This report describes a trip made with Theo Tasoulis to the Alotau District and out to Normanby Island, at the Eastern tip of Papua New Guinea, the 'End of the World'.
This report with images
Other 2009 Trips
Part 1 "The Search for the Mythical Blue Bird of Paradise" Kama/Kumul Lodge/Brown River/PAU
Part 2 "The Revenge of the Chiggers" Madang/Keki Lodge
Part 3 "Papua New Guinea, Always Expect the Unexpected" PAU/Varirata/Brown River/Tari
Other 2008 Trips
For details of other visits I made in 2008 (PAU/Varirata/Brown River/Hisui/Kumul Lodge) also see:
2008 Trip report with images
2008 Trip report text only
Cliff & Dawn Frith, Birds of Paradise, Nature-Art-History, 2010
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, 2010. 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 Normany & Fergusson Islands
Internet - many reports and useful information at many sites including:
Milne Bay Area Birdlist Feb 2005
Checklist of Birds of Normanby, 2009
The small town of Alotau is situated in Milne Bay on the far South Eastern Tip of PNG. It is an area of superb natural beauty and access point for the even more beautiful D'Entrecasteux Islands. The untapped tourism potential for this area is huge. For the adventure tourist this area is well worth a visit even if they have no interest in birds.
Alotau has a much more open and laid back feel about it than most other towns in PNG. There are no roads linking to the rest of the country so according to the locals all the good people stay in and any undesirables can't get there.
Alotau has recent historical significance. It was the site of the battle of Milne Bay in 1942, regarded as one of the turning points of WW2 in the Pacific. The Japanese navy was repelled by the Allies here. Our host, Fred, at Sewa Bay was a boy of five at the time and remembered the Japanese coming to hide their ships from view in the bay.
In Alotau we stayed at the Napatana lodge which was very pleasant. Here we were put in touch with Mombi Onasimbo, the local guide for Normanby Island. Mombi was very helpful and switched on. He came with us on various expeditions in the area and out to his home island of Normanby.
Curl-crested Manucode & Goldie's Bird of Paradise
The purpose of visiting the area was to get out to the D' Entrecasteaux Islands. Two restricted range birds of paradise, the Curl-crested Manucode and the Goldie's Bird of Paradise, occur only here.
According to David Mitchell of Conservation International, the Goldie's BOPs still exist in many locations but are under pressure from subsistence agriculture everywhere.
The Manucode was also known to occur on the nearby Trobiand Islands, made famous by the anthropological work by Malinowski. Overpopulation of these islands has led to environmental collapse. Mombi had visited the islands recently and does not believe there is any forest left to support the birds. The PNG government is arranging for tens of thousands of tons of fertile volcanic topsoil to be shipped by barge from Fergusson Island out to the Trobiands to improve their agriculture.
On Normanby Island there are three new lodges situated around the Sewa Bay area. These are Riverside Lodge, Sibonai and Saidowai. These are easily reached by small boats from East Cape (30-60 minutes), which is the far Eastern tip of mainland PNG. We stayed at Riverside and then Sibonai lodge and briefly visited the larger Saidowai. Goldie's Bird of Paradise can apparently be accessed from all three but is perhaps best seen from the Riverside Lodge. The Curl-crested Manucode appears to be more common and can be found in many locations.
From the Riverside Lodge the we found the Goldie's BOPs at their lek site at about 300m asl. This was a moderate walk of 60-90 minutes with a few river crossings. Other tours have also seen the Goldie's BOP on Fergusson Island. There is a lowland population at Sebutia Bay on West Fergusson. This involves a longer boat trip of perhaps 4 hours to the Esa'Ala Lodge on the North of Normanby Island, then another 90 minute boat trip over to Sebutia.. Alternatively the Sebutia site can be accessed by a 3-4 hour walk, one way, from Deidei Hot Springs in the South of Fergusson.
We were lucky to see 4-6 Male Goldies BOPs calling and displaying 300m above the Riverside Lodge. Previous visitors had camped overnight near this lek site, 4 weeks before us, but the birds did not put in an appearance. Perhaps their breeding season doesn't start until May.
