Bill, Al, and Ken had been to New Zealand on a birding trip with me in 2007 and since then Bill had been interested in setting up a trip to Micronesia as his Dad had been stationed on Tinian in WW2. Al had been stationed on Guam for a while, and Ken and I were interested in birding- me to increase my Pacific list and Ken to increase his world list.
I enjoy planning birding trips, but this one was a challenge, as other trip report authors have indicated. I made extensive use of the internet, of course, and used email to contact hotels for bookings (internet is sporadic on some of the islands, however). I essentially booked all of our accommodations and rental cars prior to departure, and we had no problems with any of these. Wherever available, we used 4-person suites to keep cost per person to a minimum. We visited all 9 major islands, which involved a total of 19 separate flights, and took 3 different pelagic trips that we organized. Nevertheless, logistically we had no problems, although Chuuk and the Tol trip were a bit of a nightmare even though we did see the Tol specialties. We also had 4 days on Kosrae, a beautiful place, but should have used a couple of those days on Pohnpei. Despite much effort, I was unable to alter our flights to avoid this. After many permutations of flights, we settled on an itinerary that took us on Continental directly from Hawaii to Guam and through to Palau, where we started the birding part of the trip. We flew to Yap, then Guam, also on Continental, then used Freedom Air in the Marianas. From Guam we flew the Continental “Island Hopper” through Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae, and back to Hawaii via touchdowns at Majuro and Johnston. I contacted 3 different travel agents in attempts to arrange an itinerary that worked for us, but finally my regular travel agent, Holly Kaiser of Via Van Bloom Agency in Lincoln, Nebraska (!) assisted greatly in pricing and booking the flights on Continental. Holly was able to get all of the Continental flights, plus the flights from Omaha, Nebraska to Hawaii and return, for a total of around $2650 per person. I booked the Freedom Air flights myself, for a total of around $285. We rented cars on most islands, except for Yap, where we were driven by our guide and used local taxis, and Chuuk, where we used a local driver for our one land excursion outside our hotel grounds. Our cost per person other than air fares (accommodations, rental cars, 3 boat trips, boat to Ulong, Palau) was $2078, for what I think is a reasonable total trip cost excluding meals of $5013. Meals were generally inexpensive, but standards and prices varied quite a bit between islands. We bought food at grocery stores on several occasions but ate most evening meals and some breakfasts in restaurants.
Once we adjusted to the tropical climate, birding was straightforward. Weather was not a problem, except for our landing on Yap in the middle of Tropical Storm Songda, which cancelled our birding the first day on Yap; we were OK with that, though, as we had arrived on Yap at 3 am. Rain showers were frequent but brief, and in many cases actually refreshing. I used a “dry bag” throughout for my camera etc. We visited the sites most birders had visited previously. We didn’t try for Pohnpei Mountain Starling, and missed Mariana Megapode and Mariana Swiftlet, as well as Pohnpei Cicadabird. Highlights in addition to seeing the endemics were finding the Abbott’s Booby on Rota (thanks to the crow techs!) and getting an excellent photo of a male Yap Cicadabird. In general, the trip was a great adventure and the combination of birds, history, and culture made for an amazing experience.
West Plaza Malakal, Koror, Palau $396 for 3 nights, one room; walking distance to NecoMarine; restaurant adjacent (Pal Bistro).
ESA Bay View Hotel, Colonia, Yap $616 for 3 nights, 2 rooms; very nice location and restaurant. Only $1.50 cab ride downtown.
Summer Holiday Hotel, Garapan, Saipan $220 for 2 nights, 2 rooms; basic but adequate.
Sunrise Motel, Sinapolu, Rota $180 for 2 nights, 2 rooms; funky but adequate.
Day’s Inn, Barrigada, Guam $115 for 2 nights, 2 rooms.
Blue Lagoon Resort, Moen, Chuuk $851 for 4 nights, 2 rooms; worth the extra cost- we found the Chuuk endemics on the grounds and due to security concerns we were unable to bird outside the grounds unaccompanied.
Yvonne’s Hotel, Kolonia, Pohnpei $315 for 3 nights, one room; nice place, small restaurant just OK.
Pacific Treelodge Resort, Lelu, Kosrae $540 for 3 nights, one room; very nice location.
Doug Pratt - was very generous with information, tips, and suggestions, and contributed much to the success of the trip. Doug put us on to the Marianas Crow researchers (“Crow techs”) who were instrumental on Rota.
Glenn McKinlay - a fellow Kiwi and itinerant accountant/birder who joined us on Chuuk and Pohnpei. Glenn’s local knowledge (birds and culture) was invaluable.
Mandy Etpison - despite being extremely busy, gave us some good info on Palau Woodswallow and allowed us to try for Palau Owl at her home.
Tilus Alfonso - we hired Tilus for a day on Yap. He is great company and an excellent birder. World champion betel nut chewer.
Rota Crow Techs - these researchers (Matt, Brette, Cyrus, Jennifer) worked hard to help us find the Rota endemics and were very nice folks.
Mark Michael - boat trip off Rota; was very helpful in trying to locate chum to supplement the cod liver oil I had brought from the US.
Dan Vice – Guam - very helpful with tips regarding boat hire, finding birds on Guam, and the possibility of locating chum for a pelagic trip.
Bill Raynor and Don Buden - provided good info for Pohnpei. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to bird the island properly.
Overview of bird-finding
Our only missed species were Pohnpei Mountain Starling and Mariana Swiftlet. The starling may be extinct although there are tantalizing reports in the last few years; a worthwhile try would take a few days in apparently difficult conditions. We didn’t make an attempt. We flat missed Mariana Swiftlet while concentrating on Mariana Megapode and forgetting that the swiftlet is extirpated from Rota. We tried for the swiftlet on Guam (a long shot) but were unsuccessful. Our other misses are currently considered subspecies but likely will be elevated: Mariana Megapode and Pohnpei Cicadabird. We tried for the megapode on the trail behind the Saipan Korean War Memorial three times and a location in Marpi Forest without success. We tried for the Pohnpei Cicadabird at a few locations while birding on the island, but were unsuccessful. As mentioned earlier, we needed more time on Pohnpei.
Key birds by island are as follows.
Micronesian Myzomela and Micronesian Starling are common and widespread.
The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific – Pratt, Bruner, and Berrett (1987).
Birds of New Zealand, Hawaii, Central and Western Pacific – Ber Van Perlo (2011).
May 17 Left Hawaii 2.15 pm for Guam, left Guam 7.50 pm now May 18, arrived Palau 6.50 pm local time.
May 19 Palau: Ulong, Margie’s Beach and gun emplacement on Urukthapel, Malakal Sewage Lagoon, tidal flats near Malakal Landfill, Palau Pacific Resort ponds.
May 20 Palau: Malakal Sewage Lagoons, Long Island Park, Palau Pacific Resort ponds, outside reef for brief pelagic, Ulong, Etpison home (owls).
May 21 Palau: Baledaob transmitter station, near airport (nightjar).Left for Yap at 1.45 am, arrived there 3.45 am local time.
May 22 Yap: No birding due to Tropical Storm Songda; rained all day, good for catching up on sleep.
May 23 Yap: Around Yap with guide Tilus Alfonso in morning; dock area afternoon for shorebirds.
May 24 Yap: Dock area again, old Japanese airport and “Duck Pond with hired taxi (Ross only).
May 25 Left Yap 2.30 am, arrived Guam 4.30 am. Caught Freedom Air flight for Saipan at 7.30 am, arriving Saipan (with stop at Rota) at 8.30 am. Flight to Tinian, and return to Saipan around 11 am. Korean War Memorial trail.
May 26 Saipan: Korean Memorial trail, Laderan Tangke Trail, Marpi Conservation Area. Left for Rota late afternoon, 30-min flight on Freedom Air.
May 27 Rota: Bird Sanctuary overlook, northwest part of Sabana plateau, lowland areas north of Songsong.
May 28 Rota: Roads in Duge area, northwest edge Sabana plateau, pelagic with Mark Michael. Left for Guam 6 pm.
May 29 Guam: NASA Tracking Station, Andersen AFB.
May 30 Left for Chuuk at 9.30 am, arrived 10.45 am. Birded grounds of Blue Lagoon Resort.
May 31 Chuuk: Japanese Gun, Blue Lagoon Resort grounds.
Jun 1 Chuuk: Mt Winipot on Tol.
Jun 2 Chuuk: Rest day after Tol.
