BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF THE TRIP.
The Malay Archipelago (Land of the Orang Utan and The Bird of Paradise) written by Alfred Russel Wallace and published in 1869 is possibly the greatest travel and natural history book ever written. It describes Wallace's extraordinary 8 year voyage of discovery through what are largely now the islands of Indonesia from the Celebes Sea to the Banda Sea during which he collected, described and recorded for the first time the wonderfully diverse avifauna of that region. The furthest reaches of his voyage took Wallace to the western end of the island of New Guinea and its satellite islands where he collected and described several species of the astonishing Birds of Paradise. That book, together with David Attenborough's breathtaking documentary on the Birds of Paradise, created in us a passionate desire to see the birds in the wild; partly achieved with our 1996 trip to Irian Jaya and Halmahera.
Subsequent trip reports by other birders, particularly a 1998 trip report by Jan Vermuelen, further fuelled the desire to see more of these exotic species and finally this year, at the instigation of Chris Lodge, we put together an itinerary covering the better known sites in PNG together with one or two areas less commonly visited. The itinerary was designed primarily to see Birds of Paradise and Bowerbirds but we also hoped to see other less common endemic species along the way.
New Guinea is the second largest island in the world with an east to west backbone of geologically recent, high and rugged mountain chains surrounded by humid floodplains and swampy lowland. Because of the difficulty of the terrain throughout its large altitudinal range the island still retains huge tracts of primary forest which in turn, support a bewildering array of fauna containing many endemic species.
The challenging terrain, thriving insect life and apparent remoteness of many of the birding sites would at first suggest a logistically difficult and demanding trip but the reality is considerably different. Whilst a broken down 4WD vehicle in the hills and a plentiful supply of mosquitoes, leeches and chiggers in the lowland forest led to the occasional discomfort, birding in PNG was easier than we had anticipated and certainly less demanding than say parts of Indonesia or the Philippines. As far as personal safety is concerned PNG has something of a reputation as a dangerous destination, and there is some evidence for this, but at no time during the trip did we feel remotely threatened. Logistically things went pretty smoothly, all internal flights arrived and departed more or less on time, lodges were above expectation (particularly Kumul and Warili Lodge).
Overall the trip was pretty successful as we saw 22 of the 24 target Birds of Paradise (Black Sicklebill heard only and Emperor BoP missed altogether) 19 of them males; 5 of the 6 possible Bowerbirds including 'scope views of the glowing Flame Bowerbird; 2 of the 3 Jewel-babblers; and we enjoyed wonderful views of Southern Crowned Pigeon, Sooty Owl and the very localised White-bellied Pitohui. We perhaps fared less well with some of the tougher species like Dwarf Cassowary, Painted Quailthrush, White-eared Catbird, Pheasant and Ground Pigeons but they were always going to be tricky. Overall we saw around 250 species, reliably hearing 10 others and it was a great pleasure to experience very different cultures and enjoy some of the most magnificent lowland and montane forest environments anywhere on the planet.
LOGISTICS AND COSTS.
Even with all the information on the internet and some helpful trip reports it can be a challenge to decide if you can be confident of organising a trip of this nature on your own. We soon agreed that for a somewhat unknown, potentially hazardous and logistically difficult destination such as PNG it was sensible to hire a guide/ground agent to minimise the hassle. We eventually decided to go with Andy Anderson of AABirding based in Cairns who, although he had not been to PNG for 3 or 4 years, had run some 20 or so tours all over the country and had many local contacts which we thought would be useful. He also offered a price (AUS$7800 per person)which was very competitive, achieved largely by avoiding Ambua Lodge. Andy's web address is http://www.aabirding.com
Andy has been around the block but proved to be a decent straightforward individual with, at times, a very dry and amusing sense of humour. He put together a good trip, was responsive in the planning stages, just about sorted out most of the few problems we encountered and, indeed, did have many contacts which undoubtedly helped the tour along. However this contribution was somewhat compromised by his inept planning of the Keki sector of the trip which saw us driving huge distances when we should have been birding. This almost certainly cost us a few species which was infuriating because with a bit more forethought it could have been avoided. In the field Andy's contribution was marginal, his tapes were of poor quality, his use of them apparently random and at times he just managed to cause confusion with the local guides. On the other hand he was instrumental in finding Ornate Melidectes and Brown-headed Kingfisher.
On balance the decision to go with AA Birding was the right one, particularly in view of the competitive price, but if we were returning to PNG we would feel confident enough to make the arrangements directly with the local guides and lodges listed in this report although postal communication say with Steven at Warili Lodge may still require something of an act of faith.
SITE INFORMATION AND ACCOMMODATION.
Details of the lodges, guest houses and hotels used by us are given within each sector of the trip below but the following website may prove useful in offering alternatives :
The town of Kiunga, situated on the west bank of the upper Fly River, owes its present existence and infrastructure largely to the massive Ok Tedi mine. All supplies for the mine are shipped up river to Kiunga before being transported overland to the mine some 50 kilometres inland and the copper output of this vast and contentious enterprise piped from the mine to Kiunga for outward shipment. There are many downsides to the Ok Tedi, but one upside is that in Kiunga it provides an accessible jumping off point for some wonderful birding at the sites noted below.
Whilst this and other trip reports offer some guidance about birding in the lowland forest around Kiunga, your chances of finding many of the key species will be greatly enhanced by employing the services of the local guide Samuel Kepuknai who as well as finding many of the birds will also arrange all logistics. Samuel can be contacted at the Kiunga Guest House.
Fly and Elevara Rivers and Ekame Lodge.
