This particular tour really started in Kiunga first, without the benefit of the usual introduction to PNG birds via Varirata National Park near Moresby. We went Cairns-Port Moresby-Kiunga-Ekame Lodge-Kiunga-Tabubil- Hagen-Kumul Lodge-Lae-Madang-Keki Lodge-Lae-Tari-Warili Lodge-Port Moresby-Varirata NP-Cairns.
The tour party of Chris Lodge, and Graeme & Moira Wallace was devoted to seeing and photographing as many Birds of Paradise and Bowerbirds as possible and as the consequence of photography taking much extra time several other species remained unseen.
However with a total of 246-260 species of birds still seen by different tour members in the 3 weeks we were quite content as 21 of the 23 target Bird of Paradise species were seen (Black Sicklebill heard only and Emperor Bird of Paradise missed altogether) 19 of them males, 11 of which were photographed, some extensively. Male Flame Bowerbird was also photographed well.
In the following report most common species found in Australia are omitted.
Afternoon flight from Cairns to Moresby, hired vehicle, drove to Bluff Inn 17k out of Moresby toward Varirata NP, drove to entrance of Varirata NP. Good birds in the late afternoon were - Yellow-streaked and Black-capped Lories, Red-cheeked Parrot, Glossy and Uniform Swiftlets, Hooded Butcherbird, Pacific Swallow, and 20+Yellow-faced Mynas feeding in one roadside tree.
To Kiunga (unusual pre-dawn Barn Owl at 14 Mile outside Port Moresby on the way to the early morning flight). Met by Sam Kepuknai and driver Charles and driven to the 17 km site n. of Kiunga for the Greater Bird of Paradise lek. After lunch we went back to Gre Rd. New trip species there were - Long-tailed Buzzard, Papuan Hornbill (Kokomo), Orange-bellied Dove, Collared Fruit Pigeon, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Eclectus Parrot, Papuan Needletail, Mimic Honeyeater (Meliphaga), Brown Oriole, Greater Bird of Paradise
, Black Sunbird.
Boated up the Fly River and Elavela tributary, 2.5 hrs plus stops, to Sam's isolated Ekame Lodge, built of bush materials in the lowland rainforest and overlooking the river. On the way up the river, around the lodge, and on the bushwalk in the afternoon, we saw - Pacific Baza, Variable Goshawk (was Grey), Black-billed or Bar-tailed Dove; Pink-spotted, Ornate, Orange-fronted, Superb, Orange-bellied, and Beautiful Fruit Doves, mostly on one fruiting tree; Pinon, Collared, and Zoe Fruit Pigeons, and a flock of Papuan Mountain Pigeons flying high over. Our first Palm Cockatoo sailed over low enough for the beak size to impress us, as did the perched Channel-billed Cuckoos.
Less than an hour into the voyage, we were forced to land to photograph a displaying 12-Wire Bird of Paradise
on the opposite bank; three scopes were in continuous demand for nearly 30 mins to record this exoticism as a female came and went and the male backed down the pole to meet her to try to brush her face with his tail wires. Moustached Treeswift, Golden Monarch, Golden Triller (Cuckooshrike), Glossy-mantled Manucode
(another Bird of Paradise - Bird of Paradise), and Grey Crow were other choice birds seen for the first time on the tour.
After lunch at Ekame Lodge we boated upstream another 20 mins to a mixed habitat of riverside flood forest (similar to the varzeaof the Neotropics) and the more open and larger treed terraces alongside (similar to the terra firmeof the Neotropics).
Shortly after landing a pair of Rufous-bellied Kookaburras stopped us in our tracks and then a pair of Southern Crowned Pigeons, the largest pigeon species still extant, was flushed; after about 20 mins scouting Sam led us to a scoped but cluttered view of one of them perched. You make a big thing of your first view of an "Oh-My-God" bird but we didn't know we were to flush another 23 in the next two days, many with much better views!
