Sunday, June 26, 2016

Boigu

Before going ashore we are given instructions. Keep to the roads and paths, do not walk anywhere that might be some ones yard or garden. In the cemetery areas keep away from the graves. These are important rules as telling a garden plot from the surrounding tropical growth is sometimes difficult and the locals, while happy to have us on the island are really protective and sensitive about any encroachment that may be seen as damaging their land or sacred areas, and they have the power to ban us from the islands. We also have to make sure we have our anti-snake gaiters as snakes are evidently common and a number of locals have recently been bitten.
The Eclipse with her tenders and New Guinea in the background

Once ashore the locals are really friendly and we chat breifly and wave as we look for our first two targets, Singing Starling and Red-capped Flowerpecker. Boigu is our best chance for these species and these small islands in Torres Strait are the only places in Australian territory that they can be found. The starling comes first and is not hard as it lives in town and is seen on the powerlines. The flowerpecker is different. It is extremely small, the size of a mistletoe bird, and feeds on fruit and insects high in the trees along the edge of the mangroves.
Walking through Boigu town (photo Barb Williams)

Singing Starling

We walk down through the rubbish tip, looking for the start of the small path that will take us into the trees and suddenly all plans stop. Richard calls a small bird, a pigeon type, in the top of an exposed tree. Binoculars come up, 400mm camera lens come up and then the excited call, "Orange-fronted Fruit-Dove!!!, it's an Australian first!!" And the bird sat and posed for us, left profile, right profile, full face ... gorgeous. Then it was gone. Elation.
Orange-fronted Fruit-Dove

So, back to the flowerpecker and the group walks in to a known tree. Because I have seen one before I am left to guard the dove tree in case it or something else returns. Sometime later the group wanders out of the trees complaining about mosquitoes and no flowerpecker. Our attention then turns to walking all the tracks and paths, looking for more local birds but nothing new appears.
Spangled Drongo

Singing Starlings, adult and immature

Tawny-breasted Honeyeater

Next morning it is back to the flowerpecker tree and this time I wander in with the group and we all stand around staring at the treetops. Birds come and go, some new to the trip list, some not. But no flowerpecker, only mosquitoes. Then one arrives, high in a palm next to the fruiting tree and, thankfully, it stays there. I have seen one before but this view was special as it was out in the open, not surrounded by large leaves.
Red-capped Flowerpecker


Then it is back to the boat for a late breakfast before we load into the tenders and do our first exploration of the mangroves along the edge of the island and up one of the creeks that that wind in through them. We hope for a Gurney's Eagle as we cruise slowly along but all we see are Whistling Kites. Up one creek though our sharp eyed deck hand spots a green lizard on a branch and we have our best view of a small Emerald Tree Monitor (Monitor viridis) on a mangrove branch.
Entrance to a creek

Emerald Tree Monitor

It gets hot sitting in an open boat in the tropics

Whistling Kite

After lunch it is back to the island for the afternoon and the excitement starts again. Yesterday Biggles had an unidentified mystery bittern flush from some tea-tree type bush so we returned to the spot. This time we were lucky. The bird had returned to the spot and flushed up onto some exposed branches allowing some quick shots before it disappeared. It took some time with the field guides but it was finally identified as the uncommon cinnamon morph of the Black Bittern.

Cinnamon Morph Black Bittern

Black Bittern

On our final day we are back in the tenders looking for more birds down the creeks that line the edge of the island. We do not see any new birds but while up one creek we look up, birders instinct I guess, and overhead is the weirdest plane anyone has ever seen, and it is being re-fueled in flight. 400mm lenses point up and a new "bird" is added to our list. Back in Melbourne it is identified for us as a B-2, an American stealth bomber, arguably the rarest "bird" we saw on the trip (smile).
Red-headed Myzomela race infuscata

Scanning for birds

B-2 bomber being re-fuelled over Boigu

There are some large trees on the island

We motor down to the largest creek on Boigu that actually bisects the island making Boigu actually two islands. We don't see any new birds but it is an interesting trip and we finally emerge on the other side of the island. Eclipse has moved closer to the river while we have been on board and we join her for the trip on to Saibai.

Navigating up a creek on Boigu
Torresian Crow race orru
Rajah Shelduck
The barge at the Boigu wharf












All images & text © Jenny Spry

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