Some 50kms up the Fly River on one of its tributaries, the Elevara River, Sam has built basic but comfortable hutted accommodation in the heart of the forest. The thriving insect life of the lowland forest, in particular, mosquitoes, chiggers and leeches, can be a bit of a nuisance but the journey up river is an odyssey of discovery itself, the trail system around the lodge and further upriver provide access to a very impressive list of birds including the following: Southern Cassowary, Black-billed Brush Turkey, Forest Bittern, Great-billed Heron, Grey-headed & Variable Goshawk, Bare-eyed and New Guinea Flightless Rail, Thick- billed Ground Pigeon, Cinnamon & Bronze Ground Dove, New Guinea Bronzewing, Purple-tailed, Zoe & Collared Imperial Pigeon, Southern Crowned Pigeon, Beautiful, Ornate, Wompoo, Pink-spotted, Orange-bellied, Orange-fronted, Coroneted, Superb & Dwarf Fruit Doves, Pesquet's (Vulturine) Parrot, Palm Cockatoo, Little & Shining Bronze Cuckoo, Channel-billed & Long-billed Cuckoo, Common & Little Paradise Kingfisher, Rufous bellied Kookaburra, Hook-billed Kingfisher, Blyth's Hornbill, Papuan and Marbled Frogmouth, Blue Jewel-babbler, Hooded, Golden & Frilled Monarch, Black-sided Robin, White-bellied Pitohui, Black-faced, Boyer's, Grey-headed and Golden Cuckoo shrike, Shining Flycatcher, Twelve-wired, Raggiana & King Bird of Paradise, Trumpet & Glossy-mantled Manucode.
Km 17 north of Kiunga on the road to Tabubil and the Ok Tedi Mine
The principal reason for visiting this location is for the Greater Bird of Paradise display tree at which site David Attenborough was famously hoisted up into the canopy to provide the extraordinary footage of their display rituals. They are still there giving their stunning courtship display and there are also many other great birds in the forest including: Pink-spotted, Ornate & Orange-bellied Fruit Dove, Zoe & Pinon Imperial Pigeon, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Yellow-capped Pygmy Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Blyth's Hornbill, Chestnut-breasted & Brush Cuckoo, Papuan Spinetail, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Blue Jewel-babbler, Rusty & Variable Pitohui, Spot-winged & Frilled Monarch, Greater & Raggiana Bird of Paradise, Grey Crow.
Gre Dringas Road near Kiunga
A mixture of secondary growth with some remnant patches of primary forest, this site near Kiunga provides an easy introduction to lowland birding in PNG. We did not find this site quite as productive as others have done but birds you may see here include: Long-tailed Buzzard, Variable Goshawk, Little Eagle, Black-billed Cuckoo Dove, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Orange-breasted, Double-eyed and Large Fig Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, Greater-streaked, Dusky and Western Black-capped Lory, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Greater Black Coucal, Common Koel, White-bellied Thicket Fantail, Lowland Peltops, Brown Oriole, Long-billed & Mimic Meliphaga, Varied Triller, Hooded Butcherbird
(Note: In his excellent report Jan Vermuelen mentions seeing Glossy-mantled, Crinkle-collared & Trumpet Manucode, Greater & King Bird of Paradise along this road but we found no evidence of them and Sam seemed to suggest that perhaps they are no longer to be found there.)
About 45 minutes drive from Kiunga past the airport on a grassy knoll overlooking largely secondary growth is the place where most birders come to look for Flame Bowerbird, usually in the morning as they fly over the open scrubby country from fruiting tree to bower. Some are successful others not. Birds that may be seen along the Boystown Road include: Pink-spotted Fruit Dove, Zoe Imperial Pigeon, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Red-cheeked Parrot, Greater-streaked Lory, Eclectus Parrot, Double-eyed Fig Parrot, Brown Cuckoo Dove, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Blyth's Hornbill, Tawny-breasted and Streak-headed Honeyeater, Emperor Fairywren, Flame Bowerbird, Greater Bird of Paradise, Trumpet Manucode.
In Kiunga itself there is basically only one place to stay - The Kiunga Guest House which can be contacted as follows: ( Note- these contact details have changed since Jan Vermuelen's 1999 report)
Joy Dutton, General Manager
Ningerum Transport Pty,
PO Box 20,
Tel: 548 1188/1084
Fax 548 1195
It is possible to bird the forest by taking canoe trips up the Fly River returning each evening to Kiunga. Alternatively one can spend time deep in the forest overnighting at Ekame Lodge where the accommodation is basic but comfortable and the food, while not haute cuisine, seems to have improved since Garry George's reports of dismal dining!! The sights and sounds of the forest at night alone make it well worth staying at Ekame Lodge.
Tabubil, like Kiunga, is a mining town built to serve the needs of the Ok Tedi mine. It lies about 150km north of Kiunga in the foothills of the Star Mountains at an elevation of 600 metres. The drive to Tabubil gives some insight into the destructive nature of the Ok Tedi mine where the valley of what used to be the free flowing Ok Tedi River is now a slaty grey rock and ash dumping ground for the overburden and tailings from the mine. Nevertheless good birds can still be found around Tabubil although the island at Km119, previously the site for Golden-backed Whistler, no longer exists having been washed out in recent floods.
Dablin Creek Pipeline Road
Our focus in Tabubil was to obtain good views of Magnificent Bird of Paradise and to this end we spent a considerable period of the best birding time in our makeshift camouflage net hide at the display ground. We therefore did not spend as long on the Dablin Creek Road itself as it perhaps merits and accordingly saw fewer birds than others. Birds you may encounter here are: Long-tailed Buzzard, Black-billed Cuckoo Dove, Superb Fruit Dove, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Rainbow, Goldie's, Striated & Fairy Lorikeet, Blue-collared Parrot, Stout-billed, Grey-headed & Boyer's Cuckoo-shrike, Brown Oriole, White-shouldered Fairywren, Sclater's Whistler, Rusty-Mouse Warbler, Black Fantail, Chestnut backed Jewel-babbler, Mountain Peltops, Variable Pitohui, Black & Northern Fantail, Carola's Parotia, Magnificent & Greater Bird of Paradise, Crinkle-collared Manucode. Torrent Flycatcher can be found a couple of kilometres beyond Dablin Creek Road where the road descends steeply to a bridge over the river.
Ok Ma Road
We did not visit this site across the river from Kiunga where the key bird is Greater Melampitta.
PO Box 226,
Tabubil, Western Province
Tel 548 9277
Fax (675) 548 9301.
