Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Finsch's Imperial Pigeon
Island Imperial Pigeon
Yellowish Imperial Pigeon
Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeon
This was a complex combination multi-focus private tour designed to experience the Mt Hagen Show, do some exploration and trekking around Mt Wilhelm, go birding, diving and snorkeling at Walindi, see the sights of Rabaul and go birding in the Baining Mts, and finally do some exploratory work on Bougainville with first-time access to the higher altitudes at Panguna.
The Mt Hagen Show went off very well. We were lucky enough to be among the few who learned that the start day had been brought forward and this 50th anniversary show would be over 3 days and not the usual two, so we were able to be there for the inaugural day and see all the groups preparing and getting psyched-up, a memorable experience with us right there amongst them. The next day we saw a few more groups come in as well, and there were many fabulous photo ops over the two days, a unique event with amazingly few tourists, I estimated <200 overall, and the whole thing was good-humoured albeit slightly shambolic, with no official program and not much idea about what some of the groups were showing. I still have no idea about what the bald-headed boys painted in black and white represent, and this is not the first time I’ve seen them!
Our next stop was Betty’s Lodge inn Chimbu (Simbu) Province, run by an amazing and inspirational woman called Betty Higgins, who not only runs the lodge but also a trout farm there. It took 2 hours to Kundiawa on a steadily deteriorating road, which was good preparation for the truly spectacular but dreadful and barely passable road up to Betty’s Lodge, which took us nearly 5 hours to negotiate. The backpacker-style lodge lies at 2700 m and has some nice forest adjacent, and it is one of the main stages for trekkers attempting the strenuous and difficult ascent of Mt Wilhelm (14,500’ or 4500 m) . We met a couple of these adventure groups there, one of which was from my home village of Kuranda amazingly enough (and having trouble with a novice local guide who had badly undercosted things and had no money, he was asking if Betty had an ATM!)
Frank and his team set up some nets and we caught a fair selection of species near the lodge- Dimorphic Fantail, Papuan Scrubwren, Rufous-backed Honeyeater and Fan-tailed Berrypecker amongst them. The walk up to the lake at Base Camp is a steady climb to around 3500 m, and takes 3-4 hours, more if you are birding of course, so it would be a good plan to overnight up there. James made and Diana attempted a good chunk of the ascent of the mountain from there, whilst Chris, Catherine and I made it to the base camp and did some birding around before coming back- Salvadori’s Teal, Sooty Melidectes and Alpine Pipit were good finds. The hoped-for Long-bearded Melidectes was elusive, though I may have heard it as there was an unfamiliar Melidectes call there which John our guide reckoned was made by this species. Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia ascends to high altitudes here, Crested Satinbird was seen by some, Papuan Thornbill made a brief showing and both Brehm’s and Painted Tiger-Parrot showed nicely, with Rufous-backed Honeyeater one of the commonest birds and some very obliging and dazzling Red-collared Myzomela by the Lodge. A fairly strong and rapid earthquake also shook the lodge early one morning, waking everyone up inn no uncertain fashion.
Getting back out of Betty’s was quite an adventure due to there being a local by-election with results imminent and some unrest locally. Much to my relief our trucks arrived late pm the day before, and we were able to get going before 0430, but about 40 minutes out we found a bridge had had most of its planks removed. The chances of getting a convoy of 3 cars across on the girders were vanishingly small, (though I have done this elsewhere with one vehicle in the past) but fortunately we were able to improvise a crossing by judicious laying out and prising-up of the remaining planks, with the 3 drivers employing very different but successful techniques to get over- mine just gunned it and flew across! A relieved group did breakfast in Kundiawa by 0800 and then drove slowly back to Hagen and the delights of one of the worst airports in PNG.
The Hideaway Hotel in POM is idiosyncratic, some of us had hot water though and a slow gestating but quite reasonable evening meal eventually appeared. Next morning my airport transfer got hijacked by two islanders with huge boxes, so we could no longer all fit, but we dealt with this too and made the Hoskins flight in good time and hit the pharmacy en route to Walindi Dive Resort.
This was a very nice interlude, a great place to stay with superb dives and snorkeling as well as some decent birding not too far away, so the group did their various activities and we even set up a short-notice boat trip to the Kimbe Bay islands when the clients decided to go for a number of lifers which they wanted to see after all. Highlights here included Nicobar Pigeon, Beach Kingfisher, Sclater’s Myzomela and Mangrove Golden Whistler, whilst Garu gave us Red-knobbed, Black, Finsch’s and Yellowish Imperial Pigeons, Knob-billed Fruit Dove, Black-headed Paradise Kingfisher, White-necked Coucal, Ashy Myzomela and Bismarck Flowerpecker. Numundo Plantation was also rewarding with brilliant unexpected views of a pair of King Quail complete with tiny chick, an leucistic Black Bittern and the sumbae taxon of Australian Reed Warbler, as well as Buff-bellied and Hooded Mannikin.
