North Solomons: 10-17 July 2009   


The islands of Buka and Bougainville are the main constituents of the North Solomons province of PNG. They now have autonomous self-government after 20 years of strife with the mainland, and may well become independent in the future. The avifauna has more in common with that of Guadalcanal island in the Solomon Islands than with PNG but there is overlap with New Britain in PNG. There are four endemics, all of which we saw, and some highly desirable Solomon Is. birds such as Moustached Kingfisher, Fearful Owl, Solomon’s Frogmouth, Black-faced Pitta, Woodford’s Rail and Sanford’s Eagle – we only saw the last two, none of the others have ever been seen here by birders. We were given the corpse of a male Moustached Kingfisher, killed by a hunting-dog, and now know where to find it, so will return in the future as a sighting would be a great prize, the bird having been only ever seen once before, by David Gibbs in the mountains of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

After a series of emails setting up the trip, four of us spent a week in the capable hands of Bosco, the local agent and guide who was able to obtain permission for us to visit the vicinity of the huge copper and gold mine at Panguna, closed down 20 years ago after continual disruption by Bougainville separatists. We were the first group to be allowed to visit this area, its attraction being that the road to the mine goes up to 1000m asl where primary forest still exists, before dropping down to the mine at ca.600m. It was here that we saw the newly described Odedi (Bougainville Bush-warbler), a bird reputedly easy to hear but impossible to see, as well as the high elevation species: Bougainville Monarch and Honeyeater, Brown Fantail and Grey-throated White-eye.  

We landed at Buka, the only active airport in the Province and were met by Bosco. After breakfasting at a local resort, we took a small ferry-boat a short distance to the main island of Bougainville. After a 45 min wait for the van driver’s wife to appear with her shopping, we drove to the town of Arawa. The 4 hour journey involved numerous creek crossings, several forded as bridges had been destroyed in the previous troubles, but the road was relatively good and was being sealed courtesy of Japanese aid. A few stops gave our first Solomon's Cockatoo, Cardinal Lory and Steel-blue Flycatcher. At 3 pm we checked into the Women’s Guesthouse, only occupied by male guests, and then spent 2 hours birding the lowland forest along the road outside town and the grounds of a mission by the coast. Here we added Pied Goshawk, Pale Mountain-Pigeon, Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeon, Blyth’s Hornbill, Brown-winged Starling, Long-tailed Myna and, best of all, a pair of displaying Ultramarine Kingfisher. After a fish supper at the Guesthouse, we returned to the field to look for Fearful Owl and Solomon's Boobook, without success but the locals claimed to know both species.


The following morning was very hot and sunny but it rained all afternoon. We spent two hours looking vainly for Woodford’s Rail, seeing Rufous Night-Heron and the local form of White bellied Cuckooshrike. Then Bosco disappeared to talk to the Panguna mine guardians, not returning till 11.30. We were relieved to hear that we would be able to stay at the mine, so went shopping for food to last a few days. We stopped not far outside town at the road-block to the mine. After discussion and a  substantial cash donation, we were allowed through and drove to the mine. We then waited some time for a higher clearance vehicle to take us further inland on a rough road. I toured the environs of the mine, seeing little except some folk gold-panning by hand, a hard but rewarding job evidently. The rain continued in earnest and no vehicle appeared, so we accepted Philip, one of the leaders of the separatists, offer of accommodation at his “new guesthouse” in a partially destroyed office-block that was being renovated into local housing. Here we slept on foam-rubber mattresses and had our food cooked for us, with hot water for drinks. A nocturnal sortie after the rain had nearly ceased gave nothing.


