The trip from Boigu only takes a few hours and on the way we pass Dauan where we stopped on my last visit but this time we have not been given permission to come ashore. Each Island is controlled by a local council and they have full control on who can visit.
The day is hot and calm and most people are relaxing in the cool of the air-conditioned cabin, chatting, looking at Boigu photos or reading. A large swarm of dragon flies is following the boat and the red/orange ones want to land but aren't game to. Some black and green ones do and they are easier to photograph.
Soon after lunch we arrive off Saibai and anchor. We are much closer to New Guinea now and there is constant boat traffic between the local New Guinea village and Saibai. We go ashore and Richard's first job is to make contact with the local council head and let them know we are on the island so we wander around until he returns. We don't find anything too interesting but there is a large swamp just behind town and Richard leads us to it through waist high grass. We are sure this grass is full of snakes and as we arrive beside the water we are warned not to go too close as this swamp could have crocodiles in it. What a great place to bird watch; snakes behind us, crocodiles in front and we are absorbed with hunting for rarities, not looking for something that may want to kill us. Ducks and geese are flying in to roost for the evening and in amongst them as they fly in Richard spots one that is paler. After a lot of panning with the scopes we finally find it on the water, a nice male Gargany and a tick for most of the group. It is only our first evening on Saibai and we have a mega tick, the trip is going well.
|Ducks on the Saibai lagoon with Gagany in centre|
|Gargany with white strip on head|
It is now getting dark and back at the jetty I bend over and undo the anti-snake gators and unlace my shoes in preparation for boarding the tender. I hear an outboard motor-like noise and assume the tender is coming and look up, but there is no tender. I can still hear the noise though and adjust my vision and ears ... and realise the noise is actually a huge cloud of mosquitoes humming around me. Luckily the first tender does arrive and the first of us on the jetty jump on and we head away from shore as fast as we can and soon the mosquitoes are left behind.
The second tender is not as lucky. People pile in and it heads out but then it stops. We are now back on board the Eclipse so our tender heads back to help but hey are underway again and soon join us. As they come on board they tells us that when they stopped they were still close enough to shore for the mosquitoes to reach them and they all had to swat and wave frantically to protect themselves. I have no idea how people live on Saibai at dusk, it must be by remaining indoors with the doors closed.
Next morning the hunt is on for more new birds. This time we board the tenders and motor around to the back side of the island and land on a beach. We had landed here on the last trip I was on but it is now much more overgrown. Large flocks of Rainbow Bee-eaters are flying over, migrating north to New Guinea but nothing else of note is seen.
|Hundreds of Rainbow Bee-eaters were heading north while we were on Saibai|
Back on board for lunch we watch as flocks of Torresian Imperial Pigeons fly across the water to New Guinea. It is possibly to tick them off in Australia and a moment later add them to our New Guinea lists. The same can be done with the Rajah Shelducks and Pied Herons.
|Torresian Imperial Pigeons on their way to New Guinea|
After lunch we go back and land at the jetty and walk out of town heading for the cemetery. It has new cement walls around it since I was last here, probably because sea levels are rising and it is now prone to flooding as it is right beside the mangroves and only just above a normal high tide level. Our hope is to find a Common Paradise Kingfisher. They have been reported from the island so we spread out along the edge of the mangroves and wait. Richard plays the call but there is no reply. As we gather back at the cemetery a call is heard. We check through our calls on the ipods and the bird is provisionally identified as a Little Paradise Kingfisher. It calls 3 or 4 times more from way off but we never do find it. It will remain a bird for the next trip. As we start to walk back toward the town Barb calls she has found an Owl. It is a Barking Owl right over the wall of the cemetery. Biggles does his Barking Owl call and a second bird replies and soon we have two owls watching as we head back.
|Waiting for the Kingfisher to call (image Barb Williams)|
|Barking Owl race assimilis|
|Orange-flash Crow Butterfly|
Next we walk out toward the town dump where on the last trip we had found some good birds. This time there is more water around and there is also a huge pile of earth that is probably for filling the sandbags that are being placed along the waterfront to protect the town from flooding. From the top of the pile we can see the swamp but there are no ducks visible. Cisticola are calling and I am hoping for a Zitting but only find Golden-headed.
The radio mast has an Osprey nest in it and as we watch it flies in with a very large piece of nest material. A new raptor is seen approaching, a Peregrine Falcon, and it lands on the tower below theOsprey.
The local New Guinea people have heard we are in town so have set up with all their handmade goods, hoping we will buy. And buy we do. Biggles and I buy a carved wooden dugong each and the skipper buys a large, very lifelike, carved crocodile.
|New Guinea market on Saibai (image Sue Lashko)|
Next morning before breakfast we get in the tenders for a bit more playing at tourists. We motor north to a gravel island that sits on the border between Australia and New Zealand. Two Osprey sit on the Island, one in Australia and the other in New Guinea. Heading back a pair of Channel-billed Cuckoos fly over heading toward New Guinea and I watch until they cross the border. I add two new birds to my growing New Guinea list.
|Island on the Australian New Guinea border|
|Foreground Osprey is in Australia, background one is in New Guinea|
|Town in New Guinea that the traders on Saibai come from|
|New Guinea trader heading for home|
Back on Board Eclipse and we up-anchor again to head for Horn Island. It has been a good trip and I saw 50 species on Boigu, 69 on Saibai and 7 in New Guinea, with two new birds for my Australian life list, the Orange-fronted Fruit-Dove and the Gargany. It was a really good trip with a great group of people and an excellent boat and crew. We could not have asked for better, except if we had also seen a Gurney's Eagle, I really wanted to see one of those.
|Torresian Imperial Pigeon|
|Lemon-bellied Flycatcher in the Mangroves|
|Up a creek|
It is sad to get off on Horn Island, especially as Eclipse is about to head out again with a second group to do the trip we have just done. What is worse, we heard later that they did see a Gurney's Eagle. Sigh, there is nothing else for it, I will just have to go again.
|Bulk carrier seen just before we arrived back at Horn Island|
All text & images © Jenny Spry