Prince of Serendip
GREENE CO., MO. — The only thing more disgusting than extraordinarily lucky people is extraordinarily lucky people who have no idea how extraordinarily lucky they actually are.
I, I am happy to report, am one of those people — at least for today.
I’ve slowly been sifting through my notes and records, researching sightings from my trip. I do not have a field guide that covers Wuvulu Island, so I have been trying to identify some of the more puzzling species using range and race information from Clements’ “Birds of the World: A Checklist.” I paid $50 for the book a few years back and had begun to question the validity of my investment. Now that I’ve actually made it off our continent, however, I am very, very grateful for the massive tome.
Anyway, something interesting came up in my research today. I decided to look up the starlings I’d encountered on Wuvulu. Clements lists no races for Singing Starling, so my theory of a yellow-eyed race doesn’t appear to hold water.
There is, however, a short-tailed starling with yellow eyes. It’s the Atoll Starling, Aplonis feadensis, and it’s found on only a handful of tiny, remote islands in Papua New Guinea and the Solomons: “an extreme small-island specialist,” says BirdLife.
Translation? Very few people ever see this bird. In fact, I found this ‘trip report’ by a ‘British chap’ who is overly ‘fond’ of inverted ‘commas’ (and, I’m afraid, is ‘a bit’ profane): Extreme Birding. The poor man suffered a miserable voyage for a look at the bird, and I was surrounded by them for days. (Granted, I was not surrounded by Red-footed Boobies or Nicobar Pigeons. But we’re talking about starlings.)
The photo posted on his page was the only one Google could find on the entire Web. I took a few photos the last day on Wuvulu, but the bird was distant and the light poor. Had I known what a treasure the birds were, I would have tried much harder to get a decent image.
Unfortunately, I did not capture the brilliant, dark yellow eye or the iridescent green sheen of the Atoll Starling.
Doubts still nag me, though. Nowhere do I find reference to Atoll Starlings on Wuvulu Island. They breed on the Ninigos, which are right next door. But could the Wuvulu birds be something else? Surely not — there’s nothing else for them to be. I found one reference to a “Notes on the birds of Wuvulu Island” by Coates and Swainson, published in the Papua New Guinea Bird Society’s newsletter. If the society still exists, it apparently does not have a presence on the web. I cannot find a guide that covers the Bismarck Archipelago for less than $50. I think I will email the BirdLife folks and see if they can help me.
Tonight I may dream of a glossy black bird and its glittering eye — the Atoll Starling — a trophy, a mystery, a wish. And I lived among them for days.