Friday, July 26, 2019

Postcards from Austalasia #4

We've long wanted to visit Papua New Guinea to see the unique birds there but also been put off by the precarious security situation in the country.   The best answer looked to be a group birding tour run by a major company, which is what we duly booked.

We flew in to Port Moresby from Brisbane and met-up with the group the following day, birding a private location in the city.   The next morning on the first of what proved to be continuous early starts we drove to Varirata National Park to arrive ahead of the lek of the Ragianna Bird of Paradise, incidentally the national bird of PNG.   Pretty soon after we arrived the lek started, here a male displays as a female arrives in the lek:

A pattern that was to prove sustained throughout the trip was that while were happy to move on the the group leaders kept us at the site for a good hour.  Anyhow a cracking species and our first BoP in PNG.

We saw some other outstanding species in the park, unique in PNG given the contentious approach to land ownership that prevails throughout the country and particularly in the highlands.   Some other species included the Frilled Monarch

A Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher:

Blue-winged Kookaburra, a handsome bird:

From Port Moresby we flew the next day to Mount Hagan and the best lodge of the tour at Rondon Ridge.  The views into the valley were outstanding:

Here you can see a rain system sweeping into the valley:

The birding was good though the forest planted by the Australian owner of the property is still growing and therefore the birding was ok, lacking i think sufficient locations to justify the length of the stay, though the accommodation and food were outstanding.

From Rondon Ridge at 2,200m evelation we drove to the other side of the valley to one of the rougher locations on the trip, Kumul lodge at 2,700m.   The lodge is in cloud forest and the temperature drops to single digits every night.   There's no in-room heating, the doors don't fit, etc.  There are electric blankets but the main grid reguarly fails so some nights are very cold indeed (take thermals!).  The lodge has a feeding table overlooked by a purpose-built ledge, with some very good species in attendance including Common Smokey Honeyeaters:

The wattle on the face is changed at whim by the bird from yellow, through orange to bright red:

A BoP showed up too, this female Brown Sicklebill:

Grey-streaked Honyeaters fed on the flowers hanging closeby:

And another BoP arrived, a Ribbon-tailed Astrapia:

Kumul is used as a base for exploring further afield.   We drove through the night for an hour, hiked up a small hill in the pre-dawn light then hung around for about four hours (a typical morning on the tour).  On the descent i was taken by the contrast between the members of our group with binoculars, cameras, bags, waterproofs, etc., and the naked or semi-clothed children in the house we passed on the way back down:

From Kumul lodge we drove down to the airport at Mount Hagan and then caught our flight to Tabubil.   We were ticketed through to Kiunga though as the flight lands at both airports though Tabubil, a town purpose built for the Ok Tedi gold mine, is one of the wettest places on earth and therefore the low cloud prevents the aircraft from landing 3 out of 4 attempts!   We however were lucky.

At Tabubil they'd found a new birding location, apart from the afternoon we got back from landing at Tabubil (and avoiding a four hour drive up the hill from Kiunga) we visited the same location five times, well i say we did, we didn't, the group did, we decided to miss an afternoon as it was getting very samey.   Drive, stand around, see what flies over... we didn't miss anything though i should say the first two sessions on the hill were very productive.

We also got to see the Bismark Ridge as the clouds briefly parted along its length:

From Tabubil we then drove the four hours down to Kiunga and birded from a lodge there for a few nights before the morning of our 36 hour trip to the Fly River dawned.   The water was low due to a lack of rain (news to us who'd been soaked in near monsoon rains a couple of times in the hills) and we had to wade through deep mud to board the boats.  One loaded with our birding gear and an overnight pack we headed off down the river to our 'lodge'.

The trip was broken-up by birds sighted along the river as the daylight improved:

A Scottish Flag in the morning sky cheered us up:

The birding around the lodge was very good, the accommodation however was very poor, think a raised hut with 12 people sleeping in it including two very loud snorers.  We were shattered the next day.

We did see Rufous-bellied Kookaburra amongst a number of species:

And on the afternoon boat trip a Sclater's Crowned Pigeon, crazy looking bird:

As we were preparing to leave a group of Orange-breasted Fig-Parrots flew in to feed on one of the flowering trees:

The it was time for the flight back to Port Moresby, this is the airstrip at Kiunga and yes that is a random chap walking alongside the runway:

On our last day birding we drove to the Brown River toward the coast, though rainfall prevented us reaching the coast itself we visited a pool noted for birds however the owner was sad to relate that some locals had been scaring off the birds (probably hunting them), so there was almost nothing to see, albeit Rainbow Bee-eaters were feeding in his garden:

We also noticed that instead of one local guide we had four on this day, all conspicuously carrying machetes and all of whom responded to any approaching locals by making a line and walking towards them...

While we were in PNG 20 people died in tribal violence in the highlands and 2 in the Capital after the State of Origin final in Australia!   We saw 275 species of bird on the 18 day trip, over 240 of which were new to us, including a dozen BoPs.   Time to head back to Australia, the internet, vegetables and sunshine!


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