Even so, the main target here was King Bird of Paradise
, tiny but resplendent in his red-red over white-white uniform, possibly the prettiest bird in the world. Again three telescopes were on his display site under the canopy, this time for over an hour, as he called and preened and waited for a loved one to come - any loved one would do (I know a few birders like that). It was claimed as an "Oh-My-God" bird and stayed best bird of the tour for Chris. While there we tried hard to call in the almost-as-beautiful Common Paradise Kingfisher and failed but other new birds that day were Yellow-bellied Longbill, and Golden Myna back at the camp. Several Hornbills whooshing about and numerous herons and egrets on the river made it a most memorable day.
Ekame Lodge is on a high bank and almost free of mosquitos, nevertheless we slept under nets and could have a coil burning nearby if we wanted. First bird was pre-dawn, a Papuan Frogmouth, (Marbled heard only), in the torch light. I swear Sam tries to call them in while he's sleeping, he's so into birds.
From the eating porch we always watched the tree tops on the other side of the river managing to scope Large and Orange-breasted Fig Parrots, and Lowland Peltops. Someone saw a Black Bittern from the boat today and a Grey-headed Goshawk, small, and white under, planed over the river, the only one seen on the tour. Common Koel was seen clearly for a change, our only sighting of a Common Paradise Kingfisher as it shot over the boat, and Crinkle-collared
and Trumpet Manucodes
Back in the forest only Long-billed Honeyeater, Black-sided Robin, Rufous Babbler, White-belied Pitohui, and Dwarf Longbill (was a Honeyeater, now in the Longbill-Berrypecker Family), made a relatively slow morning of it. Suddenly Sam found a Hook-billed Kingfisher, perched quietly. It was photographed and videoed for 30 mins and hardly moved. Great stuff. In the afternoon we walked to the pigeon drinking place - only Wompoo was new. But that's birding. So we walked back home through some pretty good habitat, very interesting in itself. Suddenly the much desired Blue Jewel (Babbler) called out. Sam whistled it in part way and we all saw it lurking about 20 m away in a tiny clearing, but with reasonable views. Not a bad day after all.
That evening a short hunt for the still elusive Marbled Frogmouth produced instead a small Brown Glider, a marsupial and our first mammal, hunting up the small trees to eye level then down again. Sam had never seen one before despite having lived in the area for 35 years.
We had a very slow morning today. Sam proudly showed us his new circular track, cut with much effort through very promising, partly open "terra firme" habitat but Green-backed Warbler, a Gerygone also found around Darwin and Hooded Monarch were the only birds of note.
From the cabin at lunch we saw Boyer's Cuckooshrike and after began the slow drift downstream to Kiunga, Great-billed Heron being the highlight as it flew in front, landed, flew in front, and landed again. Excellent views of a common but hard to see species of northern Australasia and southern SE Asia.
From the Kiunga Guest House on our usual dawn start we went several kms along the Boystown Road and stood for 3 hours, 0700 to 1000, on a small knoll beside the road. If you've never been here before skepticism must prevail about this being the best site in the world to see Flame Bowerbird from. Yellow-capped Pygmy Parrot landed and Meyer's Friarbirds were there. So was Papuan Flowerpecker. And other good birds already seen but was this the day of the big dip?
Suddenly two birds, brown over and very yellow under flew into a handy tree and began to preen. Female Flame Bowerbirds, pretty nice too. They hung around for half an hour then departed. Time dragged on again. 0945hrs and time to leave. Just as suddenly, another bird like a large, orange bumblebee flew in to the same tree; flame-orange over, bright yellow under. "Oh-My-God" (from the group again). Male Flame Bowerbird. It hung round for 10 minutes. A bomb could have gone off behind us and no-one would have noticed.
So it was the right place. And maybe no other group has ever had the luck to see both male and female perched within 70m. of them. What a day. Birding the road part way back some of us saw Brown Falcon and Emperor Fairy Wren, and after lunch at Kiunga Guest House we birded the airport, looking for Streak-headed (now includes Spotted) Munia. No show. Instead we saw White-bellied Eagle, and Pheasant Coucal. So we headed for Gre Rd again. Very quiet except for, or because of, a Brown Goshawk.
Drove to the Greater Bird of Paradise lek again this morning. The trees above us seemed full of them with a couple of Raggiana Bird of Paradise,
one probably a crossbred, among the displaying males. This is where Attenborough was pulled into an adjacent treee to see them at eye-level. We scoped from the ground and were almost as estatic.
