The Complete WESTERN PACIFIC ODYSSEY RETURNS - Including Bonin Islands!!
Known in birding circles as the ‘WPO', this expedition incorporates many key birding areas in the West Pacific. First offered in 2007, it is now considered one of the ‘must do' expeditions for any birder because of opportunities to see some of the rarest pelagic seabirds in the world plus many island endemics. But it is not only for ‘birders', as the cetacean list is outstanding and if you ever tire of birding or cetacean watching then there are numerous snorkelling/swimming/relaxing opportunities.
After departing Tauranga, we sail for the Hauraki Gulf where there are numerous endemic species, including the recently discovered New Zealand Storm-Petrel. From there it's northward to Norfolk Island and then New Caledonia where we search for the amazing Kagu and other endemics at the Rivière Bleue National Park.
We then spend five exciting days in the Solomon Islands birding on Rennell, Makira, Guadalcanal, Santa Isabel and Kolombangara, before cruising across the New Britain Trench, an area known to be extremely rich in cetaceans. As we sail along the coasts of Bougainville and New Ireland, we will look for two extremely poorly known seabirds, Heinroth's Shearwater and the recently rediscovered Beck's Petrel.
Next stop is Truk Island (Micronesia) for some more intensive birding before we set a course for the Bonin Islands south of Japan. Our route will take us to Chichi-jima, Haha-jima and Torishima Islands before we visit Miyake-jima, where we will look for the last specialities of the expedition. Our voyage will then conclude at Yokohama in Japan.
This expedition is accompanied by some of the best pelagic birding guides in the world who have extensive experience of the seabirds of the West Pacific and have visited the islands we will be landing on multiple times before. Birding starts at dawn and finishes at sundown. Our guides are there throughout the day to assist you and the ‘reading of the bird list' each evening is legendary for its detail and discussion.
A message for the keen birders and cetacean watchers reading this. Space doesn't allow us to list all species on a day-by-day basis in this itinerary. Please ask for an expedition dossier or a bird and mammal list from previous expeditions.
Pre cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation with meals and all expedition shore excursions, transfer from ship to Yokohama railway station.
All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.
Our ship - The Spirit of Enderby:
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel, built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and is perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 50 passengers and was refurbished in March 2013 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes and ample storage space.
On board there is a recently updated combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room (March 2018). The cuisine is excellent and is prepared by top NZ and Australian chefs.
The real focus and emphasis of every expedition is getting you ashore as often as possible for as long as possible with maximum safety and comfort. Our Expeditions are accompanied by some of the most experienced naturalists and guides, who have devoted a lifetime to field research in the areas that we visit. The ship is crewed by a very enthusiastic and most experienced Russian Captain and crew.
The name Spirit of Enderby honours the work and the vision of the Enderby Brothers of London. The Enderby Captains were at the forefront of Antarctic exploration for almost 40 years in the early 1800s. It also celebrates Enderby Island, arguably the greatest Subantarctic Island in the world.
Classification: Russian register KM ice class
Year built: 1984
Accommodation: 50 berths expedition
Main engines: power 2x1560 bhp (2x 1147 Kw)
Maximum speed: 12 knots (2 engines),
Cruising speed: 10 knots(one engine)
Bunker capacity: 320 tons
Day 1: Tauranga
Wednesday 6 April 2016
1800: 37° 19’ S, 176° 09’ E
The sun shone brightly in the beautiful Port of Tauranga as we met for the first time and boarded the Spirit of Enderby. After orientating ourselves with our cabin and the ship layout we cleared customs in the Bar/Library and were warmly welcomed by the expedition staff.
At 1600 hours we welcomed the pilot aboard for our departure. The afternoon sun was slowly dipping and the seas were calm and gentle. It was a smooth departure and everyone migrated to the top deck to commence some serious birding. Our onboard Bird Expert, Chris Collins, led the way as we steamed past Mount Maunganui, immediately rattling off several species of bird before we made open sea!
As we headed out, pelagic birds quickly replaced the coastal birdlife and we set course to pass to the west of Mayor Island. Following the sunset we headed to the Bar/Library for refreshments with new friends before dinner. Chris led the first daily Bird List of the voyage before we retired for the night.
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Day 2: Hauraki Gulf
Thursday 7 April 2016
0600: 35° 56’ S 175° 14’ E
1800: 34° 44’ S 174° 04’ E
The outer islands of the Hauraki Gulf were magical in the early morning light. The Mokohinau Islands were scattered before us. Pelagic birds abound much to our delight and almost everyone was either on the top deck with Chris or trying to get some good shots from the lower deck.
The Spirit of Enderby then made way out to the 200-metre depth contour hopeful of seeing the New Zealand Storm-petrel. Chris and Martin Cohen (Lecturer/Guide) laid a fish oil slick from the aft deck and several sea birds were soon attracted. Passing the slick we were rewarded with some decent sightings including several New Zealand storm-petrels, black petrels, wandering and white-capped albatross, Buller’s shearwater and fairy prions.
The balance of the day was spent on watch for sea and bird life. The Bryde's whale was seen quite often, with about 200 common dolphins swimming close to the ship and albatross that stayed with us through the day. The bird list grew in size with the highlight being around 25 New Zealand storm-petrels. Compared to previous years there were plentiful sightings of this critically endangered species, which could be attributable to good on-land conservation which has increased their breeding habitat.
The bar session included the nightly bird log where stories, photographs and anecdotes are shared. We slept soundly with the aid of gentle seas.
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Day 3: At Sea off New Zealand
Friday 8 April 2016
0600: 33° 56’ S 172° 24’ E
1800: 32° 43’ S 171° 14’ E
We awoke at dawn in the company of Matawahi - Three Kings Islands. Deeply sacred to Maori it is inhabited only by wildlife. We were not allowed closer than 12 nautical miles and instead settled the ship near a seamount to watch for bird life. The usual suspects appeared. Albatross and the rare Gould's petrel were seen. They were encouraged to the ship by a cocktail of fish oil and rice crispies. Apparently an irresistible combination for seabirds!
We had some good sightings of black-winged petrel, black petrel, Wilson’s petrel and possibly a sooty shearwater. The highlight for many was the sighting of several albatross including Antipodean (‘wandering’), white-capped and Campbell Albatross. The rest of the day was spent cruising toward and into Australian waters in relatively calm seas. It was the last opportunity to add to the New Zealand bird list and while sighting was not as frequent due to our distance from land, the day’s birding was highly productive with several more sightings of Albatross, including a snowy wandering albatross. As well as numerous fairy prions, several species of petrels made appearances irregularly including a single giant petrel, a few white-faced, grey-faced, white-necked, black, Tahiti, Gould’s, Cook’s and Kermadec petrels, and several black-winged and Wilson’s petrels.
To finish the day, Chris gave a lecture on the Cetaceans we might encounter as we make our way north.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Day 4: At Sea
Saturday 9 April 2016
0600: 30° 58’ S 169° 38’ E
1800: 29° 37’ S 168° 26’ E
Another full day at sea - up early and scouring the sea and sky for birds. One of the first surprises was the distant sighting of a wandering albatross, well north of its normal range.
The feature of the day was the migration path of the short tailed shearwater. They spend the summer in Tasmania and then fly north to the Sea of Okhotsk which is on the western side of the Kamchatka Peninsula. By conservative estimate they passed our ship at the rate of 50,000 an hour from 4pm till dusk. Amongst them were some little shearwaters standing out because of a small amount of white on their fronts. The others were totally black. As we steamed into deeper water the bird numbers dropped although we did manage to get some good views of a small pod of Blainville’s beaked and a pod of false killer whales, possibly with a few pilot whales mixed. Some striped dolphins also made an appearance.
We spotted a few red-tailed tropicbirds as we headed closer to Norfolk Island. This indicated that we were now entering warmer climes. An introduction to Norfolk, the bird list, a good dinner and bed early for a 5:30 a.m. start tomorrow on land.
Day 5 : Norfolk Island
Sunday 10 April 2016
0600: 29° 01’ S 167° 59’ E
1800: 28° 00’ S 167° 52’ E
Overnight the Spirit of Enderby came to anchor at Cascade Bay on the north-east coast of Norfolk Island. We had an early breakfast and when given the go-ahead, we set off for shore. We were welcomed ashore by Ken and Margaret Christian who were there to show us around their island. Ken is "seven greats" from Fletcher Christian of the Bounty fame. The keen birders piled into the mini-bus to go to the National Park led by Margaret and Chris, while a few boarded the van to take a generalist tour around the island with Ken.
The birding bus drove straight to the foothills of Norfolk Island and into Palm Glen National Park. It was here that the group wandered down the track searching for target Norfolk Island endemic birds. They were soon rewarded with really good views of the Norfolk gerygone, slender-billed white-eye and Pacific robin. Finding the Norfolk Island parakeet took more time and work but they were eventually rewarded with a couple of close up views. Margaret then revealed a magnificent picnic morning tea to replenish energy stores.
The generalist tour also proceeded to Palm Glen National Park in their mini-van and then continued onwards to the Mt Pitt lookout with 360 degree views of the island. They headed back to the township of Kingston and dropped in on the Sunday markets while Ken told them about day-to-day life on Norfolk Island. Finally the generalists headed to the lookout at Emily Bay before meeting and the groups both returned to Spirit of Enderby.
Once back on board we tucked into a superb meal before the ship and our minds turned to our next destination, New Caledonia.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Day 6: At Sea enroute to New Caledonia
Monday 11 April 2016
0600: 25° 36’ S 167° 36’ E
1800: 23° 26’ S 166° 48’ E
As we continued our expedition northwards we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. The seas were still relatively calm and gentle, but the humidity and daytime temperature were notably increasing. We visited a disappeared seamount that was clearly recorded on the charts, however once in position our sonar shows it does not exist. The seabed in this part of the world is unstable and things change.
It was a relaxing day at sea with the birders spending much of their time on the top deck searching for elusive pelagic birds. Late in the morning Martin and Chris put out an oil slick and a delightful assortment of fish guts in the hope of attracting some more birds. This slick proved successful with a variety of petrels seen including Tahiti, Karmenek, Gould’s and black-winged. Several Wilson’s storm petrels and, for the first time this trip, a couple of providence petrels.
In the afternoon Andrew presented an educational talk about the geology of New Caledonia. The excitement about exploring New Caledonia grew as we started to see many birds associated with nearby land. These included red-tailed tropicbird, masked and red-footed booby, some distant frigate birds and several white terns.
Day 7: New Caledonia - Riviere de Bleue National Park
Tuesday 12 April 2016
0600: 22° 16’ S 166° 26’ E
1800: 22° 16’ S 166° 26’ E
We made good time overnight and as the new day dawned we were entering inside the reef of New Caledonia heading for the Port of Noumea. The morning was clear and bright and we saw some new birds as we steamed toward the dock including great-crested terns and white-rumped swiftlet.
By 0700 hours we were tied up alongside welcoming customs aboard to clear us into New Caledonia. The birding group boarded a bus and headed out of Noumea city towards Riviere de Bleue National Park for a full day’s birding with Jean Marc, our local guide, and were shuttled to the edge of the rainforest by minivan to start birding.
