The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Australasia & The Pacific Islands

MICRONESIA

The Forgotten Islands

Wednesday 24th February – Monday 15th March 2021

Leader: Josh Bergmark.

20 Days Group Size Limit 8

Birdquest’s Micronesia birding tours will take you to a scattering of small but beautiful Pacific Islands that between them hold 50 surviving endemic birds. Our Micronesia birding tour explores Palau, Yap, the Marianas, Truk (or Chuuk), Pohnpei and Kosrae, so has the potential to produce all of the Micronesian endemics.

Scan the vastness of the Pacific in an atlas, or on a globe, and what do you see – nothing but the endless ocean! But wait, there is something else. In the southwest a scattering of islands stretching from the Solomons to French Polynesia and beyond, and in the north-centre the islands of Hawaii, and nothing else. But, not quite nothing… There, in the northwest, is a peppering of tiny specks, barely visible, straddling that immensity of blue between the Philippines, Japan and Hawaii.

This then is the region known as Micronesia – a collection of little known island nations and territories that rarely if ever cause the needle of world events to give the merest flicker, let alone register in the minds of the billions inhabiting the continental landmasses. Yet for one brief period in world history these unknown islands suddenly leapt into prominence, their names becoming familiar to millions as mighty armies wrestled for their control and over 100,000 died in the bloodbath that resulted. From February to September 1944 American forces swept through the area, capturing first the Marshall Islands and then the Marianas and strategic parts of Palau (the Carolines and Yap were bombed but not invaded).

After the Second World War these formerly Japanese territories came under the administration of the United States, but more recently most have become independent, leaving only Guam and the Northern Marianas as territories of the USA. Once the war had passed them by, the islands of Micronesia slipped back into obscurity, although the most important of them have developed tourist infrastructures to cater for scuba divers, WWII sightseeing and the like. Standards of accommodation and travelling conditions in general in the islands are surprisingly good.

In spite of their many endemic species, these idyllic tropical islands have attracted few birdwatchers to date, although this may start to change now that genetic studies are revealing that many morphologically fairly similar island forms are genetically quite distinct and should not have been regarded as conspecific. With recent splits the number of definitely surviving endemics in Micronesia has risen to 50 (although Guam Kingfisher only survives in captivity and attempts to introduce Guam Rail onto snake-free Rota are only proving partially successful so far), and this number may rise still higher. During this fascinating journey through these little-visited islands we will have a good chance of seeing all of those endemics that survive in the wild (other than the poorly-known Pohnpei Starling, which may be extinct).

Our Micronesia birding tour starts in the archipelago of Palau (or Belau), geographically the closest part of Micronesia to a major landmass (the Philippines) and faunistically and floristically the richest part of the region. Highlights here should include such endemics as Palau Fruit Dove, Palau Ground Dove, the unusual Palau Owl, Palau Nightjar, Palau Swiftlet, Rusty-capped (or Palau) Kingfisher, the strange Morningbird, Palau Cicadabird (split from Common), Palau Bush Warbler, Mangrove (or Palau) Flycatcher, the handsome Palau Fantail, Dusky White-eye and the intriguingly-named Giant White-eye, as well as the regionally-endemic Micronesian Megapode and Micronesian Imperial Pigeon, and the strange Nicobar Pigeon, not to mention the extraordinary scenery of Palau’s ‘Rock Islands’.

From here we head northeastwards to the interesting island of Yap, our first port of call in the Federated States of Micronesia, with its strange tradition of ‘stone money’ and special birds including the regionally-endemic White-throated Ground Dove, and four single island endemics; the uncommon Yap Cicadabird (split from Common), the smart Yap Monarch, Plain White-eye and Olive White-eye (or Yap Olive or Olive-coloured White-eye).

Next we come to Guam, a territory of the United States of America, but we will pause only briefly here for flight connections because the island now offers thin pickings after the devastation wrought by the introduced Brown Tree Snake.