As we wandered out of the forest Rusty Mouse Warbler, Tawny-breasted and Puff-backed Honeyeaters (Meliphaga), Frilled Monarch, (we were finally stopping for ordinary birds), and Grey-headed Cuckooshrike were added to the trip list.
After lunch Charles drove us the 140km to Tabubil. Excellent habitat and good scenery from the ridge-top road. Small villages and schools here and there.
In Tabubil, Scrub Honeyeater (Meliphaga) and Lemon-bellied Flycatcher hit the list as we set up our hide for Magnificent Bird of Paradise
watching the next day.
And it worked. The male came in to be seen briefly but not clearly to his on-the-ground display site. Some gardening was called for to open the viewing aperture a fraction so the male could be seen climbiing his display stick, and photographed, from 30 metres. Next morning just after daylight at 0630 the three photographers settled in the hide and all had good but brief views and some footage of the Magnificent Bird of Paradise doing his display. Thanks Sam and Charles, brilliant work.
We drove right up the nearby Dablin Creek road next, the landowner telling us the gate was now always open; good news as it is very steep. On the third short flat bit we stopped and almost immediately got onto a party of feeding Carola's Parotias, a male among them, flitting from treetop to treetop a hundred metres away. Some of the females stayed long enough for brief scoped views but, too quickly, they were all gone. Parotias display on the ground too, and are even more secretive than Magnificent Bird of Paradise, but one day.
A group of Pygmy Lorikeets zoomed past, high overhead (I've seldom seen these birds perched), then Blue-collared Parrots doing the same and distinguished by their musical calls. A new addition (for me) to the avifauna of Dablin Ck was White-winged Wrens, and we saw Mountain Honeyeater (Meliphaga), glimpsed the Chestnut-backed Jewel (Babbler) as it flew past in response to a tape. Female Scater's Whistler (a bit lower in the winter), Variable Pitohui, Black Monarch, Rufous-backed Fantail, Black Fantail (the last three within 200 vertical metres of each other), Stout-billed Cuckooshrike, Mountain Peltops, and Western Papuan White-eye, were all new trip birds seen up Dablin Creek.
As the birds "went off" before lunch we drove a few kms toward the OK Tedi Mine to see those charming members of the Australasian Robin Family, the Torrent Flycatchers. Very nice. In the mid-afternoon we tried to do it all again but Dablin Ck was dead as a Dodo.
And nearly as dead the next morning except for Northern Fantail. But we had to leave at 0830 to catch a plane which was an hour before we had arrived the previous morning. So on to Mt Hagen and Kumul Lodge. The flight, as is the norm on smaller planes in PNG, was low enough to see lots and lots of almost untouched forest, the largest contiguous tropical rainforest left outside the Neotropics. Awesome.
At Hagen we were met as usual by our friend Kim Arut, her husband, Kumul Lodge manager Paul, arriving later. Key staff member John offered to show us "a bird of paradise" on the way to the lodge which is 40 mins out of town, on the Tomba Pass below the real Mt Hagen, at 2850m a.s.l., the highest lodge in PNG, the same height as the Tari Gap with the same birds.
But first around Hagen town we sought out the Brown-breasted Warbler, Ornate Honeyeater (Melidectes), (the Mountain [Red-headed] Myzomela was guide-seen only), and the Black-headed Whistler.
The Bird of Paradise on the way to the lodge was the
Superb and we only heard it's harsh call before flushing it; but sudenly a Yellow-breasted Bowerbird arrived to perch in a small tree nearby. Not often reported by tour groups but common enough here in the Waghi and adjacent Valleys.
Kumul Lodge is such an excellent place to visit, friendly, comfortable, warm at night, beer always available to celebrate great sightings, and excellent food prepared by the always happy and helpful assistant manager and head cook, Josephine. Always a pleasure to stay at Kumul Lodge
, more tours should.
In the short afternoon left to us we identified Papuan Lorikeet (thought by some to be the most beautiful parrot in the world), Mountain Swiftlet, Mountain Mouse Warbler, Papuan Scrub Warbler (Wren), Grey-streaked Honeyeater, Belford's Honeyeater (Melidectes), Canary Flycatcher (another Australasian Robin), White-winged Robin, Friendly Fantail, and Mountain Firetail.
