Tuesday, April 27, 2010


27 April: At Sea, Miyake-Jima, Izu Islands, Japan. At 4:45 am, we received a
wake-up call to get out on deck to search for the Japanese Murrelet. Unable
to rely on finding this treasured species tomorrow, Rodney Russ had brought
our ship, overnight to this island in order to attempt to find the
murrelets. John Graham and I one of the first on the monkey bridge, heard a
Japanese Murrelet calling, "chi, chi, chi." In the dim, barely light hour
from 5 am until 6 am, we recorded some 70 of the mighty murrelets! Most of
them were making a dawn flight from their breeding stacks to the east. Once
again, our key spotter, John, located one on the water right next to the
ship! But, I missed this bird! Drats! Moving inside to the bridge, I finally
saw two different pairs, on the water, quite close to the ship! This was a
major goal of the voyage for me, as the Japanese Murrelet completed my
record of having seen all of the world's species of alcids! Flocks of
several hundred Tristram's Storm-Petrels were lifting off the water.
Streaked and Short-tailed Shearwaters were all around. Again, we also found
all three species of albatrosses! And, off the bow, just now some Ancient
Murrelets and Rhinoceros Auklets were spotted. This afternoon we docked at
Yokohama harbor. The weather and seas will not permit us to make a landing
on Mikyake-Jima tomorrow. So, we shall be based in Yokohama until our
departure on the morning of 29 April. Some of us went ashore, after clearing
immigration late this afternoon. We only managed to find a few bird species
in the light rain, and enjoyed some good coffee at a cafe. Email services
end at dinner tonight. So, for now, I shall sign off, although, I shall be
continuing for 3 more days of birding in Japan with my 3 companions from the
USA, as well as my friend, Eriko Kobayashi. We shall be heading to Mt. Fuji!
Debi Shearwater, in the Izu Islands, Japan, Western Pacific Odyssey

Monday, April 26, 2010


26 April: At Sea, east of Torishima. Nearly everyone on board was up at the
crack of dawn to search for albatrosses. Chumming was in progress and hopes
were high. We were within sight of Torishima, the southernmost of the Izu
Islands, where the bulk of the world's Short-tailed, or Steller's
Albatrosses nest. This albatross was once a common species on both the
Asiatic and American coasts. Several million pairs once bred on Torishima,
but as a result of over-hunting by the Japanese feather collectors in the
late 19th and 20th centuries, it declined dramatically. By 1934 it was
presumed extinct. Miraculously, in December 1950, eight to ten birds were
re-discovered on Torishima. The seas had calmed considerably overnight, but
virtually no seabirds, not even shearwaters, were chumming to our wake. A
distant Steller's Albatross was sighted, a tiny, mere speck of white. Again,
John Graham spotted a speck, sitting on the water at our 2 o'clock position.
It was a sleeping "golden gooney," as we refer to the adult Steller's! The
ship circled around and everyone on board had close views while cameras
clicked away. Whew! Throughout the day, the seas continued to calm until
they were a glassy, smooth. At the end of the day, we had tallied more
variety of wildlife than on any previous day of our voyage— a single
Northern Fulmar (first record for the voyage); flocks of Short-tailed
Shearwaters, especially in the evening; a single Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
immediately off the bow (also a first for the voyage); Red Phalaropes; many
whales throughout the day, including one Sei Whale and possibly a small
group of Hubb's Beaked Whales; small groups of Risso's Dolphins, as well as
bow-riding Striped Dolphins; flying fish and flying squid; and half a dozen
distant sea turtles! It was a spectacular day at sea, brimming with activity
and life!
Debi Shearwater, in the Izu Islands, Japan, Western Pacific Odyssey

