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
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.