Field Journal: A Five-Day Camp at Efate Island

From the Field posts

Brian Smith, assistant curator in the Department of Ornithology, is blogging from southern Melanesia, where his team is conducting an inventory of birds on a month-long Constantine S. Niarchos expedition. Read the first post in the series here.

[Filed November 22] We just returned from a successful five-day camp on Efate Island, at a locality 20 km north of the capital, Port Vila. At this site, our team expanded by two with the addition of Chauney and Dorothy from the local community of Port Havana. We were working on their communities’ land, and they came along to help guide as around the area and help run the camp.

The Efate Camp team included Bill, Lilly, Mike, Chauney, Dorothy, and Brian.  AMMH/B. Smith

The Efate Camp team included Bill, Lilly, Mike, Chauney, Dorothy, and Brian. 

AMMH/B. Smith


As soon as we left the paved road and entered the bush, our transport was unable to traverse the not-so-steep dirt roads. We were forced to unpack the truck and wait for a new ride to take us to our first camp. 

After a failed attempt to drive us to our field site, Mike and Lilly watch our transportation drive away.  AMNH/B. Smith

After a failed attempt to drive us to our field site, Mike and Lilly watch our transportation drive away. 

AMNH/B. Smith


Luckily for us we were able to flag down a truck and head off back into the bush. After a short drive, we found a nice track of mature secondary forest with an intact understory bordered by overgrown pastures. The forest was active with birds moving through the trees and skinks rustling through the leaf litter. The site looked promising.

Lilly Fatdal about to release a Vanuatu White-eye (Zosterops flavifrons).  AMNH/B. Smith

Lilly Fatdal about to release a Vanuatu White-eye (Zosterops flavifrons). 

AMNH/B. Smith


By the time we found a campsite, it was late in the afternoon, so we scouted the surrounding forest and started clearing areas to put up large nets, known as mist nets, to catch birds. The following morning we set up a series of mist nets through the forest and in the overgrown pastures. Bill was not satisfied with nets placed near the ground and decided to design a pulley system to hoist a mist net 15 meters off the ground into the canopy of trees. Everyone on the team was impressed (and we’ve decided not to doubt Bill’s “far-fetched” ideas going forward!)

Mike and Bill work late into the night to process specimens and record data.   AMNH/B. Smith

Mike and Bill work late into the night to process specimens and record data. 

 AMNH/B. Smith


On expeditions there is often very little time at a locality, so you have to work long hours to get all the work done. To make the most of our time, fieldwork often starts before sunrise and ends late in the evening. Our team was working almost around the clock. By all measures, the camp was really successful: we secured a number of important specimens and genetic samples for the Museum.

Tomorrow morning we leave at 7 am to catch a flight to Malekula Island in the north, where we will visit Katbol Village, where Lilly was born. To get all of our essential gear on the plane, we will be leaving most of our clothes and bringing very little food with us. The next leg of the trip is going to be interesting to say the least—and we will need some luck if all is to go according to plan.

We will work in Malekula for nine days before heading off to Gaua and Vanua Lava Islands for the remainder of the time. That means we’ll be going off the grid until December 14—and so my next report will have to come at the end of the trip.

This Constantine S. Niarchos Expedition is generously supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Read the next post in the series here