For another trip to the magical land of magical wildlife, this interesting solo visit comprised an afternoon at the Pacific Adventists University near Port Moresby, a whole day at Varirata National Park, a morning at Brown River and 4 days at Tari in the Southern Highlands. Overall 176 species were observed.
You have to pay K100 (A$50 on arrival to get your PNG visa). Make sure your passport has at least 6 months to run otherwise the Qantas check in desk in Australia will not let you on the plane. Don't be fooled into thinking that your 10 year passport lasts ten years. It actually only lasts nine and a half years.
At the time of writing this report 1 Australian $ = 2.2 PNG kina
I changed cash safely at the Moresby airport office beside the baggage collection conveyor.
Upon arrival at Port Moresby airport it is a good idea to visit the Digicel desk and buy a mobile phone. This only costs about 50 kina and you should buy another 30-40 kina worth of calls. That way you can ring back to your home country to and amaze your family and friends that you are still alive after having spent half an hour in New Guinea.
It's also very handy for staying in touch with your guide, taxi etc and in case of emergency should your guide inadvertently loose his phone
They didn't reply to my email booking but seemed to know about me when I got there. It is a fairly large hotel and unlikely to be full.
Cost K305/night for a twin bed room, plus about A$20 for dinner etc. Breakfast is free but you won't be there to eat it. 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. The buses from other hotels sometimes drop you off there as well.
This is Steven Wari's phone number, which does work, but I never ever managed to get through. You could try sending him a text message which might be more reliable. Instead it is good to write a letter, perhaps a good 4-6 weeks before you come. Don't expect a reply but he should pick you up from the airport. It is too expensive for Steven to use the internet so don't expect a rapid/any response from an email.
Warili Lodge is around 10km from the airport. It is 1km down the road from Ambua, but not in the forest. The lodge is basic but with comfortable beds, good food and Steven is a friendly host and will do all he can for you during your stay. They don't have their own vehicle but will organize one, but you take your chances with its reliability and punctuality!
Here I again used the services of Daniel Wakra, perhaps the best local bird guide in PNG. Daniel can also organize birding in the rest of the country.
Daniel is originally from the Mt Hagen area and is a very jovial character with a long beard. 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 enjoyable 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 . I did get a lie on the visit to Brown River which only needs a 05.30 start.
Peter was the guide at Warili lodge. He said he was only learning but he was actually pretty good at recognizing calls and certainly knew some good spots to visit. He was quiet and pleasant and had that slightly worried look you would expect from anyone whose job was to act as a bird guide around Tari. He is multi-skilled and also acted as the good chef at the lodge. Cost K150/day
Health & Safety
No severe problems were encountered but you don't really want to walk around anywhere much in PNG without a local guide. Definitely do not leave the road without a guide. All property, even if it appears to be a deserted patch of forest or scrub, is owned by someone. They treat strangers walking around it much the same as you would treat strangers walking around your garden. Land rights are the source of a great deal of argument and violence in PNG. The local guide will know who owns the land and who is happy for you to walk onto it.
It is safe to walk around the Pacific Adventists University grounds. Varirata is probably ok as well.
Last time 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 taken this time. See below for the outcome.
It was very dry around Port Moresby, which was a blessing at Brown River as there were not too many mosquitos this time. However I did get a mild attack of chiggers at Tari.
The university is approx 20 minutes by car from the airport. A scarlet taxi costs K50 each way. You must fill out a form and pay K10 at the gate. 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 with acclimatized birds might be your first introduction to birding in PNG and is nothing like anywhere else in the country. It is an easy start to the trip and the birding only gets more difficult from here on in.