Jun 3 Arrived Pohnpei 2.15 pm. Liduduhniap Falls area,
Jun 4 Pohnpei: Sokeh’s Rock ridge trail, grass area plateau near Kolonia, mangrove area south edge Kolonia.
Jun 5 Pohnpei: Liduduhniap Falls area, Village Inn area, Nan Madol.
Jun 6 Flight to Kosrae at noon. Pacific Treelodge Resort grounds, Lelu Bay.
Jun 7 Kosrae: Drive to Utwe at south end of island, Lelu Island.
Jun 8 Kosrae: Drove some back roads.
Jun 9 Kosrae: Boat trip out from Utwe, drove northeast coast.
Jun 10 Left mid-afternoon for Hawaii via Majuro and Johnston Atoll. Arrived Honolulu 3.15 am.
We left around 9 am for Ulong, about an hour’s ride away, with boatman Joe. The island is a typical Rock Island, but has a picnic area including bathrooms in a flat part of the forest that extends about 100 yards back from the beach. It’s supposedly excellent for Palau Megapode and Palau Ground-Dove. We found megapodes pretty easily (they’re everywhere, including their huge incubation mounds) but trudged around without finding a ground-dove. Very disappointing. But we picked up a few common endemics and decided to move on to another island, Urukthapel, site of Margie’s Beach, another picnic area, and Survivor Palau. We didn’t have to go very far here, finding Giant White-eye, restricted to Urukthapel and Peleliu islands, fairly quickly, and a few more endemics in the small area around the beach- very birdy. We decided to go around the island to its north side and walk up a trail to the site of a WW2 Japanese gun emplacement. On our way down we found a Palau Monarch, another endemic- a small flycatcher. We arrived back at Malakal around noon and decided to visit sewage lagoons and the local landfill. The sewage lagoons are just down the road from our hotel and we picked up a few new species there and decided to come back early next morning as it was so promising. On to the landfill- closed at 3 pm, and we were there around 4 pm. But nearby, when the tide is out, there are extensive coral flats- we had around 20 Rufous Night-Herons foraging there, about 10 Little Egrets, and, the day’s best bird, a Bristle-thighed Curlew. We ended the day by visiting the excellent nature trail at the very upscale Palau Pacific Resort. We went down to the small pond and flushed a probable White-breasted Crake, but no response to our tapes of Rusty-legged Crake, supposed to be in the area.
We started early to visit the sewage lagoons and hit the jackpot, with 3 shorebird species, an Intermediate Egret, and a bird that we variously identified in flight as an accipiter of some sort, then a Chinese Goshawk, and finally, after I looked at my pictures, it turned out to be either an Oriental or Common Cuckoo, a rare bird either way for Palau. We headed for Long Island Park, apparently a good place for Cicadabird. We finally found a female, but spent most of the time trying to see Palau Fruit-Doves well. They’re very common and noisy, but maddeningly hard to see. Two flyover Nicobar Pigeons were good to get. We decided to check out the landfill again, disappointing, no birds, lots of garbage. We then went from the ridiculous to the sublime and returned to the Palau Pacific Resort but had no luck with the crakes. We decided to head over to Neco Marine ahead of our scheduled boat trip and asked Joe (the boatman) to take us an hour earlier than scheduled, which was no problem. The plan was to look for Tropical Shearwaters quite far south near Peleliu, but we lucked onto about a dozen feeding with noddies about 2 miles outside the reef from Malakal. Decided then to just head straight east about 4 miles, where Joe said there was a bit of a drop-off, and set out a slick of cod liver oil to attract seabirds. After drifting around the slick for an hour with nary a bird showing up, we decided that there probably aren’t many tubenoses other than Tropical Shearwaters in the area in late May. Cutting our losses, we decided to re-visit Ulong and try again for the legendary Palau Ground-Dove. Took about an hour to get there, as the tide was low and we had to skirt several exposed reefs. And, when we finally arrived, we had to float around offshore until the tide came in enough to allow us to get close enough to the shore to land. Joe skillfully guided the boat between coral heads and bumped up against the shore where we could land (wade ashore). After about an hour looking for the dove, I finally spotted one walking along ahead of us- it disappeared and I wondered if it had been a baby megapode (both are very dark) or even a rat- the place is over-run with big rats. However it re-appeared and Al got a good look, but Bill got only a glimpse and Ken didn’t see it. We spent about another hour looking but had no luck. Meanwhile, however, Ken found an Eclectus Parrot (beautiful red female- males are green) and even had the scope on it when I emerged from the forest onto the beach. We headed back to Malakal, watching the beautiful sunset on the way. We discussed among ourselves whether and how much to tip Joe and decided on a generous $20 each, $80 total, partly because we thought he might need the money. I gave it to him when we got back to the dock and were chagrined to watch Joe walk over to his BMW 750 and drive off! After getting off the boat at Neco Marine, Mandy Etpison, co-author with Doug Pratt of the excellent book “Birds and Bats of Palau” and owner of Neco Marine, came over to meet us and gave us some good info about seeing Palau Owl and the endemic Palau Woodswallow. We’ll drive north tomorrow for the woodswallow, but although we heard several owls, one of which was only 20 feet from us, we couldn’t get the spotlight on one.
We started out at the sewage lagoons but nothing new, then decided to drive up to north Babeldaob to look for the Palau Woodswallows; Mandy said they were at the antenna farm on the highest point on Babeldoab, but we could drive in the 1.5 miles or so. We made it about 400 yards in our small rental and parked and walked. In the 85 degrees and 85% humidity the 400 foot gain in altitude and mile plus walk was very tough. But we found the swallows! Very dapper black and white birds. The trek pretty much wiped us out and we had to check out at noon, so drove back to the motel. Paid the Neco Marine bill- $1499 for 2 boat charters and the 80 gall of $5.40 gas, and 3 nights at the hotel, so split 4 ways about $375 each.
We pretty much goofed around during the very humid and hot afternoon, although a visit to the nice Etpison Museum was very interesting. Around dusk we headed for an area where Jungle Nightjars had been heard previously. We played the tape and were pretty much ambushed by one that flew right up to us and circled around before leaving. We decided to head for the airport for our late night flight. At least Tilus Alfonso will be picking us up on Yap at 3.45 am!
We were dog tired on Saturday due to the heat and the long walk up to the woodswallow place, but we still had to endure the strange flight times into Yap. All flights are scheduled to arrive and depart between the hours of 1 am and 5 am. Ours left Palau at 1.45 am, so we checked in early at 10.30 pm and headed for the air-conditioned departure lounge, where we mostly nodded off until departure- a long 3 hrs. We were all very tired but it was only a one hour flight (plus a time zone change) arriving on Yap at 3.45 am local time. We finally took off, the pilot announcing that at Yap there were “a few showers”, but it wasn’t until after we landed and were being driven to our hotel that we learned we had landed in the middle of Tropical Storm Songda! Wind speeds were around 40 mph, just under typhoon (hurricane) level. I noticed that our approach was very wobbly and driving rain was visible- the pilot finally dropped the plane onto the runway and I felt the plane lurch left- later Al (an air force guy) said the left wing-tip dropped but the pilot corrected it before it touched the ground. It later became a Category 5 typhoon (= hurricane). All very exciting, especially after the fact. Tilus was there to take us to the ESA Hotel after a 45-min delay getting our luggage. The rain was a godsend in a way, as we really needed some sleep and wouldn’t be able to go out birding anyway; as well, Yap is very conservative and nothing happens on Sunday anyway. The air finally was cool because of the rain after Palau’s heat. We were shown our rooms in the very nice ESA Hotel, right on the lagoon at Colonia, the capital. Of course it was dark and stormy, so we hit the sack and I slept for 4 hours, getting up at about 9 am. The Hotel has a nice restaurant and very nice, friendly staff, mostly relatives of Tilus- his family (the Alfonso family) has run the hotel for 30 years, building the current version in 1991. After a very relaxing chat after dinner on the patio, we all went to bed after an enjoyable but wet first day on Yap. We’re looking forward to a great day with Tilus tomorrow- he sat with us at breakfast and is very knowledgeable about birds and understands the concept of birding!