MT HAGEN - KUMUL LODGE
Kumul Lodge is both an excellent birding location and a very, very good lodge, probably the most comfortable of the trip. It is situated approximately 60 minutes drive from the airport at Mt. Hagen and the lodge will arrange airport pick up and drop off. Paul & John, the two bird guides were pretty good and knew where to look for some key species.
Kumul Lodge, at an elevation of 2850 metres, in the shadow of Mt Hagen and close to the Tomba Gap where Archbold's Bowerbird was discovered, is the highest lodge in PNG; approximately the same elevation as Tari Gap and with similar birds. The lodge possesses the great advantage that it is located on the edge of pristine moss and epiphyte-covered oak and beech forest with a phenomenal list of birds literally right on the doorstep. There is a good and well maintained trail system and by driving a short distance you can achieve significant changes in altitude and bird species.
Significant birds include: Brown Quail, Chestnut Forest Rail, Rufous Woodcock, White-breasted Fruit Dove, Goldie's, Little Red, Josephine's, Papuan, Plum-faced, Yellow-billed & Orange-billed Lorikeet, Brehm's, Painted & Modest Tiger Parrot, Feline & Montane Owlet Nightjar, Mountain Nightjar, Alpine Pipit, Island Thrush, Papuan Whipbird, Spotted Jewel-babbler, Blue-capped Ifrita, Orange-crowned Fairywren, Garnet, Black-throated, White-winged, Blue-grey & White-eyed Robin, Wattled Ploughbill, Mid-mountain, Fan-tailed, Spotted, Tit & Crested Berrypecker, Archbold's & Macgregor's Bowerbird, Crested, Loria's, King of Saxony & (lower down) Superb & Blue Birds of Paradise.
Contact the lodge directly at:
PO Box 989
West Highland Province
Tel 675-547- 4042
KEKI LODGE - MADANG
Located 128kms from Madang and at an elevation of c1000 metres, Keki Lodge is probably the best place to see Fire-maned Bowerbird which, from review of the bird log, is seen by most birders who actually make it up the road. The last 28kms of the "road" are terrible, a combination of steep inclines and an ever-narowing, dusty and boulder-strewn track will test even the most industrial strength 4WD. Ours packed up and we had to walk the last 10kms.
As well as the access road, there are a number of small trails that lead into the forest. Key birds can be seen within 100 metres of the lodge and include: Rainbow & Red-flanked Lorikeet, Western Black-capped Lory, Sulphur-crested & Palm Cockatoo Pesquet's (Vulturine) Parrot, Rusty Mouse Warbler, Banded Yellow Robin, Sooty & White-bellied Thicket Fantail, Variable, Hooded & Rusty Pitohui, Fire-maned Bowerbird, Lesser Bird of Paradise, Stout-billed, Yellow-eyed, Boyer's & Black-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Obscure Berrypecker.
Accommodation is in simple but comfortable huts and the shower is a small mountain stream about 75 metres down a slippery track although basins of water were provided at the hut. Food consists largely of vegetables of poor quality. The owner is a very enthusiastic local landowner called Moyang who deserves to succeed and arrangements to visit Keki can apparently be made through the Madang Visitors & Cultural Centre.
BOANNA ROAD (near Lae Airport)
This "site" is in fact a long winding road that takes you into the hills on the north side of the Lae-Madang Highway, near the airport, where the Huon endemic Emperor Bird of Paradise can apparently be found. Because of the interminable confusion surrounding this sector of our trip we were unable to bird the road properly but did see the following: Pink-spotted Fruit Dove, Rainbow Lorikeet, Edward's & Double-eyed Fig Parrot, Brush Cuckoo, White-shouldered Fairy Wren, Grand Mannikin, Raggiana Bird of Paradise.
TARI BASIN to the TARI GAP.
One of the great birding locations of the world Tari extends from the Tari Basin at an elevation of c1700 metres along the Highland Highway for 32 kilometres through a variety of altitudinal zones to the Tari Gap at c2900 metres. Here the forest gives way to montane grassland with the road continuing on for a bone jarring 5 hour ride to Mendi.
Appendix 1 shows a schematic of the area with the expensive Ambua Lodge as the hub. The map in Appendix 1 provides a pretty good summary of where to find birds in Tari but there is more detail set out below of specific locations.
About 10kms from the town of Tari there is a walled garden known locally as the Spirit or Malingay's Garden which holds a display ground for Lawe's Parotia. Other birds that can be seen there include: Papuan King Parrot, Common Smoky Honeyeater, Papuan Frogmouth.
Warili Lodge is located about 2kms below Ambua Lodge on the Highland Highway. The only downside of Warili is, that unlike Ambua, it is not right in the forest. Nevertheless birds that can be seen and heard around Warili Lodge and in Benson Kamoko's village about 2 km downhill from the lodge include: Mountain Peltops, Lawe's Parotia, Blue and Superb Bird of Paradise, Black Sicklebill, MacGregor's Bowerbird.
There are two well maintained trails that begin on either side of the road shortly above the entrance road to Ambua Lodge. Both trails appear to be called the Waterfall Trail but you should find either trailhead without any difficulty. We found both trails to be productive, giving access to many of the birds found within the apparently excellent grounds of the Lodge. Birds along these trails include: White-breasted Fruit Dove, Orange-billed Lorikeet, Brehm's Tiger Parrot, Torrent Lark, Rufous-naped & Sclater's Whistler, Blue-grey & Black-throated Robin, Black Fantail, Tit Berrypecker, Hooded Cuckoo-shrike, Black Pitohui, Black-breasted Boatbill, Wattled Ploughbill, Lawe's Parotia, Loria's Bird of Paradise and Short-tailed Paradigalla.
Hina Pipi Trail
Further up the Tari Valley birding from the road is absolutely stunning but one of the best locations we came across is a trail located on the right side of the road above the bailey bridge. Locally known as the Hina Pipi (Place of Mosquitoes) Trail it has also been known as Paradise Clearing and more recently, particularly by US birders, as Phoebe's Trail. In the early morning the location and the birding are unparalleled and included in the list for this altitude are such wonders as: Goldie's, Papuan, Little Red, Plum-faced, and Orange-billed Lorikeet, Logrunner, Lesser Melampitta, Chestnut & Forbes Forest Rail, Garnet & White-winged Robin, Crested Berrypecker, Ribbon-tailed & Stephanie's Astrapia, King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, Brown Sicklebill.
