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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Micronesia, April 2004,
Guam, Rota, Saipan, Tinian, Chuuk (Truk), Pohnpei, Palau, Yap
From April 2 to April 23 I birded several Micronesian islands as an add-on to a Papua New Guinea trip that I took with Phil Gregory of Sicklebill Safaris. The original trip was for West Papua but the Indonesians closed the border 3 days before our departure, which I found out upon arrival in Australia. Continental Airlines offers a Circle Micronesia package that does a round trip from Hawaii, visiting several islands for a substantial amount, although cheaper than the hefty single fares charged by them. Note that Continental has two different packages, Circle Micronesia (the Hawaiian loop) and Visit Micronesia, which can be any of various combinations worked out by the individual, which is what I used. This is an important distinction, as USA Continental personnel are not very familiar with these options, and their confusing the two resulted in many delays when I was trying to finalize my itinerary. Allow plenty of time, because you have to work out a proposed itinerary with the Continental people, who then forward it to another group, which takes 24-48 hours for each set of options or information. Sometimes you get different schedules only days apart. Merely getting prices for a proposed itinerary takes a couple of days; schedules take more time. It took 2 full weeks just to finalize a plane schedule for Guam, Chuuk and Pohnpei. Sending e mails and getting contact referrals took another couple of weeks, so it will take some time to get the necessary information, although the basic itinerary can be worked out more quickly. The planning was a bit more time consuming for me since I was trying to maximize my use of frequent flyer miles and minimize the cost of purchased tickets, which added to the time.
Doug Pratt told me he plans to split several species (Cicadabirds, Kingfishers, White-Eyes), so it's a good idea to see as many species as you can on each island, probably a good strategy in any event. I am not a diver, but there is excellent diving on many of the islands. I was extremely lucky with the weather, in spite of a devastating typhoon that flattened Yap while I was in the region. In general I experienced little rain and few biting insects, except some chiggers on Palau.
Lonely Planet Micronesia, 4th Edition, September 2000 - good for hotels & general info
Moon Handbooks Micronesia - Neil Levy - 6th edition, Nov 2003. I hadn't heard of this series but found it in a bookstore in Guam. It covers similar ground to Lonely Planet but from a somewhat different perspective, sometimes refreshingly so, and sometimes annoyingly so. Info here is more current.
The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific - Pratt, Bruner, and Berrett - 1987. The field guide to use for identification. The structure is odd in places, with checklists and the index being before the plates, but the plates are very good and so is the text, if somewhat dated. A revision is in the works.
Where to Watch Birds in Australasia & Oceania, 1998 - Nigel Wheatley - very good for deciding on the original itinerary, but sketchy on specific details in many instances
Trip reports from Steve Smith, Guy Dutson, and Graham Talbot; also notes from Richard Hopf
Names and Contacts
You will note the phrase very helpful comes up a lot - this is because it's true. Most people on this list responded to my e mails and either gave me information or referred me to others. In general the birding community has been very generous regarding information sharing. Initially I had only Wheatley, and it would have been very difficult without their help. It's hard to single out individuals since everyone was so helpful, but I owe special thanks to Fred Amindon, Doug Pratt, Bill Raynor, Steve Smith, and the Palau Conservation Society folks. Thanks to all.
Fred Amindon - Fred_Amindon@r1.fws.gov - Guam, Rota - Fred works in Hawaii but has visited Guam, Rota, and other islands. He was very helpful and sent me maps marked with birding spots for Guam & Rota
Guy Dutson - Guy.Dutson@birdlife.org.uk - Guy works with Birdlife International based in Fiji and helped me with contacts in the region, especially Palau. He probably has the latest info for the region.
Annie Marshall - Annie_Marshall@r1.fws.gov - Annie referred to me to several of her colleagues and responded quickly to all my requests; she also works in Hawaii
Mary Rose Nagayama - firstname.lastname@example.org Mary Rose is a graduate student from Chuuk who arranged transportation to Tol at minimum cost. Guy Dutson referred me to her
Palau Conservation Society - email@example.com - Anu Gupta & her boss Bena Sakuma, Executive Director. Bena lent me the use of their boat for the afternoon; very nice people Phone: 680-488-3993
Doug Pratt - firstname.lastname@example.org very helpful with recent info, tapes, and taxonomic status
Bill Raynor - email@example.com, also firstname.lastname@example.org - Pohnpei and contacts for other islands. Bill was very helpful and gave me many contacts. He's apparently not a birder but knows the people & places. Office phone 691-320-4267
Roseo Marquez - email@example.com - Roseo organized guides for me on Pohnpei in Bill's absence: 320-5409
Steve Smith - SMITHSW@uk.ibm.com - trip reports, a tape, and many useful responses
Stan Taisacan - firstname.lastname@example.org 670-532-0206 Rota - property with Rota Bridled White-Eye
Continental Air Micronesia has a virtual monopoly and charge accordingly, with the exception of the Marianas. Freedom Air and Pacific Island Airways, affiliated with Northwest, are the cheaper options for Saipan, Tinian, and Rota ($163 round trip to Saipan from Guam versus $270 on Continental). The cheapest option would be to be a circular Guam-Saipan-Rota-Guam, with a roundtrip from Saipan to Tinian, in advance. Due to logistics changes on my part and unavailability of flights I did not go that route. Note PIA does a hotel and car deal with ticket purchase for Rota, and possibly other islands.
I purchased a ticket in the USA on Continental for Guam-Chuuk-Pohnpei-Guam for about $620, including taxes, on a Visit Micronesia pass. Getting to the region is also expensive, but I got there on frequent flyer miles, with a convoluted routing: Newark-Tokyo-Guam. My Guam-Palau-Yap leg was also done with frequent flyer miles.
Many hotels will pick you up at the airport with advance notice, often for no charge.
Rental cars were used on Guam, Koror (Palau), Saipan, and Rota. Bicycle on Peleliu, taxis elsewhere.
Taxis are cheap on Truk & Pohnpei, pricier on Palau. Yap rates are about $10 per hour.
Saipan, Rota & Tinian - Islander Rent-A-Car www.islanderrentacar.com. I used Hertz on Guam & Saipan.
On Palau I used Toyota Car Rental - 488-5599 in town, 587-5599 airport. $35/day car, $65 for 4WD.
The US dollar is used throughout. US dollars travelers checks are accepted almost everywhere. There is a 3 to 4% surcharge for credit cards on some islands; ask in advance.
ACCOMMODATIONS & FOOD
Variable but rarely cheap. Hotels ranged from $35 to $65, averaging about $40 - $55 per night. The Lonely Planet & Moon Handbook list most options; Moon is more current. If you have a layover in Guam, stock up on things like supplies and granola bars, since it's cheaper there with more selections.
Yap - Hiltop Motel ($35 single) email@example.com 691-350-3185, not listed in the guidebooks
TELEPHONE / COMMUNICATIONS
Many islands can be called from the USA like a domestic call: dialing 1, then the country code, and the number. I needed to use the international code 011 when calling Palau. Within the islands, it varies. Palau uses its own phone cards and does not have MCI, so I couldn't use my MCI calling card, which was otherwise useable throughout Micronesia. A Verizon calling card purchased in the Marianas and Guam could not be used in Palau or the FSM. Internet access was available on most islands.
Most endemics can be found in a day or two on each island. You could conceivably do this trip in 2 weeks, but that would not allow time for logistics or weather delays. Brief summaries & species totals follow.
Guam - 17 species seen, 3 days
Most endemic birds and subspecies are extinct, courtesy of the Brown Tree Snake, probably introduced accidentally in World War 2. Nonetheless, Guam has possibilities for migrants and shorebirds, and there are a few Mariana Swiftlets left that breed in caves on military property. The southeast is worth exploring for the swiftlet and shorebirds. Guam is a good spot to buy provisions and books, as prices are lower and selections are better here than elsewhere in Micronesia.
I recommend getting a circular plane ticket Guam-Saipan-Rota-Guam, with a round trip to Tinian from Saipan, on either PIA or Freedom Air. Get the targets on Saipan & Tinian, and allow extra time on Rota, where the endemics are harder to find.
Saipan - 16 species seen in half a day
Golden White-Eye and Bridled White-Eye are common in northern forests. Nightingale Reed-Warbler can be more difficult, although I believe it is widespread. I found all 3 species on or near the Laderan trail in a couple of hours. Doug Pratt says Saipan can be good for vagrants, but I only spent half a day there.
Tinian - 9 species seen, 45 minutes
The Monarch is very common in the scrub opposite the airport; so are Bridled White-Eye and Rufous Fantail. I only spent 45 minutes on the island. It warrants more exploring if you have time.
Rota - 31 species seen, 2 days
One of my favorite islands, very quiet and relaxing. I recommend at least 2 nights here, since Mariana Crow and Guam Rail are tough. Rota Bridled White-Eye is local and uncommon on the Sabana Plateau.
