Bats of Solomon Islands

The Guadalcanal Campaign

(This is mostly not about World War Two)

 When it comes to islands people struggle to locate on a map, the Solomon Islands rank quite high. They are located to the East of Papua New Guinea. Geographically, they comprise of two countries, PNG and the Solomon Islands (easy, right?). Bougainville belonging to the former, Choiseul, Guadalcanal, Makira, Malaita and Santa Isabel being the main islands of the latter.
 

 

Some of you may know Guadalcanal as the theatre of one of the bloodiest campaigns in the Pacific War and you would be right. You would also be right to think it was home to no fewer than 40 species of bats. Many of these are endemic to the Solomon Islands, some are shared with Papua New Guinea. However, most of them are poorly known. That is why I knew this trip would not be easy. Having said that, the literature is surprisingly easy to find, including information on bat calls [link].

On my first evening on Guadalcanal, I took a short walk around the house where  I was staying and I saw no fewer than eight species! Two of which I saw, Pteropus woodfordi (picture), the Dwarf Flying Fox and Macroglossus minimus, the Northern Blossom Bat, whereas the other six I identified using my bat recorder. I got Pipistrellus angulatus, Myotis moluccarum, Mosia nigrescens, Saccolaimus saccolaimus, Miniopterus tristis and Miniopterus australis. The taxonomy of the Miniopterus genus is still poorly understood in Oceania so it may well be that the taxa present on Solomon Islands will be considered as different species in the near future.  

 

Over the following days, I tried to find other species but I also learnt about the history of the island, and the Pacific War in general. The Vilu War Museum was very interesting with many planes and pieces of artillery found in the surrounding area. I did not have the chance to go diving but there are many wrecks, of both planes and ships off the coast of most islands in Solomon.

Alistair's children enjoying some Austrian glass...
P-38 Lightning wreck at the Vilu Outdoor War Museum
The cats in the Solomon Islands are rather odd...

On my last day on the island, I went up in the mountains, hoping to see different species. I went for a very tenuous (but luckily not too long) hike along and across a stream to visit a bat cave. When I got there, I was happy to see that the bats roosting in the twilight zone were Dobsonia inermis, a recent split from the widespread Dobsonia moluccensis and endemic to the Solomon Islands. On the way there, I also spotted a couple of Flying Foxes in the forest. They probably were Pteropus woodfordi again but they seemed bigger. I just couldn’t find any other species present on Guadalcanal that fitted what I saw.

It was challenging but definitely worth it!

Sadly, I did not get a chance to see either Pteropus admiralitatum or Pteropus rayneri, two species I really would have liked to see. They appear to be quite difficult to see on Guadalcanal but not so much in Western Province. Birding was alright on Guadalcanal, especially in the mountains but that too is apparently much better in Western Province. Next time then…

 

When I was up in the mountains, I had a fabulous view over the coastline, including Lungga Point. That is where most of the battles happened. It was hard not to think of all those people who died there, so far away from home. They had to deal with diseases, extreme humidity and heat in addition to the bullets, and had been ill-prepared. While this may have been a decisive battle, it was also absolute carnage.

Seeing the memorials in Vilu Museum was really humbling. It definitely was a reminder of the horrors of war. I did not mean to make this a depressing read but I strongly believe that it is important to remember them.

The most obvious remnant of the war? The Henderson airfield, now known as Honiara International Airport. Built partly by the Japanese, it is what lead the Americans to invade the island in the first place.

Honiara, the capital, is now a much happier place and the people from Solomon Islands are definitely some of the nicest people on the planet. It’s difficult to believe how different it must have been, 70 years ago.

Overall, this is an amazing country, rich in culture and buzzing with extremely kind people, always with a positive attitude. I really enjoyed learning about their culture and their relatively recent common language, Pidgin. Pidgin is a sort of broken English (their words, not mine) that originated from the words brought back by people working in farm in Australia. The written language is quite funny as it resembles phonetic with an Australian accent e.g. Hia for here.

 

One thing I only realised afterwards is how happy these people are. A country such as the Solomon Islands is usually described as poorly developed by Westerners. But there are no homeless people, unemployment per se isn’t a thing as those people will always help their community. No one is marginalised… Who’s the truly under-developed country?

Note on Dolphin View Beach

I’ve decided to write a few words on the place as I was really happy with my experience there and because I have read some negative comments in earlier reports. Alistair, the owner has been described in some wildlife watching reports as unreliable. I do not know if that used to be the case but it definitely isn’t now! He’s keen to help organising any part of a trip to the Solomons, always finds a solution and has always delivered on his promises. Yes, it is true nobody in the Solomon Islands owns a watch but that’s their way of life. Embrace it, you’re on holiday! No need to pack your day full like you’re used to do at home…
The place is lovely and so is the food. I highly recommend it for a few days of rest. Birding in the area isn’t the best but isn’t too bad and mammal watching isn’t bad either as you’ve read earlier. Alistair has plans to expand his business, adding a couple of bungalows. I’ll definitely go back there!

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