The dwarf mossy forest on either side of the road as you approach the Tari Gap at c2900 metres around the area known as "seven corners", where the forest finally gives way to montane grassland, offers the chance to see more fabulous birds: New Guinea Harpy Eagle, Brehm's & Modest Tiger Parrots, Papuan King Parrot, Papuan, Fairy & Yellow-billed Lorikeet, Mountain & Brown-breasted Gerygone, Belford's Melidectes, Great Cuckoo Dove, Crested Berrypecker, Common Smoky Honeyeater, Blue-capped Ifrita, Crested & King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, Brown Sicklebill, Archbold's & Macgregor's Bowerbird.
In the recent past there has only been one option for food and accommodation in Tari - the very expensive Ambua Lodge. Now however there is an excellent and cost effective alternative in Warili Lodge. Owned and operated by Steven Wari the lodge is simple but comfortable with excellent food. It is located 20 kilometres to the east of Tari Airport at an altitude of 2200 metres and lies about 300 metres from Ambua Lodge. Steven, an excellent host, will arrange airport pick up and drop off, and can provide transport, which you will need, to all the birding sites throughout the Tari area. The food is really good (Steven used to be the chef at Ambua). Steven can also assist with local guides - we used his cousin Benson who knows the birds very well. We don't normally endorse places but Warili Lodge was really very good.
Contact Steven in writing at:
PO Box 159,
Tari, Southern Highlands Province
VARIRATA NATIONAL PARK
Varirata is a relatively small national park opened in 1973 located about 1½ hours from Port Moresby. Originally home to the Koiari tribe, it fell under European influence in the 1920s and played a major part in the defence of Port Moresby in the Second World War. It contains 4 main vegetation zones, savanna, casuariana woodland, old regrowth and hill forest and boasts an impressive list of over 200 species a number of which are quite rare. The park posesses an extensive system of trails most of which are clearly marked and well maintained. There is also good birding along the entry road after the turn-off to Sogeri.
The Boundary Track
The track starts on the left about 200 metres before the entrance gate to Varirata NP and runs for 2.4 kilometres until it reaches the top of the escarpment where it turns sharply right and follows the ridge to Gare's Lookout where in theory you can join Gare's Lookout Track, thence to the Circuit Track and thus back to the park entrance. The track is the least travelled in the park and offers a mouth-watering selection of birds. Unfortunately the morning we walked it the track seemed utterly devoid of life of any kind and after walking about 800 -1000 metres the trail petered out into fern-like secondary growth and although it apparently re-enters forest we could see little purpose in pursuing it. However if you read Jan Vermuelen's report you will see that he saw some fantastic birds on the trail and according to the guidebook the following occur: Dwarf Cassowary, Black-billed Brush Turkey, Cinnamon Ground Dove, Pheasant Pigeon, Painted Quailthrush, Yellow-billed & Hook-billed Kingfisher, Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher, White-eared Catbird, Eastern Riflebird.
The Circuit Track
Commencing on the left just beyond the entrance gate this trail meanders for 1.8kms through mature forest with the last 600 metres by the Narirogo Creek. Birds that can be seen on the Circuit Track include: Red-cheeked Parrot, Azure Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher, Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler, Hooded Pitohui, Spot-winged, Frilled, Black-winged & Black-faced Monarch, Eastern Riflebird, Raggiana Bird of Paradise.
Koiari Tree House Trail
From the main picnic area, a short trail descends gently into a flat area before ascending to the historic Koiari Tree House. Andy Anderson predicted it was the best place in the Park for Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher and no tape would be needed as the bird(s) are habituated to humans. To his credit he was dead right and altogether this area seems to be quite birdy: Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher, Hooded Pitohui, Spot-winged, Frilled and Black-winged Monarch, Wallace's Fairy Wren, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird.
Varirata Lookout Trail.
Starting from the main picnic area, the Varirata Lookout Trail meanders for about 1.8km to the lookout at the top of the escarpment where it meets up with the road through the park. It is therefore easy to walk a loop here. The trail is broad and simple to follow and may produce the following birds: Black-billed Brush Turkey, Azure & Dwarf Kingfisher, Rusty & Hooded Pitohui, Eastern Riflebird and Raggiana Bird of Paradise.
By all accounts Port Moresby can be a pretty rough place, particularly after dark, and security precautions such as steel gates and barbed wire around the hotels in town tend to re-affirm this. Rightly or wrongly we chose to get out of Port Moresby and stayed at the Bluff Inn Motel at Mile 17 on the Sogeri Road which also had the advantage of being much closer to Varirata NP. Rooms were reasonable and the food generally good. Although quiet while we were there we were to discover later that the Bluff Inn has also had its share of trouble in the past. Contact
Bluff Inn Motel
PO BOX 7347
The grounds of the University offer some lower level savannah birding. Now heavily protected by a security fence the authorities appear to consider that birders offer little threat and seem happy to allow access. Birds that may be seen at this site include: Black Cuckoo-shrike, Black-backed Butcherbird, Spotted Whistling Duck, Tawny-breasted and Rufous-banded Honeyeater, Eastern Riflebird, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Grey-headed Munia.
Birds of New Guinea. Beehler et al. 1986. Princeton Press. [ ISBN 0-691-02394-8 ] Indispensable; the classic and only field guide currently available. A somewhat dated book which is in process of being revised and updated it is nevertheless a very useful guide. The only note of caution is that since the book was researched many birders have visited PNG and much more data is therefore available. This information suggests that some of the range information proposed in the book is somewhat more restricted than is in fact the case.
The Birds of Papua New Guinea. Brian J Coates. 1990. Dove Publications [ISBN 0-9590257-1-5] This two volume set may now be out of print but it is a spectacular presentation of the birds of PNG. The photographs have to be seen to be believed and it's a marvellous book that let's you appreciate the wonder of what you hope to see or have just seen or in some cases sadly, have missed.
