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Palau and Guam, 24 January - 07 February 2005

Published by Catherine McFadden (mcfadden AT hmc.edu)

Participants: Cathy McFadden

In January 2005 I spent two weeks in Palau as a working guest of the Coral Reef Research Foundation. I had visited Palau for several days in June 2004 (see Surfbirds Trip Report) during which time I had managed to see 9 of the 16 Palauan and Micronesian endemics, and I was eager to see the remaining 7 species. Most of my days were, however, fully occupied by work, and I was only able to squeeze in birding for an hour or two in the mornings and in the course of several recreational excursions arranged by my hosts. Although I had originally hoped to be able to make a day or overnight trip to Pelelieu, that opportunity did not materialize. Nonetheless, I managed to see all of the endemics with the exception of Palau Owl and Palau Ground-Dove – the former apparently requires considerable time and effort to see, while the latter simply requires luck. All of the more common endemics can easily be seen at sites that are within walking distance or a short taxi ride from the central business district of Koror.

Koror – Malakal Causeway In the middle of the causeway connecting Koror to Malakal is a rock island occupied by a Mobil station. A recreation area runs along one side of this island and provides an excellent vantage point from which to observe birds on the island’s densely forested hillside. Other recent trip reports have also mentioned this site, and I highly recommend it as a first stopfor anyone visiting Palau. As our accommodations were only 200 m from this site, I birded here for an hour or two on most mornings. Birds that I saw here on virtually every visit were Palau Fruit-Dove (much easier to see well here than anywhere else), Palau Fantail, Palau Flycatcher, Palau Swiftlet, Micronesian Starling, Micronesian Myzomela, Dusky and Caroline Island White-eyes, Collared Kingfisher, Cicadabird and Blue-faced Parrotfinch (the latter usually feeding in or under the casuarinas lining the road). On one or more occasions at this site I also saw Micronesian Kingfisher, Morningbird, Micronesian Imperial-Pigeon and Nicobar Pigeon (flying over at dawn or dusk). White Terns, Black Noddies, Black-headed Gulls and Rufous Night-Herons often passed by, and one day a large accipiter (possibly Chinese Goshawk) flew over. I heard Palau Bush-Warbler here on several occasions, but only saw one by venturing onto the island itself. The trail starts directly behind the Mobil sign on the boat refueling dock, and accessing it requires that one first climb about 8 ft up a limestone outcrop and then jump across a 4 ft wide gap – not as difficult as it first looks, but I would not recommend attempting it if the rocks are wet. The rough trail leads to a small lake, but other than the bush-warbler and feral Red Junglefowl I did not see much in the dense forest. I was told by a local Palauan that the lake is a good spot for Palau Owl, but the trail would be a considerable challenge to negotiate in the dark.

Malakal Sewage Ponds: At the end of the road on Malakal is a relatively new sewage treatment plant with several weed-covered ponds. I saw a number of herons here (Little and Intermediate Egrets, Striated Heron, Yellow Bittern) as well as Pacific Golden-Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Long-toed Stint, Common Sandpiper and Barn Swallow.

Palau Pacific Resort: The Palau Pacific Resort, located at the far end of Arakebesang, has a nature trail that loops for about a mile through dense forest. I took a taxi there early one morning to look for Slaty-legged Crake, which is supposed to occur around the ponds near the start of the trail. I did not, however, hear any crakes, and the few dark objects I glimpsed scurrying through the dense bamboo understory could as easily have been rats or junglefowl. The trail is good for most of the common endemics (Palau Bush-Warbler seemed to be abundant), and Ron Leidich (a local birder and proprietor of Planet Blue Kayak Rentals) told me that he has seen Giant White-eye here.

Rock Islands and Outer Reefs: On most days we were diving at sites around the rock islands or outer barrier reefs. The common seabirds that I usually saw from the boat were Black and Brown Noddies, Black-naped, Great Crested and Bridled Terns, and White-tailed Tropicbirds. Both color morphs of Eastern Reef Egret were occasionally seen perched on branches over the water or flying between islands. Little Pied Cormorants were at Jellyfish Lake.

German Lighthouse Trail, Urukthapel: On one weekend, our hosts took us on an outing to German Lighthouse (also called the Japanese Road), famous most recently as the site at which the TV reality show “Survivor in Palau” was filmed. This site is accessible only by boat (about 10 min from Malakal), but is well worth the trip. The trail is about a mile long and leads to an old stone lighthouse at the top of a hill; along the way are interesting caves occupied by the Japanese military during WWII and now by nesting Palau Swiftlets. Because the trail is wide and traverses the hillside, it provides good views into mid-level canopy. Here I saw my only Micronesian Scrubfowl and Giant White-eyes, and also saw or heard most of the common endemics, despite it not being specifically a birding outing.

