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SOLOMON ISLANDS

28 August–19 September 2021
Extension to 24 September 2021

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the endemics of a region that very few birders visit. The islands hold more restricted-range species than any other EBA on the planet. In addition to the 67+ endemics, 20+ near endemics and many endemic subspecies, we will also have the chance to see the sole members of four genera exclusive to these islands: Woodford’s Rail, Solomon’s Frogmouth, Makira Honeyeater and Bare-eyed White-eye, and all in stunning scenery.

Day 1 Overnight flight from the UK to Brisbane, Australia.

Day 2 Afternoon arrival and overnight in an airport hotel in Brisbane.

Day 3 Early morning flight from Brisbane to Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal, the closest thing to a city that we will encounter during our entire time on the Solomon Islands. Its ideal location in the centre of the nine provinces that comprise the Solomons makes it a hub to which we will return over the course of the trip and from where we will launch excursions to yet more idyllic islands – each chock-full of endemics! Renowned in history as the site of one of the most famous battles of WWII, the island of Guadalcanal is also a birders’ paradise and home to the second-highest concentration of endemics to be seen on the trip. Birding during the late afternoon today is limited, however, to a casual stroll along the coast close to our hotel where we should enjoy sightings of Bridled Tern along with Great and Lesser Frigatebirds. The hotel grounds and surrounds also provide an introduction to some of the region’s special species, as does a visit to Betikama Wetlands – a mere 15 minutes from our lodging. Target species on this day include: Pacific Black Duck, Intermediate Egret, Brahminy Kite, Australasian Swamphen, White-browed Crake, Pacific Golden-plover, Red-knobbed Imperial-pigeon, Solomon’s Cockatoo, Cardinal Lory, Eclectus Parrot, Melanesian Kingfisher, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, Moustached Treeswift, Pacific Swallow, Olive-backed Sunbird, Long-tailed Myna and the endemic Singing Starling. A wide selection of fish dishes (most served with sweet potato and taro) will be on offer for dinner before we head to bed; tomorrow we begin our Solomon Islands adventure. Two nights in Honiara on Guadalcanal.

Day 4 Waking in Honiara, we board our pre-arranged transport (packed breakfast in hand) and make for the birding mecca of Mount Austen. From its peak, the lush forest extends downward, almost fully to the river valley below, and with a number of easily negotiable logging trails throughout, our first foray into the wilds of the Solomons promises encounters with many dazzling targets. Our large and necessarily powerful 4WD trucks will wind their way to the heights of the forest where our trail birding begins by targeting canopy specialists such as the dazzling Yellow-bibbed Lory as well as Ducorp's Cockatoo, Guadalcanal Dwarf-kingfisher, Black-headed Myzomela, Chestnut-bellied and Black-and-white Monarchs and White-eyed Starling. As we meander down the trails the targets will change as the elevation lowers and soon it is MacKinlay’s Cuckoo-dove, Claret-breasted Fruit-dove, the imposing Buff-headed Coucal, the tiny Midget Flowerpecker, Brown-winged Starling, Pied Goshawk and the quite brilliant restricted-range Ultramarine Kingfisher that are being sought. Our lodging for the night is the charming Parangiju Mountain Lodge, a family-owned eco-lodge nestled in the lush tropical rainforest of inland Guadalcanal. Our dinner will be lovingly prepared by Chef Eh-Ma and served with refreshing beverages following our first successful day of birding in the Solomon Islands!

Day 5 Although extremely difficult to acquire, access has been negotiated to a bonus birding site for this morning! From Parangiju Lodge we will make the hour-and-a-half drive aboard our trucks inland to an area of forest coveted by many a birder but off limits to most. The forest here is pristine and located on private property. As is the case with many of the special species throughout the island range, some are difficult to see on one island but relatively straightforward on another. This is demonstrated by the ease with which tricky species are seen at this remote location. From the delightful Finsch’s Pygmy-parrots to the rather bizarre-looking White-billed Crow, Grey-capped Cicadabird and gigantic Blyth's Hornbill, this morning’s birds will leave a lasting impression. At this site, we will have our best chance of the trip for encountering the little-known Moustached Kingfisher, Guadalcanal Thicketbird and even the extremely elusive Guadalcanal Thrush! Following an early lunch enjoyed in the field, we will set out across the seas for the unbelievably species-rich Makira, the largest of the islands in Makira Ulawa Province and a densely forested and fascinating isle which is home to the highest number of endemics of any island on the trip. Whilst exploring the wonders of Makira, our lodging for the next five days will be a stunningly beautiful and idyllically located coastal village. This is a place many birding tour participants on the Pacific Odyssey only fleetingly visit before having to return to their ship later the same day. But on our tour (which throughout prioritises stays in locally owned accommodation and at home-stays with locals) we will have the opportunity to experience daily village life, chat and dine with village residents and delight in their rich and varied culture. Four nights on Makira.

