French Polynesia; Tuamotus, Pitcairn, Henderson and Cook Islands
3rd September - 4th October 2019
Cook Islands extension: 5th - 11th October 2019
Leader: Rob Hutchinson and James Eaton
Please email us for further details including cost
This cruise through some of the world’s least-visited islands is one of the most exciting birding tours available, taking in not only a series of remote island endemics – including the incomparable Tuamotu Sandpiper - but also some fabulous sea-birds. Along the way we will be visiting islands with glorious white sand beaches, many of them uninhabited and adding to the sense of remoteness and adventure as we search for some of the rarest birds in the south Pacific as we take in the islands of Pitcairn and Henderson, and the eastern end of the Tuamotu archipelago. Other delights awaiting us include Henderson Crake, Polynesian Ground Dove and Stephan’s Lorikeet, not to mention endemic reed warblers and fruit doves, and the best place in the world to see Bristle-thighed Curlew.
The tour begins with a flight across the vast Tuamotu archipelago from Papeete (PPT) the capital city of French Polynesia, to Mangaréva (GMR), part of the Gambier Islands at the very eastern end of the Tuamotus, 0730/1310. After transferring by ferry to the main island we board the Braveheart, our home for the next 14 nights. In the afternoon we set sail for our first destination of Pitcairn island.
During the afternoon we will set sail for the magical, largely uninhabited world of the islands that awaits us. As we head southeastwards, towards Pitcairn Island, we will keep a lookout for Phoenix and Herald Petrels, Christmas Shearwater, Polynesian Storm Petrel, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Greater Crested Tern, and Brown and Black Noddies.
Our first day at sea will give us our first opportunity for what will hopefully be some exciting sea-birding during the trip and possibilities include Polynesian Storm-Petrel, Tropical and Christmas Shearwaters, Phoenix, Herald, Murphy’s and Henderson’s Petrels.
Once on the isolated island of Pitcairn we will of course concentrate on the endemic Pitcairn Reed Warbler but we will also appreciate Grey Noddy, Red-tailed Tropicbirds and Masked Booby among other seabirds.
Our next destination is Henderson Island, with the namesake Henderson’s Petrel likely to offer more encounters along the way but also the chance of some wanders from cooler water with albatrosses, and some of the more southerly petrels possible. Once on Henderson we will have for more single-island endemics to seek; Henderson Reed Warbler which was once lumped with the birds we will have seen on Pitcairn, Henderson Fruit Dove, Stephen’s Lorikeet, and the secretive Henderson Crake.
Heading west our next destination is Oeno Island where seabirds will be the focus of our attention with Murphy’s Petrel, Christmas Shearwater, Spectacled Tern and many others breeding, and offering fabulous views.
Setting sail again to the north-west there are more sea-bird opportunities, with White-bellied Storm-Petrel, Collared, Pheonix and Tahiti Petrel as possibilities, as we head to the Actaeon island group at the eastern end of the Tuamotus where we will visit Tenararo. Here we will see one of the stars of the entire tour, the unique Tuamotu Sandpiper, one of the rarest and most fascinating waders in the world. Tenararo is also home to the often-confiding Polynesian Ground Dove, Atoll Fruit Dove and Bristle-thighed Curlew, for which the Tuamotus are the main wintering grounds.
If time allows we might also visit the island of Morane which also hosts both Tuamotu Sandpiper and Polynesian Ground Dove.
We disembark the Braveheart in Mangaréva and make our way back to the airport for our return flight to Papeete, a temporary farewell to the friendly crew of the Braveheart as the ship orientates northwards, and we spend some days on land, birding.
With the help of local expertise, we will explore two main areas. The first is a valley with lush forest where we can find the critically endangered Tahiti Monarch. In addition, we will visit a colony of Tahiti Swiftlets and also expect to find Grey-green Fruit Dove and Society Kingfisher.
Another area has tall bamboo vegetation more suited to the endemic Tahiti Reed Warbler, another island endemic.
We fly north to Nuku Hiva, the largest island in the Marquesas. On arrival we traverse the island to the friendly village where we will base ourselves.
We will explore this scenic island in search of Marquesan Imperial-Pigeon and at the same time find our first Marquesan Swiftlet, White-capped Fruit Dove and Northern Marquesan Reed Warbler. In the evening we will board the MV Braveheart, our home for the next 12 nights during our exciting exploration of the Marquesas and western Tuamotu islands.
Our first stop with be the remote and uninhabited islet of Hatutaa, one of the last remaining strongholds of Marquesan Ground Dove.
Moving south to Ua Huka the highlight will be the fabulous Ultramarine Lorikeet which is now extinct elsewhere in the Marquesas, but we will also find the endemic Ua Huka Monarch.
The island of Tahuata holds the last remaining population of Marquesan Kingfisher which even here is rare and difficult to find, not so the rather common Southern Marquesan Reed Warbler.
From here we stop on Mohotani for the rare Marquesan Monarch before continuing to the remote outpost of Fatu Iva. On the way seabirds are an attraction with Tahiti Petrel and Polynesian Storm-Petrel often to be found.
Once on Fatu Iva we will concentrate on another critically endangered monarch, this time Fatu Iva Monarch.
From here it’s a long stretch of sailing southwards towards the Tuamotus, with more sea-birding opportunities.
Our first stop in the Tuamotu islands is the huge Rangiroa Atoll, home to endemic Atoll Fruit Dove and Tuamotu Reed Warbler, and one of the best places to find the gorgeous Blue Lorikeet and perhaps Polynesian Ground Dove.
On Niau island we will look for Tuamotu Kingfisher at its last refuge, the move on to Makatea to find Makatea Fruit Dove and Polynesian Imperial Pigeon.
Our final stop is on the island of Moorea where we hope to see the youngi form of Society Kingfisher, often regarded as a separate species; Moorea Kingfisher.
OurFrom Moorea we take the fast ferry back to Papeete to end the main tour.
Cook Islands Extension
After overnight in Papeete we take the afternoon flight from Papeete to Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, for a two-night stay.
The Takitumu Conservation Area will be our focus, established to protect the rare Rarotonga Monarch which has recovered its population well. We should also find Pacific Imperial-Pigeon and Rarotonga Starling here, and hopefully Herald Petrel which breeds in the mountains of the island.
After more birding on Rarotonga we fly to Mangaia for a two-night stay.
Mangaia is the southernmost of the Cook Islands and, importantly for us, is home to the endemic Mangaia Kingfisher and Cook Reed Warbler.
We fly back to Rarotonga and onwards to the island of Atiu, again for a two nights stay.
On Atiu we will find the Cook Islands Fruit Dove to be pleasantly common, as is the near-endemic Chattering Kingfisher, while one of the spectacular caves is home to the endemic Atiu Swiftlet. The reintroduction of Kuhl’s Lorikeet on Atiu is a great opportunity to see this species which is otherwise found only on the remote island of Rimatara.
We will return to Rarotonga, where the extension ends.