Western Pacific Odyssey Part III
31st March Day 15 Guadalcanal-Honiara-Mt Austin
06.00: Mt Austin 1200\'asl 18.00: 08*49\'S 159*05\'E
This morning we rose at 4am and we landed in the zodiacs just after 5am where the inter Island ferries take on supplies and passengers in Honiara. From there we boarded 2 small buses and 2 four wheel drives for the trip up to Mt Austin which sits behind the Solomon’s capital, our progress became fairly slow due to the condition of the road that leads up to the summit as the bitumen had been washed away in quite a few places and at times there was none at all only large ruts which at times the mini buses had trouble transversing. We then got to a point where the buses could go no further and so shanks pony was our means of transport from then on.
The 2 four wheel drives then headed down the steep rd towards the river with one group and the rest of us walked down the slippery track looking for birds as we went. Out to our right we could see Brown-winged Starling and Yellow-faced Myna sitting on tops of trees to greet the new day and we could hear Buff-headed Coucal calling but did not see it, just then a couple of Yellow-eyed Cuckoo-Shrike came and perched fairly close to us and I snapped off a couple of shots as we headed down a bit further.
As we marvelled at the views of the rainforest a Ducorps Cockatoo was noisily calling as it flew by then landed in a dead tree about 500 metres from us and a White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike landed next to him, at that stage the group of observers was getting larger so Dave Ruffle and myself headed further down the road knowing also that we would have to walk back up afterwards and it was not a prospect that I was looking forward to. As I came around a corner in the road I saw Yellow-bibbed Lory and Yellow-faced Myna moving about but could not get them in the open to photograph till one of the Yellow-faced Mynas obligingly hopped onto a dead branch just in front of me, then a male Midget Flowerpecker was going from tree orchid to tree orchid on a large tree and it had similar colours to our Mistletoe Bird at home.
Again we kept walking down till we met up with one of the groups walking back upthe track, from the point that the four wheel drive had dropped them off, and they had a feeding flock of small birds passing through, which included Steel-blue Flycatcher, Cicadabird, White-winged Fantail and Chestnut-bellied Monarch. Dave and I stayed around after the group moved on and as we slowly moved back up the track we were rewarded with superb views of a female Midget Flowerpecker collecting a soft silky material from a large pod growing on a rainforest tree.
We then ran into a large group from the ship looking at Black-headed Myzomela and Black-and-white Monarch so we moved past and went down a rough track a little ways and Dave was able to see Yellow-bibbed Lory and we also heard Buff-headed Coucal but again did not see it. From there we huffed and puffed our way back up the hill to were the minibuses had got thru after negotiating some large potholes and walked over to a place that gave us magnificent views of the surrounding area all the way to the sea.
A couple of people had come back via a lift in the four wheel drives and they told us they had superb views of a pair of Blyth’s Hornbill flying past. Dave, Brue and I then walked back towards town for a short while and we saw Pied Goshawk, Midget Flowerpecker and again heard but not seen Buff-headed Coucal. As the group gathered back at the summit we tried to call in the Woodford’s Rail without any luck then on the way back a Buff-headed Coucal flew across the road but as I was in the last vehicle, again I did not see it. By the time we got back on board the ship and had lunch, we had departed Honiara and headed towards the Island of Kolombangara and as the afternoon drew to a close we came upon a pair of Sperm Whales who gave us excellent views.
1st April Day 16 Kolombangara Island
06.00: 07*52'S 157*25'E 18.00: 08*02'S 156*56'E
When I went out on deck this morning Kolombangara Island was on the starboard side of the ship greeting us with a postcard scene of lush mountainous rainforest and clouds sitting on top of the peaks of the mountains that make up this Island. All morning we travelled its length until just around midday heaved to insight of the village of Kukundu and a large school run by the Seventh Day Adventist and after lunch we went ashore and landed in a small creek right next to the school.
The first bird that I saw was a Moustached Tree Swift and I was amazed at the colours of the bird, across the creek was a steeland cable swing bridge that led to one of the villages that borders the school. We then headed off to the far end of the school and onto a track that led to the other village in search of the famed Roviana Rail which had been seen there recently, and along the way I took photos of a brilliant red dragonfly, we then all gathered round whilst Chris tried to call the bird in at couple of spots along the track but alas without any luck.
