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To Boigu and Beyond

Discussion in 'Australia' started by Hix, 7 Mar 2020.

  1. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Location:
    Sydney
    To Boigu and Beyond
    It’s been more than 18 months since my last real holiday, so in January I started looking around to see where I could go with the limited funds I had available. Most overseas birding trips were going to be too expensive, although I could have probably done Fraser’s Hill again and Taman Negara which I missed last time. I could have also done a short trip to Tasmania, somewhere I haven’t been before, but I want to spend more time there and do it thoroughly. I also considered returning to Niue, or visiting some of the Pacific Islands groups I haven’t been to before.

    And then I came across something that caught my attention, and was within my budget – just. It also fits my ideal holiday criteria: remote, very few people have been there (because there’s virtually no tourism), and some interesting wildlife I haven’t seen before. And the tour operator only goes here every second year, running four 8-day tours back-to-back. So I contacted him about the last tour and although it was full, a couple of days later he called back to say someone had dropped out and I was in.

    The trip is to Boigu and Saibai Islands in Torres Strait. Although part of Australia, these islands are the northernmost of the Torres Strait Islands and are only a few kilometres from the Papua New Guinea coast – Saibai is about three kms from the coast and Boigu about 5kms. Because of this, there are some PNG bird species that venture over to the islands for a bit before returning to the PNG mainland. Birds like Singing Starling, Collared Imperial Pigeon, Coconut Lorikeet, Gurney’s Eagle and Red-capped Flowerpecker. These islands are the only places in Australia where you can see these vagrants – and new ones turn up frequently. This year is no different – a couple of weeks ago a Stephans Emerald Dove was sighted on Boigu for the first time, then a Variable Goshawk. And a couple of days ago the third ever sighting of a Papuan Spinetail in Australia.

    The easiest way to the Torres Strait islands is to fly in to Horn island. From Sydney I have to fly to Cairns and from there I can get a flight to Horn. On the way back I’m going to spend a few days in the Cairns area and go birding/mammaling at a few different hotspots before returning to Sydney.

    :p

    Hix
     
    Last edited: 29 May 2020 at 1:40 PM
  2. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Day 1 - 6th March 2020

    Up at 4:00am to get ready and drive to the airport for my 9:00am flight. Flight delayed by 30 minutes, arriving in Cairns at around 11:30. After collecting my luggage I walked outside to get a cab and my glasses misted up immediately. This is my third visit to Cairns, the last being a little over five years ago. On the short drive into town, seeing the wide streets, the old Queenslanders (a style of house, not the local population), and the lack of traffic compared to Sydney, it felt good to be back even if only for less than 24 hours.

    I had taken the last couple of days off work in preparation for the trip, and those days in Sydney were raining and miserable. However this morning the weather had looked quite pleasant. Here in Cairns though, there were some very black thunderheads rolling in and the taxi driver told me they had just had some nice days, but it was about to change in an hour or so. Great, I brought the bad weather with me, I thought.

    After checking into my hotel and getting settled, I headed to the Cairns Aquarium. Last time I was in Cairns the aquarium was just a sign on a fence surrounding a vacant piece of land so I was keen to see what the finished product looked like, and I wasn’t disappointed. They’ve crammed a lot into a relatively small space, and I spent around two-and-a-half hours there. They have some very large tanks, and as well as fish they have a few reptiles too including crocodiles, a Pig-nosed Turtle, some Emerald Monitors, a pair of Macleay’s Water Snakes and an Olive Sea-snake (that looked white, not olive).

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    Exterior viewed from Abbott Street. Roadwork and footpaths were being upgraded. The umbrella is part of the Aquarium's restaurant, Dundee's.
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    Part of the large Ocean Tank
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    Two story high reef wall tank
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    Upsidedown Jellyfish
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    Juvenile Saltwater Crocodile
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    Pig-nosed Turtle
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    Emerald Monitor
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    Jungle Carpet Python
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    Scrub Python enclosure
    From a photographic point-of-view (as I was taking pictures) I have a few criticisms: many of the tanks were dimly lit – which I can understand for many species as they wouldn’t be exposed to bright sunlight, but these tanks were quite dim, which results in slow shutter speeds of 1/5th and 1/13th of a second at ISO 4000; they have used a lot of curved perspex which distorts images; and because the labels are illuminated, the Perspex reflects them badly. And curved perspex reflects even more. They don’t appear to have considered this at all. The Archerfish tank was confounded by reflections from large windows over the main entrance (see image below) - a sunny day would have been much, much worse. Also, in the non-fish tanks, the lights are usually visible at the top of the enclosure which can make photography difficult again if the inhabitant is towards the top.