Birds observed: Australian Grebe, Little Black Cormorant, Little Pied Cormorant, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Eastern Cattle Egret, Pied Heron, Black Bittern, Pacific Black Duck, Wandering Whistling Duck, Plumed Whistling-Duck, Spotted Whistling-Duck, Grey Teal, Brahminy Kite, Dusky Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Comb-crested Jacana, Masked Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover, Snipe sp., Peaceful Dove, Bar-shouldered Dove, Orange-fronted Fruit-Dove, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Coconut Lorikeet, Red-cheeked Parrot, Common Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Pacific Swallow, White-breasted Woodswallow, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Grey Shrike-thrush, Willie Wagtail, White-shouldered Fairy-wren, New Guinea Friarbird, Rufous-banded Honeyeater, Dusky Myzomela, Green Figbird, Black-backed Butcherbird, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Grey-headed Mannikin, Yellow-faced Myna, Torresian Crow.
Varirata National Park lies about 40 minutes drive East of the airport. Situated at around 600-800m it is slightly cooler and wetter than Port Moresby. It also appears to hold a completely different set of species to that at Brown River, just to the West of the city. It always seems deserted of people, which is excellent. Birding is good around the main picnic area and to try for more skulking species it is necessary to try out some of the extensive series of trails about the park. In the early morning the road was locked with a chain across it but Daniel was able to wake up the ranger and get him to let us in.
This time we went to a different area to my last two visits. Apparently the Dorumoko Village area is no longer accessible. This is due to jealousy over payments by birders for access. The payments are presumably not distributed in a way considered fair by some. The result is no one can visit now. Areas being closed off to birders due to payment arguments seems to be very common in PNG. I have heard similar stories in Tabubil, Wasu and also experienced the same in Tari.
So instead we visited a new location, 20 minutes drive West from Pt. Moresby, behind a small banana plantation to the North of the road. This uninspiring looking patch of secondary forest was found to be surprisingly good for interesting bird species. In particular we had very good views of a King Bird of Paradise. Daniel thought this might be the first time this bird had been seen, by an overseas visitor, this close to Port Moresby for many years.
The lodge likes to get you to Tari airport quite early as Air Niugini sometimes has a first in-first served policy of assigning seats, regardless of whether you have a pre-booked ticket. We arrived at 08.30 for the 11.15 flight which left at 12.30.
Birds observed: Brahminy Kite, Little Curlew, Great Wood-swallow, Yellow-browed Melidictes, Pacific Swallow, Yellow Wagtail, Pied Chat, Hooded Mannikin
For a good map of the area and more details see the report by
Tari was once considered one of the classic top birding destinations of the world. It even features in 'Fifty places to Go Birding before you die' by Chris Santella. I would suggest a 'Last chance to see' type publication might be more appropriate.
A good number of the birds at Tari can also be seen more easily around Kumul Lodge near Mt Hagen. However there are still a few, in particular the Black Sicklebill & Lawe's Parotia, along with perhaps 20 other small forest bird species that are not esily accessible at Kumul Lodge and vice versa. Until a better highland location is made accessible in New Guinea, of which there must be hundreds, a visit has to be made to Tari.
It is famous for being one of the few areas in New Guinea, (or perhaps the world now?), where people still go round in traditional dress. This is not the case for most people but there are still a lot who look delightful with various accessories including grass skirts, wigs, painted faces, moss headgear, stick through the nose and birds of paradise feathers in the hair.
The Tari area is changing fast. South of the town, the country's largest industrial project, the LNG pipeline project is progressing. There are vast gas fields here and a pipeline is about to be constructed down to the coast and perhaps through the Torres Strait to Australia. It is estimated this project might more than double the GDP of New Guinea.
However this industrial area is well away from the traditional birding spots, but other projects are also under development. It is planned to pave the road as far as Ambua. This may not be too bad, but above Ambua the road is being widened and the drainage improved. Essentially the forest has been smashed back for 30m on either side of the road up to nearly the Bailey Bridge. Giant digging machines are carving up the road side. There is mud everywhere and when it rains the place look like hell on earth. The small quarry near the Bailey Bridge, where Mountain Nightjar has been reported in the past now looks more like the Ok Tedi mine.