It was then decided to split the group into 3 and just as we were about to head off in different direction Adam who was behind us let us know that the Roviana Rail was coming down the track towards us but as we all moved forward it disappeared in to the undergrowth. Dave and I decided once again to head off on our own whilst everyone was trying to see the Rail and we headed towards the village, as we came to the end of a track that led us to the shore we spied a Sacred Kingfisher which was dually photographed and then a small wader took off in front of us and flew around to a beach behind us, Dave and I rushed back and found it to be a Common Sandpiper in breeding plumage.
A Grey-tailed Tattler joined him and then over on the other side of the small bay a pair of Ospreys were nesting but it was hard to take photos as we were facing into the sun, up in the trees above us Singing Starlings were moving about and a male Olive-backed Sunbird was seen as well.
We then slowly made our way back along the track that led to the school and we saw Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeon, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Olive-backed Sunbird and a glimpse of 2 Duchess Lorikeets up in the top of the coconuts as we were looking for the Roviana Rail without success. We then walked back through the school looking at the gardens for small birds without success until we were back were we landed and watched as a few of the locals were building a timber bridge over some boggy ground in the afternoon sun whilst I set up the tripod and put the double extender on at got some excellent photos of the Moustached Tree Swift.
Off in the distance a Solomon Eagle was circling and photos dually taken. I then decided to walk out onto the Swing Bridge and photographed Pacific Black Duck, Purple-headed Swamphen and Grey-tailed Tattler just as Dave walked onto the bridge it started going up and down like a water bed. Over on the opposite bank 2 young boys were playing, they had made a toy out of timber and soft drink cans for the wheels with a bed of nails poking out as the bucket with fishing line used to move the piece of timber up and down like a backhoe bucket and they were lifting small pieces of wood and putting them into a pile, it reminded me of the simple things that we used to do in our childhood and how, like them we would play for hours with not a care in the world.
Just before we left to go back on the ship Dave and I decided to go for one last walk up the back of the school and as luck would have it a Roviana Rail walked straight out in front of us and I snapped off a few shots before it took off and we could not get very close to it again. As we walked back I took some more shots of a Willie Wagtail as I wanted to check the beak pattern when I get home to the ones in Australia, I also photographed some beautiful orchids as well, we then spoke to Gibson who is the schoolmaster and told him how clean and tidy the school was and that we were very impressed, also there were these magnificent large trees which had so many ferns growing on the branches and we asked him their name and he said that they called them Rain Trees.
I was very impressed with this place and hopefully one day as General Mc Arthur said I will return as we hopped back on the zodiacs, back to the ship and started to make our way towards the coast of Bougainville
2nd April Day 17 Kolombangara Island-Bougainville
06.00: 07*16'S 155*11'E 18.00: 06*01'S 154*26'E
This morning the sea was like a mirror having crossed from Kolombangara to the bottom of Bougainville during the night, the area we were in now we were told,had a good chance of seeing Heinroth’s Shearwater so we were on full alert. I started the day taking photos of different types of flying fish and then a Brown Booby sitting on a log in the water, also a Sooty Tern was doing likewise.
Just as we were heading in for breakfast we came upon a flock of birds above some schools of small Tuna feeding and in turn they were feeding on the leftovers of the baitfish the Tuna were chasing, we could see Sooty, White, Bridled and Grey-backed Terns along with some Brown Noddys and the ever popular Wedge-tailed Shearwater.
As soon as I was back up on deck after breakfast a Bridled Tern was on a branch floating in the current as well as a pair of Sooty’s, then it was back to the flying fish as the glass like sea was a terrific backdrop to them. At mid morning a pod of small whales surfaced and we all had good views, back to the flying fish until another Sooty on a log interrupted me as well as a Hawksbill Turtle and at around midday a pair of Sperm Whale were really close to our ship and I snapped a couple of shots as one of them dived away from us.
At exactly 12-42pm I photographed my first Heinroth’s Shearwater and then a Pomerine Jaeger and Wedge-tailed Shearwater Pale Morph all in the space of 6 minutes. Immediately after lunch another Pomerine Jaeger was seen with some Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, for below them was a large log with Yellow-fin Tuna herding up baitfish and smashing into them, afterwards when I looked at my photos I noticed that a fish was laying across the log trying to get away from them and also two quite large Gropers were next to the log as well. After photographing a Sooty Tern and a Pomerine Jaeger I decided to take some shots of an active Volcano on Bougainville as we had been steaming up the Southeast Coast all day but it was only now that we had reasonable views of it.
