Papua New Guinea Highlights Sep 05—18, 2012
Posted by Dion Hobcroft
The participants, leader, fabulous local people, and birds conspired to make this a very smooth tour to a remote and fascinating destination. Arriving in Port Moresby, we went straight from the plane onto a bus for a whirlwind visit to the campus of the Pacific Adventist University. The extensive wetlands there produced a flurry of sightings including three species of whistling-ducks (Spotted, Plumed, and Wandering), a solitary Radjah Shelduck, and a scope study of the scarce Swinhoe's Snipe. Gray-headed Munias fed on roadside grasses allowing excellent scope views, with a good cross section of monsoon woodland birds lining up from Torresian Imperial-Pigeon and Fawn-breasted Bowerbird to Yellow-faced Myna.
An early start from our superb hotel had us arriving in Varirata National Park at dawn, although bird activity commenced slowly in foggy conditions. Our first breakthrough was a responsive Yellow-billed Kingfisher. At the picnic grounds we encountered a mixed flock including both Stout-billed and Boyer's cuckoo-shrikes, an outstanding view of Crinkle-collared Manucode, and several "poisonous" Hooded Pitohuis thrown in for good measure. A pair of Blyth's Hornbills was most unusual at Varirata.
Brehm's Tiger-Parrot— Photo: Dion Hobcroft
We moved into a location for Raggiana Bird-of-paradise with a pair of males putting on a fine performance for us at close range. Walking the roads and trails slowly continued a good run of specialty species including fine views of Barred Owlet-Nightjar, Superb Fruit-Dove, Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher, Variable Dwarf-Kingfisher, Frilled Monarch, a female Growling Riflebird, and Papuan Flowerpecker, with a classic mixed flock consisting of Chestnut-bellied Fantail, Yellow-bellied Gerygone, Pale-billed Scrubwren, and Dwarf Longbill, the latter attracted to flowers in the forest interior.
The following morning we were in the steamy lowlands of Western Province based in the town of Kiunga. We connected with my good friend Sam Kepuknai and set up in the comfortable Kiunga Guest House. On our first afternoon we birded our way into deep rainforest, chasing the calls of Greater and Raggiana birds-of-paradise. We were successful in seeing both species very well and at length in the telescope, the Greaters in particular putting on a fine performance. Pinon Imperial-Pigeons were scoped well, with a Trumpet Manucode almost landing in our lap.
We conducted a big sit at Bowerbird Hill on the Boystown Road the following dawn. This saw participants running from scope to scope as a procession of some 60 species were seen and heard in a few hours at this location. The sonic "oomping" and "clucking" of a New Guinea Harpy-Eagle tantalized us, but despite our best efforts we could not locate it in the forest interior. Other skulkers we could hear included Red-necked Crake, Black-billed Brush-Turkey, Black-sided Robin, and Obscure Honeyeater.
Stephan's Dove; Pink-spotted, Orange-bellied, and Beautiful fruit-doves; Zoe Imperial-Pigeon; Papuan Mountain-Pigeon; Black-capped Lory; Double-eyed Fig-Parrot; Red-cheeked Parrot; Dollarbird; Papuan Needletail; Tawny-breasted, Plain, and Streak-headed honeyeaters; Mimic and Southern Graceful meliphagas; Pygmy Longbill; Hooded Butcherbird; Brown Oriole; Spangled Drongo; Glossy-mantled Manucode; female Magnificent Riflebird; Black Sunbird; and the patchy White-spotted Munia all provided views. The major highlights were perched and flight views of Flame Bowerbird, although Golden Monarch gave some stiff competition. In the afternoon we moved out to the Drimgas Road. It was hot and quiet, but persistence paid off. Sam got us onto a small flock of Yellow-capped Pygmy-Parrots that performed exquisitely in the scope as they nibbled away at lichen. Long-tailed Buzzard, Gray-headed Cuckoo-shrike, and a lovely fly-past view in low angled light of "toffee-colored" Dusky Lories rounded out the day.
September 11 was our day on the Fly, Elevara, and Ketu rivers, birding by boat—always a great birding day, and this was to be no exception. Proceedings kicked off well, first with a male Black Bittern frozen in the riverine undergrowth, followed by a super view of Gray-headed Goshawk flying over. Some great spotting by Edward had a Southern Crowned-Pigeon focused crisply in our binoculars—the world's largest pigeon (turkey-sized) with its extraordinary filigree crest. What a bird! We then found a nest with a chick next to the parent. The next bird to be found on a nest was a Papuan Frogmouth.
Three raucous Vulturine Parrots provided mega views of this scarce species, with a Palm Cockatoo knocked off his display perch by one of many Blyth's Hornbills. New birds came thick and fast all day including Collared Imperial-Pigeon, Oriental Cuckoo, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Australian Koel, Golden Myna, Orange-breasted Fig-Parrot, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Golden Cuckoo-shrike, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, and a ridiculously tame Lesser Black Coucal that was feeding chicks. After morning tea we ventured into the forest interior, scoping up a glowing scarlet male King Bird-of-paradise in his vine tangle kingdom. A pair of Emperor Fairywrens flitted around us, settling intermittently for good views. After lunch we returned to the forest interior and had immediate success with crunching looks at both Common and Little paradise-kingfishers. With storm clouds, thunder, and lightning building, we motored back to Kiunga, dropping some teaching aids Dion had brought to the village school on the return. We were lucky and missed the rain almost miraculously.