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    Archer fish tank with bad reflections (and this was a dark, rainy day)
    And on the subject of labels, many of the inhabitants were unlabelled. You might see eight different species of fish in a tank, but there are labels describing only three species. Now I know this can happen, particularly when occupants get moved around, but there were unlabelled species in almost every tank, reptiles included, and I found it really annoying when I was interested to know to which species a particular individual was, especially if I had just photographed it. But overall the Aquarium was, for me, an enjoyable couple of hours.

    More photos from the aquarium are found here: Cairns Aquarium - ZooChat

    When I left I found it had been raining, and I headed down to see the Spectacled Fruit Bat colony that roosts right in the middle of the CBD. Because of the dark clouds and light drizzle I couldn’t get any decent photos of them. So I headed over to the Esplanade and walked along the southern part of the Esplanade boardwalk back to my hotel. The tide was out (quite a distance) but I could see a number of birds on the mudflat including Whimbrels, Curlews, Plovers, Pelicans and a Caspian Tern, plus Figbirds, Lorikeets, Yellow and Brown Honeyeaters, Peaceful Doves and Torresian Imperial Pigeons.

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    Spectacled Fruit Bats
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    Rainbow Lorikeet
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    Peaceful Dove
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    Torresian Imperial Pigeon

    I returned to the hotel before the rain started and later, after dinner, I wandered down to the Night Markets to see what was on offer.

    Tomorrow: Up again early to get the morning flight to Horn Island.

    :p

    Hix
     
    Last edited: 29 May 2020 at 12:18 PM
  3. boof

    boof Well-Known Member

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    Awesome. I'm jealous. I can't wait to read your trip report. I wish you the best of luck and hope you're surrounded by lifers.
     
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  4. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Day 2 - 7th March

    Up early again to get packed and ready and be at the airport by 7:00am. The weather this morning was better - instead of thick black clouds covering the sky there was white fluffy clouds, the sun was shining and there was plenty of the blue stuff visible in the skies. Hopefully the weather in Torres Strait will be as pleasant. But in the cab I heard on the radio the weather reporting how wonderful it would be in Cairns, but the monsoon season is starting today up in the Strait and there will be strong winds and thunderstorms. Great. Everywhere I go the bad weather follows me.

    We flew out at 08:15 in a Dash 8 (a twin propeller aircraft) and around 90 minutes later landed on Horn Island. Stepping off the plane I discovered that for heat and humidity Horn Island leaves Cairns far behind in the stakes. Actually, the temperature was only 30ºC, but the sun had a lot of bite if you were standing in it.

    After settling into my hotel room I found the tour leader, Richard and had a chat with him for a short while before he had to get back to writing up the previous three trip reports. At his recommendation I headed off for a walk through the small town and then out to the sewerage ponds about 2 kilometres away. By now it was almost 11:00 and I thought, in this heat, there won't be many birds active, and I was right.

    In town the only birds I saw were Masked Lapwings and few Peaceful Doves.

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    Masked Lapwing​


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    Peaceful Dove​


    Leaving town on the road to the Poo Ponds I suddenly saw a large, lanky dog wandering around through a grassy area further down the road; immediately I had memories of being bailed up by three aggressive dogs in Samoa some years ago and realised I should have asked Richard if there were any dangers wandering about town - apart from the obvious crocodile risk. Thankfully, the dog didn't see me and ran off down a side-street. (I later learnt that another dog had been sighted there a couple of hours early that looked like a hyena - they showed me a photo of it and did bear a strong resemblance to a hyena). I also learnt that there are no aggressive dogs on the island and I was more at risk of being knocked over and licked all over my face than anything worse.

    On the way to the ponds I heard a number of bird calls, none of which I recognised which was very annoying, but understandable as I've never been here before. Most of the calls were coming from within the bush a fair distance from the road I was walking on and it wasn't safe to go chasing into the bush after them. Also, I was wearing thongs on my feet (flip-flops) so not the ideal footwear for the bush.

    I flushed about 20 Peaceful Doves that were feeding in long seeding grasses at one point. While photographing them a small bird flew across the road into a large spreading tree with big leaves, so much so that it was dark under the tree. While looking for this little bird I suddenly saw a male Blue-winged Kookaburra in this tree - a Lifer! After taking a few photos I tried to get closer but the Kookaburra got spooked and flew off. As it flew off it flushed the small bird that flew onto a dead branch I got a quick glimpse of it - a Dusky Honeyeater, and another Lifer. Two lifers in the same tree! Further down the road I saw another two kookaburras (a female and a juvenile) and five more honeyeaters, so they're both fairly common here. Apart from an Olive-backed Sunbird male and a pair of White-breasted Woodswallows I didn't see much else until I reached the Treatment Works.