The Birds of Paradise. C Frith & B Beehler. Oxford University Press. [ISBN 0-19-854853-2] The definitive work on the Birds of Paradise with detailed individual species accounts, distribution maps and some really interesting chapters on the evolution, biogeography and ecology of the family Paradisaeidae.
Australian Birding Magazine Spring 1999 Vol5 No3.[ISSN 1323-255X] An excellent article and birdlist for Kumul Lodge by Joseph Tano - the guide at Ambua Lodge.
There are only a few PNG trip reports on the web and the following link will take you to them. The 1998 report by Jan Vermuelen is informative and very helpful and, in coomon with all his reports, that by Garry George is written in his own engaging and enjoyable style. Both reports will undoubtedly heighten your desire to visit PNG but temper your expectation because, unless very fortunate, you are unlikely to repeat Jan Vermuelen's amazing 12 day list!!
We could not find a commercially available tape for PNG so we had to compile our own from various sources. Grateful thanks to Roger Safford and John Hornbuckle who gave us access to their private sound archives. The Birds of Irian Jaya & Halmahera by Richard & Sarah Thomas which we had purchased for our 1996 trip to those locations contained some useful calls and we acquired some further species from the British Library of Sound.
Thanks must undoubtedly go to Chris Lodge for initiating the trip and helping us to fulfil a dream, for his great good humour even on the (few) difficult days and for making sure we saw the Crested BOP at Kumul !! John Hornbuckle was very responsive to requests for information and helpfully provided some tape recordings as did Roger Safford - our thanks to both and finally to Jan Vermuelen who provided us with some helpful information and useful maps.
15 JUNE (DAY 1)
Arrived in Cairns at 06.00 after the long flight from London. Flight to PNG left Cairns at 12.10 and arrived Port Moresby 13.30. Picked up a hired car and drove the short distance to Bluff Inn, our overnight accommodation. Birded around the grounds and then headed out towards Varirata NP about 15.45 where we walked the approach road to the park until dusk and then returned to Bluff Inn for an early night.
Highlights: Hooded Butcherbird, Orange-bellied Fruit Dove, Forest Kingfisher, Greater-streaked and Western Black-capped Lory.
16 JUNE (DAY 2)
Left Bluff Inn at 04.30, drove to Port Moresby to catch the 06.30 flight to Kiunga via Daru. Arrived Kiunga at 09.25 where we were met by Samuel Kepuknai and his driver Charles who took us to Kiunga Lodge and then out immediately to Gre Dringas Road. Spent a quiet couple of hours in this area and returned to Kiunga for lunch at 13.00. After lunch we drove out to Km 17 on the Tabubil road where we saw little of note until 16.00 when we walked in to the Greater BoP display tree where 5-6 males were calling and displaying. Fantastic views and sounds of their raucous, gaudy display. Returned to the road when the light faded around 18.00 and headed back to Kiunga.
Highlights: Red-cheeked and Eclectus Parrot, Long-tailed Buzzard, Grey-headed Goshawk, Greater Bird of Paradise, Grey Crow, Papuan Spinetail, Zoe and Pinon Imperial Pigeon, Boyer's Cuckoo-shrike.
17 JUNE (DAY 3)
Departed 06.00 for the port, boarded the canoe and set off upriver for Sam's lodge on the Elevara River, a tributary of the Fly River. Excellent birding en route included displaying Twelve-wired BoP, 2 species of manucode and a tree full of pigeons, fruit doves and parrots. Arrived Ekame Lodge at 10.40 where we birded around the clearing, had lunch and then headed off up river. Followed a well-maintained trail into the forest where we had great views of a Rufous-bellied Kookaburra and fantastic views of a male King BoP. Sam managed to find a perched Southern Crowned Pigeon which afforded difficult but rewarding 'scope views. Returned to the lodge and finished our day with reasonable views of a Papuan Frogmouth in the camp. A phenomenal days birding and a great wildlife experience.
Highlights: Twelve-wired & King Bird of Paradise, Collared & Pinon Imperial Pigeon, Glossy-Mantled & Trumpet Manucode, Yellow-bellied, Orange-fronted, Ornate & Pink-spotted Fruit Dove, Large & Double-eyed Fig Parrot, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Papuan Frogmouth.
18 JUNE (DAY 4)
Heavy rain during the night, Black-billed Brush Turkey calling constantly. Up at 04.30 and birded the clearing and the trail behind the camp. Great views of Papuan Frogmouth and one Beautiful Fruit Dove seen in poor light. Breakfast interrupted by the sudden appearance of a Twelve-wired BoP displaying enthusiastically in a tree on the other side of the river. Hopped in the canoe and set off up river at 07.10 heading for a new trail which Sam has recently cleared. Rounding a bend in the river, Sam quickly shut off the motor having seen some large birds low in the trees by the riverbank. Thanks to his laser eyesight we were treated to great views of 7 fabulous Southern Crowned Pigeon. However, following this great start a fairly quiet morning then ensued which included a brief fly-past of Dwarf Kingfisher but the foot-prints and fresh droppings of the much-wanted Southern Cassowary were as close as we got to the bird. Hook-billed Kingfisher was heard but we were unable to locate it. Returned to camp for lunch at 12.30 seeing a further 2 Southern Crowned Pigeon on the river. After lunch we followed the trail behind the camp which leads to "the pigeon drinking place" although there were many birds around, they were not very active and proved frustratingly difficult to see. On the way back to camp we taped in a Blue-Jewel-babbler and also had good views of 3-4 immature Raggiana BoP.
Highlights: Papuan Frogmouth, Southern Crowned Pigeon, Wompoo Fruit Dove, Blue Jewel-babbler,. Twelve-wired & Raggiana Bird of Paradise, Shining Flycatcher.
