Bird Report from Micronesia

Kosrae, Marshall Islands, and Pohnpei
July 26-August 19, 1996
(An asterisk denotes a life bird)

Continental Micronesia Airline's flight 927 from Hawaii to Guam makes many island stops on its Monday, Wednesday, and Friday run. Several islands are military bases, and you are not allowed to leave the plane unless you are on official business. I soon discovered that Continental Micronesia (Mic for short) has two planes, and if one plane is out of service, you can be stranded on a south Pacific island for days at a time.

The primary purpose of my trip was to conduct workshops on climate and global change. Before and after the workshops and on weekends, I found time to go birding and saw 17 life birds (*) in Micronesia and five in Hawaii. The field guide that used was The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific by H. Douglas Pratt, et. al..

The three islands that I birded were: Kosrae with birdlist of 38 species of which 15 are resident plus two extinct endemics [Kosrae Crake (Porzana monasa) and Kosrae Mountain Starling (Aplonis corvina)], Marshall Islands with 78 species of which 65% are vagrants and 19 resident species with the Purple-capped Fruit Dove extirpated, and Pohnpei with 61 species that include 34 resident birds of which the Pohnpei Mountain Starling (Aplonis pelzelni)is probably extinct, the Pohnpei Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus ponapensis) is rare, and 5 endemics [Pohnpei Lory (Trichoglossus rubiginosus), Pohnpei Flycatcher (Myiagra pluto), Pohnpei Fantail (Rhipidua kubaryi), Gray White-eye (Zosterops cinereus), and rare Long-billed White- Eye (Rukia longirostra)].

These three islands also provide opportunities for seeing Micronesian endemics: Caroline Islands Ground Dove (Gallicolumba kubaryi), Micronesian Pigeon (Ducula oceanica), Micronesian Kingfisher (Halcyon cinnamomina), Carolina Islands Reed-Warbler(Acrocephalus syrinx), and Carolina Islands White-eye (Zosterops semperi).

To Kosrae

July 26,1996: I departed Honolulu for Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia. The first stop was Johnson Atoll, where the Army has a hazardous waste incinerator. From the plane window, I saw Lesser Golden Plover (Pluvalis dominica), Spectacled Tern (Sterna lunata)*, Black Noddy (Anous minutus), Common Fairy-Tern (Gygis alba), and at a distance white egrets that I think were Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis), but may have been Pacific Reef Herons (Egretta sacra), either would be unusual according to Pratt's The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Unfortunately, the plane did not stop at Johnson on the return flight so I was unable to confirm the identity of these birds.

After crossing the international dateline, the second and third stops were Majuro and Kwajalein atolls in the Marshall Islands. I did not see any birds from the plane.


The fourth stop was Kosrae, one of the least spoiled and least developed of the Micronesian islands. It is a high volcanic island with an abundance of rainfall and tropical vegetation. The Congregational church has a strong influence in the island. Sunday is definitely a day of rest and worship. I even went to church to hear the unique Kosrae choral singing. In deference to the island's culture, women visitors are expected to wear dresses on Sunday and, at other times, pants or shorts that cover their thighs, even when swimming. Two piece bathing suits are out!

July 27 to 29 and August 12 to 14: I stayed at the Kosrae Village Resort, a new eco-resort complex with traditional thatched cottages with ceiling fans that serves excellent traditional as well as western meals made with local produce. The hotel is situated on a beautiful coral reef. By just wandering the grounds of the hotel, the nearby by road, and beach, I saw most of the island's resident birds: Pacific Reef Heron (Egretta sacra)*, Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus)*, Black Noddy (Anous minutus), Common Fairy-Tern (Gygis alba), Purple-caped Fruit-Dove (Ptilinopus porphyraceus)*, Island Swiftlet (Aerodramus vanikorensis)*, Micronesian Starling (Aplonis opaca)*, Micronesian Honeyeater (Myzomela rubratra)*, Gray White-eye (Zosterops cinereus), and Blue-faced Parrotfinch (Enythrura trichroa)*.

