Birds of the Fiji Bush Collection #1
When I first came to live on Taveuni I awoke most mornings just as dawn was breaking. A group of magpies would sit in a large Rain Tree about 50 yards from the bedroom window and sing their melodious song as the first rays of light made their way over the mountains. Along with the crickets, cicadas and other birds giving voice, natures alarm clock is definitely preferable to any mechanical or electronic alternative. With a hot cup of strong coffee and no need for the daily commute to the office, sitting on the balcony soaking up the sounds of the bush is a much more relaxing way to kick off the day.
The Australian Magpie is very common on Taveuni. It is probably less raucous than its native Australian counterpart where its divebombing antics are notorious. Mostly they are happy in close proximity to people, and once they get to know you even more so. Feed them at a set time each day and they will quickly learn the schedule and sing for their supper.
In early mornings and late afternoons they potter around the compound in search of food and compete in impressive displays of aerial acrobatics. Parents feed and bully their offspring in equal measure – maybe a hint that they should grow up and fend for themselves.
The younger birds are quite comical at times – hanging upside down from fern tree branches, rolling on their backs in submission to parents or stronger siblings, and continuously bugging mum or dad for more food and crying like small babies.
When not picking on each other Mynah birds and other magpies encroaching on their patch are usually on the receiving end of their boisterous behaviour, especially during breeding season when even the chickens will get an occasional bashing.
Magpies are great birds to watch, and their bold nature makes them pretty easy to photograph. This photo was probably the first one I took with the intention of it being a pretty good image, rather than a quickly taken snap just because a magpie happened to be strutting around in front of me.
The magpie in this photo is sitting in a Royal Poinciana tree, also known as a Flame Tree and many other names around the world. In Fiji we also call it a Christmas Tree as it usually flowers with bright red and orange blossoms over Christmas and New Year. The flowers would make a nice contrast with the black and white of the magpie and match the magpies eyes. But that’s a photo for another day.
The Orange-breasted Honeyeater, also known as the Sulphur-breasted Honeyeater is Fiji’s smallest bird and an endemic species. The male in this photo is distinguishable by the scarlet red crown. They are frequent visitors to our garden and feed mainly on fruit juices (sandalwood fruit seen here) and nectar from flowers using it’s long, curved bill. For a small bird it has quite a loud voice, and if you want to spot it singing then the first place to look is high up in the nearby trees where it is likely perched. Getting a good photo of a small bird is always a challenge – they don’t sit still for long and even with a 300mm telephoto lens from a few metres this image has been cropped to fill the frame.
Pacific Reef Heron
The Pacific Reef Heron comes in three shades – white, grey, and pied. The colouring is independent of age or sex, so you’ll need a closer inspection to determine either. They are often seen flying gracefully along the Taveuni coast and searching the beaches and rocks for food. They also venture further inland and visit our gardens searching for skinks, beetles and bugs. The grey guy (or girl, who knows?) in this photo posed nicely for me outside The Dive Coffee Shop in Matei, no doubt eyeing my plate of cake and cookies. Unfortunately for him/her he/she didn’t get any, so it was back to the crabs and fish.
Todiramphus sacer vitiensis
The Kingfisher is one of my favourite birds, and I see them on an almost daily basis on the school run between Wairiki and Naqara. Here they perch on telegraph lines intercepting calls for the NSA and taking in the early morning sun.
Around our property they are more often heard than seen – a repeating rasping ratchet-like call, and a flash of blue as they fly through at speed.
Around the creeks and rivers they will sit on a rock or a branch patiently until food is within a short gliding flight then return to the perch, but despite the name they eat more than fish – crabs, beetles, frogs, worms, skinks and geckos are all on the menu, and smaller birds on occasion.
The Fiji Goshawk is our most frequently seen bird of prey and is large enough to take Mynah birds, young chickens and other birds up to the size of a pigeon or dove. During the Mynah bird breeding season they keep watch for unattended nests and steal the young chicks. We have witnessed them swoop to take Mynah birds from the roof and young chickens on the ground from under the noses of their mothers, usually followed by a crazy pursuit as the offended attempt a desperate rescue mission to retrieve their friends and family – sometimes with success. Most other birds, even the smallest, will risk buzzing and dive bombing the goshawks in counter attacks if they venture too close. The goshawk will bide it’s time, conserve it’s energy and retreat from a lost cause content that easier pickings will come soon enough.
Fiji Barn Owl
The Fiji Barn Owl – a screeching banshee of the night, no subtle twit-tawoo-ing with this one. Seen most often at dusk as they head out and dawn as the return to roost they are a difficult subject to photograph with just the basic camera equipment. This particular photo was mainly down to luck, but being prepared for luck always helps – take your camera everywhere !
While returning from dropping the kids at school I spotted the owl fly across the road about 100 yards in front of me. I slowed and stopped when I saw it perched in a tree on the roadside. In my rear view mirror three large trucks were bearing down on me a few hundred yards behind. I managed to get a few shots before the car and I were covered in dust as the trucks sped past and the owl flew off. In the rush to get the photos my ISO setting was wrong and the exposure too long, so the image suffers from some camera shake, but it’s the best I’ve gotten so far and I’m happy to have it.
Lalage maculosa woodi
This is another school run photo taken while waiting for the school bus to arrive at Wairiki – the kids usually travel part way home by bus. The bus can arrive any time between 3.30pm and 4.30pm, so to avoid a potentially boring wait I take the camera in case anything interesting wanders (or flies) by. On this day it was a little birdy we don’t see in our own back yard.
The Polynesian Triller feeds mainly on small insects and caterpillars on the branches and leaves of trees and flits from branch to branch methodically searching for food. He was unperturbed by my stalking, checking me out every once in a while as I followed him around the tree for about 15 minutes, sitting still enough between flits for me to get some good shots. So, even on those dull everyday trips it’s worth having the camera sitting beside you – just in case.
Vanikoro Broadbill (male)
Myiagra vanikorensis rufiventris
See text after next photo…
Vanikoro Broadbill (female)
Myiagra vanikorensis rufiventris
While sitting drinking a mid morning coffee I heard a constant background chatter from the trees and bushes about 20 yards away. A pair of Vanikoro Broadbill’s were flying continuously back and forth from a Bougainvillea bush and other nearby bushes. Turned out they were building a nest right next to the driveway.
I grabbed the camera and sat down right in the middle of their flight path and gradually moved closer to the each of the bushes they were visiting. After a while they became quite comfortable with my presence and perched on branches just 6 feet away – I became the observed and they the observers.
Unfortunately their chosen nesting site was not the best choice – right next to our driveway with cars rolling in and out, and the garden path with kids wanting to poke their fingers in everything. The Broadbills decided to move to a better neighbourhood and vacated a couple of days after my photo session.
Foulehiao carunculata taviunensis
While I was sitting watching the Broadbills I got an unexpected bonus when this honeyeater came to join the party, and also took time to sit and check me out. It’s not a bird I’ve seen very often, so I pretty pleased he dropped by.
This species is endemic to Fiji and feeds on a combination of nectar as the name suggest, and insects. There is a much larger species (The Giant Forest Honeyeater) which I have seen around Pacific Harbour, but not as yet on Taveuni. With a hike up into the hills planned soon there’s probably a better chance of stumbling across one, so stay tuned !