Like a creature out of a Greek fable, one should never set eyes upon the mythical Blue Bird of Paradise. Having done so once, all other birds will only ever appear dull by comparison.
Theo had been told of a location at Kama Village, near Mt. Hagen in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea, where the Blue Bird of Paradise could be watched at its display grounds. This seemed like a good excuse as any, and a better reason than most for a trip, so we made plans.
For this trip Kama Village, Kumul Lodge, Brown River and Pacific Adventists University were visited.
At the time of writing this report 1 Australian $ = 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
Kama village is situated about two hours drive from Mt Hagen airport. It is on the road down to Wabag so you pass Kumul Lodge on the way. At about 1800 meters it is warmer than Kumul Lodge and has a different set of species present. In particular this is where you come from Kumul Lodge to watch the Lesser Bird of Paradise display area. This is also the area where the Yellow-breasted Bowerbird is often seen.
We stayed in a hut owned by Joseph’s family, close to the Lesser Bird of Paradise display area. Price 60k per person. Bring your own food. There is no phone/fax/email/electricity in the village. You will be living much the same as the locals do. In fact you will be in greater comfort as there is no wood fire burning continuously in your room with no chimney or ventilation.
Jacob can be contacted by mail. It is best to allow about two months for this. It may also be possible to contact him via Kumul Lodge. Jacob will meet you at Mt Hagen Airport
PO Box 652
Papua New Guinea
Contact Kim Arut
675 542 1615
675 547 4042
675 685 2373
e: email@example.com www.kumullodge.com.pg(Website not operating at time of writing)
PO Box 989, Mt. Hagen, Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea
This beautiful, comfortable high altitude cloud forest lodge is well documented in many various trip reports including my visit last year. Highly recommended.
Transport to airport K70 each way
Single Room K190
Double Room K220
Dinner/Lunch etc ~/K40
Guided trip to Pigetes K308
The Hideaway hotel is situated about 5 minutes from the airport. Cost K305 for a double or single room including breakfast. The hotel bus can pick you up for no cost. Also for no cost they can take you to the Airways Hotel and back where you can enjoy a spectacular meal with panoramic views over the airport and hills up to Varirata. Buffet K40.
Bubuto tel: 7223 1306
Although not being a specialist bird guide, Buboto was very friendly, helpful and informative and knew where to go when we visited the Doromoko village area at Brown River. (See also Part 3 of these reports for an update on this area). Unlike the tour guides at home in Cairns he cheered us up with tales about various robberies in Pt. Moresby.
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.
Beehler, Pratt & Zimmerman, Birds of New Guinea, 1986. The standard reference and essential field guide to the area. Out of print.
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 - IOC Checklist V2, 2009. 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.
www.birdsofmelanesia.net Mike Tarburton. Another useful annotated checklist of birds for the region. Also contains a checklist for the PAU
Internet - many reports and useful information at many sites including:
Birds observed around the lodge grounds:
Black Kite, Chestnut Forest Rail, New Guinea (Rufous) Woodcock, Brown Cuckoo-Dove, Papuan Lorikeet, Goldie’s Lorikeet, Yellow-billed Lorikeet, Plum-faced Lorikeet, Brehm’s Tiger Parrot, Orange-crowned Fairy-Wren, Archbold’s Bowerbird, Grey-streaked Honeyeater, Common Smoky Honeyeater, Belford’s Melidictes, Olive Straightbill, Mountain Mouse-Warbler, Large Scrubwren, Buff-faced Scrubwren, Crested Satinbird (BOP), Crested Berrypecker, Rufous-naped Whistler, Regent Whistler, Long-tailed Shrike, Friendly Fantail, Dimorphic Fantail, Lesser Melampitta, Blue-capped Ifrita, Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, Brown Sicklebill, Black-throated Robin, White-winged Robin, Canary Flycatcher, Glossy Swiftlet, Pied Chat, Island Thrush, Mountain Firetail
Pigetes Forest (2566 meters)
The Pigetes (pronounced Pingitees?) forest is about 10 minutes drive down the hill from Kumul Lodge. It holds a number of different species, in particular the King of Saxony Bird of Paradise and Stephanie’s Astrapia replaces the Ribbon-tailed Astrapia here.