Very soon after arrival they were rewarded with excellent views of two of the difficult-to-find birds – the white-bellied goshawk and the New Caledonian crow. Before long, the kagu made it’s appearance. This small flightless bird wandered out onto the track and forest edge and everyone got great views and photographs. We were treated to several more sightings throughout the morning.
Great views noted of the cloven-feathered fruit-dove, New Caledonian friarbird, red-throated parrot-finches, New Caledonian parakeet and even a Pacific emerald dove. With fifteen of the seventeen target endemic species and a few additional Melanesian birds sighted we made our way back to Spirit of Enderby in high spirits.
Meanwhile the ‘generalists’ set off to explore the thriving hub of Noumea. A leisurely day was spent enjoying the culture and sights of Noumea city – this included some time spent beachside, enjoying the café culture, souvenir shopping, and swimming in the warm waters of Anse Vata beach.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Day 8: New Caledonia - Mount Koghi
Wednesday 13 April 2016
0600: 22° 16’ S 166° 26’ E
1800: 21° 50’ S 165° 14’ E
After a very early wake up call and breakfast the birding group were picked by bus at 0530 and driven up the nearby range to Mt Koghi.
They walked along a delightful rainforest track as the day dawned. Some got a quick glimpse of one of our targets, the horned parakeet. A search for a few missed targets from the day before and some time spent trying to get the attention of South Melanesian cuckoo-shrike was rewarded with some excellent views of this bird.
Many of the birds from yesterday were seen, including fantastic views of the goliath imperial pigeon. Chris found a patch of bracken fern that he thought might be good habitat for the New Caledonian grassbird or thicketbird although it wasn't on the target list. Certainly a surprise when two grassbirds came and scuttled around our feet - in fact, it looked as though one was going to perch on Phil’s shoes! Great views for everyone and some got photos. A completely unexpected highlight.
Once back on board Spirit of Enderby we headed out to sea at 1100 and many used this time to rest. We traversed the south west coast of New Caledonia and saw several pelagic birds including Gould’s and Tahiti petrels and a few Wilson’s storm petrels.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Day 9: At Sea enroute to Solomon Islands
Thursday 14 April 2016
0600: 22° 16’ S 166° 26’ E
1800: 21° 50’ S 165° 14’ E
A well deserved sleep in and a relatively quiet, relaxing day at sea. We had now entered deep tropical waters and were making good time heading northwards towards the Solomon Islands. The shade sail was erected, giving those birding on the top deck a welcome reprieve from the heat of the tropical sun.
We got several sightings of Gould’s and Tahiti petrels, short-tailed and wedge-tailed shearwaters. We were also entertained by the flying and fishing exploits of a few boobies, including the brown, red-footed and masked booby. Sooty, brown noddy and black noddy terns were also regularly seen. The oddest thing to happen today was Derrick getting a great shot of a flying squid! Who would have thought?
After lunch, Martin gave a presentation outlining and describing the world’s tropical rainforests and this generated good discussion amongst passengers. As the tropical sun dipped below the horizon we enjoyed the reading of the daily bird list and a pleasant dinner before retiring to bed.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Day 10 : At Sea enroute to Solomon Islands
Friday 15 April 2016
0600: 15° 44’ S 162° 24’ E
1800: 13° 23’ S 162° 24’ E
We awoke to another day in the tropics with the sea still calm and gentle. The sky was cloudy and conditions were somewhat cooler. We made good time with the southeast trade winds behind us as we continued our expedition northwards to the Solomon Islands.
We spent much of the day crossing very deep waters, giving reason to fewer bird sightings. Several band-rumped storm-petrels were seen. We got a good view of a white-tailed tropicbird with a fish in its beak trying desperately to outfly a pomerine skua. As the chase went out of view we never discovered who won the battle.
Martin completed the second part of his talk on the World’s tropical rainforests after lunch. Tomorrow we were looking forward to exploring the islands of the Solomons and experiencing local culture and discovering the birdlife for ourselves.
Day 11: Solomon Islands - Santa Ana / Makira
Saturday 16 April 2016
0600: 11° 25’ S 162° 25’ E
1800: 10° 52’ S 162° 21’ E
At first light we were in sight of Santa Ana and Makira which were our two next destinations. We boarded our zodiacs and cruised towards the beach where warriors greeted us in a challenge, charging out of the undergrowth yelling and shaking spears then disappearing as quickly as they appeared. In the village open arena, we were warmly welcomed with a traditional ‘sing sing’ from a group of women in traditional dress and a warm speech from a village elder. Our onboard Medical Advisor, Pat Alley, responded in Maori and this was followed by a waiata (maori song) from us all much to the villagers delight. After the official ceremony had finished we wandered around the village admiring and purchasing some of their superb wooded crafts. The Spirit of Enderby chefs bartered with local villagers for some local crayfish and this trade resulted in a quick change of menu for dinner!
Some passengers chose to enjoy the afternoon snorkeling in the sheltered lagoon where they found good fish life and several ‘bombies’ (large vertical stacks of rocks and coral), before returning to interact with the locals, visit the school, and even a swim with the local children.
Meanwhile, the birders headed for a walk into the forest. Veering off the beach they were soon into the rainforest on a basalt substrate with several huge fig trees and many fruiting trees. As the afternoon progressed there was more bird activity. They were richly rewarded with several great views of white-headed and silver-capped fruit-dove. Chestnut-breasted and white collared monarch, beach kingfisher, sooty myzomela and rufous fantail were also seen.
Back onboard we reflected on our first landing in the Solomon Islands and chefs Ralf and Connor provided a huge feast of the freshly caught crayfish.
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Day 12: Solomon Islands - Anuta
Sunday 17 April 2016
0600: 11° 25’ S 162° 25’ E
1800: 10° 52’ S 162° 21’ E
The Captain anchored in the small harbour just off Anuta village on San Cristobel Island – sometimes called Makira Island. It was another early start for the birders who disembarked on the beach and walked along a logging track to get into some serious birding in the cool of the day.
Endemic Makira birds sighted included the sooty myzomela, the Makira cicadabird, the Makira flycatcher and the San Cristobel starling, as well a pair of bright red cardinals flying overhead. Excellent views of the emerald green male eclectus parrot and the blue and red female and the tiny Finsch’s pygmy parrot made for good birding. The birding group came back down the track very satisfied with the morning.
Those who had remained on the ship had a later start to their day, with a zodiac cruise planned around the local coastline. This quickly turned into a return to the ship for snorkel gear and some very good snorkeling around a healthy coral reef and some magnificent ‘bombies’ in sight of the village on the shore. The scenes under the water are magnificent in this part of the world and this new site for snorkeling brought more delights. By this stage, word of our arrival had spread throughout the village and over a dozen younger children had made their way to the beach, waving out in greeting and climbing up a natural rock promentary to catch a sight of ‘their visitors’.
Our landing at Anuta village was enjoyed by all expeditioners, staff and crew of Spirit of Enderbyand a group of local women warmly welcomed us in song as we set foot on the beach. One-by-one local school children presented us with hand-made lei necklaces and we were ushered together in the shade of a purposely erected shade sail. We were immediately treated to more songs from the local women and from the school choir, including a delightful version of the Hokey Tokey!
After the village chief formally welcomed us, the expeditioners, staff and crew were invited to introduce themselves in return with the villagers enjoying hearing the diversity of our group. We were then given time to wander freely around the village, taking the chance to chat with locals and being thoroughly entertained and charmed by the children. It was a real honor to visit the thriving, happy community and see their commitment to sustainable tourism – even the school was involved with teaching aquaculture and environmental science to the children. Our Cruise Director, Helen, is an Assistant Principal in New Zealand and was shown inside the school. She returned impressed at how relevant the learning themes are to their village life and what they make do with in terms of limited resources.
Once back on board the ship many rested for the afternoon. Birders spent the afternoon watching flat seas searching for elusive shearwaters and were briefly rewarded with two new species – the streaked shearwater and the tropical shearwater. Late afternoon saw Guadalcanal on our port beam. It was cloudy and the island looked forbidding or maybe that was because we were all aware of the grim war history of the area.
Another fantastic day was completed with a great dinner prepared and served by the dedicated kitchen crew and then off to bed early as we were to be up again the following morning well before sunrise.
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Day 13: Solomon Islands - Honiara and Mount Austin
Monday 18 April 2016
0600: 11° 25’ S 162° 25’ E
1800: 10° 52’ S 162° 21’ E
Another early start for what promised to be a big day for all. We had anchored overnight off Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands on Guadalcanal Island. After being ferried ashore by zodiac, local agent Wilson and his drivers transferred us by shuttle bus and four-wheel drive vehicles up to Mount Austin.
After a quick briefing we made our way down the forest track that dropped off quite steeply into a river valley. The first section of the walk gave us spectacular views into large areas of the forest and as it had rained overnight the clouds were moving through and still hugging the peaks. The views alone were worth the early morning start. It wasn't long before the large Blyth’s hornbills were calling and flying into view. These spectacular birds have very loud wing beats – you literally hear them coming before you see them. Also seen was a pair of buff-headed coucals, a gang of Solomon cockatoos, several claret-breasted fruit-doves, Solomon Island cuckoo-shrikes, blue-steel flycatchers and several tiny midget flowerpeckers. It was suggested tongue-in-cheek that due to political correctness, maybe these birds should have their name changed to ‘vertically-challenged’ flowerpeckers.
After several hours, the climb back up the hill left the birders tired but satisfied with the birding success. On the way home a sighting was made of the elusive ultramarine kingfisher whose back was the deep rich blue of royalty. This sighting topped off a great day.
The ‘non-birders’ spent a day on a City Tour of Honiara by mini-van and explored different aspects of the city from the rugged port area, Chinese quarter (which has experienced crippling floods in recent years) and the Botanical Gardens that had also been damaged by the flash floods. A visit was made to a viewpoint high above the city that has a large memorial to the Allied deaths in WWII. Time was spent reading the plaques in memorial and to unpack the events that took place in the region during the war. Their guide then made a ‘pit stop’ and showed them his family house. A very good tour of The Round House – the Solomon Islands government building - and the onsite educational tourguide was very transparent about the challenges facing the country in recent times as well as what lay ahead in coming years.
Back on the ship for the afternoon and evening while we continued our journey northwards. To finish the day we watched a pod of dolphins (probably striped and Fraser’s) jump and play around the ship’s bow just before we headed into a tropical squall.
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Day 14: Solomon Islands - Barora Fa and Poru Channel
Tuesday 19 April 2016
0600: 07° 36’ S 158° 13’ E
1800: 07° 29’ S 158° 15’ E
We anchored at Barora Fa Harbour early in the morning. It had rained all night but cleared up for us just as we all loaded into the zodiacs. Once in the zodiacs we realised the advantage of getting up early with the gentle light of the new dawn bathing us as we cruised into the Poru channel.