This was the day with Tilus- he was recommended to us by Doug Pratt. We started at 6.30 with coffee and despite the generally overcast and showery weather headed to a spot near town where Tilus had found the White-headed Ground-Dove regularly- sure enough, after 5 mins or so, there one was. I even managed to get a couple of decent pics despite the low light. I spent the next hour trying to manipulate my camera settings so as to get pics, but pretty much without success. We spent the next 3 hours driving around the south of the island (with a short break for breakfast back at the hotel) and picked up the 5 endemics- the ground-dove, plus the two white-eyes, the beautiful black-and-white Yap Monarch, and the Cicadabird! Cicadabird is supposedly the toughest, and in a way, Tilus helped us find it by stopping at a place to go to the bathroom, while we looked in the bush behind the facility and lo and behold, there in the open was a male Yap Cicadabird- I got 2 great pics- very similar to the common Micronesian Starling, but with dark eyes (the starling’s are white or pale at all ages). Female Yap Cicadabirds are rusty brown. Another highlight was a flyby Oriental/Common Cuckoo- it didn’t stop. We also found Tufted Ducks and a male Eurasian Wigeon on a pond near the old Japanese airfield. After lunch we drove to the north end of the island looking for the large Micronesian Imperial-Pigeon and I finally heard one. Walking towards the calling, it suddenly flew across the road giving us a good look. We spent the rest of the afternoon along the south shore and in the harbor and sewage treatment plant areas looking for shorebirds with pretty good success. Highlights were a Greater Sand-Plover in almost breeding plumage, about 4 Whimbrels, and a Grey-tailed Tattler. The latter is most often encountered in the western Pacific in the western Carolines; we did see 10-15 Wandering Tattlers, the expected species. I photographed the Grey-tailed and it was noticeably paler than Wandering, with a bold eyeline extending back past the eye; as well, we heard its call several times, a 1-2 note whistle. Driving around the low areas we saw about 10 White-breasted Crakes, a type of rail. I highly recommend Tilus- there’s no way we could have found the places he took us to, and he knew how to ask permission when we entered a new community’s land. In the evening we ordered a cab to take us downtown to eat (the ESA restaurant was closed for a private function) as it was raining, and found that price was hard to take: $1.00. The meal at the Oasis Restaurant in downtown Colonia was excellent- I had coconut curried chicken (plus a Heineken- there’s no local Yap brew). The Hotel arranged to come and get us after the meal- they are very nice folks indeed.
We woke to a steady drizzle so chilled for a while until it let up; we had breakfast of course- same old bacon and eggs aka “American Breakfast”. Breakfast was livened up by the appearances of 2 interesting birds; one an excellent find, the other ultimately disappointing! The good one was a White-winged Tern feeding over the lagoon out from our hotel; photos confirmed the identification. The “disappointment” was a booby perched just along the edge of the lagoon on a house verandah railing that we dutifully photographed and identified as an immature Red-footed. Soon, however, a couple of the locals told us it was a pet- the owner was actually in the restaurant and he confirmed it was his! After breakfast we decided to go back to the dock area to check for any new shorebirds. It was high tide, and we found 3 stints on a puddle. The photos suggested 2 were clearly Red-necked, but the 3rd had us thinking Little Stint, a rarity for Micronesia. [Later note: probably just a Red-necked Stint.] We birded along the roadsides and back to the hotel. After lunch I decided I needed better pics of the birds we found around the old Japanese airfield during yesterday’s wet start with Tilus. I hired a cab and driver for 2 hrs ($40) and was pleasantly surprised to find the driver was a young lady named Tini who spoke excellent English. We drove down to the airfield, stopping first at the “duck pond”, but no new ducks were there. Then Tini drove us down to the nearby village and asked permission and I paid the “entry fee” of $5.00. Tini told me that the lady at the village thought it was funny that I had already taken photos before asking permission! Having local help in these situations is invaluable. I then went into the bush at a couple of spots and got some great photos of endemics, plus found 2 WW2 Japanese plane wrecks- a bomber and a fighter. There is a lot of WW2 history in these islands. Very happy with my couple of hours and some good conversation with Tini, I got back to the hotel around 4 pm. We had dinner at 6 pm and took about a 3-hour nap before the cell phone alarm went off at 11.30 pm. Tilus took us to the airport for our 2.30 am departure for Guam.
We arrived at the Yap airport and checked in with no problems, then flew to Guam, arriving in good time around 4.30 am, and left on time at 7.30 am on a 2-engine prop plane (Shorts 360) which stopped at Rota and then on to Saipan. Arrived Saipan around 8.30 am. This day was a logistical challenge; we needed to fly to Tinian and back (10 min flight) rent a car on each island, then get up into northern Saipan in one day. We first rented a car at Saipan right after we arrived and stashed our luggage in the trunk and parked it, then headed back to the airport nearby to fly to Tinian. I’d made reservations with Freedom Air, the small local Mariana Islands carrier so we could be sure to keep on schedule. Well—they messed around, not honoring our reservations until I got upset and they actually checked and found that we really were in their system. Seems most of the passengers are just walkups. We finally left for Tinian at 10.30 am, 1.5 hrs late. Rental car was no problem on Tinian. We had good luck on Tinian- found the one target bird there, the Tinian Monarch, which was common. We also visited the airfield from where the Enola Gay departed and also where Bill’s Dad piloted bombers in WW2. We returned to the Tinian airport to find that Freedom Air had dissed our reservations again- we were booked to return at 11 am, but of course we were late because of their mess-up in Saipan. Finally got on the road on Saipan around 2 pm. We had found some of the Saipan endemic target birds on Tinian, so went straight to the forest behind the Korean Memorial Park in northwest Saipan. There are lots of memorials and monuments for those who died under terrible conditions- all combatants are memorialized by different memorial parks. We walked into the forest looking for megapodes- we didn’t get lucky, but did find the other endemics- Golden White-eye was just that- a striking bird, not at all reminiscent of a Zosterops (typical) white-eye in its behavior, and we had about 8 ground-doves fly by. Because of our lack of sleep, we finally gave up and went back to the hotel around 4.30 pm. Not a patch on the wonderful ESA on Yap, but only $55 for a double room!
After breakfast we geared up to spend some time and energy looking for the megapode. We headed for the Korean Memorial Park and took the trail at its southeast corner. We thrashed around for a couple of hours without success, and dejectedly decided to try Plan B, the Laderan Tangke Trail. Just before the trailhead there’s a sweeping curve inside which is a good area of habitat for the Nightingale Reed-Warbler- a loud singer with a huge bill for a bird about robin size or smaller. We could hear one singing, and a couple of brief bursts on the tape brought it right in for good looks and pics. On the way up to the trail we had good looks at some Orange-cheeked Waxbills, pretty little finches, opposite the Newk grocery store. I’ve seen the trail’s name spelled many ways, but the trailhead sign has it Laderan Tangke. Anyway, as Yogi Bera says, when we came to the main fork in the trail behind the sign, we took it. Turned out the right fork (Cliff Trail) was better as the left fork (Old Forest Trail) was open with lots of grass and ground cover. We followed the Cliff Trail for about a half mile with no luck. We didn’t get a response to our tape at either the Korean Memorial track or at Laderan Tangke- perhaps the birds aren’t territorial at this time of year? As we were returning to our car, we ran into Johnny from Oregon, a tech working on a Univ of Washington ecology project. He very kindly offered to lead us to his next stop at the Marpi Conservation Area where they had a research grid set out and where he had seen megapodes quite frequently. He did mention that there was unexploded ordnance in the area, and even a hand grenade that he had almost stepped on a few times. We followed him into the area, about a half mile walk on a so-so track, and waited there for about a half hour, but again, no luck, not even a response to the tape. I did get great shots of the beautiful Golden White-eye though; it reminds me of New Zealand Yellowhead. We thanked Johnny for his help and trudged back to the car. We felt we had worked pretty hard on the darn bird but the cards just weren’t falling our way. Oh well, we’ll use a checklist that hasn’t separated the two megapodes (Palau and Marianas) into different species!!! (just kidding…..). As it was around 1 pm by now, we switched to tourist mode and drove over to the nearby Suicide Cliffs memorial. Afterwards, we went down to Bird Island Sanctuary, but all we saw was lots of Brown Noddies flying around and a very excited guy who told us when we arrived that there was a huge snake floating in the water down below! Of course we had to check it out- it was a floating log! We headed on over to the airport, returned our rental for $120 total for the 2 days- pretty good split 4 ways. We checked in early for the 30-min flight to Rota. I called the “Crow Techs”, researching the endangered Marianas Crow, and spoke to Matt (Saipan to Rota is a local call- Freedom Air kindly let me use their office phone). Also confirmed our next 3 nights on Rota at the Sunrise Hotel, and we’ll rent a car when we get to Rota. Flight went well, but I was worried there’d be a car for us at Rota- the Islander office at Saipan said they were out, but might have one come in before we get there- we got lucky! Headed off to find the Sunrise Hotel- very funky place about 2 miles south of the airport. Went past it but found it later and turned in for a good sleep.