Next day was clear but windy. After a cornflakes and milk breakfast, we were hoping to walk to the next village where the dead Moustached Kingfisher had been found, but were told this would not be allowed because a special women’s ceremony was about to take place where they shaved their heads and took off their clothes!. As this would last for a week we had no choice but to go elsewhere. Firstly, we birded around the pass at 1000m for several hours. The prize here was good views of an Odedi, taped in after recording its striking calls. Other birds included Mackinlay's Cuckoo-Dove, Yellow-eyed Cuckoo-Shrike, Bougainville Monarch, Solomon's Pied Monarch, Rufous and White-winged Fantails, Golden Whistler, Grey-throated and Yellow-throated White-eyes, Scarlet-naped Myzomela and Midget Flowerpecker. We returned to the Guesthouse at Arawa for lunch and then boarded the back of a lorry to drive down the coastal road before turning inland up a very rough road for some 27km to 900m asl and down to a sizable village. Here we hoped to camp to explore the nearby forested mountain but the elders would not give permission, ostensibly because a Canadian had come two weeks earlier and climbed the mountain without permission. We had no choice but to return to Arawa, stopping to bird a patch of forest at the pass. Here we saw Pied Goshawk, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Solomon's Black-bellied Cuckooshrike and lots of Monarchs. A stop at the old airport by the coast failed to give the hoped for Woodford’s Rail. After supper, we went owling again and this time heard two Solomon's Boobook calling softly but could not entice them to show.


The next morning was wet for the first two hours. We drove to Bosco’s village and walked up beyond it to look for decent habitat but the trail was very slippery and at too low an elevation to have a chance for any good birds, so we returned to Arawa. Then we went to where the boobooks had been heard, dropping Bosco off on the way at the Panguna road block to negotiate a return visit. A local guy showed us an owl roost site but hitting the tree went to no avail. Bosco had succeeded so we drove up to the pass but saw nothing new and only briefly heard two Odedi. After checking in at Philip’s “guest-house”, we drove a few km to the Upper Kupei trail, along a fast-flowing small river, which went higher up the mountain. After negotiating local permission, we walked along the trail which entailed making several hazardous river-crossings. I turned back, worried that my camera might get a soaking, but the others continued for another km or so and eventually saw a Bougainville Honeyeater and a Melanesian Cuckooshrike. I went back to the pass and walked down the road to the mine, seeing Pied Goshawk, Grey-throated White-eye and a cream-coloured immature Scarlet-naped Myzomela.


The next morning I went back to the Upper Kupei trail with Bosco from 6 till 09.30, without my camera. After six river-crossings, we reached the fruiting trees where the Honeyeater had been seen. On the way, I saw a Brown Fantail in a small mixed flock. At the fruiting trees there was much activity during a rainy hour with Claret-breasted Fruit-Doves, pigeons, monarchs and myzomelas feeding on the figs, mainly in one tree, while in another tree a Bougainville Honeyeater explored bromeliads for some time. When the activity had died down we returned to the vehicle, seeing a pair of Brown Fantails and a calling Melanesian Cuckooshrike en route. The others had birded the main road and seen a pair of Meek's Pygmy-Parrot. We drove to the pass and birded down the other side, with difficulty due to low cloud, before returning to Arawa. In the afternoon, Blaze came with the corpse of a male Moustached Kingfisher - a tantalisng, sad sight. We drove to the grounds of the Mission, hoping for Sanford’s Eagle but had to make do with Osprey, Lesser Frigatebird, Whiskered Tern and Brown Noddy. Another try for the owl was unsuccessful.


We started our last morning at Arawa at the nearby disused airstrip, looking for Woodford's Rail. Only a distant one was seen, crossing the track. We returned to the owl site and this time a local attacked a different tree with gusto for several minutes before suddenly a pair of Solomon’s Boobook emerged into the day-light, a good reward for perseverance! Back at the Mission, a Sanford’s Eagle flew overhead and returned 10 mins later, enabling me to photograph the only Haliaeetus eagle missing from my photo collection. We then drove back to Buka in a chartered Landcruiser, a little fearful of the river crossings as heavy rain was continuous. We made it in 4 hours, including 20 mins for a tyre-change. The only bird of note was a Rail crossing the road near the journey’s end. We negotiated a reasonable deal at the Buka Village Resort, which was full of Japanese tourists, after trying and turning down a cheaper hotel. The town did not have a lot to offer and was plunged into darkness by a lengthy powercut in the evening.