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    Male Blue-winged Kookaburra​


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    Dusky Myzomela (aka Dusky Honeyeater)​


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    Juvenile and female Blue-winged Kookaburras​


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    Female Blue-winged Kookaburra​


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    Olive-backed Sunbird​


    There was not much to see at the treatment ponds - about 30 Radjah Shelducks, 5 Grey Teal and two Black Ducks. As the sun was really fierce and I was sweating profusely I started to hurry back down the road toward town.

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    Radjah Shelducks​


    At the location where the Peaceful Doves had flushed I found there were several still in the trees, but they're timid and as I approached them they flew further into the bush. While standing there pondering whether I should continue on quickly back to the hotel, or stay in the shade of this tree a bit longer, I spotted some movement at ground level at the base of a tree a few metres from me. Watching carefully I found there were a few Chestnut-breasted Mannikins there. And while trying photograph them a female Leaden Flycatcher flew into the tree above them. I spent a few minutes with the Mannikins - nine in total including four juveniles - before heading back to the hotel. Just outside from the hotel I saw a couple of Bar-shouldered Doves, and under some more very dense and shady trees on the edge of town I spotted about 18 Sulphur-crested Cockatoos feeding in the undergrowth. They flew off at my approach - very timid - but made no vocalisations whatsoever, which is very different to the cockatoos further south who scream and yell at each other and everything else in the world.

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    Chestnut-breasted Mannikins​


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    Bar-shouldered Dove​

    Back at the hotel I had a cold shower just to cool down and then relaxed for the afternoon, meeting the other people that are on the tour (they all flew in on the afternoon flight). I also learnt that the Leaden Flycatcher female I saw could have been a male Broad-billed Flycatcher, which is almost identical (and would be another lifer). I'll have to show my photos to the experts and see if they can tell the difference.

    Tomorrow: up early again as we leave for Boigu at 7:00am.

    :p

    Hix
     
    Last edited: 29 May 2020 at 12:40 PM
  5. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Day 3 – 8th March

    Up early again to pack, quick breakfast and outside the hotel by 7:00am with our bags. While waiting we saw a pair of Spangled Drongos on a power line, but when I got my camera out it fogged up and the birds were gone before I could anything. The drongos found here may be of the Australian or the New Guinea subspecies, and the latter may soon be elevated to full species status soon.

    Our entire group of ten (one tour leader and nine guests) were transported in the hotel bus down to the wharf where we and our luggage boarded the Eclipse D, a 16-metre twin-hulled catamaran, which we will call home for the next nine days.

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    The Eclipse

    The Torre Strait Islands have virtually no tourism to speak of, and Richard (the tour leader) said his company - Birding Tours Australia - are pretty much the only people doing tours up here. Most of the islands have small airstrips and either a guesthouse or a small hotel with a handful of rooms that are often booked by the government when they travel around, so the only real way to do what we are planning is by boat. Boigu and Saibai are also mangrove/marshy/muddy islands and as a result access to most parts of the islands is difficult. Each island has usually only a single village on one small part of the island. By travelling on this live-aboard vessel we not only resolve the accommodation issue, but we can navigate around the entire islands, and take the tenders up rivers to see areas that are not accessible on foot.

    The ride to Boigu is an all day voyage, and looking out from where we were anchored next to Thursday Island we could see dark grey skies and rain ahead. Thursday Island is the administrative centre for the Torres Strait Islands, but the airport is on neighbouring Horn Island as Thursday can’t accommodate a runway.

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    Leaving Thursday Island on the Eclipse. The two tenders are being towed behind on the right.

    About 30 minutes after we left it started to rain but it only lasted for three hours or so. It remained overcast for the rest of the day, and there was a bit of a chop so the boat rocked around a bit, and with no birds in sight there wasn’t much we could do. But this gave us an opportunity to get used to the movement of the boat, and to get to know everyone a bit better. Along with Richard (the tour leader) who is on his 19th visit up here, we also have Mike, Biggles, Graham, Tom, Jenny and Rob who have all been here before – Mike has lost count of how many times he’s been up here, and this is Jenny’s second visit this year (she was here last month on one of Richard’s other tours). Finally, there’s a couple – Bob & Karyl – and myself who are all on our first visit here. The Eclipse D is owned by Joe who captains her, Sam is his co-captain and Sam’s fiancé Emily (better known as Em) is the cook.

    Most of the day was spent either sitting around enjoying the sea air, and looking at small, uninhabited islands, chatting, or sleeping. Some of us saw brief glimpses of dolphins and dugongs when we started, but apart from seeing a log in the distance with what appeared to be cormorant on it, the highlight of the day was lunch. And then dinner. The food on board the Eclipse is absolutely brilliant – the dinner Em created for us was worthy of any top-rated restaurant. Lamb shanks that were so tender the meat fell off the bone, with sweet potato mash, onion, beans and some delectable baby carrots, followed by a scrumptious pavlova.

