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Birds and Mammals Research 

March 11, 2009

Alotau, Milne Bay Province

We’ve come to Milne Bay to scout out places for future work, meet officials, talk about permits, learn our way around this province of islands, and learn the birds and bird calls of the area. In our short time here (less than two weeks), we’ve been on the move, and stayed in eight different places. Everyone has been tremendous – this must be the friendliest place in the entire country…

By far, the most productive trip has been to Normanby Island, where we went to find one of the best local bird experts, Mombi Onasimbo, from Saidowai.

Ride From East Cape

To get to Saidowai, one catches the Public Motor Vehicle (PMV), which is really just a truck refitted to carry passengers, sacks of potatoes, chickens, bananas, or whatever else you have to take to market or home. We got a seat near the front, so we had the best views, but we were also the first ones hit when the rain started falling. The PMV took us to East Cape – the easternmost point on mainland, Papua New Guinea. From here, we caught a 1-hour dingy ride to Sewa Bay on Normanby Island.

Dingy

The dingy was about 20 feet long and equipped with a 60-hp outboard engine, and packed with about 15 passengers and their cargo. We got pelted with rain on the ride, but it kept us cool, and when Normanby Island emerged from the rain cloud, it floated above the deep blue water and glowed green in the sunlight. This was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life.

Sewa Bay

Sewa bay is huge – much bigger than it looks on the map – and the protected harbor provides safety for yachts during storms, but was also home to several US battleships during WWII. Water is glassy smooth here…

Young Canoeist

These are seafaring people. Kids begin learning to paddle when they about two years old, and get their own canoe at about age five.

Girl Rowing

Kids as young as 7-8, like this little girl, have to paddle across the bay to school each morning. The larger canoes are rigged with sails, and folks navigate by stars. The older men can sail to any of the islands in the province using traditional techniques.

Mangrove Birding

On our first day, we rowed a canoe up the river at the top of Sewa Bay to survey the mangrove birds, and this small boy joined us in his little canoe. He was the perfect birding partner – helping point out birds and keeping silent most of the time.

Hornbill

The birds here were amazing, and we got some excellent recordings of many of the common birds. One of the most interesting trips was to Dutchess Island, a small forested island just off the east coast Normanby.

Ductchess Island

It is especially unusual because nearly all of the bird species found on Dutchess were different from nearby Normanby, and most of the species we didn’t find elsewhere. So why are these species found here, on this tiny island? Why do they not occur on the larger island? How are island assemblages formed? And what controls which species occur on which islands? These are some of the key questions that intrigue us, and why we would like to survey this island chain. For the most part, only the larger islands have been surveyed, and the vast majority of islands have not been surveyed. We think that many of these smaller islands will hold some interesting surprises…

Sibonai

After that we traveled to several other spots on Normanby and around Sewa Bay. Sibonai was an interesting place where we got excellent bird recordings and saw the most species. This is also where Thane Pratt and Mike Moore worked in 2003 when they surveyed Normanby.

Sibonai Lodge

There is now a new village guest house in Sibonai, and the lodging was quite nice.

Compiling Lists

On our last day in Sewa Bay, we stayed again at Saidowai, and Mombi and I spent the day compiling our bird lists, going back through our 70 recordings, identifying birds, and updating our lists.

Fleet in the Rain

It also rained, so we took in some of the village sights and sounds, and we spent the afternoon making coconut cakes with our friends and hosts.

Scraping Coconut

Here, one of the young boys is scraping the meat out of the coconuts for the dough.

Preparing Fire

And then they prepared the fire, composed mostly of coconut husks and empty shell – and all of these items burn very well.

Heating the Oven

The oven that we used was really just a large saucepan with fire both below it and on a large steel plate above. The scones cooked in just a few minutes and tasted excellent.

Naked Baby

When we returned, we again rode the public dingy, packed with about 15-17 people and lots of cargo, and our gunwales were only a couple inches above the waterline. We had to move slow, and we caught a lot of salt spray on the long ride from Normanby to East Cape, but we had no serious troubles or bad weather.

PMV Overheating

It took a little longer to get back to town, as the truck overheated in the sun on the road, but it was nice to get out, stretch our legs,

Asleep in PMV

And even take a little nap while the vehicle cooled off…

We spent a couple days on the south peninsula below Milne Bay, but it rained constantly and so we were not able to do much serious work or recording there. And now we are headed back to Port Moresby to take care of some official business, work on export permits (and permits for future work), and hopefully we will have time enough for a scouting trip to Manus Island…


Filed under: Winter 2009 Expedition — @ 8:47 am

Another Installment…

Our last couple days in the camp were productive, and we went to one final cave to look for swifts, bats, and cave fish. We found Glossy Swiftlets (Collocalia esculenta), two species of horseshoe bat (Hipposideros cervus and Rhinolophus euryotis), and a couple fish. This was also the only place where we found leeches, and they were plentiful along the passageway roofs where they hung down trying to latch onto bats. They looked very well fed.

Longicorn Beetle

Also around camp we had some interesting insects, including this longicorn beetle,

Christmas Beetle

and this beautiful Christmas beetle.

On our second to last day, rain started falling by 6:00pm, and it rained hard all night. I woke to the sound of men yelling at 4:00am, and several of us got up to see what was going on. The river flooded, a drum of petrol had already washed downstream, and they were working to keep control of our zodiacs and other supplies that had formerly been on the beach. Water was literally lapping at the generator stand. So we tied off the boats, tied up the remaining barrels, and prepared a runway to haul the generator uphill. In the end, the water reached its peak around 5:00am, and we relaxed with a cup of coffee and watched the water drop.

Heli Landing

Ferrying

But the flood did wash away our helipad and the beach remained underwater when it was time for our chopper to take us out. Luckily, the beach downstream was exposed enough to land on, so we ferried across and caught the chopper there, and headed to Moro on schedule.


Filed under: Winter 2009 Expedition — @ 8:47 am

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