Tel: (675) 641 0588
Check with Gretta Kwasnicka at the Napatana Lodge for current conditions and prices (which we found to be very reasonable)
We visited a couple of rainforest sites about 10 km East of Alotau, had one spotlighting evening close to the town and also visited roadside scrub/rainforest on the South side of Milne Bay.
Birds Recorded in Alotau & District
Forest Bittern, Australian Hobby, Eastern Osprey, Pacific Baza, Brahminy Kite, Black Kite, Variable Goshawk, Purple Swamphen, Orange-fronted Fruit-Dove, Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove, Palm Cockatoo, Coconut (Rainbow) Lorikeet, Red-cheeked Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Papuan Boobook (h), Papuan Frogmouth (h), Large-tailed Nightjar (h), Uniform Swiftlet, Papuan Spine-tailed Swift, Moustached Tree-swift, Pheasant Coucal, Common Kingfisher, Forest Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Blyth's Hornbill, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, White-shouldered Fairywren, Scrub White-eared Meliphaga, Varied Honeyeater, Papuan Black Myzomela, New Guinea (Helmeted) Friarbird, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Hooded Butcherbird, White-breasted Woodswallow, Boyer's Cuckoo-shrike, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Grey Shrike-thrush, Willie Wagtail, Frilled Monarch, Grey Crow, Torresian Crow, Glossy-mantled Manucode, Pacific Swallow, Golden-headed Cisticola, Metallic Starling, Singing Starling, Yellow-faced Myna, Pied (Black) Bushchat, Black Sunbird, Yellow-bellied (Olive-backed) Sunbird, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin
We stayed at the Riverside Lodge and Sibonai Lodge. The Riverside Lodge was easily reached by boat from East Cape with crossing time across the flat calm sea about 30 minutes. It was about another 30 minutes around to Sibonai Lodge inside Sewa Bay. Mombi said that the best site for the Goldie's Bird of Paradise was at the Riverside Lodge. From here we walked for just over an hour through untouched forest up to 300m. Here we easily found the Goldie's BOP calling and displaying. We also liked the Curl-crested Manucode. We recorded up to ten of these every day with very close views at both lodges. This is the most interesting of the Manucodes and is quite a spectacular bird in itself with a bizarre call and strange 'Brush-turkey' like pose.
Birds recorded on Normanby Island
Common Scrubfowl (2), Eastern Reef Egret (2), Lesser Frigatebird (2), Brown Booby (1 on sea crossing), Eastern Osprey (1), White-bellied Sea-Eagle (1), Pacific Baza (1), Brahminy Kite (3), Variable Goshawk (2), Brown Noddy (100s on sea crossing), Crested Tern (10), Wompoo Fruit-Dove (2h), Orange-fronted Fruit Dave (50), Pinon Imperial Pigeon (1+10h), Zoe Imperial Pigeon (3h), Pied Imperial Pigeon (4), Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (8), Purple-bellied (Eastern Black-capped) Lory (50+), Red-cheeked Parrot (8), Eclectus Parrot (20), Pheasant Coucal (3), Channel-billed Cuckoo (20), Brush Cuckoo (1h), Papuan Boobook (1h), Yellow-billed Kingfisher (2h), Sacred Kingfisher (5), Rainbow Bee-eater (2), Blyth's Hornbill (6), Brown-backed Honeyeater (2), Papuan Black Myzomela (4), New Guinea (Helmeted) Friarbird (10), Tawny-breasted Honeyeater (8), Large-billed Gerygone (3), Slaty-chinned Longbill (2), Hooded Butcherbird (2), Varied Triller (2), Grey (Grey-headed)Whistler (2), Little (Rufous) Shrike-thrush (2), Spangled Drongo (2), Willie Wagtail (1), Northern Fantail (1), Satin Flycatcher (1), Shining Flycatcher (3), Black-faced Monarch (3), Spot-winged Monarch (2), Golden Monarch (2), Torresian Crow (6), Curl-crested Manucode (15), Goldie's Bird of Paradise (6), Metallic Starling (10), Olive-crowned Flowerpecker (2), Black Sunbird (2), Yellow-bellied (Olive-backed) Sunbird (3)
Duchess (Olumwa) Island
Duchess Island is situated just to the North of the entrance to Sewa Bay. It was about 40 minutes by boat from Sibonai Lodge. The main attraction of this interesting small continental island is a population of Nicobar Pigeons. Louisiades White-eye (identified here by Pratt & Behleer) also occurs. The thickly forested island is only several hundred meters long but despite this the Nicobar Pigeons are very wary and hard to observe.