    There are considered to be around 850 or so birds regularly found in Australia – natives, introduced species and regular migratory birds (like waders and cuckoos), and small non-native breeding populations like Mute Swans and Ostriches. But if you include all the rare vagrants that appear in Australia and its territories, the figure is quite a bit higher. Birdlife Australia has published a working list of all the birds recorded from Australia and its territories (except the Australian Antarctic Territory) and their total is 938, but there are several more records not yet included on the list. One of Australia’s top birders has created a list on his website of the birders who have seen the most Australian Species. When Richard saw the Stephan’s Emerald Dove and Variable Goshawk a few weeks ago they were birds 900 and 901 for his Australian life-list, and this puts him in joint first place with Mike, also on 901, who is also on the trip with us (however, Mike reckons he’s only on 900). Biggles is number 4 on 864 and Jenny is the highest female at number 5 with 849. Rob, my cabin mate, is 30th with 788. As you need to have at least 600 to get on the list, I’m still a fair way off with only around 400 species.

    And so, after a full day sailing (or rather, motoring, as the Eclipse has no sails) we approached Boigu as the sun set, and after dinner we retired to our cabins. Rob and I turned out the light at 9:00pm, and about 10:00pm we heard the motor shut down and the anchor drop.

    We had arrived.

    Tomorrow: Boigu Island


    :p


    Hix


    Richard's company is Birding Tours Australia Birding Tours Australia
    The Eclipse D is part of Eclipse FNQ Charters Home - Eclipse FNQ Charters fishing charter Cape York Weipa | Research Vessel | Live Aboard
     
    Last edited: 30 May 2020 at 4:35 AM
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  6. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    It's great to have another Hix safari to read about. What are the chances that you may see palm cockatoo? Will you be in their habitat?

    I visited Cairns and saw the spectacular spectacled flying fox colony in the middle of town. It was a fantastic surprise.
     
  7. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Would love to see a Palm Cockatoo, but I'm afraid that's not likely. Maybe next year if I can get to the Iron Range.

    As for Flying Foxes, I've just seen a colony of Big-eared Flying Foxes on Saibai Island.

    :p

    Hix
     
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  8. vogelcommando

    vogelcommando Well-Known Member

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    fijnaart, the netherlands
    Any plans to go diving around these islands because I think there would be quite some intresting stuff below the watersurfance ?
     
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  9. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Day 4 – 9th March

    Up again at 5:00 am to have a shower and get dressed, breakfast at 5:30 and then we were on the tender at 6:00, in the dark, heading towards the Boigu jetty. This is going to be the way we start the day most days, but as we all slept soundly each night it doesn’t really seem like such an impost.

    In the dim morning light we walked through the township towards the airstrip passing more than 50 White-breasted Woodswallows sitting on the power lines, some making short sorties to catch flying insects before returning to their perch. Walking past the runway and past the local tip (aka rubbish dump) we came to the end of the road in the mangroves where we set up our stools for the next three hours.

    Richard had found this location was a good vantage point as there were several trees with dead exposed branches at the top on which birds frequently perched, and no sooner had we arrived than a pair of Varied Honeyeaters flew in (Lifer). The light was beginning to get better and soon it was good enough for photography. I went for a short wander to the mangroves nearby and saw another pair of Varied Honeyeaters much closer, chasing each other through the trees. I also saw a pair of Willie Wagtails, one of which caught my attention. Willie Wagtails (which is not a wagtail at all, but a fantail) are black above, white below, with a fine white eyebrow line above the eye, like someone with a white eye-liner pencil had drawn it on. One of this pair was exactly like that, but the other had two very thick, almost circular eyebrows, something I had never seen before. As this is a different subspecies (Rhipidura leucophrys melaleuca) to those on the Australian mainland, this might be a trait peculiar to this part of the world.

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    Varied Honeyeater​


    Although the skies were covered by clouds, blocking out the sun, there wasn’t any rain and there was still plenty of light for photography. However, photographing birds against grey skies results in silhouettes of the bird which doesn’t make for great photos, but the exposure is much better if you are getting a shot of a bird in a tree or bush with a leafy background. But the good thing was that the clouds blocked out the direct rays of the sun and with a light breeze the conditions were pretty pleasant (and the breeze kept the mosquitos to a minimum).

    On the way to this site there had been some Pied Herons at the tip and now the light was better I wanted to get some shots of them, so I headed back down the road. As well as the Herons there were also Golden-Headed Cisticolas being very vocal, a number of Eurasian Tree Sparrows (which appear to have self-introduced from New Guinea), another pair of Willie Wagtails (also with prominent eyebrows, but not as much as the other one I saw), a female Olive-backed Sunbird, and a Marsh Sandpiper.

