Guadalcanal Highlands Extension
7-13 August 2025
Group size limit: 5
Joshua Bergmark and local guides
The capital city of Honiara acts as our base for the tour, and we will be flying in and out to go between islands, often taking the opportunity to switch out our luggage at the hotel depending on the requirements for each leg of the trip. There are several access points to good forest, which will allow us to see our first of the multi-island endemics such as Sanford’s Sea Eagle, Pied Goshawk, Solomons Cockatoo, Yellow-bibbed Lory, Cardinal Lory, MacKinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove, Ultramarine Kingfisher, Woodford’s Rail, Buff-necked Coucal, White-billed Crow, Solomons Cuckooshrike, Solomons Monarch, Chestnut-bellied Monarch, Steel-blue Flycatcher, Oriole Whistler, Cockerell’s Fantail, Midget Flowerpecker and Brown-winged Starling. More widespread Melanesian endemics include Song Parrot, Finsch’s Pygmy Parrot, Claret-breasted Fruit-Dove, and Melanesian Kingfisher. In terms of the island’s true endemics, we will target Guadalcanal Boobook, Guadalcanal Dwarf Kingfisher, Black-headed Myzomela, and White-eyed Starling (strictly speaking, also shared with Bougainville, but extremely rare there). Anyone wishing to attempt the tougher highland endemics will have to join the extension…
After a two-hour walk from the coast up to Tirotogna Village, we will get settled in before an initial spotlighting session will hopefully already provide us with Solomons Frogmouth. Now placed in an endemic monotypic genus, the species is very far removed from all others across Australasia! West Solomons Boobook is usually fairly easy, but only good luck will allow us to see the amazing Fearful Owl (which is often heard, but typically remains out of sight unless our excellent local team can find us a roost). The other main drawcard here is Black-faced Pitta, the easternmost representative of this excellent family of birds. It is sometimes tricky to see, but we will have several days to maximise our chances. Other specialties include North Solomons Dwarf Kingfisher, Red-capped Myzomela, Yellow-throated White-eye, and the endemic subspecies of Woodford’s Rail.
The most relaxed island on our tour, this entirely flat atoll offers large unafraid endemics and thus excellent opportunities for photography which are not regular elsewhere in the Solomons! The island’s endemics include the stunning Rennell Shrikebill and Bare-eyed White-eye, alongside the imaginatively named Rennell Whistler, Rennell Fantail, Rennell Gerygone, Rennell White-eye, and Rennell Starling. The endemic forms of Australian White Ibis, Song Parrot and Island Thrush may all be considered future splits, and the striking Silver-capped Fruit-Dove is a near-endemic. Much of the other avifauna here has a decidedly Vanuatuan influence, so we can also expect Pacific Kingfisher, Pacific Imperial Pigeon, Cardinal Myzomela and Melanesian Flycatcher. We will also see the endemic Rennell Flying-Fox amongst the more numerous Pacific Flying-Fox.
Aided by island-hopping speedboats, we will be birding across five different islands in this beautiful province. First on Tetepare, the paradoxically-named Dark-eyed White-eye and threatened Solomons Nightjar will be our primary goals, alongside our first Western Isles endemics like the gorgeous White-capped Monarch and Crimson-rumped Myzomela. This is the best site for Melanesian Megapode and Beach Kignfisher, plus we may also see Little Kingfisher, Island Imperial Pigeon, Moustached Treeswift, and potentially Dugong.
Crossing to Kolombangara, we have our first chance for Heinroth’s Shearwater. This poorly-known species is thought to breed inside the crater rim, and we can usually expect to see at least one over the subsequent days while moving between islands in this area. On the island itself, we will search out the flightless endemic Roviana Rail, along with Western Isles endemics like New Georgia Dwarf Kingfisher, Solomons White-eye. This is also the best place to see a particularly stunning Solomons endemic, the Duchess Lorikeet, as well as North Melanesian Cuckooshrike. Those who are able to hike up to the summit of the volcano will hopefully be rewarded with the enigmatic Kolombangara Leaf Warbler, plus Kolombangara Monarch, Kolombangara White-eye, pallescens Island Leaf Warbler, kulambangrae Island Thrush, centralis Oriole Whistler, plus a chance for both Meek’s Lorikeeet and Pale Mountain Pigeon.
Finally we will be based on Gizo, where the Endangered endemic Gizo White-eye will entertain us for one morning. An island-hopping day trip to the north featuring two separate landings will see us targeting Ranongga White-eye and Vella Lavella White-eye, but we should also see lavellae Cockerell’s Fantail. The amazing melanonota Oriole Whistler has not been recorded for some time, and might only reside in the far interiors of these islands.
