PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Two Short Trips
22-27 June & 8-12 September, 2008
p: PO Box 208, Bungalow, QLD 4870
t: 61 7 40 562 658
f: 61 7 40 514 896
Trip report with Images
Birds of New Guinea (Beehler et al) has been sitting on my bookshelf for about 8 years, so I decided it was finally time to get some use out of it.
The best and most economical way of visiting to PNG is to join one of the many company tours now visiting the area. Birders from Europe and North America are now pouring into PNG in numbers, but very few Australians seem to visit the country despite it being in our own back yard and containing a good number of 'Australian' birds that are actually easier to see in PNG than in Australia.
The company tours generally last about 4 weeks and go in the 'dry' season May-September. (Please note in some parts of PNG it may still rain every day in the dry season). I never seem to have 4 weeks to spare in this period so decided to have a quick look by myself instead for a short week. It was so much fun that I had to go back for another short week. I had one trip to Kumul Lodge near Mt Hagen and then a second trip to the Port Moresby area.
99 Species were observed on the Mt Hagen trip and 162 on the Port Moresby trip. Overall both trips were fantastic showing that really anyone can visit the country independently without difficulty.
Cairns-Port Moresby-Mt Hagen Return A$924
I was very pleased that this flight was A$924 as I had A$922.50 saved up as air miles from my visa card. The nice girl at the air miles office said that I would have to put the extra A$1.50 on my credit card but that was ok as it would then go towards earning yet more air miles.
Cairns-Port Moresby Return A$621
SP Lager is available free on both these airline and you must have one to celebrate the start of your journey. You must make sure you get the export variety which has the picture of a bird of paradise on the side of the can.
You have to pay 100kina (A$50 on arrival to get your PNG visa).
t/f: 675 542 1615 - office
This beautiful high altitude lodge is well documented in various other trip reports. Bring warm clothes and a light rain coat would also be useful. It rained a little most days but it wasn't too bad. Even if it is raining you can just sit on the balcony, drink cups of tea and photograph the stunning birds coming in to feed on the bird table a few meters in front of you.
Contact Kim Arut by email and she will send you latest prices and a bird lists for various locations in the area.
Cost A$80/ night plus about A$30-40 for food & South Pacific lager (You will need to drink one bottle of SP lager to celebrate the successful sighting of each new species of Bird of Paradise. This may involve having to drink 10 bottles).
Note they do not have credit card facilities here and probably no electricity or phone. Also add A$175 - A$275/day to go on tours to the other nearby areas. Plus A$70 for the return trip to the airport. They will pick you up from your flight. Transfer takes about 75 minutes.
t: 675 323 6888
f: 675 325 5991
They didn't actually reply to my email or fax booking but seemed to know about me when I got there. It is a fairly large hotel and unlikely to be full.
Cost $125/night plus about A$40 for food etc (At the same rate of one SP/BOP you will be doing well to drink 4 bottles and outstandingly well if you have 6). Avoid the sandwiches.
The hotel is 5 minutes drive from the airport. There is a free hotel bus but if the bus is not there a taxi can't cost you very much.
Here Max is the usual guide. He will be useful, but not essential for birding to the trails around the lodge. If you go to the areas outside the lodge you will definitely need a guide for the simple reason that you won't know where the birds are otherwise.
Here I used the services of Daniel Wakra who was outstanding.
t: 675 688 0978
Costs U$300-350/day Including travel & lunch
Daniel is originally from the Mt Hagen area and is a very jovial character with a long beard. Some of the security guards at the hotel wouldn't let him in because they thought he was Osama.
He has been taking birders out for 12 years and learnt/taught everything from/to Phil Gregory (It wasn't clear which way round this was). It is pointless going to Varirata without him as you will miss at least half the birds. His knowledge of sounds is invaluable. For every bird you actually see, you will hear 10 more that you don't see. Without Daniel to tell you which sounds are worth trying to follow up, along with his skill at whistling birds in, your visit will not be as fulfilling an experience.
It is good to make sure you have caught up on your sleep before you get here. You are out in the field for a very long day with a 05.00 departure for Varirata or a 04.00 departure for the Hisiu mangroves. I did get a lie on the visit to Brown River which only needs a 05.30 start.
Health & Safety
No problems were encountered but you don't really want to walk around anywhere in Port Moresby. Take a taxi. It is safe to walk around the Pacific Adventists University grounds. Varirata is probably ok as well.
When we went to Brown River/Hisui Mangroves we always had an assistant to look after the car while we were off in the bush, but no assistant was needed at Varirata.
Mosquitos were quite enthusiastic at Brown River but for some strange reason seemed to be largely absent from the Hisui mangoves.
Port Moresby area is hot. Bring twice as much water as you think you need and keep drinking all day, even if you are not thirsty. Thirst is a poor indicator of heat exhaustion.