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    Pied Herons at the local tip​


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    Golden-headed Cisticola​


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    Eurasian Tree Sparrow​


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    Willie Wagtail​


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    Marsh Sandpiper​


    I returned to the group and sat on my stool for the next three hours, and in that time we saw Varied Trillers (Lifer), White-breasted Sea Eagles, a Whistling Kite, Tawny-breasted Honeyeaters (another Lifer), more Sunbirds, a Little Bronze Cuckoo, Metallic and Singing Starlings (Singing is a Lifer), Torresian Crows, Bar-shouldered Doves, Spangled Drongos and Uniform Swiftlets (Lifer).

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    Varied Triller​


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    White-breasted Sea-eagle​


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    Tawny-breasted Honeyeater​


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    Torresian Crows​


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    Spangled Drongo​


    Just before we left to head back into town a pair of Collared Imperial Pigeons flew into the treetops and remained for a minute, giving us some goods views, before flying off towards the New Guinea coast. These are one of the main targets of these tours, a regular visitor to the island but a PNG species. A Lifer for most of us, and a tick on our Australia list that most people will never get.

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    Collared Imperial Pigeons​


    One of the things I noticed about these pigeons from my photos (but not in real life as the birds are generally a distance away) is that they have such soft, pastel colours that in images they look more like paintings than a photograph of a real bird. I have never before seen an animal - bird or otherwise - that looks that way.

    Back in town we briefly looked at the mangrove area where the Stephan’s Emerald Dove was sighted a couple of weeks before, until we were chased out by hordes of mosquitos who seemed undeterred by DEET. We visited the local supermarket to buy ice-creams and drinks (and I bought some chocolate too). Outside the shop we saw a pair of Varied Honeyeaters at their nest, built under the eaves of one of the houses on stilts nearby, plus the only House Sparrow we saw that morning. At the jetty we saw some Little Terns flying over the waters fishing. And I discovered that there was no Telstra network working, so I couldn’t upload my eBird checklist. Apparently a storm overnight had knocked out the tower.

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    Varied Honeyeaters​


    Heading back to the boat at about 11:00 we ate a late lunch at 1:30 and then back in the tenders again at 3:00pm to go up some of the rivers in the mangroves that are inaccessible by foot as the forests are flooded at high tide and there are crocodiles around.

    Boigu is situated directly opposite a river mouth on PNG, and was most probably formed from sand and silt deposited by the river over time. Basically, the whole island is mud. There is water and puddles everywhere, and in such a poor environment mangroves are the dominant plants – and they thrive. Much of the island is mud and mangroves and water, and impossible to walk through. So we take the tenders slowly up the rivers and scrutinise the vegetation looking for birds.

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    After a couple of hours we had found several dozen Whimbrels, a couple of Common Sandpipers, two Pairs of Broad-billed Flycatchers (Lifer), a pair of Shining Flycatchers and a number of Olive-backed Sunbirds. The group in the other boat also saw a Long-billed Gerygone coming out its nest, hung low over the water. I spotted a Mangrove Monitor (Lifer) sitting on a tree branch overhanging the water, blending in well despite being covered in bright yellow spots, and everyone with a camera was keen to get a photo of it. While some birders only care about birds, most of us have an interest in other things too, including reptiles. So when what appeared to be a small snake came swimming through the brown waters towards the boats, most of us attempted to get a photo of it.

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    Whimbrel​


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    Broad-billed Flycatcher​


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    Mangrove Monitor​


    Around 6:30 pm we went back to the Eclipse for another excellent dinner, and then another early night because we have another early morning tomorrow.


    Tomorrow: Boigu again, and the Boigu River.


    :p


    Hix

    Note: Today I got nine bird lifers and one reptile lifer.
     
    Last edited: 29 May 2020 at 1:37 PM
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  10. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Unfortunately there is no diving at all, because the most interesting thing underwater is all the big Saltwater Crocodiles.

    :p

    Hix
     
  11. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Day 5 – 10th March

    Another early one, and once again we were walking through the village at about 6:30am, but this time to the eastern end of the airstrip. Here, a large swathe of mangroves has been cleared (to give arriving aircraft space for a lower approach before landing) and has resulted in a swampy clearing. As well as some waders in the swamp, this is also a good location for watching birds flying across the island. Soon the sun came up – there were very few clouds about – and it began to get warm quite quickly. I was happy because I could get some decent photos with the sun out. We spent a couple of hours here, and saw quite a number of species; the usuals we had seen yesterday plus Radjah Shelducks, Black Butcherbird, Dollarbird, Striated Herons, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover and Lesser Sand Plover. There was a large group of Eurasian Tree Sparrows feeding on the edge of the runway, with about three female House Sparrows amongst the flock, and we could see further down along the airstrip there was probably 30 Masked Lapwings and quite a few Pied Herons on grassy borders of the runway. I wandered around a little into the swampy areas and found two more lifers – Red-headed Honeyeater (a female) and a pair of Rufous-banded Honeyeaters. There were quite a few swifts and swiftlets in the skies above, but I have a lot of trouble seeing them, however everyone else happily watched them, hoping to see a rare Papuan Spinetail.

