New Britain made for a nice finale to our Gentle New Guinea tour in 2018, though our group was smaller than expected with the non-arrival of the two Brits due to UK government travel warnings.
Our morning July 10th Air Niugini flight amazingly left on time despite only having 15 passengers and with sundry flights being delayed or cancelled, and we got to the lodge in time for lunch. We stayed at the famous Walindi Dive Resort, a great site with superb snorkelling as well as some decent birding not too far away.
Initial sightings here included Bismarck Crow, Eclectus Parrot and a lovely male Black Sunbird.
The Garu Wildlife Management Area on the hot and sunny morning of July 11th gave us Melanesian Scrubfowl at the warm-earth thermal soil diggings, Red-knobbed and Finsch’s Imperial Pigeon (heard), Knob-billed Fruit Dove, White-necked Coucal, Blue-eyed Cockatoo, flocks of the elusive nomadic Red-chinned Lorikeet, Purple-bellied Lory, Melanesian Myna, plus both Ashy and Black-bellied Myzomela.
July 12th we set up a boat trip to the Kimbe Bay islands of Restorf and Big Malo Malo, with a number of useful hard-to-get lifers and photo-ops for the group there. Highlights here included Black Noddy, Black-naped Tern, Nicobar Pigeon, Island Imperial Pigeon, Yellowish Imperial Pigeon, Beach Kingfisher, Red-bibbed (Sclater’s) Myzomela and Mangrove Golden Whistler.
We visited Kulu River on the afternoon of July 11th and the morning of July 13th, (Kulu means breadfruit in the local Bola language, an appropriate name), and this gave us great looks at an adult Nicobar Pigeon, White-mantled Kingfisher at the very last stop, Black-headed Paradise Kingfisher, tremendous views of 3 Violaceous Coucal, and New Britain Pitta heard by all and seen in a tiny gap by Phil kneeling in the mud.
Numundo Cattle Farm on the afternoon of July 12th (just before a short rain shower) was also rewarding with King Quail, Australasian Reed Warbler, Papuan Grassbird and Buff-bellied Mannikin. Our final night on the dark moon of July 13th saw us make a special after-dinner foray in quest of the rare and very little known Golden Masked Owl in the Numundo oil palm plantation, and we were lucky enough to see 2 fine birds sat on metal picket posts, (though photography proved challenging!) We managed to see 22 Bismarck or Bismarck/Solomons endemics, with a couple more heard, a good total for a short trip.
Many people helped us with the trip, particular thanks to Sue & Rowan Gregory at Sicklebill Safaris, whilst Joseph, David and the staff at Walindi were excellent, as were the Raintree Lodge folks. Thank you for coming, I do hope you enjoyed it and were able to get some memorable photos as well as seeing a very different more relaxed and altogether less edgy part of PNG.
Some of the photos are on the Internet Bird Collection (IBC), a free access site via Lynx Edicions (publishers of the classic Handbook of Birds of World, now HBW Alive and a great database of all the world's birds). IBC is a superb collection of videos, photos and sound cuts and I usually post pictures and sound cuts from the tours here.
I also recommend the xeno-canto website (XC) which has recordings of almost all the world's bird species, I contribute cuts from most tours and have uploaded some from this tour, just look under my name profile to see what is there.
I also recommend the IOC World Checklist of Birds, a free access downloadable Excel file that gets updated every 6 months and is a great way to manage your overall list sightings; version 8.3 has just been published. Go to www.worldbirdnames.org or google IOC and ignore the Olympics stuff!
• July 10th Tuesday Depart Port Moresby at 0840 on PX 240, a Fokker 100 with just 15 pax; arrive Hoskins and transfer to Walindi. Birding around the Lodge area after lunch. Overnight at Walindi.
• July 11th Wednesday Garu Wildlife Management Area in the morning, afternoon to Kulu River, overnight Walindi.
• July 12th Thursday Kimbe Bay boat trip 0600-1100 to Restorf and both Big and Little Malo Malo islands, pm out to Numundo. Overnight Walindi.
• July 13th Friday. Kulu River Haella and sandbank areas, Walindi Resort and then Golden Masked Owl search at Numundo after dinner 2015-2145. Overnight Walindi.
• July 14st Saturday Flight PX 241 from Hoskins to Port Moresby and overnight at Raintree Lodge prior to departure next day.