I don't have a telescope as I always seem to be carrying far too much stuff around anyway, but we did seem to spend quite a lot of time straining our eyes through the binoculars to look at birds perched in the canopy in the far distance.
Beehler, Pratt & Zimmerman, Birds of New Guinea, 1986. The standard reference and essential field guide to the area.
Coates & Peckover, Birds of New Guinea and the Bismark Archipelago, 2001. A very good photographic guide. Most of the photos in this book are high quality studio photos.
Phil Gregory, Birds of New Guinea & Associated Islands - A checklist, 2008. Contains the most up to date info on new species, taxonomical splits etc.
Attenborough in Paradise, David Attenborough, BBC DVD. Make sure you watch this before you leave for your trip.
Mike Tarburton Checklist of 468 Melanesian Islands
Birds of Melanesia - Mike Tarburton. Another useful annotated checklist of island birds for the region. Also contains a checklist for the PAU
Internet - many reports and useful information at many sites including:
Pacific Adventists University (PAU)
The university is approx 20 minutes by car from the airport. Taxi cost A$20 each way. The grounds are surrounded by a fence and safe to explore on your own except you won't know where to find some of the birds without a guide. The ground covers a large area with 6-7 large ponds. Strolling the well manicured lawns of the civilized university grounds might be your first introduction to birding in the country and it perhaps won't quite be your original vision of 'darkest New Guinea'. It is an easy start to the trip and the birding only gets more difficult from here on in.
Australian Grebe, Little Black Cormorant, Darter, Intermediate Egret, Eastern Cattle Egret, Rufous Night-Heron, Pied Heron, Australian White Ibis, Pacific Black Duck, Wandering Whistling Duck, Dusky Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Comb-crested Jacana, Whistling Kite, Masked Lapwing, Peaceful Dove, Bar-shouldered Dove, Rainbow Lorikeet, Papuan Frogmouth, Sacred Kingfisher, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Pheasant Coucal, Pacific Swallow, New Guinea Friarbird, Rufous-banded Honeyeater, Brown Oriole, Green Figbird, Rainbow Bee-eater, White-breasted Woodswallow, Green-backed Gerygone, Black-backed Butcherbird, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Singing Starling, Grey-headed Munia, Yellow-faced Myna
Most of the above plus - Brown Quail, Pacific Golden Plover, Red-cheeked Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Common Kingfisher, Spotted Whistling Duck, Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, Torresian Imperial Pigeon, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, White-shouldered Fairy-wren, Orange-fronted Fruit Dove
At 2861 metres, Kumul Lodge is the highest altitude place you can comfortably stay in PNG. It is set in 27 hectares of cloud forest, backing onto more forest and some grassland. There is a magnificent view of Mount Hagen itself from the lodge balcony, when not obscured by clouds. For the adventurous, trips to the top of the mountain can be arranged and there may be higher altitude species living up there not found at the lodge.
A great feature of the lodge is the largest bird table you have ever seen where Brown Sicklebills (female pictured above), Ribbon-tailed Astrapias, Brehm's Tiger-parrots, Common Smoky Honeyeaters and Belford's Melidectes etc were visiting all day. The lodge has a system of trails which you can wander by yourself. They are not marked, but the area is not so large you could get lost, although I tried hard to do this. Actually many of the birds can be seen along the entrance driveway.
Black-mantled Goshawk, Brahminy Kite, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Papuan Lorikeet, Plum-faced Lorikeet, Orange-billed Lorikeet, Brehm's Tiger-parrot, Rufous-throated Bronze-cuckoo, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Glossy Swiftlet, Island Thrush, Tawny Grassbird,Brown-breasted Gerygone, Mountain Mouse-warbler, Large Scrub-wren, Friendly Fantail, Dimorphic Fantail, White-winged Robin, Canary Flycatcher, Regent Whistler, Brown-backed Whistler, Rufous-naped Whistler, Blue-capped Ifrita, Crested Berrypecker, Fan-tailed Berrypecker, Grey-streaked Honeyeater, Red-collared Myzomela, Black-throated Honeyeater, Common Smoky Honeyeater, Belford's Melidectes, Mountain Firetail, Long-tailed Shrike, Crested Bird of Paradise, Brown Sicklebill, Ribbon-tailed Astrapia
Others staying at the lodge also saw Rufous Woodcock and Chestnut Forest-rail & Mountain Owlet-nightjar was heard only.
The Pigetes 'King of Saxony' trail is at 2566 meters. It is 15 minutes down by car and about one hour walk back up the hill to the Kumul Lodge. Despite being only a short distance away, in the same forest as Kumul, a number of different species can be found here that are not at the lodge. Here apparently Ribbon-tailed Astrapia is replaced by Stephanie's Astrapia but I never got to see one close enough to tell. The main reason for coming here is to see the King of Saxony Bird of Paradise. A lot more time in here is spent tree watching than bird watching. But at least one King of Saxony BOP has his territory here.
