Buka and Bougainville

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: Buka and Bougainville
From: Phil Gregory <>
Date: Thu, 27 Sep 2001 16:53:40 +1000
Thanks to Andy Anderson for his recent posting about his trips to Buka and now Bougainville. I am sending a summary of our recent scouting trip there as well, it's a fascinating destination that is once again opening up:
Buka and Bougainville August 30 - September 4 2001

Chris Eastwood and I made a trip to these islands, long off the route for birders due to the civil war, which has put them off-limits since 1989. Andy Anderson made a brief Buka trip in 1999, and was here the week before us, but no other birders have visited here for many years. However, Don Hadden is the resident birder, teaching with the NZ Aid program, and he and his wife Llane (of Cichlornis (Megalurulus) llaneae fame) were kind enough to host us at Arawa. Happily a peace process is now in place, and the long task of rebuilding from the ruins can begin, though the mountain areas are still firmly off limits and are likely to be so for some time. Bougainville is now an autonomous province of Papua New Guinea, with a referendum about independence scheduled for sometime in the future.
Buka is the small island that lies off the north west tip of Bougainville, and which has escaped the devastation wrought on the towns and infrastructure of the main island. It is a useful birding destination in its own right, with many Solomon Islands species, which are currently not accessible there due to the political and social problems besetting that country.
Our brief look on Buka consisted of a morning and a part of two afternoons around Buka town and about 5km inland along the main road. We also had a careful check of the airstrip area for Buff-bellied Mannikins, but failed to locate any. The following species were noted:

Solomon?s and Bismarck endemics are in bold type
Lesser Frigatebird 18, Great Frigatebird 1, Intermediate Egret 1, Pacific Black Duck, Glossy Ibis 2 by the airstrip Aug 31- a new bird for Buka it seems, Osprey 3, Sanford?s Sea-Eagle 1, Variable Goshawk 1, Pied Goshawk 1, Brahminy Kite, Melanesian Scrubfowl heard, Bush-hen heard, Grey-tailed Tattler, Common Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Crested Tern, Solomon?s Cockatoo, Eclectus Parrot, Cardinal Lory very common, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Rainbow Lorikeet, Green Pygmy-Parrot 1, Nicobar Pigeon 2 imm, Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeon, Grey (Island) Imperial-Pigeon quite common, Claret-breasted Fruit-Dove , Moustached Tree-swift,  Uniform Swiftlet, Pacific Swallow, Blyth?s Hornbill 2, Sacred Kingfisher,  Collared Kingfisher heard in mangroves, Yellow-bellied Sunbird, Midget Flowerpecker, Solomon?s Satin Flycatcher, Bougainville Monarch 1 male, Red-naped Myzomela singles on two dates only, Willie-wagtail, Yellow-throated White-eye common, Cicadabird 1m and 1 f, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Long-tailed Myna 20+, Singing Starling 5, Brown-winged Starling  2 and a nest by the Lodge, Metallic Starling 20.
46 species

We travelled by PMV from Buka, after crossing the narrow Buka Strait that separates the two islands, taking about 4 hours to reach Arawa on pretty reasonable gravel roads. Arawa is a simply a shell, burnt out and destroyed by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army in their scorched earth policy, obliterating all traces of the Panguna mine infrastructure including such things as schools, hospitals, electricity, water supplies, banking, postal services etc. A sad sight indeed, though the UN and NZ aid have reconnected a water system and supply power for about 4 hours a day to the people dwelling in the surviving houses. Two guest houses now operate as well and signs of recovery are evident. We encountered no animosity, people were friendly and interested in what we were doing, and now again have some hope for the future.

We added a few species by coming down to Arawa, including the almost mythical Woodford?s Rail which is quite common in the environs of the town and can be seen scuttling across the main road north. The long grass everywhere may have helped the survival of this species, which is listed as vulnerable in Threatened Birds of the World (BirdLife International 2001) and of which there have been very few sightings until Don found them commonly here. We saw 9 birds one day, including a pair with two juveniles out by the Arawa airstrip. I saw 4 on the return car ride to Buka, including two quite well north between Wakunai and Tinputz. The plumage was entirely black, with a pale bill and legs almost whitish in colour, and the eye was reddish. The birds often ran across the road with wings upraised, and we saw them foraging along the banks of the main river in town and coming out on the shingle banks in the water.

