This was a very good trip to the Madang area on the North Coast of Papua New Guinea. The Ohu Butterfly Sanctuary, a logging road near Madang, and Keki Lodge were visited. Overall 116 species were observed.
Cairns-Port Moresby-Madang Return A$878
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
This is a very clean pleasant safe lodge situated right next to the sea, with a very good restaurant.
Cost K100/night for a twin bed room. The hotel bus can pick you up from the airport.
The security lights are kept on all night outside at the lodge. The result is that Willie Wagtails & Varied Honeyeaters are up calling all night, constantly giving you the mistaken impression it is morning.
The wonderful Keki Lodge is excellent for both birding and relaxing. The only drawback is that it is very hard to contact. Moyang is the very helpful owner. He lives about 10 km below the lodge where there is no phone/fax/electricity/email.
The official way to get in touch is to contact the Madang Visitors Bureau. It would be best to try this at least 3 months before you come.
c/o Madang Visitors Bureau
PO Box 1071
Papua New Guinea
Tel: 675 852 3302
Fax: 675 852 3540
Total cost for four people for four nights was about A$450. We brought our own food which they cooked for us.
Rob McKay is a keen Australian birder who used to live in Madang. He is happy to try and help other birders wishing to come to Madang/Keki.
To reach Keki you would need a four wheel drive vehicle, which could be hired from the airport or from the lodge. You drive about 90km West of Madang until reaching the Keki Lodge sign. Then turn inland for about 30km. The road inland and uphill is not too bad for the first half, as far as the PMV goes, but it does turn into a bit of a goat track after that, which four wheel drive enthusiasts will enjoy. Moyang does all he can to maintain the road and if you got stuck the local people would be sure to help.
Keki Lodge comprises some huts in a large clearing in the forest owned by Moyang. A feature of the clearing is a large fig tree where birds come and go all day. This is where you would most likely see the most famous inhabitant of the area, the spectacular Fire-maned Bowerbird, which is restricted to a narrow distribution in the Adelbert Mountains. Other specialties like Vulturine Parrot and Blyth's Hornbill were also present every day. If you like you can just sit around the clearing watching for birds alternatively, there are a number of good trails in the forest where you can see different species including Magnificent Bird of Paradise at his display grounds, White-eared Catbird, Lesser Bird of Paradise and Banded Yellow Robin etc.
The GPS reading was 830m above sea level (04 42 230S/ 145 24 324W) and it makes a pleasant cool change from the hot lowlands around Madang. There is also a refreshing creek to bathe in after a hard morning working the trails.
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.
I had a severe attack of Chiggers at Ohu and we all had mild attacks at Keki Lodge. Chiggers could be described as being like invisible mosquitos on steroids. The itch is almost unbearable, but it does stop after 7-14 days. A cream product, Calmoseptine, was found to be good for relieving the effects.
I was told a story of a birding group that came to PNG from the UK and went to visit Kiunga. The guide had such a severe attack by chiggers he had to go home on the 4th day, leaving the rest of the group to guide themselves for a month.
When traveling you always end up wasting lots of time at airports. The challenge is to see how many birds you can see whilst there.
Cattle Egret, Purple Swamphen, Whistling Kite, Australian Pratincole, Pacific Swallow, Willie Wagtail, Singing Starling, House Sparrow
Black Kite, Torresian Crow, Masked Lapwing.
From the plane landing Bryan saw some ducks which flew off the sea and landed in the mangroves. These may well have been Spotted Whistling-Ducks
Ohu Butterfly Sanctuary
This area is about 15km SW of Madang. We arrived early and found a quiet local who accompanied me during the day for a small fee. We went down the hill and birded a track along by the river. There were quite a few birds here in the early morning including displaying Lesser Birds of Paradise.
Subsequently to this trip, further up from Ohu, Robert McKay found another area were he recorded 8 King Birds of Paradise and found a tree with Eclectus Parrots and Edward's Fig Parrots nesting. This area certainly would be worth more visits.