Birds observed: Dwarf Cassowary (droppings only), Meyer’s Goshawk, Rufescent Imperial Pigeon, Papuan Lorikeet, Glossy Swiftlet, Mountain Meliphaga, Common Smoky Honeyeater, Grey-streaked Honeyeater, Red-collared Myzomela, Belford’s Melidictes, Grey Gerygone, Loria’s Satinbird (BOP), Large Scrubwren, Buff-faced Scrubwren, Fan-tailed Berrypecker, Streaked Berrypecker, Tit Berrypecker, Black-breasted Boatbill, Great Woodswallow, Black-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike, Regent Whistler, Rufous-naped Whistler, Friendly Fantail, Black Fantail, Brown Sicklebill, Stephanie’s Astrapia, King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, Canary Flycatcher, Garnet Robin
Black-billed Brush-Turkey (heard), Common Scrubfowl (heard), Australian White Ibis, Intermediate Egret, Nankeen Night Heron, Little Black Cormorant, Little Pied Cormorant, Darter, Black Kite, Whistling Kite, Brahminy Kite, Variable Goshawk, Purple Swamphen, Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove, Orange-Fronted Fruit-Dove, Coroneted Fruit-Dove, Emerald Dove, Zoe Imperial Pigeon, Eclectus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, Coconut Lorikeet, Brush Cuckoo, Pheasant Coucal (heard), Channel-billed Cuckoo, Common Paradise Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Forest Kingfisher, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Rainbow Bee-eater, Puff-backed Meliphaga, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, New Guinea Friarbird, Green-backed Gerygone (heard), White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike, Varied Triller, Grey Shrike-Thrush, Spangled Drongo, Willie Wagtail, Black-faced Monarch ,Frilled Monarch, Torresian Crow, Pacific Swallow, Singing Starling, Yellow-faced Myna, Golden Myna, Black Sunbird, Grey-headed Mannikin, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin
Pacific Adventists University (PAU)
I went to visit originally on a Saturday on first arriving at Port Moresby, but they would not let me in as there is church service on Saturday. I returned for a couple of hours on the last afternoon before my plane left. PAU is about 15 minutes taxi ride from the airport. Scarlet taxi cost K50 each way. You can arrange for them to pick you up when you have finished. At the gate tell them you are looking for birds. You have to pay K10 and fill out a form.
Brown Quail, Plumed Whistling-Duck, Wandering Whistling-Duck Pacific Black Duck, Green Pygmy Goose, Australasian Grebe, Australian White Ibis, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Cattle Egret, Pied Heron, Nankeen Night Heron, Little Pied Cormorant, Little Black Cormorant, Darter, Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Comb-crested Jacana, Masked Lapwing, Brahminy Kite, Whistling Kite, Peaceful Dove, Pied Imperial Pigeon , Red-cheeked Parrot, Coconut Lorikeet, Pheasant Coucal, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Dollarbird, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Rufous-banded Honeyeater, Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, New Guinea Friarbird, Black-backed Butcherbird, White-breasted Woodswallow, Australasian Figbird, White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike, Torresian Crow, Willie Wagtail, Pacific Swallow, Singing Starling, Yellow-faced Myna, Grey-headed Mannikin, Tree Sparrow
8 June, 2009
“I’m sorry sir” said the not particularly helpful man at the Qantas check in desk in Cairns, “we can’t possibly let you on the plane to New Guinea. Even though you are only going for eleven days your passport expires in five and a half months and you need six months to enter the country”.
It probably pays to actually read all that small print on the ticket that no one ever reads.
Despite pleading to be let on the plane, as I am sure I could resolve the situation amicably in New Guinea and some discussion of the pointlessness of having a passport which is claimed to run for ten years, but which is only really valid for nine and a half years, I could make no progress.
It was not possible to get in touch with Theo, Steve and Eric who were left sitting at the arrivals section of Port Moresby airport scratching their heads.