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    Radjah Shelducks

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    Striated Heron

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    Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

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    Pacific Golden Plover

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    Eurasian Tree Sparrow

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    Female House Sparrow

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    Female Red-headed Honeyeater

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    Rufous-banded Honeyeater

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    Bar-shouldered Dove
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    Torresian Imperial Pigeons
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    Spangled Drongo

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    Birders on Boigu

    After a couple of hours Rob left to join Jenny at the Stephan’s site (as we were calling the spot in the mangroves where the Emerald Dove had been seen), and not long afterwards I decided to head back to the clearing we visited yesterday morning beyond the rubbish dump, to photograph some of those birds in the sun (and with a pretty blue sky as the background). As I passed Tom, who was peering into some bushes, he turned to me and said “I’ve just seen a White-eye”. As the Pale White-eye (aka Ashy-bellied White-eye) is known from several of the islands I suggested it was probably that species and I continued on.

    Walking through town I managed to get a few good pictures of the White-breasted Woodswallows perched in trees or on power lines, and one of a Singing Starling (another PNG 'endemic' however there is a small resident population on Boigu). The woodswallows are all clustered in town on rooftops and powerlines at dawn (we probably saw about 50 of them), but soon after disperse and finding one in town when the sun is up was lucky.

    [​IMG]
    White-breasted Woodswallow

    [​IMG]
    Singing Starling

    At the site we were at yesterday I sat down for half-an-hour and saw absolutely nothing. But walking back past the tip I saw the usual birds (Pied Herons, Marsh Sandpiper, Willie Wagtail, Olive-backed Sunbird, Tree Sparrows etc.), but also a couple of Whistling Kites, one being harassed by a pair of Torresian Crows.

    [​IMG]
    Olive-backed Sunbird

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    Torresian Crow harassing Whistling Kite

    [​IMG]
    Whistling Kite

    By the time I walked back through town the sun was quite fierce and I was beginning to feel the heat. I walked into the cool of the mangroves where I thought the other birders were, and found they had moved around the levee to another site. If they found any birds, they might be flushed towards me so sat on a log and stayed put. This made the mosquitos very happy, as they were enjoying finding parts of me that I missed with the DEET – like inside my ear, the corner of my eye, or my scalp. I found a couple that had force their way through my hair and were biting me directly on the top of my head. Several brave mozzies even bit me through my shirt; they will perish soon, as I had soaked all my clothes in Permethrin a week before I left. But even so, the numbers of the little buggers were still so bad I had to take out a mosquito net for my hat and head to keep them away from my face.

    After 20 minutes or so all I had glimpsed was Shining Flycatcher and a Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, and as it was almost time to meet the boat, I walked to the Supermarket and bought an ice-cream and a drink with the rest of the group. Then, as the sun disappeared behind grey clouds that eventually covered the skies, we all headed back to the Eclipse for lunch.

    On the eastern side of Boigu is a wide channel, about 100 metres wide that flows from the north side of the island through to the south side. We took the Eclipse towards this river and then headed out in the tenders again, on our way to the south side looking for more birds. I spotted another Mangrove Monitor on a tree branch and again we got photos before he ran off, but it was Emerald Monitors I was more keen to find. As the name suggests they are a brilliant green, with some black barring on the back. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.

    [​IMG]
    Mangrove Monitor

    As we reached the southern opening of the river a fruit dove was sighted flying across the river. By the time we had got our cameras or binoculars on it, it had flown into some vegetation and vanished. We spent a few minutes scrutinising the trees but could not find it. A few PNG fruit doves have occasionally been spotted here, like the Orange-fronted Fruit Dove, but they are very rare hence the excitement.

    On the south side of the island, amongst the mangroves, we found a sandy beach and all put ashore. Beyond the beach the sand was high and had a thin covering of grasses and low shrubs, bordered by mangroves as the ground got lower, so we birded this area for about half an hour but only got a few Bar-shouldered Doves and a couple of Orange-footed Scrubfowl.