The channel is influenced by strong tide and fast current and we were surrounded by dense tropical rainforest on the slopes with mangroves lining the shoreline. The banks were made of limestone and the water was crystal clear water with great coral. We just had to lean over the side of our zodiacs to clearly see life below the surface. The birding was very good also. Seeking birds while gently cruising in a zodiac was a pleasant change to hiking. We had excellent views of terns, kingfishers and cockatoos. The highlight was watching 40 or more Blyth’s hornbill and many species of pigeon fly out of a single fig tree heavily laden with fruit.
On the way back we made a stop at a delightful guesthouse – 'Vavaghio' - run by a Kiwi, Gary, and his wife Lydia, a Solomon Islander. Lydia prepared a lovely morning tea of freshly baked bread rolls, banana jam, pomelo (citrus fruit) and paw paw. We had a quick break before some headed into the surrounding forest searching for a megapode and an endemic crow and were rewarded with brief glimpse of both.
After lunch back on Spirit on Enderby, the group split into the birders and snorkelers. The birders visited Kupikolo village where a 'bird field guide' had been left the previous year to help the locals understand what visitors may be looking for. The locals took them up a steep, muddy track but the birds remained quite elusive. Fresh coconut was offered for afternoon tea. Meanwhile, the snorkelers spent a relaxing afternoon swimming and snorkeling a reef at Ritamala, home to a single family. The snorkeling was arguably some of the best of the expedition with giant clams, healthy coral and abundant fish life within metres of the beach.
Once back on board we learnt that Captain Dmitry had caught six skipjack tuna. Sushi tomorrow?!
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Day 15: Solomon Islands - Kolombangara
Wednesday 20 April 2016
0600: 08° 08’ S 157° 07’ E
1800: 07° 52’ S 156° 32’ E
Another early morning wake up call as we prepared for a big day on Kolombangara Island. Just as the sky began to brighten we arrived at Kukudu village in Ringi Cove boarded the back of a truck and four-wheel drives for a 45-minute drive through the village, past the hardwood plantations and to a research lodge (Imbo Rano) at around 350 metres above sea level. The view over untouched tropical rainforest surrounding the rim of an extinct volcanic crater was breathtaking.
The lodge proved an excellent viewing platform for bird watching in the cool mountain air and it wasn't long before we all had good views of pale mountain pigeons. We walked on a couple of tracks and saw white-capped monarchs, crimson-rumped myzomela and Solomon Islands white-eye.
We also finally got some magnificent views of a soaring Solomon Island sea eagle set against an unbroken tropical rainforest background. It was where many who hadn’t had good views of Mackinlay’s cuckoo-dove were finally rewarded. The most curious bird seen was the buff-headed coucal. Not only does it make mammal-like noises, it also forages like a mammal in the treetops using its tail for balance amongst the branches. Many small lizards (skinks) were scuttling around in the sunshine near the viewing platform. One species had a distinctive blue tail (Pacific blue-tailed skink) while the other species seen was pale green all over (green-blooded vine skink), and spent much of its time hunting from the trunk of a palm.
We arrived back at the ship hungry and lunch was quickly served. After a short rest the birders were keen to get up on deck and search for a couple of rare petrels (Beck’s and streaked) and Heinroth’s shearwater. Soon the tropical rains came and the afternoon was a wash out with rain persisting well into the evening.
Ralf and Connor produced some dishes made of the captain’s tuna as entrees at dinnertime. Many thought the sashimi was delicious!
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Day 16: Solomon Islands - Shortland Islands
Thursday 21 April 2016
0600: 07° 09’ S 155° 59’ E
1800: 07° 19’ S 155° 21’ E
It was another beautiful sunny tropical morning as we loaded the zodiacs and went cruising and exploring a new channel between some of the islands of the Shortland Island group. The channel was lined with mangroves and behind was tropical rainforest. This rainforest had been selectively logged recently and the damage was often evident.
Birding while cruising along the channel was slow but every now and again we were compensated with a great sighting. Many parrots, especially cardinal loris and coconut lorikeets, and pigeons (red-knobbed and island imperial pigeons) flew overhead. We got some excellent views of the Solomon sea eagle and brahminy kites. Some saw a variable goshawk and we got views of a moustached tree swift.
As the sun rose higher the bird activity reduced, so we headed for the little island of Onua and the small village of Pirumeri. Here we were warmly greeted with music, songs and dancing at the small village. Chris led the birders on a walk behind the school area to do some last minute birding and they had great views of red-capped myzomela and Bougainville monarch.
We returned in very warm conditions to the ship. Spinner dolphins and the rarer spotted tropical dolphins appear. A beautiful sunset and a distant lightning show concluded the day.
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Photo credit: H.Ahern
Day 17: At Sea enroute to Papua New Guinea
Friday 22 April 2016
0600: 05° 57’ S 153° 43’ E
1800: 05° 00’ S 153° 00’ E
It was another beautiful sunrise on the tropical seas as we made our way northwards towards Papua New Guinea. During the morning we were cruising over a trench that can get up to nine kilometres deep which meant that few seabirds would be around. Many made use of this time to sort out gear, edit and download photos and generally relax.
After lunch we were closer to seamounts, which meant we had better chances of seeing some of the target seabirds. Chris started the task of slowly squeezing fish guts into the sea at the back deck to start a slick to attract birds. After doing this for two hours he struggled to find willing volunteers to take over but in her usual cheerful way, Helen took over the task.
The birds came to the slick, including several Beck’s petrels and a few streaked shearwaters. The birding group was well satisfied and even Chris mentioned that he had seen more birds this trip than on any other through the region. We were treated to a sight of a pod of Fraser’s dolphins as we made our way to the southern end of New Ireland on dusk.
Just before dinner Martin gave a summary of the trip and presented a 15-minute slideshow of the voyage that captured some great memories. Following this we had a delicious dinner provided by chefs Ralf and Connor, and served by the lovely and hard-working restaurant staff, Natalia and Albina. Our final night was one to remember.
Day 18: Papua New Guinea - Kokopo
Saturday 23 April 2016
0600: 05° 00’ S 152° 38’ E
As dawn broke we were stationed just off Kokopo, Papua New Guinea. The custom officials were picked up and then we had a short voyage to the Rabaul pilot station and back before we were officially cleared to enter Papua New Guinea.
We left the ship for the final time and onboard bird expert Chris still managed to take the group for a bit of birding on the beach where we spotted black sunbirds and New Britain friarbirds!
We said our final farewells on the beach at the Rapopo Plantation Resort in Kokopo with some fond memories, numerous new birds and shared experiences that we will remember for a long time into the future. Bon voyage and safe onward travels!
Christchurch City to Lyttelton Harbour
Passengers gathered at the Heritage Expeditions office in Christchurch city during the early afternoon to await the arrival of the coach which would transport the group to Lyttelton Harbour. The bus drove out onto the docks to the Spirit of Enderby where passengers boarded and were shown to their cabins. Everybody then gathered in the bar as Customs and Immigration Officers boarded the ship to carry out departure formalities.
Following this everyone gathered in the lecture room where Expedition Leader Aaron Russ and Cruise Director Sarah Russ welcomed us all on board and provided an over view of the ships workings, travel arrangements and a safety briefing. Aaron introduced the Heritage Expeditions staff. Guides/zodiac drivers were Chris Collins, Matt Bradley-Swan, Morten Joergensen and Mike Bell. The Ship’s Doctor was Kate Goldberg, the chefs Joss Wilson and her son Rocket. Leanne Dunhill from the Heritage Expeditions office staff, Sarah Russ and little Anneliese were travelling on the expedition with us also.
This briefing was followed by a life boat drill. Passengers were required to go to their cabins to get their life jackets and report to their appointed life boat. With life jackets fitted we all then climbed into the life boats as we would in a real emergency. Following dinner the passengers relaxed in their cabins and studied birding guides to familiarise themselves with the seabirds likely to be encountered tomorrow.
At sea, Lyttelton Harbour running up the east coast of the South Island.
The ship departed Lyttelton Harbour at 06:00 and headed out of the heads into Pegasus Bay. When the Chief Engineer was working on the ship's engine, a small group of Hector’s Dolphins was seen off the stern, including a mother with a small calf. Hector’s is a rare dolphin which is endemic to New Zealand and these animals came in close providing excellent views. Once we were underway again the birding through Pegasus Bay was somewhat slower than expected. A highlight being small flocks of Hutton’s Shearwater. These birds only breed in the Seaward Kaikoura Mountains so the north Canterbury/Kaikoura coast is the best place to see them. After lunch as we headed north we got closer to the Kaikoura Trench and the number, and diversity of seabirds increased.
In the late afternoon south of Kaikoura we began chumming for seabirds off the back deck, attracting in large numbers of birds; including six species of albatross – White-capped, Salvin’s, Buller’s, Southern Royal, Northern Royal, and Wandering (Gibson’s). The back deck looked like a football stadium as people armed with cameras jostled for position. In the end to get a better view Hannah reverted to climbing the framework armed with camera to get some better shots. After dark Chris gathered everyone in the bar to start the “reading of the bird list” – this is a daily re-cap of the birds seen each day. Every passenger received a Western Pacific Odyssey Species List, in which they can record the birds seen. In order for a species to make it onto the official expedition bird list it must have been seen by three or more people.
At sea, northern part of Cook Strait running up the west coast of the North Island
Daylight brought the birders back out on deck and we found ourselves part way through Cook Strait – the narrow passage of water separating the South and North Islands. As we headed through Cook Strait we sailed close to Stephen’s Island, famous for the lighthouse keeper’s cat who exterminated a small flightless wren endemic to the island. Today Stephen’s Island is the home to over 1 million breeding pairs of Fairy Prions and a huge population of Tuatara. The birding was somewhat slow, with Fluttering Shearwater and Diving Petrel the most prevalent; however the day was fantastic on the cetacean front. Just as we were leaving Cook Strait we came across a pod of Orca (Killer Whales). There appeared to be at least ten individuals including a large male. Shortly after this a Blue Whale was seen in the distance, and the ship passed within 500m of it allowing an excellent view. Little is known about the cetaceans in the seas around this part of New Zealand, and this sighting seemed somewhat unusual. If the sighting of one Blue Whale was unusual, then the rest of the day can only be described as exceptional. Over the course of the afternoon a further three Blue Whales were sighted, again most of them relatively close to the ship. For Liz and Kate who are keen cetacean spotters the day couldn’t have been much better.
At sea, running up the west coast of the North Island
A pattern to ship board life seems to be starting to develop, with the keenest birders up at day break to start scouring the sea and sky for birds. Just before 07:30 the smell of bacon cooking drifts up over the top deck and slowly, one by one the birders give in to the temptation and head down for breakfast, hoping that whilst they are gone they won’t miss anything too exciting! After breakfast whilst approximately west of Auckland a Red-tailed Tropicbird was seen, which was unusual this far south and a good bird for a birder’s New Zealand list. There was a steady stream of birds all day and noticeably some of the southern species dropped out and were replaced by more northern New Zealand species – with the first Cook’s and Black Petrels being seen. For the second day running the big surprise was cetaceans – with another four Blue Whales seen. It would appear that the west coast of the North Island is a hot spot for the species at this time of year.