We were scheduled to meet the Crow Techs at 7.30 am at the Bird Sanctuary Overlook, and Matt and Brette were waiting at the car park, ready to show us the track to a lookout right over the nesting boobies in the bird sanctuary, which is an area of coastal forest set aside in the northeast part of Rota. It is also a good spot for the endangered Marianas Crow. The track was about ¾ mile through bush and ended at an overlook perched over a 200-foot sheer cliff. We did get a glimpse of two crows on the way in, and the views of the nesting boobies below the overlook were great. Our main goal at this place was to see a lone Abbott’s Booby that has been hanging around here for a few years now, totally lost, as its species breeds only on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean! This bird is the only Abbott’s Booby to be reported in the Pacific Ocean. We sat in the hot sun for a couple of hours, getting numerous flight shots of different-aged boobies (Red-footed and Brown). Two Mariana Crows did a brief flight out over the cliff and back- they don’t fly very well in wind! Matt and Brette thought they were the same two we had glimpsed in the bush. Then finally, there it was! The Abbott’s Booby- much larger than the other boobies, with its black upperwings and white plumage and long pale yellow bill- its wings were long, and two-folded, so it looked a bit like an albatross when soaring. Wonderful! We drove back to town, and on down to Songsong, where we were to meet Cyrus and Jennifer, two more crow techs, who were to take us to places for the Rota Bridled White-eye and the Marianas Crow. We spent a couple of hours tracking a retiring group of white-eyes, learning the calls well, and finally got decent views of them high in the trees. Cyrus and Jennifer then took us to a spot where a transmittered crow was located and we were carefully shown one of the birds so as not to disturb it. We really appreciated the hard work of all the crow techs- they really added a lot to our Rota visit! We headed for the Sunset Hotel and pretty much slept solidly from 8 pm until our early wakeup next morning. We have had no internet access for a few days now, but Guam should solve that.
We broke our heavy sleep and got up at 5 am in order to drive a few back roads in northeast Rota before it became too light to look for Guam Rail. After trying a few tracks, we got lucky! Ken spotted a single rail along the right side of the road in some short grass. We stopped the car, and were treated to about 5 minutes of this extinct-in-the-wild bird. Elated, we drove back to Sinapalo and, as it was still only 6 am, tried the white-eye spot south of Sinapalo. We finally arrived there, on the northeast slopes of the Sabana Plateau, and encountered nice forest, but were chased off by hordes of mosquitos! After breakfast we poked around a bit in Songsong then went to West Dock, where we met Mark Michael, who was to take us out on a pelagic boat trip. Mark was originally from Pennsylvania, but has lived on Rota for many years. We left the harbor around 10 am with Mark in his comfortable 25-footer twin-outboard boat, and crow techs Matt and Brette. Mark mostly does fishing charters, but most such operators are keen to diversify, and he was very interested in how we looked for seabirds. We had 2 pints of cod liver oil and 3 5-gallon buckets of fish scraps that we threw overboard and then waited for something to show up. Soon a Bulwer’s Petrel, appeared and we thought we were on to something, parked as we were 9 miles south of Rota, and a new bird for all of us already! However in the next 3 hours we only came up with about a dozen more Bulwer’s Petrels, still pretty exciting. We returned to Songsong around 1.30 pm, and, because we had pretty much cleaned up on Rota, decided to try to change our Guam flight from tomorrow night to tonight. We headed for the Freedom Air counter at the Rota International Airport (“international” because it has flights to Guam) and the guy there said “sure- it’s empty”. I asked if he needed our names or anything, and he said, “no, just be here around 6 pm”. After all, this is Rota! So I made some calls from the Sunrise to add a night to our motel booking and a day to our rental car. This will allow us time on Guam to look for the quail and francolin there as well as the Mariana Swiftlet, which we embarrassedly missed on Saipan and is gone from Rota. Flight to Guam was uneventful, and we picked up our rental car and drove to the Day’s Inn. We zonked out after setting the alarm for 4.45 am for an early start on the quail.
We made our early start to drive the 30-40 mins south to the site of the NASA Tracking Station near Talofofo Falls. The station is in an area of extensive grassland, and has a large area of mowed grass around it. Soon after we arrived, Bill spotted a male Black Francolin, a pheasant-sized game-bird, on top of a large volcanic rock. After a few more minutes, I spotted a beautiful male Blue-breasted Quail in the mowed grass. He was announcing his presence too, with a squeaky call which he seemed proud of nonetheless. We then headed to a spot where we had a 5% chance of seeing a Mariana Swiftlet over a distant ridge on an off-limits military installation. No luck, so this species becomes our second miss of the trip- I messed up by not concentrating on it on Saipan. Our other miss, the Mariana Megapode, was on Saipan too. We spent the rest of the day as tourists, visiting the well-done War in the Pacific Museum and driving around Andersen AFB on Al’s now well-used military pass. There were several more Black Francolins on the base, and lots of snake traps hanging on fences and trees around the airport perimeter to stop the Brown Tree Snake from being transported by military aircraft to other islands like Rota and Saipan. Guam bush is strange with no birds at all, having been wiped out by the snake. We were glad to have this bonus day on Guam- an interesting place for many reasons. Bill leaves around 3.30 am in the morning to return to the US, and we leave for Chuuk at 9.30 am. I called the Truk Stop Hotel at Chuuk to confirm our reservations, but they didn’t have any! Apparently the email address on their website doesn’t work, although it never bounced back. I kept trying to confirm by email before we left for the trip, but assumed that no replies merely meant that their email was out of order. Blue Lagoon had similar problems, but they did have us listed for two days. I called them and they had no problem setting us up for all 4 nights. Anything to be out of Weno, a town with a very poor reputation.
We got up at 6.30 am and made our way leisurely to the rental car drop-off and checked in for the flight to Chuuk, scheduled for 9.30 am. All went smoothly and we departed on time for the 75 min flight. We got to Chuuk and through the formalities and our driver from the Blue Lagoon was there to take us to the resort. I’d read a lot about how bad Weno (the main town) was, but was shocked to see the conditions of the road, buildings, and general appearance. The road is atrocious, the problems enhanced by attempts to install a drain right down the middle. The pavement has gone and potholes are huge. We drove through several large waterholes, one of which the driver called “highway swimming pool”. We passed the Truk Stop Hotel where my friend and fellow Kiwi Glenn McKinlay is staying tonight (he will stay with us tomorrow night). Finally we negotiated the mere 3.6 miles to our Hotel in no more than 35 mins, and it was like passing into a different world- coconut trees scattered around a grass lawn, with very nice motel buildings scattered around the lobby and restaurant building. We were all relieved to be here rather than in Weno at the Truk Stop! I went to the dive shop associated with the Hotel; the main clientele is divers observing the 70+ wrecks of Japanese warships sunk during one US attack called Operation. However once every 5 years or so, a group of crazy birders wants the dive shop to haul them across the lagoon 18 miles or so to an island called Tol, where there are 2 species of bird that are found nowhere else. This was set for 7:30 am Weds, so we’ll have Tuesday to find the birds that are on the main island Moen, where we are. After lunch we wandered around the grounds looking for birds- the lady at the lobby desk frowned and nodded “no” when I asked if and how far we could wander outside the resort. Pretty clear what the limits are- there is a security guard at the gate and a security presence here at night. Anyway- I little bit of birding gave us several target birds- the Crimson-crowned (Carolines) Fruit-Dove (beautiful), Oceanic Flycatcher (pretty little bird), Caroline Islands Reed-Warbler (several), several Micronesian Starlings and Honeyeaters, as well as several Island Swiftlets. Communications are tough- I tried several times to get Glenn at the Truk Stop without luck, then he left me a message with his cell number. I tried that from my room with no luck, and the office said I could only call a cell number from another cell phone! I borrowed one at the lobby and finally talked to Glenn- he’s to call me at 7 pm in my room. Whew! Of course the internet isn’t working here, either! Glenn called at 7 pm and we’ll leave here at 6 am in the morning for the Japanese Gun Emplacement area on a hill over Weno. We’ll be driven by a Resort employee who will stay with us until we return around 9.30 am. It’s not safe to go anywhere by ourselves. The J-Gun area is very good for birds, plus has a good view overlooking a marsh with interesting waterbirds. Marshes are rare in the Pacific.