Rabaul was next, with a slight flight delay meaning a dusk arrival, and here we went diving, sight-viewing, a boat trip to the moonscape of the Melanesian Scrubfowl colony on the slopes of Tarvurvur volcano, and two treks up to the Baining Mts at Wild Dog where there is a rare chance to get to some altitude on New Britain. Permit problems caused by our guide disappearing were fortunately overcome and the birding up here was well worthwhile- Black Honey Buzzard, Red-chinned Lorikeet, Song Parrot, White-mantled Kingfisher, White-backed Woodswallow, Black-bellied Myzomela and the scarce Black-headed White-eye were duly added. Phil is embarrassed to report that he saw his lifer New Britain Grey-headed Goshawk when stepping out for pit-stop, and then 2 Pink-legged Rail crossing the track when he went back for an i-pod next day, not good form to grip off your own group!
Our finale was on Bougainville, now in recovery mode from the crisis years and very different to my 2007 and other trips trip- many people now wave and smile, beforehand they were always too traumatized to respond, the whole atmosphere on the coast is now quite different. Japanese aid (with Thai and Filipino workers) is fixing up the numerous destroyed bridges, which will be open quite soon, and Arawa town is definitely coming back to life with much new building and restoration and hopes for PNG power to be connected very soon. Birding here was good, with an initially puzzling imm. Pied Goshawk, great views of the little-known Woodford’s Rail, the gorgeous Duchess Lorikeet, Cardinal Lory and amazingly enough two last day sightings of single Meek’s Lorikeet in the lowlands (lifer, yay!) Ultramarine Kingfisher was quite forthcoming and Solomons Cockatoo quite widespread. A late pm foray out to the remnants of the Arawa sub-aqua club was nice after the stress of Panguna, with Brown-winged Starling and Wandering Tattler, and a spectacular flock of Blyth’s Hornbill at fruit trees in the hills.
Going up into the “Government of Mekamui“ no go zone at Panguna was a strange and surreal experience, going into a post-apocalyptic world of burned out buildings the wrecked remains of the world’s largest copper mine, all totally destroyed during the scorched earth policy of the early 1990’s conflict when negotiations between Bougainville Copper Ltd, the PNG government and landowners were so badly mishandled. In excess of 10,000 lives were lost as consequence, and what was PNG’s leading province in terms of schooling and health reverted to the stone age from 1989, with an entire lost generation deprived of schooling and any basic services. Everything up here was destroyed- schools, clinics, worker’s accommodation, the mine machinery, nothing workable remains and the people live in the burnt out shell of the town. The green shoots of recovery so promising in the lowlands are not so obvious here, the years of isolation and blockade have taken a huge toll and the regeneration is at best uncertain, at worst impossible.
We stayed at Philip’s Guest House aka the Panguna Hilton, which is the second floor of the burnt out workers condo behind the only refurbished building in town, the Panguna Admin block. There is no roof, just a rather nice grassy area complete with beautiful orchids, there are no windows and our ceiling was simply the concrete floor above, but we did have power at times, and also hot water (Hideaway Hotel please note!) We were their first group and I had to do some explaining about what was needed in terms of meals, as well as buying a few items (“Mekamui hospitality” quoth Stephen our guide) Still, we did get to meet Chief Kopa of nearby Moroni village who came to welcome us, and Philip Tahung himself is a senior man here so we had some degree of assurance. Mice nibbled at James and Diana, and Steve saw several rats whilst on a bathroom visit in the small hours, but with no windows it’s hard to keep things out. Talking of which, our garrulous geologist Chris arrived suddenly and then attempted to leave at 0300, duly failing and bringing back a drunk whom he thoughtfully left in our dining area whilst he barricaded himself in his room. I had the doubtful honour of going out to sort this out, and was thankfully able to talk in pidgin to what proved to be tractable drunk (reputedly with a badly cut ear, which I failed to notice in the dark) and escort him off the premises down to the floor below! I think I’ll have to rewrite my job description but it’s the kind of thing that gets the adrenalin flowing. Another adrenalin inducer was a belligerent car load of drunks next day who swore at us and told us to leave; we did the primate submission thing and managed to get them away, but I made damn sure Bosco our local fixer and big man was there for later, this could have turned nasty really easily. We made a foray down into the mine pit too on the way out, and were amazed at the “Mad Max” type scenario here, with everything destroyed, there are millions of $ of scrap metal now awaiting removal. Any restart will cost billions in what is basically a complete restart.
Oh yes, birds- well this was tough, there has clearly been a hell of lot of hunting as protein must have been scarce for many years, so despite much nice habitat around the 900-950 m mark birding was difficult, densities low and activity fairly limited. Panguna is not quite high enough for some good species like Bougainville Whistler and Pacific Robin, whilst the real megas like Moustached Kingfisher, Bougainville Thrush and Bougainville Thicketbird seem to lie somewhat higher and lengthy steep walks away, simply not viable for us. Still, we persevered and did manage to unearth a few nice things- Bougainville Monarch, Solomons Pied Monarch, lots of Midget Flowerpecker and Yellow-throated White-eye, the striking and quite distinctive Oriole Whistler- voice and female plumage are quite unlike Golden Whistler and it must be a different species like so many of the taxa currently subsumed in this group. A retro ID of a F. white-throated Whistler with a greyish beast band gives us Bougainville Whistler, split from Hooded Whistler. Crested Cuckoo Dove was a great find, and it was quite vocal albeit not terribly responsive, and the beautiful Pale Mountain Pigeon on our last morning was also really good. We almost got to see an Odedi (Bougainville Bush Warbler) too, we heard it at two sites at 850 m and 920 m and had it singing really close by twice, the lovely sweet mournful onomatopoeic phrase that gives it its local name, we even saw a leaf shake, it was that close, BUT it does not respond to the tape, it sings about once every 30 minutes or so then shuts up. It also seems to cover a sizeable area of steep densely vegetated gullies, with scrambling ferns and bamboo. A Sanford’s Sea Eagle drifted over, and we also picked up Steel-blue Flycatcher, Cockerell’s Fantail and the odd commoda taxon of what is meant to be Rufous Fantail.