Species name in bold denotes either a Bismarck or Bismarck and Solomons endemic
* Heard only [denotes a leader only sighting]
Taxonomy and vernacular names largely follow the IOC 8.3 and Gregory (2017)
MELANESIAN SCRUBFOWL (Megapodius eremita)
One bird seen perched then in flight at Garu thermal nesting grounds and interesting to see the surprisingly deep nest burrows; Eggs sell for K2 each so this is a very important local asset, heavily harvested.
KING QUAIL (Excalfactoria chinensis)
Numundo cattle farm is a great site for the very elusive species, which was not seen on the Bismarcks for many years until I rediscovered them here about 20 years ago. They like the tall rough grass, and Joseph flushed a total of 6 from one small damp area, with 4 seen nearby later, maybe some of the same birds? They are very small, fast and dark in flight and I don’t think anyone managed a photo!
PACIFIC BLACK DUCK (Anas superciliosa)
Half a dozen sat on puddles out in the oil palm, and 13 on the Kulu River on July 13th.
BROWN BOOBY (Sula leucogaster)
One flew by the flock of Black noddies off Restorf Island on July 12th.
GREAT FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata minor)
One over Restorf Island was a nice find.
BLACK BITTERN (Dupetor flavicollis)
A couple of fine birds were seen on the edges of oil palm at Numundo on our two visits, with one slowly crossing the main road coast as well, disappearing into the rank grassy verge. Hopefully some nice photos were obtained?
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba modesta)
13 at Walindi on July 13, and seen daily at low tide there.
INTERMEDIATE EGRET (Egretta intermedia)
One at Walindi July 11, this is a scarce bird in the Bismarcks.
PACIFIC REEF-HERON (Egretta sacra)
A couple seen around Walindi.
LITTLE EGRET (Egretta garzetta nigripes)
One at Walindi on July 13th was unexpected.
NANKEEN NIGHT HERON (Nycticorax caledonicus)
One was spotlit on July 13th perched high in an oil palm.
EASTERN OSPREY (Pandion cristatus)
One was seen at Walindi several times, and was sat holding a large fish in a tall tree adjacent to the dining area on July 12th, allowing great photos.
[BLACK HONEY BUZZARD (Henicopernis infuscatus)]
Phil saw one sail out behind a large tree at Garu but it vanished before anyone could get onto it, his first sighting for some years, this is a rare bird and hard to find.
* PACIFIC BAZA (Aviceda subcristata bismarcki)
Heard at Kulu R.
BRAHMINY KITE (Haliastur indus)
Small numbers seen very well around Walindi, Garu and Kimbe.
WHITE-BELLIED SEA-EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucogaster)
A fine adult was on Restorf Is. in Kimbe Bay.
VARIABLE GOSHAWK (Accipiter hiogaster)
The distinctive local taxon A. h. dampieri was seen at Walindi, Garu and Kulu River, and is quite different to mainland PNG birds.
BUFF-BANDED RAIL (Gallirallus philippensis)
Seen at Numundo and in the main road nearby.
WHITE-BROWED CRAKE (Porzana cinerea)
Heard at Numundo and the Kulu River, and Phil saw one skulking by a slurry pond.
* PALE-VENTED BUSH-HEN (Amaurornis olivacea ruficrissalis)
Heard distantly at Kulu R on July 13th.
PACIFIC SWAMPHEN (Porphyrio melanotus)
One at Numundo and another by the Kulu River, it is uncommon on New Britain.
WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus variegata)
There was just a single seen at Walindi, overwintering here.
BLACK NODDY (Anous minutus)
30 or so off Walindi July 10, then up to 150 off Restorf and Big Malo Malo, and some seen right by the boat so the white cap and black plumage colouration was easily noted.
GREAT CRESTED TERN (Sterna bergii)
Half a dozen were seen off Walindi, with Black Noddy, Common and Black-naped Terns.
BRIDLED TERN (Onychoprion anaethetus)
A couple were seen well with Black Noddies off Restorf on July 12th.
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo)
About 50 distant first winter birds were off Walindi on July 10th and there were 30 or so on July 12th.
BLACK-NAPED TERN (Sterna sumatrana)
A couple seen distantly from Walindi Resort on July 11th, and great views of up to 10 birds on the Restorf Is trip.
GOLDEN MASKED OWL (Tyto aurantia)
Two fine single birds spotlit on the owling drive in the oil palms at Numundo, great spotting from David in the back seat of the cruiser, as these things are really dark and don’t stand out. I got some video but photography proved challenging! This species was for decades virtually unknown, with no sightings, and it is only since 2016 that some have been made. The birds have adapted to hunting rats out in the oil palms but you still need to be lucky to get to see them.