They hired a car and headed up to Varirata National Park while I tried to make arrangements for a new emergency passport to be issued, finding this to be quite tricky on a public holiday.
14 June, 2009
I managed to get an emergency passport issued in record time and got up to Mt Hagen to meet the others. Joseph, our host, was already waiting at the airport and the Kiunga flight got in on time.
Unfortunately there was no sign of our pre-arranged hire car which we were going to drive down to Kama Village. Kama Village was our ultimate destination, being the site where we were to look for the mythical Blue bird of Paradise.
Eventually we managed to negotiate with the driver of a PMV to take us there by hiring his whole mini-bus for K200 for the two hour journey. This was actually far cheaper than hiring a car and we wouldn’t have to worry about leaving a hire car anywhere. So it all worked out for the best. The four of us, Joseph, Joseph’s wife and Joseph’s cousin all piled in to the somewhat battered but serviceable mini-bus and we headed off. In order to celebrate that we had finally all got together a small detour was made in order to ensure adequate supplies of beer for the expedition.
We set off through the pleasant fertile countryside around Mt. Hagen sipping our beers and enjoying the journey. After about half an hour we approached the crossing point from Central Highlands Province into Enga Province. There was great panic as for some reason it is not permitted to take alcohol into Enga province. There is a check point and a thorough search of the bus was likely. We managed to conceal the remaining beer and empty bottles. Luckily the search at the checkpoint was just as thorough as the baggage search at Mt Hagen airport security. “What’s in your bag?” “It’s Camera gear.” ” OK, On you go then.”
The very first sight upon entering Enga Province is a large billboard advertising SP Lager.
The rest of the bus trip passed uneventfully and included a stop at the Lai River bridge where we saw a small group of Torrent Flycatchers.
We left our bags at the nice clean hut that Joseph had prepared for us and went for a small walk up to look at the Lesser Bird of Paradise display area. Strangely enough, four Australians staying was a bit of a novelty for the inhabitants of Kama village. I had the feeling we might have been the first westerners ever to stay there. They were all very keen to meet us and shake hands and we even had one big hug from Joseph’s grandmother. Everyone was very friendly and happy and keen to accompany us up to the viewing area.
At the viewing area they have built a couple of huts so the birds can be watched in all weather conditions. The Lesser Birds of Paradise (terrible name for such spectacular birds) display in some casuarina trees slightly above the huts. In order to celebrate our historic visit the villagers had decorated the huts with ferns, flowers and orchids. It was very touching. One of them had even knitted a special bilum (string bag) for Theo with the words, THEO TASOULIS-NEW SOUH WALES-AUSTRALIA-WELCOME. We all felt very special.
We saw a few birds on the way up to the display area, Ornate Melidictes, White-shouldered Fairy Wren & Hooded Mannikin, but strangely enough the Lesser BOPs didn’t put in an appearance despite the presence of the 30-40 villagers helping us to see them. So everyone duly had their photos taken and a large package of laminated prints was sent out to Joseph the following month.
15 June, 2009
After a comfortable night in our hut in the Kama village, we were up at fist light and after politely declining the offer of warm sweet potato for breakfast, went to look at the Lesser BOP site this time without our entourage of helpers. This morning they were very active and enthusiastic and we enjoyed watching these lovely birds with their great calls.
But they were not our main target today. We headed higher and higher up the hill, through various gardens up to the forest edge. The trail was steep and muddy but the villagers had cut new steps on the slope, especially for our visit, so we could ascend more easily.
Eventually we reached the edge of the forest. This was to be the place. The male Blue Bird of Paradise is solitary and often difficult to observe. But they do like to sing from an open perch on a ridge side of montane forest. They vary in abundance inexplicably from valley to valley and are generally uncommon. (Beehler/Coates). Many visitors to New Guinea say that the successful sighting of the Blue Bird of Paradise was the highlight of their trip.
As with all bird species the experience of the sighting is always improved with the greater degree of time, effort, cost, discomfort and risk of personal danger or disease that is expended in order to find that particular species.
