Papua New Guinea: West New Britain Aug 27—Sep 04, 2014

Posted by Dion Hobcroft

Hobcroftdion

Dion Hobcroft

Dion Hobcroft has been working for VENT since 2001. He has led many tours (more than 160) to Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Bhutan, Indonesia, India, China, Southwest ...

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A smooth arrival into Port Moresby gave us enough time to squeeze in a couple of hours of birding at the Parliament House building. Beyond admiring the architecture on display, we spotted some quite good birds. Amongst the species on offer were Torresian Imperial-Pigeon, Coconut (Rainbow) Lorikeet, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Sacred Kingfisher, Black-backed Butcherbird, Brown Oriole, Gray Shrike-Thrush, and Fawn-breasted Bowerbird to mention some.

Blue-winged Kookaburra, Port Moresby

Blue-winged Kookaburra, Port Moresby— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

An equally smooth departure had the group arriving in Hoskins, the largest city in the province of West New Britain. Interestingly, a volcanic eruption near Rabaul in the north of New Britain had seized global media headlines, but did not disrupt our tour in any way. An hour later we were based in Walindi Dive Resort, our very comfortable base for the next four nights. Greeting us at the lodge, beyond the very friendly staff, were Greater Sand-Plover, Gray-tailed Tattler, Common Sandpiper, Lesser Frigatebird, Brahminy Kite, and Spangled Drongo. Our first afternoon foray took us into the hills overlooking the resort. Joel, a local man, had staked out a New Britain Boobook, a small endemic hawk-owl. It was soon focused in the binoculars—a great start. We had great views of Knob-billed Fruit-Dove, Red-knobbed Imperial-Pigeon, Yellowish Imperial-Pigeon, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Purple-bellied Lory, Eclectus Parrot, Blue-eyed Cockatoo, Moustached Treeswift, Pacific Baza, and our first magnificent Blyth’s Hornbills.

This year the seas were smooth so I could arrange a deep water pelagic element to our usual inshore island cruise. We headed towards Kimbe Island, picking up Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, Black Noddy, and Brown Booby on the way. Stopping at the island first, we found a beautiful Beach Kingfisher that allowed a close approach, while there were plenty of Island Imperial-Pigeons to distract us. A Yellow-bibbed Fruit-Dove, a species rarely seen here, made a brief appearance, as did Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove. Scarlet-bibbed (Sclater’s) Myzomela were “squeaked” in overhead. We cruised out wider, laying out some chum of tinned mackerel and vegetable oil. Not much happened, but then a Red-necked Phalarope, a rare bird here, made a good fly-past. Then a large, dark storm-petrel appeared over the slick, giving the leader heart palpitations. A Matsudaira’s Storm-Petrel, a first live sighting in New Britain, even allowed some diagnostic photographs of its pale primary shafts. We headed inshore to Malo Malo Island where we had great views of Nicobar Pigeon perched up before heading for lunch at Restoff Island. Here we landed and enjoyed excellent views of Mangrove Golden Whistler and Island Monarch. Several folks went for a snorkel, enjoying a variety of colorful corals and tropical marine fish that included species of angel, butterfly, trigger, clown, and parrotfish. Tired but happy, we returned to Walindi.

Matsudaira's Storm-Petrel

Matsudaira’s Storm-Petrel— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

It was not over for the day and the keen folks continued for an hour of late afternoon birding at Numundo Beef Ranch. The major highlight was a covey of Blue-breasted (King) Quail that fed beside the road including the knockout male, a bird that rarely shows to the telescope. Black Bittern, White-browed Crake, Bismarck Munia, Australian Reed-Warbler, and Papuan Grassbird (heard) were all recorded. Then Joseph called out a dashing raptor in flight that obligingly perched. It proved to be a female Australian Hobby that was digiscoped, the second record for New Britain. What a day for rarities.

Our next full day was broken into morning and afternoon birding with a siesta in between, my usual modus operandi, if possible. The morning was spent at Garu Wildlife Management Area. Here geothermal heat incubates the eggs of the Melanesian Scrubfowl. Some patient stalking in the forest gave some good scope perched views of these shy birds. Other new birds included good numbers of Stephan’s Emerald Dove, the extraordinarily tiny Buff-faced Pygmy-Parrot, a very timid Velvet Flycatcher, Common Cicadabird, and the cute Bismarck Flowerpecker. In the afternoon we explored a new site called Vage (pronounced Vay-gay), where vegetable gardens abut primary forest. It was alive with many of the big, brassy, colorful birds that are a feature of New Britain. Very obliging Dollarbirds and Varied Trillers livened the scene. While trying to draw out a Rufous-vented Bush-hen with the group, Joseph spotted a large black accipiter, presumably the rare Meyer’s Goshawk.

The following day we spent exploring the Boku area, one of my favorite sites in this area, with some good trails in the forest interior to do battle with some of the many skulkers here. After some patient work we were rewarded with great views of Violaceous Coucal, Black-tailed Monarch, and the spectacular Black-capped Paradise-Kingfisher. The afternoon saw the group taking in the relatively relaxing birding at Kulu River Bridge. We were in luck and enjoyed a quartet of Spotted Whistling-Ducks. Towards dusk we found a Rufous-tailed Bush-hen swimming across the river. This was followed by a pair foraging out along the river bank, a rare event for this usually highly secretive species.

Black Bittern

Black Bittern— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

On our last morning we returned to Garu to squeeze the last possible birds to our list. Flowering trees produced quite a lot of action. Coconut (Rainbow) Lorikeets were joined by Ashy, Black, and Carmine and a brief male Red Myzomela, the latter unusual at this low altitude. At the last minute we eventually located a pair of the scarce, inconspicuous endemic White-mantled Kingfisher. It is amazing what a racket twenty Eclectus Parrots and four Blue-eyed Cockatoos can make together; quite the scene. A last stop in a swamp produced a Purple Swamphen and a rarity in the form of a Dusky Moorhen. The recently split Red-bellied Pitta (now 16 species) was heard and despite some effort would not budge towards us. The last bird for our list was a heard only Superb Fruit-Dove.

Beyond the birds we observed several enormous Great Flying-Foxes and some interesting lizards including a Forest Angle-headed Dragon and a Brown Tree-Snake, the villainous species that was introduced to Guam in World War II and ate all of their passerine birds to extinction. Now it was time to head to mainland Papua New Guinea for our next adventures.

Many thanks to Joseph, Max, Andrew, Cheyne, and the crew at Walindi for making our tour of this fascinating Melanesian island so comfortable and enjoyable.