Group members: Jonny, Steffi, Valerie, Katie and Carmel Schoenjahn
This was a private tour for the Schoenjahn family to see something of Papua New Guinea. It was designed to find a good selection of the endemics on the island as well, home to some of the most spectacular and bizarre birds in the world. We did not target Australian species, or try to get a big list in terms of species recorded, the focus was very much on the endemics. Finding birds in PNG can be a real challenge, with some of the most difficult birding on earth, but we certainly recorded an outstanding selection, and visited out of the ordinary sites in this, the "Land of the Unexpected".
We began as ever in Port Moresby, with House Sparrow and Yellow-tinted Honeyeater as good trip ticks. Grey-headed Mannikin was our first endemic at the attractive small lakes at the Pacific Adventist University, which also gave lovely views of Green Pygmy-Goose, Comb-crested Jacana and Fawn-breasted Bowerbird.
Our first mainland days saw us concentrating on the beautiful national park at Varirata, where we had lovely views of the spectacular Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher, and saw the mega-skulking Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler and Northern Scrub-robin. Raggianas were scarce but we saw a few female types plus Glossy-mantled Manucodes and some splendid Eastern (Magnificent) Riflebirds with their bizarre growling calls. Other outings there gave us very nice looks at Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Yellow-eyed Cuckoo-shrike and the lovely Dwarf Whistler. The park yielded a few good species each visit, it's a place that definitely repays the time and effort.
Brown River was also quite productive, we had some enjoyable morning outings there with nice finds such as Coroneted and Dwarf Fruit-Doves, Orange-breasted Fig-Parrot, Greater Streaked Lory and Golden Myna.
Hisiu was worth the long drive, with a very large count of Lesser Frigatebirds sailing over in the strong winds (the rainy season was still going on this year, extraordinarily late for the POM area). The mangrove birds showed well, with Mangrove Robin, both Mangrove and Rufous Fantails, Mangrove Golden Whistler and the strange White-bellied Whistler, whilst our stake-out at Aroa for the very local Silver-eared Honeyeater did not disappoint. A cracking Papuan Harrier was another nice sight.
We then flew over to the remote river port of Kiunga (click here to read about this extra special site) in Western Province, which is becoming a sort of lowland forest version of Ambua in terms of great birding. It was very wet this year, and a quick foray around the airstrip gave us the restricted range Trans-Fly endemic White-spotted Mannikin. Samuel, our local guide, showed us around the rich lowland rain forest, including the Boystown road, mercifully drivable again this year. We had lovely views of a stunning male Flame Bowerbird as a just reward after a wet morning, one of the trip highlights. We also found an adult male of the rare Long-billed Cuckoo, had good looks at Yellow-capped Pygmy-Parrot, nice looks at Purple-tailed Imperial-Pigeon, saw both Trumpet and Glossy-mantled Manucodes plus outstanding views of plumed males Greater and Raggiana Birds of Paradise. Species like Red-cheeked Parrot, Double-eyed Fig-Parrot and the beautiful Golden Cuckoo-shrike made up the balance.
We spent two nights up at Akame Lodge on the Elevala River, a basic landowner lodge but in a great site where you can watch Twelve-wired BoP from the veranda and go to bed listening to the Hook-bills and Papuan Frogmouths calling. A distant Forest Bittern calling one night was unexpected and frustrating! Great-billed Heron was a nice sight on the way in. Southern Crowned Pigeon proved easy this time and everyone got excellent views. We also saw the impressive and comical-looking Palm Cockatoo, Large Fig-Parrot, and Collared Imperial Pigeon, and an excellent dawn performance from the Twelve-wired Birds of Paradise. Common Paradise-Kingfisher also performed well. This river trip is certainly a highlight of the tour, despite the bites!
Another morning we had good views of a flock of the rare and little known White-bellied Pitohui and a male King Bird of Paradise gave stunning views too, after the first site was too flooded to access.. This area also gave us the rare Hooded Monarch. We heard but could lure into view a skulking pair of Painted Quail-thrush along Samuel's bush track, a recent discovery here and still known from very few sites, and we also got great looks at the elusive Blue Jewel-babbler.
We then drove up to the mid-altitude forests at the copper mining town of Tabubil in Western Province. A stop en route from Kiunga gave the local race of Little Ringed Plover, and marvellous views of the rare relict Golden-backed Whistler. Tabubil proved rewarding despite the very wet weather with lovely looks at Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrot, White-rumped Robin, Torrent Flycatcher, Rusty Whistler, Magnificent Bird of Paradise, and Carola's Parotia. The Ok Ma Road was in a very good state for a change. Here we as usual heard the mysterious and almost unknown Greater Melampitta calling, though getting a view again proved problematic, and a male Magnificent Riflebird gave terrific views, as did Great Cuckoo-Dove.
Our final stop was a brief and necessarily hectic two days at Ambua, after some nail biting as to whether the clouds at Tabubil would lift enough for us to escape! Joseph was excellent as ever and we made a good start on finding our wants, with some nice bonus birds like the Painted, Brehm's and Modest Tiger-Parrots as well as the customary birds of paradise, which again luckily included the rare Black Sicklebill. The moss-festooned Antarctic beech forests below the Tari Gap gave us unforgettable sightings of White-winged Robin, NG Log-runner, and very obliging Lesser Melampitta and Brown Sicklebill. Other excellent species included Varied Sittella, Blue-capped Ifrita, male and female Stephanie's Astrapias, and singing males of Superb, King of Saxony and Loria's Bird of Paradise. The newly discovered Blue Bird site also paid off beautifully, with great views of a male Blue Bird-of Paradise. The Lodge area gave us a very distant but nice look at a bonus Meyer's Goshawk and a male Lawes' Parotia plus more Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrots at Tiokonda were very pleasing. The tour ended after a short flight from Tari and a night at the charming and relaxing Loloata Island Resort near Port Moresby, a nice way to conclude a memorable trip.
My thanks to the clients for the chance to suggest the itinerary for the trip, and for their forbearance and good company (and quietness!) in the field. Also to Steffi and the children for their patience, and to Johnny for excellent spotting skills, always a big help!