Sanford?s Sea-Eagle was elusive, and one we particularly wanted after just a glimpse on Buka. Fortunately we eventually did see a single bird out by the airstrip, and had scope views of it perched for a while. Bougainville Monarch was sparse but not uncommon in the understorey of forest, and we heard the Solomon?s Boobook out in the same area on a night foray. Bougainville Crow was very scarce, we saw just 5 birds in total north of the Arawa/Panguna road junction. Good news was that Common Myna is down to a single pair and we had to twitch this for our PNG list in the ruins of the petrol station in Arawa, where it was formerly common. Hopefully it will die-out soon!

Bougainville species
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 1 off Kieta, Reef Heron 1, Pacific Black Duck, Little Pied Cormorant, Osprey , Sanford?s Sea-Eagle 1, Variable Goshawk 1, Brahminy Kite, Melanesian Scrubfowl, Bush-hen heard, Purple Swamphen, Grey-tailed Tattler 3, Terek Sandpiper 1, Common Sandpiper 12, Whimbrel, Turnstone,  Pacific Golden Plover 15, Lesser Sand Plover 3, Crested Tern, Solomon?s Cockatoo, Eclectus Parrot, Cardinal Lory very common, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Rainbow Lorikeet,  Duchess Lorikeet 2, Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeon, Grey (Island) Imperial-Pigeon quite common, Claret-breasted Fruit-Dove 7 , Superb Fruit-Dove 5, Mackinlay?s Cuckoo-Dove 5, Solomon?s Boobook 3 heard, Moustached Tree-swift,  Uniform Swiftlet, White-rumped Swiftlet, Pacific Swallow, Blyth?s Hornbill 2, Collared Kingfisher, Ultramarine Kingfisher 4, Brush Cuckoo 1 (very distinctive song, quite unlike Australian or NG birds and quite richly coloured beneath), Koel sp. heard (Asian?), Yellow-bellied Sunbird, Midget Flowerpecker, Solomon?s Satin Flycatcher, Bougainville Monarch 5, Willie-wagtail, Cockerell?s Fantail 4, Yellow-throated White-eye common, Australian Reed Warbler many heard and one seen at Kieta, Cicadabird 1m and 1 f, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike 5, Solomon?s Black-bellied Cuckoo-shrike 2, Long-tailed Myna 20+, Singing Starling 5, Brown-winged Starling  8, Metallic Starling, Common Myna 2.
58 species

The Collared type Kingfishers here are very like Sacred in plumage, only more intensely coloured, with intermediate sized bills. Very vocal and showing signs of breeding activity.
The total trip list was some 67 species.

We had only been at Don and Llane?s house in Arawa some 5 minutes when Don?s collector John appeared down from the mountains with live specimens of some species destined for the American Museum of Natural History. The following were taken at 1500m, and were duly photographed, measured and described:
Yellow-bibbed Fruit-Dove 1, Bronze Ground-Dove 1, Brush Cuckoo 1 which I initially thought was a Fan-tailed as it was so rufous beneath, Island Leaf Warbler, Grey-throated White-eye 1, Red-naped Myzomela 1 f, Hooded Whistler 1 female, Bougainville Thicketbird 1 presumed immature and presumably this species- heavy black streaks  on breast, faint rufous supercilium, broad dark eyestripe extending onto ear coverts, narrow dark malar stripe and broader pale moustachial. A short orangey gape suggested an immature, but there were no wing bars or obvious feather scaling.
John has also brought in two specimens of the legendary Odedi bird, which was known by its call from the montane areas but remained unseen. It appears to be a small warbler type along the lines of Shade Warbler or similar, but awaits formal naming.

Thanks to Don and Llane Hadden for their hospitality, and to Chris Eastwood for accompanying me on this scouting trip.
Phil Gregory, Cassowary House, Kuranda, Queensland, Australia , September 2001.

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