MADANG PROVINCE, PNG — Today, our last full day in Madang, was set aside for shopping and relaxation. I went out to my canyon overlook before the Dinah came to take us into town. I kept hearing a loud call consisting of a single repeated note. I looked and looked, trying to locate the bird that was calling, and finally I saw a speck on a limb at a great distance.
I could tell that the bird was a large kingfisher. Its head appeared to be black and white, and its belly was deep chestnut — at least, I thought that was its belly. The bird was so distant I couldn’t quite tell how its body was positioned. It flew a little bit, and I saw blue patches when it did.
But wait, was that the bird that was calling? I heard the call again, and it came from much closer. I kept searching and finally located a second bird on my side of the canyon. Its back was to me, revealing metallic turquoise patches on its wings and back. Then I thought that the birds must be a pair, calling back and forth. I didn’t know what they were, but I wondered if they might be a species of kookaburra. I hoped so.
Sure enough, a consultation with the field guide told me that they were Rufous-bellied Kookaburras, which live in “noisy territorial pairs.”
Down in Madang town, four or five of us decided to walk to Pukpuk Pond. To our disappointment, it did not contain pukpuk (crocodiles); however, one white egret stood out in the middle of the marshy pond. Everyone else kept walking while I stopped to look at the egret. Quickly giving up on the bird (how am I ever going to identify these egrets?), I scanned the lily pads. Small birds moved around, and I realized with a start that they must be jacanas. I got only brief looks and then had to hurry to catch up with my friends.
When we came around the other side of the pond, someone spotted a jacana walking across the lily pads. “Look at that bird.”
“I’d be happy to,” I thought, but instead I handed around the binoculars to the interested parties. They were intrigued by the jacana’s very long toes.
And we moved on. Singing Starlings, Willie-wagtails, Pacific Swallows, and Black Kites are abundant in the city. There’s also a medium-sized, yellowish-brown passerine that seems fairly common, but I’ve never been able to get a good look at one. They fly across roads into thick trees or slip maddeningly through branches, proving generally uncooperative and difficult.
Tonight, I finally managed to get a couple of decent gecko photos. The little lizards are everywhere, but they are skittish and can be difficult to approach.