Birds observed: Long-tailed Buzzard, Common Sandpiper, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Superb Fruit-Dove, Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, Zoe Imperial Pigeon, Pinon Imperial Pigeon, Red-cheeked Parrot, Western Black-capped Lory, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Dollarbird, Azure Kingfisher, Common Paradise-Kingfisher, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Brush Cuckoo (heard), New Guinea Friarbird, Meyer's Friarbird, Mimic Meliphaga, Streak-headed Honeyeater, Slaty-chinned Longbill, Green-backed Gerygone (heard), Lowland Peltops, Black-browed Triller, Brown Oriole, Spangled Drongo, Lesser Bird of Paradise, Yellow-faced Myna, Metallic Starling, Black Sunbird, Grey Crow
Logging Road South of Madang
To reach this area we drove about 15km south of Madang on the Ramu highway, then we turned inland just after crossing a very large river.
This is a road for access for logging further down and regularly large trucks hauling logs come past. We stopped at various patches of forest beside the road and went down a couple of side turnings. Quite a few interesting species were along here.
Various birds were seen in and around Madang itself including:
Black Kite, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Masked Lapwing, Feral Pigeon, Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove, Beach Kingfisher, Coconut Lorikeet, Varied Honeyeater, Willie Wagtail, Singing Starling, Grand Mannikin, Torresian Crow
Numbers of a new bird, the Coconut Lorikeet, were seen around Madang. This charming name is a new one from the IOC (International Ornithological Congress) 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 at least the Fly River area).
Arrived in Madang late afternoon and both Rob McKay and the Madang Lodge bus were there to greet me. We wasted no time at all and went directly to the Hospital reception area where relatively tame Grand Mannikins were nesting, resulting in my only bird subject photographed this trip.
Next we visited the Madang Resort Hotel grounds, which had Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove and a slightly distant Beach Kingfisher. I checked in to our accommodation, the Madang Lodge (not to be confused with Madang Resort), which had Varied Honeyaters in the coconut palms, just like back in Cairns. A great meal was had at the Lodge restaurant beside the sea.
28th August, 2009
Early morning we drove up to the Ohu Butterfly Sanctuary. The local people appeared and one agreed to look after me for the day. We walked down the hill towards the river, stopping to look at one tree with Black-browed Triller, Meyer's Friarbird and the usual unidentifiable Meliphaga sp. Beside the river was some good tall forest and it was very active in the early morning. Typically in tall tree forest a lot was heard but it was tricky to actually see much. Common Paradise-Kingfishers were regular callers here. Eventually we could pick out a few pigeons including Zoe & Pinon Imperial Pigeons, Wompoo, Superb & Orange-bellied Fruit-Doves.
The highlight of the track was a great display tree of Lesser Birds of Paradise, which could be watched by sitting still quietly. I later discovered that sitting still quietly was perhaps not such a good idea.
Next to the Lesser BOP tree a Great Cuckoo-Dove sat very still for about an hour. No wonder the birds are hard to see. They don't do much for a lot of the time. Above the forest there were a few fly bys of Western Black-capped Lorys and I just about picked out a Long-tailed Buzzard circling low over the trees.
Further down the track we encountered Red-cheeked Parrots at close range, one at a nest hole in a dead tree. Around 11.00 it becomes very quiet in the New Guinea lowlands as the heat of the day comes in. We sat and rested next to the river quietly for a few hours. Here I was very excited to see my first rare Lowland Peltops perched beside the river. It was interesting to watch his head bobbing as he made his strange clicking sound. I was not to know we would see about fifteen the next day.
A few Common Sandpipers went up and down the river and occasionally an Azure Kingfisher would streak past, like a small guided missile. After a sleep we tried the track again but not so much was new except Brown Oriole and a small group of Yellow-faced Mynas, which are always fun to watch, with their comical calls, like a group of grumpy old men mumbling.
Walking back up the track to the village we picked up Streak-headed Honeyeater and I convinced myself on a Mimic Meliphaga.
Juanita and Bryan turned up from Darwin and inspected the facilities for a possible overnight stay later in the week. We retired back to the lodge for another good meal at the restaurant.