We were up at 5.30 am, grabbed a coffee at the restaurant (thanks ladies!) and Felix drove us to the J-Gun site. About the first birds we saw on the way were a couple of Blue-faced Parrotfinches. Braved the road construction and arrived at the entrance to the gun tunnel, which is blasted through solid rock to open out facing the sea and looking over Weno. Beautiful view. The gun is still in place- pretty good condition. We paid $5 each entry fee to the caretaker. We soon picked up the Caroline Islands (Citrine) White-eye- quite yellowish underneath, greenish above. We climbed the slippery stairs (practice for Tol tomorrow??) to get above the gun for an unobstructed view of the swamp below. Soon found about 6 Pacific Black Ducks, a couple of Common Moorhens, and a few Yellow Bitterns plus a Rufous Night-Heron. Glenn showed up around 7.30 and we spent an hour hoping for a ground-dove flyby, but no such luck. We all left around 8.30 am and returned to the hotel, Glenn to work. Skipped lunch and wandered around the grounds a couple of times practicing manual focus for Tol. Around 5.30 pm I sat over by the dock to see if any unusual terns were around, when Al came over and said he’d been looking for me and that they’d seen a ground-dove! So I went over with them to the place in the grounds and waited a while- there was a fruiting tree that’s attracting the doves, both fruit-doves and ground-doves. After a while, a ground-dove flew in- I got pics and it was a young bird, still with brownish edges to the coverts and minimal white on its breast. Went over to get dinner at 6 pm- with the 50% tax on alcoholic beverages here, the 2 beers cost $11.50 and the meal and dessert $12.75! We went to bed after arranging boxed lunches and plenty of water for tomorrow’s big adventure: 18 miles across the lagoon by boat and about 1000 ft up Mt Winipot, but we should see 2 of the world’s rarest birds!
This was the day of the long-anticipated trip to Tol. The Blue Lagoon had arranged with the locals on Tol for our visit and were to provide a boat and guide. As it turned out, Blue Lagoon did a poor job of arranging with locals on Tol how they were to be paid, who would accompany us, etc. Soon after we arrived, the local councilman was upset with us because he had no idea we were coming, and after a bit of a speech, with help from another elder, we were told we were OK to go up the mountain. About 7 hours later, after we returned, a state policeman from the local substation on Tol had showed up and essentially guarded Al for 4 hours from being hassled by some local teenagers. Al had come back early as the track was so bad. The policemen told Al that standard procedure for visitors to Tol is to assign a policeman or security to the group to protect us! He also said that there are 3 “bad” islands for non-locals to visit, and Tol is the worst. We were told by Matt, the apparent leader of the 15 (!) locals who went up with us, and who spoke good English, that two of the older guys with us were in fact local policemen. These two did a great job helping us up and down- the track was so steep and slippery because of the drizzle that we needed to be held onto almost the entire way! When we got back down, all of the locals wanted to be paid. After quite a bit of back-and-forth, surrounded by these guys with machetes, I paid most of them something, trying to favor the ones who had been most helpful. We shouldn’t have been exposed to this- we think Blue Lagoon should have notified the local village that we were coming and made arrangements to limit the number of folks accompanying us to 8, and made arrangements as to how they would be paid. We finally made it through the payment gauntlet in the village and on to the boat, where the state policeman was present. Ultimately cost us $190 in payments, only $40 more than the Dive Shop had originally quoted us, which we understood the Dive Shop would pay to the local guides. The worst thing about these situations is that we don’t have the understanding of local culture to know if we are in a potentially dangerous situation or not. Having said all that, WE SAW THE BIRDS! The conditions were tough- rain and drizzle and bad light conditions, but we persevered and had great looks at a pair of Truk Monarchs- the male is white- quite ghostly flitting about in the bush- and the female is dark brown. We actually found their nest- a straggly affair about 30 ft up in a small tree. The Truk White-eye was tougher- it took us quite a while to get good looks at the very top of the mountain (1445 ft). The white-eyes are canopy feeders, so looking straight up with white sky behind made for tough viewing. We started the long trek down the mountain, harder than going up due to the slipperyness. I actually did away with my old sneakers and went most of the way in bare feet- much better traction! I also spent quite a bit of time sliding on my rear end, so immediately tossed the old jeans and T-shirt when I got back! The folks at the Resort had quite a laugh at me in my bedraggled and dirty attire. It was such a relief to get back to the Resort and take a shower- I felt like I’d been in a rugby game, but thanks to Jacque’s Boot Camp I held up well physically except for one headlong fall onto some rocks when my feet got caught up in some vines- skinned up my fore-arm as I landed but otherwise no damage. Had dinner and went to bed, although couldn’t sleep due to running through the day’s events in my mind and thinking about what to tell Blue Lagoon. Glenn was a great help with his better understanding of how things work on Chuuk- I can’t recommend anyone coming here except perhaps for the wreck diving in the lagoon.
I didn’t set the alarm, but still woke up around 6 am. Glenn had gotten up ready to go to work. He will fly to Pohnpei with us tomorrow. Weather today is showery and blustery- glad we went yesterday as it’s probably a bit rough out on the lagoon. Got to talk with Alex early afternoon at the Dive Shop- he was apologetic about our treatment on Tol- explained that procedures have changed there and that future birding visitors have to arrange the visit through Mason Fritz at the Chuuk Visitors Bureau next to the Truk Stop Hotel. Apparently Mr. Fritz has relatives at Munien village on Tol. Apparently the Tol locals were not happy about our visit; Alex said it was the first incident like that since birders had been visiting there. We did not pay the $150 guide fee to the Dive Shop, as we paid it (and then some) directly to the Tol folks. The boat rental (including fuel and driver) was the $500 originally quoted; this was paid to the Dive Shop. We rested up during the afternoon, had dinner, and went to bed. I slept like a rock until 2.15 am, when a strong squall went through. Then back to sleep.
Finally we left Chuuk behind! We had the usual breakfast at 6.30 am, settled up with the Blue Lagoon- total cost not counting food was approx $425 each for the 4 nights, land tour to the Japanese Gun, and the infamous trip to Tol. We headed for the airport at 9 am, check-in and the flight to Pohnpei were uneventful, and we arrived on Pohnpei around 2.15 pm. Leaving the airport was stunning by comparison with Chuuk- the people are happy and smiling, the cars are pretty new, the whole place is clean and tidy. We were picked up by the shuttle from Yvonne’s Hotel, rented a car from the hotel, and drove up to the area of Liduduhniap Falls to find the easier endemics. We found 4 endemics- the flycatcher, lory (small parrot- the state bird of Pohnpei- that is reddish purple), the Gray White-eye, and the fantail. It was drizzling, so not too pleasant, and we headed back down to the town, Kolonia and looked around the causeway to the airport, where we found some Hunstein’s Munias- small finches- for our 5th new bird of the day. Back at the hotel, Glenn came over at 7 pm and we had dinner at Kia’s, the restaurant attached to our hotel. OK, but nothing great. Went to bed at 9 pm (actually 8 pm on Chuuk), with alarms set for 5.30 am for an early start.
After being rudely awakened by a horrendously loud generator starting up at the telecom station next door at 1.17 am, we got back to sleep, only to be awakened by our alarms at 5.30 am. Glenn picked us up at 6 to head up Sokeh’s Rock. We drove a good part of the way up to a small parking area and walked about a mile along a mostly easy track to the summit, where there are two large antennas at an old Japanese searchlight platform. The track was excellent for birds, and we found all the endemics (except Cicadabird and the flycatcher) including Micronesian Kingfisher and Long-billed White-eye, the latter for a sweep of the Micronesian Rukia white-eyes! The Long-billed has pinkish legs that are pretty obvious from below, as were the orangeish legs of the Truk White-eye, and a long bill. We also had 4 Micronesian Imperial-Pigeons, a good thing according to Glenn, as the locals hunt them. The view from the top was spectacular of Kolonia, the harbor, and the airport. After lunch, Glenn and I, with 2 local kids who knew the track, took off up the mountain on the north side of Kolonia to the Short-eared Owl grassland. Not nearly as tough as Tol, but about 400 ft straight up- they don’t zig zag up mountains like we do! We spent about 90 mins up there but no sign of any owls (they’re supposedly diurnal here). Made it back down safely just before torrential rains started again. So what is more logical than finding a marsh and stomping around in the marsh in the rain?? Didn’t find any birds though. Neither did Al and Ken, who were defeated by the rain as well. Went home and flopped into bed, hoping the generator doesn’t fire up at 1.17 am this time.
