Papua New Guinea Aug 05—26, 2010

Posted by Dion Hobcroft


Dion Hobcroft

Dion Hobcroft has been working for VENT since 2001. He has led many tours (more than 170) to Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Bhutan, Indonesia, India, China, Southwest ...

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After getting settled into our very comfortable hotel, we spent our first afternoon exploring Port Moresby. At the Parliament House, we eased our way into the world of Papuan birds, enjoying wonderful views of Sacred Kingfisher, Green Figbird, Peaceful Dove, Pacific Swallow, Singing Starling, White-breasted Woodswallow, and Yellow-tinted and Rufous-banded honeyeaters. We found the remarkable bower of the Fawn-breasted Bowerbird decorated with green berries and enjoyed the antics of this strange bird. We toured the city and commented on the new statues and appearance of joggers, and took in some of the rough and tumble street life of this increasingly affluent town.

In the predawn hours at Varirata National Park, we arrived in good time at the lek of the Raggiana Bird-of-paradise. Over the next hour we spent time getting several great views of our first "bop" for the tour. After breakfast we explored the edges of the picnic ground and had great luck as we scored point-blank views of Gurney's Eagle; Barred Owlet-Nightjar; Yellow-billed Kingfisher; Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher; Streak-headed Honeyeater; Orange-bellied, Pink-spotted, and Beautiful fruit-doves; Pacific Baza; Brahminy Kite; Dollarbird; Rainbow Bee-eater; perched Red-cheeked Parrots; and the poisonous Hooded Pitohui to mention a few. After morning tea we headed for a narrow forest trail where, with some effort, we picked up a few forest interior birds including Purple-tailed Imperial-Pigeon, Fairy Gerygone, Black Berrypecker, Pale-billed Scrubwren, and Rusty Mouse-Warbler, and were tantalized by the calls of such notorious skulkers as Crested Pitohui, Painted Quail-thrush, and White-eared Catbird. We had a great moment when Dion whistled out a Pheasant Pigeon across the trail. The afternoon was spent in the gardens of the Pacific Adventist University where we enjoyed a bunch of waterbirds, with highlights including the bizarre Comb-crested Jacana and Pied Heron. But the dazzling views of Orange-fronted Fruit-Dove, a pair of bizarre Papuan Frogmouths, and an impressive flock of Gray-headed Munias rounded out an impressive first day in Papua New Guinea.
We enjoyed a smooth flight and transfer to West New Britain making it in time for lunch at Walindi Resort. After a siesta we spent the afternoon at Kulu River introducing ourselves to our first Bismarck endemics. We were treated to excellent views of Pied Coucal, Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeon, and a stunning Black-headed Paradise-Kingfisher, with two lengthy scope views of separate male Black Bitterns.

Early the next day we headed to Tove. We hugged the shady gullies until most bird activity ceased at 9 am sharp. It was a good morning and we ran up a list of interesting species including endemics like Finsch's Imperial-Pigeon, Yellowish-tinted Imperial-Pigeon, Blue-eyed Cockatoo, Ashy Myzomela, Black-bellied Myzomela, Long-tailed Myna, and New Britain Friarbird. We had great views of Red-flanked and Eastern Black-capped lories attracted to flowering events, and managed to get the diminutive Buff-faced Pygmy-Parrot in the scope. We got a sneaky flight view of the elusive Bronze Ground-Dove, with other good views of Oriental Hobby, Moustached Treeswift, Superb Fruit-Dove, Blyth's Hornbill, Cicadabird, Brush Cuckoo, Northern Fantail, and Stephan's Dove. We spent the afternoon at Nick's Place (an insightful look into the local market garden lifestyle) and added two more birds to our list—fantastic views of a trio of Violaceous Coucals coming to roost, and desperate flash glimpses of a male Lesser Shining Flycatcher responding to playback.

On a boat trip to Restorff Island we quickly achieved good views of all of our main target species including the unusual Nicobar Pigeon, Island Imperial-Pigeon, Mackinlay's Cuckoo-Dove, Beach Kingfisher, Sclater's Myzomela, Mangrove Golden Whistler, and for the leader, Island Monarch. After a refreshing snorkel with a myriad of colorful fish, we headed out to try our chance with rare pelagic species. We had a relatively productive time with several Wedge-tailed Shearwaters including the scarce pale morph, two rare Heinroth's Shearwaters, and the leader's first PNG Wilson's Storm-Petrel being notable. Brown Booby, Lesser Frigatebird, and Black and Brown noddies were more typical tropical seabirds we encountered. We refreshed at Kimbe Island where the snorkeling was utterly sensational. A great day!
Our final morning in West New Britain was spent birding at Garu in a large patch of lowland rainforest. We had excellent views of Finsch's Imperial-Pigeon, Knob-billed Fruit-Dove, and Melanesian Megapode. We learned about some of the interesting behavior of the megapode here, utilizing the geothermal heat to incubate the eggs, and saw the extensive holes they dig in the soil. We encountered many of the species we had become familiar with during the past few days, and had tantalizing listening experiences with Black-tailed Monarch, New Britain Kingfisher, and Rusty Thicket-Warbler. A very smooth flight returned us to Port Moresby and the superb Airways Hotel.

