13 October 2009_KDB
The Birds, Mammals and other wildlife
recorded on the VENT PAPUA NEW GUINEATour 2009
Ribbon-tailed Astrapia - © K. David Bishop
VICTOR EMANUEL NATURE TOURS, INC.
P.O. Box 33008
Austin, Texas 78764
Leaders: David Bishop and Dion Hobcroft
The Papua New Guinaa Tour Report 2009
This was one of those tours you just dream of; a fabulous group of sharp-eyed, charming and entertaining participants and some truly spectacular birds. This was arguably THE most comprehensive tour ever offered to PNG and the enormous bird-list reflects this coming in at a whopping 435 species of birds and at least ten species of mammals identified. But the list and numbers can never really convey the wonder of such a journey; yes we did see 23 species of birds of paradise and 18 species of kingfishers but any trip and especially this one to PNG is so very much more. Despite PNG’s sometimes unsalubrious reputation the people are undoubtedly among THE most friendly and fascinating peoples on our planet.
Thunder literally did ‘rumble across the heavens’ and from the early hours the skies deluged our
mountain fastness – Kumul Lodge with rain Australia can only dream of. Not you might think a propitious beginning to our one full day in the high-mountians of New Guinea. Think again. Despite the rain which did relent now and again we were absolutely in the right place at the right time. Kumul Lodge hosts one of the finest bird feeders in the world (ironically it is the only bird-feeder in all of PNG) and is host to some of the world’s most spectacular birds. A delicious breakfast under our belt the entire group repaired to the large verandah overlooking the feeder. Birds came and went; more food was added by our obliging and thoughtful hosts; some of us took up vigil on the lower floor and all the while our local guide Max wandered around looking for anything to add to our already sumptuous feast. Imagine sitting coffee and cake in hand leisurely watching a full adult male Ribbon-tailed Astrapia or Brown Sicklebill just a few yeards away and then suddenly Max is yelling in a hushed voice to come look at a male Crested Satinbird behind one of the cabins. The rain continued so it was back to the feeder and gradually this absolute gem of a place began to share its secrets. First it was the female Archbold’s Bowerbird, pugnacious and not very attractive it nevertheless providing prolonged and unparalleled views of a bird that is normally very difficult to see. Brehms’ Tiger-Parrots, Belford’s Melidectes, Common Smoky Honeyeater and occasionally a male Regent Whistler – how dapper is he! And the normally secretive Rufous-naped Whistler pottered to and fro and provided a never ending scene of fascination. Cameras continued to click; the rain puttered on and another break to see a White-winged Robin at the nest. Much to everyones delight a Speckled Dasyure – one of New Guinea’s oh so elusive carnivorous marsupials arrived at the feeder and foraged assiduously for maggots buried in the table of mosses that now cover the feeder. What a charmer! Then just a moment before lunch a female Chestnut Forest Rail wandered into view beneath the feeder. Simply unbelievable! The rain continued and so after lunch most of us continued our watch although a half-way decent break in the torrent permitted a short leg-stretch into the lodge grounds to enjoy Crested Berrypeckers but sadly the Painted Tiger-Parrots seen earlier by Max and Dion had disappeared. Back at the feeder things were really hotting up and much to this leader’s astonishment a Bronze Ground-Dove had put in a brief appearance. Fortunately we had a very quite and patient group and within 30 minutes he was back and so confident that he actually hopped from the ground right onto the feeder before being poked at and driven off by a pesky Belford’s Melidectes! To see any Gallicoluma is exceptional but to see one repeatedly and so well is nothing short of astonishing. Just to conclude this ‘rained-out’ day we, at dusk all trooped down into the forest (happily the rain had finally stopped) to a clearing where Max had discovered a spot where we could actually see the almost mythical New Guinea Woodcock. Barely had we settled into position than we heard the strange calls of a woodcock roding; one bird briefly dropped into the forest and clambered along an angled trunk before disappearing again. Was that it? Fortunately not. Just as Max had predicted this fantastic bird called again and flew in and perched right in front of us on a clear, exposed tree limb permitting us the most wonderful views of this so very rarely encountered endemic. As always we had enquired abut the resident owlet-nightjars but Max shook his head and said they had been too disturbed by some visiting birders and was now very difficult. Well the goddess Orni was with us and for those who persisted we were treated to some exquisite views of this most un-avian of birds!
