West New Britain, Papua New Guinea, April 2011

Published by Dominic Chaplin (dominic AT pinecreekpictures.com.au)

Participants: Dominic Chaplin



April 24-29, 2011
Kimbe Bay Area, West New Britain
Dominic Chaplin

Parrots & Oil Palms

This report describes a short trip made to the Kimbe Bay area on the Island of New Britain, Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea.

This report with images

Other personal New Guinea Trips
2010 "Paradise at the End of the World" Alotau, Normanby Island
2009 "The Search for the Mythical Blue Bird of Paradise" Kama/Kumul Lodge/Brown River/PAU
2009 "The Revenge of the Chiggers" Madang/Keki Lodge
2009 "Papua New Guinea, Always Expect the Unexpected" PAU/Varirata/Brown River/Tari
2008 "Papua New Guinea ,Two short trips" PAU/Varirata/Brown River/Hisui/Kumul Lodge

Bird List - Overview of bird species seen on this trip at various locations in Kimbe Bay Area.

Beehler, Pratt & Zimmerman, Birds of New Guinea, 1986. The standard reference and essential field guide to PNG. Out of Print

Coates & Peckover, Birds of New Guinea and the Bismark Archipelago, 2001. A very good photographic guide.

Coates B.J. 1985. The Birds of Papua New Guinea, Vol. 1 Non-passerines. Out of print. Walindi Resort library has a copy

Coates B.J. 1990. The Birds of Papua New Guinea, Vol. 2 Passerines. Out of print. Walindi Resort library has a copy

Phil Gregory, Birds of New Guinea & Associated Islands - A checklist, 2010. Contains the most up to date info on new species, taxonomical splits etc.

Davis et al. Wingspan, Spring 2010. The impact of palm oil on the birds of West New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

Where to find birds in the Kimbe Bay Area Davis et al. Walindi Lodge

www.birdsofmelanesia.net" Mike Tarburton. Another useful annotated checklist of birds for the region. Contains checklist for New Britain

Internet - a few trip reports reports and useful information at some sites including:
www.nikborrow.com.Good photos of species not illustrated elsewhere
Jon Hornbuckle's Website
Melanesia 1999. Trip Report by Jon Hornbuckle

Avibase Bird checklists of the World

New Britain is the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea. It is seldom visited by birders and most of it is rather difficult to explore due to geographical restrictions and a lack of bird tourism infrastructure. However it can be conveniently visited via the Australian operated, Walindi Dive Resort, near to Kimbe in West New Britain. Kimbe is reached by flights most days from Port Moresby to Hoskins airport (one hour from Walindi Lodge). It is a good idea to allow an extra day in your schedule in case anything happens to your flight back to the PNG mainland.

Walindi is a well run and positively luxurious base from which to explore the area. Despite mainly catering for the dive industry, they are conscious of the requirements of bird watchers. They have a good guide, Joseph, who is their specialist in birds and can arrange excellent trips into the forest interior.

Walindi Dive Resort
Some visitors in the past stayed at the Queen's Head Hotel which is next to Walindi. The owner has unfortunately passed away and the Hotel, though said to be still open, appears to be impossible to contact.

Other area for birding also exist around Rabaul, which I did not visit, but finding a suitable guide, who knows where these areas are, may be difficult.The Wild Dog Gold Mine is said to be a good site allowing access to forest at slightly higher altitude. Rabaul is worth visiting as an access point for Watom Island which could be a cheaper way of accessing the island specialities than via Walindi.

A number of the New Britian endemics only occur in the mountains which are virtually innaccesible. Shane Benjamin, the Walindi owner/manager, a keen naturalist, is considering building a resort in the mountains which would be a fantastic destination.

New Britain is currently undergoing great environmental change. Over half of PNG's tropical timber comes from New Britain and it is also infamous for it's vast monoculture of oil palms. Dr Robert Davis, from the Edith Cowan University and his team made a detailed study of the birds of the Kimbe Bay area in early 2010. They compared the bird diversity of the oil palm habitat to the rainforest habitat. 61 Species were recorded in the lowland rainforests and 32 species in the oil palm plantations. However only 5 species were found to regularly use the oil palm plantations. The rest were either rare or passing through.