Back to Buka in some 3 and a half hours, thankfully only an 0830 start and not 0300, and some problems with Kuri Lodge who had fouled up our booking. Most of the group ended up in the adjacent Lincha Lodge, which had a huge attack of blackfly hatched out of the nearby mangroves and has positively geologic-time restaurant service speed. Ah well, a late pm final foray for Bougainville Crow actually paid off and we nailed one, plus great looks at 3 Woodford’s Rail in the track nearby.
The flight out next day was straightforward and we even made very tight connections at POM, with less than an hour between this flight and the Brisbane one. We checked in at 1255, and a family who turned up while we were still checking in at 1305 were told the flight had closed and were turned away! Good job we hurried guys.
Many people helped us with the trip, particular thanks to Sue Gregory and Andrew Bowes for their huge efforts with various circumstances; Dennis at Hotel Poroman purchased show tickets for us and set up the transfers each day; Betty Higgins at Betty’s Lodge was a great and amazingly cheerful hostess, thanks for looking after us so well; Cat at Walindi was a big help and expedited boat trips and medical visits for us (the latter at K20 may be just tad less than it would have cost in the US I suspect); Suzy at Rabaul Hotel redid the Baining Fire Dance arrangements, facilitated our boat trip and kindly set us up with Joel and Charlie as our local helpers; Andrew Seeto and Nellie at Niugini Gold got us short-notice permission to enter Wild Dog after our initial arrangement fell through, and Paul Pora was a very helpful host up there; finally Josephine at Arawa Women’s Guest House looked after us nicely, and Zhon Bosco aided by Stephen and Brendan made very good arrangements for us and helped facilitate our dealings at Panguna. My thanks to the group for going with the flow and coping with whatever situation arose with commendable aplomb, Frank’s 5 Star Travel has some way to go but it was surely an eye-opening and unforgettable experience, even Phil was at the limit of his comfort zone at times and I don’t mean as regards accommodation! Thank you all for coming, I do hope you enjoyed it and regard it as one of the more unusual adventures.
Species name in bold denotes a Bismarck or Solomons endemic
* Heard only
Taxonomy and vernacular names largely follow the IOC
MELANESIAN SCRUBFOWL (Megapodius eremita)
Flight views at Garu then an amazing experience at the colony on the slopes of Tarvurvur volcano where we had good views of the adults. Here the local lads dig out something like a thousand eggs per day and maybe something approaching 100,00 per annum, going as much as 2m deep into the soft volcanic ash, with a real risk of a cave in and getting suffocated! They don’t harvest in the wet season, and Monday is a day free from collecting, otherwise it starts every day at 0800 till late pm, and some ace diggers get 50 eggs per day. All the trees and shrubs have died off since 2007 so it’s now a moonscape pitted with holes and diggings (plus a largely buried wartime tank!), it is just astonishing how the birds continue to survive. Eggs sell for K2 each so this is a very important local asset.
KING QUAIL (Excalfactoria chinensis)
Much to my surprise, this rare species still exists in the wet pastures at Numundo close to where we used to see it before it got smothered in oil palm. Sally spotted a small bird in the paddock and it proved to be a beautiful male, which we watched for some time from the vehicle, then seeing a female and a tiny black youngster scuttle across the track, and accounting for the agitation of the male. We then flushed two females and a male further down this track, which were all close together. This is the endemic race lepida, with very few records.
PACIFIC BLACK DUCK (Anas superciliosa)
One near Garu, and a couple on the river at Arawa.
PACIFIC REEF-HERON (Egretta sacra)
A couple around Walindi, and two dark morph birds at Tunuru.
EASTERN CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus coromandus)
Six at Numundo plantation were unusual.
STRIATED HERON (Butorides striata)
One on a reef near Walindi, very local in the Bismarcks.
NANKEEN (RUFOUS) NIGHT HERON (Nycticorax caledonicus)
One flying over near Nouvah village just after we saw the Bougainville Crow.
BLACK BITTERN (Dupetor flavicollis)
One part-leucistic bird was in a drainage ditch en route to Garu, no doubt wondering why it's habitat was now largely over-planted with the dreaded oil palm. The white wings resemble an Ardeola sp. and have led to claims of Javan Pond Heron here, but the dark back and patchy dark wing blotches show these odd leucistic birds which we first saw here in 1998 are still surviving.
GREAT FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata minor)
Two over Simpson’s Harbour, Rabaul
LESSER FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata ariel)
One over Tunuru beach near Arawa, and a couple of frigatebird sp later.
LITTLE PIED CORMORANT (Microcarbo melanoleucos)
One at Numundo plantation near Walindi.
EASTERN OSPREY (Pandion (haliaetus) cristatus)
One was seen fishing in Kimbe Bay and two were seen at Tunuru on Bougainville.