To top it off, a female Brown Sicklebill was seen feeding beside the lodge and the gorgeous (best bird of the trip for Moira after we watched a male for some time in the late afternoon sun) Ribbon-tailed Astrapia reasonably common in the old moss-covered trees around about.
Emerald (Orange-billed) Lorikeets are at Kumul Lodge and we almost always see a Brehms Tiger Parrot feeding above the top car-park, usually the male identified by the yellow slash across the side of the neck. This was the only species of Tiger Parot seen on the entire tour - above Ambua Lodge we saw many, all Brehm's, Brehm's, Brehm's, right up to the Tari Gap. I've never seen so many tiger parrots on one trip and all were Brehms.
Rufous-backed and Smoky Honeyeaters, Slaty (Blue-grey) Robin, male Scater's and Regent Whistlers, Tit Berrypecker, and Island Thrush, all present and correct around Kumul Lodge, but always one of my favourites was the male Crested Bird of Paradise
, orange over and black under, this time glimpsed only, unfortunately. Once, a few years ago, a male landed on a unit's verandah at daylight before the couple, who had slept with the French doors open to admire the magnificent view of Mt Hagen, were out of bed; exotic birding at it's best!
A female Stephanie's Astrapia was seen today westward over the pass and down about 300m, oddly enough the only bird of this species seen in spite of spending another 4 days around Ambua Lodge where they are more common. And a few female plumaged King of Saxony Birds of Paradise
scoped further down.
On our morning bush-walk, the White-breasted (Fruit) Dove was very well seen, plus Mid-mountain (Grey) Warbler (there is a Grey Warbler in New Zealand in the same Australasian Warbler Family), Blue-capped Ifrita (seen well again at the Tari Gap), the much-sought-after Wattled Ploughbill, Rufous-naped Whistler, and Crested Berrypecker one of the two (Tit Berrypecker being the other) in the Painted Berrypecker Family.
In the afternoon Long-tailed Shrike in the grasslands across the road, and Great Woodswallow perched outside the dining room at lunchtime, were added to our trip list.
This morning a female Archbold's Bowerbird was guide-seen only at the same feeding tree the Stephanie's was at yesterday and a pair of Chestnut Forest Rail, which live around the comlex of Kumul Lodge, were taped in but kept right on going and never were seen. And Feline Owlet-nightjars were heard on two nights calling from on top of our units but never seen. Oh dear. BUT, from the dining room we all saw a pair of Mountain Nightjars hunting from the top of the nearest unit. Birding between courses; a dining room list here would be impressive.
We left Kumul Lodge with the addition of Dimorphic Fantail, and stopped again on the way to the airport. This time one or two of us glimpsed the male Superb Bird of Paradise
through a scope (better views were to be had in the Tari Basin) and a 9+ flock of Yellow-breasted Bowerbirds came to feed on the bushes in front.
At Hagen airport we mingled with police and security with rifles as we waited on the edge of the tarmac to board the plane. When I protested that no-one in our group was really famous enough to be abducted they told us there was a large shipment of gold (from the Placer Dome-owned Porgera Mine) about to come in by helicopter and be transferred to another flight.
Airlink, now flying the "paper run" Madang-Lae-Goroka-Hagen and back 6 days a week and Tari-Tabubil- Kiunga added on 2 days a week, is always a peasure to fly with. Their 12 seaters fly low enough to see the beautiful landscapes easily. And so we flew to Lae and found our Thrifty vehicle not present.
It didn't come so, with luck, as no other vehicle was available at the airport 40 km from Lae city, we managed to find a local Lae company who had a 4wd available and drove it to the airport for us.
In the very extensive Markham Valley grasslands we saw Papuan Harrier, Collared Sparrowhawk, and Australasian Pipit. Not much else to break the monotony of the 2 hour drive across the plain.
I had wanted to show the tour participants how good the birding was through the forested hills on the way to Madang, but with the 2 hour delay darkness fell shortly after the forest birding was about to start. So we finished the drive to Madang in the dark, arriving at 8pm, an hour later than I had planned, and relatively birdless. No Doria's Hawks (I had seen 2 pairs along here within 40 mins of each other many years ago and wanted to see if we could have a repeat performance), no Vulturine Parrot (missed at Kiunga-Tabubil), and no Lesser Bird of Paradises. Sorry guys.