At sea, north of North Island heading to Norfolk Island
06:00 33.34S 169.58E
18:00 31.43S 169.09E
We enjoyed an extra hour of sleep this morning as we adjusted our clocks back one hour to get in line with Norfolk Island time. The day dawned bright and clear with a fresh easterly but a short squall in the late afternoon had everyone dashing inside for a time. On and off during the day there was a heavy Southeast swell, which built up a bit in the evening. The birders spent all day on deck, and were rewarded with some decent views of a number of species, but overall the number of birds seemed to be lower than expected. Highlights were White-necked Petrels, three Red-tailed Tropicbirds and one single Grey Ternlet, Herald Petrel and Providence Petrel. As the day went on people began to think ahead to tomorrow and whether the building swell would prevent us from landing on Norfolk Island. After dinner Aaron and Chris briefed us about Zodiac safety and gave an introduction to the birds of Norfolk.
40 NM south of Norfolk Island, to Norfolk Island
06:00 29.52S 168.19E
18:00 29.04S 167.57E
Time extended again with the clocks going back a further 30 minutes to line up with Norfolk Island time. Daybreak saw the birders heading to the top deck with only 40 nautical miles of sailing until we reached Norfolk Island. As yesterday, the birds were somewhat slow, although the first Wedge-tailed Shearwater and White-bellied Storm Petrel of the trip were seen. Shortly after breakfast Philip Island came into view and then Norfolk slowly crept out of the cloud. The number of White Terns, Tropicbirds and Tasman Boobies seen also suggested that we were getting closer to land. The most common topic of discussion shifted for the first time from seabirds, to our upcoming landing and the best way to get the endemic land birds. Joss and Rocket served us up an early lunch as the Australian Customs and Immigration agents came on-board. The intensity of activity on board ship increased throughout lunch as everyone got ready to go ashore.
The first Zodiacs left the Spirit of Enderby at 12:30 for the harbour. Despite a good roll coming into the beach the landing was calm and nobody ended up with wet feet. We were welcomed ashore by Margaret Christian and her family who were lined up to show us around Norfolk. After getting everyone ashore, we piled into the buses and mini vans for the drive up to the National Park. First stop was Palm Glen, in the foot hills of the National Park and perfect for endemic land bird hunting. Somewhat surprisingly the Norfolk Island Parakeet was quickly seen by everyone, but the Slender-billed White-eye took a bit more work, requiring us to extend our time at Palm Glen by 30 minutes to ensure everyone got it. During this time good views were also had of the robin, whistle and greygone.
Afterwards the party split into two. The diehard birders headed off to Hundred Acres Reserve (Rocky Point) to look for breeding seabirds, and were well rewarded with great views of breeding Noddys, White Tern and Tropicbirds. On the drive back following the sighting of Californian Quail, Jeet declared that he was happy and had seen the “bird of the trip”. The rest of the group went for a general tour around Norfolk, which included a lap around the island, a quick run through the small shopping district and more time to explore the convict ruins around Kingston.
We met back at the pier at 17:30, loaded into the Zodiacs and boarded the Spirit of Enderby then headed to the bar for the daily recap and bird list. A great day was had by all, and everyone agreed it was nice to be off the ship and have a chance to stretch our legs. Thanks to Margaret and her team for such a great day, especially with such friendly and accommodating guides who were willing to impart so much information. The crew lifted the anchor and we started heading towards New Caledonia.
At sea, north of Norfolk Island heading towards New Caledonia
06:00 27.06S 167.24E
18:00 25.16S 166.57E
The earlier rising birders were well rewarded this morning when Graham spotted a Collared Petrel, it passed right by the ship allowing good views, but there was no one with a camera about to get a shot! The Easter bunny had arrived over night, with everyone getting a small stash of chocolate eggs with their breakfast. After breakfast a fish oil slick was laid out, and then we spent the next two hours doing pass bys around this. The weather conditions were perfect for oiling, with the slick holding together well and not spreading out too far. This clearly helped and attracted good numbers of Tahiti and Black-winged Petrel which remained within or near the slick. This provided great views of the Tahiti Petrels in particular which came in close allowing us with excellent photo opportunities.
Continuing with the Easter theme, Joss and Rocket served up freshly baked hot cross buns for lunch. The most noteworthy sightings during a fairly slow afternoon were numerous small flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters passing by the ship on their migration north. Following dinner Chris gave an over view of the birds of New Caledonia and broke the news that Tuesday’s start time will be 3am!
At sea, approximately 40 nautical miles south of New Caledonia heading to Noumea
06:00 23.15S 166.49E
18:00 22.47E 166.33E
We had made good progress over night and at daybreak were approximately 40 nautical miles south of New Caledonia in the area we wanted to search for the ‘New Caledonian Storm Petrel’. Shortly after breakfast we laid out a slick and spent the next few hours circling this looking for birds. The slick attracted good numbers of Tahiti Petrel and Wedge-tailed Shearwater, but no storm petrels of any species were seen. During lunch the ship sailed further north, to a spot were Chris and Kurt had only a few weeks ago seen several ‘New Caledonian Storm Petrels’ on a trip aimed at attempting to catch this “unknown” species. On arrival at this location we laid out a second oil slick, and dropped one of the buckets of frozen chum previously prepared by Chris and Mike and now dubbed the ‘chumsicle’. This attracted great numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Tahiti Petrel which were actively feeding on the fish. In addition a few Gould’s Petrels and Wilson’s Storm Petrels were also seen. Chris spotted what he thought was a ‘New Caledonian Storm Petrel’ and about four others had a quick view of a bird which appeared to have a white belly. Unfortunately it did not hang around and moved off the slick and disappeared. We remained with the slick for a further two hours, but the bird was not seen again. Joss and Rocket served up another fine dinner and most turned in early in preparation for the very early start the following morning.
New Caledonia, birding at Riviere Bleue.
06:00 Tied up at Noumea
18:00 22.22S 166.15E
The ship picked up the Pilot at 01:00 and headed inside the reef to the harbour at Noumea. So by the time Aaron made the 03:15 wakeup call we were alongside the quay and the ship’s crew was busy with the Customs and Immigration agents. Joss and Rocket had got up extra early and put on a full breakfast which enabled everyone to be fed and watered by 04:30 and ready to depart. The bus kept us waiting for a time, running about half an hour late. We headed out of Noumea and into the centre of the island, towards Riviere Bleue National Park for a day’s birding.
On arrival at the park we had a quick comfort stop, and despite Aaron’s instruction that this wasn’t a birding stop, Barred Honeyeater and Red-faced Parrot Finch were spotted. Somehow we managed to drag everyone away and herd them back onto the bus to continue into the park. The driver had a few issues with the greasy road so we cautiously made our way. We arrived at Le Pont Perignon where we left the bus and were shuttled the eight kilometres to the edge of the rain forest by minivan to start birding. The first species on everybody’s wish list was the Kagu and the first bird was soon found. It responded well to the tape playback allowing great views and excellent photo opportunities. A little later we saw five Kagu in a group and throughout the day over 15 individual birds were seen. The efforts of conservationists in New Caledonia to save this remarkable bird should be applauded.
After finding the Kagu we walked through the forest along the road to Grande Kauri searching for other endemic birds. The road makes its way through second growth forest and at places there are clear views out over the river. The weather was kind to us, being not too hot with only two short heavy downpours which caused cameras to be hurriedly packed away. We saw a number of endemics as we spread out along the road. Mike caused a stampede at one stage, pointing out a green bird which ended up being a leaf! However, the prize must go to his wife Liz, who despite claiming not to be a birder was the only person to see both the New Caledonian Parakeet and the Horned Parakeet. A total of 14 endemic birds were seen amongst our group, with highlights including the Cloven-feathered Dove, New Caledonian Friarbird and Myzomela. Geoff also saw the New Caledonian Crow using a twig as a tool, which is what has made these birds famous.
The drive back to the ship was much quieter than our outbound journey, with the early morning start taking its toll and many people dozing off. Those that managed to stay awake added a few more birds to the list on the way back. On arrival back at the quay Chris called in Dark-brown Honeyeater in the few scattered trees about the wharf. Departure from New Caledonia meant saying good bye to our new friends Noel and Heather who got off the ship here due to Heathers hand injury. The ship was pulled off the wharf by a tug, and we headed out of the harbour towards the reef entrance. As we passed numerous small islands a good watch was kept for terns, with Bridled, Fairy and Crested Terns seen. Joss and Rocket had prepared some wonderful food platters and eating these outside on the monkey deck as we sailed away from New Caledonia after a great day birding made us appreciate that this is the way to live!
At sea, running up the coast of New Caledonia
06:00 21.20S 164.35E
18:00 20.02S 163.22E
First light is now around 0:600 and the keen birders are up on deck by this time, only racing inside for a quick breakfast before returning to deck to continue the watch. The birding in the morning was quite slow, although there were several large flocks of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters feeding and Black Noddy which required our attention. Throughout the day all three species of booby were seen – Masked, Brown and Red-footed, with the latter putting up a great display as they attempted to catch flying fish put up by the ship. After lunch we laid an oil slick in the water and made several passes to check for birds. This soon attracted several Tahiti Petrels, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Wilson’s Storm Petrels. Later an interesting dark storm petrel with a white rump came in to the slick briefly on two occasions and was identified as a Band-rumped Storm Petrel. Joss and Rocket produced a great dinner, followed by a stunning pudding which some of the group described as “death by chocolate”.
At sea, north of New Caledonia heading towards Rennell Island.
06:00 18.07S 162.33E
18:00 16.33S 162.05E
The early rising birders were well rewarded this morning with a Polynesian Storm Petrel being seen just before 07:00. Chris spotted the bird ahead of the ship and it came down along the port side to about mid ship when it turned and followed alongside us for a time before heading off towards the northeast. Although only seen briefly it came in fairly close to the boat and allowed good views to be had, especially showing the distinctive flight pattern – very little wing flapping and lots of gliding. Needless to say breakfast was a very short affair for most, as most people desperately searched for another one. Luck was on our side and throughout the day a further three Polynesian Storm Petrels were seen, including one bird during lunch time which caused a mad dash for the stairs! First thing in the morning Morten had found a flying fish which had landed and expired on the 400 deck. The fish was in near perfect condition and enabled a close inspection of the creature of which we have seen plenty, but obviously rarely get a chance to see in the hand. It was later thrown overboard and was taken by a Red-footed Booby.
As the temperate started to climb in the afternoon, the birding dropped off and a Hawksbill Turtle in close to the boat caused a welcome distraction. To battle the heat our Russian crew turned on the back deck hose to cool off and filled a rubbish skip with water to act as a plunge pool. Lucky wee Anneliese got to enjoy her paddling pool which was also set up on the back deck. The birding in the late afternoon picked up a little, with five Band-rumped Storm petrels, two Tropical Shearwaters and single Magnificent and Providence Petrels being seen. After dinner Mike gave a presentation on the efforts of the Taiko Trust, a community conservation group in the Chatham Islands striving to save the Magenta Petrel and other endemic bird life.