Dr Davis and his team have also produced an excellent publication "Where to find birds in the Kimbe Bay Area". This is on the Walindi website. It details the species of interest that can be found at various sites accessible from Walindi. Commercial tour groups often visit the Pokili Wildlife Management Area, although it would appear that all the species at Pokili also occur at other sites closer to Walindi.

From Walindi it is necessary to drive for up to an hour through the oil palm plantations to reach the rainforest proper. Fortunately some excellent forest still remains. From the air it can be seen that there is a huge area of continuous forest currently untouched. The major local employer, New Britain Palm Oil Ltd is starting to become aware of it's environmental responsibilities and some of the newer plantations do include buffer zones. Some habitat for the Bismarck Kingfisher (Vulnerable) had been left along a creek that we visited.

There is some hope for the forest with the establishment by local people of the Pokili and the Garu Wildlife Management Areas. Here the forest has been preserved to protect the breeding grounds of the extraordinary Melanesian Scrubfowl. The scrubfowl dig huge nest burrows in the warm volcanic soil at these sites and the eggs are incubated by heat in the ground. The locals harvest the eggs and fortunately the large population provides for a sustainable harvest. I visited the Garu WMA and there were literally hundreds of these burrows in the forest. Apparently the Melanesian Scrubfowl fly to these areas from other forest on the island just to lay their eggs.

Visitors are in for a real treat once the rainforest proper is reached. A good number of huge emergent trees remain and in the very early morning bird species are abundant, including large obvious species such as Blyth's Hornbill, Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeon and Eclectus Parrot. Indeed Eclectus Parrots appear to be generally abundant in the whole Kimbe Bay area with up to 100 seen daily.

New Britain Endemic Species

There is some difficulty in birding in New Britain as many of the endemic bird species are neither illustrated in Beehler or photographed in Coates field guides. So identification can require some detective work. Good photos of some of these species can be found on Nik Borrow's website. To compound the confusion the birds are referred to by different common names, some are split and some are not, by different taxonomists.

According to the IOC/Phil Gregory list, the endemic species of New Britain are, (along with my rough estimate of abundance in the Kimbe Bay area):

Black Honey Buzzard Henicopernis infuscatus Rare in Kimbe Bay Area
Slaty-mantled Goshawk Accipiter luteoschistaceus Rare
New Britain (Grey-headed) Goshawk Accipiter princeps Very Rare
Pink-legged (New Britain) Rail Rallus insignis Very Rare
New Britain Bronzewing Henicophaps foersteri Very Rare
Blue-eyed Cockatoo Cacatua opthalmica Common in Kimbe Bay Area
Golden Masked Owl Tyto aurantia Very Rare
New Britain Boobook Ninox odiosa 1-2 regularly seen near Walindi Resort
Black-capped Paradise-Kingfisher Tanysiptera (sylvia) nigriceps Common in rainforest. Clements treats as subspecies of Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher
White-mantled (New Britain) Kingfisher Todiramphus albonotata Uncommon
New Britain Friarbird Philemon cockerelli Common
New Britain Honeyeater (Gilliard's Honeyeater) Vosea whitemanensis Mountains only
Black-bellied (New Britain Red-headed) Myzomela Myzomela erythromelas Uncommon?
Rusty Thicketbird Megalrulus rubignosus Rare
New Britain Thicketbird Megalrulus (whitneyi) grosvenori ? Data Deficient
Black-backed (North Melanesian) Thrush Zoothera talaseae talaseae Rare. Mountains

In addition New Britain also holds a number of specialties which can also be found on other Bismarck Archipelago islands or the Solomon Islands, but not on mainland PNG.