Birds recorded on Duchess Island
Common Scrubfowl (2), Lesser Frigatebird (1), Crested Tern (6) Nicobar Pigeon (7), Island (Grey) Imperial Pigeon (1), Pied Imperial Pigeon (2), Sacred Kingfisher (4), Varied Honeyeater (4), White-breasted Woodswallow (2), Mangrove Golden (Black-tailed) Whistler (4), Willie Wagtail (1), Rufous Fantail (4), Torresian Crow (1), Louisades White-eye (8), Singing Starling (10)
Noduwa Island is another very small continental islet, a few hundred meters long, situated just outside the mouth of Sewa Bay. We stopped for fun to have a quick look (possibly the first ever ornithological survey here!)
Birds Recorded on Noduwa Island
Common Scrubfowl (2), Lesser Frigatebird (1), Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (1), Slender-billed Cuckoo-Dove (1), Pied Imperial Pigeon (2), White-breasted Woodswallow (2), Varied Triller (2)Mangrove Golden (Black-tailed )Whistler (4), Willie Wagtail (2), Torresian Crow (2), Singing Starling (10)
This idyllic coral island, again just several hundred meters long is close to the PNG mainland, perhaps 5km East of the East Cape tip. Mombi said there was a large Frigatebird roost here, but we were there mid day.
Birds recorded on Boiboiwaga Island
Common Scrubfowl (2), White-bellied Sea-eagle (1), Lesser Frigatebird (1), Greater Frigatebird (1), White-bibbed Fruit-Dove (4), Sacred Kingfisher (1), Varied Honeyeater (4), Rufous Fantail (3)
26th May, 2010
Arrived at Port Moresby and met up successfully with Theo Tasoulis. We dropped our bags at the Hideaway Hotel and then spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering around the Pacific Adventists University. The usual species were there including about 8-10 Spotted Whistling Ducks.
27th May, 2010
We had a few hours to kill in the morning so had a leisurely breakfast up at the Airways Hotel. Tree Sparrows were beside the restaurant and we had a possible very distant Collared Sparrowhawk, too far to be identified well. Down at Jacksons Airport were House Sparrows and also Gilbert's Dragons beside the departure lounge.
It was a great flight along the coast to Alotau, with the coral reefs fringing the mainland in many places. Turning in down to Alotau we cleared the dreaded oil palm plantations for a safe landing. The minibus whisked us a few km down the road to the friendly Napatana Lodge.
We enjoyed a few of the garden birds and animals. Some rescue and rehabilitation work is done by the hotel. As a result there were some very tame free flying Eclectus Parrots and a Brahminy Kite. Even more amazing were a pair of free flying Blyth's Hornbills. These followed their 'owner' home in the evening, swooping up and down the high street. Back at the lodge they would spend most of the day around the gardens or in the bar. It was very unusual to have a large hornbill land on your shoulder whilst trying to eat breakfast.
Another enclosure held three Green Pythons, one of the world's most beautiful snakes, found in PNG and Cape York.
I was pleased to see that Fawn-breasted Bowerbirds were common in the town of Alotau where we saw up to 8 in a day. We never saw any outside the town. Fawn-breasted Bowerbirds are becoming quite rare on the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. One local expert believes they may be the next bird to go extinct in Australia. Fortunately they seem to be doing well here and also around Port Moresby.
We met up with Mombi and conveniently made our arrangements for Normanby Island at very reasonable cost. Theo was keen to go out spotlighting and Mombi went off to arrange a vehicle. He returned later with a minibus, driver and a trainee guide. We headed off into the night to a nearby home backing onto rainforest. The family at the home expressed some surprise that we wanted to go wandering about the forest at night, but were up to the challenge and two boys from the family got in the vehicle to help us out. We went another few km along, to their uncle's property, which had some quite good rainforest.
So off we set into the forest in pitch darkness with only Mombi, the driver, the trainee guide, the two boys and the uncle to help us (all of whom needed paying). It was a slightly surreal experience, but we did see a few frogs, caught a native rodent and heard nearby Papuan Frogmouth, Papuan Boobook and Large-tailed Nightjar.