To make matters worse, our booked accommodation in Madang wasn't suitable and we had a problem finding new beds as the town had three conferences at once, one of them an international one.
Problems continued to dog us all that day. We tried to do some out-of-town birding before the Madang Visitors and Cultural Centre opened at 0900 but only managed River (Common) Kingfisher and Singing Starling as new trip species at Jais Aben Resort. So we went back to the kindly Smugglers Inn for breakfast while I filled up and reported in to the Cultural Centre before going up to Keki Lodge.
The lodge owner was in town waiting for us but had some more business to attend to before we could all travel the 120km to his lodge together. So as late as midday we set off north-west along the coast on one of PNG's best roads. After about 93 km we turned off onto the track leading to Keki Lodge high (about 950m) in the hills. The road was in poor shape but we managed to drive 18 km of it before we realised our vehicle actually did NOT have 4wd.
Amazing we got so far, as Moyang (the Keki Lodge owner) told us that the last 4wd vehicle to try getting in didn't get as far as we did so they gave up.
We didn't. Spurred on by the certainty of seeing a Fire-maned Bowerbird we abandoned the vehicle and shot up this enormous hill which was followed by an easy walk to the bottom and then another enormous hill (actually I took 4 hours to walk 9 kms, arriving exhausted, the others beat me by half an hour). A 4wd wouldn't have got up the last hill anyway, it's too narrow, so it would still be a 4 km uphill walk to the lodge. (Moyang has a helicopter landing area which would suit me fine next time).
Keki Lodge is in a forest glade, with a twenty bird Lesser Bird of Paradise
lek beside, in the heart of Fire-maned Bowerbird country (we only saw one female, perched for ages), and Vulturine Parrot often seen; we saw one. For new birds, that was it, as we decided not to stay 2 nights so we could have a go at the Emperor Bird of Paradise near the Nazab (Lae) airport late the next day. (The Lae-Tari flight schedule is once a week and we didn't dare miss it). So we walked 9 km down again.
If you can access Keki Lodge it would be a good birding destination and derserves at least 2 or 3 nights. We actually saw 25 species there (some on the way up), and another 16 heard - Red-legged (Brown-collared) Megapode, Papuan Boobook (I thought it was Graeme playing a tape at 0500 hrs beside their unit but it was the real thing - beside their unit), Marbled Frogmouth, and Banded Robin among others.
We made it back to the vehicle in less than 3 hours and drove carefully out. I must say everyone was very supportive of my driving, each one of knowing that if we got stuck on this very difficult and remote track one of us (me) would have to stay back for at least 2 days to get another vehicle in to get this one out; very time-consuming and expensive. So it was with relief that we came to the main road and headed for Madang.
About 14 km out there is a missionary settlement called Alexishafen where we stopped to scrutinise the ponds. Spotted Whistling Duck, (also seen easily later on at Pacific University near Moresby), Australasian Little Grebe, (Eurasian Little Grebe is often there too), Little Egret, and Comb-crested Jacana was the full ponds' list (the White- browed Crakes heard only) but all new for the trip.
A dull day and a half and an adventurous day and a half, all without many new birds (although the Regent was new for me), and looking back we could have done part of it much easier by flying on to Madang on the 26th, hiring a high-clearance Toyota Hi-ace with 4wd, and staying two nights (or even three) at Keki even if it meant walking uphill for 2 hours, at the "end" of the usable road.
We plan to write to the local MP, Peter Barter
and the Hon Mathew Gubag MP, Provincial Works Manager, Parliament House, PNG, to try to get some funds for a dozer to upgrade the road to Salemben Village where Keki Lodge is. If you would like to see the Fire-maned Bowerbird you should do the same.
We left Madang after breakfast and to compound the mistakes and bad luck of the last two days I forgot to pick up the packed lunch we had ordered so we drove to back Nazab in 3.5+ hrs to have a cruddy lunch (again) in the airport "restaurant". And wait for 2 hours for Eliot Harding, our hoped-for Emperor Bird of Paradise contact to show up. He didn't so we decided to drive to the Boanna Rd site by the Guest School and see for ourselves whether the Bird of Paradise lek was still there.
