Left - Masked Booby
Continued from Page 1
Wednesday 29 October
We were at sea this morning, and cruised tranquilly towards the atoll of Takapoto, still in the Tuamotu chain. The birding was very slow indeed. In five hours just a few White Terns and a single Wedge-tailed Shearwater were tallied.
….On deck it was sunny and very hot when the island came into view late morning. The zodiacs were launched after lunch and we set off to visit Takapoto. On the concrete quayside villagers presented us with lei garlands.
….We birded along the roadside and walked the tiny airstrip towards the outer edge of the atoll. The waders were those species we were now getting used to, Pacific Golden Plover and Wandering Tattler. Pacific Reef-Herons chased fish in the shallows and almost continuously Black, as well as Brown Noddies went flying over our heads.
….In the coconut groves many Tuamotu Reed-Warblers sang, it seemed much more common here than on Mataiva. A target bird was first seen by Nicholas, Atoll Fruit Dove, an endemic of the Tuamotus. Two more were seen in flight before we found a single bird sitting conveniently in a low bush. It was an attractive dumpy green dove, with a red crown, which in colour and shape looked like a rose petal.
….I radioed to Conrad and the Bridge to ask if we could use a zodiac for a short drive following the line of the beach to the remoter side of the atoll. The bird I was searching for was not found (Bristle-thighed Curlew, but more about this later) but the fresh breeze on our faces was a welcome relief after the heat of the island.
Thursday 30 October
We were at sea all day. The morning was very quiet for birds. A lot of effort was put in for little return. We looked at the ocean for hours, and just now and then a bird would appear to keep us watching. This was to change markedly in the late afternoon for reasons I simply do not understand. We were miles from any land and the charts showed no change in undersea topography (there were no seamounts or shallow areas). Birds started appearing around 1600. An assortment of Pterodromas was logged, with large Kermadec and Tahiti Petrels and the noticeably smaller Collared Petrel. The upperwing white shafts clearly visible on the Kermadecs, a key identification feature, and the Tahiti was a great view – picked up by Geoff as it headed towards the ship and drifted away to starboard. The Collareds were mostly at distance until one crossed close to the bow showing the collar and the dark nape.
....Another bird seen well was a single Bulwer's Petrel, doing its typical zigzag flight. At times there were hundreds of Sooty Terns but they were always distant today.
Friday 31 October
We had arrived at Ua Pou in the Marquesas Islands. The anchor was dropped at 0715 and we started the shore excursions after breakfast. We had a lovely welcome, a Marquesan welcoming chant from a woman at the quay. She looked great with flowers in her hair and was handing out leis to us all.
....Our group had the opportunity for a hike. We boarded a Land-Rover and a Toyota pick-up and drove out from the village for nearly an hour. The drive took us along dust roads towards two ridges that had tall peaks in the distance. The walk was quite strenuous, even crossing and going under fallen trees, and always moving uphill towards one of the peaks. White-capped Fruit Doves were common along the ridge and Marquesas Reed-Warblers sang from the scrub and trees. This warbler had a strong yellow colour overall. It was a great walk, enjoyed by all, but we didn't find the two birds we were searching for, the Ultramarine Lorikeet and Marquesas Monarch.
....We returned to the ship and were underway by mid-afternoon. The ship headed towards a motu. On the way we had some memorable seawatching, the best so far - it was fabulous for seabirds. Hundreds, upon hundreds of Bulwer's Petrels were some sight! Then there was Tahiti Petrel, Audubon's Shearwaters and Blue Noddies. Another new seabird was seen for the list - Polynesian Storm-Petrel. It was noted as being 'large' (indeed the largest storm-petrel) and with a distinct flight, involving 'kicking off' from the sea surface then to glide, kick-off again and change direction.
....The Motu Oa was an amazing sight. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds were here at this key breeding site with all the attendant activity and noise. Sooty Terns were abundant and in uncountable numbers, certainly hundreds of thousands, the sky full of birds coming and going. Perran did well to notice the difference in back colour of a 'Sooty-like' tern heading towards the bow. It was Grey-backed Tern, sometimes called Spectacled Tern.
Saturday 1 November
We were lying off the island of Hiva Oa - the ship moved towards Traitors Bay. The journey having more Bulwer's Petrels, Brown and Black Noddies, and both Masked and Red-footed Boobies were seen whilst we repositioned. At Traitors Bay we went ashore. It was cool and pleasant for strolling. Marquesas Reed-Warblers were noisy partners along the trail. Reacting strongly to 'pishing' they would come to scold above our heads. A few White-capped Fruit Doves were seen but there was little else. I suppose I was ever hopeful for the kingfisher - the habitat looked right for this woodland species, but it is rare on the island.
Sunday 2 November
The lush island of Fatu Hiva was in view from my cabin when I awoke at 0600.
….We were at sea all afternoon. Seawatching improved as the afternoon progressed. In the distance at least five 'Cookilaria' petrels were recorded, one an interesting Pterodroma which had the crown the same colour as the mantle and a very pale underwing. It certainly looked like a Cook's Petrel but is it found in these waters? (Postscript - see Notes following Triplist). We had good light for seawatching and recorded a few Collared Petrels, Sooty Terns, a single Grey-backed Tern and a fantastic view of a light-phase Herald Petrel as it passed just under the bow.
Monday 3 November
After breakfast, at 0745, the remote small atoll of Puka Puka came into view. The zodiac landing was precarious, as we had to go through a narrow section of the inner reef. The island had a population of only 110. They put on a welcome for the ship with drums beating as we came ashore. Lei garlands were presented, and there was to be more dancing by the locals.
....Some of us did a long walk, maybe five miles, and in very hot sun (mad dogs and Englishmen?) along the outer rim of the atoll searching for Bristle-thighed Curlew…again without success. The two other migrant waders, Wandering Tattler and Pacific Golden Plover, were here in high numbers. The coastline was scenically superb though. One direction was sand and broken coral, and the other led to a flat coral platform. Here was a scene of sandy beaches with coconut trees swaying, in the tropical Pacific.
....Afternoon seawatching from the forward deck was slow but a Phoenix Petrel was nice, and there was at least two, maybe three, Herald Petrels during the afternoon, all light phase. Flocks of feeding White Terns numbered hundreds of birds.
Tuesday 4 November
We commenced the journey to the Gambier Islands, a long way to the south. We began seawatching. It was to prove quiet once more. The wind had increased to Beaufort Force 5, a 'Fresh Breeze', and now there were some 'white horses' at sea. After many hours of dedicated panning we were seeing few birds, although it has to be said those that did appear were high-class!
….Where are the Christmas Shearwaters? It is known they breed in this area of the Marquesas and Tuamotus, though in the austral winter, and Harrison writes in 'Seabirds' that it is believed they stay close to the breeding islands throughout the year. They obviously don't.…as we haven't see one! Where have they gone? Where do they move to?
Sooty Terns rise up as some of the group approach the edge of a colony