PACIFIC BAZA (Aviceda subcristata)
Quite common on New Britain, the race A. s. bismarckii has blackish bars on the breast.
BLACK HONEY BUZZARD (Henicopernis infuscatus)
Scope views of two birds soaring along a ridge by the Wild Dog gate, the large size, blackish appearance and fingered primaries immediately obvious as being this rare species.
BRAHMINY KITE (Haliastur indus)
Common on New Britain.
WHITE-BELLIED SEA-EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucogaster)
A fine adult by Restorf Is. in Kimbe Bay.
SANFORD'S (SOLOMON) SEA-EAGLE (Haliaeetus sanfordi)
One flew over our trail near Panguna at about 900m, seen nicely by 3 of us. It is a scarce species and always a relief when we get one.
VARIABLE GOSHAWK (Accipiter hiogaster)
The distinctive taxon A. h. dampieri is quite common on New Britain, and quite different to mainland PNG birds. We also saw two of the subspecies A. h. bougainvillei near Morgan, itself also a potential split.
PIED GOSHAWK (Accipiter albogularis)
One immature in Arawa was calling loudly and then flew up for lovely perched views, the yellow eye had me puzzled until we saw the photo in Don Hadden’s book. Another adult was seen by some from the vehicle near the Mekamui checkpoint.
NEW BRITAIN GREY-HEADED GOSHAWK (Accipiter princeps)
Phil stepped out for a pit-stop and saw what he initially took to be a Baza flying low across the trees, then it turned as it crossed the track and proved to be a large accipiter with grey upperparts and white underparts! Size alone means it has to be this rare species, which is very seldom reported, and it was a lifer for him. A longer view would have been good but hey, I’ll take it!
ORIENTAL HOBBY (Falco severus)
One perched up in a huge dead tree at Wild Dog gave terrific views. Always a very scarce species.
WOODFORD'S RAIL (Nesoclopeus woodfordi)
Terrific views of 3 on a gravel river bank in Arawa town, with one by the airstrip on another day; the birds in the town have become much harder to see and are I suspect under hunting and snaring pressure. A pleasant surprise was three birds in the road late pm near Nouvah village on Buka, my second record from here. This was of course one of our major targets being a rare and little known flightless rail.
PINK-LEGGED RAIL (Rallus insignis)
Phil saw 2 cross the track at Wild Dog at about 800 m when he was walking back to pick up an i-pod, but sadly no-one else saw them.
BUFF-BANDED RAIL (Gallirallus philippensis)
Two at Numundo near the King Quail.
WHITE-BROWED CRAKE (Porzana cinerea)
Sally got us onto one in a small creek at Numundo, spotted from the vehicle too.
PACIFIC (PURPLE) SWAMPHEN (Porphyrio (porphyrio) samoensis)
One near Numundo, and a couple near Morgan and at Arawa on Bougainville. I follow Sangster et al (1999) in splitting this complex.
PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis fulva)
One partial summer bird at Numundo and about 6 at Hoskins airport.
WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus variegata)
A couple at Walindi, and there was one at Tunuru.
COMMON SANDPIPER (Actitis hypoleucos)
A couple at Walindi, 3 at Tunuru and 3 at the beach by the sub-aqua club at Arawa.
WANDERING TATTLER (Tringa incana)
One in partial summer dress on rocks at the Arawa sub-aqua club, told by its supercilium only reaching to above the eye, the wings projecting beyond the tail, and a rather brownish cast to the plumage, not as grey as Grey-tailed.
GREAT CRESTED TERN (Sterna bergii)
A few off Walindi and Tunuru.
SLENDER-BILLED CUCKOO-DOVE (Macropygia amboinensis)
A few seen on New Britain.
BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO-DOVE (Macropygia nigrirostris)
Just a few on New Britain where we had brief views of this rich rusty cuckoo-dove, much smaller and redder than the Slender-billed and with a finely barred tail.
MACKINLAY'S CUCKOO-DOVE (Macropygia mackinlayi)
Nice views near Arawa, and the Kimbe Bay Islands, this is mainly a small island endemic.
CRESTED CUCKOO-DOVE (Reinwardtoena crassirostris)
We heard this calling at about 900m near Panguna, and tape playback suddenly brought one flying through near eye level- a large long tailed cuckoo-dove with blackish upperparts and distinctive whitish head. Others in the group also got brief views of it later doing the vertical diving display typical of this genus, and another brief fly-by was obtained. This was a lifer for me and one I had only slight expectations of finding. It was fortunate it began calling.
STEPHAN'S DOVE (Chalcophaps stephani)
We did well for them this trip, with superb looks on New Britain near Garu, with both males and females in the track.
* NEW BRITAIN BRONZEWING (Henicophaps foersteri)
One was calling out at Garu but regrettably crossed the track around the corner, as it then called from the other side. It’s a very are bird and almost never seen.
NICOBAR PIGEON (Caloenas nicobarica)
One of the birds of the trip, we had great looks at about 8 adults inland of a beach on Big Malo Malo Island after seeing none on Restorf. our boat lad did a great job of flushing them up for nice flight views, and one fine bird sat facing us in a huge tree there. Yay!
SUPERB FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus superbus)
A fine view of a female at Wild Dig, with a male later.