Even this in itself is not that bad. After the road construction has finished the vegetation will come back. But there is worse still. Just like every other road passing through forest in a developing country there can only be one outcome. Wood is the only local construction and cooking/heating fuel material. Small scale operators with mobile saw mills have moved in to the forest. Planks are for sale beside the road and there is a constant stream of people and vehicles carrying trees and logs down the hill.
The once famous 'Benson's trail' was closed with cutting activities right next to it. Once the trees have gone, the land is cleared for sweet potato gardens. This is the staple food for the Huli people who inhabit this land.
Coupled with this, despite being lovely friendly people, the Papuans seem to have a natural instinct from birth to try and kill any living thing. This is partly for food and I think partly for entertainment. You often see people carrying slingshots. Two small boys were very helpful in pointing out a Stephanie's Astrapia feeding beside the road to me, but needed to be actively prevented from trying to hit the poor animal with rocks afterwards!
Whilst it may be unfair, as a rich Westerner, to pass judgment upon people who I have heard recently described as being 'logarithmically worse off' than ourselves, it is a sad situation. I would estimate that within ten years most of the great forest above Ambua will have been converted into sweet potato plots.
Looking on the bright side, even this is not too bad! When you fly out from Tari, down to the coast via Kikori, once you have passed over the Tari agricultural area, the view is almost unbroken rain forest for 200km all the way to the coast. Hopefully the human impact around Tari is a drop in the ocean compared to the vast natural resources remaining in PNG.
Despite this a very good number of world class birds can be seen moderately easily around Tari. A particular highlight was watching a tree in a local garden below the lodge with Black Sicklebill, Blue Bird of Paradise and Stephanie's Astrapia all feeding together. Even right beside the roadworks above Ambua I enjoyed watched a Short-tailed Paradigalla feeding just10m away
Birds observed over the wider Tari area:
Brown Quail, Salvadori's Teal, Brahminy Kite, Little Curlew, Great Cuckoo-Dove, White-breasted Fruit-Dove, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Coconut Lorikeet, Papuan Lorikeet, Yellow-billed Lorikeet, Brehm's Tiger-parrot, Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo, Rufous-throated Bronze-cuckoo, Mountain Swiftlet, Glossy Swiftlet, Great Wood-swallow, Pacific Swallow, Island Thrush, Lesser Melampitta, Hooded Cuckoo-shrike, Stout-billed Cuckoo-shrike, White-shouldered Fairy-wren, Papuan Grassbird, Brown-breasted Gerygone, Large Scrub-wren, Buff-faced Scrub-wren, Mountain Mouse-warbler, Black Fantail, Friendly Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Black Monarch, Pied Chat, Blue-grey Robin, White-winged Robin, Canary Flycatcher, Black-breasted Boatbill, Garnet Robin, Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Sclater's Whistler, Regent Whistler, Rusty-naped whistler, Wattled Ploughbill, Blue-capped Ifrita, Papuan Flowerpecker, Crested Berrypecker, Tit Berrypecker, Mid-mountain Berrypecker, New Guinea White-eye, Rufous-backed honeyeater, Grey-streaked Honeyeater, Black-throated Honeyeater, Red-collared Myzomela, Common Smoky Honeyeater, Belford's Melidictes, Yellow-browed Melidictes, Hooded Mannikin, Blue-faced Parrot-Finch, Long-tailed Shrike, Macgregor's Bowerbird, Loria's Bird of Paradise, Blue Bird of Paradise, Black Sicklebill, Brown Sicklebill (heard only), Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, Stephanie's Astrapia, Lawe's Parotia, King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, Superb Bird of Paradise, Short-tailed Paradigalla, Torrent Lark, Black Butcherbird.
11th October, 2009
Arrived mid afternoon and checked in to the Hideaway Hotel. Port Moresby looked very dry & windy. Headed out to the Pacific Adventist University and enjoyed the usual stroll round the grounds.