Day 6 The wide variety of habitats, ranging from moist montane forest to lowland swamp, is one of the main reasons for the wealth of life on Makira and we will take full advantage of our lengthy stay here in order to visit all of these. After breakfast our first excursion sees us stick relatively close to the coast as we head for a nearby area of lowland swamp and secondary forest for likely sightings of Crested Cuckoo-dove, Sooty Myzomela, Pacific Baza, White-rumped Swiftlet, Makira Starling, Long-tailed Triller, elegantly patterned White-collared Monarch and two birds on either end of the endangered spectrum: the seemingly ever-present Willie Wagtail and the near-threatened White-headed Fruit-dove. After returning to the village for lunch and a light siesta, you will have the option of taking your exploration for species beneath the waves, with an afternoon of snorkelling in the nearby crystal-clear waters. The number of fish species to be found on the coral reefs of these islands is truly staggering and we will spend a blissful couple of hours meandering through the bays close to shore. Those not wishing to snorkel can of course opt to extend their siesta or go for a quiet stroll along the beach. Freshly prepared fish dinners enjoyed under the stars await us tonight (and every night of our stay) as we sit side by side with these warm and friendly people.

Day 7 Today we will make the first of two ascents into the forested highlands of Makira. Fortified by an excellent local breakfast we’ll board our speedboat and be whisked towards an idyllic stretch of coast above which lies an immense band of rich primary forest into which we’ll delve. The birds of these forests include a host of endemics such as the stunning Makira Dwarf-kingfisher, the relatively common but flighty Makira Thrush, the difficult Makira Honeyeater and a vocalist extraordinaire: the Makira Cicadabird! Other forest dwellers include Yellow-legged Pigeon, Makira Leaf Warbler, ‘Makira’ Spangled Drongo, the common Mottled Flowerpecker and Makira Fantail as well as Buff-banded Rail and Dollarbird. Boating back towards our accommodation we will take the opportunity to look for Brown Booby and Wedge-tailed Shearwater. Those interested in taking part in traditional local fishing practices by assisting the islanders in catching dinner are welcome to give it a go. Others may prefer to relax and wait until dinnertime before eating the meal!

Day 8 Makira Moorhen has not been reliably seen for decades, but reports persist of this strange bird being seen, albeit rarely, by locals on Makira. With our local guide leading the way, today we will set out for an area of forest deep in the highlands where two of the villagers insist they have seen the bird on multiple occasions. Given its habitat, it is a bird unlikely to be mistaken for any other and, despite the villagers in question not being birders; it is surely worth a shot! Even if not encountered, the chance to visit some of the most unspoiled habitat remaining on Makira (an island with no protected areas) is too good to pass up. Today's outing also brings with it the opportunity to improve our views of some species and enjoy first looks at two montane forest-dwelling endemics: Ochre-headed Flycatcher and Shade Bush Warbler.

Day 9 In addition to exploring Makira’s myriad birding hotspots and accessing the mountainous spine of the island by land, we will use the coastal village of Anuta again as a base from which to travel by Zodiac, but on this occasion to travel to some of the tiny surrounding islands such as Ugi. This island is home to unique specialities like Ugi Black Monarch and Ugi White-collared Monarch and the abundant Stephan’s Dove as well as the largest concentration of Saltwater Crocodiles in the Solomons! Leaving Ugi, we’ll return by boat to Honiara where we’ll be welcomed by the familiar smiling faces of Stephen and Serah, the owners of Parangiju Lodge. The afternoon is for relaxing and gazing out from the veranda across the verdant hillsides to the sparkling ocean beyond; alternatively you may wish to return into the forests for another encounter with some of the Guadalcanal specialities. Overnight in Honiara, Guadalcanal.

Day 10 Mid-morning will see us travelling across an ocean rich in marine life to the strikingly attractive island of Malaita. The Solomons are the easternmost part of the so-called Coral Triangle, a region within Asia-Pacific that has the highest marine biodiversity in the world. Our several ocean crossings between islands therefore represent good opportunities for encounters with cetacean species, along with what is of course an array of possible (and in many cases probable) pelagic birds. Strategically positioning ourselves in prime viewing sites on the ferry will be encouraged. Punctuated by crystal-clear bays and a towering and densely forested interior, Malaita is an incredibly beautiful island and one where we’ll thankfully stay three days at another local village, this time deep in the forested highlands (a location very different from our coastal village in Makira). Depending on the punctuality of our boat we may have the opportunity to enjoy a stroll in the forests surrounding the village before dusk. Three nights on Malaita.