Instead we will head north into the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, visiting first Saipan, where we will be concentrating on finding the majority of the Marianas endemics including the Mariana form of the Micronesian Megapode, Mariana Fruit Dove, Guam Swiftlet, White-headed Kingfisher, Nightingale Reed Warbler, Saipan Bridled White-eye and the beautiful Golden White-eye, and then Tinian (for Tinian Monarch) and Rota (for Rota Kingfisher, Mariana Crow and Rota Bridled White-eye, and Guam Rail if the introduction programme is doing well).

From the Northern Marianas we head southeast (and back into the far-flung Federated States of Micronesia) in order to explore the remote islands of Truk (or Chuuk) Lagoon, famous amongst scuba divers for the extraordinary number of wrecks that resulted from Operation Hailstone in World War II, where the specialities include Truk Monarch, Oceanic Flycatcher and Teardrop (or Truk Great) White-eye, as well as more widespread Micronesian endemics such as White-fronted (or Caroline Islands) Ground Dove, Caroline Islands Fruit Dove, Caroline Islands Swiftlet, Caroline Islands Reed Warbler and Citrine (or Caroline Islands) White-eye.

Finally we will head still further east, first to Pohnpei, where we will be wanting to see the seven single island endemics, Pohnpei Lorikeet (or Pohnpei Lory), the superb Pohnpei Kingfisher, the handsome Pohnpei Cicadabird (split from Common), Pohnpei Flycatcher, Pohnpei Fantail, Grey-brown (or Grey) White-eye and the curious Long-billed White-eye.

On the remote island of Kosrae, to the east of Pohnpei, we will be looking for our last two endemics; Kosrae Fruit Dove and Kosrae White-eye.

Birdquest has operated Micronesia birding tours since 2005.

In 2022 this tour can be taken together with: HAWAII

Important: Flights are very infrequent on some of the legs in Micronesia and the Birdquest tour has some extra time built in to allow for the inevitable schedule changes and thus make sure our tour will not be disrupted.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of good or medium standard throughout. Road transport is by minibus or car. Roads are mostly good, with the exception of Truk (but distances there are short).

Walking: The walking effort during our Micronesia birding tour is mostly easy, but occasionally moderate, and there will be one optional fairly strenuous hike on Mount Winipot on Tol South in Truk Lagoon.

Climate: It is typically warm or hot and humid. Some rain is likely and it can be heavy (although in theory this is the drier time of year in Micronesia).

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Micronesia birding tour are worthwhile.


PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers, boatmen and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include these flights: Koror (Palau)-Guam, Guam-Yap-Guam, Guam-Saipan-Guam, Saipan-Tinian-Saipan, Guam-Rota-Guam, Guam-Truk, Truk-Pohnpei and Pohnpei-Kosrae. Cumulatively, these flights cover a vast distance across the Pacific and they are correspondingly costly.

Deposit: £880, $1140, €990.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2021: provisional £8310, $10390, €9140. Koror (Palau)/Kosrae.

Single Supplement: 2021: £1100, $1380, €1210.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

MICRONESIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Micronesia: Day 1  The tour begins this evening at Koror in Palau, where we will stay for three nights.

Micronesia: Days 2-3  The Republic of Palau (or Belau as it is known to its inhabitants) is the most western island group of Micronesia and is faunistically its richest part. The main town, on the island of Koror, is connected to the largest island, Babeldaob (or Babelthuap), by a bridge, while to the southwest is an archipelago of small islands, including the extraordinarily beautiful, strangely-shaped Rock Islands that emerge from the turquoise blue coral sea. The islands are thought to have been settled as long ago as 1000 BC, probably by people from what is now eastern Indonesia, but as with most places in Micronesia, Palau only really came to the attention of the outside world during World War II, when there were fierce battles for control of the heavily fortified southern islands of Angaur and Peleliu.