The Fawn-breasted Bowerbird under the mango tree in the NE corner of the grounds had constructed a smart new bower, only a few meters away from the old one and decorated it nicely with green fruit
The usual birds were present including about 25 Spotted Whistling-Ducks in the far pond. Also present was one Plumed Whistling-duck, perhaps the same individual that was here back in June. A few waders were around including Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper & Pacific Golden Plover. I flushed one Snipe sp. which flew in a moderately straight line across to the other side of the lake. Unfortunately I didn't have time to grab it and count its tails feathers. The sooner that taxonomists get around to proving that all snipe are in fact the same species and saving everyone a lot of headaches, the better. They have done such a good job combining Little-bronze & Gould's Bronze Cuckoos into one species recently but more work of this kind is needed.
Also interesting was a Black Bittern in the same pond as a Common Kingfisher out the back of the University.
Good numbers of a new bird, the Coconut Lorikeet, were present at the PAU. This charming name is a new one from the IOC (International Ornithological Congress, not to be confused with the International Olympic Committee who rarely make changes to bird names) for the Rainbow Lorikeets in New Guinea. They do look quite different to the Australian birds with smart black stripes on the breast. (Rainbow Lorikeets may still be present in some areas).
IOC Website A>HREF="http://www.worldbirdnames.org/">http://www.worldbirdnames.org/
Other new names included in this report include New Guinea Friarbird (was Helmeted Friarbird) and Papuan Grassbird is the name given to the higher altitude sightings of Tawny Grassbird.But I can't bring myself to demote Loria's bird of Paradise to Loria's Satinbird just yet.
12th October, 2009
Daniel Wakra turned up at 05.00 and we headed out to Varirata. There was a chain over the entrance and Daniel rang the ranger to wake him up and let us in. The rare & elusive Forest Bittern had been spotted the previous week and we spent the best part of the morning confirming that this Bittern is indeed rare and elusive.
In the picnic area the first sighting was of a Yellow-billed Kingfisher which was sitting on exactly the same branch as a Yellow-billed Kingfisher I had photographed last year. So I took another photo. Most likely it was the exact same bird. Not far from where I had photographed Marbled Frogmouths last year, a Papuan Frogmouth (grey phase) was sitting on a young chick so this was duly photographed as well. Next we walked into the forest and the first sighting was a Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher sitting on the exact same trail as where I had photographed one last year. So I took another photo. Most likely it was the exact same bird.
By now the visit was starting to become very repetitive and I was keen to see something new. Luckily this happened shortly after when we came across a lovely pair of Papuan King Parrots feeding on the ground. The trail was quite busy with a number of mixed flocks of honeyeaters/whistlers/monarchs/berrypeckers/gerygones etc coming through.
One bird I had heard but never set eyes on was the Black-billed Brush-turkey. I believe this is actually moderately common and certainly its raucous call is heard often enough. But it appears to be extremely shy and is rarely actually seen by anyone. I was keen to try and find one.
We walked up a hill to where a lot of noise was coming from and came cross one huge fresh nest mound at the top of a ridge. This seemed the perfect spot. All we had to do was wait and they would surely come past. We decided to give it two hours and sat down under a shady tree to wait quietly.
Awaking from a nice sleep one and a half hours later it was unclear whether or not the turkeys had been back to the mound. The only wildlife encounter was that a large leech had found Daniel's leg, despite the dry conditions. After another half hour, not that many turkeys had turned up and we abandoned this idea.
Further down the creek trail, we flushed a remarkable small brown frogmouth which then landed and looked at us posing not 15m away. This beautiful rufous bird looked absolutely nothing like the large grey frogmouth we had just seen earlier that day back in the picnic area. Daniel had never seen one before so it had to be a new species for science 'Wakra's Frogmouth'. Unfortunately, reading the field guide it became apparent that there is in fact a rufous phase of the Marbled Frogmouth so our chances of a famous scientific discovery were diminished.
More time was spent walking the trail by the creek. We found a baby Wompoo in a nest and also Little Shrike-thrush and Chestnut-bellied Fantail on a nest. Then by a miracle we glimpsed one Black-billed Brush-Turkey crossing this creek.
