Another day in paradise
Language classes and other activities started today, so I had to squeeze my birding into whatever small crevices of time I could.
This morning, I saw what I’m assuming is the black-and-white Willie-wagtail. Its song is a rich, clear warble that somehow reminds me of a House Finch’s song, though it lacks any buzzy or slurred notes.
After lunch, I had an hour free and headed toward the back of the property, which runs atop a ridge on the mountain. Yesterday, I’d discovered the spectacular view down into a canyon, so I walked to the edge to see what I could see.
Eventually, I spotted a bird perched atop a snag far below me. Its short, stout bill was red. Its head and breast were brown, and its wings were greenish. From my study of “Birds of New Guinea,” I believed it to be a Dollarbird, though as I recalled, the illustration showed the bird as entirely blue and green.
The bird made periodic loops out from its perch. Its wings were long and broad, and its flight looked rowing, somehow reminiscent of a kingfisher. It glided frequently, exposing eye-catching, silver-blue patches in the primaries.
Huge butterflies flew over the treetops, some flashing blue wings so brilliant that they seemed to produce their own light.
I saw another movement in the air and thought it too was a butterfly. But it returned to a tree, and I put my binoculars on the spot where I thought it had landed. Sure enough, a very tiny bird moved quickly through the leaves, giving me just the quickest glimpses of its red cap, breast, and rump. Its underparts were pale, and the upperparts were a darkish, flat blue. This bird also looked vaguely familiar — a flowerpecker?
Because I wasn’t on kitchen duty tonight, I had some free time before supper. I watched two raptors soaring over the canyon. They seemed to be the same species despite their differences in plumage, which I thought might be attributable to sex, age, or individual variation. They were shaped more like Buteos than anything else I could think of, with short tails and broad wings for soaring. Are there Buteos here? The wings were marked with dark tips and pale patches, and one bird had a pale head.
I kept walking toward the radio tower (or whatever it is) at the tip of the ridge, and a rich, clear call note caught my attention. The bird was olive-colored and built something like an Orchard Oriole. It had a pale cheek patch.
On a power line, I saw a kingfisher similar to the one I’d seen yesterday. It was blue on its back and crown with a pale collar and underparts, and it bobbed its short tail.
Finally, I made my way around to the balcony on the office building. I saw a few little green doves fly over — fruit-doves! Their feathers rattled in flight. I couldn’t see them well at all, but finally, two landed on an exposed branch. Their bellies were orange-yellow, and there was a blue-gray line near the bend of the folded wings. They took off again before too long, looking very chunky and quail-like in flight.
Then I heard a somewhat harsh, yelping call, and three crows came into view. They were sooty grayish in color. Their bills and bare facial skin were pink, and the bills lightened to almost white on the tips. This somehow made me think of Turkey Vultures. They stayed in dense vegetation, and I watched one hanging upside-down in a dead palm front. Such acrobatics did not strike me as very crow-like, and before long they too had moved on.
Before I went to bed, I sat down for a long session with my field guide. My head was brimming with details accumulated over the last two days, and I was afraid they’d be lost if I didn’t act quickly. Some of the identifications were easy — Helmeted Friarbird, the two sunbirds, Dollarbird, Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove and Gray Crow, for instance. But others left me flipping pages and wracking my brain in frustration.
The small passerine with the pale cheek patch was a meliphaga, which is genus of closely related and nearly identical honeyeaters. I had no hope of identifying the bird I’d seen. The two raptors I’d watched earlier in the evening were confusing as well. I thought they might be Whistling Kites, but then again they might have been immature Brahminy Kites.
Brahminy Kite, by the way, is the name of the chestnut-colored, white-headed raptor I saw yesterday morning. The little bird with bright red patches was indeed a flowerpecker. Swifts were impossible; PNG has several species of dark, unmarked swiftlets, and I had very little idea where to begin when trying to ID them. Also very confusing were the cuckoo-shrikes and kingfishers. I saw several things that my birds could have been; then again, maybe I’d discovered brand new species.
Maybe tomorrow I can sort it all out. And speaking of tomorrow, where are the parrots? I thought they’d be all over, but I haven’t seen any anywhere.