birding-aus Adventures in New Ireland, Part 2

To: "" <>
Subject: birding-aus Adventures in New Ireland, Part 2
From: Phil Gregory <>
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 20:47:14 +1000
Hello fellow birders,
Herewith Part 2 of a summary of a recent recce to New Ireland, Papua New
Happy Birding,
Phil Gregory
Adventures in New Ireland Part 2
Friday saw us fly back to Kavieng on New Ireland, and go straight to the cops 
for a police report. Naturally we quickly learned that Mussau Islanders cause a 
lot of the trouble around Kavieng, nice to be warned after the event! Both 
Airlink and Air Niugini were amazingly helpful, and we got replacement tickets 
once we had completed a statutory declaration. The gear was another matter, and 
we had to leave it with the local negotiators to try and salvage something from 
the mess.

Saturday May 29 saw us head over to Djaul Island, off southern New Ireland, 
with a shared binocular agreement in place, just as well we picked up a 
Heinroth's Shearwater on the crossing. This reminded me of a small sooty brown 
Sooty Shearwater, with a whitish underwing, about Audubon's Shearwater size. 
Djaul has an endemic monarch (Monarcha ateralba), which proved tough to find in 
the cut-over regrowth and which was giving us some anxiety, until I heard the 
whistled notes of a monarch and got onto two of them in a large tree by a 
creek. It differs from the Bismarck Pied (Black-tailed) Monarch by being larger 
and having more white on the mantle and some white on the under tail. It was 
only described in the mid-1960's, by a Danish expedition of all things. Given 
the speciation patterns of the Pied Monarchs in the area, it seems reasonable 
to continue with specific status until more work is done. Good views of 4 Pied 
Cuckoo-Dove were also nice, we saw 2 from the boat crossing and 2 on the island 
itself, this being a fairly difficult endemic to find.

Sunday Chris Eastwood and I took our lives in our hands and undertook the open 
sea crossing to Tench Island, way out in the NW of NI. We were banged about in 
a small banana boat for some 4 hours, even losing the sunshade canopy due to 
the continued pounding of the large waves, Chris found it hard to sit for some 
days afterwards. I was very relieved to see Tench appear on the horizon, it's 
presence initially indicated by the numbers of Red-footed Boobies and White 
Terns that appeared. One of the islanders here was in the boat that was going 
to Emirau last year, only missed the island and ended up off Nauru after 90 
days at sea, one man dying, not terribly reassuring to us landlubbers! 

We found Tench to be a good seabird station, with a reasonable cover of 
woodland, including some large old trees, and a population of about 60 people. 
Great Frigatebirds, White Terns, Red-footed Boobies and both Brown and Black 
Noddies were breeding, whilst we also saw about 6 White-tailed Tropicbirds and 
a single Masked Booby. Land birds were scarce, we saw Island Monarch, Bismarck 
Black Myzomela, 10 Atoll Starling, 3 Pacific Imperial Pigeon and some 38 
Nicobar Pigeons. These latter left the island in flocks at dusk, heading out to 
sea in the direction of New Hanover or Emirau Islands, presumably Tench can't 
sustain a resident population. These birds are hunted here, the nestlings being 
taken and raised for food. I am embarrassed to report that our boatman even 
took 10 of them back to Kavieng with us in basket, where they would be sold.

We spent a comfortable night in a hut, I even had a mattress, then left early 
next morning on a lovely calm sea. We had good farewell views of the large 
yellow eyed Atoll Starling from the beach, a very restricted range species that 
has only a very small population here, about a third of its world range! This 
assumes the Nissan Island birds are Atoll Starlings, which given a description 
I recently read may not be the case, they sure don't sound like the birds here!