Birds observed include:
Papuan Lorikeet, Glossy Swiftlet, Grey Gerygone, Buff-faced Scrub-wren, Black Fantail, Dimorphic Fantail, White-winged Robin, Canary Flycatcher, Black-breasted Boatbill, Regent Whistler, Blue-capped Ifrita, Common Smoky Honeyeater, Belford's Melidictes, Loria's Bird of Paradise, King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, Brown Sicklebill
Blue Bird of Paradise Area
At various locations 30-40 Minutes drive down the hill from Kumul Lodge are local villages and roadside forest containing other different species. The most stunning bird found here is the Blue bird of Paradise.
Birds observed include:
Brown Goshawk, Black Kite, Papuan Harrier, Black-billed Cuckoo-dove, Brown Cuckoo-dove, Papuan Lorikeet, Yellow-billed Lorikeet, White-shouldered Fairy-wren, Large Scrub-wren, Island Leaf-warbler, Pied Chat, Little Shrike-thrush, Papuan Flowerpecker, Tit Berrypecker, Streaked Berrypecker, Fan-tailed Berrypecker, New Guinea White-eye, Marbled Honeyeater, Red-collared Myzomela, Blue Bird of Paradise, Superb Bird of Paradise, Singing Starling
Magnificent Bird of Paradise (Heard only) Yellow-breasted Bowerbird (Neither seen or heard)
Varirata National Park
This national park is about 60 minutes drive East from Port Moresby. It is hill forest at about 800 meters altitude and is slightly cooler than Port Moresby. Forest birding here is quite difficult but as usual most of the birds can be seen in the car park. To see some of the best birds however some walking, hard work and great patience is required. Visiting over three or more days is recommended. Species that seemed to be common on some days then vanished the next day never to be seen again and other species suddenly turned up unannounced instead.
The park contains an interesting mix of Casurina type forest, open Eucalypt woodland and rainforest. A different set of open country species can be seen on the entrance road compared to inside the park. Here you are standing on a ridge looking down compared to inside the park where you are craning your neck looking up.
Here the amazing displays seen on the David Attenborough DVD can be easily watched as the Raggianas get busy doing their thing.
Variable Goshawk, Doria's Hawk, Brahminy Kite, Whistling Kite, Pheasant Pigeon, Great Cuckoo-dove, Brown Cuckoo-dove, Wompoo Fruit Dove, Pink-spotted Fruit dove, Superb Fruit-dove, Zoe Imperial Pigeon, Papuan Mountain Pigeon. Western Black-capped Lory, Rainbow Lorikeet, Eclectus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, Blue-collared Parrot, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Buff-faced Pygmy-parrot, White-eared Bronze-cuckoo, Pheasant Coucal, Brown-headed Paradise-kingfisher, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Dollarbird, Marbled Frogmouth, Barred Owlet-nightjar, Large-tailed Nightjar, Glossy Swiftlet, Moustached Tree-swift, Northern Scrub-robin, Boyer's Cuckoo shrike, Yellow-eyed Cuckoo-shrike, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Varied Triller, Brown Oriole, New Guinea Friarbird, Spangled Drongo, Green-backed Gerygone, Fairy Gerygone, Rusty Mouse-warbler, Pale-billed Scrub-wren, Chestnut-bellied Fantail, Frilled Monarch, Spot-winged Monarch, Leaden Flycatcher, White-faced Robin, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Dwarf Whistler, Grey Whistler, Little Shrike-thrush, Rusty Pitohui, Crested Pitohui, Hooded Pitohui (pictured above), Papuan Flowerpecker, Black Myzomela, Green-backed Honeyeater, Streak-headed Honeyeater, White-throated Honeyeater, Dwarf Honeyeater, Mimic Meliphaga, Graceful Meliphaga, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Yellow-faced Myna, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Raggiana Bird of Paradise, Magnificent Riflebird, Crinkle-collared Manucode, Hooded Butcherbird
Other birds heard but never seen:
Black-billed Brush Turkey, Bush Hen, Red-necked Crake, Brush Cuckoo, Painted Quail-thrush, Papuan King Parrot, Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler, Red-bellied Pitta, Glossy-mantled Manucode
Another group also saw Blyth's Hornbill at the lookout.
These mangroves are about two hours drive West from Port Moresby. The approach road goes though savanna and a 40 year old coconut plantation with the tallest coconut palms you have ever seen. A dirt road leads you comfortably through tall mangroves and paths lead you to a long and lonely beach with some waders distributed sparsely on the sand.
