Wednesday, April 21, 2010


atolls and islands of Micronesia are sprinkled liberally across the Pacific
in an area the size of the USA. There are many small, low, slender, sparsely
vegetated palm-fringed coral cays, which usually occur in circular or
horseshoe-shaped chains known as atolls, as well as some high, forested
volcanic islands. The 600 or so Caroline Islands span nearly 3000 km of the
Pacific and lie 1000 km south of Guam. The State of Chuuk, known as Truk
until 1990, consists of 11 high, mangrove-fringed volcanic islands within
the sapphire-blue lagoon. This lagoon, one of the largest barrier reefs in
the world, holds a captive fleet of half-submerged mountain peaks, as well
as over 70 brooding purple sunken hulks, remnants of WW II. On February 17,
1944, the USA unleashed Operation Hailstone, one of the most incisive aerial
attacks in history. For two days and a night, aircraft from the nine
carriers hammered the islands in 30 waves. Japan lost 250 planes, nearly 60
vessels, and thousands of men. The 180,000 tons of shipping sunk set a
two-day WW II record. Late on the evening of 18 April, we navigated the
entrance of Chuuk lagoon. Just prior to entering the lagoon, we spotted half
a dozen "Atoll" Shearwaters, adding another tubenose to our growing species
list. Plans were made for the next day. We divided ourselves into three
groups: those who wanted to snorkel and tour the town, those who wanted to
bird Weno and those who wanted to bird the island of Tol South. I choose the
second group. Seven of us headed to shore about 6:45 am, stopping to watch
the self-introduced Tree Sparrows on the dock. Our next stop was the Truuk
Stop Dive Shop. Here we enjoyed a cold drink, while watching Micronesian
Mysomelas feeding on flowers. We had already encountered several Caroline
Reed-Warblers which can be found in just about any habitat, including
feeding on lawns. Crimson-crowned Fruit-Doves were easily found in town. A
Common Sandpiper along with several Ruddy Turnstones were along the
shoreline. However, we were unable to find the Rufous Night Heron which was
seen from the ship's deck the previous evening. Each of us paid $5 to hitch
a ride in the dive shop's van to visit "Nefo Cave" on western Weno where
there is a tunnel and a big Japanese Gun. We were deposited at the road's
dead end. From here, we birded at our leisure. And, it was marvelous!
Between us, we were able to locate a number of our sought after species:
Caroline Islands White-eyes, including one carrying grubs to young in a
nest; Oceanic Flycatchers feeding dependent young; a male Caroline
Ground-Dove bringing nesting material to a female who was shaping the nest,
high in a large tree on the hillside; nesting Micronesian Starlings; and
half dozen Blue-faced Parrotfinches along the roadside. We took a short hike
up the hillside to see the gun and tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel,
we had a view below of an extensive wetland where a Pacific Duck was on a
nest. Suddenly, a torrential downpour blotted out our views and the sky
filled with swarming Caroline Island Swiftlets. We remained dry in our
sheltered cave. Finally, we walked to town, downhill, about 2 miles. We were
able to enjoy the people along the way, as well as continue birding. One
tree alone held over 40 Micronesian Myzomelas! A Pacific Golden Plover was
spotted on a lawn. Once in town, we made stops at the post office and
grocery stores for "goodies." That evening, we met up with our fellow
passengers. The snorkeling group had a good time, while the birding group to
Tol South had an extremely difficult climb up a sheer rock wall. They did
manage to see the very rare Faichuk White-eye. Some glimpsed the Truk
Monarch. Otherwise, they saw all of the same species we had seen, but with
more difficulty, than those of us at Weno observed. We pulled anchor, and
began our very long voyage to Yokohama, Japan.
Debi Shearwater, in the Caroline Islands

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