Day 11 We’ll have a leisurely start this morning, soaking in the sights of village life as the inhabitants begin to stir: ebbing fires being stoked back to life and the welcome smell of sizzling eggs and freshly baked flatbread filling our nostrils. With a packed picnic lunch in our bags, we’ll board our trucks and leave the village for the day. As one of the more populous islands in the Solomons chain, it is perhaps not surprising that in addition to breathtakingly beautiful scenery we’ll also encounter some heavily logged areas while being transported between Malaita’s birding sites. Thankfully, however, our first day will see us concentrate our birding in the vast extent of lush landscape found close to our village: prime habitat for the very rare Malaita Dwarf-kingfisher, the endemic and reliable Malaita White-eye, Black-and-white Monarch (white-cheeked), endemic subspecies of Oriole Whistler, Chestnut-bellied Imperial-pigeon, endangered Malaita Fantail, challenging Red-bellied Myzomela, and a glorious subspecies likely to be split in the future: White-winged Fantail. Raptors may include Variable Goshawk.

Day 12 We’ll begin in the breathtakingly beautiful highlands today, where stops at prime sites offer yet another chance for any of the species not seen, all the while gradually working our way down to the coast and an enticing network of waterways. Along the way we should pick up a number of other species not previously encountered on the trip, from the recently described Cockerell’s Fantail and near endemic subspecies of Island Leaf Warbler and Metallic Pigeon in the highlands to the (truly superb) Superb Fruit-dove and near endemic subspecies of stunningly coloured Coconut Lorikeets found at lower elevations. When we do eventually arrive at the coast, we’ll enter the realm of the magnificent Sanford’s Sea-eagle, an apex predator with a six-foot wingspan and a penchant for everything from fruit bats to fish, ducks and pigeons: a truly memorable raptor encounter awaits! Another, and equally (if not more) memorable inhabitant of Malaita’s lowlands is the Woodford's Rail – which we will also target in the area. Back at our accommodation, we’ll bid our warm and gracious hosts a fond farewell, but not before celebrating our rich haul of species and wonderful time at this traditional Solomon Islands village with a feast of chicken, pork, taro and array of vegetables plucked from gardens not ten metres away!

Day 13 This morning we will board a boat for our ride back across sparkling tropical waters to Honiara. The day is ours to while away at the Parangiju Mountain Lodge or to take exploratory walks into the surrounding forests. After tucking into the now familiar culinary specialties of Eh-Ma, we’ll settle down on the balcony for the customary nightly checklist updates before a good night’s sleep. Overnight in Honiara, Guadalcanal.

Day 14 This morning sees us take our first flight since arriving on the islands almost two weeks ago! It is needed, however, as today we’ll make for the northernmost of the islands on our adventures in the south Pacific: the densely-forested and wilderness-laden island of Santa Isabel. After touching down at Fera Island, on the southernmost of two small airstrips on this, the longest of the Solomon Islands, we’ll be met by a small rowboat that will take us across the stunningly beautiful lagoon that borders the airstrip to Buala Village. We’ll check into our lodge, located directly on the shore of the lagoon itself, and our group will no doubt fill the accommodation at this tranquil location for the next two wonderful nights with very fresh seafood for our evening meal! Two nights in Buala, Santa Isabel.

Day 15 For our first full day on Santa Isabel, beautiful Buala is our staging point for travels deep into the island interior where remote stretches of habitat should bring us excellent views of an entirely new cast of characters. Long-tailed Koel, Barred, Black-faced and Solomon’s Cuckooshrikes, the near-endemic subspecies of Rufous Fantail, Island Monarch, Red-capped Myzomela, and, if we are incredibly lucky, the oft-elusive Imitator Sparrowhawk. In the afternoon we’ll relax in the shade of our covered verandas with views of the lagoon; those feeling adventurous may even wish to slip into the calm waters. As the sun begins to get low in the sky, we’ll explore the shore for encounters with, among others, Striated Heron, Pacific Reef-heron, Beach Thick-knee and Common, Terek and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers before assembling at the dining room for a freshly caught seafood dinner.