Chuuk or Truk - 21 species seen, 2 days
The capital isn't very pleasant. The airport has a good variety of shorebirds, and the Japanese Gun area on the outskirts of Weno has a few endemics - Oceanic Flycatcher, CI White-Eye, CI Reed-Warbler, fruit-dove - as well as Blue-faced Parrotfinch. One of the biggest challenges of the trip is getting to Tol South and more importantly, high enough on Mt. Winipot to see Great Truk White-Eye. Tol also has Truk Monarch and CI Ground-Dove, and an endemic subspecies of Micronesian Imperial Pigeon, as well as the other endemics. Try and get to Tol South in the afternoon and stay with a local family; this will allow more time to climb Mt. Winipot, not easy even though the altitude is not that high. Nobody seems to know a trail to the top, so it's rough going with bushwhacking and trail-blazing. Easily the most difficult part of the trip. Truk Monarch also occurs on other islands I'm told; maybe Mary Rose Nagayama would know.
Pohnpei - 27 species seen and 1 heard, 3 days
Probably warrants at least 2 days, although 1 ambitious day could get all the endemics. I took a difficult trail part way up a mountain, but there are easier trails to see Long-billed White-Eye, which supposedly occurs above 150 meters, and the other endemics. The other endemics were fairly common in forested areas, except Micronesian Kingfisher. I saw a pair on the college grounds; also 1 in the forest. Cicadabird, a future split, is tough. Doug Pratt found one in the tall mangroves west of Chickenshit Mountain.
Palau - 70 species seen, 10 days
Very species rich, with more Asian migrants. Also warrants at least 2-3 days to allow for getting to Peleliu. The ferry runs 2 or 3 times a week with a changing schedule, but there are flights and also dive boats that go there. The island of Peleliu has all the endemics, although Dusky White-Eye is more common on Koror. Note that Giant White-Eye, while abundant on Peleliu, does not occur on Koror. The lower part of Babeldaop, the big island where the airport is, has Jungle Nightjar, and Micronesian Kingfisher is more common there than elsewhere. If your itinerary has extra days, I would recommend an extra day here, as it's a very nice island with a good infrastructure - take a kayak trip to the Rock Islands.
Yap - 18 species seen, 1 day
Supposedly the most interesting from a cultural perspective. The worst typhoon to ever hit Yap occurred while I was in the region, so I only spent 1 day here. The Yap White-Eye is not common, ditto Cicadabird, and you just have to explore good forest and get lucky. Plain White-Eye is very common, and Yap Monarch not too difficult. White-throated Ground-Dove was also fairly common.
I saw 109 species, including 10 introduced species, plus accipiter sp. I had 51 lifers, including 3 introductions. Most species can be found readily in the right habitat, with some exceptions, notably the Ground-Doves, Scrubfowl, cicadabirds, and Mariana Crow. Inquiries about specific species will gladly be answered at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I arrived about 9 PM via Newark, New Jersey, and Tokyo, got a prearranged rental car from Hertz, and drove to the Plumeria Garden Hotel for $49.95 including tax. It's about 10-15 minutes from the airport, with large comfortable rooms somewhat rundown, though adequate, with AC, TV, and a balcony - possibly a refrigerator also. Margaret the caretaker was very accommodating, allowing me to use the laundry room and also to stay all day without charge on my departure days - important since the departures were often in the evening. Their internet address does not work so contact them by phone or mail. Note there is not always someone at the reception area, but they have a phone there where you contact them if there is nobody at the desk. They do airport pick-ups and drop-offs at no extra charge.
I had a full day layover en route to Australia, so I left at dawn and drove to some areas indicated by Fred Amindon on the topographical map he graciously mailed me. The Brown Tree Snake has wiped out most endemics and endemic subspecies, but there are some interesting shorebirds and vagrants. Guam Swiftlet and Micronesian Starling remain in small numbers. The southeast side of the island is quite pleasant.
There is a Burger King in a gas station further east from the hotel on route 8 that opens early. Also along route 8 east of the hotel are grasslands into which you can drive. I didn't have anything special, but this can be a vagrant trap. Fred had indicated Ylig Point as a shorebird spot, so I went there. Going southeast to the east coast on route 4, there is a traffic light where route 17 heads west across the island. About 100 feet further south there is a turn to the left that becomes a dirt road that goes past a cemetery, which had Whimbrel and the usual PG Plovers. Drive out to the beach and check the area. To the left is a spit with weeds that had some birds. To the right a couple of hundred yards are some lean-to type structures by a beach. I had Mongolian Plovers here. Yellow Bittern was present on all 3 visits to this area. Ylig Point is about 15 - 20 minutes from the Plumeria Garden Hotel. Next stop was a bridge over a river in the Talofofo Bay to search in vain for distant Guam Swiftlets. A bit further south on route 4 I turned right or east towards Talofofo Caves and a US government tracking station. This area is good for the introduced Black Francolin and Blue-breasted Quail. I saw the Francolin, Yellow Bittern, and Black Drongos. Returning north along the coast up route 15 I drove until the road ends at military housing, which is gated. This is one of the last areas on Guam for Micronesian Starling, and after waiting for 20 minutes I saw 2 birds inside the gated area, as well as my first White Terns of the trip. I also visited the prison entrance west of the route 10 & 15 junction to see Common Moorhen on the small overgrown pond by the entrance - thanks to Fred Amindon for the tip. I returned to the hotel for the afternoon and left for the airport in the evening for Cairns and a month in Australasia.
I caught a flight from Cairns, Australia to Guam at 1:35AM, arriving at 6:10 AM - the joys of frequent flyer schedules. Customs again were a breeze, and I went to the airlines to get a flight to Saipan. PIA doesn't open until 6:45, with their first flight being 7:30 AM. I went to Freedom Air who was sold out for the day to Saipan. I decided to change my original plans of going to Saipan - Tinian - Rota and instead flew to Rota, a good decision, as Rota is a very nice, relaxing island, with some species that are not easy to find. Freedom Air had a companion half price special, so I arranged this with a guy on line and we ended up paying $100 each roundtrip instead of the usual $140. At the airport are 3 car agencies. Islander has a package with the Coral Gardens Hotel for $80 a day, room ($35) and car ($45). NOTE - this should be pre-arranged with an airline ticket from PIA only, who gives you a coupon. The Coral Gardens is in the main town of Songsong right on the ocean bay with a nice view, although the "beach" is actually coral reef, typical of the region. It had AC, a fridge, and hot water - recommended. I phoned Stan Taisacan who fortunately was home and agreed to meet me. Stan has a property ("ranch") in the hills that used to be a nature park. The trails were ravaged in a storm a while ago, but the property is still there, and indicated on the tourist maps. Stan took some time to explain how to get there and took me into town to meet the DFW people. En route we met Jeff Quitugua who is working with a different agency that is reintroducing Guam Rail. I arranged to go out with him the next afternoon. Even though it was late in the morning and sunny I drove up the hills or plateau to Stan's ranch and walked around a bit. I saw Rufous Fantail and some common species, but no White-Eye. Returning to where the house is and a trail that goes uphill to the right, I played a tape and heard a response. I saw a group of 3 Rota Bridled White-eyes, a likely split, around noon. They are striking with their yellow plumage and orange bill and feet. I went back to the hotel and town for lunch and a break. Around 4 I drove to the bird sanctuary on the northeast - turn right by the airport. This is an impressive colony of mostly Red-footed Boobies with some Browns. I finally saw my last Tropicbird, the Red-tailed. White-tailed was also present as well as Magnificent Frigatebird and Noddies. This is one of the spots to scan for Mariana Crow, especially the forest to the north, but I never saw it. I stayed until near dusk and returned to town for dinner.
April 3, Saturday - Rota
I returned to the seabird colony after dawn to try for the introduced Guam Rail. I walked along the various paths through the grassy fields before the colony playing a tape at times, with no response. I did get a close look at Mariana Fruit-Doves. About 7:30 a few hundred yards from the parking lot I got an immediate and loud response. The bird only responded once or twice, but for a long time on the first occasion. It stopped just short of the path, only giving me a glimpse. About 10 minutes later it briefly ran out on the path and fluttered its flightless wings while running back into the weeds. I returned to the seabird colony watching the tropicbirds and trying to get some photos. About 8:30 I slowly drove south and east, stopping at the Alaguan Bay overlook, a spot for the Crow. Another good look at the Fruit-Dove, but no crow. I drove all the way around the rough but drivable road to Songsong. This passes through nice habitat, but I didn't see anything new except Micronesian Myzomela, surprisingly scarce on Rota. I also checked out the sewage ponds inside the Rota Resort, where I saw a few egrets and a Moorhen. Back to town for lunch and a break. Jeff met me at my hotel at 4, and we stopped to visit Arjun Amar who is studying the Mariana Crow. Jeff took me to 2 areas on the west side of the island where the Guam Rail was released with radio collars. We heard one in response to playback but didn't see it. Arjun had given us directions to a nest site for the Crow, which was off a trail going east not far from the road to Alaguan Bay, just past a memorial. We walked in a few hundred yards and saw 2 Mariana Crows. One was pecking at a branch and wiping the side of its bill on the branch. Jeff said this was a sign of stress so we departed after a couple of minutes. These were the only crows I saw. It's a tough bird to see, and apparently declining. We went to the Rota Resort and saw a pair of Eurasian Widgeons on the golf course pond, along with some Moorhens at dusk. I had dinner at the Rota Bayview Hotel on the bay for about $10.