Sunday, April 25, 2010


25 April: At Sea, east of the Ogasawara Islands, including Chichi. What a
difference a night can make! We awoke to much cooler temperatures, both sea
and air. Winds were buffeting us and frothing whitecaps covered the seas
while occasional rain showers sent us inside to the bridge. Many seabirds
were about, including good numbers of pale morph Wedge-tailed Shearwaters
and Bonin Petrels. Most of us were hoping to see Tristram's Storm-Petrels.
Finally, several flocks of storm-petrels were spotted, ahead of the ship.
Amongst the Matsudaira's, we saw quite a few Tristram's Storm-Petrels! The
vast majority of the seabirds do not approach the ship, remaining quite a
distance away from ideal viewing conditions. This sometimes makes
identification quite challenging. In fact, many species of both seabirds and
marine mammals are best left unidentified! Case in point— yesterday's call
of Bannerman's Shearwaters may not, indeed have been Bannerman's at all. The
jury is still out, but they may well have been Tropical Shearwaters, based
on photographs. In addition, distant breaching whales which were identified
as Humpback Whales, were correctly identified, using photographs, as Sperm
Whales! Such is ocean life— "identification by camera"! The first
Black-footed Albatrosses of the voyage appeared in the late afternoon.
Shortly, afterward, John Graham of South Africa spotted a Short-tailed
Albatross! Along with Trevor Hardaker, John operates, Zest For Birds a
company that takes folks offshore to the rich feeding grounds of seabirds
off South Africa. John has been one of the best
spotters on our entire voyage! One of our staff began some chumming which
attracted hundreds of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a few Streaked
Shearwaters. Soon many Black-footed Albatrosses were also following in the
wake. The surprise was two Laysan Albatrosses which followed our wake for
quite some time. Laysans have not been recorded on every voyage. So, cheers
went up for that one! Although only a few on board saw the Short-tailed
Albatross, any day in the north Pacific with three albatross species is a
day to cheer!
Debi Shearwater, east of Ogasawara Islands, Western Pacific Odyssey

Friday, April 23, 2010


20 - 24 April: At Sea, Western Pacific Odyssey. We departed Chuuk Island,
Micronesia late evening on 19 April. We would spend the next eight and half
days at sea! The original schedule called for us to land at the Bonin
Islands, Japan. However, the schedule has been modified (and two days
dropped off the voyage, making it a 31 day voyage and not a 33 day voyage).
We shall not make landfall until the morning of 28 April. The first two
days at sea, 20 + 21 April were definitely "dead zone" days. Precious few
seabirds were observed. We crossed the Mariana Trench, one of the deepest
places on the planet. Most folks on board were heavily involved in either
reading books, editing photographic images, making plans for birding in
Japan, or watching DVDs. I am reading, "The Bounty" by Caroline Alexander.
Several of us watched the Lyrid meteor shower, and a "tropical" party theme
was held in the bar. Until the late evening of 22 April, we were, again,
riding in the trough. The seas calmed that night. 23 April the first Bonin
Petrels were spotted in the early morning. And, today, 23 April, the first
Bannerman's Shearwaters were spotted, again in the very early morning. About
10 am, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer. Seas have smoothed out considerably.
It remains quite warm and tropical on deck, and quite a few Matsudaira's
Storm-Petrels are following in our wake.
Debi Shearwater, on the Western Pacific Odyssey

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


14- 17 April: BISMARK SEA & NEW IRELAND, PAPAU NEW GUINEA. We spent the next
four days, at sea within the boundaries of Papau New Guinea waters in the
Bismark archipelago, offshore from Bougainville Island and New Ireland. Our
main target and hope was to find the recently rediscovered Beck's Petrel, a
Critically Endangered species. Until its rediscovery in 2007 by Hadoram
Shirihai, it was only known from two specimens collected in the 1920s. These
two specimens were collected by Rollo Beck in 1928 and 1929 during the
Whitney South Sea Expedition. Beck was the first ornithologist to use chum
to attract seabirds. The petrel was thought to be extinct. After more than
79 years, Hadoram mounted an expedition during which he was able to document
the species with conclusive photographs. Using four tons of grated fish for
chum over the course of 67 hours, Hadoram rediscovered the Beck's Petrel.
Although we had nowhere near the amount of chum or time that Hadoram had on
his expedition, we did achieve success! Everyone on board was able to
observe about 4 to 6 individual Beck's Petrels, sometimes in direct
comparison with the similar, but larger, Tahiti Petrels on 15 April. In
addition, another highlight of this region was sightings of about 10
Heinroth's Shearwaters on 13 April, as we were departing the Solomon
Islands. This little known shearwater has been seen by only a few people.
Another highlight was sighting Sperm Whales, False Killer Whales and Dwarf
Pygmy Sperm Whales, logging on the sea. Elated and thrilled, we continued
our journey on board the "Spirit of Enderby" on the flat, calm, hot, humid
sultry seas.
Debi Shearwater, reporting from the Bismark Archipelago

