Archive for the ‘Pacific Golden Plover’ Tag

West Pacific Odyssey part 5: Solomon Islands to Chuuk, Micronesia and beyond: 30th March – 8th April 2019.   Leave a comment

This post continues the story of the West Pacific Odyssey, the month-long epic journey on board the Professor Khromov from New Zealand to Japan.

We made a single landfall during this time at Chuuk (formerly spelled Truk) in the Federated States of Micronesia (Caroline Islands). I have visited Chuuk previously in 2010 as part of a wider tour of Micronesia. As I didn’t get to see much of the island group on this tour I’ve added a number of photos taken then.

 

Leaving Kolombangara in the Solomon Islands behind we sailed along the western side of Bouganville and close to the southernmost tip of New Ireland. The following day we crossed the Equator and we spent the following day at sea as well. On 3rd April we arrived at Chuuk in the Caroline Islands and spent the latter part of the day and the following morning on the island. The next three days were spent at sea. We arrived in Japanese waters on the 9th.

 

As we left the Solomon Islands we had great views of the volcanic summit of Kolombangara (see post four on the WPO for more).

 

The following morning we passed to the west of the island of Bougainville. Although geographically part of the Solomons, administratively it belongs to Papua New Guinea although it has been lobbying for independence for a long time. Many of the tribes in the highlands jealously guard their territory and are suspicious or even show violence to outsiders. Recently the security situation has eased and a bird tour to this little known island with its myriad of endemics was advertised for 2020. I’d absolutely love to go but a) is it really safe? b) am I fit enough to hike up the top of that mountain? and c) could I afford it? its incredibly expensive. I think this is as near as I’ll ever get to Bougainville.

 

On route we found a few Little Terns roosting on floating coconuts …

 

… but the birding highlight was this Beck’s Petrel, a small version of Tahiti Petrel which is mainly seen around Bougainville and New Ireland.

 

Beck’s Petrel. These images are shown at a smaller size as the bird was so distant.

 

Also in the area were some more Heinroth’s Shearwaters …

 

… and the next day, close to the PNG island of New Ireland we saw these Pygmy Sperm Whales.

 

They are very hard to separate from Dwarf Sperm Whale but as Pygmy Sperm Whale has more of a falcated dorsal fin.

 

As we approached New Ireland the sea state got calmer and calmer …

 

… and just as happened when we approached the Equator on the Atlantic Odyssey three years earlier, the sea took on an oily appearance. We were entering the doldrums.

 

However that wasn’t to last long, with New Ireland disappearing away in the distance we saw a waterspout, that is a tornado at sea.

 

As the day drew on the clouds got darker and darker …

 

… and there was a dramatic sunset.

 

It was really rough in the night, not what we expected as we neared the Equator, with a big, slow swell that moved everything around in your cabin. OK I’ve been through much worse on the way down to Antarctica but this is supposed to be the doldrums. The outer bulkheads were closed and we were banned from going on deck. There had been plans to stop the ship and going for a swim at 0 degrees (latitude that is not temperature) but of course that was cancelled, as was all the usual tomfoolery that usually accompanies ‘crossing the line’.

 

All we could do was gather on the bridge and watch the GPS as we moved from the southern to the northern hemisphere. It was the 1st April, if there were any ‘April fools’ it was us.

 

Taken within four metres of ‘crossing the line’.

 

Around the Equator and during the bad weather we saw hardly any birds at all, but between the Solomons and New Ireland and to the south and north of Chuuk we had good numbers of the common tropical seabirds including Sooty Tern …

 

… Red-tailed Tropicbird …

 

… this Red-tailed Tropicbird has a all white tail (just to confuse things).

 

Also seen were frigatebirds, this is an adult female Lesser Frigatebird.

 

Three species of booby were commonly seen around the ship, chasing flying fish or roosting on the superstructure. This an adult Brown Booby.

 

This Brown Booby can be sexed as a female on account of the greenish facial skin. A recent publication ‘Oceanic Birds’ by Howell and Zufelt, which wasn’t available when I did this trip, proposes that there are three species of Brown Booby, this is the Indo-Pacific form.

