I’m writing this from my room on the Paul Gauguin cruise
ship halfway between Fiji and New Caledonia where we arrive tomorrow. This is
part of the world I don’t know much about, but that’s the great part about
traveling – it’s so educational. Besides the traveling, the emphasis on this
voyage is on the total solar eclipse which will happen here on Nov 14. The ship
is full of amateur astronomers and serious eclipse watchers. For some
passengers, this will be their 10th or 11th total
eclipse; for one passenger his 17th!
It’ll certainly be interesting, but you would think one solar eclipse
would be sufficient. But they probably think similar things about us
birdwatchers – seen one bird, seen ‘em all.
After a long sardine-can flight from LA to Fiji and a couple
of hours of snoozing, we spent a few hours on the main island walking around
and birding. We were stuck in the urbanized area near the port, so we didn’t
have great birding, but we did see White-faced Herons, Pacific Reef Herons,
White-rumped Swiftlet, Pacific Swallow, and the spectacular Fiji Parrotfinch
hopping around on lawns in front of our hotel.
I’m scheduled to give three talks on birds on this trip and
I gave my first one yesterday. I didn’t know what the response would be because
of their astronomical focus, but it was a pretty full house. My first topic was
“The Seabirds of Melanesia” although we are so far out at sea, there are no
seabirds yet. I’ve lectured on about 20 cruises and this is one of the more
intellectual groups I’ve talked to. As any teacher will tell you, it’s a
pleasure to talk to groups that are actually interested in learning. There are
a few birdwatchers on the ship and we’ll be doing some hiking with them on the
islands in New Caledonia and Vanuatu. I’m also looking forward to giving my new
stabilizing binoculars a good workout.
I’m really anticipating a good day on Grand Terre, the big
island of New Caledonia, as it has
the endemic Kagu. I hired a local guide to
make sure I see it. And, if we are lucky, we might see the tool-using New
Caledonian Crow. There are lots of other endemics around as well.
enroute, looking over the sea this afternoon, we spotted a Magnificent Frigate
Bird, Red-tailed Tropic Bird, Red-footed Boobies, and a bunch of what we
finally decided were Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. I say “we” because I met another
birder on the trip, a retired accountant who has a life list of over 5000
birds! I thought I was doing well at over 3000 birds. But it’s not just a
matter of trying harder; it’s also the reach of my checkbook. The record number
of birds seen by one person is 8750 or so, seen by Phoebe
Snetsinger, who was
not only an excellent and avid birder, but very well to do
Next week I’ll tell you about the Kagu.
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