April 4, Palm Sunday - Rota & Guam
I returned to the seabird colony at dawn and was surprised to see a Guam Rail scurry into the bushes as I drove in, again quite near the parking lot. I tried to get a better look with the tape, but only saw it run across the road. I watched the seabirds again and decided to fly to Guam, leaving on the 11:10 flight. It was tough getting a rental car, but Hertz came through for me in the end after Budget and Avis tried selling me a full-size model. I visited BestSeller books in the Guam Premium Outlet, as I had lost my Lonely Planet book. I bought another one along with the Moon Handbook. About 4:30 PM I returned briefly to Ylig Point, which now had people hanging out, and drove south onto the Talofofo Cave turnoff to where the road ends at the US State Department property. Inside the fenced area there were many PG Plovers, but I finally saw a pair of Blue-breasted Quail, well-hidden even though the grass was short. That evening I caught the last half of a weather report which mentioned a tropical storm in Chuuk.
April 5, Monday - Chuuk
8:20 AM flight to Chuuk on a Continental Visit Micronesia Pass. Most of this day was spent trying to arrange a trip to Tol South. It was raining hard when we arrived, and the main road was flooded in spots. I agree with someone's assessment of Weno as a dirty, uninspiring port town, the least pleasant area of my whole trip. Note there are many shorebirds and herons at the airport which warrant more of a look than I had time to give them. I had previously contacted Mary Rose Nagayama through e mail. She was not in her office at the college all morning. At 2:15 I decided to try my luck on my own at the boat dock, and was surprised to find many here do not speak much English, unlike most other areas that I visited. I was asking for Kisenso Enies, based on Graham Talbot's report. Finally one guy said he was his cousin, and his companion offered to take me to Tol the next day for $50, plus 10 gallons of gas at $2.20 a gallon, and $2 each for the 4 guides to take me up the mountain. He was a big guy named Anden. I walked back to the college and Mary Rose had finally showed up - the flooded roads had kept her from entering town in the morning. She had forgotten about my visit and was trying to arrange something through her cousins that lived on Tol. I quickly returned to the boat dock to cancel my trip with Anden, but he was gone, so I left a message with the gas station attendant who knew him. I left things with nothing finalized but at least I knew Mary Rose understood what I wanted. Although she did a research project on Truk Monarch, she has never seen the bird, and in fact is not a birder at all. Nonetheless she did arrange things for me in the end. I took a cab to the Japanese Gun area and found 3 guys downing large bottles of vodka on the far side of the cave. One guy got up and insisted on talking to me, trying to explain things through language and alcohol impairments. I chatted with him and tried telling him I was happy to be alone and look for birds, but he insisted on trying to find birds for me. This consisted of him whistling and calling at the top of his lungs and then wanting me to randomly raise my binoculars and "look for birds". It started raining hard, and after he introduced himself to me for the fourth time, I gently parted company with him. I took shelter under the garage awning of the opposite house from the trailhead. I found out this was the president's house, and the guards gave me a lift back to the Truk Stop Hotel. The Truk Stop is basically a diver's hotel with their own dock, with a decent restaurant. I paid $65 a night, somewhat less than what the guide books said. Supply and demand really affect prices in this region, favorably for me during my visit. They have their own generator, a necessity as the town's power went off several times during my brief stay there, quickly replaced within the hotel by their generator. My room was very big with fan, AC, and a water cooler - maybe a fridge, I can't remember. Different rooms have different rates, so ask. Note the Chuuk Star Hotel, one of the cheaper options, is no longer operating. I called Mary Rose at 8 PM and things were still not finalized. I ate the local plate in the restaurant for about $10, recommended. Others have tried to arrange a boat to Tol through the Forestry or Agricultural offices, with varying degrees of success.
April 6, Tuesday - Chuuk, Tol South
A long, tough, wet, exhausting day. At 6 I walked up the road a few hundred yards to where the road curved left and there was a weedy field on the right with a chain across the entrance path. From the road I saw a few Blue-faced Parrot-Finches, my first good look at this species. A shorebird flew from behind me and landed in the grass. I crossed the chain to investigate, and saw Snipe-like back stripes, although I couldn't make out the head, and another flock of Parrot-Finches. Immediately a teenager came up behind me as I was walking in to inform me this was not government land and I had to pay him $10. I apologized for entering and said I didn't want to offend him and left without paying him anything, never getting a good look at the bird. Mary Rose called at 7 to say her cousins would pick me up at the hotel dock at 8. Since it was windy from the remnants of a storm she estimated more gas would be needed, 15 gallons, plus some oil, but no extra fee. Three guys arrived at the dock after 8, and we set off in a fiberglass boat with a small plywood platform. The waters were choppy and hitting small waves was like getting kicked in the ass, quite unpleasant. It poured 2 or 3 times en route. I kept most things dry with a windbreaker and plastic bags, but some things got wet. We arrived at their village, Wonip, a bit before 10, after passing through 2 mangrove channels. At Wonip, an older man, maybe the chief, and the father of 2 of my guides, greeted me warmly and told us to take the longer route to the right rather than a more direct steeper path. It had been raining for the last 5 days and things were very wet. Another guy joined us and we set off. It was wet, slippery, and very difficult. It seemed the guides did not really know the way to the top, which was consistent with the experience of the other trip reports. There was a lot of trail-making by machete. I wear glasses, and between the sweat and wet vegetation, my glasses become steamed up, and all my tissues, handkerchiefs, and towel became thoroughly soaked, so I couldn't even clean them. The result was I was not seeing too much, and in any event it was eyes on the ground, since there really wasn't a trail after climbing the first part, and it was very steep. The guide found a beautiful male Truk Monarch, the only one I saw, although I may have seen an immature (hard to say through steamed up glasses). It did not rain during the whole hike, a minor consolation of sorts. We finally arrived at the top at 11:45 in an area of dense vegetation with no views. I played the wrong tape (the tape provided to me did not identify the species, so there was some guesswork after the first 2 or 3 species) and unsurprisingly got no response. Finally I played the correct tape and 2 Great Truk White-Eyes appeared above me. The orange legs stand out as does the teardrop eye-ring. The grueling part was yet to come. Our lead guide decided to take a shortcut, and we traversed the top for over an hour. There is a path of sorts through the forest which would be ideal if you got there early enough. He decided we had gone to the north side of the island and that we would have to return. Two plus hours later we were back where we started. Then began the slippery descent. We had several "shortcuts" that ended on ridges and we had to climb part way back uphill. We finally got back to Wonip after 4:30. I found out on the return boat trip my guides were as tired as I was. The chief offered me a drinking coconut, my 5th for the day, and some food, which I declined as it was getting late. We left around 5 and returned as it was getting dark at 6:30. I gave them $5 each and collapsed into my hotel bed. The better strategy would be to get to Tol the evening before the hike and stay with a local family, allowing more time for birding and "exploring". I had wanted to do this but it didn't work out, since I had only allocated a day and a half for Truk and initially had trouble contacting Mary Rose.
April 7, Wednesday - Chuuk and Pohnpei
At dawn I found a guy driving who took me to the Japanese Gun area - the normal cab fare is $1.50, I think, maybe less. Note that when the Purple-capped Fruit-Dove is flying towards you it looks very white and black two-toned, like a ground-dove. I almost made this error twice until it turned and the green back was evident. I never saw the Caroline Islands Ground-Dove on Truk. Most seem to see it on Tol. The Reed-Warbler was here, along with CI White-Eye & Oceanic Flycatcher, and the parrot-finch was heard. I had arranged a pick-up at 7:15 and returned to the hotel, checking out and flying to Pohnpei at about 10. There were some shorebirds and egrets at the airport. I arrived in Pohnpei at 12:45 and decided to go with a driver at the airport to the Cliff Rainbow Hotel, opposite the South Park Hotel. In the old wing it was $42 for a small but OK room with AC, TV, fridge, and restaurant. I called Roseo Marquez, arranged through Bill Raynor, who was off island on a business trip. I reached Roseo later and he met me at the hotel to discuss arrangements for hiking up the mountain. I birded a bit around the mangroves opposite the hotel, seeing a male Cicadabird in a tall tree a bit to the left about 6 PM. On subsequent days I tried tape playback but never got a response, either here or elsewhere. Dinner at the South Park restaurant, which was pretty good.
