Some black, some white
WUVULU ISLAND, PNG — In between SALT course sessions, I stepped out onto the beach with my binoculars. It’s not a particularly beautiful stretch of beach along here, and the outhouses built out over the water do not give a very clean feeling to the area.
Several noddies flew around, leaving me in despair again. How am I doing to identify these birds? Fairy Terns also flew among the trees, but then another white bird caught my eye. Long white tail streamer! Tropicbird! It disappeared behind trees, and I waited, breathless. There it was again — oh, gorgeous — yellow bill, black eye patch, black diagonal on upperwing, and black streaked through outer primaries. Magnificent!
After the course was through, I took a walk along the beach near Rias and Betty’s house, which is a much nicer stretch. I have seen only two different passerines since I got to Wuvulu, and both are black. One, of course, is the abundant little honeyeater. They can’t be Black Myzomelas (the only reasonably similar species pictured in “Birds of New Guinea”) unless the entire population of the island is male. I haven’t seen any that are lighter gray. And though I keep looking, I haven’t been able to see bright white wing linings when the birds fly.
The other black songbird I had not seen well until this afternoon. I’d seen them high in trees as silhouettes only, so when I heard them calling from a coconut palm, I stopped to look. There were two birds, starlings. They looked something like the Singing Starlings I’d seen in Madang, but their eyes were yellow, not red. Their black bodies had a greenish sheen, and they called loudly. Is it a different species? Or are there yellow-eyed Singing Starlings?
Farther down the beach, I spotted a small movement in the trees just it began to rain. The bird was slender, not too large, with a rusty belly and a gray hood and back. I tried to get up under the branches, simultaneously keeping drier and getting closer to the songbird. It moved actively about, and I noticed bristles at the base of its bill. This species did happen to be included in the field guide: Island Monarch.
The little bird disappeared, and the light rain subsided. I started back.
A frigatebird flew over, and it was completely black below. I did not see any sort of sac on its throat; it was just evenly, solidly black. This confirmed my conclusion that the frigatebirds here are Great Frigatebirds, even though “Birds of New Guinea” says they are less common than Lesser Frigatebirds in New Guinea waters. I thought the females I saw earlier had white confined only to their breasts, and the sighting of this male gave me a satisfying certainty.