    [​IMG]
    Bar-shouldered Dove

    On our way back to the boats we walked along the beach amongst the mangroves, looking at crab tracks and the crab holes in the sand. Bob was following a thin wavy line in the sand that he thought might be a monitor, and as I watched him he walked face first into a horizontal mangrove branch. I thought he could see it coming but apparently the brim of his hat had it obscured until the last second when it slipped under the brim to hit him in the face. I’ve seen people do similar things while on their phones, but never following a monitor track! Bob felt a bit silly at the time but a few more metres along and the track in the sand ended at the base of a dead branch that was leaning at a 45 degree angle against another tree in the water. And on top of this dead branch was a Mangrove Monitor, so Bob’s tracking paid off. I didn’t get any photos of this one because, seeing it’s only real avenue of escape cut off by three birders armed with cameras, it jumped off the branch into the muddy waters below and disappeared.

    A few minutes later I heard Bob behind me say to his wife Karyl “Look Honey, I found you a shell”. Thinking it was one of the mud snail shells that are common in the mangroves – I already had one myself – I threw a brief glance back to see the shell and was shocked to see him holding an almost fully intact Nautilus shell.

    “Where did you find that?” I demanded from Bob.

    “Just here in the mangroves” he said, “Why?”

    “You bastard! I’ve been looking for one for the last 50-odd years and never found one!”. (I should point out this was mock anger/frustration on my part, although I have wanted a Nautilus shell for a long time.)

    “Oh, this is the third I’ve found for Karyl” Bob said, winding me up to see if smoke would come from my ears. I was getting ready to direct some choice adjectives at him when Karyl took all the hot air out of my sails and offered the shell to me.

    Completely deflated, and worried Karyl didn't realise I was joking and actually thought I was upset (my sense of humour sometimes goes a little too far), I thanked her sincerely, and told her that I was determined to find one myself. However, I suspect there is little chance of this happening any time soon, if ever.

    A Torresian Crow landed in a palm back at the beach and vocalised for us, probably telling us to "Bugger Off" which is exactly what we were about to do. In the tenders on the way back to the Eclipse we were all scouring the vegetation for birds, no sound except for the gentle putt-putt of the motors, when Sam, who was piloting our tender, quietly said “Rain ahead”.

    [​IMG]
    Torresian Crow

    I looked down the river ahead of the boat, expecting to see dark clouds and rain near the PNG coast, but saw nothing. Then I noticed the surface of the river three hundred metres in front of us was all rippled from raindrops that we couldn’t see falling, but the impact on the water indicated there was a lot of rain there. Then, as one, everybody was suddenly galvanised into action, frantically opening their drybags and putting their cameras and binoculars inside, and grabbing their wet weather gear. Prior to leaving Sydney I had purchased a drybag backpack which was also waterproof and could survive a short dunking in the ocean (recommended by Richard for all participants on the tour). My rain jacket was right at the bottom of the bag, and by the time I got it out the rain was already on top of us. Then I had to undo the velcro and unzip it, put it on and zip it back up, but by this time I was soaked through. We were all wearing thin shirts and pants and it didn’t take much for our clothes to get sodden.

    The rainstorm only lasted a few minutes and was almost over by the time we reached the Eclipse, but we were all soaked. And after hanging up our clothes to dry we all either had showers, had a lie down, or uploaded photos to our laptops. While looking at my bad, blurry photos of the snake we had seen in the water the previous day, I came to the conclusion it wasn’t a snake at all but more likely an eel. Richard had a look at his photos of it and agreed.

    The White-eye that Tom had seen earlier in the day might have been a Pale White-eye, but Richard thinks there’s a possibility it might be a Papuan White-eye, which would be a first for Australia, so the plan for tomorrow was to go back to that site to see if we could find it and confirm its identity.

    Tomorrow: Boigu Island in the morning and then on to Saibai Island in the afternoon.


    :p


    Hix
     
    Last edited: 29 May 2020 at 11:32 PM
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  12. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Well-Known Member

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    Is this the new Tautology Plus model? ;)
     
  13. Jungle Man

    Jungle Man Well-Known Member

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    It is amazing to see this PNG birds without leaving Australia. I would like to see all these birds someday.
     
  14. boof

    boof Well-Known Member

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    I am loving this trip report. It is on my bucket list. You're getting some great birds. Keep ticking them off.
     
  15. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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  16. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Well-Known Member

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    Definitely a joke. I don't think it's possible for a drybag not to be waterproof or survive a short dip in the ocean.

    I am fascinated by this thread. Such an unvisited part of the world.
     
  17. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Yeah, I added the waterproof bit because some people might not actually know about them. This is the first one I've seen in backpack form, though.

    :p

    Hix
     
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  18. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Day 6 – 11th March

    Another early morning and by 6:30 we were back on Boigu heading back to the eastern end of the airstrip to look for Tom’s White-eye. There was a large full moon over the runway, reflecting the sun and looking very white, prompting me to take a few images of it.