AMBOYNA (SLENDER-BILLED) CUCKOO-DOVE (Macropygia amboinensis)
Seen well at Garu and Kulu River. This is now split from the West Papuan Sultan’s Cuckoo-Dove, which has a very different call, and obviously from Brown Cuckoo-Dove of Australia, which is both vocally and morphologically very different. I was surprised the new edition of Pratt & Beehler did not split it out.
STEPHAN'S DOVE (Chalcophaps stephani)
We did well for them this trip, with superb looks out in the oil palms near Garu, with both males and females in the track, with a total of 26 on one day.
NICOBAR PIGEON (Caloenas nicobarica)
An adult was flushed by our boat captain from Big Malo Malo Is giving brief but close flight views, and it was also seen and photographed very well on the main island out at Kulu River on July 13th. Yay!
KNOB-BILLED FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus insolitus)
Good views and photos of 2 single birds out at Garu on July 12th it is definitely becoming much scarcer these days.
RED-KNOBBED IMPERIAL-PIGEON (Ducula rubricera)
Fine views at Garu, a large and striking imperial pigeon with a red bill knob. This species too is becoming scarcer as they are unfortunately rather good to eat (gutpela kaikai).
* FINSCH'S IMPERIAL-PIGEON (Ducula finschii)
Two heard quite close at Garu. Always a scarce and elusive sub-canopy bird, one of my favourites with that great growling call.
ISLAND (FLOURY) IMPERIAL-PIGEON (Ducula pistrinaria)
Common on the islets in Kimbe Bay, where the cooing call is a typical sound.
YELLOW-TINTED (YELLOWISH) IMPERIAL-PIGEON Ducula (s.) subflavescens
We saw a few nicely around Restorf Is, also flying over at Walindi and Kulu River. This distinctive island form is split by many authorities and is a Bismarck endemic.
BLUE-EYED COCKATOO (Cacatua ophthalmica)
Seems to be declining each time I come, we saw a few very noisy birds around Garu.
COCONUT (RAINBOW) LORIKEET (Trichoglossus haematodus massena)
Seen in in small numbers at Garu and Kulu River, this is the subspecies massena, which has dark bars on the red of the chest.
[BISMARCK (GREEN-FRONTED) HANGING PARROT (Loriculus tener)]
Phil saw a single zip over twice along the Garu Road on July 11th, but I don’t think anyone else got onto them.
PURPLE-BELLIED (EASTERN BLACK-CAPPED) LORY (Lorius hypoinochrous)
They were fairly common in forest at Garu and Kulu River, and have a great call. The flowering of the red-blossomed trees meant more than usual were around.
RED-FLANKED LORIKEET (Charmosyna placentis)
A couple flew by at both Garu and Kulu River.
RED-CHINNED LORIKEET (Charmosyna rubrigularis)
Good numbers out at Garu of this irruptive and nomadic species, going over in flocks of 30+ and brought in by the flowering of a red-blossomed tree species. We saw around 120 and got good scope views of several. This is almost a Bismarck endemic; otherwise only on Karkar Is off PNG.
BUFF-FACED PYGMY-PARROT (Micropsitta pusio)
One seen feeding high up at Garu then terrific views of a pair feeding a juvenile and foraging like nuthatches on the bark of a tree at Walindi, they seem to browse the lichen on the branches. This genus includes the world's smallest parrots. Maybe bird of the trip as the curious lichen-grazing foraging actions and views were so good, I just hope the photos come out? I posted a recording to the IBC site as it came out unexpectedly well.
* SONG (SINGING) PARROT (Geoffroyus heteroclitus)
Heard very briefly calling at Garu, they sound very like Red-cheeked Parrot!
ECLECTUS PARROT (Eclectus roratus)
Fairly common, we had great views of 2 males and a female at the resort on the first afternoon, with up to 30 seen at Garu and Kulu, a superb bird with an astonishing sexual dimorphism.
VIOLACEOUS COUCAL (Centropus violaceus)
Great views of 3 in the late afternoon out at Kulu River, sat on a large sloping branch. It was curious to see one bird twice jump completely over the one beside it; I wish I’d caught that on video. They are always elusive and need a bit of luck to see well, though the “woop woop” vocals are quite often heard. I posted a cut to the IBC and XC sites.