The afternoons are always much quieter in New Guinea but are still worth investigating. We tried the trail beside the Lookout picnic area. As soon as we entered the trail we had to run back out again as three Gurney's Eagles flew very low over our heads. Looking out from the lookout we could watch one being attacked by a relatively diminutive bird, a Brahminy Kite.
Back on to the trail again and the best sighting here was a very close range and moderately tame Red-bellied Pitta, a fantastic sighting anywhere.
13th October, 2009
Daniel turned up at 05.30 and we headed out to Brown River. We left the car beside the main road and headed into a patch of small trees behind a banana plantation on the North side of the road. Although it didn't look like much to write home about there were actually a surprising number of good birds in here. We heard a Cinnamon Ground-Dove calling and spent quite some time trying to find it. A Cinnamon coloured bird that shot past at great speed to an area from where Cinnamon Ground-Dove calls later came from might have been this species.
Common Paradise-Kingfishers are amazingly common here and at one point we would have been surrounded by five all calling. Also in here calling loudly were the Black-billed Brush-Turkeys again so I was excited about the possibility of another look. I reported Little Paradise Kingfishers here last year but this was perhaps an error as the Common Paradise Kingfishers here have blue outer tail feathers.
Kingfishers in general are very numerous here. Ignoring the Blue-winged & Rufous-belled Kookaburras, at one point we were also surrounded by Common Paradise, Yellow-billed and Hook-billed Kingfishers all calling at once. The Hook-billed Kingfisher was very close in a thicket so we sat down quietly to see if he would come out. Mercifully there were not too many mosquitos present due to the dry conditions. Sitting quietly is usually the best way in New Guinea and after a while we had Rusty Pitohui, Shining Flycatcher, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Northern Fantail and Orange-breasted Fig-Parrot passing by.
Sitting particularly quietly we even managed another look at a Black-billed Brush-Turkey thus making history as the first people ever to actually see one on two consecutive days, perhaps. Our wait got better still as a pair of Blue Jewel-babblers crossed a small trail beside us. Then I don't know who was more surprised when a stunning male King Bird of Paradise came in to feed right in front of us. Always expect the unexpected in New Guinea as this was not a bird I had even faintly considered we might see here.
Daniel thought this might be the first time one has been seen by a visiting birder, this close to Port Moresby for 30 years. However Andy Anderson reports hearing them at the 'King BOP tree' at Brown River in 1996. Also the undated King BOP photo in Coates, was taken at Brown River.
We thought that was enough, but the day was to hold yet more excitement. Upon returning to his car we found that someone had unfortunately gone off with the stereo, mobile phones and car battery. Although they did leave Daniel's laptop, sound recording equipment and Guide to the Birds of the Philippines in the boot. This was a bit of a setback. We were left standing somewhat helplessly beside a long straight deserted road with no one in sight and no means of movement or communication. We couldn't really leave the car as additional components might go missing.
Luckily shortly afterwards a friendly vehicle did come past. We flagged it down and the owner very kindly gave me a lift back to the hotel, leaving Daniel to sort out the mess. On the face of it, this seemed a desperate situation
But things in New Guinea are not always what they seem. I was particularly surprised when Daniel turned up back at the hotel in his car a few hours later, complete with battery, mobile phones and stereo!
The story was this. Daniel is from Mt Hagen and in New Guinea folk from the same tribe stick together and look after each other. Daniel sent word with a passing bus to send out to him the first taxi with a Mt Hagen driver. He also sent word down to the next village along the road what had happened. Within no time a Mt Hagen taxi driver was on its way out and the local villagers were also walking out to help.
They all got together and as I understand it Daniel pointed out politely to the villagers that if his things were not returned promptly, then the 'boys' from Mt Hagen would be round to pay a visit. This is enough to strike the fear of god into anyone. Promptly enough the culprits, three small boys, were brought out. One of the culprits could be easily identified because, just like a clue in a mystery novel, he had left his front door key on the seat of the car.