Except for the dove which is hunted and hence shy, all the resident birds were easy to find anywhere on the island. Near Lelu, the original 1400 AD capital of Kosrae, I saw White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus). On my second visit, I took a guided-walk into the interior where I flushed a Micronesian Pigeon (Ducula oceanica) *. These pigeons are scarce and difficult to find for they are tasty and have been hunted to near extinction on Kosrae and they live in the forest canopy. My guide trapped and killed a wild pig on the walk which was then strapped to a branch and carried out for dinner (the original carry-out????). I had been afraid that the gun was for pigeons and not pigs.

I did not see or hear the following residents: Audubon's Shearwater (Puffinius lherminieri), Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus), or Rock Dove (Columbia livia) . Can't say that I tried very hard to find a Rock Dove either visit.

Most of the winter residents had not yet arrived. The airport was a good spot for Lesser Golden Plover (6) and Ruddy Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) (17). On the beach by the hotel, a Wandering Tattler (Heterosclus incanus) called. I saw 50% of the birds on the Kosrae list during my short stays.

Marshall Islands

July 29: My plane to Majuro in the Marshall Islands was delayed for over two hours due to a flat tire. The Marshall Islands with a land mass the size of Rhode Island spread over an area equal to the continental United States, are low coral islands barely above sea level. Majuro is a series of atolls connected by a road making it approximately 30 miles long and in some place as narrow as the roadway. The highest spot on the island is a 9 foot bridge. The Island's bird list of 78 species is comprised mostly of seabirds (23 species with 9 residents), migrating shorebirds (22 species with 7 winter residents), and terns (12 species with 7 residents). Of the nine land birds, one is extinct, 4 are vagrants and 1 is a winter visitor. The only land birds that I saw were two Rock Doves.

I stayed at the modest RRE Hotel, a favorite with travellers. A new swanky hotel was under construction. The Tide Table at the RRE hotel with fine views of the lagoon and sunset was a favorite eatery though not very fancy.

July 30: Birding on Majuro gave me an inkling of what silent spring would be like. After three hours of birding, I saw my first bird. Driving the full length of the atoll, I saw four species comprised of 30 individuals: Lesser Golden Plover, Pacific Reef Heron, Black Noddy, and Common Fairy-Tern. On my return trip and subsequent trips, I discovered that the western end of the airport runway was an evening shorebird roost. On July 30, I had over 100 Lesser Golden Plover, 50 Ruddy Turnstone, 7 Sanderling (Calidris alba), 3 Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), and 10 tattler species (no calls). On August 3, a Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) had joined the group. On August 4, the birds seen on July 30 and August 3 were joined by some peeps but I was unable to identify them due to failing light and distance. Several of the tattlers called identifying themselves as Wandering Tattlers. The only other bird that I saw during my stay was a Great Crested Tern (Sterna bergii)*. I was disappointed that a boat trip to a nearby atoll did not produce any new birds. One of my colleagues saw a Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor).

August 3: I had hoped to fly to Pohnpei, a high island with several endemic birds as well as birds that are not present on Kosrae and Majuro. When I reached the airport a sign indicated that the plane was delayed for 24 hours, which stretched into 51 hours! Everyone up and down the chain was stranded. Luckily on a small island where the plane's coming and going is a big deal, you do not have to waste time at the airport. The entire island was aware of the delayed flight. We were invited to a beach picnic to pass the time. Besides, the flight engineer, who had changed the tire in Kosrae, and pilot were staying at our hotel.


August 5: I finally reached Pohnpei, the largest of the islands that I visited and closer to the Asian continent which equates to greater biodiversity. Out of 61 species of birds, over one-third were land birds, several of which were endemic. I saw 68% of the resident birds. The ones that I missed were mostly inland birds as I spent my time along the coast or on the water either boating or snorkeling.