    [​IMG]
    White-breasted Woodswallows in town just before dawn

    [​IMG]

    The morning was pretty much the same as the previous morning with the same species but, for some reason, less individuals. Some of the species – like Radjah Shelduck, Pacific (aka Forktailed) Swifts, Collared Imperial Pigeon and Torresian Imperial Pigeon – were fly-overs, but there was one species flying over that we hadn’t seen here in the previous days, Australian White Ibis. Over the space of 2 ½ hours we saw three individuals fly around. In Sydney we refer to them as Bin Chickens because they are very common and have taken to raiding garbage in the cities.

    [​IMG]
    Radjah Shelduck

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    Pacific (Fork-tailed) Swift

    [​IMG]
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    Collared Imperial Pigeon

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    Torresian Imperial Pigeons

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    Australian White Ibis

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    White-breasted Woodswallow

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    Varied Honeyeater

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    Lesser Sand Plovers

    The White-eye didn’t show, and those of our party that went to the Stephan’s Emerald Dove site found no joy either, so at about 10:00 – after an ice-cream and a drink from the shops – we re-convened at the jetty, said goodbye to Boigu and headed back to the Eclipse. Shortly afterwards we weighed anchor and set off for Saibai Island which was around four hours and forty kilometres away.

    The interior of the Eclipse is air-conditioned and quite cool at around 18ºC, and walking through the doors out onto deck you are suddenly in air that is ten degrees warmer and very humid. So when you take your cameras or binoculars (or spectacles) outside they fog up pretty quickly. You then have to wait several minutes – for them to de-fog. So most of the birders kept their cameras and binoculars outside on a shelf to prevent this happening if something rare suddenly flies by. And normally there is no problem with this, but today, not long after we left Boigu it began to rain quite hard and the strong wind that came with it blew the rain horizontally, and when the word got out there was a short panic while everyone rushed to retrieve their gear. Luckily, nothing was damaged. The upper deck where we dine and watch for birds got a little damp and everyone came inside until the squall passed by, which didn’t take too long.

    After three hours we were passing Dauan Island, a close neighbour of Saibai. Unlike Boigu and Saibai, Dauan is a small rocky island with a mountain on it. Obviously, with a different substrate and different altitudinal range, there are likely to be different vegetation types, apart from the mangroves on the island’s coastal edges. And with different vegetation you would expect a different bird fauna. Unfortunately, the local population are not interested in tourists and have not given permission for birders to land for many years, so we won’t be visiting Dauan. However, Mike and Richard have both been there in the past (at least a decade a go), and have indicated they wouldn’t mind visiting again when the opportunity presents itself.

    An hour or so later we arrived at Saibai. Like Boigu, Saibai is a mud/sand island formed from sand and silt that has collected over thousands of years and then been colonised by plants, particularly mangroves. There are several smaller islands around Saibai (and a few around Boigu too) that consist entirely of mangroves and are uninhabited. The waters between these islands are much calmer and very still, apart from gentle currents that move with the tides. It’s in these channels that the Eclipse usually anchors.

    We arrived at a location in the Kaumag Channel (Kaumag is a large uninhabited mangrove island next to Saibai) that Richard calls Gurney’s Corner at about 3:00pm. Gurney’s Eagle is a large raptor, almost as large as Australia’s Wedge-tailed Eagle, that often visits Saibai before winging its way back to PNG, just three kilometres distant. This particular location appears to be a popular flyway and Gurney’s have often been seen here. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any this afternoon, so at 4:30 we got into the tenders to venture up some streams and look for smaller mangrove birds, in particular the Red-capped Flowerpecker – a New Guinea species which is resident on this island.

    [​IMG]
    Gurney's Corner

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    One of the tenders

    [​IMG]
    Mangroves on Saibai

    We ventured up a few streams and saw a few of the local birds, including Whimbrels and Olive-backed Sunbirds, the latter of which are very common and about the size of a flowerpecker, so we had a few false starts when a sunbird flew rapidly across the stream. But in the end we eventually found two flowerpeckers, just as the light was beginning to fade.

    [​IMG]
    Red-capped Flowerpecker female

    Tomorrow: Saibai

    :p


    Hix
     
    Last edited: 30 May 2020 at 12:02 AM
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  19. boof

    boof Well-Known Member

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    G'day Hix.
    I hope you are well. I'm really enjoying your travel reports. It's a trip every aussie birder has on their bucket list. I've seen a few things on facebook birding group pages about what was seen. I'm really looking forward to the rest of your daily reports and your final trip list.
     
  20. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Yes, I have to get back to writing the narrative. I've been concentrating on sorting through the 9000 images I took while I was away!

    :p

    Hix
     
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