At the t/o from the main road we stopped to make sure that this was the road (it had been 7 years since I was last there) when Eliot appeared. He had been waiting 2 hrs under the trees outside the airport for us and we had been waiting 2 hrs inside for him. But he hadn't had time to find the lek and we drove through the hills, stopping near the Gain School without hearing any Paradisea noises, and stopped to look at a large group of Grand Munias (only the third site I know for these birds).
Daylight was running out so we turned back doing some general birding on the way out. Three Edward's Fig Parrots popped into scopes, then further on several Paradisea species! Oh, Raggianas. No Emperors seen or heard. Disappointed, we drove to Lae and booked in to the Huon Gulf Motel/Hotel.
Quite adequate for tired bodies and minds to recover in. And two rounds of SP lager for my second new trip bird, the fig parrot. The tour had been mired in unfortunate, and, partly through my narrowly-focussed logistics, sometimes unnecessary, circumstances for three and a half days with only 9 new birds to show for it. Fortunately it was time to move on to better things.
The flight Lae-Goroka-Hagen was scenic and restful and the final leg into Tari as enjoyable as ever; it felt to me like coming home. And there was Steven from Warili Lodge to meet us, the one person I knew in a colourful crowd of about 1000 who often turn up to watch Air Niu Gini, with their much larger plane, land.
We had hired a 4wd (also without 4wd as it transpired) from Mendi to meet us at Tari; Steven also had a vehicle hired. We settled for the Mendi fellow as he had come so far but next time we'll use the local guy, being cheaper for a start. We found by accident that the Southern Highlands is no longer a dry Province, so immediately bought a 2 dozen carton of small SP lager, enough to last the four of us 4 days. Steven nosed around the most colourful Tari market buying fresh ingredients for his innovative cooking which was nourishing and different every day, not like the much poorer quality food dished up at Ekame and Keki. (I'm going back there this Sept so Ekame Lodge food is about to improve!).
The road toward Tari Gap and Mendi had a dozer working on it, the first time in over 10 years a machine has touched this part of the road. What a difference! Warili Lodge is about 28 km from Tari town and 2 km downhill from the famous Ambua Lodge, a fraction of the price and quite comfortable. And although relatively primitive, has supplies hot water for the bath house, has comfortable beds, and now that we know that group transport is readily available, is quite adequate for the average birder. Ambua Lodge, where we will be staying this Sept, is much more sophisticated in some ways but doesn't supply beer and the modern inner-sprung mattresses are too hard (for me). The biggest thing it has over Warili is position; the grounds abound with exotic birds, as at Kumul Lodge. You can see nearly half the local bird popuation without leaving the grounds. But based from Warili Lodge, the only new trip species we saw that first afternoon were Yellow-billed Lorikeet and Yellow-browed Honeyeater (Melidectes), before the afternoon rain came.
First target bird was the Blue Bird of Paradise
, the Blue Kumul (a kumul is wild animal of any sort), which my friend Benson Hale Hamoko (cousin of Steven's and very good bird guide) led us to first thing and seen from his village gardens just down the road. On the walk in there were two Bird of Paradise feeding trees where the female Blue was and two female Lawe's Parotias (we never saw a male Lawe's properly although males were guide-glimpsed twice as they dropped quickly out the back of feeding trees - just large, black, shapes slipping quietly away before someone made them into head-dresses). The male Blue, although calling from a distant tree-top, was videoed and digitally photoed through various telescopes for quite a while. Then we drove uphill past Ambua Lodge to what I have always called Paradise Clearing, (because of the number of Bird of Paradises found in it), just above the Bailey Bridge which is about halfway up to Tari Gap, and the track through it, Benson's Trail. We all agreed that calling the trail after Phoebe Snetsinger (as has been mooted in recent years) was inappropriate. And although Benson claims he helped make it and it is on his people's land, we all agreed, including Benson, that it should be called by the local area name, if anything.
Although late in the morning by this time, we located a male King of Saxony Bird of Paradise
foraging quite low among the moss-covered branches. It was watched and filmed for quite a while and became best bird of the tour for Graeme. Other new birds were Hooded Cuckooshrike and Garnet Robin.