At sea, south of and heading towards Rennell Island.
06:00 14.41S 161.03E
18:00 12.15S 160.02E
In short, today was a very hot day with the birding very slow. The keen birders stuck at it all day and at the end of the day had little to crow about. It was noticed that every now and then someone disappeared from the crowd as they snuck off for a short nap! Throughout the day conversation shifted towards the upcoming landing on Rennell Island and the list of birds which might be seen. At sunset Leanne had made a tasty ‘sun down spritzer’ which was enjoyed on the bow and monkey deck. A very refreshing end to a long hot day in the sun! During the afternoon, the TV monitors were flicking through the photos which had been entered into the photo competition. After the reading of the bird list, Sarah announced the winners. The ‘At Sea’ winner was (unsurprisingly) Bruce’s image of a White-capped Albatross seen on the first day at sea whilst chumming on the Kaikoura Trench. Geoff won the ‘At Land’ section with a beautiful photo of two Kagu taken at Riverre Bleue. Laurens won the ‘People’ section with a shot of one of the Russian crew being hosed down with the deck hose to cool off. Thanks to all those who entered their images. It was great to remember the sights we have seen and the efforts of those who have been working hard with their photography. After dinner Chris presented an overview of the birds of Rennell Island, and then everyone turned in early in preparation for an early start in the morning.
Ashore at Rennell Island, Lavangu Village
06:00 11.42S 160.16E
18:00 11.56S 160.33E
During the early hours of the morning the Spirit of Enderby arrived offshore of Rennell Island, the southern most of the Solomon Islands. The waters around the island are too deep to anchor, so the Captain needed to maintain a position offshore. The morning call was made at 05:30 and breakfast was served shortly after this. At first light, Aaron and Mike went ashore to pick up the Solomon Islands Custom and Immigration Officials and brought them on board. Once formalities had been completed by the officials, we started taking passengers ashore. As it was high tide the Zodiacs had no trouble negotiating the narrow reef entrance and were soon inside the calm turquoise lagoon heading for the sandy beach. We were welcomed ashore at Lavange Village by Johnson and his friendly band of helpers. After a quick briefing by Chris we headed inland to start birding.
The road from the beach climbs up a steep slope and then meanders through the main village for some time. The village consists of about 40 dwellings and there were a lot of new buildings under construction. The birders continued along this road which initially passes through land cleared by villagers for growing crops and regenerating scrub/forest. As the road gets further inland it enters mature primary rainforest. After about two kilometres it joins a wider forestry road, along which came barrelling the odd lorry. At places we headed off this road along small trails which the villagers use to harvest timber for their own use. These trails gave us a much better sense of the nature and structure of the rainforest and in particular the rough jagged limestone nature of the forest floor. The birding was great, with good sightings of all the targeted endemic birds. Highlights included excellent views of the Silver-capped Fruit Dove, Rennell Shrikebill, Fantail and White-eye. The Bare-eyed White-eye was most interesting as it doesn’t have a white eye at all.
Those not so obsessed with birds spent their time exploring the village, wandering along paths and discovering how locals live in such an isolated location. Some of the group were invited into the homes, visited the local school and took a closer look at some of the fruit and vegetable plantations. The young local boys provided each of us with a refreshing fresh coconut to drink on the return from our walk. Jemi delighted the kids by taking photos with her digital camera and then instantly printing off photos for them. As the day warmed up many headed to the beach to swim and snorkel. The coral and fish life in the lagoon, especially in the deeper water by the lagoon entrance was quite spectacular. Peter and Liz found themselves an idyllic spot on the water’s edge at the far end of the beach to relax in peace.
At 14:30 the last Zodiac left the beach and we waved the Lagange Villagers farewell. Once on board we welcomed the news that Joss and Rocket had extended lunch time so we could all get a bite to eat. After lunch many people retired to their cabins for a well earned rest, to download photos or just to cool off in the air conditioning. Later in the afternoon some heavy rain came through which had the bow camera crew trio of Geoff, Kurt and John racing inside and temporarily abandoning their photography of flying fish. Before dinner Chris gave a run down on the birds of Makira, where we will be birding and visiting a local village tomorrow. This was followed by the usual reading of the bird list and dinner. We all agreed that today’s visit to Rennell was fantastic. The island had a wonderful feel to it, the locals were friendly and the birds great. Most turned in immediately after dinner looking forward to an early start again tomorrow as we island hop through the Solomon lslands.
Ashore at Makira Island, and Anuta Village
06:00 10.21S 161.22E
18:00 09.59S 161.05E
As dawn broke the Captain was bringing us into Kirakira Harbour where the ship anchored. Shortly afterwards the Zodiacs were lowered and the first groups were transferred to Makira Island for a mornings birding. Once all were ashore we headed up the steep track into the forest in search of birds. The logging operations have been abandoned during the past year and the roadway has become somewhat overgrown. However the damage caused by their presence was visible everywhere, with discarded logs left lying about and the forest highly degraded in places. We followed the road as it climbed into the interior of the island, working our way through areas of more intact forest and ridges with wide views across the forest where we could scan for birds. The forest was poorer than yesterday at Renell Island and the birds somewhat harder to get. Overall the birding that day was a little frustrating and pretty tough going, with many people dipping out on the key endemics. Highlights included Brahminy Kite, Pied Goshawk, Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeon, Yellow-bibbed Lory, Mikira Cicadabird, and Sooty Myzomela.
Our next stop was at Anuta Village where it appeared that every villager had turned out to welcome us ashore. The local women and children had made floral leis to present to each visitor and these were presented to each of us by young girls as we came ashore. The fresh coconuts they gave us to drink were a welcome refresher after our hike through the forests. The children in particular were especially welcoming, very inquisitive and interested in our presence. Jemi was again a big hit with her camera which printed off digital images. The delight in the eyes of the children receiving a picture of themselves and their friends will remain a lasting memory. Baby Anneliese was just about kidnapped as soon as Sarah carried her ashore. The local mothers and grandmothers snatched her up in their arms as soon as she arrived and then passed her around for everyone to have a hold. The kids were delighted with her and followed her every move, including a swim later during the visit when Sarah and Anneliese were surrounded by children in the water.
The chief of the village welcomed us and explained how the village was very grateful for our visit. He told us that the outer villages of the Solomon’s receive little assistance from central government in Honiara and that this message needs to be taken back to the countries we come from. Following the welcome we were left to explore the village, with many locals showing small groups of us around. Life is pretty basic here; cooking over open fires and in stone ovens; washing and bathing in the stream; and drinking water being rainwater collected in tanks from the roof. The locals were genuinely grateful for our visit and as interested in our stories as we were with theirs.
On the way back to the ship in the Zodiacs we saw a pair of Beach Kingfishers and got some great views. Once back on-board the Spirit of Enderby there was a chance for people to go for a swim off the ship and later we set sail for Honiara. The sea was glassy calm and it didn’t take Mike long to find a small pod of Pigmy Sperm Whales, however the hopes of more such sightings during the afternoon disappeared as rain set in and the sea chopped up.
Ashore at Guadalcanal, Honiara and Mount Austin
Aaron’s morning call at 03:30 saw us anchored off Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. Joss and Rocket had again got up earlier to provide us with a hearty breakfast before our day ashore. The first Zodiacs headed to the bustling wharves at 04:30, dodging the inter-island freighters and dugout canoes in the dark on the way in. Our local agent Wilson and his drivers were waiting for us and we transferred to the shuttle bus and four wheel drive vehicles for the trip up to Mount Austin. The morning had gone smoothly, so we arrived up the mountain before day break. This gave us the chance to try for the owl, and following tape playback it was heard in the distance but not seen. We arrived at the top of Mount Austin just as day was breaking.
After a quick briefing by Chris, we headed off into the forest. From the clearing at the top of the hill, the path dropped off steeply down into a river valley, followed shortly by a wide vista which provided good views over a large area of forest. Some time was spent here targeting birds and was the only place that the Buff-headed Coucal was seen (several others were heard, but not seen). As the track continued to drop into the valley it passed through a variety of habitats from areas of thick forest to regenerating forest and then small grassy clearings. The birding was much more productive than yesterday, with the tally of targeted birds slowly increasing as the group moved further along the trail. There seemed to be a lack of smaller forest birds however, or was it just that these were harder to see? The Ultramarine Kingfisher was spotted and the bird stayed perched for some time allowing excellent views and photo opportunities. Most ended up with a pretty healthy bird list for the area, with highlights including great views of Blyth’s Hornbill, Solomon’s Sea Eagle, Solomon’s Cuckooshrike and Black-headed Myyzomela.
Meanwhile, those who didn’t want an early morning start headed into Honiara at 08:00 and spent the day exploring the city. Joss and Rocket visited the local market and bought a selection of local fruits which were provided at lunch. The refreshing taste of local tropic fruits was greatly enjoyed by the group. The overall impression of Honiara is that the locals are friendly, but that there is much poverty and hardship, resulting in the town centre being somewhat run down.
The birders arrived back at the wharf at 11:30 and headed back out to the ship for lunch. We bid farewell to Leanne, Matt and Mike as they left the ship for flights out to Brisbane and home. In the early afternoon we set sail once again and the wildlife highlight was a pod of False Killer Whales. That evening we enjoyed a stunning sunset as we continued our way northwards.
Ashore at Kolombangara Island, Kukudu
The Spirit of Enderby had made good time overnight and dawn saw us heading into Kolombangara Island a few hours ahead of schedule. This was welcome news as it provided more time for birding. The Zodiacs started shuttling people ashore straight after breakfast at 07:30. The trip to shore passed around a coral reef and landed people at the mouth of a small river in the village of Kukudu. A huge tree beside the landing place provided a welcome source of shade. Wasting no time as usual, Chris provided a quick briefing and then we headed out through the school grounds in search of the Roviana Rail. Chris’s playback did not work in attracting any rails, but he did manage to attract the attention of a cat which started stalking towards the call!
As the tracks on this island are narrow single file tracks, it was best to split the group into two to head off birding, each doing the same circuit but in a different direction. Initially the track followed the coastline through a grove of coconut palms where Graham, Allan and Janet were lucky enough to see two Melanesian Scrubfowl. We meandered through a village which stretched along the river bank to the forest edge. The track then dived into the forest, initially low regenerating forest, but further back it became more mature but was clearly not completely unmodified. Our local guides led us around a number of trails as we searched for birds, finally coming back out onto the Kukudu school sports field.
The days birding was somewhat tough going, birds could be heard calling but would not come out to be seen even when we used tape playback, so the extra time ashore was valuable. However, the list of targeted birds seen gradually crept up, and by the end of play a good selection of birds had been recorded. The first group managed to get the Roviana Rail relatively easily, with the second group waiting at the same spot for over an hour. By this time a small group had broken off to go back into the forest to continue searching for other birds, only to end up missing the rail. Back at the landing site the local artists had gathered and were displaying a range of stone and wood carvings which were for sale. Many of the cravings were true works of art and are a credit to the local villagers. The tide had dropped during our time ashore, so the Zodiacs had to weave their way out of the small river channel to get everyone back on board for a late lunch.