19 JUNE (DAY 5)
Up at 05.00, very quiet around camp. Had breakfast and went up river at 06.45 - another 5 Southern Crowned Pigeon seen. Returned to the trail we birded the first day where we spent time looking for and eventually finding Common Paradise Kingfisher; a perched Hook-billed Kingfisher gave stunning and prolonged views and the male King BoP was again on good form. Returned to camp for lunch and left at 14.00, heading back to Kiunga. Birding the river again produced a variety of fruit doves and parrots together with excellent views of a Great-billed Heron. Returned to Kiunga at 17.00 where the van failed to pick us up necessitating a long hot walk back to the hotel.
Highlights: Hook-billed Kingfisher, Black-sided Robin, Yellow-bellied Longbill, White-bellied Pitohui, Common Paradise Kingfisher, King Bird of Paradise, Great-billed Heron.
20 JUNE (DAY 6)
Up at 05.30 and out along Boystown Road heading for the Flame Bowerbird “stake-out”, arrived 07.15. Spent 3 hours on the grassy knoll seeing 3 female Greater BoP, 2 female Flame Bowerbirds and at the last gasp (at 09.50) a stunning male Flame Bowerbird flew over and miraculously chose to land in a nearby tree and gave superb views. Walked the road birding the scrubby verges until it became too hot around 11.15 when we returned to the hotel for lunch. The remainder of the day was spent around the airfield where it remained very hot until late afternoon when we returned to Gre Dringas road.
Highlights: Flame Bowerbird, Greater-streaked Lory, Red-cheeked Parrot, Tawny-breasted & Streak-headed Honeyeater, Emperor Fairywren, Mimic Meliphaga, Black Sunbird
21 JUNE (DAY 7)
Drove out to Km 17 at 06.30, then walked in to the Greater BoP display tree. Fantastic views of around 20 Greater & 2 Raggiana BoP displaying and calling. Yellow-capped Pygmy Parrot showed well but calling Yellow-billed Kingfisher could not be located. Back to Kiunga for breakfast, said goodbye to Sam and then set off with Charles at 10.30 heading for Tabubil. Arrived at Hotel Cloudlands, Tabubil (complete with swimming pool and cable TV!) around 14.15, dumped our bags and headed off to one of the Magnificent BoP display sites that Sam had found. Heard several birds calling but none were seen. Charles had come armed with netting to create a temporary hide and after making sure that the bird was not around, we spent an hour setting up a hide 30 metres from the display ground. We then drove to Dablin Creek Road where we birded until dusk.
Highlights: Greater & Raggiana Bird of Paradise, Yellow-capped Pygmy Parrot, Pink-spotted & Superb Fruit Dove, Black-billed Cuckoo Dove, Scrub White-eared Meliphaga.
22 JUNE (DAY 8)
Out to the Magnificent BoP site and into the hide well before dawn. Shortly, the bird began calling and we waited patiently until it became light and were rewarded with reasonable views of the male bird on his display perch. Unfortunately, the bird chose to spend periods of time on the ground or in the bushes around the perch where he was obscured from our view. At 07.45 he stopped calling and we couldn't find him again. Drove to Dablin Creek Road for distant views of a male Carola's Parotia and good views of a female. The road was quiet so walked up to the pumping station where we saw Black Fantail and Grey-headed Cuckoo-shrike. Drove down to the river where we had great views of at least 8 Torrent Flycatchers flitting around under the bridge. Returned to the Magnificent BoP site to do a little "gardening" to improve the line of sight from the hide to the display site. After lunch we returned to the Magnificent BoP site but there was no sight or sound of the bird so we went back to Dablin Creek Road where it was equally quiet. Rain started around 5.45 so we headed back to the hotel.
Highlights: Magnificent Bird of Paradise, Carola's Parotia, Black-fronted & Western Mountain White-eye, Sclater's Whistler, Long-billed Honeyeater, Black Fantail, Grey-headed Cuckoo-Shrike, Torrent Flycatcher.
23 JUNE (DAY 9)
Out to the Magnificent BoP site at 06.30; good views first of the male on the display perch where he was subsequently joined by a female. Returned to Dablin Creek Road which was even quieter than the previous day and we only added White-shouldered Fairy-wren to our list before heading back to the hotel where we packed and left for the airport. Flight departed at 10.05 and arrived at the town of Mt Hagen at 11.10 where we were met by Kim Arut, whose husband Paul is the manager of Kumul Lodge, and John, one of the guides. Before setting off on the 60 minute journey to the Lodge we visited the grounds of the Kimininga Lodge for Ornate Melidectes. En route to Kumul stopped at a Superb BoP "stake-out" where the bird called loudly but was too low in the valley to locate. Excellent birding around the lodge in the afternoon culminated in great views of a male Crested BoP and a near heart attack from the high altitude run through the grounds to see it!
Highlights: Magnificent & Crested Bird of Paradise, Orange-billed Lorikeet, Ornate Melidectes, Black-headed Whistler, Yellow-breasted Bowerbird, Brown Sicklebill, Mountain Firetail, Island Thrush, Ribbon-tailed Astrapia.
24 JUNE (DAY 9)
Up at 05.30, birded the trails around the lodge and up onto the ridge for most of the morning. Good views of male & female Ribbon-tailed Astrapia and female Brown Sicklebill, excellent view of White-breasted Fruit Dove and a very brief glimpse of the strange Wattled Ploughbill. In the afternoon birded along the road and downhill from the lodge where we saw a female Stephanie's Astrapia and several female King of Saxony BoP.
Highlights: White-breasted Fruit Dove, Wattled Ploughbill, White-winged Robin, Orange-billed Lorikeet, Crested, Fantail & Tit Berrypecker, Stephanie's Astrapia, King of Saxony Bird of Paradise.
25 JUNE (DAY 10)
Birded around the lodge at first light adding Goldie's Lorikeet & Papuan Mountain Pigeon to our list and then went out on a bush-walk downhill off the ridge. This proved to be a mistake as it became quiet very early and we returned to the lodge at 10.30 having seen little of note. Good views of a pair of Great Wood-Swallow outside the lodge cheered us and, after lunch, views of a possible Snow Mountain Robin, far out of range, had Graeme examining every available text-book in order to verify the sighting. A foray to lower altitude in the afternoon to an historic Blue BoP site was unsuccessful but late afternoon back at the lodge provided excellent views of a Brehm's Tiger Parrot and a male Ribbon-tailed Astrapia which performed superbly. Calling Chestnut Forest Rail came close but remained unseen and at dusk we had great views of 2 Mountain Nightjars which flew around the lodge, landing several times on the roof of one of the huts directly in front of us.