This then is just one of the many remarkable days on this year’s VENT rour of PNG. I have lived in and visited PNG (and West Papua) for 34 years and yet there is still so much new to see and be excited about. Just a handful of this tours highlights for me included:
Returning down the might Fly River as the sun set I have never seen skies so immense, gilded in the most fabulous colours from horizon to horizon. A fitting tribute to one of the finest day’s birding I have ever experienced in 34 years in New Guinea and many would agree THE finest sunsets they have witnessed.
A male Buff-tailed Sicklebill (Bird of Pardise) that granted me my first sound-recording of this very elusive endemic and some wonderful views as he displayed and foraged in the high canopy of the montane forest.
A pair of Chestnut Forest Rails feeding young at the Kumul Lodge feeder.
A pair of the rarely seen Doria’s Hawks attending a huge nest deep within the forest.
Good looks at a New Britain Buzzard as it floated right over our heads one morning.
Oh then there were fabulous views of Southern Crowned Pigeon, male Blue Birds of Paradise; for a lucky couple three New Guinea Flightless Rails trundling down the track and, and …. Oh yes a hunting New Guinea Harpy Eagle!!!!!!!!!
It is always a privilege to return to New Guinea which has become in many ways my second home during the thirty plus years I have lived and visited there. To return to this spectacular continental-island with such a wonderful group was sheer joy. Thank you one and all.
Thanks too to all the people in PNG who help make this trip so much fun and so successful: Stephen, Anton, Loenard, Jenny, Jimmy and Gary in Port Moresby; Sam in Kiunga and Tabubil plus all the girls at the Kiunga Guest House; Benson and all our Huhli and Australian hosts at Ambua; Lyn, Max and Daniel and everyone at Kumul Lodge and Florence and everyone at Walindi.
This remarkable country never fails to astonish me. New Guineans are undoubtedly some of the finest and most interesting people on our planet and they together with the continuing vastness of this island-continent’s forests, its birds and other wildlife combine to not only produce an outstanding tour but one that literally rejuvenates the soul. Who will ever forget that flight from Tabubil to Tari over thousands and thousands of square miles of tropical forest wilderness. There really is still hope for our planet. What a place!
The following is a summary of our daily activities as well as a list of what we heard and saw. Some of you may be surprised at just how many species we saw well AND were able to study through the ‘scope! Whilst a report such as this tells something of what we saw and heard it only tells part of the story and can never really convey the wonderful overall sights and sounds of New Guinea, its forests and its people.
David Bishop and Dion Hobcroft
21 September 2009 – Arrive Port Moresby, PNG; Pacific Adventist College ponds. A vagrant Plumed Whistling Duck is a new species for David and Dion’s PNG list!
22 September 2009 - Fly to Hoskins, West New Britain drive to Walindi Dive Resort. PM Kulu River.
23 September 2009 – AM drive to Tove logging concession; ascend to ca. 300m elevation; PM relict forest patch. Fabulous views of the rare New Britain Buzzard and Black Imperial Pigeon plus Webster’s and White-mantled kingfishers.
24 September 2009 – Depart 05.30; boat to Malumalu and Restoffen islands; PM relict forest patch. Fine views of several Nicobar Pigeons and a New Britain Boobook to round off the day.
25 September 2009 – AM Kulu River then fly to Port Moresby; PM Houses of Parliament, Waigani and a brief tour of Port Moresby including the harbour. After much persistence good looks for near all at a Black-backed Paradise-kingfisher, Red-bellied Pitta and a Violaceous Coucal.