So in the end everyone was happy and everything worked out for the best. Unfortunately I missed out on an afternoon's birding but it could have been much worse. I guess the moral of the story is, to avoid inconvenience, never leave a vehicle unattended in New Guinea.
14th October, 2009
Little Curlews were feeding with the Masked Lapwings beside the car park at Jackson's airport, Port Moresby. Also at the airport were the first Straw-necked Ibis I had recorded in five trips to New Guinea.
The flight to Tari was only about 90 minutes late and Great Wood-swallows marked my arrival in the Southern Highlands. No one from Warili Lodge appeared to be at the airport so I guessed they may not have got my letter. A useful fellow called Patrick organized transport for me for the 10km up to the lodge. Patrick is a general purpose tour guide and would be a useful contact if stuck in Tari tel: 7141 7159.
No one was at the lodge but I enjoyed the Yellow-browed Melidictes and Yellow-billed Lorikeets in the garden while I waited. After a while still no one seemed to be coming so I walked up towards the great Ambua Lodge, 1km up the hill, where there did appear to be some forest. I had just got to the forest and started to enjoy myself seeing Sclater's Whistler and Black Fantail when Steven Wari turned up in a car and took me back down to the now birdless lodge.
I was probably the first visitor at the lodge for some time although they were expecting me. Transport (a 15 seater mini bus just for me), guide and cook were arranged for the next four days and all was looking good.
I had a good chat with Steven in the evening Steven has had six wives, but has divorced three, and has ten children. The wives live in a separate location to the husband, which if one had three wives, would appear to be a very good idea.
15th October, 2009
Our transport was ready at 05.30. Our party comprised the worse minibus in New Guinea, Peter my multi-talented cook & guide, the bus driver, the owner of the bus and an engineer whose job it was to help push start the bus (no starter motor) and quickly put a rock under the wheel whenever we stopped on a hill (no brake) which was always as otherwise we couldn't start the bus.
We headed up the hill to the Tari gap, passing great devastation of the road improvements above Ambua and numerous locals selling and carrying wood from the forest. We drove up and out of the forest and for about 5km through a beautiful highland grassed area, somewhat reminding me of Peru but with Island Thrush and Long-tailed Shrike. Eventually the bus stopped (on a small slope) next to an area with forest on both sides. This was a very good area with a particularly spectacular long tailed Ribbon-tailed Astrapia flying about and many other birds matching those at Kumul Lodge at this similar elevation including Brehm's Tiger-parrot, Crested Berrypecker, Friendly Fantail, Grey-streaked Honeyeater, Regent & Rufous-naped Whistlers. The main purpose of coming here was to look for McGregor's Bowerbird and eventually I did see a female for about five seconds.
Another bird seen badly, gleaning insects from rolled up leaves may or may not have been an Olive Straightbill. There were a few other species here that I hadn't recorded at Kumul Lodge including White-breasted Fruit-Dove and I was very pleased to finally catch up with a nice male Wattled Ploughbill, a strong contender, with much good competition, for bird of the day.
Further back down the road I was also pleased to see half a Blue-faced Parrot-finch and a glimpse of something that could have been a Buff-tailed Sicklebill, but probably wasn't. Benson's trail was closed off with sticks so we continued down to a sweet potato garden next to the horrendous road works where Short-tailed Paradigalla had been seen in the past. He wasn't there but we noticed some movement on the other side of the road. I stood in the mud in a drainage ditch that had recently been gouged out by a giant digging machine and looked in to the forest to see for my first time a pretty pair of Blue-grey Robins. Then amazingly a Short-tailed Paradigalla flew in and without a care in the world started scratching for food, not 10m away from where I stood, bird of paradise in front of me, hell on earth behind me.