Our birding explorations in Palau will be divided between the Koror region and some of the outer islands only accessible by boat or air. On Koror and Babeldaob we will be looking for the endemic Palau Fruit Dove, the unusual Palau Owl, Palau Nightjar (split from Grey), Palau Swiftlet (split from Island or Uniform), Rusty-capped (or Palau) Kingfisher (split from Micronesian, now renamed Guam), Palau Cicadabird (split from Slender-billed), Morningbird, Palau Bush Warbler (easily heard but harder to see), Mangrove (or Palau) Flycatcher, the smart Palau Fantail and Dusky White-eye. Further afield, we will explore the scenic outer islands in search of the Palau form of the Micronesian Megapode, Palau Ground Dove and the drab but impressive Giant White-eye. We also have a good chance of seeing the localized Nicobar Pigeon, a small-island specialist, the impressive, regionally-endemic Micronesian Imperial Pigeon, the regionally-endemic Citrine (or Caroline Islands) White-eye and, with a bit of luck, Tropical Shearwater (split from Audubon’s).

Other species that we may well encounter during our stay in the islands include Little Pied Cormorant, Little Egret, Buff-banded Rail, White-browed and Slaty-legged Crakes, Greater Sand and Mongolian Plovers, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Whiskered, Greater Crested, Black-naped and Bridled Terns, Collared Kingfisher, Barn Swallow and the introduced Red Junglefowl, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Eclectus Parrot and Chestnut Munia. The interesting local form of the White-breasted Woodswallow has become rare, but we will try our best to find it.

Micronesia: Day 4  After a final day in Palau we will catch a late evening flight northeastwards to Yap for a three nights stay. We will arrive in the early hours on Yap.

Micronesia: Days 5-6  Yap is the westernmost of the main islands of the Federated States of Micronesia and tradition still holds sway in many parts of the island. Traditional architecture survives in the villages and some men and women in country areas still dress in customary style. Yap is famous for its rai, or ‘stone money’, a tradition whereby huge stone disks of up to 3.6 metres (12 feet) in diameter were carved from the Rock Islands of Palau and then transported on rafts towed by canoes more than 400 kilometres (240 miles) to Yap. Many Yapese were lost at sea in the attempt to transport these immense ‘coins’, which served to make the surviving ‘money’ even more valuable! To this day, rai is still used for some traditional transactions.

The rolling green hills of interior Yap hold some good areas of forest and it is here that we will be searching for the island’s four single-island endemics, which comprise the uncommon Yap Cicadabird (split from Common), the smart Yap Monarch, Plain White-eye and the localized Olive White-eye (or Yap Olive or Olive-coloured White-eye). The local form of the regionally-endemic White-throated Ground Dove has sometimes been split as White-headed Ground Dove. Micronesian Imperial Pigeon is easy to see here, unlike in Palau, while Scaly-breasted Munia (or Nutmeg Mannikin) is a widespread introduction and small wetlands attract migrant Tufted Ducks.

Micronesia: Day 7  After a final day on Yap we have another late evening departure for Guam, a far-flung territory of the United States of America, where we arrive in the early hours.

Micronesia: Day 8  At Guam we will connect with an early morning flight to Saipan for a two nights stay. After we have settled into our hotel, we will have the rest of the day to explore.

Micronesia: Day 9  Saipan is the largest island in the Northern Marianas, now a self-governing commonwealth territory of the USA, and has some 90% of the islands’ population. Saipan and adjacent Tinian saw fierce fighting towards the end of World War II, and nowadays many visitors are Japanese wanting to see something of this period in their history, or to enjoy the casinos! On Saipan, the Americans landed on 15 June 1944 at the southwest end of the island, and during the subsequent conquest some 30,000 Japanese were killed as against 3,500 American troops (and some 400 Saipanese civilians). To this day the island is littered with pillboxes and bunkers constructed by the Japanese and there are some poignant memorials at the steep cliffs at the northern end of the island where hundreds of Japanese troops and civilians committed suicide rather than be captured.

From an ornithological viewpoint, Saipan is the richest island in the Marianas and here we shall be looking for such Marianas endemics as Mariana Fruit Dove, Mariana (or Guam) Swiftlet (split from Island or Uniform), Mariana (or White-headed) Kingfisher (split from Collared), the impressive Nightingale Reed Warbler, Saipan Bridled White-eye (split from the extinct Guam Bridled) and the beautiful Golden White-eye, as well as the smart, regionally-endemic White-throated Ground Dove (ludicrously easy to see here for a ground-dove, often flying high over the forest canopy and the roads!), the widespread endemic Micronesian Myzomela (or Micronesian Honeyeater) and Micronesian Starling. In addition, the endemic Marianas form of the Micronesian Megapode still survives here, and with persistence we may well see one creeping about in the forest, apparently unconcerned by our presence.