Common Scrubfowl, Little Pied Cormorant, Darter, Australian White Ibis, Pied heron, Striated Heron, Intermediate Egret, Great Egret, Eastern Reef-egret, Brahminy Kite, Black Kite, Whistling Kite, Papuan Harrier, Purple Swamphen, Large Sand-plover, Masked Lapwing, Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Grey-tailed Tattler, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Lesser Frigatebird, Brown Booby, Orange-fronted Fruit-dove, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Eclectus Parrot, Rainbow Lorikeet, Red-cheeked Parrot, Brush Cuckoo, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Pheasant Coucal, Collared Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Dollarbird, Pacific Swallow, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Figbird, Grey shrike-thrush, Mangrove Gerygone, Leaden Flycatcher, Mangrove Robin, Silver-eared Honeyeater, Yellow-bellied Sunbird, Dusky Myzomela, New Guinea Friarbird, Brown Oriole, Grey Headed Mannikin, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Singing Starling, Spangled Drongo, Torresian Crow
Birds heard but not seen:
Mangrove Golden Whistler, Shining Flycatcher, Golden-headed Cisticola
The Brown River area is around 40 minutes drive West of Port Moresby. Here the main road passes through good forest on either side and Daniel also has a good open trail alongside a creek where there seemed to be a great number of interesting kingfishers. The road can be birded at first light but then it gets too busy with traffic. King BOP & Twelve-wired BOP occur in this area but you would be extremely lucky to see them here. Birding in this area is arguably better than at Varirata as the habitat is bit more open so the birds can be viewed more easily and a number of interesting lowland species, not found at Varirata are here.
Common Scrubfowl, Great-billed Heron, Rufous Night-heron, Variable Goshawk, Brahminy Kite, Black Kite, Wompoo Fruit Dove, Zoe Imperial Pigeon, Pinon Imperial Pigeon, Rainbow Lorikeet, Eclectus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, Orange-breasted Fig-parrot, Greater Black Coucal, Little Paradise Kingfisher, Common Paradise Kingfisher, Azure Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Kingfisher (heard), Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Dollarbird, Brown Oriole, Emperor Fairy-wren, Green-backed Gerygone, White-bellied Thicket-fantail, Black Thicket-fantail, Northern Fantail, Shining Flycatcher, Rusty Pitohui, Papuan Flowerpecker, Yellow-bellied sunbird, Black Sunbird, Slaty-chinned Longbill, Graceful Meliphaga, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Grey-headed Mannikin, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Spangled Drongo, Metallic Starling, Torresian Crow
June 22 Cairns - Kumul Lodge
'If you want to avoid killing everybody on board, can you please try to comply with airline regulations' said the softly spoken flight attendant to the passenger next to me trying to talk into his mobile phone as our plane came into landing at Port Moresby.
Out of the plane window Australian Pratincoles are seen on the runway, seemingly oblivious to the massive jet passing next to them.
A band is playing pleasant local music as we strolled through the customs area and I pick up my first PNG bird, Singing Starling,nesting in the walkway between the International and National terminals. A Pied Chat, is also in the car park.
If you are ever in transit on the Cairns-Singapore flight you might also see Papuan Harrier
& Grey-headed Mannikins from the transit lounge window.
Next bird at the airport is the House Sparrow. Some time is spent trying to find this bird in Beehler but it does not get a mention, despite being recorded in the country nearly 10 years before its publication. Presumably Mr Beehler did not want to spoil his fantastical book of near mythical creatures by the inclusion of this small imposter.
On arrival at Mt Hagen airport I am very pleased to be met by Kim Arut from Kumul Lodge. There is some jostling for position to get out of the airport door and we are on our way in the minibus. I am pleased to find another Australian couple, who work in the Madang hospital, are also with me. Robert tells me that the birding is so good in PNG that he moved to live here.
The drive to the lodge is uneventful and we arrive at last light to see an unexpected Black-mantled Goshawk, sitting on the bird table.
Night falls quickly and the forest is alive with all sorts of strange new calls. A kerosene heater is installed in my cosy hut and it is hard to sleep with all the excitement of what interesting creatures might be lurking outside.
June 23 Kumul Lodge
Up at first light and a White-winged Robin is flitting about in the gloom outside my hut. Mist swirls all around and it is very dark and hard to see anything at all. A Common Smoky Honeyeater and Rufous-naped Whistler materialize out of the forest. I have a look down at the bird table and am greeted by the sight of a stunning Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, followed rapidly by an even more stunning Brown Sicklebill. The machine gun call of the male birds here has to be heard to be believed.
The Common Smoky Honeyeaters
are whizzing around here, their face patches changing from yellow to red in excitement. Birds come and go all day at this table as the kitchen staff leave out pineapple and papaya. A female Crested BOP feeds on fruits in the tree behind the table but no male was seen here
Max, the guide appears and takes us on a short walk down the hill and shows us the dazzling male Crested BOP in a different fruiting tree.