CLARET-BREASTED FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus viridis)
Great views of a male sat up at Panguna on Bougainville, we saw a couple one day and one the next.
KNOB-BILLED (RED-KNOBBED) FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus insolitus)
4 gave good looks around Garu, and there were 3 at Wild Dog, rather scarce this trip.
RED-KNOBBED IMPERIAL-PIGEON (Ducula rubricera)
Fine views on New Britain of this striking bird, with the rather distinct D. r. rufigula subspecies with the pinkish lower breast and belly being decidedly scarce on Bougainville.
FINSCH'S IMPERIAL-PIGEON (Ducula finschii)
Initially heard, then a great sighting of one sat up at Garu. Always a scarce and elusive sub-canopy bird, one of my favourites with that great growling call.
ISLAND (GRAY) IMPERIAL-PIGEON (Ducula pistrinaria)
Common on the islets in Kimbe Bay, and again on lowland Bougainville.
BLACK (BISMARCK) IMPERIAL-PIGEON (Ducula melanochroa)
Just a few on New Britain, with a fly-by at Garu then some nice looks at a few singles at Wild Dog.
YELLOW-TINTED (YELLOWISH) IMPERIAL-PIGEON Ducula (spilorrhoa) subflavescens
This distinctive island form is split by many authorities and is a Bismarck endemic. We saw a few nicely around Garu and at Numundo, where a flock of 30 in a huge tree in the late afternoon light were memorable indeed
PALE MOUNTAIN-PIGEON (Gymnophaps solomonensis)
Our final morning at Panguna saw Frank spot a pigeon sitting up when we were trying to lure at Crested Cuckoo Dove, and to my delight it and two others sat nearby proved to be Pale Mountain Pigeon. It was an unexpectedly attractive bird with a very pale tail and pale grayish underparts.
DUCORPS' (SOLOMON'S) COCKATOO (Cacatua ducorpsii)
Quite common on Bougainville and very corella-like, a Solomon's endemic. A tame bird was at the Guest House at Panguna, where hard-hearted James scoffed all his crackers without giving it any!
BLUE-EYED COCKATOO (Cacatua ophthalmica)
Still quite common (and very noisy) around Garu, we got some fine views.
CARDINAL LORY (Chalcopsitta cardinalis)
Common on Buka and Bougainville, basically a Solomon's endemic.
COCONUT (RAINBOW) LORIKEET (Trichoglossus haematodus massena)
Seen on each of the big islands, this is the subspecies massena, which has dark bars on the red of the chest.
PURPLE-BELLIED (EASTERN BLACK-CAPPED) LORY (Lorius hypoinochrous)
They were fairly common in forest on New Britain, and have a great call.
RED-CHINNED LORIKEET (Charmosyna rubrigularis)
There were 15 on the first day and 10 the next, around the lower levels at Wild Dog, attracted to the flowering trees there. Almost endemic to the region.
RED-FLANKED LORIKEET (Charmosyna placentis)
Small numbers on the New Britain and Bougainville were always in flight, but we finally got a good scope view of a female in the coconut flowers on Buka.
DUCHESS LORIKEET (Charmosyna margarethae)
This scarce Solomon's endemic gave brief looks at a flowering tree in Arawa town, with great views of a noisy flock of 20 or so at Tunuru later.
MEEK’S LORIKEET (Charmosyna meeki)
Frank and I saw 4 fly over calling near Panguna at about 900m, but it was basically a UTV. However, scoping a flock of Duchess Lorikeet near Tunuru, the first bird I looked at was a small green lorikeet with a pink bill, a lifer too! Happily Bosco then found us another actually at Tunuru Mission, feeding quietly in coconut flowers and allowing terrific views. The crown is tinged bluish, the bill pale pinky and the body basically green. This is reportedly a higher altitude species, but it seems they must come to the coast when the flowers are right.
BUFF-FACED PYGMY-PARROT (Micropsitta pusio)
Heard at Garu and seen briefly at Wild Dog, they eat the lichen on the branches and this genus are the world's smallest parrots. Micropsitta heard at Panguna are likely to be Green Pygmy-Parrot.
SONG (SINGING) PARROT (Geoffroyus heteroclitus)
Just a few at Wild Dog, nice to hear them calling but they don’t really sing and sound very like Red-cheeked Parrot!
ECLECTUS PARROT (Eclectus roratus)
Fairly common on New Britain, much scarcer on Bougainville, a superb bird with an astonishing sexual dimorphism.
BISMARCK (GREEN-FRONTED) HANGING-PARROT (Loriculus tener)
One went bulleting past calling at the Wild Dog entrance, this is always a hard bird to get.
* BRUSH CUCKOO (Cacomantis variolosus)
Quite commonly heard, with the Bougainville birds having a very distinctive call.
SHINING BRONZE-CUCKOO (Chrysococcyx lucidus)
A couple of fine views at Garu and near Panguna, the species is a migrant from Australia or New Zealand.
* ASIAN KOEL (Eudynamys scolopacea)
Heard a couple of times at Garu and Wild Dog.
* VIOLACEOUS COUCAL (Centropus violaceus)
Aargh. Well, we heard them really well at Garu but sadly with none close enough to lure into view, in fact they often seem to take exception to tape and disappear! They are always elusive and need a bit of luck to see well.