Babeldaob: On our final day in Palau, we rented 4WD vehicles and toured Babeldaob, the largest island in Palau and site of the capitol, but nonetheless very sparsely populated. Although a paved perimeter road is under construction, it is reportedly years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget, and many sections are still ungraded and very rough. This was another non-birding outing, and the only new species I managed to see were the endangered Palau sub-species of White-breasted Woodswallow (found only on Babeldaob) and a few Cattle Egrets. On a village basketball court near Ngardmau I also saw a large (Ardea) heron with predominantly brownish-gray plumage, greenish-yellow legs and a thin white stripe down the front of the neck. My best guess is that this was an immature Gray Heron, a species that is recorded only rarely on Palau.

Guam: Our flight schedule between Australia and Palau required a 12+hr layover in Guam both coming and going. On both of these days I rented a car and toured the island looking for the few species that still survive here. On the first visit I drove the scenic coastal route (routes 1, 2 and 4) around the southern half of the island. I had a non-birding colleague with me so did not do any intensive birding, but did stop at a number of coastal sites to look for shorebirds. The tide was high, but I was still astounded to find not a single shorebird in the entire southern half of Guam! On our return visit two weeks later I stopped in the early morning at Paseo de Susana Park near the junction of Rtes. 1 and 8. Here I saw White Tern, Black Drongo, Yellow Bittern, Philippine Turtle-Dove and Eurasian Tree Sparrow – the latter three species also were common along roadsides throughout the island. On an afternoon visit to Ylig Bay I succeeded in finding a flock of roosting shorebirds – predominantly Pacific Golden-Plovers, with smaller numbers of Whimbrels, Ruddy Turnstones, Lesser Sand-Plovers and Wandering Tattlers. The nearby Country Club of the Pacific golf course also had large flocks of Pacific Golden-Plovers and Whimbrels, and many Yellow Bitterns flying around. To access Ylig Bay, take the first left south of the intersection of Rtes. 4 and 17, and follow a dirt track through a cemetery to the shore. The country club entrance is on the right about a mile further south on Rte. 4. The only recent trip report I had (/trip_report.php?id=261) suggested that this area of the island is also the most reliable for Guam Swiftlet, the only endemic species left on Guam. Although I spent several hours exploring the coast and small roads between Rte 17 and Talofofo Falls, I never saw any swiftlets.

Species Lists

Palau
White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus)
Little Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos)
Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis)
Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Intermediate Egret (Egretta intermedia)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Eastern Reef Egret (Egretta sacra)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Striated Heron (Butoroides striatus)
Rufous Night-Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus)
?Chinese Goshawk (Accipiter soloensis)
Micronesian Scrubfowl (Megapodius laperouse)
Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus)
Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva)
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Long-toed Stint (Calidris subminuta)
Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)
Great Crested Tern (Sterna bergii)
Black-naped Tern (Sterna sumatrana)
Bridled Tern (Sterna anaethetus)
Black Noddy (Anous minutus)
Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus)
White Tern (Gygis alba)
Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica)
Palau Fruit-Dove (Ptilinopus pelewensis)
Micronesian Imperial-Pigeon (Ducula oceanica)
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita)
Palau Swiftlet (Aerodramus pelewensis)
Micronesian Kingfisher (Todirhamphus cinnamominus)
Collared Kingfisher (Todirhamphus chloris)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Cicadabird (Coracina tenuirostris)
Morningbird (Colluricincla tenebrosa)
Palau Bush-Warbler (Cettia annae)
Palau Fantail (Rhipidura lepida)
Palau Flycatcher (Myiagra erythrops)
White-breasted Woodswallow (Artamus leucorhynchus)
Caroline Islands White-eye (Zosterops semperi)
Dusky White-eye (Zosterops finschii)
Giant White-eye (Megazosterops palauensis)
Micronesian Myzomela (Myzomela rubratra)
Micronesian Starling (Aplonis opaca)
Blue-faced Parrotfinch (Erythrura trichroa)
Chestnut Mannikin (Lonchura atricapilla)

Guam
Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis)
Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva)
Lesser Sand-Plover (Charadrius mongolus)
Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incana)
Gray-tailed Tattler (Heteroscelus brevipes)
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
White Tern (Gygis alba)
Philippine Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia bitorquata)
Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)