April 8, Thursday - Pohnpei, Selin Mountain Trail
Roseo had arranged for a local forest ranger, John Mark Edgar, to be my guide. We drove to the southwest in Roseo's vehicle to John's house in U municipality with Ben Namakin, who was working with the Conservation Society of Pohnpei with Roseo. We later picked up Eduard Alex, who seemed more familiar with the actual trails. John's English was pretty good, but Eduard's comprehension was minimal, although he could express himself adequately when he wanted. This was another fairly tough hike, although there was an actual trail to follow. It had been raining the previous days and it was quite wet and slippery when the trail became narrower, overgrown and steep. There were some tricky traverses and stream crossings with steep drop-offs. I saw most of the endemics and the Kingfisher along this trail. I finally saw a group of Long-billed White-eyes. They called once, 4 drawn out cheeuw (?) notes, then stayed on a branch. One bird jumped over the other sideways, then preened the other bird at the base of the neck while a third bird watched from a higher branch. They have very long bills and the eye ring isn't very strong, and legs that are more orange than indicated in the book. Otherwise they are fairly plain. As there was still a distance to the top and it was getting steeper, I decided to go back, and we slowly descended, with me slipping and falling some of the way. I saw another group of Long-billed White-Eyes a bit below the first group - maybe the same birds? We descended by a slightly different route, stopping at a house belonging to Eduard's cousins, where a young guy was chopping down a breadfruit tree by machete. Amazingly a White-tailed Tropicbird flew in close and landed on a branch above where he was chopping. Then the moron leapt up and swung the machete at the bird, possibly nicking its tail, and it flew off. This was by far the stupidest thing I saw on the whole trip. When I yelled stop the family laughed, thinking it was all good fun. We made our final descent, reaching a paved road with a kiosk about 12:30, where I caught a cab back to the hotel for $5. While hiking I had showed Eduard a picture of the Ground-Dove and asked where it could be found and he pointed to an island in the distance, saying the Imperial Pigeon was also there. They offered to take me there Saturday morning, since I had plans for Friday. There are no official guide fees, but Bill Raynor had suggested $40, so I gave them $20 each, which they at first refused. I returned to the hotel thoroughly drenched again, and had the hotel wash my clothes. Ben and Roseo met me at the hotel, and Ben showed us some video he had made during our hike to illustrate prime vs. destroyed habitat. They drove me to an internet café in town, then I took a cab ($5) to the college campus. This is a nice area with a large lawn and nearby savannah and scrub. There was a pair of Micronesian Kingfishers in a tree on the lawn, Gray White-Eyes, Ruddy Turnstones with the obligatory PG Plovers, fruit doves, and a lone Hunstein's Munia that flew in. There is a wetland area opposite that looks promising. I caught a cab and returned to the hotel. I met Roseo in the evening at a sakau bar on a mangrove pond. Sakau is like kava in Polynesia, also an acquired taste made from a pepper plant, although not too bad. You get a mild numbness in the mouth and a generally relaxed feeling, but I didn't get a big buzz from it. I was pretty tired from the hike so anything would have relaxed me. Drinkers regularly spit after drinking it to remove the residue from their mouths. Micronesia is a spitting culture in general, either with sakau, the widespread betelnut chewing, or just plain spitting. Stand clear, especially when a car door flies open for betel nut spit.
April 9, Friday - Pohnpei - Nan Madol tour
I had booked a day trip to the Nan Madol ruins and surrounding islands through the Village Hotel for $40, so decided to move there for my last night. The rooms are pricey at over $80 and up, but the setting is beautiful straw roofed cabins with a restaurant on a hill overlooking a mangrove forest and the bay, truly a lovely place. No AC in the rooms, but it was cool enough at night. The restaurant is good also, although a bit more costly than options in town. Very highly recommended if it's within your budget. There are also some endemics on the grounds - Ground-Warbler, Fantail, Flycatcher, White-eyes, Kingfisher, and Tropicbirds flying over the forest. I arrived with my luggage in the morning about 9AM, and I left with 2 others and a guide by boat. They rent mask, snorkel, and fins for $2 a day. This is half the price of trips and rentals on Palau. The tides were not favorable for the preferred tour by kayak, so we went to an island (Dau Reirei?) for snorkeling, Kepirohi Waterfall (accessible by the main road), then a dock on a small island for lunch to wait for the tide to rise, where I saw a flyby Bristle-Thighed Curlew and Gray-tailed Tattler, with more common birds and all 3 morphs of the Reef-Heron. We visited Nan Madol but it started raining again and we returned at 4:30. I did a little birding on the hotel grounds, trying the Cicadabird tape to no avail. Dinner at the Village and a nice chat with the son of the owners & guests, whose names I forget.
Footnote: It's easy to get around by taxi, but it's probably worth renting a car or cab for 1 day to search for Cicadabird in the mangroves. I never saw the female, which is quite unique.
April 10, Saturday - Pohnpei, and fly to Guam
John and Edgar arrived at 7:30 and we drove to John's house, where we set off in his boat down a mangrove channel and a short 10 minutes across the bay to the twin islands of Debehk / Takaiou, joined by a stone footbridge and mangroves. We went right immediately after the bridge into good forest. Surprisingly it was fairly quiet. Eduard kept hitting the vegetation with a stick and imitating the Micronesian Imperial Pigeon call. After an hour or so, Eduard found a Caroline Islands Ground-Dove perched on an exposed branch. It was fluttering its wings and occasionally reversing its position for a few minutes. It eventually flew away. On the return he found a fantail nest with 2 eggs right along the trail in a sparsely vegetated bush. The Pigeons could be heard calling, but we never saw one. We returned after 10 and I had lunch at the hotel. This time I gave them $10 each. They seemed quite pleased. Hopefully more people visiting will encourage them to preserve rather than eat the birds, especially the pigeon, which is a popular dish. The plane stopped at Chuuk where everyone had to de-plane, then arrived at Guam about 5:30. I picked up a car from Hertz, previously arranged, and went to the Plumeria Garden Hotel. Some on the plane were continuing to Yap, but we found out a major typhoon had just hit Yap, so all flights were postponed until tomorrow. The bad weather in Chuuk was the outer part of the typhoon, apparently.
April 11, Easter Sunday - Guam and fly to Palau
Fred Amindon had mailed me a map of Guam with areas noted for selected species. I decided to try the 2 easy spots for the Guam Swiftlet; the third involved a hike downhill into a valley. The swiftlets breed on military property in an inaccessible area, but can sometimes be seen flying over the Talofofo River valley. I went to the Windward Hills Memorial Park cemetery on the Cross Island Road, route 17. I had tried this location without success on my last Guam stop. This time I was rewarded with a pair of swiftlets after 10 minutes, flying towards the north. I drove west to the coast and south around the island. On the highway is the Merizo Wastewater Treatment plant where there were some shorebirds along the cement culvert, including Gray-tailed Tattlers. Otherwise a nice drive with no significant sightings. I was hoping for migrant Chinese Goshawk, which had been seen in the previous weeks. I did laundry at the hotel, then caught the 6:50 flight to Palau. Zenie from the Tree-D Hotel picked me up as arranged, greeting me with a flower necklace, and a fresh glass of soursop juice at the hotel. She was very helpful, calling places on Peleliu to get me accommodation, and checking into the ferry schedule. The Tree-D is nice enough, with AC, fridge and a restaurant for $49.50 with tax, but it's outside of the center of town, about 30 minutes walk from the post office. They charged $7 for airport pick-up. Palau's time is one hour ahead of Guam's.
April 12, Monday - Palau, Peleliu
At dawn I walked around the residential area behind the hotel, seeing Gray-spotted Flycatcher, swiftlets, and a few other species. I had breakfast ($4) at the hotel then took a $3 cab ride to the post office. I walked through town, over a bridge to the Mobil station mentioned in Dutson's and Talbot's trip reports. I couldn't find any hint of a trail behind the station, and there was a lot of construction on the north side; they're building a park or something. I did see the drab Dusky White-Eye and flyby fruit-doves. On the return I stopped at the Palau Conservation Office, just north of the bridge set off to the left (west) in a group of buildings. Guy Dutson had referred me to Anu Gupta, but she wasn't in, and after waiting a bit I left to check out of my hotel and catch the 12 ferry to Peleliu for about $4 - one of the few bargains on Palau. Note the ferry left a few minutes early, so it's best to arrive early. It is not very big. In general Palau is more geared up for tourism than the Caroline Islands I had visited, with higher prices as well. It's still a very nice place, and I wound up staying 10 days - more of that later. The ferry ride is 2 hours, and en route were several tern species. At the dock I was met by someone from the Mayumi Inn who drove me the short distance to the inn. The room was basic, with 3 beds and no furniture, but had AC for $22 a night. Bathroom facilities were shared, and oddly they don't have a sink except in the laundry room. Allegedly they have hot water, but I never got any. It didn't really matter as the water was cool and refreshing. There is a store next door that sells cold drinks and some supplies. I walked south along the main road from 3 - 5:15. Even though it was hot and sunny, the road has lots of shade, and I saw most of the endemics within 1-2 km - fruit-dove, swiftlet, Morningbird, flycatcher, fantail, Giant White-Eye, flyover Nicobar Pigeons towards the end of day, and a Blue-faced Parrot-Finch, the only one on Palau. I returned to the inn for a shower and dinner ($12). The meals have to be requested in advance. Tonight's meal was outstanding, with tasty sauces and fresh soursop for desert. After 7 I walked south again to look for Palau Owl. The last building on the right is a bar with pool tables and a Budweiser sign. A few minutes walk further south is a dirt road that cuts back to the left, and I believe eventually loops north to town. There is a small dense section of forest along this road, where I eventually saw the owl. I got a response to my tape, but it would not approach. Finally about 8:30 it did come in, and I saw it with my flashlight about 2/3 of the way up a tree, with its back to me, very similar to the picture in the field guide. The bird is closer to you than it sounds when it calls. It took several minutes for me to find it, even though it was close and not obscured.