A great day is spent alternately wandering the trails or sitting drinking tea watching the bird table. Brehm's Tiger Parrots come into feed later on and a small marsupial (Dasyurid?) also spends much time on the table digging in the earth for worms and ignoring the fruit on offer.
June 24 Kumul Lodge, Pigetes area
Next morning we take a brief trip down the hill in the bus to the Pigetes trail. Birding down here is much harder. The strategy is to move along slowly and spend a lot of time waiting to see what might come past, which is not very much most of the time.
We catch glimpses of a Loria's BOP early on and then hear the strange call of the King of Saxony BOP which sounds like someone electrocuting themselves with a radio.
We find Grey Gerygones, Buff-faced Scrub-wrens and Black Fantails down here which we never saw up at the lodge. We get good views of the female King of Saxony's and finally find the male of the territory sitting out in the open on a bare tree stump. This individual is missing his spectacular head plumes. I wonder if he is a young bird or perhaps someone has taken his plumes to make a head dress.
I am pleased to see a pair of Black-breasted Boatbills but they don't stay out much spending most of the time skulking in the ferns. There are wild Brown Sicklebills here and we see some Astrapia's in the distance that are thought to be Stephanie's Astrapia.
We stroll back up the road to the lodge, mainly through grassland. Birds are thin on the ground here but include Pied Chat, Black Kite, Tawny Grassbird & Long-tailed Shrike. I am surprised to see a pair of Brahminy Kites up at this altitude.
June 25 Blue BOP Area
Robert Mckay and Brenda set off early today on a 3 day expedition to the top of Mount Hagen itself, 3727 metres. Tree Kangaroos are up there and they are hoping to find some higher altitude species like Alpine Pipit and Long-bearded Melidectes. Some weeks later I hear from Robert who writes this about his trip up the mountain.
"Brenda and I really enjoyed our hike up to Mount Hagen from Kumul Lodge. It wasn't too strenuous after all and the cave where we slept was a really cozy place to spend a couple of nights. We managed to find all of our target birds the Long Bearded Melidectes. Alpine Pipits were common above the treeline. We found one Sooty Melidectes near the cave and had good views. We saw Alpine Robins a few times near the cave. And Mountain Thornbills seemed common just below the treeline. We did see a bird that I think was probably a Long Bearded Melidectes but it was pouring with rain at the time and we only had a very brief view. It was a great trip."
A group from Birdquest, led by Nik Borrow has arrived at the lodge. To get a very good trip to New Guinea you could do a lot worse than sign up for one his tours.
Nik Borrow 2009 PNG
Nik was very good. He had been out in the field guiding (mainly in West Africa) for 7 months without a day off and was clearly rather tired. You can measure his degree of commitment by the fact that he was the only one out in the middle of the night trying to find Owlet-nightjars when all of his paying guests had gone to bed.
Today they are visiting areas further down the hill and very kindly have space for me on their bus. Early morning finds us watching a patch of forest on a hill up from the road. Papuan Flowerpeckers, New Guinea White-eyes and Island Leaf-warblers are chattering in the bushes. Brown-cuckoo Doves fly out of the forest.
There is great excitement as a Superb BOP appears on the edge of the forest. Good telescope views are enjoyed by all until even more excitement is generated when our main target, the spectacular Blue Bird of Paradise, appears. He flies around in a few small trees and eventually sits very obligingly out in the open for all to see. Good digiscope images are obtained until he disappears back in the forest. As with most New Guinea birds the Blue BOP colours are far more impressive in real life than can be shown in a book and he must be the bird of the day if not bird of the trip.
We drive back up the hill and Nik announces that we are going to stop and look at a tree to see if we can find some Tit Berrypeckers. The bus stops, we all get out, look at the tree, and there are the Tit Berrypeckers, happily pecking berries right in front of us. If only all birding were this easy, but then it wouldn't be so much of a fun challenge.
Some time is spent beside to road here which has many birds circulating including Little Shrike-thrush, Fan-tailed Berrypecker, Red-collared Myzomela and Marbled Honeyeater. A pair of very low key Streaked Berrypeckers almost sneak past without being noticed.
We stop in another village to look at a Brown Goshawk on the wire beside a bridge. Nik Borrow is very popular amongst the villagers here and some of them bring out their copies of 'The Birds of West Africa' for signing.
After lunch back at the lodge we are back down the hill at a Magnificent BOP site. We spend quite some time standing in pig mud, listening to the bird calling invisibly from first one bush, then another, then back at the first bush again. After this we keep ourselves entertained for the rest of the evening by not hearing or seeing any Yellow-breasted Bowerbirds.