 

This is a adult Masked Booby …

 

… you can just see it’s pale eyes in the photo. The dark eyed race tasmani which occurs to off Australia has been illustrated earlier in my WPO account.

 

Red-footed Boobies come in several morphs. This is a typical brown morph here seen chasing flying fish.

 

This is the light morph. Red-footed Booby is the smallest of all the six species of booby.

 

Identification is complicated by these partially brown dark-tailed immatures.

 

Boobies would often perch on the superstructure as they scanned the ocean for flying fish and would sometimes roost there.

 

We arrived at Moen on the main island of Weno in Chuuk, one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia, in the afternoon but it took ages to get customs and immigration clearance.

 

… but as soon as we could we went for a walk …

 

Norfolk Island and New Caledonia were fully westernised developed islands, whilst the remoter villages in the Solomons were basic but rustic and attractive. Chuuk on the other hand just seemed tatty with derelict buildings and poorly repaired roads.

 

This derelict ship photographed over a line of washing between two tumbledown shacks sums up the air of neglect.

 

The people were welcoming enough though (see also the cheerful chappie in the photo two above)

 

In 2010 I did a comprehensive tour of Micronesia visiting some of the Mariana Islands, and Palau plus Chuuk, Yap and Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia (Caroline Islands). As I didn’t take many good photos of Chuuk on this visit I’ve included some taken in 2010 to give a better idea of the scenery and wildlife of this island group. In 2010 we were staying in a hotel outside the town and so had to drive through it every time we wanted to visit anywhere. They were having big problems with the high tides flooding the streets. I don’t know if they have fixed it now or whether it was neap tides during our visit in 2019. This photo was taken in 2010.

 

In 2019 we birded an area of woodland around the ‘Japanese gun’ however you had to pay to see the gun itself and time was pressing. In 2010 we did visit the gun and accessed it via a tunnel through the hillside. Photo taken in 2010.

 

During WWII the Micronesian Islands were of great strategic importance, especially Chuuk due to the huge size of the lagoon and were occupied by the Japanese. This large gun was installed to defend the island of Weno from attack. Photo taken in 2010.

 

 

From Wikipedia:

Chuuk Lagoon, previously Truk Atoll, is an atoll in the central Pacific. About 1,800 kilometres (1,100 miles) north-east of New Guinea, it is located mid-ocean at 7 degrees North latitude and is part of Chuuk State within the Federated States of Micronesia. A protective reef, 225 kilometres  around, encloses a natural harbour 79 by 50 kilometres, with an area of 2,130 sq km. It has a land area of 93.07 square kilometres (35.93 square miles), with a population of 36,158 people and a maximal height of 443 m. Weno city on Moen Island functions as the atoll’s capital and also as the state capital and is the largest city in the FSM with its 13,700 people.


“Truck atoll” was the Empire of Japan’s main naval base in the South Pacific theatre during World War II. It was the site of a major U.S. attack during Operation Hailstone in February 1944, and Operation Inmate, a small assault conducted by British and Canadian forces during June, 1945. 

 

The gun was situated here to guard the approaches to Moen. However now the platform allows good views of the birds in the marsh below. Photo taken in 2010.

 

We saw a number of endemic or near endemic species in the area including this Purple-capped Fruit Dove. Photo by from weedmandan

 

… and the endemic and elusive Caroline Ground Dove. Photo by from weedmandan

 

Another Caroline Island endemic seen was the Oceanic Flycatcher Photo from weedmandan

 

As it was April the Pacific Golden Plovers were now in breeding plumage and about ready to head for the Siberian Arctic. I was given this photo and the ones of the Teardrop White-eye and Chuuk Monarch by another participant. Unfortunately I didn’t note their name. If you are reading this please let me know and I’ll credit you accordingly.

 

In 2010 we travelled to the island of Tol South in the south-west of the lagoon. There were two species, Teardrop White-eye and Chuuk Monarch that couldn’t be seen elsewhere. Also we saw Micronesian Pigeon which we also saw later in the trip. The climb was really tough and in parts much steeper than shown here. It was a real case of scrambling up on your knees. On the WPO a half-day trip to Tol South was offered but I declined. Those that did it managed to see the white-eye and the monarch ….