Our final full day on the North Solomons was dry and we took the resort minibus inland to look for Bougainville Crow which had eluded us so far. We walked the road through lowland forest, seeing lots of parrots, pigeons, two Dollarbirds and at least one Sanford’s Eagle and Steel-blue Flycatcher. Then at last we heard a crow calling, saw it in flight and eventually had one perched up – a shy bird. A stop at a village gave a brief view of Woodford’s Rail. Breakfast at the resort was enlivened by a pod of dolphins swimming nearby. Visits to the airstrip gave a Rail at a puddle for me and two Australian Pratincole, Pectoral Sandpiper (both vagrants) and Australasian Reed-Warbler for others. Late afternoon we returned to the Crow site but were rained off. We returned to the airport the following morning for the flight back to Port Moresby – the waders were still there and the flight on time. We had seen some great birds on this pioneering trip and vowed to come back for the kingfisher, Fearful Owl, and possibly Solomon’s Frogmouth and New Britain Thrush, now that the locals appear keen to re-establish tourism in the ravaged province.


SPECIES LIST        E indicates Endemic to the North Solomons and Solomon Islands.


Two singles near Arawa.

PACIFIC REEF-HERON (Egretta sacra)

A few  at Buka and 1 near Arawa.

RUFOUS (NANKEEN) NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax caledonicus)

One at Arawa.

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

Singles near Arawa and on Buka.

PACIFIC BAZA (Aviceda subcristata)

2 on 14th Bougainville.

BRAHMINY KITE (Haliastur indus)

3 on 12th, 1 on 14th.

E SOLOMON (SANFORD'S) SEA-EAGLE (Haliaeetus sanfordi)

The first was one flying along the coast at the mission near Arawa and better views were had there on a later day. There were at least 2 sightings inland on Buka.

VARIABLE GOSHAWK (Accipiter hiogaster)

Singles on 10th and 15th.

E PIED GOSHAWK (Accipiter albogularis)

One or 2 daily.

MELANESIAN SCRUBFOWL (Megapodius eremita)

Heard only, on 11th.

E WOODFORD'S RAIL (Nesoclopeus woodfordi)

Two singles at Arawa airstrip and on Buka, a rare and little known flightless rail.

PLAIN BUSH-HEN (Amaurornis olivaceus)

Heard on Bougainville at Arawa.

PURPLE SWAMPHEN (Porphyrio porphyrio)

2 at Arawa airstrip on Bougainville.


2 at Buka airport, presumably a vagrant as its not in Doughty et al.!


4 at Arawa airstrip on Bougainville.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos)

2 at Buka airport on 16 and 17 July, a rare vagrant (Doughty et al).

WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus)

2 near Arawa.

GREAT CRESTED TERN (Sterna bergii)

A few off Buka and Arawa.

BLACK-NAPED TERN (Sterna sumatrana)

Two singles near Arawa.

WHISKERED TERN (Chlidonias hybridus)

One near Arawa, an uncommon transient (Doughty et al).

BROWN NODDY (Anous stolidus)

A few off Arawa.

PURPLE SWAMPHEN (Porphyrio porphyrio)

MACKINLAY'S CUCKOO-DOVE (Macropygia mackinlayi)

2 or 3 near Arawa on 12-14th.

STEPHAN'S DOVE (Chalcophaps stephani)

One on 12th.

SUPERB FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus superbus)

One on 15th.


Two on Bougainville on 14th and Buka on 16th.

E PALE MOUNTAIN- (SPECTACLED) PIGEON (Gymnophaps solomonensis)

Fairly common throughout both islands.


Fairly common throughout both islands - the very distinct rufigula subspecies.

E DUCORPS' (SOLOMON'S) COCKATOO (Cacatua ducorpsii)

Fairly common throughout both islands.

E CARDINAL LORY (Chalcopsitta cardinalis)

Common on both islands.

RAINBOW LORIKEET (Trichoglossus haematodus)

Common on both islands.

RED-FLANKED LORIKEET (Charmosyna placentis)

Small numbers on Bougainville 14th.

E DUCHESS LORIKEET (Charmosyna margarethae)

A few on Bougainville.

E MEEK'S PYGMY-PARROT (Micropsitta meeki)

Two seen by some on 14th.

ECLECTUS PARROT (Eclectus roratus)

A few on both islands.