Saturday, April 17, 2010


13 April: KOLOMBANGARA ISLAND is a classic volcanic cone which is 30 km
across and rises to 1770 m. Most of the lowland forest was felled below 400
m by 1990. We made an afternoon Zodiac landing at the site of a Seventh Day
Adventist College. Two walks were on offer: one climbing a steep, muddy hill
and one around the campus of the college through a small secondary forest. I
opted for the second walk and was not disappointed. Here I caught up with
several of the archipelago endemics which I had previously missed: Pied
Goshawk, Buff-headed Coucal, White-capped Monarch, Mackinlay's Cuckoo-dove,
Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeon, Singing Parrot, Moustached Treeswift,
Melanesian Cuckoo-shrike and Singing Starling. A pair of Duchess Lorikeets,
endemic to this island were a quick fly-by. Finally, both groups met to
search for the Rovianna Rail. After trying many areas, including the village
itself (despite the numerous feral cats about!), and after extending our
time on shore, we had to give up the search to get underway, again. However,
on our return to the ship, Adam Riley of Rockjumper Bird Tours, called out,
"There it is!" I looked down a mowed patch in the midst of a tapioca garden
and saw the rail, dashing across the open area! Only one other person saw
it. Our leader, Chris, tried to tape it out into view again without any
success. We returned to our ship and got underway, once again.
Debi Shearwater, birding in the New Georgia Islands of the Solomon Islands


12 April: GUADALCANAL ISLAND in the Solomon Islands. This is the largest
island in the archipelago and is home to the national capital, Honiara where
about 57,000 people live. Most of us did not have any time in the city and
spent all of our time ashore in search of birds. The wake-up call was at
3:45 am. At 4:30 am, we made a dry landing by Zodiac at the rather dingy
dock. It was still dark and the rank smell of bagged copra hung in the humid
air. We boarded the bus for the 45 minute ride up to Mount Austin. Once at
the top, we walked downhill along a logging road to the Lungga River.
Birding was excellent! Some of the species I encountered were: Ducorp's
Cockatoo, Solomon Islands Cuckoo-shrike, Steel-blue Flycatcher, White-winged
Fantail, Brown-winged Starling, Cardinal Lory, Claret-breasted and Superb
Fruit-doves; and Black-headed Myzomela. I walked alone for part of the time.
At one point I could hear the calls of the Blyth's Hornbill— even its wings
beating as it flew from one tree to the next. Finally, our local guide got
me on this magnificent hornbill, as it was feeding in the treetops, only a
few feet off the road! At the river, I took photos of my friend, Jim, for
whom Guadalcanal held a special significance due to the war. Sitting around
and taking in the view, we spotted a beautiful male Electus Parrot, which
Jim got in his scope. Finally, we both saw a White-billed Crow flying over
the canopy. It was a very successful landing for us! By 1 pm, we had boarded
the bus to return to our ship and head for our next stop.
Debi Shearwater, birding in the Solomon Islands

Thursday, April 15, 2010


11 April: MAKIRA ISLAND in the Solomon Islands. We left behind the outlier,
Rennell Island and reached Makira Island by early morning. It is also known
as San Cristobal Island. The forested mountains of this island support the
most single-island endemics of the archipelago. We had planned to land near
a logging operation and hike the logging road. However, as the first two of
our Zodiacs approached the landing area, we were met by a local boat of men,
one of whom was the Chief of this land. He informed us that we did not have
permission to land at the logging site. After much (valuable morning
birding) time was spent in launching the other Zodiacs, and following the
local chief by boat navigating around the coral reefs, we finally landed.
After landing, we hiked up a very steep, single file trail in search of
birds. As anyone who has birded rain forests anywhere in the world knows,
trying to find birds with a group size of 30 is nearly impossible. This
proved to be extremely frustrating! Still, we did manage to see: Brahminy
Kite, Solomon Islands Sea Eagle, Pied Goshawk, Chestnut-bellied Pigeon (very
rare), Rainbow Lorikeet, Glossy Swiftlet, Long-tailed Triller, Ochre-headed
Flycatcher, Golden Whistler and Sooty Myzomela. In the afternoon, we visited
the Anuatu Village, the village of the Chief.
Debi Shearwater, in the Solomon Islands

