Friday 2 August 2013

Around Koror town, Palau

My birding on Palau in the North Pacific was quite successful despite two challenges. One was that it was July and this is the rainiest month. Two was that I tried to get all 10 endemics without taking a boat trip and/or small plane to one of the remoter islands. As far as I can tell all previous birders have believed this isn't possible.

On the first point, I would not recommend July for birding. I had two days of sunny weather out of six. Two other days were wall-to-wall rain. The best months are undoubtedly February to April because the rainfall is about halved. Late February and early March looks most attractive as there is least rain then and wintering birds will still be around. 

As for the endemics issue, I now believe it actually may be possible to get all the endemics on foot or by road from the main town of Koror is possible. There will be more on that in later blogs.

However first, as an appetiser, I'm going to report on what I saw in and around the town of Koror itself. 

Micronesian myzomela

You soon notice even on casual birding, there are seemingly three abundant garden birds. Actually there are four because there are two similar species out there that have been over-looked. Again I'll write about this in another blog. In the meantime, first appearances are that the three are : Micronesian myzomela, tree sparrow, and Chestnut munia.

The myzomela looks very similar to the cardinal myzomela of the south central Pacific which I saw on islands last summer. The bird shown is either female or more likely an immature. The adult male is mostly bright red. It is particularly attracted to flowering garden plants.

Tree sparrow

Tree sparrow is common like in many adjacent countries further west including on the mainland hundreds of kilometres away.

chestnut munia

Chestnut munia is almost certainly an accidentally introduction which is thriving. Like tree sparrow it is a flocking bird. 

Palau swiftlet

In the air, hawking for insects incessantly are plenty of Palau swiftlet which is probably the easiest of the ten endemics to see. It was the first I saw and it was literally everywhere I visited. Photographing it however is difficult.

adult Micronesian starling

Another common bird  in a variety of habitats is Micronesian starling. It seems to be more prolific than other pacific starlings I have previously seen. This could be because there are no introduced myna species on Palau to compete with. 

Young Micronesian starling

My guide book was "Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand, and the Central and West Pacific". On kingfishers it states that the Micronesian kingfisher is present on Palau and there is a question mark against (white) collared kingfisher

The main identification difference is the crown is blue in the (white) collared kingfisher and rufous in the Micronesian kingfisher. Well I saw plenty on Palau and all those I saw were (white) collared kingfisher!

White collared kingfisher

I had a similar but more controversial experience last year when I saw (white) collared kingfisher on one Samoan island (not meant to be present) and flat billed kingfisher (the "official" kingfisher) on the other. I was very disappointed in the sceptical attitude of one of the two regional "experts" to my reports. 

The scepticism was despite there even being a clear and large photo of a (white) collared kingfisher in the main visitor centre of the botanical gardens (in addition to my observations). I hasten to add the other expert was very sympathetic and told me the cataloguing of kingfishers of the Pacific is "probably a bit of a mess". 

Barn swallow

I saw plenty of barn swallow and was watching out for Pacific swallow which are not documented as present (and I didn't see any!).

Pacific golden plover

There was major sports event going on in the National Gymnasium when I walked passed. I could hear the commentator and the crowds roaring. However on the roof were three pacific golden plover. I don't even know why I bothered to look up there. They seemed undisturbed by it all. Yet I suspect they spend much of their time down on the near-by football field.

Before I finish talking about land birds and move on to pelagic and water-edge birds , I must add I also saw Palau flycatcher and Palau fantail on the edge of the town. In other words, I saw 3 of the 10 endemics very close to or in the town. 

Three Pacific golden plover on a special roof

Of course, Palau has more than its fair share of water-loving birds.

The sea in calm weather

Pale, intermediate and dark morph Pacific reef heron were fairly easy to find particularly at low tide which was in late afternoon while I was there.

pale morph Pacific reef heron

Rufous night heron was equally as common and seemed to be active in the daytime too although the movements I saw could just have been due to disturbance.

Just before dusk one evening I observed (from my hotel) a single little pied cormorant flying low over the water.

Rufous night heron

The town is surrounded by lots of tall trees. Black noddy were frequently seen high in them and down at the water. A much small number of  brown noddy were also spotted but never in the trees. I suspect they keep to cliffs for breeding and roosting.

Black noddy

The predominant tern was greater crested tern with fewer of the much smaller black-naped tern.

Greater crested tern and black-naped tern

In very similar places to the black noddy were white-tailed tropicbird in considerable numbers. Palau is certainly a good place to see this bird at close quarter. 

White-tailed tropicbird

I have only ever seen red-tailed tropicbird (on Tonga) before which like brown noddy prefers cliffs to high trees.

Perched white-tailed tropicbird

In the next blog, I will write about birding outside the town area.

On near-by Long Island, I saw 7 of the 10 endemics from one spot without needing to move an inch. This was magical birding which I'll report on next. 

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