After lunch we drifted along the coast and a group of kids in six dugout canoes paddled out to the ship. Their friendly smiles and waves were a delight to see. A large burst of thunder had them quickly turning for shore however as they obviously had a healthy respect for the weather! Shortly afterwards we boarded our own 'canoes' (a.k.a. Zodiacs!) and headed towards land again. Chris led the small group who dipped out on the rail back for another crack, while the remaining three Zodiacs went for a cruise along the mangrove forests. This was a fascinating trip and a magical way to experience the island. We passed several women fishing from dugout canoes, saw amazing orchids hanging from branches and had good views of the birds. Aaron led us along a narrow waterway deep into the mangroves where we often had to dodge fallen trees. Heinz who was perched on the front of one of the Zodiacs had to lie flat as the craft made its way under a low fallen tree to avoid being knocked off! When we arrived back at the ship at sunset, everyone agreed that our last day in the Solomon Islands was great, with the Zodiac cruise a great way to finish off. At the reading of the bird list, Erling again pointed out which of the birds we had seen represented an endemic subspecies.
At sea, passing Bougainville and New Britain.
The morning found us over the deep water trench between Bougainville and New Britain, Papua New Guinea, and throughout the day we moved closer inshore, travelling along the 1000 metre contour. This is an area which in the past has produced good birding and cetaceans so most were up early and on deck scanning the seas. The day proved to be a little disappointing with only a small number of birds, whales and dolphins seen. Whilst in the Solomons we had learned that the water temperature was 3-5 degrees warmer than usual and it would seem likely that this has influenced the marine life. Part way through the day the ship suddenly did an abrupt u-turn and then came to a standstill. The Captain reported that there was an issue with communication between the bridge and the rudder, which left us drifting in calm waters for an hour while the problem was resolved. The main highlight of the day was the sighting of a few Heinroth’s Shearwater, a species all of the birders were keen to see.
At sea, between New Britain and New Ireland
Dawn break on our final day at sea saw all the usual suspects on deck, keen to make the most of their last opportunity for more ticks. This time they were quickly rewarded with an early sighting of Beck’s Petrel. Many people decided to forgo breakfast in the hope of getting another sighting, and more than once there was a mass departure from the restaurant when a Beck’s Petrel sighting was radioed in. As the day progressed it proved to be a very fruitful one, with the birding and cetacean watching much better than yesterday. Regular sightings of target birds, whales and dolphins kept the team interested and keen. Highlights for the day included multiple sightings of Beck’s Petrel and Heinroth’s Shearwater, and sightings of False Killer Whales and Spinner Dolphins.
The final evening in the bar saw all crowded in for the last reading of the bird list by Chris. The final tally of species was 206, and Mike won the BirdLife ‘Guess the number of birds seen’ competition. Sarah then announced the winners of the second photo challenge. They were: Bruce with his shot of a sleeping child in a village; Hannah with an underwater shot of a floating coconut; John with his Beach Kingfisher shot; and Laurens with his Ultramarine Kingfisher shot. Afterwards Aaron put on a slideshow reviewing the expedition. It was great to see all the photos and re-live the trip from the beginning. It has been an amazing trip with some stunning birds and fascinating locations. After the final dinner prepared by Joss and Rocket, Bruce gave a short slide show of his photos from the trip. He had some truly stunning shots and was a nice way to close out the night.
New Ireland, ashore at Kavieng
At dawn we anchored in the Port of Kavieng. The Papua New Guinea Immigration and Customs officials took their time coming onboard and then took even longer processing the paper work before we could go ashore. The call this ‘island time’! Everyone was busy packing and organising themselves, and finally we were given the all clear to head ashore. Baggage was sent ashore first and the passengers followed. Once ashore we were transferred to the Kavieng Hotel to drop off gear before our day trip.
We boarded a couple of buses and mini vans for the hour and a half drive south of Kavieng to a small village. On the way out everybody was moved by how much of the vegetation had been cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. Large swathes of the island were covered in the palms and it was a stark contrast to the lush forests we have been visiting. Many island economies inevitably rely on this type of agriculture but it seems a shame to lose so much native vegetation. The traditional welcome was loud and colourful, with some amazing masks used. Afterwards a lunch of barbecued chicken and fish with locally grown vegetables and fruit was served. On the way back to the hotel we headed inland to an area of forest where we spent an hour looking for birds. A number of endemics were spotted.
That evening we all gathered in the hotel restaurant for a seafood buffet dinner. We spent a pleasant evening chatting, swapping emails and talking over the expedition highlights and birds seen.
We were all agreed, the Western Pacific Odyssey 2013 was a great trip.
All arrived safely from our many and varied home countries, and by mid-afternoon had boarded Spirit of Enderby, our home for the coming month at sea. We let go the lines at 6 pm and headed away from Tauranga, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. After an introductory meeting with the ship’s staff and our mandatory safety briefing we enjoyed the first of many fine meals and a welcome sleep.
Day 2: Hauraki Gulf and heading northward, 34o47’S 175o10’E to 34o51’S 174o19’E.
A moderate southwest wind and following sea, protected mostly by the NZ mainland, made for a very comfortable first day – and a very successful one. Starting out around the Mokinhau Islands we scanned the feeding balls of Red-billed Gulls for a few Gray Ternlets, as Buller’s Shearwaters and Australasian Gannets wheeled around us. Then we were off north, stopping to chum for the iconic New Zealand Storm-Petrel – which took a while but finally proved to be almost “common,” and everyone enjoyed good views of this striking seabird. A few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and a late White-faced Storm-Petrel also came into the slick, but the “best” bird was a surprising Great Shearwater – one of only a handful of records from New Zealand. Other notables included good numbers of Gray-faced Petrels, a few Little Shearwaters and Parkinson’s (Black) Petrels, pods of Common Dolphins and Pilot Whales, and our first flyingfish of the voyage. Adam braved a barrel of fish guts for an afternoon chumming session, and we had great views of Campbell, Shy, and Buller’s mollymawks (the smaller albatrosses), and even some majestic Wandering Albatrosses (presumably Gibson’s) right behind the ship. Gentle seas continued through the evening, and after dinner Chris gave a talk on the seabirds we might see between NZ and New Caledonia.
We awoke to gentle seas, a rainbow, and very pleasant conditions, with a steady trickle of gadfly petrels passing by (mainly Gould’s and Gray-faced, but also a few Black-winged), the occasional albatross (Wandering types, plus Buller’s, Campbell, and Shy) and a few other seabirds, including White-faced Storm-Petrel and Australasian Gannet. A few flyingfish were also seen, and then things quieted down, with many taking a siesta after lunch. After a mid-afternoon squall the wind picked up slightly and in the space of a few minutes a close White-necked Petrel, a White-bellied Storm-Petrel, and a Red-tailed Tropicbird roused us from the lull. A chumming session produced great views of Gray-faced Petrels plus a Campbell Albatross and another White-bellied Storm-Petrel, before another rainbow and a stunning sunset.
Although a little warmer than yesterday, the wind was stronger and birds were whipping around. Birding before breakfast produced a few Black-winged Petrels and White-faced Storm-Petrels, and our first White Terns and (dark-morph) Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Birds continued through the day, with a spectacular wave of over 200 Short-tailed Shearwaters after lunch, a beautiful fresh juvenile Wandering Albatross, and a couple of light-morph Kermadec Petrels; a few flyingfish were seen, including Pink-tailed Clearwings. By late afternoon the shape of Norfolk Island could be discerned on the horizon, and small numbers of Masked Boobies, Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Gray Ternlets, and White Terns passed by on their way home to roost. After dinner, Rodney and Chris gave us the zodiac briefing and an overview of the birds we might expect on Norfolk.
Occasional heavy showers punctuating a near-constant drizzle characterized our visit to Norfolk Island, a beautiful and tranquil Australian outpost, home to friendly people and to the spectacular Norfolk Pine. The rain didn’t dampen our birding, however, and our visits to the botanical gardens (with tea and some delicious cakes) and to Palm Glen produced all of the extant endemic landbirds – Slender-billed White-eye, Norfolk Gerygone, Norfolk [Golden] Whistler, and, with some work, the sadly declining Norfolk Island Parakeet. Also notable were Pacific Robin, Emerald Dove, Gray Fantail, migrant Wandering Tattlers, and astonishing numbers of “Red Junglefowl” aka chickens, which the Australian birding “authorities” tell us are countable… The seabird colony at Rocky Point included great views of nesting Black Noddies, plus White Terns and Red-tailed Tropicbirds. The wind picked up while we were ashore and made for fun zodiac rides back to the ship, and for some great birding as we headed away offshore in mid-afternoon. A spectacular seabird show, despite the overcast and fairly windy conditions, featured hundreds of noddies (Black, Brown, White, and Gray, if one includes White Tern and Gray Ternlet as noddies), well over a hundred Little Shearwaters, lots of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, great views of Black-winged Petrels, and even a couple of Solander’s (aka Providence) Petrels. We ended at 28o38’S 167o47’E, SST 24oC, and rolled on into the night.
A blustery 20-25 knot NE wind in the morning made for some atmospheric seas – but was seemingly to the liking of the 7 species of gadfly petrels we saw, including our first Tahiti Petrels, both dark- and light-morph Collared Petrels, and more White-necked and Kermadec Petrels. A fish-oil slick in mid-morning allowed even better views of Tahiti Petrels and a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. The wind dropped a little after lunch, bird numbers also dropped, and flyingfish numbers picked up a bit before a spectacular rain squall darkened the skies and closed down the birding. After dinner, Chris gave a recap on the birds we hope to see on New Caledonia.
At sea heading north to New Caledonia, with stops to try for the enigmatic “New Caledonia Storm-Petrel” – one did come into a slick we laid about 30nm south of Noumea, along with 15+ Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, but sadly it stayed mostly beyond camera range. The slick (thanks again, Adam) also produced great views of many Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Tahiti Petrels, and other birds in the morning included numerous Gould’s Petrels and at least one Collared Petrel. Perhaps the most striking avian points of the day, however, were the Red-footed Boobies (in their varied plumages) that hunted flyingfish around the ship, and the impressive northward streams of Short-tailed Shearwaters. We picked up the pilot in mid-afternoon and by 5 p.m. were tied up at the wharf in Noumea. Our approach to land featured Crested, Black-naped, and Fairy Terns, the New Caledonia race of Silver Gull, a couple of Bottlenose Dolphins, some distant Glossy Swiftlets (of the white-rumped form), and Dark-brown Honeyeater at the dock. After customs formalities there was a chance to wander briefly around the town before back on board to tally the bird list and an early dinner in preparation for a very early start tomorrow. Started at 23o01’S 166o25’E and ended in Noumea (22o16’S 166o26’E). Partly cloudy and mostly sunny, starting to get hot, with gentle low seas and a light southwest breeze.