Some of the evening is spent not seeing any Mountain Nightjars or Mountain Owlet-nightjars. "The Owlet-nightjars are always here sitting on the fence between the cabins and the restaurant"
Late at night Nik does hear the Owlet-nightjar. It is good to know they are still around.
June 26 Kumul Lodge
To recover from all the excitement, today I spend a quiet day strolling the trails around the lodge and enjoying spending more time watching the animals here. The only new birds seen today are the Black-throated Honeyeater, which had been here calling all along and a Fan-tailed Cuckoo which was also calling and considering whether it was time to migrate. I wonder if it is the same individual sitting outside the window as I type this now in September.
June 27 Kumul Lodge-Port Moresby-Cairns
The only potential setback of the trip occurs on the bus drive to the airport this morning. The villagers here are very enterprising. They have repaired the big holes in the road themselves and are blockading all traffic. Only payment of a small fee will get us through. After some negotiation the fee is settled and we are on our way.
At Mount Hagen Airport a Papuan Harrier is patrolling the runway and Australasian Pipit is on the tarmac.
Daniel Wakra meets me off the plane and we are off to spend a pleasant afternoon at the Pacific Adventists University (PAU). In this open landscape of lawn and ponds new species for the trip come thick and fast. Most of these can also be seen in Australia but some are much easier to see here. I am very pleased to see a Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, above his bower, as the first species here. Years back I had spent some days at the Iron Range NP on the Cape York Peninsula in Australia, trying to find these birds. Now here they are everywhere.
The ponds contain good numbers of ducks and other waterbirds. But the famous duck occurring here is the Spotted Whistling Duck, a vagrant that is rumoured to be establishing itself in Australia. But none of these ducks are here today.
In some fields out the back we find, amongst the Purple Swamphens trying to roost, a Green-backed Gerygone. This is also an 'Australian' bird that I have never seen back home so is a welcome sighting. Its call is so rapid it sounds like someone has dropped some speed in its food supply.
Daniel points out the Papuan Frogmouth roost and we see some Brown Orioles. The Helmeted Friarbirds here sound very different to the ones back home and I understand they are now referred to as New Guinea Friarbirds.
The last PNG bird of the trip is located, the Yellow-faced Myna, by his strange call.
All is very good and three hours later I am back home in Cairns, as if nothing had ever happened.
September 8 Cairns-Port Moresby
Coming into land this time only one Australian Pratincole is on the runway. I am whisked away to the Hideaway hotel where two Yellow-faced Mynas and ten White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes (a species not seen at all in June) were sitting in a tree.
I take the Scarlet taxi to the PAU and wander up to the Fawn-breasted Bowerbird bower again. They are still there in the mango tree which explodes in all directions with Red-cheeked Parrots going everywhere (another species not seen at all in June).
I enjoy watching the parrots by myself for about 10 minutes when another bus load of bird watchers arrive. They are led by Mike Tarburton, who used to work at the University, but is now back in Australia. He is back here visiting for a couple of weeks and is very interesting to talk to. Have a look at his website Birds of Melanesia which gives lots of good information about South Pacific islands.
A few other different birds are here today which were not here last time. The most interesting of these is the Orange-fronted Fruit-dove. An Eclectus Parrot flyover is a surprise and I finish the afternoon by trying my luck at the Spotted-whistling Duck ponds. The long grass around the ponds has been burnt off since I was last here but amazingly there are 30 ducks here sitting in the trees. They are very nervous and all take to the air before I get very close, but they come back again. Some of them go onto the pond but don't like it there much and all prefer to sit in the trees in an unducklike fashion.
September 9 Variriata
Daniel Wakra picks me up at 05.00 and we are up at the National Park at first light. The car park is alive with activity. A Zoe Imperial Pigeon takes off above us, a Moustached Tree-swift races about above the canopy. The trees are bristling with action. Rusty Pitohuis, Hooded Pitohuis (dripping with poison), Frilled Monarchs and Wompoo Fruit Doves are all jostling for position. Yellow-billed Kingfishers call from all over, one perching happily for his photographic portrait. We even see our first birds of paradise already, both male and female Raggiana's coming in to see what we are doing. During the week their call is to become one of the most common sounds in the park.
The feeding flock is joined by Streak-headed Honeyeater, Black Cuckoo-shrike and Mimic Meliphaga. I am attempting to identify Green-backed Honeyeaters and Dwarf Honeyeaters in the lower canopy when Daniel hears an unusual call.
'Let's go' and we plunge off into the forest then sit silently beside a trail as Daniel copies the haunting whistle coming from the undergrowth. After a long and nervous wait the owner of the call gets slowly closer and finally we see a large bird dash across the path. It is a Pheasant Pigeon one of the many 'difficult birds' of the park. This is the first one Daniel has seen for 3 years.