WHITE-NECKED (PIED) COUCAL (Centropus ateralbus)
Good views of this endemic at Garu and later by Kulu River, also quite vocal.
* EASTERN (PACIFIC) KOEL (Eudynamys orientalis)
Heard at Garu.
* BRUSH CUCKOO (Cacomantis variolosus)
Quite commonly heard at Garu and Kulu R.
WHITE-RUMPED SWIFTLET (Aerodramus spodiopygius)
Very sparse, we only saw 3 over the Kulu River on July 13th.
UNIFORM SWIFTLET (Aerodramus vanikorensis)
A few were seen as we drove past Numundo farm on the way to Walindi.
MOUSTACHED TREESWIFT (Hemiprocne mystacea)
This striking species was only seen once at Garu, this race aeroplanes being somewhat smaller than mainland birds.
COMMON KINGFISHER (Alcedo atthis hispidoides)
Nice views at out in the oil palm near Haella, sat over a drainage ditch. This local race hispidoides has a black bill and a pale eye and I would not be at all surprised to see it split at some point.
WHITE-MANTLED KINGFISHER (Todiramphus albonotatus)
We dipped utterly at Garu, and were floundering at Kulu River on July 13th only hearing a distant bird at the sandbank site. Then luckily at our very last spot at the Haella area we got two calling birds, very vocal and giving me a decent recording, though we only saw one of them. This was a good pick-up, as it always a bit tricky to find.
MELANESIAN KINGFISHER (Todiramphus tristrami)
Seen on Restorf Is and then at Kulu R. The former Collared Kingfisher traditionally had some 49 races, now shown to be various distinct cryptic and not so cryptic species. New Britain birds T. (c.) tristrami have richly coloured rusty underparts and distinct calls, and splitting as Melanesian Kingfisher was way overdue. Further splits are quite likely.
BEACH KINGFISHER (Todiramphus saurophaga)
One of this great large white-headed kingfisher showed very nicely on Restorf Island just as we were leaving, flying in from Little Malo Malo, a spectacular bird that can be hard to find.
SACRED KINGFISHER (Todiramphus sanctus)
One of this Australian migrant was at Walindi, they have been very scarce all trip for some reason.
BLACK-HEADED PARADISE-KINGFISHER (Tanysiptera nigriceps)
This bird was heard quite close by at Garu, but is very wary. One came in silently at Kulu R on July 12th after I had finished playing back, and perched not 3 m from me, almost hitting the guys when it left! It resembles Buff-breasted Paradise-K, but with a black cap and slightly different call, and is unique to New Britain, where much of its habitat has been lost to oil palm.
* NEW BRITAIN DWARF KINGFISHER (Ceyx sacerdotis) (H)
Heard in the forest at Haella but is always very hard to see, the complex was split into 15 species recently so seeing all the world’s kingfishers suddenly got a lot harder!
RAINBOW BEE-EATER (Merops ornatus)
3 or 4 seen at Kulu River and Garu, a winter migrant from Australia.
BLYTH'S HORNBILL (Aceros plicatus)
Two of this fantastic bird were at Garu, and a fine male at Kulu R. The wings make an amazingly loud and distinctive whooshing in flight.
NEW BRITAIN PITTA (Erythropitta gazellae)
This was a major target, and we heard them out at the Kulu River area in two places, once across the river, the other with 3 birds in one area near Haella, one of which was thankfully close by. My playback lured it close, and David spotted it in a tiny gap, where by kneeling in the mud I was able to see the brownish-red head, dark throat and blue breast band with narrow black lower border. No photos possible of course, and it circled warily around without showing, I got another glimpse as it happed and that was it. My first sighting, though I heard it here years ago and almost saw it until someone walked down the track at the just the wrong moment!
ASHY MYZOMELA (Myzomela cineracea)
We had brief looks at this quite large drab and uncommon endemic at Garu and Kulu R.
BLACK-BELLIED MYZOMELA (Myzomela erythromelas)
A male feeding briefly out at a white-blossomed tree at Garu, along with Red-chinned Lorikeets and Ashy Myzomela. It would call and fly in, but was very active and never stayed long, I had not seen one for some while and it has become rare here due to habitat loss.
SCLATER'S (SCARLET-BIBBED) MYZOMELA (Myzomela sclateri)
We had very good views of up to 10 on Restorf Is. where both males and females were active around the blossoming shrubs. A juvenile had a shorter yellowish bill. It is endemic to small islands off the Bismarcks and does not occur on the bigger islands.