Tari Gap was voted as being a good late-morning tourist destination and so it was, being a gloriously fine day up there although Red-collared Honeyeater (Myzomela) was the only new bird we saw having spent three days at that altitude already.
After a late lunch we agreed we should all drive down off the hill and halfway across the Tari Basin to see the Sooty Owl, a nesting hole of which had just been found. The land-owner climbed the tree and slapped it. An adult popped up and after realising many people were standing about watching, it flew to a nearby tree and perched behind a few leaves. We watched this excellent bird for a while and left as rain began to fall. And another new bird for me and my personal best bird of the tour. A very impressive owl.
The concentration on Bird of Paradises continued today. The best place for Short-tailed Paradigalla is the Ambua Lodge carpark and adjacent areas so we walked the southern Waterfalls Trail where a UK Birdquest group had seen it the previous day. Not on the first pass but a calling male Loria's Bird of Paradise
within 30m instead. There's a stroke of luck. Graeme and Moira decided to wait back at the place the Paradigalla had been seen the day before. Their luck continued as two birds came to feed on the same moss-covered tree. On the Northern or Large Waterfall Trail we found a Wattled Ploughbill for those who hadn't seen them at Kumul; this and the driveway into Ambua Lodge seem to be the best places to find this species.
On the road outside Paradise Clearing later in the day, we finally saw and photoed the male Brown Sicklebill, calling. What a noise! It sounds like about 4 machine-gun shots fired per second, just as loud, repeated every few seconds. Other new trip birds today, seen mainly on the southern Waterfall trail in the morning, were Black Butcherbird, Black-bellied Cuckooshrike, Black-breasted Boatbill (a little beauty), Brown-backed Whistler, Black-throated Robin, Buff-faced and Large Scrubwrens, and the lovely little Whiskered Lorikeet.
Late yesterday, an attempt to see birds at Tari Gap again was foiled by rain but watching from the Warili Lodge porch we could see that the top was probably clear although showers were coming through where we were. So we tried again and found calm, clear weather above the clouds. A Brown Quail was seen crossing the road near the top, and Great Cuckoo Dove/s calling from various song posts around the Gap were the bird of the day; this species is usually very cautious and hard to see but here they were sitting in the open, waiting to be photographed. Earlier in the day and much lower down Black Pitohui was seen by Chris as he spent another morning looking for the Paradigalla.
Last morning on the Tari Gap Road. Up at The Clearing not a lot happened. Lesser Melampitta was guide-glimpsed only and the same guide (me) saw and recorded the song of the White-eyed Robin which would not re-appear to answer it's own call. But that's birding. You have to take the bad with the good. Unfortunately it was good for me only and it was my 4th new bird for the trip. This probably reflects how hard birding is in PNG (some say the hardest in the world) that after about 20 tours in various parts of the country I can still see that many new birds on one tour. And in the places I usually tour in, there are still 18 species I haven't seen - Forest Bittern, Shovel-billed and Blue-black Kingfishers, that sort of thing. For some of this stuff you should really be on your own or with one other dedicated person; with a group a lot of unusual-bird sightings are just accidental unless you have a stake-out.
So at 0930 we said goodbye to Warili Lodge (good place, go there, write Steven Wari, Warili Backpackers Lodge, P.O.Box 159, Tari. Southern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. Contact phone in Tari, [country code 675] 540 8014). And we set off on the now 45 min drive on the good road to the aiport.
Air Niu Gini (to and from Tari on Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat) dropped us in Moresby at 1305 hrs; we picked up our Avis hire car and drove to Bluff Inn and Varirata NP again, this time getting right inside for a couple of hours and added Papuan King Parrot, Yellow-billed Kingfisher (these birds weren't calling much as I don't think they had started to nest yet), and Rusty Pitohui.