Other species we are likely to encounter include White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, Yellow Bittern, Pacific Golden Plover, Brown Noddy, Common White (or Fairy) Tern, Rufous Fantail and the introduced Philippine Turtle Dove (or Island Collared Dove), Eurasian Tree Sparrow and Orange-cheeked Waxbill.

During our stay on Saipan we will also make a short side-trip by air to the adjacent island of Tinian, the scene of another great battle in World War II and later used for bombing raids on Japan, including the world’s first and mercifully only nuclear strikes. As we approach the small airport on Tinian we will be able to see the deserted runways at North Field, from where the Enola Gay and its sister aircraft took off on those fateful missions to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Tinian we will be looking for the endemic Tinian Monarch, which is still quite a common bird in the scrubby forest that covers much of the island.

Micronesia: Day 10  After some final birding on Saipan we will return by air to Guam for an overnight stay.

Micronesia: Day 11  We will take a midday flight to the island of Rota for a two nights stay. This afternoon we will begin to explore the island.

Micronesia: Day 12  Rota, which is about half way between Guam and Saipan, largely escaped the bloody battles of World War II and this attractive island still has inhabitants who are full-blooded Chamorros, the earliest colonizers of the Marianas. Few visitors reach the island, which has a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. Our main targets here are the endangered endemic Mariana Crow, which still breeds successfully on Rota in spite of competition from the introduced Black Drongo (unlike Guam, the only other island on which it existed, where it is now extinct) and the critically endangered endemic Rota Bridled White-eye (split from the extinct Guam Bridled), for which we will have to visit the highland forest. Guam Rail (which is now considered extinct on Guam itself, owing to introduced snake predation) has been introduced here and we have a good chance of seeing this critically endangered species. Thankfully the endemic Rota Kingfisher, which may represent a species distinct from Mariana Kingfisher of Saipan and Tinian, is still a common bird.

We will also visit a spectacular seabird colony where large numbers of Red-footed Boobies nest in the forest canopy while Brown Boobies and lovely Red-tailed Tropicbirds nest on the steep cliffs. Great Frigatebirds regularly visit the colony to steal some fish from its occupants. Along the rocky coastline, Pacific Reef Egrets are regularly to be found.

Micronesia: Day 13  After some final birding on birding on Rota we will catch a flight back to Guam for an overnight stay. Guam’s avifauna has suffered complete disaster in recent decades at the hands of introduced creatures; in particular the Brown Tree Snake. The endemic Guam Flycatcher and Guam Bridled White-eye are now extinct, having both been common in the 1970s, and the endemic Guam Rail is extinct in the wild (hence the Rota introduction scheme). The endemic Guam Kingfisher (formerly the nominate form of the now-split-up Micronesian Kingfisher) now only survives in captivity.

Micronesia: Day 14  This morning we will fly far to the southeast of Guam, to the islands of Truk (or Chuuk) for a three nights stay.

Micronesia: Days 15-16  Truk, or Chuuk as it is nowadays officially called, is part of the Federated States of Micronesia. Infrequent air schedules mean that we will probably have more than enough time here, but there are worst places to be than a lagoon full of tropical islands! The airport and most of the infrastructure are on the island of Weno (or Moen), where we will be looking in particular for the beautiful White-fronted (or Caroline Islands) Ground-Dove (shared only with Pohnpei) and the endemic Oceanic Flycatcher. We can also expect to see the more widespread, regionally-endemic Caroline Islands Fruit Dove (split from Purple-capped), Caroline Islands Swiftlet (split from Island or Uniform) and Caroline Islands Reed Warbler for the first time (plus the Caroline form of Citrine White-eye), as well as the more widespread Blue-faced Parrotfinch. We will also take a look at one of the few significant wetlands in Micronesia, and the grassy margins of the airport, where we may well encounter Eastern Cattle and Intermediate Egrets, Rufous Night Heron, Pacific Black Duck, Northern Pintail and Common Moorhen.