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


10 April: RENNELL ISLAND in the Solomon Islands. This island nation gained
its independence in 1978. It is, perhaps, best known for the World War II
battles on Guadalcanal in 1942. The islands have only been open for safe
tourist travel since 2007-09. We felt lucky to be able to visit. Travelers
to Rennell Island are an absolute rarity! Rennell is the most southerly and
geographically isolated island in the archipelago. It is largely flat and
lacks a central mountain range. About 80% of the island is still covered in
tropical forests. At 6:30 am, we landed near Lavanguu Village, on Rennell
Island, a raised coral atoll, for a morning of tropical rainforest birding.
Five bird species are endemic to only this island. I saw all of them:
Rennell White-eye, Bare-eyed White-eye, Rennell Starling and Rennell
Fantail. In addition, we added several species which are endemic to the
Solomon Islands as a whole. These included: Mackinlay's Cuckoo-dove,
Finsch's Pygmy Parrot, Singing Parrot, Island Thrush, Rennell Gerygone and
Cardinal Myzomela. The people of Rennell Island are Polynesians, whereas on
the other islands of the Solomons, the people are Melanesians. At Rennell
Island we took on four local Customs Officials from the Solomon Islands.
They were to remain on board our ship for the duration of our time in this
young island nation. Upon our departure of Rennell, we spotted a kettle of
nearly 350 frigatebirds! Unfortunately, they were too far away to be
identified as to whether or not they were Greater or Lesser Frigatebirds.
Finally, a single Lesser Frigatebird flew over our ship, a lifer for many on
board, if not all.
Debi Shearwater, in the Solomon Islands

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


7 - 9 April: At sea in the CORAL SEA. We've left behind the southern ocean
albatrosses, instead replaced them with more tropical seabirds. These
included higher counts of Tahiti Petrels and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters; one
Providence Petrel, many Gould's Petrels, Tropical Shearwaters, presumably
one Polynesian Storm-Petrel, White-tailed Tropicbirds; Masked, Red-footed
and Brown Boobies; Greater and Lesser Frigatebirds; Sooty Terns and Black
and Brown Noddies. The single Polynesian Storm-Petrel was with a feeding
flock of Wedge-tails and noddy terns prior to the morning wakeup call.
Unfortunately, no announcement was made to the general ship. So, most on
board missed this singular sighting! Neither of the two leaders saw the
bird, either. This was quite a disappointment since no other sightings have
been made of this species.
Debi Shearwater, at sea in the Western Pacific

Saturday, April 10, 2010


6 April: NEW CALEDONIA: Owing to our bonus trip up to Mt. Koghi the day
before, we were eager to tick the remaining endemic species of this very
large island. Wake up call was at 3 am and we were landing by 4:30 am. It
was a 45 minute ride by bus to the entrance of Parc Provincial de la Riviere
Bleue. There, we met with the ranger for another 40 minute ride to a washed
out bridge, walked across the bridge, and another 20 minute ride to reach
the primary forest. Finally, our guide played the tape of Kagu, a night
heron sized bird that walks on the forest floor. This great rarity appeared
from deep inside the forest! This was to be only one of the prize birds of
the day, however. After a lot of effort, we all saw the enigmatic and
declining Crow Honeyeater!! Other highlights of the day included: Whistling
and Brahminy Kites; Rainbow Lorikeet, New Caledonian Parakeet, Glossy
Swiftlet, Sacred Kingfisher, Melanesian and New Caledonian Cuckoo-shrikes;
Green-backed White-eye, Silver-eye, New Caledonian Crow (with a tool!) and
Red-throated Parrot-finch. Very reluctantly, we boarded our bus to leave the
park. A shout for a stop was made to see the final endemic "tick"— the New
Caledonian Goshawk, perched on a small tree! We had recorded every single
one of the endemic birds of New Caledonian— which has never before happened
on this tour! Although not everyone saw every species most of us saw the
bulk of them. I only missed one species. What a most rewarding and
adventurous day we had.
Debi Shearwater, at sea in the Western Pacific

