Bats of New Caledonia

France in the Middle of the Pacific

I really could not think of a better way to describe New Caledonia. And sadly, I do not mean this in a good way. After visiting Fiji and Solomon Islands, what a shock it was to land in New Caledonia. Apart from the climate, vegetation and the occasional Coconut Lorikeet flying over, there isn’t much to separate this from France. The people there are, unfortunately, quite far from having the kindness of heart of the people of the rest of Melanesia. As for the true Melanesians, they seem to be considered as inferior because of their way of life. Visiting a village in Poya reminded me a lot more of Guadalcanal than the rest of New Caledonia.

But you did not come here to hear me rant about this country, you came to learn about bats.

Sunset over Nouméa and the ocean nearby that I had visited while scuba diving earlier that day.
The very cute Yellow-bellied Flyrobin, endemic to New Caledonia.
View from deep inside the Park de la Rivière bleue, where I saw most of the endemic bird species.

On my first evening there I went up to Koghi, one of the few places where Nyctophilus nebulosus has ever been sighted. This extremely rare bat has rarely been observed, and its echolocation call has never been recorded. I was lucky enough to record it and even see it hunting. The identification of the call was fairly straightforward as it is the only Nyctophilus on the island and the calls of that genus are very distinctive. I compared my recordings with recordings from Australia where there are a number of Nyctophilus species. Another endemic, Chalinolobus neocaledonicus was also present as well as Miniopterus spp. According to the literature, M. australis and M. macrocneme are indistinguishable based on recordings. That is possibly due to a lack of research. Further down the road, on the way back to Nouméa, I had a few more contacts of Miniopterus spp, which seemed to be really enjoying the many street lights.

The New Caledonian bat fauna comprises 9 species, of which one, Miniopterus robustior, is restricted to Lifou and Ouvéa, two small offshore islands, to the North of Grande Terre, the main island. Of the remaining eight, I had seen two already, Pteropus tonganus and Miniopterus australis. Given than M. macrocneme isn’t reliably identifiable by its call, that meant I could see a maximum of five new species, all of them endemics.

The echolocation call of Nyctophilus nebulosus (with Chalinolobus neocaledonicus).

I managed to get to Poya and a nearby cave that is home to Notopteris neocaledonica, the New Caledonian Blossom Bat, a species closely related to the Fijian Blossom Bat I saw a couple of weeks earlier. Access to the cave was quite easy and it didn’t take me long to find them. The cave was also home to hundreds of Satin Swiftlets, they even had chicks. Once again I enjoyed the show of the Swiftlets navigating the cave using echolocation. I also discovered it was rather ineffective as I was hit repeatedly. Also present was a Barn Owl. Was it roosting in the cave or simply having a lunch break? It’s hard to tell. Judging by the number of feathers on the ground, it definitely wasn’t the first time a Barn Owl showed up in the cave and snatched a few Swiftlets! It is likely that they eat bats as well.

In a nearby cave, I found Miniopterus spp. as well as Chalinolobus neocaledonicus, a species not known to roost in that cave. This cave also had the most bizarre living organism I saw that day: plants growing in complete darkness. Yet, their leaves were greenish so they were producing chlorophyll. It could be that at some point in the day, light hits the cave just right and the plants get sunlight. I also found a rather cute gecko, as yet unidentified.

Notopteris caledonica, a vital pollinator for both crops and wild plants.
The biggest Flying Fox roost in New Caledonia, home to 10,000+ bats!
One of the caves I visited, home to hundreds of swiflets and a few bats.

In the evening, I visited the biggest Flying Fox roost in New Caledonia. The roost has Pteropus tonganus, P. ornatus, an endemic and the rocks below are home to P. vetulus, a small endemic flying fox favouring roosts under rocks or in caves. A census during the non-breeding period revealed that there were 9,000 bats roosting there. At this time of year, we could be anywhere north of that. Your guess would be as good as mine!

What a great way to end this trip. On the bat side of things, this trip was a success! As for the rest, I definitely will not go back…

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