For some reason it is always good to see a bird that is on the front cover of your field guide, especially one with a funny name, so the wonderful Paradigalla won the bird of the day competition. Also while standing in the same spot in the mud a Rufous-backed Honeyeater came past and a small flock of Hooded Cuckoo-shrikes, making it four new species in three minutes for me in the most unlikely location you could imagine.
Our mini bus had a flat tyre so it set of down to the village for repair. This curtailed our options for the afternoon so we walked over to have a look around the nearby Ambua airstrip. This was built entirely by hand. Peter was the foreman for the runway construction. He said it took 100 men with 120 wheelbarrows 18 months to complete the runway. Peter and his team are available for the next new London airport.
Due to the ever present land disputes over payment, the runway is not being used. Luckily all this work was not a complete waste of time as we found a Grey Wagtail on the turnaround area at the top. Never having seen this bird mentioned in a New Guinea bird report before I thought this was a great find, but reading the field guide they are said to be abundant. Lack of sightings is most likely because most birding groups come in the Northern summer, when the Wagtails will all be up in Asia.
After a long wet break we tried heading up the hill again in the over heating minibus. They poured some extra water in the radiator so it made it nearly as far as the Bailey Bridge this time. More heavy rain was happening so we sat in a logging shelter looking at some tree stumps where King of Saxony Birds of Paradise didn't come into sit. But I wasn't too worried. It had been a great day and that was enough.
In the early evening Large-tailed Nightjars and a Sooty Owl could be heard from the lodge.
16th October, 2009
Today we headed about 2km down the valley to the start of the Benari Road. We walked for about 20 minutes along some very muddy trails, eventually ending up in a nice garden with a spectacular view down the valley. The garden had a nice fruiting Black Palm in the middle and a number of other trees with small fruit along the back. After only five minutes there a small boy pointed out that a Female Lawe's Parotia was feeding in the palm. In all it seemed there were about 3-4 Lawes's Parotias which were doing circuits of the garden and visiting this palm. Next a pair of bright female Blue Birds of Paradise came into visit. But our main target remained hidden, but calling in the distance, the Black Sicklebill, the world's largest bird of paradise.
The garden was visited by a Black Butcherbird. We have these in our garden in Queensland and they always strike me as being very intelligent birds. An ever present pig was digging in the garden accompanied by a chicken who was looking for worms etc. The opportunistic Black Butcherbird came in to join the pig, much to the disgust of the chicken, who was not impressed and physically attacked the Butcherbird to drive him away. Who needs to go to Africa to see Lions attacking Wildebeast etc when such a dramatic wildlife spectacle can be viewed so much closer to home.
A nice male Blue BOP now came into one of the feeding trees and was accompanied by a pair of Stephanie's Astrapias. Then, amazingly a full grown giant male Black Sicklebill flew into the same tree and started to feed beside them. It was quite a spectacle, eventually he flew off then another came in and perched on a dead stump preening itself for as long as I wished to look.
It was such an amazing garden that I paid the lady there a whole K20 for looking after all these magnificent birds. Such a sum will no doubt result in a local riot amongst the neighbors and the garden will become off limits to all foreigners forever more.
Next we drove up to Tari Gap again. After about two km up the hill our bus was going slower and slower and no amount of turning the steering wheel backwards and forwards could improve our speed. The minibus conveniently came to a standstill beside the entrance to Ambua lodge. So instead we tried the waterfall track at Ambua, where I was very impressed by the Huli bridge construction.
Next to the first bridge a black and white bird flashed past, which can only have been a Torrent Lark. Shortly after it began raining, which added extra atmosphere to the water fall track. I should mention something about the rain situation in Tari. It is not for decoration that the local people carry an umbrella around with them at all times.
Still I didn't mind a small amount of rain, which doesn't always slow the birds down and got a very good look at a Black Monarch, which made a nice change from the previous 35 Black Fantails.
The minibus dropped us off back at the lodge and headed down to the village to repair a hole in the radiator, never to be seen again.