As a trio of Kagus walked around right in front of us, raising their crests, any memories of the 3.15 wake-up call faded into the magical forest at Riviere Bleu. Birding in the forest along the dirt road through the park produced most of the specialty birds, and we were blessed by very pleasant weather. Highlights included good views of both Horned and New Caledonia Parakeets, the visually and vocally impressive Goliath (or New Caledonian) Imperial-Pigeon, endearing Yellow-bellied Robins, Melanesian and New Caledonian Cuckoo-shrikes, perched New Caledonian Goshawks, the elusive Red-throated Parrotfinch, and mixed-species flocks with fantails, gerygones, white-eyes, and whistlers. After a good picnic lunch we birded a little and headed back to ship. Heading out through the reef, our old friends Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Gould’s Petrels were there to greet us, plus a few Tahiti Petrels and a nice Collared Petrel.
At sea heading northwest off the west coast of New Caledonia, with a pleasant following wind and sea. Starting at 21o17’S 164o26’E, ending at 20o00’S 163o13’E; SST 26.5oC. Birds were slow but steady with a good variety that built up through the day. Notable were some nice Collared Petrels in the morning, Red-footed Boobies hunting flyingfish, a White-tailed Tropicbird that visited briefly, and a Great Frigatebird feeding over a group of Brown Boobies. The fish oil drip off the stern attracted numerous Tahiti Petrels and a few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, but Polynesian Storm-Petrel remained elusive. The mid-late afternoon produced a few more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Sperm Whale and a mix of distant [= unidentifiable] dolphins and blackfish, and ended with an obliging Lesser Frigatebird over the ship. Variably cloudy and with some very hot and sunny spells.
Heading north-northwest towards Rennell, starting at 18o05’S 162o08’E and ending at 16o21’S 161o27’E; SST 27.5oC. Another surprisingly “cool” day with mostly overcast conditions, frequent showers, and a following wind and sea. The undoubted highlight of the morning, before breakfast, was a well-seen Polynesian Storm-Petrel. Also notable were our first feeding flocks of Sooty Terns and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, the occasional frigatebird and tropicbird, a few Red-footed Boobies, a single White-faced Storm-Petrel and, in the afternoon, some surprise Band-rumped [= Madeiran] Storm-Petrels. Flyingfish numbers were also very much on the rise, with numerous types seen and even photographed. After dinner, Adam gave a beautifully illustrated talk on reef fish of the western Pacific.
Heading north-northwest towards Rennell, starting at 14o29’S 160o42’E and ending at 12o50’S 160o04’E; SST 29oC. The overcast and cool conditions continued, with frequent rain showers to freshen up the diehards who tried to remain outside. Birding was generally slow, but flyingfish numbers and diversity continued to build. Highlights from the birders included 3 more Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, a light trickle of northbound Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, good views of both Red-tailed and White-tailed tropicbirds, and some fine late afternoon entertainment from 2 Red-footed Boobies hunting flyingfish (and then perching on the radar scanner tower). After dinner, Rodney, Chris, and Adam gave a briefing on tomorrow’s visit ashore to the island of Rennell, the southernmost of the Solomon Islands.
Our day ashore on this island paradise offered some great birding, swimming, and snorkeling around a small village of happy people – and although hot and humid, by local standards the weather was remarkably pleasant. A Rennell Shrikebill at the landing was followed as we walked through the village edge by numerous gerygones, myzomelas, and Bare-eyed White-eyes, and scope views of perched Pacific Imperial-Pigeon, Brown Goshawk, and Rennell Starlings. Heading into the forest we quickly found the remaining endemics – Rennell White-eye and Rennell Fantail – but had to work a little for the retiring Island Thrush. Other highlights included fabulous views of the handsome Moustached Treeswift, “cute” pygmy-parrots feeding at eye level, Silver-capped Fruit-Doves, and both Sacred (migrant) and Collared (resident) kingfishers. After birding we convened at the beach for some swimming and a perusal of local crafts, while swarms of local children reveled in playing and diving from the zodiacs.
All were loaded back on board by 2 p.m., and after a great buffet lunch we headed off east along the south side of Rennell. Torrential rain showers were punctuated by some mind-blowing rainbows as Red-footed Boobies flew past, and the day ended with a tranquil and beautiful sunset. Before dinner Chris briefed us on tomorrow’s visit to Makira Island.
Another early start saw us ashore on the little-visited island of Makira, where we met, finally, with the much-touted hot and humid WPO conditions that had to date (thankfully) eluded us – but it was worth it. A very productive morning along the logging road across from Anuta village, produced the endemic White-headed Fruit-Dove, San Cristobal Melidectes (which took a bit of work!), Makira (or Ochre-headed) Flycatcher (named by somebody either color-blind or anatomically challenged), San Cristobal Starling, and numerous Sooty Myzomelas and Mottled Flowerpeckers. Also nice were Red-knobbed, Pacific, and Chestnut-bellied imperial-pigeons (all seen perched and enjoyed through the scope), Eclectus Parrot, Yellow-bibbed Lory, Dollarbirds, vocally strident Golden Whistlers, and a good raptor showing that featured Solomon Sea-Eagles, Pied Goshawks, and handsome Brahminy Kites. After this great morning we headed across to Anuta and a wonderful visit with the friendly and hospitable people (despite the staged “attack” by whooping, clay-painted boys with spears!) who make our visits here possible. A greeting ceremony, during which the young girls of the village presented us with leis, was followed by a formal greeting, for which even some of the Russian crew and captain Dmitri came ashore! Rodney was presented with a spear, and he presented the village with some school books and a cricket bat, wickets, and bails – we then enjoyed teaching the local children the basics of the game, after pied-piper Adam had led them on a race along the beach. Some outrigger racing followed, and the birding contingent found a handsome Beach Kingfisher. All too soon it was time to return to the ship, enjoy a quick swim before lunch, and relax a bit before we headed on towards the adjacent island of Guadalcanal, as a close pod of Pilot Whales had everyone out on deck. Afternoon birds featured numerous Bridled Terns and a few Gray-backed Terns, before we ended at 10o01’S 161o06’E and convened in the bar for a briefing on tomorrow’s visit to Guadalcanal.
Our earliest start of the trip found us bleary-eyed on the wharf in Honiara (9o25’S 159o58’E), waiting for buses to take us up to Mount Austin. Sadly, logistical problems killed our intended owling venture, but we still arrived in perfect time at the edge of the forest for what proved to be a fabulous morning of birding. We were greeted by squadron after squadron of eye-popping Blyth’s Hornbills, their wing-rush filling the air over our heads. Fruiting trees offered perched views of brilliant red Cardinal and Yellow-bibbed lories, the fancy DuCorps Cockatoo, plus a variety of cuckoo-shrikes, Black-headed Myzomela, Claret-brested Fruit-Doves, Brown-winged Starlings, and Yellow-faced Mynas. Other avian highlights ranged from the tiny but very handsome Midget Flowerpecker to the massive and almost mammalian Buff-headed Coucal, from the endemic Guadalcanal (White-billed) Crow to the striking Ultramarine Kingfisher. Some raptor watching from the shade produced another Solomon Sea-Eagle, and then we returned to the ship for a refreshing buffet lunch and well-deserved rest. The non-birders (the sensible members of our party?) slept until a reasonable hour and spent an interesting morning exploring Honiara, capital of the Solomons, visiting the market and meeting many friendly people. The hot and humid afternoon was spent transiting towards Kolombangara Island; most people took the opportunity to relax while a few hard-core souls watched Crested Terns hunting flyingfish. In late afternoon the temperature dropped, and feeding flocks included our first Tropical Shearwater among Wedge-tails and Short-tails before ending at 8o55’S 159o23’E.
After the intense shearwater action yesterday evening we awoke early with optimism – but after an hour not a single bird had been seen, and the remarkably strong early morning sun was truly cooking. A light breeze and some cloud after breakfast ameliorated the heat a little, and among the flyingfish some nice Yellow Bandwings and Blue Bandwings were a distraction from the lack of birds. After lunch (just before which a distant Heinroth’s Shearwater was seen), we went ashore to Kolombangara Island, at the neatly kept and very attractive village of Kukundu. Some folks wandered around the village, went swimming, and perused the local handicrafts, which included some beautiful carvings. The birders split into 3 groups, all of which confirmed that birding in a tropical forest in the heat and intense humidity of mid-afternoon is rather unproductive. A few nice birds were seen, though, mainly around the village on our arrival (notably some stunning Duchess Lorikeets and the ever-popular Moustached Treeswift) and again at the forest edge in late afternoon, with all groups converging at a very birdy area – with fruit-doves, starlings, myzomelas, cuckoo-shrikes, white-eyes, White-capped Monarchs, Cardinal Lories, Solomon Sea-Eagle, Ducorps Cockatoo, Eclectus Parrots, and swarms of confusing swiftlets. After this intense burst of activity we headed down to the village for a beautiful, tranquil evening and great views of the spectacular fruit bats. Sadly, our search for the enigmatic Roviana Rail proved fruitless and we headed back to the ship for some cold drinks and another great dinner.
At sea heading northwest off the west coast of Bougainville Island, starting at 7o30’S 155o15’E, ending at 6o00’S 154o24’E; SST 30oC. An overall hot and humid day with a light breeze alternating with glassy calm – the sunshade on the top deck was a life saver, and some even took to hammocks. Birds were overall sparse except for a notable feeding flock in the afternoon, which we passed on by to stop for a swim and an unproductive session of chumming. Quality made up for quantity, however, and small numbers of Heinroth’s Shearwaters and Gray-backed Terns were seen throughout the day, with a single Beck’s Petrel in late afternoon. Flyingfish diversity was excellent, including beautiful Yellow Bandwings, Solomon Ceruleans, Leopardwings, and various pinkwings, while mammals included Sperm Whales, pilot whales, dolphins, and, for some, a very close Dwarf Sperm Whale just after lunch.
We awoke near Cap St George, New Ireland (5o12’S 152o59’E, SST 30oC), and started to chum for Beck’s Petrel, which dutifully arrived just as breakfast (would have) started. For the first time on the WPO we enjoyed watching several Beck’s and Tahiti Petrels foraging together, when the striking size difference between them could be appreciated easily. A sense of satisfaction settled on the ship as we headed on north through near calm waters, inhabited by numerous cetaceans but relatively few birds. Sightings through the day included a Killer Whale, several Sperm Whales, a large pod of Melon-headed Whales, and numerous dolphins. We ended the day at 3o30’S 153o40’E with an absolutely stunning sunset over the last land we would see for several days.
Heading basically north towards Micronesia, we awoke (around 1o22’S 153o47’E) to amazingly glassy and very gently rolling seas – and very few birds. Small numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters struggled north through the doldrums, and a couple of Bulwer’s Petrels were seen. Before lunch, Steve gave a talk on flyingfish – for which the WPO is becomingly increasingly famous (over 20 types having been identified to date on this year’s voyage). In mid-afternoon we crossed the equator, stopping to swim on the line and enjoy a toast on the bow. The weather changed to notably pleasant with a light breeze as we continued north to end at 0o26’N 153o25’E; SST 29oC.