Melanesian Scrubfowl Megapodius eremita Common in Kimbe Bay area. More often heard than seen.
New Britain Sparrowhawk Accipiter brachyurus Rare
Yellow-legged Pigeon Columba pallidiceps Uncommon
Pied Cuckoo-Dove Reinwardtoena browni Rare-Uncommon
Yellow-bibbed Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus solomonensis Common. Islands
Knob-billed (Red-knobbed) Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus insolitus Common
Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeon Ducula rubricera Common
Finsch's (Growling) Imperial-Pigeon Ducula finschii Uncommon
Black (Bismarck) Imperial-Pigeon Ducula melanochroa Rare Kimbe. Common in mountains.
Yellowish (Yellow-tinted) Imperial-Pigeon Ducula (spilorrhoa) subflavescens Common. Clements treats as subspecies of Pied Imperial Pigeon
Song (Singing) Parrot Geoffroyus heteroclitus Uncommon
Bismarck (Green-fronted) Hanging Parrot Loriculus tener Uncommon. Perhaps easily overlooked
Violaceous Coucal Centropus violaceous Common
White-necked (Pied) Coucal Centropus ateralbus Common
White-rumped Swiftlet Aerodramus spodiopygius Common
Mayr's Swiftlet Aerodramus orientalis ? Data Deficient
Bismarck Kingfisher Alcedo websteri Rare, but still seen occasionally
Ashy Myzomela Myzomela cineracea Common
Reddish (Red) Myzomela Myzomela (cruentata) erythrina Uncommon?
White-backed (Bismarck) Woodswallow Artamus insignis Uncommon
Bismarck (Yellow-throated) Whistler Pachycephala (pectoralis) citreogaster Rare?
Bismarck Fantail Rhipidura dahlii Common mountains? Not present Kimbe?
Bismarck Pied (Black-tailed) Monarch Monarcha verticalis Uncommon
Lesser Shining (Dull) Flycatcher Myiagra hebetior eichhorni Locally common
Bismarck Crow Corvus (orru) insularis Common
Bismarck Flyrobin Microeca sp. nov. ?
Black-headed (Bismarck) White-eye Zosterops hypoxantha ? Rare
Long-tailed (Melanesian) Myna Mino kreffti Common
Bismarck (Red-banded) Flowerpecker Dicaeum eximium Common
Buff-bellied (Bismarck) Mannikin Lonchura melaena Common

Also a species referred to as Ebony Myzomela or Bismarck Black Myzomela Myzomela pammelaena is mentioned in Beehler and other literature. Perhaps occurring on Restorf Island?

Walindi Dive Resort
Tel: (675) 9835 441 or (675) 9835 466
Fax (675) 9835 638
email: resort@walindifebrina.com

Check with the Lodge for current conditions and prices. At the time of writing a very nice plantation room was A$170/night including all meals and laundry. Bird tours varied from about $50-$125 (3-7 hours) depending on the destination.

Daily Log
24th April, 2011

Had a very good morning at Varirata National Park near Port Morseby with excellent local guide Daniel Wakra. Full details are not given here but highlights included watching Dwarf Koel and Dwarf Fruit-Doves feeding together to the background chorus of squawking Raggiana Birds of Paradise. Mountain Drongo was also a pleasant find for me.

Took the afternoon flight over to Hoskins on New Britain and enjoyed watching my first of many Eclectus Parrots flying over the oil palms lining the runway. Buff-bellied Mannikins were on the fence line. Indeed we were to find these Mannikins almost everywhere were there was a good supply of seeding grass. The hills in the distance make for an attractive backdrop somewhat similar to my home of Cairns in Queensland.

It takes about an hour to get to the Walindi Dive Resort along what is described, probably with good reason, as the best road in New Guinea. Checked in to my comfortable room to the accompaniment of a chorus of frog calls. Platymantis schmiti is the species here in abundance.

25th April, 2011
Up in the darkness early and met up with the resort's bird guide Joseph and we headed towards Garu forest. It took about an hour to get there, driving in the night along dirt roads through the continuous rows and rows of oil palms. How Joseph knew his way is a mystery as everything looks the same.

We finally arrived on daybreak and straight away we could hear the call of the Black-capped Paradise-Kingfisher, which sounds much the same as the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher back home, but does not migrate. These kingfishers were not that easy to actually see in the early morning dark of the forest but we had success eventually.

There was an amazing cacophony of sound here early morning with booming Violaceous Coucals mixing with parrots calling overhead. Back outside he forest we could enjoy watching the activity in huge emergent trees. Up here the birds seem to gather to wake up before starting their day. Eclectus Parrots, Eastern Black-capped Lories and Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeons flew in and were then joined by a pair of Blyth's Hornbills. Long-tailed Mynas (none with particularly long tails) were in a number of trees and gangs of Metallic Starlings wove their way through the forest. The local endemic Blue-eyed Cockatoos also joined in the activity.

