A few days after settling in at Nakia Resort and Dive (http://www.nakiafiji.com), my brother and sister-in-lawâ€™s resort on the Fijian island of Taveuni, I began to think about getting up into the bush to see what we could find in the way of avian life.Â
After making a phone call or two, my sister Joyce and I set out at 5 am on a quiet and cool June morning to look for forest birds.Â Our birdwatching guide, Logi,Â knows the forests above his native village of Qeleni, so we headed first for the village and then up a steep, 3-mile rocky path with an experienced bush driver as the sun was beginning to appear over the mountains.
The land we entered is owned by the village, and was once a large coconut plantation--back when copra was the major cash crop for the islands.Â This large mountainous area is filled with rivers and scattered homesites, many belonging to villagers growing patches of dalo on the hillsides.Â Dalo (a dry-land type of Taro) is Fijiâ€™s new cash crop, an edible tuberous root that many Fijians grow on cleared hillsides to provide an income for the coming year.
Halfway up the bumpy road, Logi told our driver to stop as we spotted a pair of Masked (aka Musk) Shining Parrots flying across the canopy.Â We climbed further and left the van at a high spot with lots of low-growing vines, grasses, and shrubs, and clusters of Rain Tree, Coconut Palm, Flame Tree, Acacia, Hibiscus, and Breadfruit.Â Most of the birds we spotted have multiple names in both English and Fijian.Â Where I could, I took the names from Dick Watlingâ€™s Guide to the Birds of Fiji and Western Polynesia, a recognized standard, but not readily available.Â Logi used an older edition of Fergus Clunie, Birds of the Fiji Bush.Â Many of the birds we saw are forest birds that have been identified as threatened or endangered by Vilikesa T. Masibalavu and Guy Dutson in Important Birds Areas in Fiji. We heard and got a good look at a Barking Pigeon (whose call could also be mistaken for an owl), Polynesian Triller, Lesser Shrikebill, Spotted Fantail, Golden Whistler, Vanikoro Broadbill, Ogea Flycatcher, Wattled Honeyeater, Red Junglefowl, White-collared Kingfisher, Polynesian Starling, a pair of Lorikeets (brief glimpse), Pacific Harrier, Yellow (orange-)breasted Honeyeater, and many White-rumped Swiftlets darting for insects.Â
As we walked back down the trail, the mountains were full of bird calls, the sun had risen over the ocean, and the air was still cool with a touch of fog approaching from the north.
Over the next two weeks of my stay on Taveuni, I watched Fruit Bats fly over the
Somosomo Strait from south to north every evening, and learned to listen for the resortâ€™s magpies chortling high up in the palms.Â At the islandâ€™s more agriculturally developed southern end, I saw an Orange-Breasted Myzomela, more parrots (probably Red Shining parrot), Brown Quail (with chicks), Collared Lory, either a Fiji White-Eye or Silvereye, and several sea birds.
The Fijian government recognizes that these birds are a treasure.Â It has been encouraging Fijians to preserve bird habitat, but that habitat is also the source of many Fijiansâ€™ income for the year.Â Deforestation and bush clearing for planting dalo are endangering many of these birds, including the Silktail, which many birders hope to see when they visit. Â
While I didnâ€™t get a glimpse of either the Silktail or the spectacular Orange Dove, a must-see for many visitors, it was awesome to view and hear these beautiful birds living easily and in close proximity to human dwellings. Like so many eco-tourist destinations today, Fiji is trying to convince its people to sacrifice income from a cash crop (dalo) to protect the future of its most vulnerable and unique natural resources.Â
I left the island hoping that the work and warnings of dedicated researchers and enthusiasts, together with the income from ecotourism, will create the will to celebrate, protect, and extend the future of these beautiful native birds.