For the first part of my visit, I stayed in the main town of Kolonia at the Cliff Rainbow Hotel which was very pleasant so long as you are in the newer addition. A basic restaurant is on the hotel grounds. For the second part of my stay, I rented a car and stayed at the lovely, and more touristy, Village Hotel with its native thatched cottages with water beds (cooler in hot, humid climates). The food is superb and the views spectacular not to mention good birding on the hotel grounds. In Kolonia the Joy restaurant had excellent Japanese food. Other restaurants worth a visit were Sei, Namiki, and PCR.

August 6: I did not have an opportunity to go birding until August 6 and then it was from the "Across the Street Bar" near the Cliff Rainbow Hotel. The bar is situated on a hill above a mangrove forest bordering a lagoon with a dramatic sunset panorama. While watching the sun set behind the Sokehs Rock, I saw the endemic Pohnpei Lory (Trichoglossus rubiginosus)*, the only native parrot in Micronesia, as well as Great Crested Tern, Island Swiftlet, Micronesia Starling, Micronesian Honeycreeper, and Fruit Bat.

August 8: The first stop on a drive around the island was the Village Hotel, a good spot for seeing White-tailed Tropicbird, Pacific Reef Heron, Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus), Black Noddy, Common Fairy-Tern, Purple-capped Fruit-Dove, Pohnpei Lory, Island Swiftlet, Pohnpei Flycatcher*, Caroline Islands Reed-Warbler*, Micronesian Starling, Micronesian Honeycreeper, and Fruit Bat. Telephone wires provided a perch for Micronesia Kingfishers*. The grassy edges of the road on the south and west sides of the island were favorite spots for Hunstein's Manniken (Lonchura hunsteini)*, and Red Junglefowl. On a walk along the road through the Ponape Agricultural and Trade School (PATS), I added Pohnpei Fantail* to my Pohnpei list.

August 9: A trip to the outer atoll of Ant provided opportunities for seeing several seabird species such as a Great Frigatebird, noddies and boobies at very close range. We had some excitement on our return trip. First we motored into a noddy feeding frenzy where we were surrounded by over 1000 Black and Brown Noddies plus 10 Brown Bobbies (Sula leucogaster), a few Red-footed Bobbies (Sula sula) and Great Crested and Common Fairy-Terns. Second, our boat died. Luckily we were (1) inside the reef and (2) rescued, or I would not be writing this report.

August 12: On a boat trip to Nan Madol, an 1100 AD political, religious and social center, we passed some dredge spoil islands with a few Wandering Tattlers and Ruddy Turnstones. The channel markers were resting places for Black-napped Tern (Sterna sumatrana)* in addition to Great-crested and Common Fairy-Terns.

In my mind, Nan Madol rivals the Egyptians or Mayan pyramids in terms of incredible construction feats and city structure by early peoples. According to The Lonely Planet guide book: Nan Madol is comprised of 92 artificial islets which were built on tidal flats and reefs covering over 200 acres. Basalt pillars, which form naturally into hexagonal columns, some of them 25 feet in length and 50 tons in weight, were quarried on Pohnpei Island and hauled to the site by raft. The columns were stacked horizontally around the edges of the islets to serve as retaining walls, which were then filled with coral rubble and rock. In this way, the islets were eventually raised and the twisting canals shaped into what is sometimes referred to as the "Venice of Micronesia.

Some of the stone walls were once 25 feet high! The site is presently being nominated to the World Heritage List.


August 17 and 18: on my return trip a brief visit to Volcano National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii added a few endemic Hawaiian birds and two introduced finches to my Hawaii list: Elepaio (Chasiempis sandwichensis)*, Omao (Myadetses obscurus)*, Apapane (Himatione sanguinea)*, Common Amakihi (Hemignathus virens)*, Saffron Finch (Sicalis flaveola)* and Nutmeg Mannikin (Lonchura punctulata).

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