April 13, Tuesday - Peleliu
There are a couple of places where you can rent bicycles for $10 a day. Anna from the Inn had offered to rent me theirs, which had a basket in the front, so I took it, using the basket for my pack. I left at first light, riding towards the Bloody Nose Ridge area. I saw a large gray bird in a tree that flew and perched into another tree. I thought this was a raptor, but now believe it was an Oriental Cuckoo. Near some memorials there is a path that goes uphill to a lookout platform. This gives a great view of the island. It also gave me great views of Nicobar Pigeons flying by - I could see the green back on a few. The big surprise was 4 soaring birds that turned out to be White-throated Needletails, very rare for the region. At one point they flew right past the lookout. I also saw a female Cicadabird in the bushes below. I cycled around to the south end of the airport, to more pleasant surprises. There was a Buff-banded Rail with black downy chicks, but on the grassy area at the north end were PG Plovers, Turnstones, a few Little Ringed Plovers, and 2 Little Curlews, also very rare for the region and a lifer for me. A Peregrine flew in and spooked all the birds, but didn't catch any. I went right (east?) through a wooded dirt road, then slightly left at the junction, and soon came across a pond on the left. There was Wood Sandpiper, Moorhens, and a cooperative Swinhoe's Snipe. Cycling south on the road east of the airport a Palau Ground-Dove flew across the path but disappeared. I went around the Orange Beach area. By 11 it was very hot, with the black road surface reflecting the heat, and I returned to the Inn for lunch and a break. At 2:30 I went north, then right at the junction to a fenced off pond mentioned by Graham Talbot in his report, just a few minutes from town. There were several shorebirds here, but no ducks. About 4 I set off for the Orange Beach area to try and find Micronesian Scrubfowl. I had tried a tape in the morning with no luck. A ways past the old Japanese HQ the road curves left, with a road to the right and an entrance to the south end of the airport on the left. I was surprised to see a Red-throated Pipit here, and later a very obliging Buff-Banded Rail. After I saw 1 lone fuzzy chick, which although downy, still showed some barring and characteristics of the adult. It remained in the middle of the road until I tried to photograph it. I tried another trail to the right, just past the curve, which lead to a wrecked car. A small crake, the wrong size and color for either Buff-Banded or White-browed, ran across the path but I couldn't relocate it. It reminded me of Spotless Crake. I spent the last 30 minutes on a loop trail that started opposite the Japanese HQ building, heading towards the ocean. After 6 a scrubfowl responded to my tape, with a single note call. It came in allowing me a good look. This was the last of the endemics that I could expect here. While cycling back I heard a few owls calling past the electrical power building, but none responded to my tape. I returned to the Inn for a much more mundane dinner and a cold beer from the store.
April 14, Wednesday - Peleliu and Palau
At dawn I cycled to the gated ponds again and saw the same shorebirds with the addition of a Long-toed Stint. A couple of Nicobar Pigeons flew over. I took the 8:00 ferry, which left a few minutes early, arriving in Koror at 10. I took the $5 cab ride to the VIP Guest Hotel behind the post office. Normally they charge $65 but the current price was $45 for a very large room with AC, fan, fridge, cable TV, a balcony, water coolers on each floor, and hot water. This was well worth it. I had previously checked out the DW Hotel, the best buy at $35, but decided the extra $10 was worth it. They have a coin-operated laundry next door, and the location is very convenient. Across the street from the post office is an internet café that has $3.95 breakfasts all day long and good fruit smoothies. Mid-afternoon I took a $5 cab ride to the luxurious Palau Pacific Resort, where I hoped to find Slaty-legged Crake. I walked their nature trail, which begins at the far right side of the beach. Some endemics were here, and I heard Micronesian Pigeon. I got a response to the crake tape in a bamboo area just below the artificial pond. I eventually got a very good look as it walked along the ground. When I returned to the beach area, a happy hour reception was beginning. Two hotel managers talked to me and I told them I was not a guest. They seemed pleased that I was birding and invited me to stay for the free drinks and snacks. I met an elderly British couple who had just returned from Yap, my next destination, telling tales of devastation, blocked roads, downed trees, no power or water, and destroyed hotels. I finally took a cab back to my hotel and called Ron Leidich of Sam's Tours to enquire about birds and a kayak tour. He works for Sam's and is also knowledgeable about birds. We arranged for me to go on an all-day tour for $90 with 2 others.
April 15, Thursday - Palau, Rock Islands
Jake from Sam's picked me up at my hotel at 7:45, and after picking up the other 2, drove us to Sam's office and dock. I picked up a snorkel and mask for $5, declining the flippers for an extra $5, paid a $15 Rock Islands fee which was not mentioned to me earlier, and we set off in a motor boat loaded with 3 kayaks. This is a well organized company, and Ron knows birds, so they can provide a tour suitable for birding, presumably. My only target bird was Micronesian Imperial Pigeon, so my wants were low. It was a good day - we saw several pigeons, a flyover accipiter, a baby tropicbird that had been floating in the water, and a few other birds, along with some interesting snorkeling. We were back around 3:45, and I went to the Continental office next to my hotel to cancel my reservation for that night's flight to Yap. The other two on the kayak trip had just returned from Yap and also said things were bad. Doug Pratt had mentioned a good birding spot on Urukthapel Island that he called the Old Japanese Road, referred to as the German Lighthouse trail by others, that had all the endemics. It's only a 10 minute boat ride from Koror. I was amazed and disappointed when Ron Leidich wanted to charge me $60 ($50 + $10 for gas) just to drop me off and pick me up - this after I had just spent $90 plus extras for his kayak tour. I did not expect a freebie, but this was excessive and just plain greedy. I politely declined and got a rental car from Toyota Rentals for $35 a day. I first visited the town dump, which had many Rufous Night-Herons and shorebirds among the garbage. I heard a horrendous screech that went on for a bit, and turned to see a large dog calmly finishing off a cat, then eat it. I'm no cat lover, but it was sobering to see tabby dispatched this way. That evening I drove past the airport to look for Jungle Nightjar. Doug Pratt told me about this area, very good for someone with time to kill at the airport. Just past the airport the road turns to hard gravel and turns left. At just over 1 km there is a large gated Daewoo facility. Take the dirt road to the right. After a short stretch it turns right and goes uphill. At the bend there is a gated path to the left that goes to a reservoir after 10 or 15 minutes walking. This is where I later had Micronesian Kingfisher. Turning right, the road ends at a gate after 2 km from the airport. A few hundred yards before the gate is a large open area on the right that overlooks forested gullies and the airport. The nightjar responded to the tape here, but was very difficult to see, as it stays in the forest. I also heard several Palau Owls calling. I gave up at 7:30 having only briefly glimpsed the nightjar.
April 16, Friday - Palau - change of plans
I woke up at 4 and returned to the nightjar spot at 5 AM. I had a somewhat better look of 1 bird that flew over me as it was getting light. I birded the area for a while, then drove past the airport and turned left, driving to where the road ended at a T. The left fork ended at a field and house after a couple hundred yards, and I saw another Gray-spotted Flycatcher. I returned and took the other fork to a dock and causeway that went out to a construction (dredging?) operation. On this causeway was a group of shorebirds, mostly Greater Sand Plovers, but also 1 Great Knot in mostly breeding plumage, and a Rufous-Necked Stint. 2 or 3 Common Greenshanks were along the rocks. I went back to Koror, briefly visited the dump, then went to the Palau Conservation Society. Anu was in, and introduced me to Bena, the executive director and her boss. Bena greeted me warmly, and when hearing I wanted to visit the Rock Islands, offered me the services of their boat. I quickly accepted and made arrangements to go to Ulong Island, which Ron had said was good for the ground-dove. Bena wanted me to stay and help them with a bird survey that Guy Dutson had just initiated. I went to the Continental office and rearranged my ticket so I would stay 5 more days on Palau and only 1 on Yap, since things were still bad there. I had a frequent flyer ticket and they charged me $50 and only put me on standby for the Yap to Guam segment. Quite happy about staying longer on Palau, if not the $50 fee, I celebrated with a soursop smoothie and meal at the internet café. At 3 I returned to the PCS office, and Anu, Lisa, and 2 others went with me on the 40 minute trip to Ulong Island. On Ulong there is a small area of forest that ends at a steep mountain side after 100 yards or so. Anu and I walked to the edge (no path, but not very difficult), then traversed around the forest for a while along a path that paralleled the mountain face. We saw 1 or 2 Palau Ground-Doves well, and several Scrubfowl, along with 5 or 6 rats. Very happy at getting a good look at the dove and scrubfowl, we left before 6, arriving at the PCS dock at 6:30. Thanks again PCS. I offered to help them with their survey, and we made arrangements. Anu told me there were chiggers on Peleliu. I had been hiking in sandals the last few days and picked some up along the way, the only insect or mite problem I had, although I had some bites on my stomach from the Mayami Inn, probably from something in their blankets.