Friday, April 9, 2010


4 - 5 April: AT SEA & NEW CALEDONIA: The seas finally calmed and we were no
longer riding in the trough— a relief to many on board. We are now beyond
the Tasman Sea, and entering the Coral Sea where the water warmed
considerably. We continued to make really good time, pushed along by a
favorable current. Gould's Petrels and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were around
in good numbers. But, the seabird highlight was a Collared Petrel, just off
the bow. If accepted, this will be the first record for the country of
Australia! We arrived at New Caledonia hours ahead of schedule and very much
hoped for an unscheduled landing. The French authorities were not so easy to
deal with, especially as this was Easter Monday. All businesses were closed.
Finally, our staff was able to secure a slew of taxis that would take us to
Mount Koghi, a 45 minute ride. Several of the endemic bird species are
easier to see here, especially the Cloven-feathered Dove. It was a very,
very successful outing! We not only succeeded in finding the dove, but also
Metallic Pigeon, New Caledonian Imperial Pigeon, Horned Parakeet, Streaked
Fantail, Southern Shrikebill, Dark-brown Honeyeater, New Caledonian
Myzomela, New Caledonian Friarbird, Barred Honeyeater and Striated Starling.
On the ride down from the mountain, our taxi driver, Anna, played many
songs, including, "That's Amore"! We sang all the way back to the dock!
Debi Shearwater, at sea in the Western Pacific

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


3 April - NORFOLK ISLAND: We made a dry landing on the southeast coast of
Norfolk Island, an Australian Territory. The island was discovered by
Captain James Cook in 1774 and is home to the Norfolk Pine. Traveling by
bus, we visited 3 terrific birding sites. Highlights of the day included
meeting the local author, Margaret Christian who has written a book about
the island's bird life. At the botanical gardens, we saw Nankeen Kestrel,
Norfolk Island Parakeet, Crimson Rosella, Grey Fantail, Pacific Robin,
Golden Whistler, Norfolk Gerygone and Slender-billed White-eye. We enjoyed a
wonderful lunch at Margaret & Ken's ranch, while watching soaring Masked
Boobies and Great Frigatebirds. A walk through the forest on the coast,
brought us to many Norfolk Pines which were decorated by roosting Black
Noddies, like Christmas tree ornaments. At the cliff edge, many Red-tailed
Tropicbirds were flying to and from their nests. A tiny white fluff ball of
feathers, hidden under the shrubs was a newly hatched chick! We returned to
our ship after a throughly enjoyable day ashore.
—Debi Shearwater

Western Pacific Odyssey

30 March - 2 April: Along with three of my friends, Yvonne, Tony and Jim, I
boarded the ship, "Spirit of Enderby" in Tauranga, New Zealand about 5 pm on
March 30th. We were about to begin an epic voyage, "The Western Pacific
Odyssey", (WPO) ending in Yokohama, Japan more than a month later. We set
off for the Hauraki Gulf, off North Island, NZ. Highlight of the next day,
was a group of Grey Ternlets, at a known rocky roost. Throughout the next
few days, we kept a constant sea watch, the highlights of which included
several species not previously recorded: Northern Royal Albatross, Buller's
Albatross and both Northern and Southern Giant Petrels. The species
composition mix changed over the course of the three days, but we also
recorded good numbers of the following: Grey-faced and White-necked,
Parkinson's Petrels, Buller's Shearwaters; and smaller numbers of Gibson's,
Wandering, and Campbell Albatrosses; and Black-winged Petrels. The highlight
of the first day was some excellent sightings of New Zealand Storm-Petrel,
while the cetacean highlight was a group of False Killer Whales!

Storm-petrels forever,
Debi Shearwater