Got up at 5.45 am planning to head for the Liduduhniap Falls area again in our search for the cicadabird. We spent a couple of hours there, walking south past the falls monument to the water diversion dam, then north at the Y about 400 yards, but without success. Did see Hunstein’s Munias in the grass on the falls road. No Long-billed White-eyes either. Went back to the hotel and had breakfast, then rested for an hour or so and headed for the Village Resort, where we would be leaving at noon for Nan Madol (more later). The resort has a very nice restaurant where we had a light lunch and spent some time watching from the open restaurant in hopes a cicadabird would come by. No luck, here, either, but a reed-warbler was singing loudly just below the guard-rail of the restaurant, and we had good looks at lories and tropicbirds. After lunch we headed down the hill to the boat “dock”- really a tie-up point. Nan Madol is an amazing ancient city built from huge basalt columns from a couple of locations in Pohnpei. It is built just above sea level with many “blocks” separated by canals. To get there, it was about a 40-minute boat ride, winding around various reefs, but when we got there the tide wasn’t high enough to allow us to cross the reef to get to Nan Madol. We tried going outside the main lagoon reef to the open sea to look for seabirds, but the swells and chop were too much to allow us to do much other than hang on- swells were about 5 feet (and our boat about 18 ft). We finally were able to make it over to Nan Madol. What an unbelievable sight! The stones are huge- the cornerstones had to be many tons each in weight. The regular building stones are laid cross-wise like logs to make the walls. The main “block” is essentially a burial block for the kings- we saw 3 burial chambers, the largest very impressive indeed. The east wall was about 15 ft high and still largely intact. It is thought Nan Madol was built between 700 AD and 1600 AD and abandoned not long before Europeans arrived on the scene. The paramount chief of Pohnpei lives nearby, and charges $3 to visit. After we had walked around the site, we headed back to the Village Resort, arriving at about 5.30 pm. After dinner we returned to Kolonia.
We decided not to set our alarm clocks this morning- still woke up at 6.45 am. We did the tourist thing in Kolonia, getting some pics of the Spanish Wall, built in the late 1800s as part of a fort, and the nearby remains of a German Church. Al wanted to buy something to read, and found the local library, which was good- even had the same poster of Micronesian birds that Ken had bought in Yap but left behind on Guam! Near the library we saw a lady outside her house and asked directions and it turned out her husband, Norbert (“Nob”) Kalau was born on Yap of German heritage and had some interest in birds. He is President and CEO of Pacific Missionary Aviation, a very helpful organization operating in the western Pacific. PMA is the same group I contacted regarding flying from Yap to Woleai Atoll (White-breasted Waterhen!) and they were very nice and helpful but noted that the airstrip is no longer usable. We told Nob we were looking for a place to search for cicadabird, and he invited us to look from his back yard, which overlooked the area where a cicadabird had been seen before. We sat and watched for about 45 mins, but there wasn’t much movement. We headed back to our Hotel to get ready for our noon departure for the airport and the one-hour flight to Kosrae, our last island! I settled up with Yvonne’s Hotel on the rental car $150/ 3 days and the 3-person room, $315 for 3 nights, total $465 for 3 of us, about $155 each, or only $51/day. The hotel took us to the airport and we went through the usual security procedures and departed for the 4th of the 4 states of FSM. Kosrae is beautiful! Far fewer people than Pohnpei, and the island is lush and pristine. The owner of Pacific Tree Lodge, Mark Stephens (originally from Tennessee- his wife is Italian) picked us up and drove us the 15 minutes to the Lodge, in a beautiful setting on Lelu Bay. The reef is only about 500 yards away and the town and ruins similar to but far less impressive than Nan Madol are within walking distance of the Lodge. Because we found the island’s only endemic bird, the Kosrae Grey White-eye, within about 5 minutes, we’ll be looking for things to do, until the next plane comes through! We do have a pelagic planned- Mark says that about 100 yards outside the reef, the bottom drops off to about 10,000 feet. This might be the shortest-distance pelagic yet! At the back of the Lodge there is a beautiful band of huge mangrove trees, at least 75 ft tall, bordering a lagoon. The Lodge’s restaurant, Bully’s, is built over the lagoon. Dinner there was very nice, in quite an amazing setting. Our accommodation was originally two 2-bed cottages, but we were able to take advantage of an open 4-bed cottage at about half the price!
We woke up to no electricity- soon discovered that there had been a car accident a couple of hundred yards up the road on a curve where a guy had gone off the road, took out a power pole (fiberglass) and hit a tree. The Lodge expects power to be back on by noon or so. Weather is drizzly, still with pretty good prevailing easterly. Mark is taking the boat down to the south end of the island where the sea is calmer for our pelagic tomorrow. In the room there is a fruit bowl with a few bananas (they’re short, 4-5 ins long, but very tasty) and several of the famous Kosrae green tangerines. They are indeed bright green, but fully ripe and very tasty- a bit less sweet that our orange tangerines, but juicy and with a bit of a lime flavor. Power came on around 11.30 am, so we headed over to the restaurant for lunch. After lunch we rented a car from the Lodge for a drive around the east and south of the island. We went to the south end of the island- interesting drive along the coast with the reef essentially right at the shore. Utwe is the village at the south end- we actually went to the baseball field where Glenn found the first Watercock for the Pacific a year ago, but we couldn’t find it- a long shot for sure, but cats and kids probably shortened its life. Headed back to the Lodge around 5 pm. Had dinner at Bully’s and then—Movie Night!!! They roll down a white sheet and have a very good DVD player/projector. Only problem was the shadow of one of the fans on the screen- when there was a car chase I found myself saying “watch out for the fan!” Went to bed around 9 pm.
Still waiting for the sea to calm down for our boat trip- doesn’t look good for today. The wind has switched from southeasterly to northeasterly which means we’re less exposed off the south end of the island at Utwe- looks as though we’ll head out tomorrow morning. Kosrae has far fewer land birds than Pohnpei- other than the expected shorebirds, we’ll have to add a few seabirds! After lunch we took a drive around to the airport side of the island- not much there- and drove up a road about a mile into the interior, but nothing there either. We did get past mangroves and into some native forest. The paucity of woodland birds is really noticeable. Got back to the Lodge and Al noticed his upper lip was swelling in some sort of allergic reaction. We went over to see Mark and wife Maria kindly offered to drive Al to the hospital in Tofol, about 5 miles south- Tofol is the administrative center of the island. There are 2 doctors, at least one at the hospital at all times, both Filipinos. They gave Al benadryl and offered an atropine shot which he refused. The cost? Nothing, although they said that if Al gets a refill of Benadryl it might cost something. Mark tells us that medical and educational costs are largely covered by the US through the compact agreement, but there is insurance available for $6/month (!) for major surgeries that usually require flying to Guam or Hawaii. Mark says he has it, but most of the locals don’t as it’s too expensive for them. We had dinner when Al got back (took about 90 mins) and went to our cottage. Planning to head for Utwe and the pelagic at 8 am. Hope the seas are cooperative!
We got up at 6.30 am for breakfast and met Mark at the office at 8 for the drive down to Utwe and our pelagic trip. The wind had moved to northeast and so we decided to go straight out until we were in the unobstructed wind- I figured that tubenoses would be in this zone if they were rounding Kosrae on northward migration. We went out about 2 miles past the wind line (about 4 miles in all) but saw no tubenoses on the way out. We put out our last bottle of cod liver oil and waited. Despite a heavy rain shower, the slick held together, but only attracted a couple of large shearwaters and a couple of distant poss pterodromas. I got poor pictures of one of the shearwaters and on the other only a visual. The visual was a Wedge-tailed Shearwater in heavy primary molt and without pale underwings- probably a southerly breeder moving north post-breeding. The other bird looked very dark in the pictures, with relatively long wings and short thin bill. Not sure yet what might be contenders- likely a Short-tailed Shearwater. We also saw in the distance two apparently dark birds with classic pterodroma flight pattern. Although noddies can do this, they normally flap quite a bit as they come out of the scaling part of the flight pattern. No photos- prob can only be listed as “dark pterodroma sp”. After about an hour of drifting in the vicinity of the slick with swells 1-2m, we decided to motor in. We think that there are just low numbers of tubenoses in these tropical waters, most of those that do occur are migrants (thus June is likely a bit late), and that rounding up a good supply of fish chum may not help much. We drove back to the Tafunsek area, birding along the coast. Lots of Reef Egrets around the coast, perhaps 60:40 dark: light, a few tattlers, but no other shorebirds, despite carefully looking at any likely spots. Went over to Bully’s for dinner and had Kosraean soup- bits of chicken in a rice and coconut oil base. Very tasty. We were joined by Rich Mangham, project engineer for the runway resurfacing at the Kosrae Airport, a $34 million contract; he works for the Black Construction company, based in Guam. Later two lawyers, Matt from Australia and Jeff from the US joined our group. Matt and Jeff are legal advisors to different branches of the Kosraean government. We had a fascinating conversation- we discussed military aircraft (Al’s expertise) and, believe it or not, ears and earwax (Ken’s expertise). Nice way to spend our last evening in Micronesia!
