Vanuatu - searching for the endemics - 17 September - 23 September 2019

Published by Stephen Blaber (sblaber AT

Participants: Steve Blaber, Tessa Blaber



We took advantage of the weekly direct flight from Brisbane to Luganville on Espiritu Santo, to bird the largest, but one of the least developed, of the Vanuatu chain of islands. Many of the Vanuatu endemics can be found on Santo. We pre-booked our entire stay at the Espiritu Hotel in Luganville which has good wifi, and used this as a base for our daily trips. We hired a SUV from the hotel, which was adequate for most of the places we went. There is a good tar road along most of the east coast north from Luganville, and along the south coast west of Luganville. The unpaved roads leading to the interior are generally of poor quality and some not really negotiable by anything other than high clearance vehicles or tractors! There are not many trip reports for Vanuatu, but we found Dave Sargeant’s 2006 report by far the most useful. From this we learned that at least three of the endemics (Palm Parakeet, Mountain Starling and Vanuatu Honeyeater) can only be found by arduous trekking to heights of at least 700 m ASL. We could not find a passable road that went higher than 400 m ASL and as we did not have the time for an organised trek, missed out on these three endemics. Nevertheless, we were successful with the remainder of the endemics and recorded a total of 34 species including 11 lifers. Good general information about Santo, including directions to the Loru Conservation Area, is available on the Positive Earth website ( Food is readily obtainable in Luganville where there are a number of good restaurants. There is a good French style bakery opposite the Espiritu Hotel that opens very early, useful for stocking up for early starts! We found the local people to be friendly and helpful, but from a birding point of view hunting pressure is high. Most young people we came across were armed with catapults, so the birds are rather wary! Apart from Luganville and short stretches of the east and south coast, the people are living in traditional villages without mains electricity.


17 Sep - Arrive Luganville from Brisbane on flight QF317 at 1510hrs. After immigration and customs got a taxi to Espiritu Hotel on the main street of Luganville where we stayed for the duration of the trip.
18 Sep – Loru Conservation area for most of the day and short visit to Turtle Bay area.
19 Sep – Loru Conservation area am, Vatthe road pm.
20 Sep – Vatthe and Malil roads.
21 Sep - Vatthe and Malil roads.
22 Sep – South coast road.
23 Sep – Departed Pekoa International airport for Port Vila at 0800 hrs on NF211.


(Only new species mentioned here, full list at the end)

17 September

We got a taxi from the airport to the Espiritu Hotel, arriving about 4.30pm. After checking in and arranging to pick up the car at 6am the next day, we explored the main street and bought provisions for lunch the next day. Dinner in the hotel.

18 September

Collected the car and had breakfast at 6.30am. We set off up the east coast road at about 7am. The road is good and there is very little traffic. The turn-off to Loru is about 35 km from Luganville and well sign-posted. It is mandatory to call at Kole1 village to arrange a visit to Loru with a guide. We arrived at 8am and were soon in discussion with Stephen. He explained that it was a bit late to start, but agreed to a morning visit. We were accompanied by Rachel. We were able to drive to within a km of the Conservation Area. The walk in to the forest was productive, and we picked up Melanesian Whistler, Buff-bellied Monarch and Yellow-fronted White-eye in secondary vegetation before entering the forest. The highlight was getting good views of Chestnut-bellied (Vanuatu) Kingfisher. Although the kingfishers were quite vocal it was hard to get clear views in the canopy. By about 11.30am it became very quiet and hot and we left the forest and drove back to the village. Here we arranged to return at 6am the following day. We had lunch in a nice glade half way back to the main road. After birding this area we returned to the tar road and headed back south, exploring a dirt road that takes off inland near Turtle Bay. We could only get about 3 km along this road before it became impassable. Dinner at DecoStop Lodge with a view of the harbour - the steaks were excellent.

19 September

Left Luganville at 5am to arrive at Kole1 Village at 6am. After picking up our guide (Larissio) we headed once more for Loru forest. After much searching we caught up with a pair of Vanuatu Scrubfowl (going by the local epithets of ‘Namalau’, ‘Yapper’ – after the dog-like call, and ‘Scrub-Duck’). Larissio got us good views of Red-bellied Fruit-Dove in the canopy. I asked him about Southern Shrikebill and showed him the picture, but he was unfamiliar with the bird. So I played him the call – there was an immediate response from nearby and we all had excellent views of the species! We left the forest at about 11am, very satisfied.

We then continued north along the main road until the turn-off for Sara and Vatthe. The road is in poor condition, but passable with care and slow driving! We stopped for lunch at a quarry 3.5 km from the coast road. Here we saw our only Cardinal Myzomela of the trip, a male calling atop a bush. Passing through Sara we continued upwards on the road to Vatthe, passing the turn-off to Malil, stopping at the high point (about 400m ASL) before it descends the escarpment towards the coast. The area was full of Tanna Fruit Doves. We had good views of large numbers of this species flying back and forth across the road. Pacific Imperial Pigeons were also common, and we had a single Baker’s Imperial Pigeon. Much of the forest along this road has been cleared, but there are still patches of good forest with large trees. We were hoping for some of the other higher altitude species, but no luck.
The only other noteworthy record was a Spotless Crake crossing the road near Sara village.