On our final morning in Kiunga the clock was ticking down to the charter flight to Tari. We jumped in the boat, motored upstream, and as the time slipped away we spied a male Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise. Jumping out onto a sandy beach, we scoped him for several minutes before re-embarking our vessel and heading back to the Kiunga port. Our flights went smoothly and we deplaned into another world in the Southern Highlands province at Tari.
Ambua Lodge is quite the location. Splendid gardens set amidst cloud forest at 7,000 feet—it was cool and misty, and home to a bunch of new birds. Great Woodswallow, Yellow-browed Melidectes, and Smoky Honeyeater were common in the gardens. We explored higher up and began concentrating on some fruiting umbrella trees that lit up with comet-like Papuan Lorikeets and a stunning male Ribbon-tailed Astrapia. A delightful male Black-breasted Boatbill rounded out a fine afternoon.
Tari is bird-of-paradise country, and our cooked breakfast had barely settled when we dashed for a Short-tailed Paradigalla followed by a Mountain Peltops. We hopped in the bus and were given great scope views of both a beautiful male Princess Stephanie's Astrapia and Ornate Fruit-Dove. Back on the bus, our next appointment was with a male King of Saxony Bird-of-paradise—truly out there, this passerine with its meter-long crown plumes and sky-blue mouth lining. There was no end to the fun this morning as we dashed downhill hoping to pick up the Blue Bird-of-paradise. Our luck was in and we spent thirty minutes enjoying a male Blue with a bonus male Superb Bird-of-paradise thrown in. You could watch them in the scope to your heart's content. It could take multiple views to understand the complexity of the plumages involved.
The afternoon was somewhat quieter as clouds rolled in, but with patience we began to get some good rewards including the peculiar Blue-capped Ifrit, both Crested and Tit berrypeckers, and beautiful Plum-faced Lorikeets, with perhaps pride of place going to a male Regent Whistler putting on a display worthy of a bird-of-paradise.
The following morning we opted to bird below Ambua Lodge. After a lengthy stakeout, Peter made a breakthrough when he spotted the male Black Sicklebill perched up. Dion briefly spotted a male Lawe's Parotia that frustratingly dropped from view. Farther down in the valley we explored a forest patch that produced great views of Black-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, New Guinea Sittella, a first year Long-billed Honeyeater, and Black-headed Whistler. We moved to a final site and had a great view of a Sooty Owl, several Yellow-billed Lorikeets, and a juvenile Collared Sparrowhawk. Birding the driveway down to the lodge we picked up a mixed flock complete with Black Monarch and Sclater's Whistler. A rainy afternoon followed with some patient scoping around the helipad producing Hooded Cuckoo-shrike, Papuan King-Parrot, and a male Loria's Satinbird.
On our final morning at Ambua, bird activity started very slowly after a night of heavy downpours. We finally kicked into gear back on the driveway when another mixed flock was encountered. Many highlights included a good view of the rarely seen Streaked Berrypecker, Orange-billed Lorikeet, Blue-faced Parrotfinch, Gray Gerygone, White-bibbed Fruit-Dove, Black Fantail, male Papuan King-Parrot, and more Hooded Cuckoo-shrikes. A calling White-crowned Koel was also noteworthy.
It was back into the trusty PAC 750 for our next flight to Mount Hagen, picking our flight path through the clouds and climbing to a lofty 5,000 meters. We transferred to Kumul Lodge where most participants remained fairly glued to the feeder table. With a male Brown Sicklebill, male Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, a bevy of Brehm's Tiger-Parrots, and a female Archbold's Bowerbird amongst the attractions, it was easy to understand why. We enjoyed a couple of moss forest hikes and had some success with skulkers including excellent views of Mountain Mouse-Warbler, male Garnet Robin, male and female Wattled Ploughbills, a female Crested Satinbird feeding a chick, Lesser Melampitta, a fly-over black morph Meyer's Goshawk, and even a couple of carnivorous marsupials in the form of speckled dasyure and black-tailed antechinus.
An afternoon visit to the Lai River, in retrospect, should have been missed, as the heavy rain had destroyed the already bad roads in certain sections. Best bird went to Torrent Flycatcher, but we also enjoyed Yellow-breasted Bowerbird, and for the leader, hearing a Lewin's Rail was a Papua New Guinea first.
Our final day had us checking into Mount Hagen Airport for our flight to Port Moresby. With time to kill and waiting at the airport not being the most uplifting option, we commandeered the bus for some final airport birding. It turned out to be a good move when first we all caught up with Mountain Red-headed Myzomela, followed by a super pair of Ornate Melidectes, with a female New Guinea Harrier being the final bird for the tour list.
We had a fabulous final meal in Port Moresby and before we knew it we were on the plane home.
A big thank you to all the tour participants for making this such a smooth and successful tour. Also a big thank you to my many Papua New Guinea friends who helped along the way, including Leonard and Stephen in Moresby; Sam, Edward, and Edmund in Kiunga; Joseph, Peter, and Merapi in Ambua; and Lyn, Kim, Lawrence, Max, and Key in Kumul.
I look forward to traveling with you again on a VENT tour soon.