Our last day in Micronesia! Bittersweet of course. It has been an amazing journey and will take some time to sink in and think about. But we’re all ready to be at home again. We settled up with the Lodge folks, who have been very helpful and the prices are reasonable. I recommend them highly if anyone has plans to visit Kosrae. Total for 4 nights, 2 days rental car, and boat trip was $935, or around $310 each for the 4 days. As it was raining we pretty much hung around the room until our 1.45 pm departure for the airport. Because we were on the “Island Hopper”, we headed for Kwajalein, which is a US military installation about an hour’s flight. We actually had to get off the plane, though, or at least those in rows 7-37 seats A, B, and C, for a security check. I suppose first class passengers are never under suspicion? Anyway, we got off, taking our carry-ons with us, as anything left behind is confiscated. After about 45 min we got back on and hopped over to Majuro, the main city of Marshall Islands, now an independent republic. This flight was 43 mins - we had to all get off this time, but the ocean breeze was nice. Finally we departed for Honolulu, a 5-hr flight, arriving at 3.15 am Honolulu time, still on June 10 as we crossed back over the International Date Line.
Bulweria bulwerii Bulwer's Petrel: At least 10 seen off southwest Rota May 28, attracted to cod liver oil slicks.
Puffinus pacificus Wedge-tailed Shearwater: One off Rota May 28. One off Kosrae June 9 was in primary molt and darkish below, suggesting a southerly post-breeder.
Puffinus tenuirostris Short-tailed Shearwater: One off Kosrae June 9 was darker overall than Wedge-tailed seen earlier with steeper forehead and smallish-looking bill. No obvious underwing flashes.
Puffinus lherminieri Audubon's Shearwater: Recent authors separate Pacific breeders as P. bailloni Tropical Shearwater, further split by some to include P. dichrous Atoll Shearwater, the breeding taxon on Yap. At least 8 seen just outside reef east of Malakal May 20.
Phaethon rubricauda Red-tailed Tropicbird: At least one over Rota Bird Sanctuary May 27.
Phaethon lepturus White-tailed Tropicbird: Seen commonly throughout, mostly circling lazily over forests.
Sula abbotti Abbott's Booby: The long-staying bird appeared over the Rota Bird Sanctuary around 11.30 am May 27.
Sula sula Red-footed Booby: Good numbers (200+?) at Rota Bird Sanctuary May 27; young fledged and still in nests near fledging. At least 3 brown morph adults seen.
Sula leucogaster Brown Booby: Most numerous at Rota Bird Sanctuary May 27; perhaps 75+. Also a few elsewhere: 5+ Rock Islands, Palau, May 20, one at Pohnpei June 5.
Fregata minor Great Frigatebird: One seen over Rock Islands May 19 (AR). Surprisingly hard to find.
Egretta garzetta Little Egret: About 16 in all at Malakal Sewage Lagoons and reef flats near Malakal Landfill May 20-21.
Egretta sacra Pacific Reef-Heron: Abundant on Kosrae reef flats, common throughout. Both color forms; about 60% dark on Kosrae with perhaps 1-2% mottled, including one that at first glance resembled a Pacific Heron.
Bubulcus ibis Cattle Egret: Two on Yap, presumably B. i. coromandus.
Butorides striata Striated Heron: Two sightings: a flyover at Malakal sewage ponds May 20 and a possible immature poorly photographed in the rain on coastal rocks on Yap May 23.
Nycticorax nycticorax Black-crowned Night-Heron: One at Malakal reef flats, Palau, May 21 (AR).
Nycticorax caledonicus Rufous Night-Heron: Very common Palau around the reef flats at Malakal May 21; scattered elsewhere east to Chuuk (singles at Weno Marsh and Blue Lagoon Resort), but none Pohnpei or Kosrae.
Ixobrychus sinensis Yellow Bittern: Fairly common in surprisingly-varied habitats Palau, Yap north to Saipan; at least 3 at Weno Marsh, Chuuk May 31. None Pohnpei or Kosrae.
Anas penelope Eurasian Wigeon: Only sighting was a male on the Duck Pond at the old Japanese airstrip on Yap May 23.
Anas superciliosa Pacific Black Duck: The only sighting was of at least 6 at Weno Marsh, Chuuk May 31.
Aythya fuligula Tufted Duck: There were five, including one adult male and females/immature types on the Duck Pond on Yap May 23.
Megapodius laperouse Micronesian Scrubfowl: At least 6 at Ulong, Palau May 19. Not found on Saipan; the Saipan birds are considered specifically distinct by some authors.
Red Jungle Fowl: Ubiquitous throughout; many show fairly pure characteristics, such as those on Yap, Kosrae, and Ulong, Palau.
Francolinus francolinus Black Francolin: Only seen Guam May 29; one displaying near the NASA Tracking Station and 5 on Andersen AFB.
Coturnix chinensis Blue-breasted Quail: One seen calling on territory at NASA Tracking Station, Guam, May 29.
Gallirallus philippensis Buff-banded Rail: Only seen Palau May 19-20; one near Malakal Landfill May 20 and at least 3 along roadsides at south end of Babeldaob May 21.
Gallirallus owstoni Guam Rail: One seen along and crossing the road at 5.30 am in the Duge area of Rota May 28; poor but recognizable photo taken through windshield.
Porzana cinerea White-browed Crake: One flushed at Palau Pacific Resort artificial pond May 19 and common (at least 6) on Yap, notably in the general area of the old Japanese airstrip.
Gallinula chloropus Common Moorhen: Only sighting in Micronesia was of 3 at Weno Marsh, Chuuk May 31. No young were seen.
Pluvialis fulva Pacific Golden-Plover: Scattered sightings throughout, total however only about 10.
Charadrius leschenaultii Greater Sandplover: One in breeding plumage at water treatment plant area, Yap, May 23.
Numenius phaeopus Whimbrel: At least 6 seen on Yap May 23-24.
Numenius tahitiensis Bristle-thighed Curlew: One on reef flats near Malakal Landfill May 20 was the only sighting; rump was pale brownish.
Tringa nebularia Common Greenshank: Two at Malakal Sewage Ponds May 20-21.
Tringa glareola Wood Sandpiper: One at Malakal Sewage Ponds May 20-21.
[Actitis hypoleucos Common Sandpiper: A brief look at a small grayish shore-bird as it flushed from a short-grassy area on Babeldaob, Palau May 21 suggested this species, although the tail showed considerable white, raising thoughts of Temminck’s Stint.]
Heterosceles brevipes Gray-tailed Tattler: This species is most common in Micronesia in the south, especially Palau and Yap; at least one was identified by plumage and calls at the water treatment plant area on Yap May 23.
Heterosceles incanus Wandering Tattler: This species was fairly common throughout; at least 40 were seen in all.
Arenaria interpres Ruddy Turnstone: As with Wandering Tattler, this species was widespread, although fewer than Wandering Tattler; some 30+ were seen. Often seen on grassy areas such as at Blue Lagoon Resort, Chuuk, May 30.
Calidris ruficollis Red-necked Stint: Two or three in muddy puddle at water treatment plant, Yap, May 24. One of the 3 birds was suggestive of Little Stint, but positive identification is difficult.
Sterna bergii Great Crested Tern: About 30 among Rock Islands, Palau May 20. Three in lagoon at Pohnpei June 5.
Sterna sumatrana Black-naped Tern: Common in Rock Islands, Palau May 19-20, including fledged juvs; seen throughout.
Sterna lunata Gray-backed Tern: One in lagoon at Palau May 20 (AR).
Sterna anaethetus Bridled Tern: Three resting on floating log in lagoon Palau May 20; also another at apparent cliff nest site.
Sterna fuscata Sooty Tern: One approached boat closely on Palau pelagic May 20.
Chlidonias leucopterus White-winged Tern: Only sighting was an immature foraging over lagoon at Yap May 24.
Anous minutus Black Noddy: Common throughout.
Anous stolidus Brown Noddy: Common throughout, often seen roosting in trees high up on forest ridge trails, such as on Pohnpei June 4.
Gygis alba White Tern: Common throughout; one above our parked car in Songsong, Rota May 28.
Columba livia Rock Pigeon: Seen throughout larger towns but not seen Caroline Islands (except Yap).