BRUSH CUCKOO (Cacomantis variolosus)

One seen on 14 and heard on Buka.

SHINING BRONZE-CUCKOO (Chrysococcyx lucidus)

Two on Bougainville on 12th and 14th, a migrant from Australia.

ASIAN KOEL (Eudynamys scolopacea)

Heard on Bougainville.

E SOLOMON HAWK-OWL (SOLOMON BOOBOOK) (Ninox jacquinoti eichhorni)

Two disturbed from their day-time roost near Arawa; heard calling at night. This is a potential split (Bougainville Boobook), according to Phil Gregory, as the two other insular races in the Solomons look very different.

GLOSSY SWIFTLET (Collocalia esculenta)

Common throughout, this form having a white rump.

UNIFORM SWIFTLET (Aerodramus vanikorensis)

Fairly common throughout.

MOUSTACHED TREESWIFT (Hemiprocne mystacea)

Only seen at the old airport on Bougainville.

E ULTRAMARINE KINGFISHER (Todirhamphus leucopygius)

Great views of a pair near Arawa.

COLLARED KINGFISHER (Todirhamphus chloris)

A few alberti on Bougainville.

BEACH KINGFISHER (Todirhamphus saurophaga)

Four scoped from Buki Resort, Buka.

SACRED KINGFISHER (Todirhamphus sanctus)

A few of this Australian migrant on Bougainville.

DOLLARBIRD (Eurystomus orientalis)

Two on Buka.

BLYTH'S HORNBILL (Aceros plicatus)

Fairly common throughout.

PACIFIC SWALLOW (Hirundo tahitica)

Small numbers throughout.


2 on 12th.

WHITE-BELLIED CUCKOO-SHRIKE (Coracina papuensis perpallida)

2 on 11th, 1 on 14th.

MELANESIAN CUCKOO-SHRIKE (Coracina caledonica)

2 on 13 and 14th.

CICADABIRD (Coracina tenuirostris saturatior)

1 on 10th, 2 on 14th. The race saturatior, with a rusty and unbarred female, is a potential split.


2 on 13th.

AUSTRALASIAN REED-WARBLER (Acrocephalus australis)

Two at Buka airport.


One seen well at Panguna, 2 or 3 others heard.

E BROWN FANTAIL (Rhipidura drownei)

Three on 14th.

WILLIE-WAGTAIL (Rhipidura leucophrys)

Common throughout.

RUFOUS FANTAIL (Rhipidura rufifrons)

A few daily on Bougainville, of the taxon commoda.

WHITE-WINGED FANTAIL (Rhipidura cockerelli)

One at Panguna on 13th.

E BOUGAINVILLE MONARCH (Monarcha erythrostictus)

Two – 4 on 12-14 July.


3 on 12th, 2 on 13th.


A few most days on Bougainville and 1+ on Buka.

GOLDEN WHISTLER (Pachycephala pectoralis)

Up to 3 seen daily.


Common throughout.


Fairly common throughout.

E GREY-THROATED WHITE-EYE (Zosterops ugiensis)

One or 2 on 11-13 Jul.

E YELLOW-THROATED WHITE-EYE (Zosterops metcalfii)

Common throughout.

E SCARLET-NAPED MYZOMELA (Myzomela lafargei)

At least 2 most days on both islands.

E BOUGAINVILLE HONEYEATER (Meliphaga bougainvillea)

Two singles at fruiting trees on 13th and one on 14th.


We struggled to get tickable views of this, hearing or glimpsing it a few times on Bougainville, but eventually saw 2 well on Buka.

METALLIC STARLING (Aplonis metallica)

Common throughout.

SINGING STARLING (Aplonis cantoroides)

Fairly common throughout.


Just a few of this localised Solomon's endemic on Buka and Bougainville.

E LONG-TAILED MYNA (Mino kreffti)

Fairly common throughout.




CUSCUS sp (Spilocuscus sp)

E SOLOMONS FLYING-FOX (Pteropus rayneri)

Small numbers around Arawa are presumably this species.

SPINNER DOLPHIN (Stenella longirostris)

A large pod of dolphins off Buka were probably this sp.



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