Back in the car park again Pink-spotted Fruit-doves are nesting in a fig beside the lunch shelter. September could be a good month to come here as everything is breeding and nesting. We see nesting Frilled Monarchs, Wompoo Fruit-doves, Little Shrike-thrushes, Variable Goshawks and a Doria's Hawk.
Still in the car park are a pair of roosting Marbled Frogmouths. These are very hard birds to see in Australia and probably PNG as well. The other star nightbird of the park is the very cute Barred Owlet-nightjar who peeps at us from the safety of his nest hole high in a tree beside the car park.
Up at the lookout we admire the view but not much is happening as the heat of the day moves in. There are a few Sulphur-crested Cockatoos moving about far below and we can also hear more Raggianas down there.
During the day we wander around on some of the roads and go down one trail where we can hear the frightening call of the Eastern (Growling) Riflebird. It sounds like some sort of a monster up in the canopy. This species is extremely sensitive to humans and is as hard to actually see as it is easy to hear. We give up on him for now to try another day.
Late afternoon we return to PAU and meet Daniel's other customer for the week, culinary photographer extraordinaire Ken Field. It is quite a coincidence to have two different photographers travelling in PNG independently birdwatching together.
We look around the PAU for the afternoon again and bump into yet another tour bus of birdwatchers.
Most of the people on these birding trips in PNG are from the UK with a few from North America and Europe. Virtually no people from Australia seem to visit. I find this amazing as PNG is so close and contains a great range of birds that do occur in Australia but can be seen far more easily here.
Anyone from Australia considering a trip to the Iron Range in Cape York, should really think hard about whether their time would be much better spent coming to PNG where the same species plus much more can be seen.
September 10 Varirata
After another early start we are back in Varirata. Today we see a different set of birds. Yellow-billed Kingfishers are calling but we don't see any despite seeing ten yesterday. But in a couple of locations we do get to see the Brown-headed Paradise-kingfisher, which we missed the day before.
We visit the Raggiana BOP display site and are treated to their dazzling displays at close range.
To make life more of a challenge we set off very slowly round the circuit track taking 4 hours to cover the 2-3 km. Birding is hard work in here but we do see lots of trees. Occasionally a feeding flock comes by to keep us busy. One contains Dwarf Whistler, Little Shrike-thrush, White-eared Cuckoo, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Chestnut-bellied Fantail and Yellow-breasted Boatbill.
Along the same track for some reason we manage to easily spot the Buff-faced Pygmy-parrot. It is fun watching the parrot and a Fairy Gerygone in the same binocular view. The gerygone is bigger than the parrot. This is the world's smallest parrot.
With much whistling we manage to call in a Northern Scrub Robin, another skulker. But the Painted Quail Thrush, Black-billed Brush-turkey, Red-bellied Pitta and Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler we hear on this track will all have to wait another day.
After spending more time listening to the Eastern Riflebird and not seeing him Daniel takes us down another track near the entrance. Down here he has found the nest of a Doria's Hawk. After admiring the huge nest for a while the bird comes out and flies off over our heads. It seems a somewhat small bird compared to its construction.
On this same track is another Eastern Riflebird area so we spend a fair bit more time looking at the trees and listening to him growling up above.
We stop on the entrance road on the way home and are treated to a stunning Eclectus Parrot flyby by a male that was positively fluorescent green in the evening sun.
September 11 Hisui Mangroves
Only two mammal species are seen on my second trip, an Agile Wallaby at Varirata and the Bandicoot that we run over on the way to the Hisui mangroves. Daniel wants to stop but I tell him I am pretty sure we finished it off, not realizing that he doesn't want to go back to see if it is alright, but to see if it is in a fit condition to take home and put in the pot.Bandicoots are good eating but Common Scrubfowl and Black-billed Brush-turkey taste terrible so we see the Fowl and hear the Turkey on our travels about the Port Moresby lowlands but don't see any more Bandicoots.
We arrive at the mangroves and cover ourselves head to toe in repellant only to be disappointed that there are no mosquitos here. Mangrove Golden Whistler occurs in the mangroves and we hear one as soon as we get out of the car. I once spent a whole day walking mangroves (containing real mosquitos) and in a boat at Kurumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria failing to see or hear a Mangrove Golden Whistler so was very interested to see them here instead.
We never heard another peep out of the whistler.
In the mangroves we have good views of Mangrove Gerygone, Mangrove Robin and Mangrove Kingfisher. Obviously we have come to the right place for these birds.
Beside the mangroves are Orange-fronted Fruit-doves, Pheasant Coucals, and Leaden Flycatchers. Yet more Eclectus Parrots fly by. Down at the very long and lonely beach, from which sunbathers are totally absent, a few waders are widely dispersed. These include Greenshank, Curlew, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper and Great Sand-plover.