28th May, 2010
Mombi came around the next morning and after a delay to purchase fuel for Normanby, we headed out on a nice 70km drive along the sea front to East Cape. After about 10km we stopped at a property backing onto the rainforested hills. King Bird of Paradise has been seen here but not recently since a gravel crushing plant was set up.
We walked upstream seeing a couple of Common Kingfishers, a Pheasant Coucal and a gang of Metallic Starlings. A pair of Blyth's Hornbills flew above the canopy and Palm Cockatoos screeched from the top of the ridge. Walking further into the forest there was very little to report and we were about to turn back. But then ,along a small rocky creek, what looked like a Night Heron flushed up into the trees. We didn't get a good look and it was the wrong habitat for Night Herons. We investigated further and it flew again and landed about 100m away in full view, a Forest Bittern. This rather rare PNG endemic sat for as long as we liked for us to confirm its identity and take some rather poor distant photos.
At around mid day we arrived at East Cape. There were about ten small boats there. Mombi negotiated with one and we were soon on our way across the Goschen Strait. Having heard stories about rough weather and being a poor sailor I had some concern about this leg of the trip. But the sea was almost like glass and we had a glorious crossing, going almost too quickly. Our boat was accompanied by flying fish and in the middle of the strait were hundreds of Brown Noddies and one Brown Booby.
The sea here is beautiful, clean and clear. I had been told back in Australia that, for diving, the waters around New Guinea leave the Great Barrier Reef for dead. In the distance we could see Nuakata Island, apparently recently voted the world's best dive location!
It took barely half an hour to get across to the Riverside Lodge in Waikaiuna Bay. As you approach, Normanby Island looms menacingly out of the clouds, its rainforest cloaked mountains looking as if they belong in a Jurrassic Park movie.
We were met by Fred, the owner of the Riverside Lodge, who wasn't expecting us, but none the less managed to rustle up plenty of food from his gardens. We settled into our simple accommodation and then explored the area. The most obvious bird here was the Purple-bellied (Eastern Black-capped) Lory which was both noisy and abundant. Also very noisy here were both the Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and the Eclectus Parrots.
A very strange call came from the same area of the gardens as the Eclectus Parrots behind our accommodation. After some investigation this turned out to belong to a group of Curl-crested Manucodes. I wasn't expecting much from these manucodes but as usual pictures in the guide are never as good as the real thing. The Curl-crested Manucode is a world class bird of paradise. It's strange call, beautiful coloration and curious behaviour really has to be experienced to appreciate it.
29th May, 2010
We were up early for our expedition up the hill to look for the Goldie's Bird of Paradise. We passed a few gardens and were soon in untouched rainforest. As usual it was almost impossible to actually see a bird in this environment but we could hear Wompoo Fruit Doves, Pinon and Zoe Imperial Pigeons. Yellow-billed Kingfishers remained invisible throughout our visit but from time to time we could see the large Blyth's Hornbills above the trees. More Curl-crested Manucodes were along the walk but we never saw any Trumpet Manucodes which also occur on the island.
The walk up the hill wasn't too difficult but a level of general fitness would have been helpful.
Eventually we started hear the famous 'wok-wok-wok' type call of the birds of paradise. Our guides soon located their lek tree and we sat and enjoyed watching them call and display. It was hard to tell which bird was which but I estimate there would have been up to six birds nearby. At least one male had not developed plumes. No females were observed. Perhaps it was still early in the season. The males went through the well known repertoire of plume shaking etc. It was a great sight which we felt very privileged to be able to experience.
The show only lasted for about an hour and then they were gone, off to feed higher up the mountain. We stayed around the area for a while and a few smaller birds came through, Northern Fantail, Spot-winged Monarch, Black-faced Monarch and Common Scrubfowl.
30th May, 2010
We were again up early. The most interesting new bird was the local race of the Tawny-breasted Honeyeater looking completely different with it's large 'spectacles'.