Streptopelia bitorquata Island Collared-Dove: Common, but often surprisingly wary, on Guam, Saipan, Rota, and Tinian.
Caloenas nicobarica Nicobar Pigeon: Two seen flying over Long Island Park, Palau May 20. Another was seen at Ulong (AR, KL, BS) May 19.
Gallicolumba kubaryi Caroline Islands Ground-Dove: An adult was well-seen in the grounds of Blue Lagoon Resort, Chuuk, June 1, and a rather uncooperative juvenile was there May 31, but none were found on Pohnpei.
Gallicolumba xanthonura White-throated Ground-Dove: Male seen well but in light rain on Yap May 23 and a female at the old airstrip May 24, and 8 were flybys late afternoon May 25 over the Korean Memorial Park, Saipan.
Gallicolumba canifrons Palau Ground-Dove: We struggled with this bird at Ulong, Palau, May 19 with no sighting. We returned May 20 and saw one bird (RS, AR, BS) and heard another (BS, RS).
Ptilinopus porphyraceus Crimson-crowned Fruit-Dove: At least 3 seen well in grounds of Blue Lagoon Resort, Chuuk, May 30-June 1. Seen in flight on Pohnpei June 4.
Ptilinopus pelewensis Palau Fruit-Dove: Commonly heard, but difficult to see; at least 10 each at Long Island Park, Margie’s Beach, and Ulong May 19-21.
Ptilinopus roseicapilla Mariana Fruit-Dove: Seen well on Tinian May 25, and a female was impersonating a megapode behind the Korean Memorial Park, Saipan, May 26. Commonly heard, however.
Ducula oceanica Micronesian Imperial-Pigeon: Seen on Yap only in northern parts of the island, where we heard or saw 3 on May 23. Elsewhere, only seen on Pohnpei, where 3 were heard or seen at the Searchlight Platform on the ridge next to Sokeh’s Rock June 4, an encouraging sign so close to Kolonia’s human population (GM).
Cacatua galerita Sulphur-crested Cockatoo: Not hard to find in the Rock Islands,
Palau; at least 5 seen and a few more heard May 19-20, including about 12 in one tree near the airport on Babeldaob May 21.
Trichoglossus rubiginosus Pohnpei Lorikeet: Common on Pohnpei.
Eclectus roratus Eclectus Parrot: Heard and 2 females seen well at Ulong, Palau,
Cuculus saturatus Oriental Cuckoo: One very likely this species (rather than Common Cuckoo) based on the characteristics of the underparts barring (Doug Pratt) was seen at Malakal Sewage ponds May 20 (photos). Another large cuckoo, likely also this species, was a flyby on Yap May 23.
Pyrroglaux podarginus Palau Owl: Despite having one call no more than 20 ft from us we couldn’t see the bird. Several heard in Koror May 19-20.
Caprimulgus indicus Gray Nightjar: One responded aggressively to our tape just north of the airport on Babeldaob, Palau May 21.
Aerodramus pelewensis Palau Swiftlet: Common; large numbers in the area of our motel in Malakal. Paler rump was evident.
[Aerodramus bartschi Mariana Swiftlet; We missed this species on Saipan due to our preoccupation with looking for a megapode. A long shot on Guam also failed.]
Aerodramus inquietus Caroline Islands Swiftlet: Common on Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae (large numbers at Kosrae Bat Cave). Rumps were essentially blackish.
Todirhamphus cinnamominus Micronesian Kingfisher: Seen on Palau, one at Ulong May 20 and another in north Babeldaob 21 May on a powerline; also Pohnpei, where more common: 4 seen well, including one near Liduduhniap Falls.
Todirhamphus chloris Collared Kingfisher: Seen on Palau, and fairly common on Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam. Photos show examples from Tinian and Saipan (T. c. albicila), and Rota (T. c. orii), the latter with somewhat more black on the nape. Birds on Palau (T. c. teraokai) show increased blackish on the crown.
Coracina tenuirostris Cicadabird: A female seen at Long Island Park, Palau, and a male on Yap were the only sightings. Despite considerable searching, none were found on Pohnpei. Some authors consider the three populations separate species.
Cettia annae Palau Bush-Warbler: One seen Ulong, Palau May 19.
Acrocephalus luscinia Nightingale Reed-Warbler: One singing loudly near Laderan Tangke Trail, Saipan, May 26.
Acrocephalus syrinx Caroline Reed-Warbler: Fairly common Chuuk and Pohnpei; at least 12 on grounds of Blue Lagoon Resort, Chuuk May 30-June 2, and one at Village Resort, Pohnpei , June 5.
Rhipidura lepida Palau Fantail: Common on Palau.
Rhipidura rufifrons Rufous Fantail: Common Yap, Saipan, Rota.
Rhipidura kubaryi Pohnpei Fantail: Fairly common Pohnpei .
Metabolus rugiensis Truk Monarch: A pair was attending a nest on Tol, Chuuk, June 1. The nest was in a sapling in a clearing at around 1000 ft. A poor but recognizable photo was taken of the male in low light and drizzle.
Monarcha godeffroyi Yap Monarch: Fairly common, notably around the old Japanese airstrip.
Monarcha takatsukasae Tinian Monarch: Common on Tinian.
Myiagra erythrops Palau Flycatcher: Only 3 seen Palau.
Myiagra pluto Pohnpei Flycatcher: Fairly common in area of Liduduhniap Falls, few elsewhere.
Myiagra oceanica Oceanic Flycatcher: Common Chuuk; several on grounds of Blue Lagoon Resort.
Colluricincla tenebrosa Morningbird: 2-3 at Ulong, Palau.
Zosterops conspicillatus Bridled White-eye: Common on Saipan.
Zosterops rotensis Rota White-eye: Found 3-4 at the base of the Sabana Plateau. These were much brighter yellow below than the Saipan birds.
Zosterops semperi Caroline Islands (Citrine) White-eye: Fairly common Palau, more so Chuuk and Pohnpei.
Zosterops hypolais Plain White-eye: Common on Yap, including 2 recently-fledged juveniles.
Zosterops finschii Dusky White-eye: Common at Ulong and Margie’s Beach, Palau.
Zosterops cinereus Gray White-eye: Some recent authors separate the birds on Pohnpei (Z. c. ponapensis) from those on Kosrae (Z. c. cinereus) at the species level. Common on both islands.
Zosterops oleagineus Yap White-eye: Fairly common Yap.
Rukia ruki Truk White-eye: About 4 seen at summit of Mt Winipot June 1 in drizzle; orange legs and brown plumage seen well but “teardrop” only poorly seen in the conditions. At least 10 heard as small groups rapidly and noisily flew between foraging sites, at which they became silent.
Rukia longirostra Long-billed White-eye: About 6 seen on track to Searchlight Platform, Pohnpei, June 5; pink legs and long, slightly decurved bills seen. None found at Liduduhniap Falls site despite two visits.
Cleptornis marchei Golden White-eye: Fairly common on Saipan, including one at Marpi Conservation Area.
Megazosterops palauensis Giant White-eye: About 5 at Margie’s Beach, Palau, May 19.
Myzomela rubratra Micronesian Myzomela: Common throughout, with large groups at flowering trees.
Dicrurus macrocercus Black Drongo: Common on Rota and Guam.
Artamus leucorynchus Palau Woodswallow: Only sightings were at the antenna farm at the north end of Babeldaob, Palau, May 21.
Corvus kubaryi Mariana Crow: Two on trail to Bird Sanctuary lookout, Rota, May 27 and a juvenile near Songsong the same day . This species is found in lowland forest, unfortunately close to people and their animals.
Aplonis opaca Micronesian Starling: Common throughout, but adults are surprisingly wary and difficult to approach.
[Aplonis pelzelni Pohnpei Starling: We did not try for this species.]
Passer montanus Eurasian Tree Sparrow: Common urban areas throughout Palau, Yap, Guam and N. Mariana Is; also a small goup of 3-4 near airport and dock area on Pohnpei June 4.
Estrilda melpoda Orange-cheeked Waxbill: Small flock near Laderan Tangke Trail, Saipan, May 26.
Erythrura trichroa Blue-faced Parrotfinch: Only sighting was of 2-3 in long wet grass on Chuuk .
Lonchura punctulata Nutmeg Mannikin: A few on Yap.
Lonchura atricapilla Chestnut Munia: Fairly common Malakal area, Palau.
Lonchura hunsteini Mottled (Hunstein’s) Munia: Flock of about 20 on causeway at Pohnpei June 4; also a few at Liduduhniap Falls June 5.