A couple of Lesser Frigatebirds soar high up and we eventually decide that a large bird shearing the waves in the far distance could be a Brown Booby.
Driving back out we clear past the coconut plantation with not much to report apart from the strange sight of a Little Pied Cormorant perched way up high on top of a stump of a dead coconut palm.
We stop on the savannah to view a Silver-eared Honeyeater and a pair of Papuan Harriers buzz a nearby marsh sending egrets and swamphens in all directions.
The original plan is for our assistant driver, Lucas to take Ken on to the airport to go on to the Goroka festival, and I stay with Daniel back at Brown River and wait for Lucas to come back. We stop at an unpromising location and it is hot and unappealing. So I decide to go back with them and have one more go at the Riflebird. Straight after deciding this we hear Rufous-bellied Kookaburras beside where there car is parked. There are actually three calling and we are soon photographing them.
Daniel says there might be more kingfishers in the area but it is the wrong time of day. We walk through the bushes for one minute before we encounter a Common Paradise-kingfisher. Little was I to know that tomorrow this would be one of the best locations I was to visit.
Lucas drives us back and police at a checkpoint are highly unimpressed that Lucas does not have his driving licence with him. After some discussion no money changes hands but Daniel takes over the driving. Lucky we changed our plan or we could all have been stuck here.
Late afternoon saw us back at a different Eastern Riflebird site back at Varirata. So at our 4th attempt I finally set eyes on this magnificent bird. Now I can go home happy.
On the way back out the entrance road we stop to watch Western Black-capped Lories feeding and watch a Variable Goshawk nest, to see one returning with a baby bird as food.
September 12 Brown River
My last day starts back at the same site I thought was so uninspiring yesterday. I ask Lucas if he has remembered his driving licence today and he just smiles at me unconvincingly.
Common Paradise Kingfishers are calling everywhere. We find Emporer Fairy-wrens then crash through the bushes looking for the kingfishers, instead seeing Black Thicket-fantails and White-bellied Thicket Fantails. It is quite hard to see the kingfishers. But eventually one appears, then another, then another and I have three sitting in the tree 3 metres above my head. Luckily I have left my camera back in the car not expecting to see much here.
Minutes later we see yet more kingfishers and then one with blue tail feathers. This is a Little Paradise Kingfisher. It is virtually identical to the Common Paradise Kingfisher. How two virtually identical birds can live side by side in the same environment is an interesting question.
We walk further down a creek and through a small abandoned village, abandoned no doubt due to all the enthusiastic mosquitos living in here. Around the village are Common Scrubfowl, Pinon Imperial Pigeon and Slaty-chinned Longbill.
There are more kingfishers here. We see the Rufous-bellied Kookaburras again, there is a Blue-winged Kookaburra flyby, Azure Kingfisher on the river and Yellow-billed Kingfishers calling from the bushes.
Daniel calls out a Black Monarch from some scrub but in fact it is a nice male Shining Flycatcher that emerges. We see a female Eclectus Parrot perched up high and watch another fruiting tree. This one has more Red-cheeked Parrots in and some very cute Orange-fronted Fig Parrots.
There are Spangled Drongos here but I lack the skill to detemine whether they are Australian Spangled Drongos or Papuan Spangled Drongos. If Australian Drongos migrate to PNG does this mean that some of the Drongos seen in Australia might also be Papuan Spangled Drongos?
We pass another Wompoo Fruit-dove on the nest at close range. I am definitely glad I left the camera in the car. Then there are more strange noises coming from down by the creek I crash through the bushes inelegantly and birds go in all directions, a Rufous Night-heron goes left, a Great-billed Heron of all things goes right and two Great Black Coucals go straight up!
Beside the creek we also watch a Torresian Crow which is eating a Cane Toad. I didn't realize that Cane Toads were in PNG as well. The crow was eating the legs and belly of the toad and leaving the toxic back. How does it know how to do this? Is it an Australian bird that has learnt the habit from other crows down there or have the New Guinea population learnt the same trick independently?
Daniel said that the toads were introduced by the Japanese during world war II as a food source. They were dropped from the air to starving soldiers. They must have been starving to want to eat Cane Toads!
Back at the car, some villagers are chatting to Lucas. We show them our copy of Beehler and they point to the King Bird of Paradise. Yes, they caught one just last week, but let it go again. They also recognize the Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise so both these gems must also be in the area. Daniel asks them to try and find a display site and gets one of their mobile phone numbers. This would be reason enough for a return expedition.
Back at Port Moresby Airport the Australian Pratincole is still hunkered down beside the plane as we set off down the runway.
No responsibility is taken for the accuracy or truth of any observation or story contained within this report!
Cairns, Australia . September 2008
p: PO Box 208, Bungalow, QLD 4870
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