Pleased to meet you, SCO

You will now learn how I spent the first 48 hours on Grande Terre, New Caledonia’s main island.

At La Tontouta airport I tried in vain to buy a SIM card. It was a few minutes past 5 pm on a Friday – week-end! Almost everything was closed, even the restrooms. Fortunately not the car rental office, though, where a friendly young lady with pink finger nails handed me the keys to my car (you’ve seen it already here, no need to show it again). What next?

I was a man with a plan. I would not drive south towards Nouméa, the main city of New Caledonia, but instead in the opposite direction. Because I had an appointment the next day! And here’s what I really want to tell you about: the great time I had with the Société Calédonienne d’Ornithologie (SCO) right after my arrival on NC.

I had contacted the SCO some time before my departure from Germany in order to enquire whether they had any interesting activities I might take part in. By the way, they have an informative website as well as a Facebook page with tons of great photos of New Caledonian birds. In reply to my enquiry, David, the president of the SCO, had told me that at present they do not have any larger projects I could join. However, there would be a week-end activity on November 23 and 24. Volunteers would meet, camp together, and then very early on Sunday morning they would organise an „écoute matinale“ of New Caledonia’s emblematic bird, the mysterious Kagou. All this would take place in and around the village of Sarraméa.

Funnily, this was the area I wanted to start with anyway! From my first visit five years ago I remembered very well the magnificent Parc des Grandes Fougères (more about that in another post) as well as the nice Refuge de Farino nearby with its bungalows and attached little campsite. So I headed north for Sarraméa.

The first night was uneventful. I simply put up my tent in a suitable place (the market place, as it later turned out). I was treated to an amazing star-filled sky at night – without the orange light of the street lamp this picture would look even better, trust me.

The next day was sunny and warm, so I went birdwatching. This beauty here is a white-breasted woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus).

Then came the afternoon and the meeting with the SCO people. First impression: very friendly! David gave a short introduction on what we would do the next morning. We were enough people to form twelve teams of two people each. Every team would spend two hours at a specific spot and listen out for calling Kagous. The problem with this bird is: it may not be able to fly, but it is quite mobile and hides well in the forests of this rather hilly part of Grande Terre. Very little is known about its present population and distribution, so the SCO has a scheme for researching and monitoring this very rare bird species.

Liliane is the good soul of the SCO. And a keen photographer. And a great cook (see below).
The litte purple thing is my tent. Don’t laugh, it’s really huge on the inside.

In the afternoon we visited one of the spots which would be occupied the next morning. The landscape there is just beautiful!

The kids got only in there for the photo, while the car was standing!

Then came the evening with a little barbecue and great food (merci, Liliane!), and people were handed their equipment for the „écoute matinale“. Very matinale indeed: We would have to get up at 3.30 am in order to be at the designated spot in time for the session to begin at 4.00 am, exactly one hour before sunrise…

David and I formed a team, for which I was really grateful. And what a fantastic morning it was! Really a breathtaking experience. And that is despite the fact that we did not get to hear any Kagous. But I wouldn’t want to miss a single second of this unforgettable morning, complete with starry sky fading away in the beginning of the day, a large flying-fox gliding past, and an amazing dawn chorus of what seemed like hundreds of birds singing to their (and my) heart’s content.

Back at the base camp in Sarraméa, people gathered, cold, tired and hungry. But satisfied! All in all, five out of twelve teams had heard Kagou calling. Quite a success.

Then some of us went for a little post-event excursion to a botanical sensation: Amborella trichopoda, the world’s oldest flowering plant species. Interesting? Yes. Fascinating? Errrm, maybe. Attractive? Definitely not. I will never become a botanist, that’s for sure…

All in all, a perfect start to my stay here in New Caledonia. And I am sure I will meet some of the SCO people again when I’m in Nouméa, and perhaps we will go on another excursion together. I’m open to anything and look forward to it already!

Published by Sebastian

Geographer, naturalist and photographer (www.schroeder-esch.de). Based in Germany, but always keen to travel and explore

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