With no transport again, in the afternoon we tried Steven's trail, opposite the lodge. It was slow going and raining heavily again. We saw the bower of a McGregor's Bowerbird but not much else. Eventually we went for shelter in another local hut. I was about to sit down on a nice deck in front of the hut but Peter said, don't be ridiculous, that side is for the pigs, so we sat on the side for people, which looked exactly the same but the view wasn't as good.
17th October, 2009
The minibus had finally had its day so Steven arranged another car. This time we were to have a brand new Landcruiser. Knowing how reliable it would be, I got up especially early, ready for another good day out.
After an hour the car hadn't turned up but this was actually quite fortuitous as, by a miracle, a pair of rare Salvadoris Teal flew low over the garden, going from one creek to another.
We visited the King of Saxony display area near the Bailey Bridge again and this time were rewarded by a great male with both head plumes intact, calling from the top of his stump.
We tried another trail nearby that was also blocked off with sticks and picked up Blue-capped Ifrita. Then we were back up to the Tari Gap forest but not so much was new except Brown Quail, Black-throated Honeyeater and a Loria's Bird of Paradise that I felt was not supposed to be there. Also here was another partly constructed maypole bower of the Macgregor's Bowerbird.
Next we tried for the invisible Buff-tailed Sicklebill on yet another small trail near to the grasslands. Here Peter spent quite a long time whistling and cleverly calling in a Jewel-babbler that was hidden calling in thick bushes, coming slowly towards us. After sitting extremely still for about 15 minutes, I was slightly surprised but happy, when eventually a Lesser Melampitta appeared at close range, his red eye glaring angrily at us for wasting his time.
Also on the same trail we found a fresh clear footprint of the enigmatic Dwarf Cassowary.
Our nice new car disappeared off down to the village on the pretext of changing what looked like a perfectly good tyre. Late after lunch he showed no sign of returning so we again walked up the hill towards Ambua in the rain and visited another trail, also called the Waterfall trail. It had no birds on it but had a very spectacular waterfall. Standing close to it you could enjoy the sensation of rain coming both up and down at the same time.
Phone conversation indicated that the car might be thinking of coming so we headed back to the road, stopping only to look for a Mountain Kingfisher that was calling continuously from high in the canopy as is not their habit. After crashing around in the undergrowth for a while, we finally got good views of the Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo that had been making all the noise, sounding and behaving exactly like the one I heard on Mt Lewis, Far North Queensland earlier this year. Funny how you never see these things, then two come along in the same year. I must spend more time listening to the tapes.
18th October, 2009
Time to leave but we just had time to drop in to the village to look for owls. We passed the market which was full of colourful locals some with parts of the birds I had been looking for, in their hair. Some feathers I could pick out were Blue BOP and Stephanie's Astrapia and some had Raggiana type plumes as well. Another popular hat had two dead Papuan Lorikeets with no heads sticking out the top, their long yellow tail plumes up in the air. They all looked quite fresh. I am unconvinced these would have been passed down from older generations.
We had a look at a big casuarina tree with a hole in and a small boy beat the tree with a stick. No owl appeared but an angry neighbor had blocked off our return passage with yet more sticks. I guess they don't get part of the payments received from people looking for owls. In fact I would be amazed that such a large and stationary target as an owl would have any chance of survival in the village.
Whilst pushing aside the sticks we crossed back across the angry neighbor's property, not stopping to look at the Superb Bird of Paradise in his trees on the off chance we might get an arrow in the back…
Actually I felt quite glad to get back to inside the safe fencing of the small hut at Tari airport. Tari is a great place, but for some reason the 'vibe' is not as pleasant as elsewhere in the country.
New Guinea still had more surprises in store. I only had four hours to wait at Tari airport but I was quite surprised to see Little Curlews on the runway and even more surprised to see a winter plumaged Yellow Wagtail feeding in the grass there as well.
Papua New Guinea 'Always expect the unexpected'
Disclaimer: No responsibility is taken for the accuracy or truth of any observation or story contained within this report.
Cairns, Australia . October 2009
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