 

… indeed they saw something I didn’t see in 2010, the gorgeous white male monarch. As it was now the breeding season they might have been more conspicuous. Our late autumn visit in 2010 meant that the only ones I saw were drab juveniles.

 

When I went nine years earlier we had some local guides, indeed the entire village tried to be our local guide – which wasn’t very helpful.

 

The view from half-way up across the lagoon was stunning. Some of climbed much higher up Mount Winipot to see the pigeon, it was a really tough slog. Photo taken in 2010.

 

Here is the Teardrop White-eye also known as Grand Chuuk White-eye, a species found only on this island.

 

Our tour in 2010 was much more relaxed. Infrequent flights between the islands meant that we often had time on our hands, not something that you see very often on a bird tour. So we took the opportunity to go snorkelling. I’m not a great swimmer and I found it a bit tricky but I thoughtfully enjoyed it. Participant Richard Clifford was a keen snorkeler and brought an underwater camera. Photo by Richard Clifford in 2010.

 

The coral reefs were beautiful and full of lovely fish, this one is a Redfin Butterflyfish. Photo by Richard Clifford in 2010

 

But Chuuk Lagoon has the reputation of being the best wreck diving in the world. The lagoon was the base of operations for the Japanese Navy, an attack ‘Operation Hailstone’ in 1944 caught the Japanese unaware and the Americans were able to inflict major damage see Wikipedia – here   The lagoon is littered with wrecked supply ship and some military craft. Photo by Richard Clifford in 2010

 

I had been interested in military aircraft as a child, so seeing the remains of a Mitsubishi Zero on the bottom of the lagoon was pretty exciting. Photo by Clubmarine

 

As we left the Chuuk Lagoon and entered the open ocean we encountered a number of ‘Tropical Shearwaters’.  The thinking is that these species are essentially non-migratory and so each breeding population has evolved into its own species with distinct vocalisations and plumage. However they are certainly difficult to tell apart. Some like Bannerman’s Shearwaters and Byran’s Shearwater have already been given specific status. This form Puffinus bailloni dichrous is colloquially known as ‘Atol’ Shearwater. Photo taken by Mike Danzenbaker in the Caroline Islands. see here

 

We slowly made our way north, first through Micronesian waters then through the waters of the Mariana Islands, crossing the Mariana Trench which at nearly 11,000 metres is the deepest point in the ocean.

 

Of course we saw many of the birds I have illustrated earlier but we also started to see a number of shearwaters and storm-petrels, evidence that we were heading out of the tropics but I’ll save most of those photos for the final post. We also saw a number of cetaceans including this close Omura’s Whale. This was a species I hadn’t heard of before, although it was formerly called the ‘small-form’ Bryde’s Whale. It was only described as a full species in 2003 which is later than the publication date of the cetacean guide that I use. It’s range is tropical west Pacific from Sumatra/Java east to New Ireland and north to Japan. It reaches a maximum length of 12m so would just fit in our garden.

 

We also saw four (but only caught two in this shot) of the rare Blainville’s Beaked Whale.

 

Not too far north of Chuuk we found our first Matsudeira’s Storm-petrel. We were getting into the realm of the Japanese seabird specialities. More of that in next and final post about the West Pacific Odyssey.

 

But I’ll conclude with this photo of an exhaling Omura’s Whale seen over the Mariana Trench.

West Pacific Odyssey part 2: Norfolk Island and the journey towards New Caledonia: 19th – 21st March 2019   Leave a comment

This post covers the second part of the West Pacific Odyssey (WPO), an epic boat trip from New Zealand to Japan and deals specifically with the the short visit to Norfolk Island and the sail north to New Caledonia.

 

Here is the Professor Khromov anchored at Norfolk Island.

 

There to greet us was a ‘Tasman Booby’ the dark-eyed race of Masked Booby that breeds on the island. The cloudy conditions early on soon cleared and we had a nice sunny morning.

 

We headed ashore by zodiac, a White Tern flew in front of us as we neared the shore.