We stood at the edge of the forest seeing very little for quite some time. Occasionally an Ornate Melidictes, quite a spectacular bird itself, came by, but these are common up here. More interesting was the appearance of a Superb Bird of Paradise which we could observe from a distance. A small party of Brown-breasted Gerygones came by, but Theo wasn’t impressed.
Very occasionally we could hear the call of the Blue Bird of Paradise coming from deep within the forest. But there did not seem to any chance of one coming out. Some New Guinea White-eyes came by but Theo was still not impressed. The idea of abandoning the whole expedition and moving on to another village was discussed.
We decided to give it a bit more time but as the morning wore on and the sun came out we were beginning to loose confidence.
But then, as if by a miracle, a spectacular full grown male Blue Bird of Paradise flew out of nowhere to land in a small tree close behind us. He sat right up in the full sun, his fantastic blue coloration matching with the clear blue sky behind him.
There were collective gasps of amazement from our group but in no time he was gone. We only had time to snatch a few very poor photos and he flew off back up to the edge of the forest. Here we could watch him at quite some distance, but he never came back again to the small tree close by.
Our expedition had been a great success. Our target bird had been successfully sighted and we were all very pleased, congratulating ourselves on a job well done.
16 June, 2009
On our last morning in Kama village the pressure was off. We wandered around the village at an area for Magnificent Bird of Paradise, a bird that is even harder to see despite being moderately common. But we had used up all our luck. Around the village were flocks of Pygmy Lorikeets that I don’t see recorded much and Goldies Lorikeets. We also found the Black-headed Whistler that seems to like these elevations and saw a few Great Woodswallows.
We climbed up again to the Blue Bird of Paradise area but only got very distant views again but we did see a Crinkle-collared Manucode feeding discretely in the high canopy. Also beside the forest were a pair of Yellow-breasted Bowerbirds which came past once and we never saw them again.
Eventually it was time to say our goodbyes and transport was organized up to Kumul Lodge, an hour’s drive back up the valley. Our stay with the friendly local people at Kama village had been a great experience.
Up at Kumul Lodge I think we were all glad of a bit of comfort. The usual characters were on the bird table, Brown Sicklebill, Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, Brehm’s Tiger Parrot, Common Smoky Honeyeater and Belford’s Melidictes. Occasionally and always when I was somewhere else a shy female Archbold’s Bowerbird would come and visit. We enjoyed relaxing, drinking coffee and watching the spectacle.
In fact it was so comfortable we changed our flights, substituting another night at Kumul instead of going back to Pt Moresby. We went for a stroll around the beautiful moss laden trails, straight out of Lord of the Rings. Some of the skulking birds like Orange-crowned Fairy-Wrens were hard to get a good look at despite being very active and busy But we did get very good views of another spectacular and underrated bird, the Papuan Lorikeet.
17 June, 2009
We drove form Kumul Lodge 10 minutes down the road to the Pigetes forest trail. Birding here is slightly hard work but there are a lot of good species. We found a Fan-tailed Berrypecker, Tit Berrypeckers, Black-breasted Boatbills and Loria’s Satinbird BOP. Then a large raptor flew in, landing in full view in front of us, a rare Meyer’s Goshawk, quite a surprise. Always expect the unexpected in Papua New Guinea.
Down here were a few of the same species as up at Kumul but we found a few different ones including Grey Gerygone and Rufescent Imperial Pigeon. The main purpose of coming here is to see the King of Saxony Bird of Paradise and we did get a few poor glimpses of a male and the usual better sightings of the female.
The afternoon was spent relaxing and walking around the trails at Kumul again, finding a few other birds like Blue-capped Ifrita, Rufous-naped Whistler, Crested Berrypecker, Black-throated Robin and Eric had good looks at a Lesser Melampitta.
Along one trail were fresh droppings of a Dwarf Cassowary. Examining the fruit it looked like most of it had passed straight through the bird without being digested at all.
The usual rain came in during the afternoon prompting more relaxing in the cabins. A good meal was had and we had an interesting chat with a local health worker about the advantages and pitfalls of having more than one wife.