April 17, Saturday - Palau, easy day
I left at 6:45 and explored the side roads in Topside. Another raptor flew by quickly, but I only glimpsed it. I later drove past the airport but didn't see much that was new, except a Little Egret along the side of the Road. I returned to the hotel late morning and goofed off all day. I returned the rental car. Toyota delivered a 4 wheel drive, although I didn't want it until Sunday evening. They let me keep it at no extra charge. The cost was $65 per day, but Jesse gave me a 20% discount and it only cost $52. Dinner at Mingles. The Palau plate for $10 was interesting and worth it. There was also a show with young girls dancing & singing.
April 18, Sunday - Palau, Babeldaob
Anu picked me up after 6 and we drove on a road past the airport up the east side of the island to the Lake Ngardok trail, which is the biggest lake in Micronesia. The PCS own or administer the property. We spent several hours hiking along this trail to the lake and back, and Anu was recording our sightings for the bird survey. We had 2 pairs of Cicadabirds, Micronesian Pigeon, and many of the endemics. On the lake were one Gray Duck and a couple of Moorhens. There was also a tern whose identity I couldn't determine. Later we drove up to Melekeok and the new capital building. On the lawn were several shorebirds including Curlew, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers, Yellow Wagtails, and another Red-throated Pipit. On our return drive I spotted a lone White-breasted Woodswallow on a telephone wire, now quite rare on the island. We returned after 12 and I took it easy the rest of the afternoon. Dinner at Capriciossa Restaurant, which has very large serves of spaghetti - the small portion for $7.95 was huge. Weather was hot, sunny, & humid, like the previous days.
April 19, Monday - Palau, Babeldaob
Since Toyota had delivered my 4WD the previous day I was able to leave at 4:30, returning to the nightjar spot. This time I got one in flight with the flashlight and saw white in its wings. Several owls were calling but I couldn't get any to come in. I spent the day driving around the big island. They are building a road around the island and about 2/3 of the time I was driving through dusty construction areas. The first 30 minutes is well marked, but after that signage decreases and you're on your own. Part way up the west side I turned left towards Ngchjemiangel village. Just before the power plant I heard a scrubfowl call, and saw 2 separate Micronesian Kingfishers perched on wires, but they flew off before I could get a better look. The construction areas sometimes pass through tall forested areas, and I stopped occasionally and birded the roadsides, seeing some of the endemics, Cicadabirds, and another Gray-spotted Flycatcher. Most of the landscape was fern scrub, which reminded me of the scenery in New Caledonia outside the forested areas. In Ngardmau State the dirt road reaches a paved section, where I continued straight and reached a dock area that had some shorebirds and herons, including Gray-tailed Tattler. A large monitor lizard ran into the swamp before the dock. There is also a store here that sells cold drinks, a few snacks, and gas. I continued around back to Melekeok and the capital building, where many of the same birds were present. Surprisingly I saw no woodswallows during the day. I took a turn back north on the west side when I had completed the loop, and drove past a lookout over a bay that looked like a large lake. A Micronesian Kingfisher flew across the road and perched, finally giving me a good look and a chance to photograph it. I also saw what looked like a Palau Ground-Dove fly across the road. I returned to the hotel by 3:30 and returned the vehicle, although they said I could keep it until morning.
April 20, Tuesday - Palau, Babeldaob
Anu met me after 6, and we picked up Julian, a Peace Corps worker who helps out with birds. We drove to a forested area along a construction area and bushwhacked into the forest to see what was around. We saw a few Micronesian Pigeons, Morningbird, and a few common endemics. Afterwards we went to the reservoir road which is past the airport. Driving to the right of the Daewoo building there is a gated road to the left where the road turns right. You can walk in the short distance to the reservoir. We had an Oriental Cuckoo fly past us and perch. Doug had seen Micronesian Kingfisher here and sure enough one was perched on the wires, giving us a good look. At the reservoir were a few shorebirds: Marsh & Wood Sandpiper and some distant smaller ones. We finished before 11 as it was getting hot. I didn't bird any more that day, and we had dinner at a nice place on Malakal whose name I forgot, recommended by Anu.
April 21, Wednesday -Palau and flight to Yap
At dawn I walked around the residential area behind the hotel, seeing an Oriental Cuckoo fly over the hotel at 6 AM, and yet another Gray Spotted Flycatcher, otherwise the usual suspects. I killed time and left for the airport before 3, arriving in Yap about 5:30 PM. I was pleasantly surprised to see that from the plane the trees were standing, and the roads had been cleared. I was met by John from the Hiltop Motel. While waiting I birded for a few minutes and saw Plain White-Eye. 1 down, 2 to go (plus Cicadabird). The Hiltop had just regained power that day, so I had AC. Delma the owner is a very pleasant woman who studied in the US and speaks English perfectly. The Hiltop is $35 a day and has hot water, AC, phones and a TV, and is situated on the southern part of Colonia, a bit closer to the airport for morning excursions. I had dinner at the Pathways, one of the few restaurants open. I walked to the Manta Ray Hotel to meet Bill, the owner, with whom I had traded e mails. Bill had helped me arrange my stay with Delma, and was very hospitable, offering me beer and some good conversation with his colleagues. When I returned for a shower I found out the power was off due a transformer fire, but the water was still working. The power came back after 11. I didn't get much sleep that night. Note the Ocean View Motel, which is the cheapest option listed in the books, stopped operating even before the cyclone destroyed it. The Hiltop is probably the cheapest hotel at $35 / night for a single.
April 22, Thursday - Yap
It poured rain before 5 AM. I left at dawn in light rain and walked the main road towards the airport. Along the road before a creek I saw my only Yap / Olive White-Eye, just a brief look at its head before it disappeared. After a bit I saw Yap Monarch, a handsome bird that makes a lot of noise when it vocalizes. The immatures have an interesting variety of plumages. After about 20 minutes there is a body of water on the right which apparently is a reservoir. Doug said this is an excellent migrant trap. I saw a male Tufted Duck and a close look at a wet Oriental Cuckoo on the left side of the road. I kept walking past the airport, seeing more Plain White-Eyes and a few more monarchs. At least 5 different vehicles stopped to offer me a lift - very generous people. After 2 hours of walking and birding I reached the old airport area, and turned left to the runways. There is a pond to the left when you reach the old runway, but nothing was on it. Returning to where the side road meets the runway, where there is a shop, I saw another Oriental Cuckoo, which I followed for a while. A White-throated Ground-Dove flew right by me. Back by the main road I turned left and saw a pair of ground-doves by the side of the road, allowing excellent looks. I walked a bit further south, but as it was getting hot, I turned around. Right away a truck saw me and offered me a lift back into town. I returned to the area where I had seen the Yap White-Eye earlier, but could not find it, although I saw a female ground-dove walking around below me. I went back to the Pathways and had an ice tea with ice, later realizing they made the ice with tap water that isn't safe to drink. A couple of hours later I got an uneasy feeling in my stomach that remained through the next day. I arranged to have John from the Hilltop drive me around for the afternoon - $30 for 3 hours. We drove south at 3:30, exploring the southwest side. The foliage was more intact here. Everywhere the houses had been destroyed but the Yapese were making an amazingly rapid recovery. New roofs were everywhere and power personnel and emergency workers were everywhere. Quite an improvement from the disaster area that had been described to me on Palau. We saw at least 3 more Oriental Cuckoos, and drove around the southern tip and back north. I didn't see a single shorebird or heron along the shore. We crossed the island below Colonia to the west side. En route were some good mangrove forests, but a brief stop or two revealed nothing. Upon reaching the coast, we continued north past Fanif, then drove east across the island. This goes over a higher area of hills, which had been untouched by the typhoon. I saw no evidence of destruction until reaching the end of the road and the eastern coast. I had John drop me off about a mile before the end of the road, and birded along the road. No Yap White-Eye, but I saw more monarchs, Plain White-eyes, and finally a partial look of a female Cicadabird - very similar to what's illustrated in the book, from the breast upwards. It's noticeably larger than the other Cicadabirds. Another Oriental Cuckoo was at the road junction. The last half hour was spent driving north to see a village with large stone money, then back through Colonia to another former men's lodge that was now gone. South of Colonia there was extensive damage to the houses, boats, and vegetation. I was very fortunate in seeing all the endemics, including the Cicadabird. Emergency workers had reserved my room, so Delma let me sleep in an air conditioned office until I had to leave for the airport at 1 AM. John overslept but he was finally woken, and although I was standby I got on the 3:15 flight, which departed early.