 

Landing at the pier …

 

… we had good views along the shore where a number of waders fed on the tideline …

 

.. put first we had to go through a customs check. Norfolk Island belongs to Australia and the official and dog were checking that we weren’t bringing foodstuffs ashore.

 

A Welcome Swallow did just that …

 

… although perhaps the sight of an introduced Crimson Rosella was less welcome. Actually Norfolk Island has a lot of introduced birds like California Quail and if we had of had time I’d have liked to have sought them out so I could add them to my Aussie list.

 

Along the shore were a number of Pacific Golden Plovers beginning their moult into summer plumage. Soon they will set off on a epic flight to the Siberian tundra to breed. We also saw a number of Wandering Tattlers which breed in Alaska but they were distant and my photos are poor.

 

Perhaps Norfolk Island’s most famous endemic is the Norfolk Pine. Planted everywhere around the world as an ornamental tree, it was originally endemic to the island.

 

A small proportion of the clients went on a guided tour of the island but the majority of us headed for the hills where we were to look for the endemic birds.

 

One of the most obvious of the endemics was the Norfolk Parakeet …

 

… a few of which showed well around the clearing.

 

Inevitably Norfolk Island has it’s own white-eye know surprisingly as the Slender-billed White-eye rather than name with ‘Norfolk’ in it. Birds in the genus Zosterops are known as ‘great speciators’ ie birds that colonise islands and then rapidly evolve into a new species to match the opportunities offered in their new environment.

 

Another ‘great speciator’ are the Petroica robins, a group in a completely different family from the Eurasian robins. This is not surprisingly known as Norfolk Robin. Photo by fellow traveller Suzanne Gucciardo.

 

The final endemic species was the Norfolk Geregone, one of a group of non distinct Australian Warblers found in the Australo/Papuan/Melanesian area. Photo by Alex Ferguson from https://birdsoftheworld.org

 

There really should be a fifth endemic. The taxonomic status of the Golden Whistler complex has been debated for decades. There are/were between 59 and 73 or so subspecies (depending on which authority you follow) making Golden Whistler the species with the highest number of subspecies in the world. Following a review some have been split but not xanthoprocta, the one on Norfolk Island  Here both males and females have a plumage like the females seen on mainland Australia. Photo by fellow traveller Suzanne Gucciardo.

 

It took around an hour to see the five species well but we were allowed around four hours. I would have liked to board the buses and go on an island tour for part of that time, after all I’m never going to be coming back.

 

Soon we were back on the pier and being shuttled back to Prof Khromov by zodiac.

 

During that afternoon and all of the following day we sailed north towards New Caledonia. As well as some species familiar from our earlier time at sea we saw new birds like Red-tailed Tropicbird …

 

There are three species of tropicbird in the world, Red-billed is confined to the coasts of the Americas, the Atlantic island and Arabian sea but Yellow-billed and Red-tailed occur in the Pacific.

 

We were to see all three northern skuas (jaegers) off and on during the trip. This area was good for Long-tailed Skua (Jaeger) with up to 15 seen.

 

The views in general weren’t all that close. These birds would have been wintering in the area, or perhaps have been further south and now on their way to the Siberian tundra to breed.

 

A common species was Wedge-tailed Shearwater usually abbreviated to ‘Wedgie’ …

 

They exist in two morphs, the dark morph is seen in mainly in the south-west Pacific, the light morph in the north-west Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

 

Other species seen included Black-winged Petrel, a Pterodroma with a wide distribution in the SW pacific …

 

… and Gould’s Petrel which breeds on an island just off the Australia east coast and on New Caledonia.

 

Yet another Pterodroma was Kermadec Petrel which has a wide breeding range across the islands of the southern Pacific. It also has a number of morphs, appearing in light, dark and intermediate forms.

 

This bird however, photographed a bit further north, is the very similar Providence Petrel. It has shorter wings and the uppersides don’t show the skua like flash at the base of the primaries. This bird was so named because the once huge colony of Norfolk Island was harvested by settlers/convicts during a famine in 1790 and was dubbed the ‘bird of providence’. However introduced rodents and pigs soon wiped the colony out and it breeds mainly on Lord Howe Island today.