26 September 2009 – KDB’s group flies to Mt Hagen and on thence by charters in the very fine new TNT aircraft to Bensbach; PM boat trip downstream on the Bensbach River. DH’s group visit Varirata National Park in the am and then wait unsuccessfully for their flight to Daru and onto Bensbach. Eventually ON at the Airways.
27 September 2009 – KDB’s group birds woodlands and forest around Bensbach Lodge; DH’s group finally arrives Bensbach 11.30. PM boat trip down stream along the Bensbach River and a little hick-up! Great views of Great-billed Heron and Spangled Kookaburra.
28 September 2009 – 06.30 – 07.30 Birding woodlands and forest around Bensbach Lodge; 09.00 – 18.00 all day down Bensbach River as far as ‘Three Hole’. Nocturnal walk. Palm Cockatoos, Sarus Cranes, White-spotted Munia.
Tues. 29 September 2009 – KDB’s group depart Bensbach 07.45 arrive Kiunga 09.00; DH’s group birding upstream of lodge; fly Bensbach to Kiunga arrive 12.45. PM Km 17.
Wed. 30 September 2009 – 05.30 depart to Boy’s Town Road and Flame Bowerbird Hill; PM looking for New Guinea Flightless Rail.A vagrant Oriental Plover.
Thurs. 1 October 2009 – 05.30 depart on Fly River, Elevala River, return 18.00.
Fri. 2 October 2009 – AM Km 17 and forest trails; PM Kiunga airstrip and Boy’s Town Road.A slow morning that included ‘scope views of Purple-tailed Imperial Pigeon; Oriental Plover at the airstrip and great views of Blue Jewel-babbler and Yellow-gaped Meliphaga in the afternoon.
Sat. 3 October 2009 – 05.15 depart up river to 12 wired BOP display site; King BOP display site; Common Pardise Kingfisher and super Wallace’s Fairy-Wren; after lunch drive to Tabubil.
Sun. 4 October 2009 – AM Dablin Creek Track; PM Ok Menga area. Salvadori’s Teal.
Mon. 5 October 2009 – AM Dablin Creek Track; Mid-AM fly to Tari and drive to Ambua Lodge, Southern Highlands Province. PM birding above the Bailey bridge and at the Tari Gap. Spectacular flight from Tabubil to Tari; exceptionally clear and smooth permitting a direct route over the Strickland Gorge and some truly magnificent tropical wilderness forest.
Tues. 6 October 2009 – AM Tari Valley – Blue Bird of Paradise; PM – Largely rained out.
Wed. 7 October 2009 – AM KDB to Benson’s Trail; DH to lodge trails; PM KDB to lodge trails; DH to Benson’s Trail. Buff-tailed Sicklebill; Chestnut Forest-Rail
Thurs. 8 October 2009 – AM KDB 07.30 depart for Tari and fly to Mt Hagen, drive to Rondon Ridge; DH birding lodge trails; depart for Tari 11.oo and fly to Mt Hagen; drive to Rondon Ridge; then entire froup drives to Kumul Lodge in late afternoon.Papuan Treecreeper; 4 x Myzomela spp.
Fri. 9 October 2009 – Despite torrential rains all night and all day a very profitable time was spent watching the fabulous bird-feeder at Kumul Lodge – Ribbon-tailed Astrapia; Archbold’s Bowerbird.
Sat. 10 October 2009 – Depart 05.00 to Kama Village, Laiap Valley return for lunch; PM fly to Port Moresby.
Sun. 11 October 2009 – Varirata National Park all day; Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher; nesting Doria’s Hawk.
Mon. 12 September 2009 - Fly to Cairns; end tour.
New Guinea is without doubt a place that lifts the spirits dazzles the eye and challenges the mind. I cannot wait to return.
Mountain Owlet-nightjar - © K. David Bishop
ANNOTATED BIRD LIST