Later on we saw Dolphins off in the distance and a pod of small whales between us and the coast, then to finish off an excellent day two Sperm Whales came extremely close to us before diving and most of the people on the bow got excellent photographs.
3rd April Day 18 Bougainville-New Ireland
06.00: 05*12'S 153*06'E 18.00: 04*18'S 153*19'E
A glorious sunrise greeted us as we made it to the bow of the ship as this was Becks Petrel day just off the coast of New Ireland, and a chum line was put down in the hope of bringing them in, and a couple of them were seen but only briefly by a few of the tour group, unfortunately I was not one of them.
We then decided to leave the chum slick and head towards a flock of birds further up the coast and in this flock of birds I saw my first Streaked Shearwater as well as Sooty Tern, Greater Frigatebird, White Tern and Wedge-tailed Shearwater over a school of small feeding tuna, afterwards we went back to our chum line but alas no Becks Petrel so we headed north towards a spot that it had been seen last year. As we travelled along I photographed some more flying fish and one type had the most beautiful floral pattern on its wings, we then came to another feeding flock and this one had Heinroth’s Shearwater with them and I was very disappointed along with others of the group that we did not get in close to them or circle back to get a closer look as there were at least 6 of them in the mixed flock of Wedge-tailed Shearwater (pale morph), Pomerine Jaeger, Black Noddy and Sooty and White Terns.
Next I saw Spinner Dolphins doing what their name says and it was a wonderful display to see them leaping and spinning out of the water and just before lunch on the glassy surface a pod of small whales were seen. After lunch things quietened down till around 4pm when we a young Sacred Kingfisher flew onboard and after flying thru the bridge perched himself on the wind vane and I took some photos of him as he slowly spun around atop it.
We then chummed once again for the Becks Petrel but because of the glass like conditions and very little breeze nothing came into the slick even though one was seen way off in the distance and a couple of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters flew past the end of it and schools of small tuna came into the slick and a small certation lay on its side but could not be identified till dark, so it just did not happen and we reluctantly set course for the Caroline Islands which was 4 days away.
4th April Day 19 New Ireland-Caroline Islands
06.00: 02*29'S 153*42'E 18.00: 00*46'S 153*31'E
The sea was still glass like this morning and so once again more flying fish from the bow till a pod of False Killer Whales came close to the boat and not long after another group showed up and some good views were had. After breakfast I saw some Tropicbirds off in the distance but could not say which species it was, so back to photographing flying fish from the bow till about 11am when something small caught my eye ahead.
At first I thought that it was a pair of light coloured butterflies but then i realised that they were small birds and I snapped off a couple of shots as the moved away and later after much debate, the popular view was that they were Grey Phalarope, so it was a new species for me.
After lunch I photographed some Sooty Terns that flew straight over our heads and one of them was a juvenile as he was still dark underneath, after that not too many birds were seen and we had been warned that between New Ireland and the Caroline’s that it was a dead zone for seabirds as the coming days would prove. So I finished off the day with a couple of scenic shots of the ship and its surroundings.
5th April Day 20 New Ireland-Caroline Islands
06.00: 00*57'N 153*12'E 18.00: 02*38'N 152*54'E
Today was a non event for me as I awoke with a terrible headache and feeling off colour and I thought that I may be dehydrated as I tend to forget to drink a lot of water when I am up at the bow trying to photograph any birds as they come in, so I took some Gastrolyte sachets to alleviate the symptoms and laid down, only to get up for the ceremony for crossing the Equator (even though this had happened at 11-30 pm the night before).
I then went back to bed for the rest of the day, but was told that Bulwer’s Petrel was seen along with a smattering of birds that we had seen on previous days.
6th April Day 21 New Ireland-Caroline Islands
06.00: 04*21'N 152*35'E 18.00: 06*06'N 152*16'E
Again today not much seen, but I did manage to photograph my first Bulwer’s Petrel and an immature Red-footed Booby and of most importance was to catch up with this diary.
I also had some very distressing news this evening whilst phoning home, that my Auntie Ruth had passed away and I had decided that if it was possible I would leave the ship the next day and head home for the funeral, for when I was young my brother and I spent many a holiday with Auntie Ruth, Uncle Len and my cousin Carol, so it was like losing someone whom had a great influence in your growing up years and I will miss her deeply
To Be Continued