 

We also saw the impressive Tahiti Petrel, in the genus Pseudobulweria it has a less arcing, acrobatic flight than the Pterodromas

 

Although I’ve blown quite a few photos up to show detail, this was the sort of distance that most birds were seen and photographed from. This flock contains White Terns, Black Noddies and presumed Providence Petrels.

 

On the morning of 21st March we docked at Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia. We arrived at about 0630 and after a tug had pushed us into place docked and were able for the only time on the cruise (away from Tauranga and Yokohama) disembark by the gangway. Our day and half on New Caledonia will be the subject of the next post.

 

During the cruise we experienced a number of superb skies and cloud formations, so rather than the dingy Nouméa docks, I’ll conclude with a lovely sunset.

 

27th June – 1st July 2015: visiting family and friends in East Anglia.   Leave a comment

Rather than make a number of separate weekend trips to visit friends and family this summer we decided to fit it all into a single ten-day trip, seeing Margaret’s daughter and my brother on successive weekends (as they are working) and seeing a number of retired friends during the week.

IMG_8003 John at the canal

We arrived at Maldon in Essex in the afternoon of the 26th. The following day we all cycled along the River Blackwater and the Chelmer and Blackwater Canal for a picnic. Here Margaret’s son-in-law John surveys the canal.

IMG_8002 John, Donna, Anita & M

Anita, Margaret’s daughter, also had her old school friend Donna (also from South Africa and now living in London) staying with her. L-R on the bridge over the canal: John, Donna, Anita and Margaret.

IMG_8811 Heybridge Basin

On the Sunday morning I did a little birding at Heybridge Basin where the River Blackwater and the canal flow into the sea. The footpath, popular with locals, takes you over the canal locks and along the river bank. It was a pleasant walk but the grey clouds seen above soon closed in and it started to rain.

IMG_8799 Heybridge basin

In the winter this estuary is teeming with waders such Avocets, Curlews and Black-tailed Godwits but in late June there was little but the local breeding Oystercatchers and Common Terns.

IMG_8829 Margaret & Jennie

Late on Sunday we left Essex and drove to Cottenham near Cambridge to stay with my old friend Jennie. I met Jennie in 1972 during my last year at University whilst she was doing her PhD. From 1973 – 1976 we shared a house with three others until I got married to Janet in the September of that year.

IMG_8826 Lakenheath

Jennie is a keen naturalist but unlike me hasn’t specialised in birds. She does volunteer work at the nearby Wicken Fen, but it was to the larger and more distant RSPB reserve at Lakenheath that we journeyed. The visitor centre’s floor is covered with hundreds of beige coloured tiles, but just three are green with a sign that says the beige tiles represent the area of East Anglia that was once covered by fen and the green ones represent what is left!

IMG_8824 Marsh Harrier edit

We saw some good birds including a Crane with its head poking out of the reeds, great flight views of a Bittern and several Hobbys but it was the local Marsh Harriers that put on the best show. Here a male returns with a full crop ….

IMG_8814 Marsh Harriers food pass

… but earlier we saw a male carrying prey fly over the nest site and performed a food pass, the female (left) rose up, the male dropped the prey which the female caught in mid-air.

IMG_8841 Large Skipper

Butterflies abounded in the hot weather, I saw some Essex Skippers, a butterfly I haven’t conclusively identified before, but only this Large Skipper posed for the camera.

IMG_8886 Stone Curlew

Later we visited the nearby reserve of Weeting Heath, just over the border in Norfolk. Here we had good views of several Stone Curlew a species that now is very hard to see in Dorset or its environs.

IMG_8894-Hickling-Broad-for-blog

On the 30th we headed for friends in Lowestoft but on route we detoured to Hickling Broad in the Norfolk Broads.

Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio machaon britannicus). Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk

Our main aim was to see the endemic UK race of the Swallowtail Butterfly which has its UK stronghold in the Norfolk Broads. I have seen this species many times in Europe but I’ve never been to this area at this time of year before. After some searching we saw three but they were fast flying and I failed to photograph any. This photo is taken from the Norfolk Broads authority website.