However, in order to see the endemic Teardrop (or Great Truk) White-eye we will need to visit Mount Winipot on the island of Tol South, one of the higher islands of Truk Lagoon. The island is rarely visited by outsiders, so our arrival is likely to cause a stir. Once ashore we have a steep climb in prospect, but our local guides, armed with machetes, will be able to help us reach the summit. First the lagoon must be crossed by speedboat (we should see Black-naped and Greater Crested Terns en route), and then it will take us some time to climb up to the remaining good forest above 300m, but once there the white-eyes are generally quite easy to locate. We should also encounter the endemic Truk Monarch during our visit to Tol South and we have a good chance of seeing the rare Truk form of the endemic Micronesian Imperial Pigeon. Chuuk Flying Foxes are still quite common and we will enjoy watching them sailing around the steep hillsides, from where we will enjoy the spectacular views across Truk Lagoon.

Truk Lagoon was the scene of a famous naval-air battle in 1944 and the lagoon is littered with the remains of over 60 Japanese ships that were sent to the bottom, as well as numerous aeroplanes. Nowadays the whole area is a paradise for divers, with a worldwide reputation. It also offers some fascinating snorkeling possibilities.

Micronesia: Day 17  Today we will take a flight still further east to the island of Pohnpei for a two nights stay. In the late afternoon we will begin our exploration of this beautiful island.

Micronesia: Day 18  Pohnpei is one of the Caroline Islands and part of the widely scattered Federated States of Micronesia, a territory with a tiny population that consists of over 600 islands stretching for about 2,900 kilometres (1,800 miles) across the Western Pacific. The land surface occupies just 705 square kilometres (271 square miles) compared to more than 2.6 million square kilometres (1 million square miles) of ocean, so the islands are truly just specks on the map.

This extreme isolation has encouraged the evolution of endemic forms and Pohnpei has at least seven surviving single-island endemics; the noisy and conspicuous Pohnpei Lorikeet (or Pohnpei Lory), the superb Pohnpei Kingfisher (split from Micronesian, now renamed Guam), the handsome Pohnpei Cicadabird (split from Slender-billed), Pohnpei Flycatcher, Pohnpei Fantail, Grey (or Grey-brown) White-eye and the curious Long-billed White-eye. We have a good chance of finding all seven, although the cicadabird is not common and a bit unpredictable.

(An additional Pohnpei endemic, the Pohnpei (Mountain) Starling, was last reliably recorded in 1995. Although there have been some claimed sightings from the highest montane forests since, none has been well documented and the species may now be extinct.)

Other new birds are likely to include Grey-tailed Tattler, Eurasian Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Black Noddy and the introduced Hunstein’s Mannikin.

Provided we have the time, we will also visit the famous and enigmatic ruins of Nan Madol, a religious and administrative centre that was built of huge stone blocks on 92 artificial islets on the coral flats. This huge and fascinating complex, extending for nearly two square kilometres, was started by the Saudeleur dynasty of Pohnpei in the 12th century and continued to be occupied until the end of the 18th century.

Micronesia: Day 19  After some final birding on Pohnpei, we take a flight still further east to the remote island of Kosrae for an overnight stay. Following tazxonomic re-organization, Kosrae Fruit Dove and Kosrae White-eye are now treated as endemic species and both are easy to find.

Micronesia: Day 20  After some final birding this morning our Micronesia tour ends on Kosrae early this afternoon.

MICRONESIA TOUR REPORT 2019

by János Oláh

View Report

MICRONESIA TOUR REPORT 2016

by Pete Morris

View Report

MICRONESIA TOUR REPORT 2013

by Mark Van Beirs

View Report

Other mid-Pacific Islands birding tours by Birdquest include:

Niau

Australasia & The Pacific Islands

FRENCH POLYNESIA & COOK ISLANDS

Iiwi

Australasia & The Pacific Islands

HAWAII

Tuamotu

Australasia & The Pacific Islands

PITCAIRN, HENDERSON & TUAMOTU ISLANDS