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 ever visit he spent ages tracking this nocturnal caller down and was not impressed when he eventually found the culprit!
WHITE-BELLIED CUCKOO-SHRIKE (Coracina papuensis)
The large-billed race C. p. sclateri was seen once at Kulu River.
VARIED TRILLER (Lalage leucomela)j
A few seen at Garu and Walindi, this is the race L. l. falsa.
MANGROVE GOLDEN (BLACK-TAILED) WHISTLER (Pachycephala melanura dahli)
Heard on Big Malo Malo, and then seen briefly on Restorf later, Phil saw a female that had a greyish white chin and upper throat, a broad buffy-grey breast band, a suggestion of a pale eyebrow and bright yellow underparts with a striking yellow underside to the tail. Sadly I did not have my camera handy although I was able to sound record them quite nicely. This does not seem to match the race dahli, which is supposed to be the one here. I posted cut of the calls to the IBC and XC sites.
(BISMARCK) SPANGLED DRONGO (Dicrurus (bracteatus/carbonarius) laemostictus,
Just 1 seen at Kulu R 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. I split this as Bismarck Spangled Drongo in my new guide
NORTHERN FANTAIL (Rhipidura rufiventris)
There was one briefly at Kulu River and heard at Garu, this is R. r. finschii, endemic to New Britain, with a whitish 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, they like to perch on slender bare branches out on the sandflats, with a pair at Walindi having a nest there, and a pair had two panting juveniles on a bare stick branch out in the Kulu River.
* BLACK-TAILED MONARCH (Monarcha verticalis)
Heard at Garu but as usual elusive.
SHINING FLYCATCHER (Myiagra alecto)
Seen at Walindi and Kulu R, also on Restorf, of the taxon M. a. chalybeocephala.
BISMARCK CROW (Corvus (orru) insularis)
An obvious split from Torresian Crow, more distinctive than some of the Australian corvid species- short wings, distinctive flight, very different varied vocals, and distinct habits. They were quite common around Walindi, and I got a great recording of some of the highly variable calls, see the IBC and XC sites.
PACIFIC SWALLOW (Hirundo tahitica)
Small numbers at Walindi and Kulu R of the race H. t. ambiens, which has rather dusky underparts.
PAPUAN GRASSBIRD (Megalurus macrurus)
One seen at Numundo, but once again I was unable to make a recording of any call; it is possible this taxon interscapularis belongs with Tawny Grassbird, but the entire species complex badly needs a re-evaluation.
AUSTRALASIAN REED WARBLER (Acrocephalus australis)
This interesting taxon A. a. sumbae was seen well 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. I have uploaded a sound cut to the IBC site.
METALLIC STARLING (Aplonis metallica)
Common throughout with some big colonies of hanging nests seen on Big Malo Malo.
SINGING STARLING (Aplonis cantoroides)
Three seen at Hoskins Airport just as we were leaving on July 14th .
MELANESIAN (LONG-TAILED) MYNA (Mino kreffti)
The short-tailed Melanesian or Long-tailed Myna (terrible name) is a low density and local endemic to the Bismarcks; the best views were at Garu. Recording posted to the IBC and XC sites.
BISMARCK (RED-BANDED) FLOWERPECKER (Dicaeum eximium)
Very brief 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.
BLACK SUNBIRD (Leptocoma sericea)
Nice views at Walindi; this taxon is N. a. caeruleogula.
OLIVE-BACKED (YELLOW-BELLIED) SUNBIRD (Cinnyris jugularis)
Also seen at Walindi, this is N. j. flavigastra.
EURASIAN TREE SPARROW (Passer montanus)
A few around Kimbe and Hoskins, it is a new arrival after the initial colonization here at Kimbe as recently as 2007. They were known from Biak in West Papua but these were the first for PNG then, and the spread is continuing apace on the mainland too.
BUFF-BELLIED MANNIKIN (Lonchura melaena)
Some fine views at Numundo of this large black headed mannikin, this is the nominate race.
Greater Flying-fox (Pteropus neohibernicus)
A couple seen at the forest sites on New Britain, this is a huge species and unfortunately for it good to eat!
Medium size bat sp. One seen out in the oil palms on the owling drive.
Blue-tailed skink a few at Walindi, presumably Emoia caeruleocauda.
Green headed tree lizard, one at Walindi
Cane toad (Bufo marinus) sadly very common, another unwelcome invader from World War Two.
Phil Gregory firstname.lastname@example.org www sicklebillsafaris.com