Moving Islands

The plan was for 5 of us to head back to Saipan when the Tinian group got settled in and started catching birds.  We arrived back in Saipan on the 15th and keeping with the flexibility theme we have run into some hurdles. 1 Saying Good-bye to Tinian

We got back to the summer holiday hotel and were able to pretty quickly set- up the bird room. Pretty straight forward: 15 MAFD (Mariana Fruit Dove) boxes and 24 GOWE (Golden white-eye) boxes.

Setting up dove boxes.
Setting up dove boxes.
3 Overly ripe papaya - it is like candy for GOWE
Overly ripe papaya – it is like candy for GOWE

Also, we had to seek out food for the GOWE. We generally bring in a supply of papaya; as the availability of really ripe papaya varies on the island.  Because of complication with flight availability, we were not able to bring in the papaya.  This year, I was really worried. When we would drive to and from our trap sites (& at our trap site too), the wild papayas are still hard and green.  However, I luck out… at the local fruit market I find several perfect ripe papayas.  So at least the bird room is ready for action.

5
Sawing trees down.

I wish I could say the same is happening in the field. On Tuesday evening we went out to check the trap sites.  Looking around we see 3 good locations for doves nets.  For the next 2 hours we clear areas with machetes, saws and pruners to open spaces for the nets. The entire time we hear a symphony of doves calling all around us. We then move over to the forest sites and clear 2 more lanes for the GOWE trapping.  It is hard sweaty work but somehow satisfying.  4

Wednesday, the plan is to get up early, set nets and start trapping.  We achieve the get up early part…

I dropped my coworkers off at the trap sites- my duty for the morning was to buy fresh fish and ship it to Tinian. It took a few hours and a lot of haggling to get $2.50 a pound but I was finally in possession of 4 tuna, packed in a cooler to be sent via Star Airlines cargo to feed the flies. I thought this would be the harder part of the day.

Back at the net sites, the 20′ metal poles are being troublesome and setting up the nets is taking much longer than anticipated. By 2 PM we have 5 nets up (3 doves, 3 forests). We rest for a short time and then open nets from 3-6 PM.

This too is fraught with difficulty. It keeps on raining.  We open and close nets several times and in Between the rains the humidity sky- rockets. It feels like a sauna.

6
Removing a collard kingfisher from a net.

At the dove site- we catch 2 collared kingfishers. And then have to reset one of the nets in the pouring rain. They don’t fare much better at the forest GOWE site- a few birds but no GOWE.

At this point we plan for an extra early departure on Thursday morning.  We make it out to the trap sites by 6:15.  I go to the dove site with Kurt and Scott and we are setting up the first net when the rains really start. The forest site has it a little better. They get gentle sprinkles but at the dove site- maybe because of the location on the island- we get down pours.

After the rain lets up, I head up the road to see if I can figure out where the doves moving to and eating.  I get up about 150 yards and the skies open. In the distance there is a small shelter and a cattle water trough.  I have to go over 2 barb-wire fences and waist-high lantana riddled with spiders, but I do make it to the shelter before being soaked to the bone.

9
Shelter to wait out the storm

I wait out the squall and watch the spiders around me.  The sun comes out and I get a brief view of a beautiful rainbow.

12
Hopefully there is a pot of MAFD at the end of this rainbow

Here’s to hoping there is a group of female MAFD at the end of this rainbow.

All day long it is sun/rain/ sun/ rain…. Nets up, nets down. Wet, dry, wet, dry.

13
First MAFD in the holding room

At the end of the day the total was sparse- but we did end up with 3 MAFD and 6 GOWE.



One thought on “Moving Islands

  1. Dear Steve,
    Great work you are doing out in the Pacific. I really enjoyed reading about the painstaking and laborious work involved in maintaining these populations. I don’t have anything like the training, education or experience you do, but your blogs remind me of when I worked in forestry / conservation in the tropical forests of Indonesia (Sumatra and Kalimantan). I well remember the din of the insects at dawn and dusk, getting drenched frequently, either in sweat or via unannounced downpours, and the necessary patience to deal with the uncertainty of travel in these remote places. Sorry for the unasked for nostalgia trip, but keep up the good work!
    James Sowerby

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