The crossing back was quiet and took just 3 hours, I had hoped for some Tahiti- 
type Petrels, hoping to have a crack at identifying Beck's Petrel, but no such 
luck, a single Wedge-tail was it. We called into New Hanover and found the 
endemic race of Hunstein's Mannikin there very easily, right by the district 
office at Taskul, along with Song Parrot. They look quite different to the New 
Ireland birds as they are all black, with no grey scaling on the head at all, 
and a similar rufous rusty rump and upper tail. This is split by Clements, but 
it would seem to only differ by a single character and sounds much the same, so 
I am leaving it as a subspecies for the moment. We took a look at the Kavieng 
airstrip Hunstein's Mannikins when we got back too, the immatures having dark 
heads, whilst Australian Reed Warbler was a surprise bird here.

Tuesday saw us leave at 0500 to head south to a road that goes across the 
island. We drove for several hours, stopping at a clearing to look for 
mannikins, which proved to be immature Forbes Mannikin, a NI endemic and new 
for me. We also found 8 adult Buff-bellied Mannikins, these latter a new 
species for New Ireland, previously known only from New Britain and Buka, the 
rich colour beneath suggesting they may be the Buka subspecies.
We found a road going up into the hills some 160 km south of Kavieng, and 
decided to see where it led, finding Red-chinned Lorikeet and Song Parrot a 
short way up, plus Black Imperial Pigeon and lots of Red Myzomelas. This 
encouraged us to continue, and getting up to about 900m we found the endemic 
Olive-yellow Myzomela or NI Myzomela (M. pulchella) quite common, getting nice 
views of adult males and what we take to be females, which have red chins and 
throats unlike the descriptions in Coates. The yellowish underparts and olive 
upperparts were distinctive, and the birds were smaller than Red Myzomela. 
There was no sign of NI Friarbird, which seems to be a low density hill forest 
species and is likely to be here, as is the White-naped Lory. Lots of 
Red-throated Lorikeets, Finsch's Imperial-Pigeon, 2 Paradise Drongo, Lesser 
Shining Flycatcher and some excellent adult Forbes' Mannikin were good 
compensation, but it was on the drive back down that we made the most gripping 
discovery of the trip. 

Looking into a large Albizzia type, I saw a small flycatcher perched high on a 
bare limb, and getting Chris to watch it I grabbed for the scope, where I was 
able to confirm it was indeed a Microeca. These birds have an interesting 
history here, discovered by Brian Finch and John McKean back in 1984 when they 
saw a single on New Britain and a pair at Taron in the mountains of southern 
New Ireland. Tony Palliser saw it again at Taron in 1988, then I know of no 
sightings until David Bishop saw one on New Britain in 1998. Jon Hornbuckle's 
group saw a pair near Bialla on New Britain and a single again near Taron in 
May of this year.
We had excellent views of our bird, to 30m in good light against a leafy 
background via a x 30 scope. Had I still possessed a tape recorder I would have 
got the song very nicely too, a rather wiry upward inflected trill, distinct 
from other Microeca including Lemon-bellied Flycatcher. Our bird seems to 
differ from published descriptions as it was basically brown above and whitish 
below, with a faint tinge of pale yellow on chin and throat in some lights. The 
bird had a short pale loral stripe extending to just behind the eye, not long 
enough to be called a supercilium. The base of the bill feathers were also pale 
and the bill itself was dark with a pale base to the lower mandible, the legs 
and feet also dark.. The bird was unlike any of the other Microeca, most like a 
brown and white Lemon-bellied Flycatcher but not singing or chasing in flight, 
being quite inactive much of the time, singing from a perch.

The chances are that this is an undescribed species, the fourth sighting of it 
on New Ireland, though most previous views have been of distant individuals. We 
propose it be known as Bismarck Flycatcher and should perhaps be named after 
the late John McKean, co-discoverer of the species, once photos or trapped data 
are obtained. It would be good to know whether New Britain birds are the same 
as published descriptions seem rather different and the species is clearly a 
hill forest bird here, all records being from above 800m.......

A quick postscript to the above: Jon Hornbuckle's group found White-naped Lory 
here two days later, at 900m, a large range extension from southern New 
Ireland. Once the Friarbird is located, all the NI endemics may now be found 
within 3 hours drive of Kavieng, eliminating the need for a lengthy and 
strenuous hike up into the mountains at Taron. Good news indeed, I've put off 
the Taron trek for years as it's a real tough one!