April 23, Friday - Yap to Guam to Saipan & Tinian
I arrived in Guam early, at 4 AM, and had a couple of hours to kill until the airlines opened. I was still feeling uneasy in my stomach, and little sleep for 2 days didn't help. Freedom Air was the first to open, so I caught their 7:30 flight for Saipan ($87 one way). It stops at Rota, where you have to get off and clear customs. I got to Saipan around 9, and picked up a previously arranged car from Hertz. They had 2 car and hotel specials, one for $77 and one for $97. The Summer Holiday Hotel had been recommended to me by someone living in Saipan, so I took that $97 option. I put my luggage in the car, then walked to the commuter airline section of the airport to get the next flight to Tinian ($55 round trip). There is a published schedule, but they have 5 seaters and fly when they get 3 or 4 people. The pilot was a woman in her seventies, and we got there in 10 minutes. I walked straight across the lawn opposite the terminal and turned right where a dirt road enters scrub. Before even reaching the scrub I saw a pair of Tinian Monarchs fly across the path. They were very common, along with Bridled White-Eye and Rufous Fantail. A Collared Kingfisher was on the wires opposite the airport. I had arrived after 10 AM, and after 30 minutes it was getting hotter and the birds were the same, so I walked back to the airport and got the next flight to Saipan. I was feeling very tired and my stomach wasn't that great, so I drove to the hotel, had a terrible fast food meal at a nearby restaurant, and crashed for a while. At 2:45 I set off for the Ladderanatanki trail, using directions from Wheatley and a trip report. Note the turn off to the left is not signed, but if you miss it the road ends at the old radio tower. I did miss it, and explored another side road for a bit. I found the trail finally, which has a sign and map, and started down it. Right away there were Golden & Bridled White-Eyes, and Rufous Fantails. This is supposed to be a loop but it ended at an overlook after 30 minutes, with no obvious continuance, so I back tracked the way I had come in, suffering from a minor bout of gastro en route. This is a nice walk through forest, but bird-wise it was a waste of time. It's better to walk in a few hundred yards and see the White-Eyes, then go elsewhere. When I drove out, I heard a Nightingale Reed-Warbler sing in the field opposite the turn-off. It responded immediately to a tape, and gave me an excellent look. I drove north to the Korean Memorial and Last Command Post, where I was told the scrubfowl can be found in the forest behind the memorials. It was now about 5 PM, and I bushwhacked a bit and found a trail that traversed the forest, more or less parallel to the road. I think it entered or left a bit further north or east, which would eliminate the need to crash through the bush. I tried a tape a few times with no response. About 6 one walked past me from below, allowing a great look. This individual had a bit of red on the lower cheek only, unlike the completely red face I had seen on the Ulong birds. This is a different subspecies, and a possible split from the Palau birds. I was still very tired and didn't feel well, so I drove back, getting a sandwich at a deli, then went back to the hotel. I had seen all the target birds, but the last day felt like work, and I was exhausted, so I crashed early.
April 24, Saturday - home
After a rare good night's sleep I woke up and decided to end my trip, since I had seen all the target birds. Doug Pratt says Saipan can be a good migrant trap, but I didn't explore the island. I caught the 7:30 PIA flight ($81 one way) which went through Rota. I managed to get on the Continental flight to Tokyo and Newark, which was actually my originally scheduled flight. Guam airport has many shops, but their duty free prices seem high to me. Small cans of macadamia nuts for $7 might be worth it, though.
ENDEMICS or near endemics are in capitals and underlined. L = lifer, I = introduced species
White-tailed Tropicbird - all islands except Truk and Guam, fairly common, occasionally landing in trees
Red-tailed Tropicbird (L) - a few at Rota seabird colony; larger and whiter than White-Tailed
Brown Booby - Rota seabird colony
Red-footed Booby - Rota seabird colony
Little Pied Cormorant - Palau - Peleliu dock area & town and Babeldaop Lake
Great Frigatebird - Rota seabird colony and Palau Rock Islands
Yellow Bittern (L) - Guam, Rota, Palau (1 only), Yap, Truk - generally common
Intermediate Egret - Truk airport, Rota sewage ponds, Palau
Little Egret - Pohnpei, Rota sewage ponds, Palau
Pacific Reef Heron - most islands on reefs and shorelines; dark, white, & pied morphs
Cattle Egret - Pohnpei, Truk, Palau and Yap
Rufous Night-Heron - Palau, various spots - Peleliu, Koror town dump, & Babeldaop
Eurasian Widgeon - a pair on Rota Resort golf pond; apparently had been there since November
Gray Duck / Pacific Black Duck - 1 on Babeldaob lake, Palau
Tufted Duck - 1 drake on Yap reservoir lake, airport road
Accipiter sp - 2 separate birds on Palau; one soaring over Peleliu, the second flying over the Rock Islands. The soaring bird had some barring on the primaries but was too far for an ID - Chinese Goshawk would be the most likely candidate.
Peregrine Falcon - 1 chasing shorebirds at Peleliu airport
MICRONESIAN SCRUBFOWL (L) - Peleliu on Palau and Saipan, near Korean War memorial at the north end. These may be split into 2 species in the future. Extinct on Guam. Not easy to find
Red Junglefowl (I) - feral on many islands. Genuinely wild birds were probably seen on Saipan, Yap, Rota, and Palau. Some were decidedly smaller than the domestic versions
Blue-breasted / King Quail (I) (L) - a pair on Guam at the State department property; tough to see well
Black Francolin (I) - Guam, several areas in the southeast, quite vocal
Buff-banded Rail - quite common on Palau, in most locations. This subspecies does not have the buff breast band. It apparently doesn't realize it's a rail since it often allows close looks along roadsides & lawns
GUAM RAIL (L) - a major tick, seen briefly on 3 occasions near the Rota seabird colony. It has been reintroduced in areas in the north and west also. Cats are now the main problem to its survival on Rota.
Slaty Legged / Banded Crake (L) - 1 taped out on Palau at the Pacific Resort nature trail - thanks Doug
White-browed Crake - Peleliu ponds, both north and west of airport
Crake or Rail sp - an interesting small dark rail crossed my path on a side trail south of the airport. It was consistent with a Spotless Crake but it ran by quickly and I only saw a shape.
Common Moorhen - Guam prison pond, Rota sewage pond, Peleliu ponds
Purple Swamphen - a couple seen on Palau, on Babeldaop, along the road in a swampy area on the first few kilometers of the main dirt road that goes north, southwest of the airport
Pacific Golden Plover - all islands wherever there's short grass - airports, fields, lawns
Little Ringed Plover - 3 birds at north end of Peleliu airport; possibly also at Saipan airport
Mongolian / Lesser Sand Plover - Ylig Point on Guam. It took me a while to determine what they were.
Greater Sand Plover - A small flock on a causeway on Palau a few km east of the airport
Common Greenshank - Peleliu on north pond
Marsh Sandpiper - Peleliu, same as above
Wood Sandpiper - Palau - Peleliu ponds, Babeldaop roadside, and Koror dump
Gray-tailed / Siberian Tattler - Pohnpei, Rota, & Guam. Difficult to separate from Wandering when silent in basic plumage. Fortunately a few were in breeding plumage and called
Common Sandpiper - a few seen on Truk and Palau in a variety of locations
Whimbrel - Guam and Truk airport
Bristle-thighed Curlew - one flyby on Pohnpei on the boat trip. Easy to pass off the sitting bird as a Whimbrel, but the cinnamon rump stands out in flight.
Little Curlew (L) - a pair at the north end of Peleliu airport. A pleasant surprise, and rare for the region. They reminded me of Upland Sandpipers
Great Knot - 1 bird in mostly breeding plumage on the causeway east of the Palau airport, roosting with Greater Sand Plovers. Very rare for the region, according to Doug Pratt
Ruddy Turnstone - Pohnpei College, Truk airport, Rota, Palau, & Guam. Often seen on lawns
Rufous-necked Stint - 1 in breeding plumage with other shorebirds on Palau causeway
Long-toed Stint - 1 on Peleliu pond north of town
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - 1 on same Peleliu pond as above
Curlew Sandpiper - Palau: Babeldaop at new capital building and Peleliu pond as above
Swinhoe's Snipe - 1 seen well on Peleliu pond west of airport. A possibility on Truk also, just north of the Truk Stop hotel. The default snipe for the region
Great Crested Tern - Palau Rock Islands and Pohnpei boat trip
Black-naped Tern (L) - Truk at hotel, Pohnpei and Palau boat trips
Little Tern ? - possibly two from Peleliu ferry, not counted
Bridled Tern - Peleliu ferry and Rock Islands
Brown Noddy - Pohnpei and Palau - I didn't really pay attention to most noddies
Black Noddy - As above, noddies seen on most islands
White / Common Fairy Tern (L) - common on all islands
Rock Dove (I) - Rota and Guam
Island Collared-Dove / Phillipine Turtle-Dove (I) (L) - Saipan, Rota, and Guam, where very common
Nicobar Pigeon (L) - flyovers on Palau and Peleliu, quite a unique flight profile. Several seen well, including the green back sheen, from Bloody Nose Ridge tower. The white tail is not always easy to see.