I walked slowly down he road and at intervals Joseph caught up in the car, telling me abut birds such as Finsch's Imperial-Pigeon that he had just seen and I had missed. We made our way along the track admiring Crested Hawks and also found both the huge Violaceous Coucals that were making those amazing loud calls and also a pair of Pied Coucals. High up was a Collared Kingfisher. We were to find these kingfishers very common in the area but here their colouration is less like the Collared but more similar to Sacred Kingfishers that we see in Australia with buffy underparts. After some searching we also came across a White-mantled (New Britain) Kingfisher, which looks much like a Forest Kingfisher. Further along still a Common Kingfisher came out and sat in the middle of the road for a while. All in all it was a good morning for kingfishers.

We passed the streams known as Hot Rivers which spring from around the volcanoes in the distance. The temperature is like hot tap water. This area is the breeding ground for the Melanesian Scrubfowl that we could hear from time to time deep in the forest. Walking into the forest beside the river we came across hundreds of large holes in the ground, which somewhat resemble wombat burrows. They are perhaps a meter across and a few meters deep and are the nests for that most industrious race of birds, the megapodes. They lay their eggs in these burrows in the warm ground, but that is the limit of their industry as the emerging chicks have to dig their way out and fend for themselves on the forest floor. In places these nests were so numerous it was difficult to walk without falling in them. Eventually we came across a few of the parents, who would fly onto a low branch and regard us with suspicion.

The day rapidly heated up and activity diminished and we drove back gain through the interminable oil palms. Some species do make a living here though and we regularly came across Stephan's Doves, perhaps ingesting grit in the middle of the road. Other interesting species amongst the oil palms were Black Bittern, Rufous Night-Heron and White-browed Crake.

At about 15.00 we set out again to investigate some other areas closer to home. Not far from the resort is a large area of grassland and cattle yards. This was a very interesting site. The grassland was very active with Buff-bellied Mannikins and a continuous chorus of sound from invisible Clamorous Reed-warblers and slightly less invisible Golden-headed Cisticolas. Whilst attempting to photograph the manikins a pair of quail shot out and promptly disappeared back into the long grass.

Over by the cattle yards from time to time a mixed flock of waders would take off and wheel around. We went over to investigate and found a good number of Ruddy Turnstones turning into their breeding plumage. Also here were Pacific Golden Plovers, Black-winged Stilts, Red-necked Stints and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. But most interesting of all were four Oriental Pratincoles and a pair of Eastern Yellow Wagtails. I could only come across one record of Oriental Pratincole from 1997 on New Britain and one record of Yellow Wagtail from 1969.

To finish off the evening we went up to a hill to admire the sunset. This is where the oil palm managers live and overlooking the plantations it acts as an island refuge for the birds in the evening. Good numbers of Yellow-tinted Imperial Pigeons came in to roost along with a pair of Blyth's Hornbills, yet more Eclectus Parrots, Eastern Black-capped Lories and Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeons. Another tree served as a refuge for hundreds of Metallic Starlings, the most abundant bird in the Kimbe Bay area.

26th April, 2011
Today we were up in the darkness again and headed out to an area known as the Tove Forest. This area is rather less well protected than the Garu WMA and is being actively logged. The logging tracks do act as a convenient entry for birders. Again some very large trees have been left alone here and one fruiting tree could have been a roost for Blyth's Hornbills as there were about 20 in and around it, a spectacular sight.

We headed up the logging track stopping at various view points. New birds for the trip here included Eastern Koel, Dollarbird, Moustached Tree-swift and Red-flanked Lorikeets. I finally pinned down a pair of Red-banded Flowerpeckers in the binoculars as we headed up hill. Eventually we had to turn back as the road had become so overgrown by vines that it was impossible to tell where we were going. Apparently Black Imperial Pigeons sometimes come down to this area and Black Honey (New Britain) Buzzard can also be seen occasionally but we were not so lucky this time. But overall this area gave us a very pleasant morning birding.

Yet again here the Eclectus Parrots were very active flying round quite close to car giving good photo opportunities. Along this track lovely Red-knobbed Fruit-Doves were rather more common and perched high in the trees investigating fruiting opportunities. We drove to near the end of the logging activity but the machines were resting this day. On the way back we came across a large flock of about 50 Red-chinned Lorikeets wheeling about in the sky. They were feeding in another of the huge trees that was flowering and these small lorikeets were rather difficult to see once they settled in amongst the foliage.

