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When Frederique and I set out at dawn from Noumea to take a photo of the rare and endangered Cagou, Rhynochetos jubatus, in it's natural habitat I really did not expect to succeed. But it would be fun trying. The Cagou only exists in New Caledonia and of the estimated population of 1000 half of them live deep in the wet forests of the 9,045 hectare Parc Provincial de la Riviere Bleue, about an hour's drive from Noumea.
Against all probability we came upon a small family of Cagous close to the largest Kaori tree in New Caledonia - a tree that is over 1000 years old.
Cagous, the national bird of New Caledonia, have wings but cannot fly. They are very shy creatures and when I saw this pair moving in the forest I approached as close as I could without frightening them and then lay flat on the ground and wiggled my finger - trying to make it look like a grub. I was able to coax the female close enough to get an image with my fisheye lens. She cautiously came to within 1.5 metres when the male rushed over and extended his crest, hissing like an angry cat. She put her head down, turned and ran off. The male glared at me for a moment and then followed her into the bush. I did not see them again, although Freddy and I wandered around the forest for about 3 hours.
You can see where this pair have been scratching at the ground searching for small lizards, grubs, insects, earthworms and snails. Cagous mate for life and can live for more than 20 years. The female lays one egg a year and both the male and the female tend the egg and rear the chick. Young cagous may stay on the parent's 10 to 30 hectare territory and familys may have a maximum of 6 birds.
There is a beetle under a leaf close to the camera, hiding from the Cagous. Can you find it?
For information on visiting New Caledonia's wilderness areas download a copy of the Rocket Guide to New Caledonia.
New Caledonia is the closest South Pacific Island to Australia and New Zealand. It is a French Territory and although the official language is French the culture is a blend of Melanesian, European, Polynesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian, and more. There is one large mountainous island called Grande Terre and 6 smaller islands - the three Loyalty Islands, Belep and the Isle of Pines.The islands are remarkably unpopulated and there are vast areas of wilderness. There are hundreds of kilometers of walking treks, camp grounds, more than 42 parks and reserves, and crystal clear rivers with sparkling waterfalls. Almost one third of the population is located in the capital city of Noumea. Nickel mining is the primary industry and is the major contributor to the high standard of living in the country. Grande Terre is surrounded by the second largest barrier reef in the world and the protected lagoon created by this barrier reef is the largest in the world. Listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008, the lagoon is 24,000 square kilometers and supports a diverse and luxuriant fauna of fish and invertebrates.The vibrant, clear and rich colors are one of the first things that visitors notice when they arrive. Noumea has a complete range of hotels, resorts, restaurants, and activities to welcome visitors.