Our northward run
Through worlds untold
The Spirit takes with ease
As morning sun
Bleeds burning gold
On glassy satin seas
With gentle swell
We end the day
And pass into the night
Where dreams propel
Our minds to play
Ere dawn will bring new light
Another tranquil day at sea, rolling overall north towards Truk, starting at
02o23’N 153o02’E (SST 29.5oC) and ending at 04o07’N 152o43’E. Spectacular and ever-changing cloudscapes marked the day, punctuated by rain squalls and cooled throughout by a pleasant breeze. Short-tailed Shearwaters continued to pass on by to the north, small numbers of White-tailed Tropicbirds and terns were seen, plus a few (unidentified) dolphins, making this perhaps the quietest birding day of the trip to date. Moreover, almost no flyingfish were seen, confirming that we were deep into the equatorial ocean desert – the largest desert on Earth (just because it’s full of water doesn’t mean it isn’t a desert). Chris gave a talk on wildlife in the Russian Far East, and a Blue Planet video was screened in the afternoon. Clocks went back another hour, and the bar was re-opened for an hour from 9 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Heading north to Truk, starting at 5o57’N 152o20’E (SST 29.5oC) in gently rolling seas with a scattering of birds, including our first light-morph Wedge-tailed Shearwater, a nice Bulwer’s Petrel, and several terns. The day continued fairly quietly until the islands of Truk appeared on the horizon in mid-afternoon, when we started to see numbers of noddies and White Terns, at times in spectacular feeding flocks, with small numbers of Atoll (Tropical) Shearwaters mixed in. After picking up the pilot we headed through the reef and tied up at the wharf (7o27’N 151o50’E), where customs and immigration formalities were completed. Birding from the top deck in the pleasant late afternoon produced a number of birds, including a surprise (vagrant) Laughing Gull.
An early wake-up call was followed by breakfast, after which two groups of birders headed off on their different courses for the day: one by zodiac across to the island of Tol South, and the other up to Japanese Gun, on the main island. Both groups met with success on the birding front, seeing all of the specialty species possible. The Japanese Gun group enjoyed good views of the Caroline Islands white-eyes, swiftlets, and reed warblers, plus Oceanic Flycatchers, stunning Micronesian Myzomelas, and handsome Purple-capped Fruit-Doves, all the while with White Terns, noddies, and tropicbirds overhead; the persistent contingent even found the Caroline Islands Ground Dove. The Tol South party enjoyed relatively smooth zodiac crossings and among other birds found the Faichuuk (Great Truk) White-eye and Chuuk Monarch lower than they had expected, making the steep muddy climb shorter, but still arduous. A little bit of zodiac racing livened up the journey back to Truk. There was also a snorkeling option, and time to wander and explore town, with cold beers partaken by some at the Truk Stop Hotel before a buffet lunch on the ship and some last-minute birding and shopping. Lines were let go about 4 p.m. and we sailed out of the lagoon and back to sea for the last leg of the odyssey, with distant views of the Laughing Gull as we pulled away. Passing through the reef late in the day produced some close views of Atoll Shearwaters and a few flyingfish.
At sea heading north-northwest towards Japan, starting at 9o26’N 150o23’E (29.5oC) and ending at 10o58’N 150o05’E. Overall a very quiet day for sea life as we transected the ultra-desert of the tropical Pacific, with a few flyingfish and a few birds, including Bulwer’s Petrel, but with long periods of nothing. A good day to catch up on sleep, diaries, and editing photos. After dinner, Chris gave a talk on seabirds we might see on the rest of the route, while a Red-footed Booby slept on the mast.
At sea heading north-northwest towards Japan, continuing our transect through the edge of nowhere, which doesn’t differ substantively from the middle of nowhere in terms of birds. Day 23 was perhaps the quietest of the trip for birds, with just a handful of species and even of individuals, but things picked up a little on Day 24, with our first Matsudaira’s Storm-Petrels, increasing numbers of Sooty Terns, some nice Sperm Whales in the afternoon, a few flyingfish and even some flying squid! Ice creams on the bow were a good mid-afternoon feature, and beers on the top deck for sunset proved a popular way to end our two days of desert birding. We also crossed over the Mariana Trench, Adam completed his talks on tropical reef fish, and Steve gave the first two lectures in his series on Seabirds of the World – beginning with the question: how does one define a seabird? Day 23 started at 12o37’N 149o16’E (SST 29oC), ended at 14o21’N 148o28’E. Day 24 started at 16o05’N 147o31’E (SST 28.5oC), ended at 18o01’N 146o33’E.
As Friday the 13th dawned, we awoke off the northern Marianas Islands (19o40’N 145o42’E; SST 28oC), which are effectively oases of land in a desert of sea. The birders enjoyed an active morning as birds headed off from the islands and out for their day of foraging at sea – numerous Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (now of the light morph), and three species of booby could be seen at one time around the ship – Brown, Masked, and Red-footed, as well as noddies and a few Bulwer’s Petrels. But shortly after breakfast things got quiet again. Cruising through the gentle seas we stopped for a refreshing swim break at midday, and the afternoon birding was punctuated with a good scattering of Bulwer’s Petrels, a few Matsudaira’s Storm-Petrels, and boobies that included a dark-tailed Red-footed, perhaps of the eastern Pacific subspecies websteri. Steve concluded his Seabirds of the World talk in the afternoon, and we ended at 21o29’N 144o58’E with drinks on the top deck and a very tranquil sunset.
St (Christopher) Peter’s day dawned hot and sunny in Japanese waters (23o13’N 144o17’E; SST 27oC), with the wind having shifted to astern, making it hotter than usual. We crossed the Tropic of Cancer in the morning as a good showing of Matsudaira’s Storm-Petrels populated the wake, our dark-tailed Red-footed Booby was still with us, and the first of several Bannerman’s Shearwaters passed by. After some morning squalls the wind shifted to a more pleasant northwest and bird (and flyingfish, and even flying squid!) action picked up. In early afternoon we stopped while some folks swam, after which a fish-oil slick was laid; a few Matsudaira’s Storm-Petrels came in before we headed off again on our way. As we continued north, Bonin Petrels put on some good shows but St Peter’s green-flash sunset died even as its possibility was announced. Photo-caption competition winners were named in the bar, before the bird list, with Hugh Buck taking the honors. We ended at 24o43’N 143o33’E.
We awoke under gray skies off the southwestern Bonin Islands (26o18’N 142o38’E), the air (and water) much cooler, with SST 23oC and birds all around – a fantastic sight, with numerous Bonin Petrels, Matsudaira’s and Tristram’s storm-petrels, and light-morph Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, plus smaller numbers of Bulwer’s Petrels, Brown Boobies, Brown Noddies, and Bannerman’s Shearwaters, and a few other odds and ends including Wilson’s and Leach’s storm-petrels, Long-tailed Jaegers (Skuas), and some great views of Sperm Whales. Despite an abundance of birds and good weather in the morning, it was decided to defer chumming till the afternoon – but sadly, at the appointed time we had largely lost the birds and it was pouring rain. Despite a brave show by Adam, only 3 Black-footed Albatrosses came in to join the abundant Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Shortly after chumming, the weather cleared again and we found an impressive feeding flock of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Brown Boobies, and Brown Noddies, as well as single dark-morph Pomarine and Parasitic (Arctic) Jaegers before ending at 28o11’N 142o12’E.
We awoke to near calm seas and overcast skies, some 60 miles south-southeast of Torishima (29o48’N 141o03’E; SST 21oC); the breeze picked up a little but birds before breakfast were sparse – a few Bonin Petrels, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, and large dark storm-petrels (mostly too distant for species ID). After breakfast Adam started chumming, and small numbers of Black-footed Albatross, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, and Matsudaira’s and Tristram’s storm-petrels began to mill in the wake. By late morning the hazy outline of Torishima could be discerned and we had gathered quite a following of birds, including our first Streaked Shearwaters and a couple of Flesh-footed Shearwaters, with some intriguing beaked whales (Mesoplodon sp.) being seen. Chumming continued after lunch, and Adam’s diligence was rewarded when a subadult Steller’s (Short-tailed) Albatross worked its way up the wake from far away and proceeded to show off at the stern for over an hour, for all to watch and enjoy – at times within almost arm’s reach! After a while we stopped the engines and drifted, and the albatrosses and storm-petrels came even closer before becoming sated; a Barn Swallow flying around the ship in late afternoon added one more species to our growing total before we ended at 30o46’N 140o26’E to spend the night drifting, in the hope that more Steller’s might be seen in the morning.
Dawn on deck in the gloom and rain produced a surprise Whiskered Tern but no albatrosses, sadly, and we headed on north for the day, from 30o57’N 140o09’E (SST 20oC) to end at 32o27’N 139o30’E. A lumpy sea with 15-20 knot northeast winds and rain made it feel like we were truly in the North Pacific, but birds were few in the morning – mainly unidentified distant storm-petrels and shearwaters, plus a few Black-footed Albatross and Bonin Petrels. The wind picked up to 20-25 knots in the afternoon, making for atmospheric conditions; numbers of Streaked Shearwaters rose steadily, a few northbound migrant waders flew past, and a Minke Whale showed well just before lunch. An eventful evening of canapés (thanks as always to Nicki and Brad) and drinks in the bar featured an auction hosted by kilted Hugh Buck and winged fairy Gemma, during which a goodly amount was raised for Birdlife International’s endangered species program.
We awoke off Miyake Jima (34o01’N 139o26’E; SST 20.5oC) under sunny skies and near-calm, and cruised slowly past the rocks where Japanese Murrelets nest – sadly, it seemed that most if not all of the murrelets had finished breeding on this date, although the eddies and surface fronts were loaded with impressive feeding flocks of Streaked Shearwaters. Two or three fly-by specks seen by a few people were the best we could muster of the (presumed) murrelet before moving on northward, where we stopped mid-morning to drift while clearing up some Japanese entry formalities. After lunch we continued north over pleasantly calm waters and found numerous Japanese Murrelets, including pairs with large chicks close beside the ship – a great relief to see the last “target seabird” of the voyage. A Laysan Albatross and a pod of Baird’s Beaked Whales rounded out the day nicely as we cruised into to shipping lanes of Tokyo Bay (35o12’N 139o47’E) and the start of our re-entry into the “real” world. After a great buffet dinner, Rodney and the staff gave a recap of the journey and outlined the plans for disembarking tomorrow.
After breakfast we disembarked into Japan and on to our many and varied destinations. It was an amazing month “at sea” and thanks to all for making it such a memorable experience.
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" I really enjoyed very much the WPO, only one complaint: too short!
" Thanks for your message and a big thank you for a great trip and organization! The rest of the trip was also great (and hot…), including our days in New Ireland. It was truly fantastic. "
" I'm back home in the cold and wet with 6.5 hrs. of daylight and a lot of really good memories from the trip. I would like to thank you all for making it such a wonderful trip filled with so many different things to see, the cetaceans were especially good for me. "
" We both had a wonderful time and really enjoyed the staff, crew, ship and its operations. In particular, we though the Zodiac operation simple, safe and effective. "