List of species seen on Mussau and around New Ireland May 24-June 2 '99

Wedge-tailed Shearwater Heinroth's Shearwater           Brown Booby     Masked 
Red-footed Booby                White-tailed Tropicbird                 Reef 
Egret              Schrenk's Bittern       
Common Tern                     Crested Tern                    Brown Noddy     
        Black Noddy     
White Tern                      Bridled Tern                    Great 
Frigatebird       Whimbrel        
Turnstone                       Pacific Golden Plover           Common 
Melanesian Scrubfowl            Osprey
Brahminy Kite                   Variable Goshawk                White-bellied 
Mackinlay's Cuckoo-Dove         Black-billed Cuckoo-Dove        Brown 
Cuckoo-Dove       Pied Cuckoo-Dove
Red-knobbed Fruit-Dove  Yellow-bibbed Fruit-Dove        Nicobar Pigeon          
Grey Imperial Pigeon    
Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeon     Finsch's Imperial -Pigeon       Pacific 
Imperial-Pigeon Black Imperial-Pigeon 
Bronze Ground-Dove              Stephan's Ground-Dove           Eastern 
Black-capped Lory       
Red-chinned Lorikeet            Red-flanked Lorikeet            Rainbow 
Lorikeet        Meek's Pygmy-Parrot Song Parrot                         
Eclectus Parrot                 Collared Kingfisher     Beach Kingfisher Common 
Kingfisher              Variable Kingfisher (Heard)     White-rumped Swiftlet   
Glossy Swiftlet 
Moustached Tree-swift           Buff-banded Rail                Pacific Swallow 
        Rainbow Bee-eater 
Brush Cuckoo                    White-necked Coucal             Violaceous 
Coucal (Heard)       
Cicadabird                      Varied Triller                  Mussau Triller  
        Yellow-bellied Sunbird
Black Sunbird                   Island Leaf Warbler             Black-headed 
Australian Reed Warbler Golden-headed Cisticola Island Monarch          
Djaul Pied Monarch              Mussau Pied Monarch             Black-tailed 
(Bismarck Pied) Monarch    
Golden Monarch
Paradise Drongo         Scaly Thrush                    Bismarck Black Myzomela 
New Ireland Myzomela            Red Myzomela                    Willie Wagtail  
        Northern Fantail
Mussau Fantail                  Shining Flycatcher              Lesser Shining 
Bismarck Flycatcher Microeca sp. nov.                           Bismarck 
White-backed Wood-swallow       Golden Whistler         Hunstein's Mannikin
(New Hanover Mannikin)          Forbes' Mannikin                Buff-bellied 
Mannikin           Blue-faced Finch
Metallic Starling               Singing Starling                        Atoll 
Long-tailed Myna                Island (Bismarck) Crow

Potential or likely splits from this list could include: Collared Kingfisher 
from Mussau, Island Leaf Warbler from New Ireland, Cicadabirds from both Mussau 
and NI, Scaly Thrush from Mussau, Mussau Triller, New Hanover Mannikin and the 
long overdue Island (Bismarck perhaps a better name?) Crow, which so many 
observers have indicated as not being Torresian Crow due to call, flight and 
shape differences.
I have split Variable Goshawk (Accipiter hiogaster), Australian Reed Warbler 
(Acrocephalus australis) and at last the Long-tailed Myna (Mino kreffti) 
following recently published opinions.
This trip will be written up in various formats for publication. Comments 
direct to me are welcome, the aim is to draw attention to these little known 
species and encourage others to get out there to see what they can find.

My thanks to the staff of both the British and Australian High Commissions in 
Port Moresby, who issued new passport and visa without major hassles within the 
space of a morning each. My thanks also to the many Mussau Islanders who 
assisted us in our predicament, to Noah of the New Ireland Tourist Board who 
went well out his way to assist us all, and to John the manager at the Malagan 
Lodge Hotel for his help.
Phil Gregory

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