Highlights: Goldie's Lorikeet, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Dimorphic Fantail, Great Wood Swallow, Snow Mountain Robin, Regent Whistler, Brehm's Tiger Parrot.
26 JUNE (DAY 11)
Woke up in the middle of the night with an Mountain Owlet-nightjar calling fairly close - went out in search of it but it disappeared into the darkness. A slow start this chilly morning with little movement. Eventually added Blue-capped Ifrita to our list but not much more. Departed at 09.00 for Mt Hagen airport stopping for good views of both male and female Superb BoP as well as up to 8 Yellow-breasted Bowerbirds. Took off for Lae at 11.45, arriving at 13.00. Unfortunately the 4WD vehicle which was booked to meet us failed to materialise and after a frustrating 2 hour wait Andy eventually managed to get another vehicle and we set off for Madang at 15.15. First part of the drive on a paved road full of pot-holes did produce Eastern Marsh Harrier, Collared Sparrowhawk and Brown Falcon but the remainder of the journey was dreadful. A drive which we had been told would take approximately 2-3 hours including birding stops ended up taking 5 hours of constant driving on poor roads, mostly in the dark. Reached Madang around 20.00 to discover that the accommodation was totally inadequate. Finding other accommodation proved trying because a conference in town meant all the hotels were booked. The Smugglers Inn eventually, after much discussion, found us a 3 bedroom flat nearby which required cleaning but seemed okay. However, we soon discovered that all the water pipes had been stolen, but to their credit the hotel brought us water jugs and a barrel of water for washing and we eventually collapsed into bed at 10.45.
Highlights: Blue-capped Ifrita, Superb Bird of Paradise, Yellow-breasted Bowerbird, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Brown Falcon.
27 JUNE (DAY 11)
A wasted morning as we drove around in prime birding time looking for a site which Andy could not find. Returned to town around 9.00 and had breakfast at the Smugglers Inn while Andy went off to organise our journey to Keki Lodge. He returned with Moyang, the owner of Keki Lodge and we set off at 11.30. The last 28kms on the road up to Keki were on a very poorly maintained track which deteriorated as we drove higher into the hills. At about 14.15 our vehicle decided that it couldn't take any more and slithered to a halt leaving us with a 10km uphill walk in blistering heat. We reached Keki Lodge at 17.00 to be told that we had just missed seeing the male Fire-maned Bowerbird, our target bird at Keki! This was not a good day.
28 JUNE (DAY 12)
Awoke at 06.00 to hear Lesser BoP calling in the display tree just behind the lodge. Had good views of the displaying birds as well as flight views of Vulturine Parrot. Moyang heard a Fire-maned Bowerbird calling and we had good views of a perched female but unfortunately the male failed to put in an appearance. Birded around the lodge and along the road for much of the morning debating whether we could stay a second night before finally deciding that we could not risk missing our flight to Tari and therefore we should go back to Madang. Set off downhill around 13.00, reached the car and drove it without 4WD very slowly back to the main road. On the way back to Madang we stopped briefly at Alixshafen for good views of Spotted Whistling Duck
Highlights: Lesser Bird of Paradise, Vulturine Parrot, Fire-maned Bowerbird, Spotted Whistling Duck.
29 JUNE (DAY 13)
Left Madang at 08.00 and drove directly back to Lae where Andy had arranged for us to meet a contact (Elliot Harding) who knew of a site for Emperor BoP. Arrived at 12.10 and sat in the airport waiting area until 14.40 before finally deciding to try to locate the BoP site ourselves. Drove back to a signpost which read Erap Boystown and were about to take the next road on the right when a vehicle drew up behind us. This turned out to be Elliot who had been waiting outside the airport building, sitting under a tree since 12.15!! Set off into the hills but by this time it was too late to go in search of the Emperor BoP and we had to settle for birding the forested area along the track. This produced a number of new species including Grand Mannikin & Edward's Fig Parrot but did little to reduce the sense of disappointment at missing both the male Fire-maned Bowerbird and the Emperor BoP.
Highlights: Grand Mannikin, Black Butcherbird, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Edward's Fig Parrot, Pink-spotted Fruit Dove.
30 JUNE (DAY 14)
Left the Huon Golf Motel at 06.45 and arrived at Lae airport at 07.15. Flight left at 08.10 with 5 passengers and several crates of live chicks twittering in the back of the plane! After stopping at Goroka and Mt. Hagen we eventually arrived in Tari at 10.30 where Steven Warili was waiting for us along with what seemed to be the entire population of Tari. On the way up to the lodge we were accosted by a Huli Wigman in full feathered regalia and "arse grass" who posed happily for the tourists. In the afternoon drove to Malingay's Garden for excellent views of Papuan Frogmouth, Papuan King Parrot and brief views of Superb BoP. The weather then deteriorated becoming cold and wet so headed back uphill to the lodge. Great consternation in the evening when we discovered that our pre-booked guide Benson Kamoko, had been seduced by a better offer from the Birdquest group staying at Ambua Lodge. Benson arrived in the evening to give us as much information as possible regarding the location of the birds but it was all pretty unsatisfactory. However, subsequent negotiation with Ambua and Birdquest the following evening saw Benson restored to his rightful position with us.
Highlights: Superb Bird of Paradise, Papuan King Parrot, Papuan Frogmouth, Yellow-browed Melidectes.
1 JULY (DAY 15)
Out along the road at first light looking and listening for Black Sicklebill but no luck. However the rest of the day was to be exceptional. Drove downhill to Benson's village for great views of both male & female Blue BoP, female Lawe's Parotia and Superb BoP. Drove back uphill towards Tari Gap where we spent the rest of the morning birding the Hina Pipi Trail obtaining fantastic, prolonged views of a male King of Saxony BoP feeding in the trees at the side of the trail. Later in the morning, a delightful Garnet Robin led us back up the trail. Early afternoon we drove up to the Tari Gap where we spent some time before slowly walking back downhill adding Black-breasted Boatbill, Plum-faced Lorikeet and Red-collared Myzomela to our list.
