In fire and in water

2008 July 26
by David J. Ringer

PORT VILA, VANUATU — It was nearly three years ago that I visited Vanuatu for the first time. That brief introduction — when I was still quite new to Pacific birding — left me wanting more. Well, now I’ve had more, but of course it’s still not enough.

Vanuatu is not particularly species-rich, but it is rather fascinating from a biogeographic perspective. It shares some species with the Solomons, some with New Caledonia, and some with the Polynesian islands. There are a handful of endemics, but I still haven’t seen any of those. They are found mainly in undisturbed forest on the larger northern islands, but I haven’t been to any of those islands.

My life bird on this trip was the spectacular little black and scarlet Cardinal Myzomela, which is quite common on Tanna. It was nice to see more Red-bellied Fruit Doves and the charismatic Collared Kingfisher, though the latter is extremely wide-ranging. And it was interesting to compare the female plumages of the Melanesian Flycatchers I saw in New Caledonia with the birds here.

I learned more about the songs and calls of the birds here, which is also always one of my goals.

But Buff-bellied Monarch and Vanuatu Megapode? Well, I guess I’ll have to make a third trip someday!


While I was on Tanna, we visited Yasur volcano. Frankly, standing at the rim of the volcanic basin was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Every 60 seconds or so, the volcano roared and spewed lava hundreds of feet into the air. Sometimes you could see the shockwave blast through the gas cloud in the split second before the eruption. You just knew that of one of those flaming lava bombs hit you, it would burn a hole straight through your body.

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