Main target species today was the Magnificent Riflebird which we had missed in the Kiunga-Tabubil area. A recent claim by Beehler and Swaby that this Eastern race should be speciated was made on the basis that the eastern-most PNG populations growled while western populations, and those of northern Australia, whistled, although the pitch and duration of the calls are similar. It seems that no intermediate populations were sampled and I have heard a Magnificent Riflebird calling at Lake Kutubu which was a cross between a whistle and a growl. Therefore it seems more than possible that the calls of this species change gradually along a cline; furthermore, even the whistles of the Cape York populations differ. It seems that much more study needs to be done before another attempt is made to split this species.
Anyway, we almost missed it again. We had hired Kori, the Varirata gateman, to find this bird on a calling post and he led us up the Gare's Trail and through the forest to possibly the most remote Magnificent Riflebird territory in the Park. But Chris did see it from the neck down as it joined a feeding flock of Raggianas and Rusty Pitohuis. Two or three pairs of Chestnut-backed Jewels were also there but they wouldn't show themselves and the same happened with a nearby Brown-headed Kingfisher which responded to a tape of it's own call by flying away to the other end of the little gully we were in.
Finally, we gave up and returnd to civilisation. Although they are found throughout the Park, the best place for Brown-headed Kingfisher is the short flat just near the start of the Tree-house Trail. This is because the pair that live there are very used to people - no tape is necessary, as we proved by getting one in the scope within minutes of entering the trail from the car park. An excellent bird.
Wallace's Fairy Wren was seen here by Chris and unfortunately not by the Wallaces. I heard Chis exclaim and begin to describe what he was looking at and so I moved quickly in behind him but even then failed to see the bird; it moved quicly out of sight (from it's above head-height foraging) and was never seen again.
Spot-breasted Honeyeater (Meliphaga) and Hooded Pitohui were there, and Black Myzomela and Spotted Honeyeater seen on the Gares Trail, Black-faced and Spot-winged Monarchs, and Pygmy Drongo, seen from the Circuit Trail, and an excellent Fawn-breasted Bowerbird sitting in the Birdquest scope in the car park. were the day's additions to our list.
Final day in PNG; back to Varirata, which has a total list of nearly 240 spp. Like any tropical forest, for birding it can be anywhere between brilliant and abyssmal. The three musketeers decided to try the Boundary Trail on their own; it was abyssmal. I was pleased to be able to go off on by myself and tried taping, then imitating, a pair of Crested Pitohuis which were within metres (never saw them), then trying to find a calling post of a nearby Magnificent Riflebird; abyssmal as well. But I did get on to a small feeding party of little birds, Pygmy Drongo, Spot-winged Monarch, and a close view of a Pale-billed Scrubwren.
We were all to meet at the carpark about 1130. Chris had been scouting up the Creek Trail toward Varirata Lookout and glimpsed Dwarf Kingfisher, Black Berrypecker, and also seen a female Mag Riflebird on a feeding tree. Off we went to the tree, and waited for more than half an hour. The feeding party came back and flew past, mainly Raggianas and Rusty Pitohuis again with a black Butcherbird - they are known as the Brown and Black Brigade.
We were about to give up when back they came yet again. This time with a female Magnificent Riflebird which foraged briefly on the feeding tree in front of us. Whew. Now we can go.
We left the Bluff Inn for the last time; good beds, good food (great steaks and fish), good beer, good birds in the grounds, all at a good price. The nearby Pacific University was our next target place; there we saw mostly common Cairns-area water birds with the addition of Rufous-banded Honeyeater, Black-backed Butcherbird, and Grey-headed Munia to finish off the trip list.
In addition to the birds seen by the tour group that are listed above, were 40 other species common to n. Australia, 4 guide-only seen species, and 22 heard-onlys, mostly by guides.
It was a pretty good trip, thanks to Chris, Graeme and Moira for suggesting it and changing it almost completely into a "normal" PNG birding tour from the club-type and range-restricted cheapo trip that I had originally envisaged but was unable to interest any Australians in - they're scared of PNG down here. Paranoid actually. Australia gives it really bad press so few Australians are general tourists to PNG. The market is dominated by European, North American, and Japanese tourists.
So thanks again for your support from the UK, and commiserations to Steve who had to cancel the tour at the last minute - it's still all there Steve, waiting for you. And thanks to the US people coming this Sept, you can see by reading this report that you will have a fascinating time in Papua New Guinea.
AABirding & Travel
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Box 7999, Cairns 4870, Australia.