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Bird Watching
 

New Guinea is home to over 730 species of bird, almost half of which are found nowhere else. None symbolise New Guinea more than the Birds of Paradise and the plumage of the adult males are the wonder of the avian world with creations ranging from the divine to the totally weird. Reproductive competition has resulted in the evolution of fantastic plumes, skirts, capes, wires, whips and fluorescent coloured skin, all used to splendid effect in wonderful displays.

The Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise performs alone on a dead tree top, glowing like a resplendent yellow beacon welcoming the dawn. Some, like the Greater and Raggiana Birds of Paradise, dance in the canopy in groups, with brilliant plumes exploding in to view like an animated firework display. Others, like the Lawes' Parotia, display in a terrestrial court, strutting and spinning like ballerinas. These are the most famous and sought after New Guinean birds but a wonderful variety of other birds are also to be seen. The secretive and flightless Southern Cassowary lurks in the shadows; although it is one of the largest birds in the world its presence is usually only betrayed by its dinosaur-like footprints left on the forest floor. Brush turkeys and scrubfowl construct huge compost heaps of leaves in which to incubate their eggs whilst a diverse array of kingfishers, parrots, pigeons and doves inhabit the trees above them. Furtive pittas and jewel-babblers creep along the forest floor and feeding flocks of whistlers, fantails, berrypeckers and honeyeaters pass noisily overhead. Bowerbirds take the art of construction to the absolute limit with their ornately decorated maypoles and fruit-decked avenues, they are truly the master builders of the avian world.

Birdwatching here is wonderful but many of the birds are very poorly known. New Guinea is rightly regarded as the last ornithological frontier and much new understanding can be gained by studying even the most common species.

We work closely with an associate company, Sicklebill Safaris, who offer specialist birdwatching tours to Papua New Guinea and other parts of the world. The following is a condensed itinerary of a typical tour offered by Sicklebill Safaris:

Arrive in the capital city, Port Moresby and make your base on the Sogeri Plateau in the nearby Astrolabe Mountains. From here explore the excellent and beautiful Varirata National Park which holds a wide range of species, some of which you are unlikely to encounter elsewhere including Dwarf Cassowary, Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher, White-crowned Koel, Eastern Riflebird and Magnificent Bird of Paradise. On a typical day one could expect to see in the region of fifty species, a gentle introduction to Papua New Guinean birding. If weather permits, spotlighting after dark could produce Papuan and Marbled Frogmouths, Large-tailed and Papuan Nightjars and possibly Barred and Australian Owlet-nightjars as well as marsupials such as Forest Wallaby, Sugar Glider and bandicoots.

The next base is Motupore Island, again near Port Moresby, and from here you explore the eucalypt savannah, grasslands, coastal lagoons, mangroves, rocky and sandy beaches and lowland forest. On a typical day one could expect to see well over a hundred species including Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Black Bittern, Spotted Whistling Duck, Purple Swamphen, Intermediate Egret, Crested Hawk, many species of Fruit-Dove and Imperial Pigeon, Eclectus Parrot, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Boyer's Cuckoo-shrike, Lowland Peltops, Mangrove Robin, Mangrove Gerygone and a wide range of monarchs, whistlers and honeyeaters.

The next area we visit is in the Gulf Province near the coastal town of Kikori. Blyth's Hornbills are common here and the large parrots such as Eclectus and Vulturine are seen daily. Southern Cassowary can sometimes be seen at the forest edge during the first and last hours of daylight and the stunning Southern Crowned Pigeon can sometimes be found on the river bank or in riverside trees. Other specialities of this area are Double-eyed Fig-Parrot, Golden Cuckoo-Shrike, Yellow-eyed Starling, King Bird of Paradise and White-spotted Mannikin among the hundred or so species that may be expected to be seen daily.

The next stop is Kiunga in the Western Province, an area which holds an excellent range of lowland rainforest species including Blue Jewel-babbler, Hooded and Blue-breasted Pittas, Long-billed Cuckoo, Large Fig-Parrot, Common and Little Paradise Kingfishers, the luminous Flame Bowerbird and Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise. Another great attraction is the bird of paradise lek tree where male Greater Birds of Paradise produce a stunning feathery firework display.

A road trip to the mining town of Tabubil in the foothills of the Star Mountains brings you to an area only recently 'discovered' ornithologically. Several very rare birds are now known as Tabubil specialities including the weird and elusive Greater Melampitta and the appropriately named Obscure Berrypecker. Other localised species to be found here are Golden-backed Whistler, Streaked Lorikeet, white-rumped Robin and the wonderful Carola's Parotia.

Next you fly to Tari for a stay at Ambua Lodge. This is an absolute 'must' for any birding trip to Papua New Guinea. The area is home for many species of bird of paradise including Loria's Bird of Paradise, Short-tailed Paradigalla and Stephanie's Astrapia which can be seen in the grounds of the Lodge. Lower down the mountain, Superb and Blue Birds of Paradise and Lawes' Parotia can be found. Higher up the King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, Brown Sicklebill, Ribbon-tailed Astrapia and Crested Bird of Paradise inhabit the forest. A wide variety of birds are to be found in this area, some of the more spectacular being Meyer's Goshawk, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Papuan and Plum-faced Lorikeets, Logrunner, Black-breasted Boatbill, White-winged Robin, Canary Flycatcher, Wattled Ploughbill, Crested Berrypecker and Archbold's and Macgregor's Bowerbirds.

Your final destination is the tiny mountain village of Myola, in the Owen Stanley Mountains. This area is grassland surrounded by pristine mountain forest and it is absolutely beautiful. The grasslands hold Spotless Crake and Lewin's Rail, King Quail and huge flocks of Grey-headed Mannikins. The forest holds some real gems including Forbes' Forest-Rail, Ashy Robin, Bronze Ground-Dove, Spotted Jewel-babbler, Rufous Woodcock, Logrunner and Shovel-billed Kingfisher. It is a truly brilliant area for birding and photography.

Sicklebill Safaris' tours are usually tailor-made to suit the interests of the participants and can include many other destinations within the country including Lake Kutubu, Mt Hagen, Baiyer River, Madang, the Huon Peninsula, New Britain, New Ireland and Manus. Where possible Sicklebill Safaris uses locally owned, minimum impact, sustainable tourism ventures to aid habitat preservation.

Sicklebill Safaris' web site has more detailed information on suggested itineraries and previous trip reports.

 

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