Pacific Golden-plover Ken Harvard Hawaii

We headed south to Lowestoft and stopped off at Breydon Water near Yarmouth where a Pacific Golden Plover had been seen for the last few days. We had reasonable views but the heat haze was pretty bad and the bird often hid in the spartina grass. This photo comes from the Internet Bird Collection and was taken by Ken Harvard in Hawaii. The bird we saw was moulting out of breeding plumage unlike this one which was moulting into it and had less gold spangling on the upperparts but was similarly plumaged on the face, breast and belly. Pacific GP is a close relative of the American GP and breeds across arctic Siberia into western Alaska. The wintering range is huge, from eastern Africa across the Indian Ocean , SE Asia and all across the Pacific. There have been 83 previous records of this species up to 2013 and this is the third I have seen in the UK.

IMG_8896 Debbie, Alan & M

Then it was on to Lowestoft, the most easterly town in the UK to visit my old friends Alan and Debbie. I have known Debbie since 1974, but I met Alan in 1969. Whilst relaxing in a coffee bar at Leeds University I heard Alan defending the performance of Derby County Football Club, asking if he was from Derby I found that he not only had lived in the same area as me but in the same street! I had met his sister back then but not him. He joined us in the infamous Fraser Terrace ‘slum’ for the next three years and we have remained friends ever since.

IMG_8895 Debbie, M & Alan

It was one of the hottest days of year with temperatures around 30c, so relaxing in the garden with a bottle of wine seemed the order of the day. Note the only one falling asleep is Margaret who was only drinking water.

IMG_8934 Minsmere

South of Lowestoft lies the RSPB’s flagship reserve of Minsmere. This was the subject of this years Springwatch TV series.

IMG_8935 Minsmere

The reserve consists of extensive areas of reed bed, open water, muddy pools, heathland and woodland. In the distance is the Sizewell B nuclear power station.

IMG_8930 M at Minsmere

Behind the beach lies ‘the scrape’ an artificially built pools that are a haven to breeding waders and migrants alike.

IMG_8900 juv Avocet Minsmere

Perhaps the most famous breeding wader is the Avocet. Heavy predation of Avocet chicks by Badgers has resulted in the scrape being ringed by an electrified fence, which certainly worked as ‘the scrape’ is full of juvenile Avocets this year (compare with the Avocet chicks I photographed in Hampshire on 28th May to see how much they can grow in a month).

IMG_8918 Oyk

Other breeding waders included this Oystercatcher ….

IMG_8920Oyk pullus & Turnstone

… and the Oystercatcher’s chick wandered around in the company of this Turnstone, fresh in from the high Arctic.

IMG_8911 Spot Red

The best sighting on ‘the scrape’ was a flock of 50+ Red Knot, some still in their orangey-red breeding dress and a flock of 16 summer-plumaged Spotted Redshank (above). This species nests in boggy woodland in the arctic and uses a system of sequential polyandry, ie the female mates with one male then leaves him to incubate and raise the chicks, then may mate with another male who does the same. The females then migrate, so breeding plumage females can arrive in the UK from late June on their ‘autumn’ migration south. This species used to be much commoner in Dorset than it is today and partially breeding plumaged birds were often seen in Poole Harbour in April on their way north, but now it is mainly a scarce winter visitor to the area, a time when they are in their grey non-breeding plumage. Eastern Britain at this time of year is probably the best place to see these beautiful birds in all their finery.

IMG_8944 Framlingham

For various reasons our friends couldn’t see us in the most convenient order so by the time we arrived in Framlingham we had almost done a full circle.

IMG_5491-Terry,-David-and-M

Terry, David and Margaret. Margaret was friends with Terry when she lived in South Africa. Recently Terry moved to the UK where she met and married David. David has a strong interest in natural history, particularly birds, and being completely blind has a great interest in their vocalisations. At the temperature was in the 30s away from the coast we spent the afternoon indoors discussing music and bird song. I took this photo in a nearby church in 2014.

On 2nd July it was thankfully a little cooler. We left Terry and David after breakfast and started the long drive to Leeds in Yorkshire. This, along with a visit to Derbyshire will be the subject of the next post.