20 September

We returned to the Vatthe road, arriving at the high point by 7 am. En route we had good views of Metallic Pigeon 2.4 km from the tar and Red-bellied Fruit Doves were surprisingly common near Sara village. Vanuatu Scrubfowl were heard calling at the top of the escarpment, but otherwise it was relatively quiet. Despite much searching nothing of interest was found and the doves of the previous day had all gone. In an attempt to get to a higher altitude we tried the Malil road. This is also in poor condition but does go through some good forest patches where we found Baker’s Imperial Pigeon, Tanna Fruit Doves and Pacific Imperial Pigeon – all at about 400 m ASL. The road did not seem to ascend in altitude and gradually deteriorated. We finally turned round where there was a large bulldozer – an eminently suitable vehicle for the road!

On the return trip we once more saw a Spotless Crake just west of Sara village.

21 September

Another return to Vatthe and Malil roads, but the weather was cloudy, windy, and with intermittent rain. We returned to the coast and explored the tar road as far north as it goes – Port Olry – but the birding was slow.

22 September

This was a day for the south coast road. For the first part this runs through cattle ranching areas with large trees. We saw our only Long-tailed Triller 9.8 km from Luganville. The birding was quite productive, but nothing new or particularly noteworthy. The road gradually deteriorates. There is a turn-off at the top of the loop where it turns inland. This turn-off appears to be a new road that heads directly inland and uphill. It was being concreted when we were there and was not really passable. Birders visiting the area in future might want to check up to see if it gets to a good altitude.

23 September

Depart from Pekoa International Airport at 8 am to Port Vila.

Species Lists

Vanuatu Espiritu Santo checklist (nomenclature after IOC 9.2)

VANUATU MEGAPODE (Megapodius layardi)
Common in Loru and heard on Vatthe and Malil roads – thick forest

RED JUNGLE-FOWL (FERAL) (Gallus gallus)

SWAMP HARRIER (Circus approximans)
Widespread, seen on all days in all areas

BUFF-BANDED RAIL (Gallirallus philippensis)
Widespread, seen on all days in all areas

SPOTLESS CRAKE (Porzana tabuensis)
Seen twice, crossing the road near Sara village

METALLIC PIGEON (Columba vitiensis)
Only seen once, on the Vatthe road 2.4 km from East Coast tar road

MACKINLAY'S CUCKOO-DOVE (Macropygia mackinlayi)
Common in both primary and secondary forest

PACIFIC EMERALD DOVE (Chalcophaps longirostris)
Widespread, seen on all days in all areas

TANNA FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus tannensis)
In both primary and secondary forest, but seen mostly above 300m ASL
Particularly common on Vatthe road between 370 and 400m ASL

RED-BELLIED FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus greyii)
Common in both primary and secondary forest

Common in both primary and secondary forest

Seen twice, once on Malil road and once on Vatthe road (both at 400 m ASL)

SATIN SWIFTLET (Collocalia uropygialis)
Widespread, seen on all days in most areas

UNIFORM SWIFTLET (Aerodramus vanikorensis)
Widespread, seen on all days in all areas

Only seen and heard (frequently) at Loru

PACIFIC KINGFISHER (Todiramphus sacer)
Widespread, seen on all days in all areas

COCONUT LORIKEET (Trichoglossus haematodus)
Widespread, seen on all days in all areas

CARDINAL MYZOMELA (Myzomela cardinalis)
Only seen once, a male at the quarry on the Vatthe road 3.5 km from the East Coast tar road

Widespread, seen on all days in all areas

Seen in Loru and along Vatthe and Malil roads – large trees

LONG-TAILED TRILLER (Lalage leucopyga)
Seemingly scarce, only seen once on the south coast road about 9.8 km from Luganville

MELANESIAN WHISTLER (Pachycephala chlorura)
Widespread in most areas

GREY FANTAIL (Rhipidura albiscapa)
Widespread, seen on all days in all areas

STREAKED FANTAIL (Rhipidura verreauxi)
Common in both secondary and primary forest

BUFF-BELLIED MONARCH (Neolalage banksiana)
Common in both secondary and primary forest

MELANESIAN FLYCATCHER (Myiagra caledonica)
Seen in most areas, but generally scarce

SOUTHERN SHRIKEBILL (Clytorhynchus pachycephaloides)
Only seen once in Loru

PACIFIC SWALLOW (Hirundo tahitica)
Widespread, seen on all days in all areas

SILVER-EYE (Zosterops lateralis)
Not as common as Zosterops flavifrons and perhaps commoner at higher altitudes

YELLOW-FRONTED WHITE-EYE (Zosterops flavifrons)
Widespread, seen on all days in all areas

COMMON MYNA (Acridotheres tristis)
Widespread, seen on all days in all areas

BLACK-HEADED (CHESTNUT) MUNIA (Lonchura atricapilla)
Widespread, most common in settled areas

CHESTNUT-BREASTED MUNIA (Lonchura castaneothorax)
Small numbers at Pekoa International Airport

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)
Small numbers in Luganville and at Pekoa International airport