WHITE-NECKED (PIED) COUCAL (Centropus ateralbus)
Good views of this endemic at Garu and Wild Dog.
WEST SOLOMONS BOOBOOK (Ninox jacquinotii eichorni)
We had terrific scope views of a pair of these birds at a stakeout roost near a site where we first saw it in 2007. This taxon N. j. eichorni is a potential split (West Solomons Boobook) as the other insular races in the Solomons (Guadalcanal, Makira, Malaita) look very different and may have significant vocal differences too. One of the birds of the trip for sure.
GLOSSY SWIFTLET (Collocalia esculenta)
Common on New Britain, with very few on Bougainville, in the lowlands only.
WHITE-RUMPED SWIFTLET (Aerodramus spodiopygius)
Sparse on New Britain and Bougainville.
UNIFORM SWIFTLET (Aerodramus vanikorensis)
Common on New Britain, and very sparse on Bougainville.
MOUSTACHED TREESWIFT (Hemiprocne mystacea)
This striking species was seen on Buka, this race woodfordiana being somewhat smaller than mainland birds.
COMMON KINGFISHER (Alcedo atthis)
Nice views at Walindi.
* VARIABLE (DWARF) KINGFISHER (Ceyx lepidus)
Heard on New Britain at Garu, one zipping right by but staying out of sight!
WHITE-MANTLED KINGFISHER (Todirhamphus albonotatus)
A fine pair of this very uncommon bird eventually showed very well at Wild Dog and were calling well, a good pick-up as it always a bit tricky to find. We also heard it at Garu where Phil glimpsed one.
ULTRAMARINE KINGFISHER (Todiramphus leucopygius)
Fantastic views of a male near Arawa and a pair near the Mekamui checkpoint.
COLLARED KINGFISHER (Todiramphus chloris)
49 races, and no doubt various distinct cryptic and not so cryptic species. New Britain birds have richly coloured rusty underparts and distinct calls, birds on Bougainville are sexually dimorphic. Splitting is way overdue, we saw T. c. tristrami on New Britain and T. c. alberti on Bougainville
BEACH KINGFISHER (Todiramphus saurophaga)
This great bird showed briefly on Restorf Island, and very nicely at Big Malo Malo, a spectacular bird that can be hard to find.
SACRED KINGFISHER (Todiramphus sanctus)
A few of this Australian migrant were on New Britain and Bougainville.
BLACK-HEADED PARADISE-KINGFISHER (Tanysiptera nigriceps)
This bird showed poorly at Garu, coming in very high up in big trees. It is clearly an insular allospecies of Buff-breasted P-K, with a black cap and slightly different call.
RAINBOW BEE-EATER (Merops ornatus)
Seen in small numbers on all the islands, a winter migrant from Australia.
DOLLARBIRD (Eurystomus orientalis)
Two at Wild Dog and then just one near Morgan on Bougainville.
BLYTH'S HORNBILL (Aceros plicatus)
Small numbers of this fantastic bird on both islands, with a fine feeding flock of 27 or so near Tunuru one afternoon. The wings make an amazing loud and distinctive whooshing in flight.
* RED-BELLIED PITTA (Pitta erythrogaster)
Heard briefly up at Wild Dog.
ASHY MYZOMELA (Myzomela cineracea)
We had good looks at this quite large drab endemic around Garu and at Wild Dog.
RED MYZOMELA (Myzomela cruentata)
Frank saw one around 950 mat Wild Dog, an uncommon bird only found at altitude here.
SCLATER'S (SCARLET-BIBBED) MYZOMELA (Myzomela sclateri)
Endemic to small islands off the Bismarcks, we had very good views on Restorf Is. where both males and females were active around the blossoming shrubs.
SCARLET-NAPED MYZOMELA (Myzomela lafargei)
Quite common feeding on Loranthus at one track near Panguna, they are an elusive species down in the lowlands and readily missed.
BLACK-BELLIED (NEW BRITAIN RED-HEADED) MYZOMELA (Myzomela erythromelas)
Another rather elusive species, we saw a single black and red male at Wild Dog, the only one we encountered.
BOUGAINVILLE HONEYEATER (Stresemannia bougainvillei)
Just one at about 900m below Panguna, very active and hard to see well as it came to Loranthus, I suspect we are at the lower limit of the range here as we only encountered it on the first day. Told from female Red-naped Myzomela by larger size and lack of yellowish below. This was a bird I particularly wanted to see well as it is currently in a monotypic genus, but it proved elusive.
NEW BRITAIN FRIARBIRD (Philemon cockerelli)
We saw a few around Garu and Walindi. They call monotonously long before dawn at Walindi, on Phil's first visit he spent ages tracking this nocturnal caller down and was not impressed when he eventually found the culprit!
WHITE-BACKED (BISMARCK) WOODSWALLOW (Artamus insignis)
Three at 800 m at Wild Dog and one near 900 m next day, an attractive species but sadly quite scarce.
YELLOW-EYED (BARRED) CUCKOO-SHRIKE (Coracina lineata)
Three sightings from Garu and Wild dog race C. l. sublineata, and one from Buka of race C. l. pusilla. The call is quite distinct to Australian birds but sounds like those on mainland PNG, a split might well be involved here as these NG birds show much less or no barring as well.