WHITE-THROATED GROUND-DOVE (L) - 1 flyby on Rota, more common on Yap and Saipan
CAROLINE ISLANDS GROUND-DOVE (L) - nearly missed this one. One seen with guides on Pohnpei on Debehk/Takaiou twin islands. It was fluttering its wings while standing on a branch for several minutes, an odd behavior. Most people see it on Tol in the Truk group
PALAU GROUND-DOVE (L) - 1 flyby each on Peleliu and Babbeldaop; seen well on Ulong in the Rock Islands. A scarce species approaching endangered status, I believe.
Purple-capped / Crimson-crowned Fruit-Dove (L) - Truk and Pohnpei, fairly common; a different subspecies is in Polynesia
PALAU FRUIT-DOVE (L) - fairly common on all islands, the national bird of Palau
MARIANA FRUIT-DOVE (L) - fairly common on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota; not always easy to see well
MICRONESIAN PIGEON (L) - fairly common but elusive on Palau, heard only on Pohnpei
POHNPEI LORY (L) - fairly common, beautiful in good light, otherwise dark
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (I) - lone birds seen on 2 occasions flying over Koror on Palau
Oriental Cuckoo - Palau and Yap; in flight looks like a falcon or accipiter
PALAU OWL (L) - a major coup. They often call but do not readily respond to tapes. I got a good look at a bird perched on Peleliu, facing away from me, similar to the posture in the illustration. Other attempts failed on Peleliu and Babeldaop. They start calling at dusk and even earlier
Jungle Nightjar (L) - just past the airport on Palau; very tough to see well, as it prefers to stay in the trees. Thanks to Doug Pratt for info on this site, which is easily accessible
PALAU SWIFTLET (L) - very common, a "can't miss it" species
MARIANA / GUAM SWIFTLET (L) - finally seen from Windward Hills Memorial Cemetery on Guam on my second visit, where difficult. Also occurs on Tinian and Saipan
CAROLINE ISLANDS SWIFTLET (L) - common on Truk and Pohnpei
White-throated Needletail - 4 birds seen well soaring over Peleliu from the Bloody Nose Ridge platform. Very rare in the region
Collared Kingfisher - Doug Pratt separates these into two species; Collared on Palau, where very common on Peleliu, and common on Koror and Babeldaop.
The Marianas birds are called White-headed Kingfisher, with a separate subspecies on Rota. Common on Rota, Saipan, & Tinian. Counted as one species for now
MICRONESIAN KINGFISHER (L) - another future split, also counted as one species for now. This will be split into 3 species. One is the extinct-in-the-wild Guam Kingfisher, hopefully to be reintroduced.
Pohnpei Kingfisher is another, seen at the college and while hiking up the mountain. Uncommon at best.
The Rusty-capped on Palau is more difficult, primarily being found on Babeldaop. I drove around the big island and finally saw a couple of birds, including an easy one near the airport on the reservoir road. Although smaller than Collared, this is not always noticeable. If the brown cap can't be seen, often the case when it's perched on a wire and backlit, note the lack of the white loral spot that stands out on Collared, even in bad light. Contrary to the book, I saw at least 3 different birds perched on telephone wires, usually near forested areas.
Barn Swallow - Koror area on Palau, especially at the town dump
Black Drongo (I) - Common on Guam and Rota
MARIANA CROW (L) - one of the most difficult species to find. Rota stakeout nest site
Cicadabird - another future split, into 3 species; counted as one
Palau Cicadabird - one or two birds seen on Peleliu, and several times on Babeldaop. Uncommon, but the easiest of the three by far
Yap Cicadabird - one female seen on the Fanif road; robust best describes it - big but a skulker
Pohnpei Cicadabird - one male in the top of a mangrove opposite the Cliff Rainbow Hotel. I never saw the very distinctive female of this subspecies. Doug Pratt found one last year in the tall mangroves west of Chickenshit mountain. I never made it there.
MORNINGBIRD (L) - uncommon, but a few seen on Peleliu and Babeldaop. Generally retiring
YAP MONARCH (L) - a few seen along the road in several locations. When it vocalizes, it's loud and distinctive. Some very odd juvenile plumages seen. Overall a striking bird
TINIAN MONARCH (L) - very common on Tinian
TRUK MONARCH (L) - even more striking than the Yap Monarch. One stunning male seen while climbing Mount Winipot on Tol; possibly one dull juvenile seen also
MANGROVE / PALAU FLYCATCHER (L) - seen on a number of days on Peleliu, the Rock Islands, and Babeldaop. Sometimes very responsive to pishing
OCEANIC FLYCATCHER (L) - seen on Tol and the Japanese Gun on Truk
POHNPEI FLYCATCHER (L) - seen hiking up the mountain and on The Village Hotel grounds
PALAU FANTAIL (L) - fairly common
Rufous Fantail - Rota, Saipan, Tinian, and Yap
POHNPEI FANTAIL (L) - fairly common
PALAU BUSH-WARBLER (L) - widespread but tough to see well; similar to Long-billed White-Eye
NIGHTINGALE REED-WARBLER (L) - one heard, then seen opposite the turnoff to the Laderan Taangke trail on Saipan; supposedly hard to find when silent
CAROLINE ISLANDS REED-WARBLER (L) - fairly common on Pohnpei & Truk
Gray-spotted Flycatcher (L) - seen on Peleliu and in the suburbs of Koror
Yellow Wagtail - several on Palau and Yap
Red-throated Pipit - another migrant surprise. One bird on Peleliu Orange Beach area and another on Babeldaop on the lawn of the new capital building in Melekeok
White-breasted Woodswallow - 1 bird only on a wire on Babeldaop. An endemic subspecies that's very scarce. Supposedly it's found on one of the Rock Islands also
MICRONESIAN STARLING (L) - common to abundant on all islands except Guam, where only a few survive
MICRONESIAN HONEYEATER (L) - absent from Guam but common everywhere else except Rota, where I only saw 2 or 3 birds
BRIDLED WHITE_EYE (L) - another split counted as one
Bridled White-Eye is common on Tinian and Saipan
Rota White-Eye, quite distinct, is very local on Rota on the plateau
Guam White-Eye may be extinct
PLAIN WHITE_EYE (L) - very common even in town on Yap
CAROLINE ISLANDS WHITE_EYE (L) - common on Truk and Palau, but I only glimpsed a probable on Pohnpei
DUSKY WHITE_EYE (L) - common on Palau, less so on Peleliu; a dull bird
GRAY WHITE_EYE (L) - another future split with the Kosrae race; fairly common on Pohnpei
GOLDEN WHITE_EYE (L) - common on Saipan; fairly large and very colorful
GREAT TRUK / TEARDROP WHITE_EYE (L) - I worked for this one. Once I reached the summit of Mount Winipot on Tol I saw 3 or 4 different groups. I used a tape, but it probably isn't needed
YAP / OLIVE WHITE_EYE (L) - Doug said he has seen it everywhere, including in town. The only one I saw, and briefly, was along the main road on the outskirts of Colonia
LONG_BILLED WHITE_EYE (L) - I worked for this one on Pohnpei. It can be seen on easier trails from what I understand, but supposedly you need to get to at least 150 meters altitude. I saw one group of 3 birds. One was preening the other while the third watched. They called briefly once which alerted me to their presence, otherwise they were silent. Another group may have been the same birds.
GIANT WHITE_EYE (L) - abundant on Peleliu, but only found there and on a couple of the Rock Islands.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (I) - common on Guam, Rota, Saipan, Tinian and Yap. Only one was seen on Palau, at the town on Peleliu
Blue-faced Parrotfinch - Truk near the hotel, and heard at Japanese Gun. One seen with nest material in tall trees south of the main town on Peleliu
Chestnut Mannikin (I) - common on Palau
Hunstein's / Mottled Mannikin (I) (L) - one or two seen on the college grounds on Pohnpei
Fruit bats on the Marianas, Yap, Truk, Pohnpei
Bats - several species, but I have no idea which, on most islands.
Several types of rats, especially on Ulong Island in Palau.
A spotted manta ray in the Rock Islands
Many butterflies and lizards, and a large monitor lizard on northern Babeldaop, Palau
Giant millipedes on the summit of Mount Winipot, Tol, in Truk