Days 16–17 In the morning of day sixteen we’ll leave the shores of the lagoon and make the two-hour hike to renowned Tirotonga Village, nestled deep in the remote wilderness and limestone hillsides of Isabel. We’ll take our time and when we arrive we’ll be greeted with cool refreshments and the warm hospitality of the Tirotongans. Those of us up for a bit of village birding following our hike will have a very good chance of getting more looks at the endemic Yellow-throated White-eye and Metallic Starling as well as Glossy and Uniform Swiftlets performing their delicate aerial dances in the skies above. Using the village as a base, we’ll make short excursions along well-established trails into the forests and densely vegetated hillsides to target a selection of very difficult-to-see endemics. The most famous of these is without question the most easterly and perhaps least well known pitta on the planet: Black-faced Pitta. We’ll need to maintain a patient vigil for this brilliantly-plumaged deep forest dweller – not renowned for being a fan of the camera. Whilst on “pitta duty” we’ll also keep an eye out for North Solomons Dwarf-kingfisher and the fabulous but perhaps not quite-as-critical Oriental Hobby and Pacific Koel. The majority of our time in the field will be spent in the company of guides from the village who’ll use their superb and invaluable knowledge to lead us to the best sites for our targets – including day-roost sites of three absolutely fabulous Solomon endemics: Fearful Owl, Solomons Frogmouth and Solomons Boobook! Hopefully they will each be "at home", otherwise we’ll head out on each of the two nights to listen for calls and do spotlighting in order to see the birds in flight or actively perched. The evenings are otherwise reserved for tucking into hearty dinners amid fascinating chats with some of the locals of Tirotonga. Two nights in Tirotonga Village, Santa Isabel in simple accommodation with shared facilities, no hot water and solar electricity.

Day 18 This morning we have another look for any of the targets which may have eluded us on the previous two days before saying our goodbyes to our friendly hosts and making a slow-paced return back down to Buala including a picnic stop in the forest along the way. Another peaceful evening of lagoon-side viewing and birding awaits. Overnight in Buala, Santa Isabel.

Day 19 We’ll take the short flight back to Honiara and stay at our locally-owned inn a mere 15 minutes from the airport. Today is yours to explore the sights and sounds of the city. Our centrally-located accommodation allows for a leisurely walk into the bustling city centre of Honiara and the Central Market (selling almost every locally grown product imaginable) or, should you prefer, the opportunity to visit the National Museum or War Memorial. Overnight in Honiara, Guadalcanal.

Day 20 At 08:00 we’ll take the one-hour flight from Honiara airport to the southernmost island in the entire Solomons chain: the large raised coral atoll of Rennell. Relative to its size, Rennell boasts a hugely impressive number of endemics. This is perhaps unsurprising as its remote location has been integral to its identification as a key site for the evolution and migration of species in the western Pacific and the speciation processes of a number of avifauna. It is on this magical island that we’ll draw our first leg of the trip to a close. Touching down on the single grass airfield at Tingoa, the height of which is maintained by various groups of islanders wielding bush-knives and who often use the money accrued from such maintenance to put towards their Christmas festivities), we’ll make the three-minute walk to our lodging at Moreno Guest House. After checking into our rooms, we’ll don birding gear and literally take twenty steps across the field to the start of a quite incredible trail along which we may find all of the island’s six endemics! Rennell Starling and Rennell White-eye should be easy, as should the skulking Rennell Shrikebill and odd Bare-eyed White-eye. The unspectacular Rennell Fantail and occasionally tricky Rennell Whistler and endemic sub-species of Island Thrush round off the targets. Other birds may include the endemic sub-species of Australian White Ibis, Brown Goshawk, Pacific Imperial-pigeon, Shining Bronze-cuckoo, Melanesian Flycatcher, Fan-tailed Gerygone and Cardinal Myzomela. There are also two species of large bats here, Pacific and Rennell Flying Foxes. For dinner our local guide will whip up some of his village’s specialty sweet potato casserole, while the tour leader breaks out the celebratory beverages!

Day 21 Provided we have seen the endemics on the previous day, this morning we’ll hop aboard one of the only reliable forms of transport on the island (the aptly named Blue Bus) and make the fifty-minute drive along the coral road towards the south of the island - and a visit to the largest lake in the insular pacific and former lagoon of the atoll; Lake Tengano. Here Australasian Grebe as well as Great and Little Pied Cormorants and Pacific Kingfishers abound. The area’s low-lying secondary forest also makes for great birding and we should have little difficulty in getting bonus views of the island’s fascinating endemic subspecies of Singing Parrot as well as the near-endemic and stunning Silver-capped Fruit-dove. After travelling back aboard the Blue Bus to Moreno Guest House we’ll pack and head to the grass airstrip to catch our return flight to Honiara for a night’s stay.

Day 22 Those not taking the extension will take a flight back from Honiara airport to Brisbane for an onward connection home, arriving on Day 23.