Highlights: Brown Quail, Rufous-sided Honeyeater, Garnet Robin, Black-breasted Boatbill, Plum-faced & Orange-billed Lorikeet, Red-collared Myzomela, Black Berrypecker, Blue & King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, Lawe's Parotia.
2 JULY (DAY 16)
Out at dawn for Black Sicklebill; heard a couple of birds calling but could not find them in the distant forest. Birded the Waterfall trail just beyond Ambua Lodge seeing Blue-grey Robin and Black Pitohui and also great perched views of both male & female Loria's BoP. Despite much patient waiting at Post 19, the hoped-for Short-tailed Paradigalla failed to put in an appearance. After lunch it became fairly wet so we went downhill with Benson to a local village where a Sooty Owl nest was located - the owner of the land had been performing at a sing-sing for some tourists and appeared in full Huli dress and yellow painted face to take us to the owl roost. Unfortunately, the owl was not visible when we arrived and the land owner as bird guide presented a strange spectacle as he climbed the tree to see if the owl was there. The owl duly appeared, somewhat disgruntled at being disturbed, and although concerned at the method used, we had fantastic views of the bird. Drove back uphill, seeing a female Stephanie's Astrapia and a male King of Saxony BoP before heavy rain forced us to abandon what was left of the day.
Highlights: Blue-grey Robin, Hooded Cuckoo-shrike Brown-backed Whistler, Black Pitohui, Little Shrike-thrush, Loria's & King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, Goldie's Lorikeet, Sooty Owl.
3 JULY (DAY 17)
Tried once more for Black Sicklebill but again only distant birds calling however we did get decent flight views of Blue-collared Parrot. Birded the Waterfall trail again and were eventually rewarded with views of one Short-tailed Paradigalla at the Post 19 site. Decided to walk the "Big Waterfall" trail on the other side of the road and, on our way back to the road, we had a surprisingly good sighting of a New Guinea Quoll, a rarely seen mammal. The "Big Waterfall" trail produced Black-throated Robin and better views of Wattled Ploughbill. After lunch we drove uphill, almost to the Tari Gap, to the area known as "7 corners" which was very active. Good if brief views of a Crested BoP; Blue-capped Ifrita, Wattled Ploughbill, Crested Berrypecker and Ribbon-tailed Astrapia all showed well and in the late afternoon our first Great Cuckoo-Dove of the trip called constantly from its high song-perch. The day concluded with brief but good flight view of a female Archbold's Bowerbird. Returned to the lodge where Steven was preparing a traditional Mu-Mu, a delicious meal of chicken and vegetables wrapped in vine leaves and cooked by red hot stones buried in a pit.
Highlights: Blue-collared Parrot, Brehm's Tiger Parrot, Wattled Ploughbill, Black-throated Robin, Great Cuckoo Dove, Fantail Berrypecker Blue-capped Ifrita, Island Thrush, Crested Bird of Paradise, Archbold's Bowerbird.
4 JULY (DAY 18)
Drove to the Hina Pipi trail at first light in search of Lesser Melampitta but no luck. Enjoyed further sightings of King of Saxony BoP and Ribbon-tailed Astrapia. Returned to the lodge at 08.30, packed and headed toTari airport where we were booked on a flight to Port Moresby. The usual hordes of people were gathered at the airport and we also met up with the Birdquest group led by Guy Dutson. Arrived Port Moresby at 13.45, drove to Bluff Inn, checked in and drove up to Varirata. Walked the first section of the Circuit trail where we heard Eastern Riflebird but could not locate it, had good views of several female Raggiana BoP and a good flight view of a Yellow-billed Kingfisher which responded to tape and then disappeared into the forest. Returned to Bluff Inn at 18.00.
Highlights: King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, Yellow-billed Kingfisher
5 JULY (DAY 19)
Arrived at Varirata at 06.15, ahead of the Birdquest group but behind the Victor Emmanuel group! Walked up the Gare's Lookout trail with Kore, a guide who we had met yesterday, in search of Eastern Riflebird. Heard several birds calling and bush-whacked our way through the forest eventually tracking them to a clearing but they remained flighty and elusive. Walked to the Circuit trail and followed it back to the car park seeing Hooded Pitohui, Black Myzomela, Black-faced Monarch and Black Berrypecker, en route. When we reached the car park we found the Birdquest group with a telescope trained on a very obliging Fawn-breasted Bowerbird. Spent some time on the small trail behind the car park where we heard and this time found a Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher. Chris was also lucky enough to have a brief view of a Wallace's Fairy-wren which promptly disappeared never to be seen again.
Highlights: Hooded Pitohui, Black Berrypecker, Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher, Black-faced Monarch, Black Myzomela, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird.
6 JULY (DAY 20)
Drove to Varirata at first light and walked the Boundary trail which regrettably was desperately quiet. Spent ages trying to find a Riflebird calling very close but we couldn't get on to it. Walked back to the Circuit Trail where it seemed equally quiet and then tried the small trail behind the car park in the hope of seeing Wallace's Fairy-wren but no luck. Around 11.00 Chris came to tell us that he had found a fruiting tree on the Varirata Lookout Trail which was proving very active. We went back with him and after waiting around for a while, we had great views of Black Cuckoo-shrike and a female Eastern Riflebird. We then returned to Bluff Inn, had lunch and left to catch our flight to Cairns. En route we stopped at the Pacific Adventist University grounds where we had excellent views of Grey-headed Munia, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Black-backed Butcherbird and (thanks to Andy's knowledge of the call) Rufous-banded Honeyeater. Drove back to Port Moresby airport for our flight back to Cairns.
Highlights: Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Eastern Riflebird, Grey-headed Munia, Black-backed Butcherbird, Spotted Whistling Duck, Rufous-banded Honeyeater.
click here for annotated bird and mammal list