conservation project as the entire island has been set aside as a community-run reserve. Long and rugged, this island is cloaked in lush tropical forests and fringed with reefs that are teeming with marine life; it is the largest uninhabited tropical island in the Southern Hemisphere. There are a number of new Solomon endemics to look for here including the highly localised Dark-eyed White-eye. Other possibilities include Melanesian Scrubfowl, Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, Island Imperial-pigeon, Buffheaded Coucal, Crimson-rumped Myzomela, Cockerell’s Fantail, Kolombangara Monarch and, if we are extremely fortunate, both Nicobar Pigeon and the extremely poorly known Solomons Nightjar.

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 Parasitic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers (or Arctic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas), 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 the beautiful Purple-capped Fruit Dove, 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 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 will 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 (or Chuuk) and begin our long passage to the Bonin (or Ogasawara) 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 (or Ogasawara) Islands, Chichi-jima, we will take some time to explore the settlement and surrounds. Blue Rock Thrush, Warbling White-eye, Brown-eared Bulbul and Japanese Bush Warbler may be seen.

In the late afternoon, we shall look for the recently described and very rare Bryan’s Shearwater, which is only known to breed on some small islets off the east coast of Chichi-jima.

The waters here are rich in seabirds and we hope to see our first Black-footed Albatrosses and perhaps even a Laysan Albatross. We may also see Matsudaira’s and Tristram’s Storm Petrels. Afterwards, we will continue towards famous Torishima Island.

Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 27  The tiny volcanic island of Torishima is well known in birding circles as the island where almost 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 near to the island and we should get to have good views of this rare and much-wanted giant of the North Pacific.

Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 28  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 Hachijo-jima in the Izu Islands archipelago. Hachijo-Jima is a picturesque subtropical volcanic island. The island’s two main mountains are the volcanoes Mt Mihara in the southeast and Mt Nishi in the northwest. The island is a major exporter of aloe vera, so we will pass numerous plantations. A visit to a forest area will provide an opportunity to see such species as the endemic Izu Thrush, Ijima’s Leaf-warbler and Owston’s Tit as well as Japanese Wood Pigeon, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker and Japanese Robin.

We will also check a cluster of rock stacks 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 29  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.

WESTERN PACIFIC ODYSSEY TOUR REPORT 2012

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WESTERN PACIFIC ODYSSEY TOUR REPORT 2011

by Pete Morris

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Other major pelagic seabird birding tours by Birdquest include: