Saipan/Tinian - March 2005

Published by Mike Yough (myough AT hotmail.com)

Participants: Mike Yough

Comments

I spent 3/22/05 to 3/30/05 on the island of Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. On 3/25 my wife and I did a day-trip to Tinian. While birding was not the prime objective for this entire span (sight-seeing and beach-lounging were also on the itinerary), I was able to devote some time to birding daily. The majority of the birding occurred between 3/27 and 3/30 (after my vacation allotmentally challenged wife had to return home).

Resources- A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific by Pratt, Bruner, and Berrett and Lonely Planet's Micronesia.

Tip - the local rental car agencies appear to be US$10-15 cheaper than the major agencies and I found them to be reliable. Check the local phone book once you arrive. I used Sang Jee Rent-a-Car and Islander. Also, I was warned by the rental agency as well as a couple of locals not to leave anything valuable (or anything that would mark you as a tourist such as a map) in the car at the north end of the island as there has been problems with break-ins. The local rental agencies don't make their cars targets by putting bumper sticker adverts on their vehicles.

Suggested Itinerary- I found the Micronesian Megapode to be easily the most difficult bird to see on Saipan. This being the case, if one has limited time I recommend concentrating on this species since most of the other, non-seabird, target species can be found on route or at the stakeouts. I observed this species at two locations: Behind the Korean War Memorial (near the Last Command Post) and along the Laderan Tangke Nature Trail. I had better luck at the latter location.

Korean War Memorial- I have others who have posted trip reports to thank for this location (e.g. Dave Klauber, Steve Smith). The Korean War Memorial is at the far north end of the island just before the Last Command Post (which is well marked on the tourist maps). Look for Philippine Turtle Doves, Nightingale Reed Warblers, Collared Kingfishers, and Micronesian Starlings upon approaching Tanapag until you've reached the memorial. Walking through the memorial towards the far, back corner, one will find the beginning of a footpath into the woods. However, the term "path" quickly becomes rather subjective. Nonetheless, the undergrowth is not heavy and getting around is not too much of a problem (nor is getting lost unless you have exceptional difficulty with orientation). I headed near the cliffs and waited for about an hour before I heard one. Not being sure if this would be my best (RE: only) opportunity, I headed in the general direction to see it fly up and over an outcrop. While I waited for this species, Mariana Fruit-Doves were frequently heard, an immature White-throated Ground Dove came relatively close to forage, and Micronesia Honeyeater, Bridled White-eye, Golden White-eye, and Rufous Fantail were all frequently seen. The one bird that may be difficult to pickup at this location (even on the way there) would be the Island Swiftlet.

Laderan Tangke Nature Trail- I have a local to thank whom I met at the Korean War Memorial who had stated that he had seen megapodes while hiking the Laderan Trail. On the way to the Korean War Memorial you'll pass the La Fiesta Shopping Center (though it appears to be defunct). Again, look for turtle doves, warblers, kingfishers, and starlings on the way there. As you're heading north, turn right immediately following this shopping center (onto Rt. 320). After a little while you'll see a water tank. Turn right (A.K.A. Matius Rd. or Rt. 318). Others have reported that this is a good spot for White-throated Ground Dove flybys (and I had one here as well). Take your first opportunity for a left. This should be approximately .8 mi and will be a dirt road. You'll quickly come to a "parking area". There is a post board with some trail maps. I headed right, which is basically a four-wheel drive path. Along this portion of the path I had all the species mentioned at the Korean War Memorial plus Island Swiftlet and Nightingale Reed Warbler (and a monitor lizard sunning itself on the path). After awhile, you'll come to a small clearing and it appears that there are three or four directions one can take. The one across and a little to the left has a ribbon (marking the trail) as well as the #16 trail marker. This is the one to take and is pretty much the beginning of the trek into the woods. In a short while, I heard two megapodes calling back and forth. A short while later (near the #15 trail marker) I got great views of one, and then a little further down I heard another calling (though it could have been the one I previously came across). I continued on for a while and, although this trail is supposed to be a loop, I came to the Bird Island lookout and the path didn't appear to continue so I headed back the way I came.

Species Lists

All locations mentioned below (that weren't mentioned above) can be easily found on the "tourist maps" distributed at most hotels, car rental agencies, or the Mariana Tourist Authority.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater- 2-3 individuals seen at Bird Island. They appeared to be roosting on the cliff below the observation area and were observed during all visits to this spot (between 5:00 PM and dusk) circling to and from these roosts.

White-tailed Tropicbird- two seen at Suicide Cliffs on Tinian, two seen at Suicide Cliffs on Saipan on 3/26 and four at that location on 3/30. One seen inland just east of American Memorial Park on 3/23.

Red-tailed Tropicbird- one seen at Suicide Cliffs on both Tinian (3/25) and Saipan (3/26).

Brown Booby- 2-4 seen at Bird Island late in the afternoons (after 5:00 PM).

Yellow Bittern- one seen east of American Memorial Park on 3/23. Two seen on the drive up Mt. Tapochau on 3/27.

Pacific Reef Heron- two individuals seen at the pond at American Memorial Park. One to two individuals seen at Bird Island during most stops at this locale.

Cattle Egret- several individuals in a cow pasture on Tinian.

Micronesian Megapode- one individual seen briefly behind the Korean War Memorial near the base of the cliffs. Great views of another (pacing back and forth on a rock about 10 meters away for a period of about 90 seconds) as well as at least two heard around the 15 and 16 markers on the Laderan Trail. I found this species without the use of tapes. The habitat in both of these areas is woodland with little undergrowth near rocky cliffs on the north side of the island.

Common Moorhen- this Mariana subspecies is endangered. I saw it by chance as it popped out of the brush near Tanapag on my way to the north end of the island.

Pacific Golden Plover- 17 at American Memorial Park on the morning of 3/23. Other individuals seen in appropriate habitat (short grassland) on both Saipan and Tinian.

tattler species- one seen at the base of Suicide Cliffs on Tinian.

Sooty Tern- several seen roosting and one flyby at Bird Island.

Brown Noddy- More common on the east coast of both islands than the west. They nest at Bird Island.

Black Noddy- one seen for every 20-30 Browns. I failed to pick any out on the west coasts. Slightly greater numbers appeared on Tinian.

Common Fairy Tern- Very common. Appear to be more common on the west coast than the east. Also frequently observed inland (e.g. one roosting in a pine along the Laderan Trail).

Rock Dove- present but in low numbers.

Philippine Turtel-Dove- common but by no means abundant. My best luck with this species was at American Memorial Park, along the road to the Last Command Post, and the road to Wing Beach.

White-throated Ground-Dove- appear to be widespread but uncommon. My best luck with this species was with flyovers right in Garapan early in the morning (there's an "empty" lot at the c/o Beach and Hibiscus). Also, appeared in greater numbers on the road just south of the Kingfisher Golf Links and near the entrance to Kalabera Cave. I also had individuals fly to a roost within 15 meters of my position in the "swamp area" at the eastern portion of American Memorial Park and behind the Korean War Memorial while I was "staking out" other birds.

Mariana Fruit-Dove- Appear to be common in wooded areas- commonly heard. Much less commonly seen (though easy enough with a little patience and good fortune).

Island Swiftlet- 7-17 individuals seen along the Laderan Trail during both hikes there. Also 7-10 individuals at the top of Mt. Tapochau (and I suspect that both locations are pretty sure bets for this species).

Collared Kingfisher- common throughout. Often seen on perches of 5 meters or more (often perched on utility wires).

Tinian Monarch- seen in the scrub at North Field.

Rufous Fantail- common in wooded and brushy areas, usually in pairs. Would often approach within two meters appearing to "check me out".

Nightingale Reed Warbler- appear to be fairly common on the north and east parts of the island. My best luck with this species was when driving with the windows open and listening for them and then pulling over. While I heard them throughout the day, they seemed to sing more and from more exposed perches earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon as opposed to the middle of the day. I was most successful with brushy areas along the roads to Bird Island, the Last Command Post, the road up to Tapochau, and the road to the Kingfisher Golf Links. Pratt et al. describe the song as American thrashers and mockingbirds. I would add that the tonal quality of the song is similar to other reed warblers (for those familiar with them).

Micronesian Starling- not as common as I had anticipated though they did appear throughout. The most consistent spots seemed to be along the road to the WWII memorials, Bird Island overlook area, and the entrance to Kalabera Cave. They appeared to be more common on Tinian.

Micronesian Honeyeater- common along the west coast beaches and parks; not quite as common in wooded areas (though present).

Bridled White-eye- I found this to be the most common bird "outside of town". Very responsive to phishing.

Golden White-eye- not nearly as common as the Bridled, but still a fairly common bird. After over a week on the island, this was probably the one I enjoyed the most.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow- present.