Sunday, 17 May 2015

The WPO: at sea, en route to the Caroline Islands & The Dead Zone!

Steffan Straits at dawn.

Up on deck at the crack of dawn on 24th April. Here for the sunrise & the last sight of land for three days. The forest comes right down to the sea & the land/seascape is quite spectacular, as we sail through the Steffan Straits off the northerly most tip of New Ireland.

Photo courtesy of Kat.

Birds are quite plentiful, especially large albeit distant flocks of Black Noddy. The odd Lesser Frigatebird soars overhead. A wader flies by looking suspiciously like a Bristle-thighed Curlew. Jan gets a couple of shots but nothing to confirm the identification. The ultimate one that got away!

Tench Island: unbelievably there are 
permanent residents on here!

We then sail for Tench Island which is part of PNG, however we cannot land as we have already cleared customs. Sea birds are abundant around the island & for two hours were are treated to at least 10,000+ Black Noddies & over 270 Red-footed Boobies.

 Immature Red-footed Booby.
Up to seven Red-footed Boobies 
roosted on the mast.

Later on we see a feeding scrum of over 100 Streaked Shearwaters & a couple of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, but they are distant & no photos taken. The rest of the afternoon was very slow with nothing of note seen.

It was pretty dead out there!
There is an awful lot of nothing!

It is 25th April & we are in the beginning of The Dead Zone! Birds are pretty few & far between, one can go an hour without seeing anything at all. Just after dawn a Bulwer’s Petrel & a Tahiti Petrel are seen. My camera was a little fogged so no photos taken.

Pale morph Wedge-tailed Shearwater

Long-tailed Skua

White-tailed Tropicbird

Other species include Wedge-tailed Shearwaters & for the first time we see pale morph individuals. A few Streaked Shearwaters are also seen. White-tailed Tropicbirds, a Long-tailed Skua & a few Sooty Terns make up the days list.

 Spotted Dolphins.

We see a pod of Spotted Dolphins & they put on a bit of a show for us around the bow of the ship.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful!

Wedge-tailed Shearwater
Up at dawn on 26th April but yet again nothing doing just an odd White-tailed Tropicbird & a few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. An Arctic Skua dashes by. The rest of the morning was birdless.

Chuuk in the background.
Photo courtesy of Kat.

 Our first sight of  Chuuk (Truk).

A little closer!

 Tropical (Atoll) Shearwaters

 Notice the black coming down the sides of the head.

 Distinctive underwing pattern

 After lunch things started to pick up a bit as we drew ever nearer to Chuuk (Truk). Flocks of both Black & Brown Noddies were on the sea & among them a total of 27 Tropical Shearwaters!

Not much of a town really!

 Caroline Islands Swiftlet

Yes, they are quite good! And totally different 
from all the other Swiftlets!!!!!!

We also saw our first Caroline Islands Swiftlets cruising around the boat.

 Black naped Tern

As we were docking a couple of Black-naped Terns flew around.

 View from the top of the hill.

You can see the destruction of vegetation
 from the recent typhoon.

 Kat looking very serious at the Japanese Gun

That's better girl - I knew you could do it!

 Talking to the locals.

Me at the entrance to the tunnel 
which leads to the Japanese Gun.
Photo courtesy of Kat.

We are all off the boat before dawn on 27th April. We board a rust riddled bus to take us just above town to Japanese Gun. This is a viewpoint over the town & bay complete with a Japanese Gun!

Caroline Island Ground Dove -  not sharp, because 
my lens was fogged, because of the humidity.

Fairy Terns were nesting in the nearby trees.

Crimson-crowned Fruit Dove

 This really is a very beautiful fruit dove.

 Appears to be still common.

Caroline Islands Reed Warbler

Oceanic Flycatcher - I just love the name!

Micronesian Myzomela

 Caroline Islands White-eye

Micronesian Starling

Endemic birds came fast & furious: Caroline Island Ground Dove; Crimson-crowned Fruit Dove; Caroline Islands Reed Warbler; Oceanic Flycatcher; Micronesian Myzomela; Caroline Islands White-eye & Micronesian Starling.

 One of the main roads in the town.

Typical houses in the town.

Milco & me walking through the town.
Photo courtesy of  Kat.

Drink & drugs are major problems here - but
the government is doing its best to turn the tide.

Hung in one the shops!
Just for you Arthur!

 A major service station!

This one is for you Robin!

Me photographing ........
Photo courtesy of Kat.

Yes, another Micronesian Starling!

The boys looking for parrotfinches.
I never did get a photo!
Photo courtesy of Kat.

After an hour the heavens opened & it poured! On the walk back to town we saw a couple of Blue-faced Parrotfinches.
On the way to The Blue Lagoon Resort.
The road was in a very poor state, 
due to the recent typhoon.

 The Blue Lagoon
 The resort - luxury amid poverty!

Me amid the remains of 
Japanese WW2 memorabilia.
After lunch on the boat we once again set out in the bus, this time to the Blue Lagoon Resort. The road was filled with potholes & totally flooded in some places. The resort itself was in a nice location & a great place to do nothing! Which is what I did!

 Pacific Golden Plover
Micronesian Myzomela

19 Ruddy Turnstones & 3 Pacific Golden Plovers were on the grass, with lots of Micronesian Myzomelas in the trees & bushes in the gardens.

 The very busy little harbour.

 Chris waiting for a lift!

Here it comes!

It was then time to board the zodiacs in the harbour & get back on board the ship.

 Kat & Kath
 A girls work is never done!
 Or a boys!



Now there are a few people in the galley that normally don't work there! What was going on? Well it was Lynsey & Kath's 25th wedding aniversary! So the two cooks got a night off!

 Lynsey & Kath, to the next 25 years!

We had a great meal on board, followed by a few drinks in the bar to celebrate the day & our last land for nine days until Japan!

Looking, but not seeing!
Wedge-tailed Shearwater

White-tailed Tropicbird
It was a little rough in the night, so I slept fitfully. I awoke just after dawn on 28th & birded until lunch time. It was slow going in The Dead Zone! The odd Wedge-tailed Shearwater & White-tailed Tropicbird throughout the day + a few feeding flocks of Sooty Terns & that was about it!

Birding from the bridge because of the strong wind.

29th April & we are firmly in the dead zone! One & half hours to see a bird, I mean any bird! The ocean has a considerable swell to it which makes life on board kind of interesting! Birding is hard because one cannot hold binoculars steady in the strong buffeting wind. Boring! Boring! Boring! Nothing to see!

Brown Booby
 Adult Red-footed Booby

Young Red-footed Booby

Red-tailed Tropicbird

In the afternoon both Brown & Red-footed Boobies made an appearance + a distant Red-tailed Tropicbird. Then it was a visit to the bar!

The last day of the month: 30th April. I stayed in bed until 8am then went to a lecture & then another sleep, so no birds seen before 2pm!

 Bulwer's Petrel

 Grey-backed Tern
 A shy & difficult species to photograph

Birding in the afternoon was slow, but interesting. 5 Bulwer’s Petrels & 4 Grey-backed Terns were the pick of the bunch.
Other species included Long-tailed Skua & plenty of Sooty &  White Terns + a few Brown Noddies

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