18 June, 2009
We had one more morning at Kumul. Eric and Steve stayed around the lodge. Theo and I looked around the Pigetes forest again. Mainly the same birds were there but we found a nice pair of Princess Stephanie’s Astrapias, a Streaked Berrypecker and had a 1 second look at a Garnet Robin.
Back at the lodge Eric had seen an Olive Straightbill. Our only new bird at the bird table was a nice Black-throated Robin and then all too soon it was time to head back to the airport.
There was a small delay for the Moresby flight at Mt Hagen airport which gave us a chance to watch a couple of Papuan Harriers on the runway. On arrival at Pt. Moresby airport we met up with Bubuto, our guide for Brown River, and picked up our hire car, the smartest vehicle in New Guinea.
After checking in to the Hideaway hotel we ignored all advice about going out at night and drove round to the Airways Hotel. Here a great meal can be had whilst admiring a panoramic view of the surroundings and celebrating the successful search for the mythical Blue Bird of Paradise. SP export lager can enjoyed here with an appropriate bird of paradise glass.
19 June, 2009
An excellent birding location is the Dorumoko Village, in the Brown River Area. This lowland village is about 20 minutes drive west of Port Moresby. This area contains a fascinating mixture of local and ‘Australian’ species. There are a range of ecotones and you can never be sure what might turn up next.
On the drive from Port Moresby you could be forgiven for thinking you are near Mareeba in North Queensland. The savanna landscape is dominated by Poplar Gums and we drove past familiar birds such as Blue-winged Kookaburra, Brahminy, Whistling & Black Kites, Sacred & Forest Kingfishers. As we got nearer, the area changed to a mixture of secondary rainforest, farms, swamp, grassland and riverine rainforest. A few Eclectus Parrots passed overhead along with a small group of Red-cheeked Parrots.
When we got out the car it became more evident that we were not in Mareeba with the sighting of some stunning Rufous-bellied Kookaburras. Common Scrubfowl & Yellow-billed Kingfishers were calling from the forest. The villagers were carrying their produce down to the market and a few of them stopped to help us. Wherever we went in New Guinea we always seemed to end up in the middle of nowhere accompanied by friendly smiling machete wielding locals.
Further down the track we were treated to some of PNG’s stunning pigeons, Orange-bellied, Orange-fronted & Coroneted Fruit Doves along with a single Zoe Imperial-pigeon. By this time the local mosquitos had also come along in force to help us. No one had told them what our Aeroguard was for. It must be hard going living here. We plunged into the forest following some Frilled Monarchs & a Black-faced Monarch to admire another of the local delights, the Common Paradise Kingfisher. These lovely birds live up to their name and were calling all over the place. A chase of the mythical Black-billed Brush-turkey proved unsuccessful despite very loud calls nearby. But we managed to get onto Black Sunbirds, Tawny-breasted Honeyeaters and a Puff-backed Meliphaga.
The locals decided it was time for smoko and one of them shinned straight up a tall coconut palm without a care in the world. He hurled down a few coconuts and for our morning breakfast we enjoyed coconut milk & flesh and admired Yellow-faced & Golden Mynas on the forest edge.
Walking back to the car we found a small mixed flock of Grey-headed and Chestnut-breasted Mannikins and a distant Variable Goshawk. Then we came across another group of familiar birds, Varied Triller, Brush Cuckoo, Grey Shike-thrush and Spangled Drongo. It is interesting to listen to the birds here that we are used to seeing back in Australia. The migrant Brush Cuckoo and Spangled Drongo sound just the same. But the non migrating residents that also occur in Australia all sound somewhat different here
Overall we had a very pleasant morning and recorded 52 species during our short walk.
That afternoon Steve & Theo had to fly back to Sydney whilst Eric went onto Rabaul in New Britain. I had a few hours to kill so popped out to the Pacific Adventists University. At the PAU were the usual selection of tame water birds and savanna bush birds. The sight of about 30 Pied Herons browsing on the neatly mown lawn was slightly bizarre.
The most interesting sightings here were two not very interesting species, a single Plumed Whistling Duck, very common in Australia, but described as very rare in Beehler and a Tree Sparrow which I didn’t realize even occurred in 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.