Extension

On the optional extension we’ll travel into the Western Solomons, where we’ll use the tiny island of Gizo as a base from which to launch excursions across sparkling waters to the nearby islands of Vella Lavella, Ranongga and finally Kolombangara: a near-perfectly spherical volcanic cone towering out of deep blue waters.

Day 22 We’ll take the morning ferry to Gizo which will give us plenty more opportunity for sea watching. Although primarily used as a base, Gizo does have a sole endemic, the Gizo White-eye, and we will take the opportunity to visit a quiet patch of woods just on the outskirts of town, which is usually positively teeming with this handsome species. From town we’ll transfer to our nearby coastal accommodation. The western Solomons are located in a utopian coastal setting with turquoise waters and shallow reefs positively teeming with tropical fish of every imaginable colour. Indeed it may prove difficult to drag ourselves away in the morning to go island hopping! Specialities in and around our accommodation include the tiny Steel-blue Flycatcher and the handsomely-coiffed White-capped Monarch. Two nights on Gizo Island.

Day 23 Today we’ll cover two islands. Our sleek skiff, armed with powerful outboard motors, will collect us from shore in the morning and head northwest, easily negotiating the distance from Gizo to Vella Lavella. Here we’ll spend the first half of the day birding the hotspots on this, the largest of the islands we visit in the west. Our main target will be the Vella Lavella or Banded White-eye, but the lush landscape is also home to several other species of interest including the highly sought-after minuscule New Georgia Dwarf-kingfisher on the only island on our travels where we will have a chance of seeing this striking bird). As less than 10km separates us from Ranongga Island, we’ll spend the second half of the day birding on this much smaller but more species-rich island. Our main target is another single-island endemic white-eye: the curiously named Ganongga White-eye. Also present is the usually common Beach Kingfisher, whose long churring calls should alert us to their location as they hone in on a driftwood perch. Sightings of Eastern Osprey are also common here. Travelling between the islands in the western province by boat also provides us with what is undoubtedly our best pelagic spotting opportunities of the entire trip. Known in these waters (among several others) are Black as well as Brown Noddies, Common and Roseate Terns, Long-tailed Jaeger and Wilson’s Storm-petrel. Without question this will give us our best chance of Heinroth’s Shearwater.

Day 24 We have reserved two days exclusively for exploring the imposing and largely unspoiled volcanic giant of Kolombangara. Upon approach by boat this morning, the sheer majesty and natural splendour of this island will be on show for all to see. On arrival we’ll be collected by pre-arranged transport and soon be birding the first of several rewarding lowland and coastal sites for prized encounters with Roviana Rail (only identified in 1991!!) and the odd and impressive Melanesian Scrubfowl. In the afternoon our van will wind its way high into the clouds to our accommodation, perched on a stunning outcrop offering some of the finest mountain views and forest trails on the island. In this spectacular setting the habitat, vegetation and therefore species changes dramatically. In the late afternoon we’ll have a leisurely stroll along two of the lodge’s easier trails where truly memorable encounters with the absolutely delightful Red-breasted Pygmy-parrot and incomparable Duchess Lorikeet are possible. Overnight on Kolombangara Island.

Day 25 Waking at dawn, the low cloud will still be shrouding the lodge. As it lifts, the dawn chorus begins, and we’ll hone in on the calls of those as yet unseen targets including Pacific Robin, Island and Pale Mountain-pigeons and of course Kolombangara White-eye. Our final day of birding in the montane forests of this rich and largely unspoiled island gem will see us setting out on other trails around the lodge for encounters with such treasures as Kolombangara Leaf Warbler, Yellow-vented Myzomela, Solomons White-eye, Kolombangara Monarch, Yellow-bibbed Fruit-dove and Meek’s Lorikeet. In the early afternoon our vehicle will take us to the dynamic shoreline of Kolombangara from where we’ll board our Zodiac back to Gizo. Along the way we’ll have another opportunity for Heinroth’s Shearwater as well as other pelagics. Overnight on Gizo Ialnd.

Day 26 We will take a morning flight back to Honiara to connect with an onward flight to Brisbane and thence back to the UK on an overnight flight arriving back on Day 27.

General Information The pace of the tour is generally relaxed with only moderate fitness required except for a long hike up and down to stay two nights; this is optional! Although it is the ‘dry season’ rain is possible at any time. Temperatures don’t vary much with the normal being hot and humid. Accommodation levels vary from comfortable to simple with mostly en suite facilities. Visas are required at a cost of US$10 and you will be supplied with details. There are health requirements but biting insects aren’t normally a problem. All areas we will be visiting are entirely safe.

Group SizeMinimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 10 with 2 leaders.

Red-knobbed Imperial-pigeon

Red-knobbed Imperial-pigeon

Recommended books available from NHBS