WHITE-BELLIED CUCKOO-SHRIKE (Coracina papuensis)
The large-billed race C. p. sclateri was seen tree times at Garu and Wild Dog, whilst Bougainville birds belong with C. p. perpallida.
BLACK-FACED CUCKOOSHRIKE (Coracina novaehollandiae)
Four in Arawa were unexpected as this is quite an uncommon migrant here.
CICADABIRD (Coracina tenuirostris)
More splits pending, these island taxa have very distinct vocalizations and are clearly allospecies. The rusty and unbarred female on Bougainville is noteworthy. We saw what are currently races as follows: C t. heinrothi on New Britain and C. t. saturatior on Bougainville. Note these are split by the IOC as Grey-capped Cicadabird C. remota but the whole complex badly needs an unraveling.
VARIED TRILLER (Lalage leucomela)j
Quite common on New Britain, this is the race L. l. falsa.
BISMARCK WHISTLER (Pachycephala (pectoralis) citreogaster)
One at Wild Dog, a scarce species overall, they do not respond to tape of Australian
birds. 64 races are included in this Golden Whistler species complex if it is not split up.
ORIOLE WHISTLER (Pachycephala (pectoralis) orioloides)
The race bougainvillei was quite common in the hill forest below Panguna to about 950 m; males of this taxon have a distinctive yellow throat, a black crown, a fairly broad black breast band and small yellow nape patch. The females are equally distinctive, with warm brown upperparts, tinged rusty on the secondaries, and whitish beneath. They look quite large and heavy billed too. The voice is also different to Golden Whistler, being deeper, richer toned and more fluty.
BOUGAINVILLE WHISTLER (Pachycephala (implicata) richardsi)
A female with white throat and greyish breast band was seen at 950 m near the Bv Honeyater spot, a retro-ID.
MANGROVE GOLDEN (BLACK-TAILED) WHISTLER (Pachycephala melanura)
P. m. dahli A female showed well on Restorf, where some also got a fine male.
SPANGLED DRONGO (Dicrurus bracteatus)
Just 4 seen at Garu, D. b. laemostictus, endemic to New Britain, they sound quite unlike Australian birds and call more like carbonarius on mainland New Guinea, which is a likely split as Papuan Spangled Drongo.
NORTHERN FANTAIL (Rhipidura rufiventris)
A couple at Garu, this is R. r. finschii, endemic to New Britain, with a buff belly, light grey mantle and broad white fringes to secondaries and tertials.
WILLIE-WAGTAIL (Rhipidura leucophrys)
The race R. l. melaleuca was widespread on New Britain but very scarce on Bougainville.
COCKERELL’S (WHITE-WINGED) FANTAIL (Rhipidura cockerelli)
The race R. c. septentrionalis, endemic to Bougainville, including Buka and Shortland, with large white spots on breast and extensive white on tertials, was scarce on the way up to Panguna.
RUFOUS FANTAIL (Rhipidura rufifrons)
The Rufous Fantail in forest near Panguna is actually the taxon R. r. commoda, placed with this species and not Arafura Fantail despite the white tail tips. I think more work is needed to establish the relations of these island forms.
ISLAND MONARCH (i)
Sally saw one on Restorf, this is a classic small island species.
BOUGAINVILLE MONARCH (Monarcha erythrostictus)
Great looks below Panguna, and quite vocal but elusive in the forest near the remains of the mine site
* BLACK-TAILED (BISMARCK PIED) MONARCH (Monarcha verticalis verticalis)
One was calling at Garu but stayed out of sight. It is always a shy low-density species and quite hard to find.
BLACK-AND-WHITE (SOLOMON'S PIED) MONARCH (Monarcha barbatus)
This striking pied monarch with big white shoulder patch and a black chin and throat, was again a very sparse and low-density species. We saw this nominate race a couple of times in mixed flocks along the tracks near Panguna but it was very elusive.
STEEL-BLUE (SOLOMON'S SATIN) FLYCATCHER (Myiagra ferrocyanea)
Good looks near Panguna, the male M. f. cinerea really is like a very bluish Satin Flycatcher but the female has a distinctly rusty tail and rather pale head.
SHINING FLYCATCHER (Myiagra alecto)
A pair near the manager’s house at Numundo Plantation were of the taxon M. a. chalybeocephala.
VELVET (DULL or LESSER SHINING) FLYCATCHER (Myiagra hebetior)
We had terrific looks at a male at Garu of the race M. h. eichorni, they seem smaller and more delicate than Shining Flycatcher with a flatter head, and the call is quite distinct.
BISMARCK (TORRESIAN) CROW (Corvus (orru) insularis)
An obvious split, more distinctive than some of the Australian corvid species- short wings, distinctive flight, very different vocals, and distinct habits. They were quite common around Walindi and Hoskins.
BOUGAINVILLE CROW (Corvus meeki)
A foray on the final afternoon on Buka saw us checking likely areas in wet and rather windy weather, but we finally came good around 1740 as it was getting really late, when one called and we were able to see it flying near Nouvah village. The species seems to have declined a lot on Bougainville and the locals say they seldom see them now.
PACIFIC SWALLOW (Hirundo tahitica)
Small numbers on New Britain of the race H. t. ambiens, and the notably smaller and darker H. t. subfusca from Buka and Bougainville.
