Papua New Guinea: West New Britain Aug 15—23, 2013

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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Making the most of our afternoon in Port Moresby on a Saturday afternoon, we spent a couple of hours exploring the grounds of the Parliament House—a most spectacular building in its own right. The birding was quite good and we enjoyed excellent views of Blue-winged Kookaburra, Forest and Sacred kingfishers, Rainbow Lorikeet, Figbird, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, and Yellow-tinted Honeyeater.

Buff-faced Pygmy-Parrot at Walindi, August 2013

Buff-faced Pygmy-Parrot at Walindi, August 2013— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

Our travel morning to West New Britain went like clockwork. After checking into the very comfortable Walindi Dive Resort, we were out in the afternoon getting acquainted with the special birds of New Britain. A great afternoon began with point-blank views of exquisite Buff-faced Pygmy-Parrots feeding on lichen.  Then we scoped a pair of Violaceous Coucals allopreening; these are striking birds, with orange eyes, pale-green facial skin, and enormous violet bodies. A local man, Joel, located a day-roosting New Britain Boobook for us—a small, largely chocolate-brown and white hawk-owl that is often a very tricky endemic to see well, if at all. After this, dozens of Eclectus Parrots, beautiful Blue-eyed Cockatoos, stunning Purple-bellied Lories, Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeon, Knob-billed Fruit-Dove, Moustached Treeswift, several very tame Variable Goshawks, and a fly-by male Song Parrot made for a great afternoon.

The next morning we explored the Garu Wildlife Management Area which protects primary forest and contains several hot springs. The Melanesian Megapode utilizes the geothermal heat to incubate its eggs buried in the soil—a unique reproductive strategy in the world of birds. Exploring one of these egg-laying areas, a couple of megapodes fluttered up, perched, and allowed good scope views. With persistence we scoped the shy Black-capped Paradise-Kingfisher, played for and observed the shy Velvet Flycatcher, found our first endemic Pied Coucals, and were tantalized by the elusive Black-tailed Monarch. Also new for our trip list were Collared Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Ashy Myzomela, Cicadabird, Spangled Drongo, Northern Fantail, and the endemic Red-banded Flowerpecker. Driving through the oil palm plantations produced an abundance of Stephan’s Doves—one of the few forest birds that has adapted well to the vast oil palm plantations. We also enjoyed outstanding views of Black Bittern, Pacific Black Duck, and a juvenile Rufous Night-Heron.

The afternoon session took us to Kulu River, a narrow riparian forest strip. With heavy thunderstorm cloud cover, it was as if the birds had gone to bed early. White-browed Crakes and Rufous-tailed Bush-hen were vociferous in the rainy conditions. A couple of Slender-billed Cuckoo-Doves took gravel from the road and we had a great flock of Buff-bellied (Bismarck) Munias. A pair of Spotted Whistling-Ducks was also of note.

Papuan Grassbird at Numundo, August 2013

Papuan Grassbird at Numundo, August 2013— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

We were on the boat at first light heading to Restoffen Island in Kimbe Bay, hoping to find the much anticipated Nicobar Pigeon. Arriving early paid dividends when we found our first pair of Nicobars feeding on the tide line. They showed well in beautiful light, with their lanceolate neck plumes and green iridescence. On the beach we spotted a brief Melanesian Megapode, a Stephan’s Dove, our first of several Sclater’s Myzomelas, and numerous Island Imperial-Pigeons. Exploring the island’s interior, we had several more excellent views of perched Nicobar Pigeons. We had good success with Mangrove Golden Whistler and, after a lengthy runaround, had some timid Island Monarchs yield themselves to the binoculars. It was the Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove that was the tough nut to crack; we could only sight them in flight, as they hunkered in the densest thickets. With the tide receding we walked along the shoreline and scoped a stunning Beach Kingfisher. Snorkeling activities commenced and folks enjoyed an abundance of colorful fish and corals right next to the boat. With strong winds preventing our attempt for pelagic birding, we cruised along the coast back to the resort. This produced several sightings of Black-naped, Siberian Common, and Great Crested terns; a single female Lesser Frigatebird; a solitary Ruddy Turnstone; a couple of Siberian Whimbrels; a handful of Gray-tailed Tattlers; a couple of Common Sandpipers; both white and dark morph Pacific Reef-Herons; and a Little Egret.

Following a delicious lunch and a siesta we explored the Numundo Cattle Ranch—an area of tall grassland and small pools. First we found a White-browed Crake and several Australian Reed-Warblers. Then we had a major stroke of luck, finding an adult Yellow Bittern that was seen in flight three times—a real rarity in New Guinea. As if all of our Christmases were coming at once, up flew a covey of King Quail, always a difficult bird to see anywhere in the world. Then the leader heard some unusual vocalizations emanating from the back of the paddock. The hunch proved correct when three Papuan Grassbirds were located and photographed. There have been no recent reports of this species in New Britain, so it was an exciting discovery of this endemic subspecies whose vocalizations are mentioned in The Birds of Melanesia as unknown. A Buff-banded Rail performed well in the scope, and then a flock of nearly 100 Tree Martins turned up. It had been an extraordinary afternoon.

Pacific Baza at Boku, August 2013

Pacific Baza at Boku, August 2013— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

On our last full day in West New Britain we elected to visit a new location called Boku in the morning and afternoon. A network of trails gave access to the bird-rich forest interior. The morning was highlighted by a perched Variable Dwarf Kingfisher, great views of perched Pacific Baza and, after a lengthy duel, views of both Black-tailed Monarch and male and female Velvet Flycatcher. The afternoon produced a pair of Bismarck Hanging-Parrots that some folks were lucky enough to see perched briefly, a sneaky Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, and spectacular Blyth’s Hornbills in great numbers, flying and perched all around us.

We squeezed in a couple of hours on our last morning before making the flight back to Port Moresby. Probably the most impressive aspect of birding in West New Britain is the sheer abundance of certain large forest birds. This morning was no exception as we looked through masses of Eclectus Parrots, Blue-eyed Cockatoos, Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeons, Blyth’s Hornbills, and Metallic Starlings. The birds generate huge volumes of sound, making it a great wildlife experience. We finished up watching a pair of Ospreys at a nest, and had great views of both Dollarbird and Red-flanked Lorikeet.  Then it was on the plane to Port Moresby to commence our mainland highlights tour.

Thanks to Joseph, Terence, Patrick, and Andrew, plus the great staff at Walindi for making our trip to West New Britain so pleasant.