Later that evening I realized my possible big mistake in sitting still for so long at Ohu. I had been attacked by the chiggers! You don't see them, but you certainly know when they have visited. My feet and ankles were incredibly itchy, almost to the point of distraction. I didn't take a photo but the image of feet on Gunnar's website was an exact representation. Chiggers go for warm sweaty areas like inside socks, armpits, back of the knee, round your belt and other areas I won't go into here.
Rob was prepared for this eventuality and had bought 15 tubes of Calmoseptine (designed for nappy rash), receiving some strange looks at the pharmacy. This certainly went some way towards relieving the symptoms.
29th August, 2009
Next morning we headed off early to a dirt road south of Madang, that had been opened up for a logging operation. There were a number of patches of forest right next to the road which were good for birds. One of the first patches had Large-billed & Yellow-bellied Gerygone, Pink-spotted Fruit-Dove and Eclectus Parrot. Rob claimed there was nothing much of interest and it was best we carry on, while Bryan was trying to enjoy his first ever sighting of an Eclectus Parrot.
A lot of Australian birders visit Cape York , Queensland, but I think as I mentioned last year, that time and money are much better spent in New Guinea, where most of the Cape York birds here are common and so much more can be seen.
Further down the road another good patch had our first of many more Lowland Peltops, along with bright Golden Monarchs and Long-billed Honeyeater. Further down still was a tree with resting Channel-billed Cuckoos and a Grey Goshawk. Near here Rob alerted us to Emporer Fairy-Wrens in some bushes where he had seen them on previous visits. They were still there but we only caught a quick glimpse.
Orange-bellied Fruit-Doves sit out on dead branches in the sun and stand out nicely but Beautiful Fruit-Doves require a closer examination. By now the road was starting to get more busy, ironically giant trucks carrying logs went past slowly but the locals were less considerate, covering us in clouds of dust. So we headed down a side road and were surprised to get very good looks at a Satin Flycatcher which I didn't expect here. Also here were a Pacific Baza and the ever present Brahminy Kite and later we did see a Gurney's Eagle soaring high above.
Many of the locals carry catapults for hunting birds. It was a bit strange trying to watch a bird in one tree with a local man trying to kill a Spangled Drongo in the next tree along.
A koel was calling down another side track but we couldn't see until we came back and found a Dwarf Koel was perched very still, high in a tree. By now it was starting to get hot so we headed back to make preparation for Keki, stopping only to look at the nest of a very cute pair of Buff-faced Pygmy Parrots.
Back at the Madang Lodge the Beach Kingfisher had come in and perched on a rock nearby, gleaming white in the midday sun.
Late afternoon (slightly too late), with great excitement, we headed up to Keki Lodge. The expedition to search for the famous Fire-maned Bowerbird had begun.
The pleasant drive to the turnoff was uneventful apart from a Buff-banded Rail which crossed the road in front of the car. We turned up the hill and stopped at one nice patch of trees which had Coconut Lorikeet, White-shouldered Fairywren , Pinon Imperial Pigeon and I had a four second look at a New Guinea Scrubfowl, disappearing at speed down the hill.
Another stop had both Yellow-faced & Golden Mynas in the same tree. Yet another stop had another Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove "What, the one with the long tail…" and a Juanita had spotted a nice Moustached Tree Swift in the same tree, that we had all overlooked.
By now it was starting to get a bit dark as the road deteriorated into a bit of a goat track. Rob cheered us up with a story about a passenger crying with fear on a previous drive as we went over some creative road works, beside a steep drop down into the valley. But we made it without difficulty, arriving in the dark.
30th August - 2nd September, 2009
The first day got off to a very good start. We awoke just as daylight was starting to break. Looking up into the big fig tree, the silhouette of a Vulturine Parrot was apparent. As the light improved we could admire this hulking great red & black parrot. Next up, a Grey-headed Goshawk, another New Guinea endemic, flew into the clearing. Then while we were looking at the Goshawk, the call went out, and yes a fantastic male Fire-maned Bowerbird flew round the clearing and came in to feed on the fig tree. Our search was over, but we decided to stay another four days for good measure.
Luckily we didn't go home straight away as the next sighting was an incredible party of four Blyth's Hornbills swishing past. The noise from their wings beating has to be heard to be believed and has been likened to a steam engine going past.