* BOUGAINVILLE BUSH WARBLER (ODEDI) (Cettia haddeni)
We heard this singing at two sites, and got very close twice at the one at 920 m near Panguna, where it would sing about every half hour both early morning and late afternoon. The song is a beautiful mournful sweet onomatopoeic phrase, with the famous “O day dee” a part of it, but regrettably it would not answer playback and the best we did was to see a leaf shake. I really thought it might fly across the trail then but sadly it was not to be. The species was known from its vocals (1972 and subsequently) long before it was formally described in 2006 from specimens collected by John Toroua, and named after local birder Don Hadden.
* ISLAND LEAF-WARBLER (Phylloscopus poliocephalus)
One was heard in forest at 850m near Panguna. This would be of the race P. p. bougainvillei.
AUSTRALASIAN REED-WARBLER (Acrocephalus australis)
This interesting taxon A. a. sumbae was seen and heard at Numundo. There are suggestions that it may actually be a split from Australasian Reed Warbler, which was itself split from Clamorous Reed A. stentoreus. Note Dutson lists this Bismarck bird as the taxon toxopei.
[RUSTY THICKETBIRD (Megulurulus rubiginosus)]
A short but musical song burst we heard a couple of times at 960 m at Wild Dog is almost certainly this species, I can’t think what else could have made it, but it then went quiet and we could not confirm.
GOLDEN-HEADED CISTICOLA (Cisticola exilis)
One at Numundo plantation, this is the race C. e. polionota.
BLACK-HEADED WHITE-EYE (Zosterops hypoxanthus)
Three at Wild Dog were a good find as Z. h. hypoxanthus is scarce in the hills of New Britain
YELLOW-THROATED WHITE-EYE (Zosterops metcalfii)
Z. m. exiguus was common and quite vocal on Buka and Bougainville, probably the commonest passerine endemic there.
GREY-THROATED WHITE-EYE (Zosterops ugiensis)
Frank and Sally saw the only one of the trip at about 900m below Panguna. This taxon is Z. u. hamlini.
METALLIC STARLING (Aplonis metallica)
Common throughout with some big colonies of hanging nests seen on New Hanover and Big Malo Malo.
SINGING STARLING (Aplonis cantoroides)
Also common throughout but in much smaller numbers than the Metallic.
BROWN-WINGED STARLING (Aplonis grandis)
Just a few of this localised Solomon's endemic at Arawa, this is the nominate race.
MELANESIAN (LONG-TAILED) MYNA (Mino kreffti)
The short-tailed Long-tailed Myna in quite common but local on the Bismarcks, Buka and Bougainville, even seen near Panguna.
BISMARCK (RED-BANDED) FLOWERPECKER (Dicaeum eximium)
Everyone got nice looks at Garu of this attractive little flowerpecker with the grey flanks and the red spot on the grey chest band of the male. This is the race D. e. layardorum.
MIDGET FLOWERPECKER (Dicaeum aeneum)
We got good looks at a few of this tiny bird D. a. aeneum on Buka and Bougainville.
BLACK SUNBIRD (Leptocoma sericea)
Common on the Bismarcks, this taxon is N. a. caeruleogula,
OLIVE-BACKED (YELLOW-BELLIED) SUNBIRD (Cinnyris jugularis)
Quite common at the lower altitudes on the Bismarcks, Buka and Bougainville, this is N. j. flavigaster.
EURASIAN TREE SPARROW (Passer montanus)
A surprise was seeing 3 Eurasian Tree Sparrows at Garu workers village, where it is a new arrival after the initial colonization at Kimbe in 2007. They are known from Biak in West Papua but these were the first for PNG then and the spread is continuing apace on the mainland too.
* BLUE-FACED PARROTFINCH (Erythrura trichroa)
Heard on two days along the track near Panguna at about 920 m, a new Bougainville bird for me. Likely to be the taxon woodfordi.
HOODED MANNIKIN (MUNIA) (Lonchura spectabilis)
Nice looks at the nominate race in long grass at Numundo.
BUFF-BELLIED MANNIKIN (Lonchura melaena)
First seen at Hoskins airport, then some fine views at Numundo, this is the nominate race. The taxon bukaensis known only from Buka airport has not been seen for many years, but Bosco just had a report of one flying into a house on Buka so it must still be there somewhere.
House Mouse (Mus musculus)
The mouse that made nocturnal visits to James and Diana at Panguna is presumably this introduced species. Tactile contact was unfortunate but lucky you used mosquito nets!
Black Rat (Rattus rattus)
Steve saw a couple of these at the Panguna Hilton. Luckily he suppressed the information.
Greater Flying-fox (Pteropus neohibernicus)
Small numbers seen at the forest sites on New Britain, this is a huge species and unfortunately good to eat!
Small flying foxes seen singly near Morgan on Bougainville are presumably either P. rayneri or P. sanborni. The locals say there used to be big colonies but the numbers crashed as the conflict began and they have yet to recover.
Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris)
James and Diana saw a mother and baby of this species off Rabaul.
Phil saw a 30 cm long slender pinkish snake on the track near Panguna. Apparently there are 4 non-venomous terrestrial species on Bougainville. This one is tentatively identified as a Bougainvillean or Hediger’s Coral Snake Parapistocalamus hedigeri a rare and little known species classified as near threatened.
Sicklebill Safaris, Kuranda, Queensland Sept. 2011.