There is a lot of hiking on “Sky Island” as the locals call it, a name perpetuated by the perpetual clouds. However after we hike in from the coast (aided by a small canoe to make thirteen river crossings!) we will arrive at the welcoming Na’ara Village and be immersed by some exceptional birdlife. This is the best island on which to see three rare Columbiformes: the bizarre Crested Cuckoo-Dove, the scarce Yellow-legged Pigeon, and Chestnut-bellied Imperial Pigeon. There are another fifteen extant endemics: White-headed Fruit-Dove, Makira Dwarf Kingfisher, Makira Boobook, Sooty Myzomela, Makira Honeyeater, Makira Cicadabird, Makira Starling, Makira Fantail, Makira Flycatcher, Makira Thrush, Makira Leaf Warbler, White-collared Monarch, Shade Bush Warbler, Mottled Flowerpecker, and Grey-throated White-eye. The endemic longirostris Spangled Drongo looks like it probably should have been split on sight, and if we have extra time we might be able to spend a morning on the offshore island of Ugi for the all-dark ugiensis Chestnut-bellied Monarch and dark-throated ugiensis Rufous Fantail.
A far-flung outpost of the Solomons, this is the largest island in the Santa Cruz province and holds the Endangered but striking Santa Cruz Shrikebill. There are four other specialties, these being Sanford’s White-eye, Santa Cruz White-eye, Temotu Whistler and Rusty-winged Starling. There is also an endemic orange-breasted form of Pacific Kingfisher, and a rusty-brown endemic race of Rufous Fantail which is almost certainly a split. On a satisfactorily calm day during our stay, we will make the crossing to Tinakula, a small volcano to the north of Nendo. Being entirely rat and cat free, endangered Santa Cruz Ground Doves persist here in good numbers, despite being extinct elsewhere in the Solomons and extremely rare in the Vanuatu highlands (the species may soon be uplisted to Critically Endangered). Similarly, Palm Lorikeets are prolific, and we should see these threatened parrots feeding in coconut palms. Other birds on Tinakula include the endemic, distinct subspecies of Polynesian Starling (separated from the nearest birds in Fiji by over 1000 kilometres of open water), wintering Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoos, and the Melanesian endemic Red-bellied Fruit Dove. Tropical Shearwaters are thought to breed on the island, and may be seen when crossing from Nendo.
This island holds not only the least endemics, but also the least accessible forest! Nevertheless, we hope to record Red-vested Myzomela, Malaita White-eye, Malaita Dwarf Kingfisher, and Malaita Boobook (which at the time of writing has never been photographed, though we heard it on our last visit!). Malaita Fantail is similarly unknown, occuring only on the highest peaks, so we will aim to explore any new roads which might get us to the right altitude! Several distinct endemic subspecies include Woodford’s Rail, Cockerell’s Fantail, Solomons Monarch, Solomons Cuckooshrike, and a white-eyed form of Brown-winged Starling.
GUADALCANAL HIGHLANDS EXTENSION
This expedition will be extremely strenuous (more so than the main tour), and requires three full days of off-trail hiking to reach our camp on the upper slopes of Mount Popomanaseu behind Honiara. We will have a team of machette-weilding porters, but the going will still be tough. The rewards however are great, with avian specialties here having only been seen by a very small handful of mostly historical birders! The top bird is of course the near-mythical Moustached Kingfisher, but we will also be expecting the lovely Hooded Whistler, Guadalcanal Honeyeater, Guadalcanal Fantail, Guadalcanal Thrush, Guadalcanal Thicketbird and Gudalcanal White-eye, plus Meek’s Lorikeet, Pale Mountain Pigeon, becki Island Leaf Warbler, and sladeni Island Thrush.
Cost: $ 15,600
Deposit: $ 1,500
Single room supplement: $ 750
Cost: $ TBC
Single room supplement: N/A
Accommodation: The town-based hotels in Honiara, Santa Isabel, Malaita and Gizo are of good standard, but we will otherwise be staying in a mix of basic guesthouses and huts, usually with cold water and shared facilities. There is only one night of actual camping, and only for those who choose the make the very tough hike up Kolombangara. The optional Guadalcanal Highlands Extension will be all camping.
Walking difficulty: This is a strenuous tour, maybe more so than any of our other tours. To ensure full participation, participants should be prepared for regular hikes (often on consecutive days) exceeding 4 hours on steep and muddy trails. In particular, the walk from Na’ara to the ridge at Hauta on Makira is tough (some participants often opt to remain at Na’ara) and the ascent of Kolombangara is extremely tough (most participants should not attempt the final summit walk).
Tour cost includes: All accommodation, main meals, drinking water, internal flights (as stated in itinerary), overland transport, tips to local drivers and guides, travel permits, entrance fees, and guide fees.
Tour cost excludes: International flights and departure taxes to and from Honiara Airport, visa, travel insurance, tips to tour leaders, laundry, drinks and other items of a personal nature.