Birding from the clearing is much easier than going into the forest and we also enjoyed seeing various birds including Ochre-collared Monarch, Grey Crow, Eclectus & Red-cheeked Parrots, Western Black-capped & Dusky Lorys, Great Cuckoo-Dove along with a good selection of other colourful Fruit-Doves. Also seen were a number of honeyeaters with the least interesting being the very well named Plain Honeyeater. The Hornbills and Vulturine Parrots were around on and off every day and the Fire-maned Bowerbirds were regular visitors to the clearing. On various walks we also saw bowerbirds both higher up and lower down from the lodge.
All morning we enjoyed this to the background sound of Lesser Birds of Paradise calling and after a short walk in the forest we could look up to see these birds flying away with great haste.
Moyang had built two very good hides next to display grounds of Magnificent Birds of Paradise. It was somewhat difficult to actually sit in the hides on a steep slope on a muddy hill side, without sliding out of the bottom. But at first light, once you had a good grip, it was possible to watch the Magnificent BOPs at point blank range. One hide even had two males displaying to a group of females.
The price for this spectacle became apparent later in the evening as the chiggers again began to take their toll. None of us escaped. Actually the locals do seem to escape, appearing immune to the effects of chiggers that everyone else would find unbearable. They are tough, the New Guinea people, who also never get hot or need to drink anything.
A different set of species can be encountered inside the forest but great patience is required. New Guinea's forest birds are legendary for being almost painfully shy and difficult to see. Still we had a bit of success here with birds including Chestnut-bellied & Sooty Thicket-fantails, a group of White-eared Catbirds, Banded Yellow Robin, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, a probable Crinkle-collared Manucode and a pair of Palm Cockatoos. A couple of the super skulkers, Brown-collared Brush-turkey and Brown-headed Jewel-babbler, remained conveniently invisible, giving an excuse for another visit in future years.
Moyang's family did a great job preparing the food we (Brenda) had brought and heating water for numerous cups of coffee. We enjoyed many hours sitting on the deck of our hut, reviewing the days proceedings, drinking the coffee and scratching the chigger bites. A little light rain for 24 hours added to the atmosphere and cooled us down nicely. Whilst sitting on the deck, every day, a Dwarf Kingfisher would come and sit in an orange tree right in front of us. Some of the rest of the time was spent squinting at tree tops in the far far distance where Papuan Mountain Pigeons, Eclectus Parrots and other birds would come in to sit.
One evening we were surprised by the terrific noise of a drum beating. This was Moyang trying to get in contact with the village down the hill. Yes, in this 21st century world where you might imagine everyone has an iphone and broadband internet, there are still people who have to communicate using jungle drums.
We had a great time for four days and on the last days started to wonder about the source of a strange call we had been hearing all the time right next to our hut. A study of the bird call player revealed that it was actually a Red-bellied Pitta. Some effort was required to actually see this bird but we were finally rewarded by a very good look as he hopped across the entrance road.
It had rained somewhat during our stay but the road back down the hill was ok. We stopped off again at a few spots down the road, seeing a few more species that we didn't record at the lodge. One in particular had the local endemic, Edward's Fig-Parrot, which we viewed at great distance from the road. A bit closer were a pair of Red-flanked Lorikeets feeding in a palm.
We stopped off at the Malolo Plantation Resort for a look around but there wasn't much activity in the late afternoon except for a flyby formation of Whimbrels. Then it was back to the Madang Lodge for another good meal.
3rd September, 2009
This was to be my last day, but Bryan & Juanita were heading up to Kumul Lodge.
We had the morning free so we decided to have another look at the logging road. We enjoyed some time on the large river bridge seeing Eclectus Parrots, Sacred, Forest & Azure Kingfisher, Common Sandpiper and Little Pied Cormorant. Lesser Black Coucals were calling from the dense grass but they never emerged.
Our last morning ended in great success with the sighting of a flock of Streak-headed Mannikins in the long grass down a side road.
It had been a great small trip to the region and luckily I did have a fond reminder of it for a week or two afterwards, itching those chigger bites...
No responsibility is taken for the accuracy or truth of any observation or story contained within this report.