We took the boat round to Sibonai Lodge on the inside of Sewa Bay on its Southern corner. Theo stayed behind to look for reptiles and I went across to Duchess Island. First we dropped Fred off at the Saidowai Guest at the Northern End of the Bay. The bay is very picturesque with clear calm blue waters, fringed with coconut groves and wooden huts. Eclectus Parrots squawk from the hillsides and we saw one gathering of about 20 Channel-billed Cuckoos.
Duchess Island lies about 1km off the coast just to the north of Sewa Bay. Mombi had brought Bruce Beehler and Thane Pratt here a year or two previously. They had identified the White-eyes present on this very small island as Louisades White-eyes.
The main reason for visiting Duchess Island was to see the local population of Nicobar Pigeons. I counted perhaps 7 Nicobar Pigeons, but to be honest never got a very satisfactory look at any of them They are extremely nervous and crash off through the forest at the first disturbance. Despite only being a few hundred meters long the island is thickly forested with great scope for concealment. The Louisades White-eyes seemed to be fairly common. They had a uniform yellow belly, pale bill and grey legs.
Other interesting birds on Duchess were Rufous Fantails, which don't often get reported on the mainland, Mangrove Golden (Black-tailed) Whistlers and a single Island (Grey) Imperial Pigeon. At the very top of the island was the largest Common Scrubfowl mound I have ever seen. All three of the small islands we visited had Common Scrubfowls. Obviously they are more mobile and adventurous than they look.
After visiting Duchess we had to negotiate with difficulty a reef and rocky coastline to find the owner of the island. It was very important to pay him the $5 landing fee. All land, even obscure rocks in the sea are owned by someone in New Guinea It is very important to pay them to avoid potential conflict and hopefully encourage them to preserve the land.
On the way home we stopped off at another very small island, Noduwa Island to have a look for a bit of fun. Here again were some of the species on Duchess Island, Mangrove Golden Whistler, Common Scrubfowl, Singing Starling and the omnipresent Willie Wagtail. The most unusual bird here was a single enterprising Slender-billed Cuckoo-Dove.
Back at the lodge Theo had had a very successful search for reptiles and had found a New Guinea Ground Boa, one of only two species of 'Boa' found outside the Americas.
31st May, 2010
We spent the early morning exploring the forest at the back of the Sibonai lodge which had a few new species including Golden Monarch. 45 minutes was spent squinting at a group of very small honeyeaters at the top of an emergent tree without concluding satisfactorily whether or not they were Pygmy Honeyeaters.
Sadly we had to head back to the mainland this morning. On the way back we stopped off at Boiboiwaga Island. Late in the evening, hundreds of Frigatebirds come in to roost here. But we were there in the middle of the day and saw only two.
The most interesting bird on this island was the White-bibbed Fruit-Dove. This bird has a very peculiar distribution of habitat, occurring in both high mountain ranges and small islands but not the flat lowlands of New Guinea.
1st June, 2010
We spent this day exploring the Alotau area in the minibus. It was in fact a bit of an anticlimax to be back in civilization again after the unspoilt natural paradise of Normanby Island.
We were up early and went to visit an area near the town which had Raggiana Birds of Paradise. This was not a success as the land owner didn't want to get out of bed and it was raining heavily.
We abandoned this idea and instead drove around to the South side of Milne Bay. Halfway there we had a flat tyre which was very fortunate as it happened right next to an Australian Hobby, perched for ages in a roadside tree. In general roadside birding around the area was rather difficult but we picked up a few more species including Papuan Spine-tailed Swift, Moustached Tree-swift, Frilled Monarch and Boyers Cuckoo-shrike. Yet more Blyth's Hornbills were over here.
We investigated the Ulumani Treetops lodge which had Orange-bellied and Orange-fronted Fruit-Doves and a very high fly past Palm Cockatoo. Eventually we decided not to stay at the Ulumani lodge but were promptly very embarrassed as our bus got stuck in a creek and the ladies from the lodge had to help push us out.
Overall our visit to the area and particularly to Normanby Island ran very smoothly (thanks to Mombi). It was a fantastic experience, which we would highly recommend to anyone wishing for a little bit of adventure at the 'End of the World'.
No responsibility is taken for the accuracy or truth of any observation or story contained within this report.
Cairns, Australia. September 2010
p: PO Box 208, Bungalow, QLD 4870
t: 61 7 40 562 658
f: 61 7 40 514 896