As the day became hot again we explored beside a creek for the rather rare Bismarck Kingfisher. Other tour groups had found this kingfisher here in the past but we had no luck this time. This bird has suffered somewhat due to habitat loss but hopefully the oil palm companies might leave more streamside vegetation in the future to give this little bird a chance.

In the afternoon we birded some more around the Kulu River area but were soon driven back by torrential rain.. Not seeing much we headed back through some minor flooding. The rain thinned out eventually and we stopped to have another look around the grassland area beside the cattle yards. Here we came across the only Purple Swamphen of the trip and startled three more Quail. It was just possible to make out the white bib on these quails as they shot past, identifying them as King Quail, a species very hard to find in Australia.

27th April, 2011
This morning we drove just five minutes up the road and then walked uphill to a site now called Kilu Ridge Two. Apparently Kilu Ridge One is no longer accessible due to landowner issues. Walking up in the semi darkness we could hear Lesser Shining Flycatchers calling in the gully. Their calls are quite different from the generally common Shining Flycatchers but I never saw one on the way back down. At the top of the ridge is an area cleared for vegetable plots. There is a great view over towards rainforest on the hills. Relatively close by was a bare tree and we were treated to the sight of up to thirty Eclectus Parrots gathered together Also in the same tree were more Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeons, Eastern Black-capped Lories and Long-tailed Mynas. Channel-billed Cuckoos and more Blue-eyed Cockatoos also kept us entertained. After a while we were eventually treated to the arrival of a pair of Song Parrots which sat up nicely for us, the only two seen on the trip.

Eventually we headed back down the hill past more booming Violaceous Coucals and clucking Megapodes and the landowner showed us two little gems. They were New Britain Boobook owls roosting together affectionately.

Walking back through the village we stopped to look at some smoking embers which were the remains of one of the villagers' houses. Apparently there had been some sort of disagreement and one of the locals had burnt anothers house. Rough justice.

In the afternoon we headed out to a destination always popular amongst only birders, the sewage ponds. The oil palm mill has a series of delightful smelling water settlement ponds. Here we saw about 12 Collared Kingfishers on the wires but nothing that unusual, a few Pacific Black Duck, the only Wandering Whistling Duck of the trip and more pretty Buff-bellied Mannikins.

More rain was threatening as we finished up the day at the Tili Forest area. It was rather dark when we got there and bird were somewhat scarce apart from the usual hornbills and Eclectus Parrots (now becoming 'trash' birds) but we got good looks at more Stephan's Doves along the road and a near heart attack at two Melanesian Scrubfowl bursting out from under my feet beside the road. More Common Kingfishers were seen and Black-capped Paradise-Kingfishers called from the dark interior. One skulker in the darkness here had to be the Bismarck Pied Monarch but another visit will be needed to see this one well.

28th April, 2011
Having confirmed my flight the day before, we set off back to Hoskins Airport. However in New Guinea a confirmed flight is not what it seems and the nice Air Niugini fellow behind the counter suggested I could come back the next day and there may be a plane that wasn't already full.
So we headed back to Walindi and I had to suffer a day at this luxury resort. It was too late to arrange any worthwhile trips so I enjoyed pottering about the resort grounds, adding Ashy Myzomela to the list of endemics. I finally gave in did some snorkeling on a small reef 400m offshore.

I had wanted to try and get out to one of the islands. Nearby Restorf Island holds Nicobar Pigeon, Island Imperial Pigeon, Beach Kingfisher and Sclater's Myzomela. To get to the island you have the choice of hiring the entire boat for $750 or hoping that some divers from Walindi might be going there and you could hitch a lift.

29th April, 2011
Back at Hoskins airport the two New Zealander divers from my bus were told they might like to try a later flight. I added Tree Sparrow and a boarding pass to my collection and headed off back over the sea.

Addendum: Since writing this report, the excellent "Birds of Melanesia" by Guy Dutson has been published. This will make birding in the region far easier and hopefully open it up for more discoveries.

Dominic Chaplin
Cairns, Australia . June 2011
p: PO Box 208, Bungalow, QLD 4870
e: dominic@pinecreekpictures.com.au
t: 61 7 40 562 658
f: 61 7 40 514 896