After another smooth flight, our group settled in Tabubil where the hotel has improved its service remarkably from last year. We spent our first afternoon here in consistent drizzle waiting at the Ok Menga where, after a short wait, the word went out for Salvadori's Duck dabbling in the torrent and allowing excellent views. Some other good sightings followed: Orange-breasted Fig-Parrot, Gray-headed Cuckoo-shrike, Papuan Flowerpecker, Great Woodswallow, White-shouldered Fairywren, and Bare-eyed Crow.

Our first morning birding session at Tabubil was focused on the now extensively deforested Dablin's Creek. Half the group opted to walk up the pipeline platform while the other half kept vigil at the forest edge. Although painfully quiet for extended periods, we still chalked up some great sightings including Long-tailed Buzzard, great views of Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrots, Long-billed and Spotted honeyeaters, Ornate Melidectes, Perplexing Scrubwren, Mountain Peltops, Boyer's and Golden cuckoo-shrikes, Black-headed Whistler, Black Fantail, Black-winged Monarch, and Island Leaf-Warbler. Two particularly good sightings were fantastic views of White-rumped Robin and, for three lucky observers, a good but brief clear view of the enigmatic Greater Melampitta. Our final morning in Tabubil provided good scope studies of Chestnut-breasted and White-eared bronze-cuckoos, a great view of Vulturine Parrot, Emperor Fairywren, and a quite good flyover view of the rarely seen Papuan Hanging-Parrot.

Four full days of birding in Kiunga enabled us to come to grips with a large swathe of lowland rainforest species. It was thirsty work, as we endured mud, high humidity and tempera-tures trying to sight some of the most elusive species in these massive, flooded forests. Birding by boat was extremely rewarding and comfortable. We had superb views of Greater Bird-of-paradise at a lek with more than a dozen birds present. Similar experiences with King Bird-of-paradise and Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise, amazing Palm Cockatoos, and Blyth's Hornbills set the tone. Some of the scarcer birds we observed included Flame Bowerbird, White-bellied Pitohui, Gray-headed Goshawk, and Wallace's Fairywren. Some of the highly cryptic species discovered included the extraordinary New Guinea Flightless Rail, Marbled Frogmouth, Blue Jewel-Babbler, and Hook-billed and Common paradise-kingfishers.

Our smooth logistics continued with an on-time charter flight, and within an hour we had departed the lowlands to arrive in the delightfully cooler climate on the highlands in Tari. This is bird-of-paradise country and we set about trying to get great views of all the species available in the Tari Valley. Fruiting trees in the forest setting of Ambua Lodge were highly productive, and in quick succession we enjoyed repeat sightings of the scarce Short-tailed Paradigalla, a female Blue Bird-of-paradise with a dependent fledgling, male and female Lawe's Parotias, and the peculiar Loria's Satinbird, while at the higher altitude of the Tari Gap we couldn't help but be astonished by the incredible Ribbon-tailed Astrapia and King of Saxony Bird-of-paradise.

With so many special birds to try and encounter, it was a race against time to get these outstanding species in our focus. Amongst many great highlights were crunching looks at a male Archbold's Bowerbird, Mountain Yellow-billed Kingfisher, superb views of male Princess Stephanie's Astrapia and Blue Bird-of-paradise, and the gothic-looking Greater Sooty-Owl, while rarer passerines included Black Sittella, Hooded Cuckoo-shrike, Mottled Whistler, Lesser Ground-Robin, and Lesser Melampitta. Tari offers some of the finest birding on earth.

Our smooth-running logistics were so smooth I was concerned about jinxing myself, but the good run continued on our charter flight to Mount Hagen. Before long we were at the wonderful feeder table at Kumul Lodge where you can sit with a cup of coffee and enjoy the antics of Brehm's Tiger-Parrots, Ribbon-tailed Astrapia and, for those who do not mind the wait, such skulkers as Chestnut Forest-Rail and Bronze Ground-Dove. Further afield the display of Lesser Bird-of-paradise made for a big day out, while the forest interior enticed us with Garnet, Black-throated, and White-winged robins, Regent Whistler, and Crested Satinbird.

It is perhaps the full display of the unbelievable male Brown Sicklebill we witnessed on our last afternoon that sums up birding in Papua New Guinea. Not only is it possibly the first time this display has been witnessed by westerners in the wild, watching this bird morph into a flattened, silky, alien rectangle of purple and buff with a  meter-long tail was one of the highlights of my lengthy birding career.

A big thank you to my very experienced co-leader David Bishop and some of our wonderful local guides, including Jimmy and Sam in Kiunga, Benson and Joseph in Tari, Leonard and Billy in Varirata, and Max in Kumul. Also, a very big thank you to all the participants for a wonderful tour. I hope you can join us again.