June 24th to July 23rd: West Papua – ‘not for sissies’   Leave a comment

West Papua – ‘not for sissies’ – that was the title of the month long tour
according to one of the Swedish participants!
Our international group, 2 Germans, 2 Swedes, a Belgian, a Yank and two Brits
(amazingly the other brit was fellow Dorset birder Daragh Croxson) met in Jakarta for the flight to West Papua, the western Indonesian half of New Guinea.
To say that this month long trip was demanding would be quite an understatement, although road building has made it easier than on the first trips in the 90s, it still requires slogging up mountains along steep and muddy trails, covered in fallen trees, tree roots, lianas, creepers and other trip hazards. Between all of these lie pools of mud, some ankle deep, some knee deep and each hand hold must be checked to ensure its not covered with spines or is rotten before you commit your weight to it.
The weather could be described as warm and wet on the offshore islands, hot and wet in the lowland forest, cool and wet in the Arfak mountains and cold and wet at Lake Habbena in the Snow Mountains.
The accommodation was challenging too, a few nights in hotels but mainly
sleeping on the floor of huts, camping or just sleeping under a tarpaulin in the forest on a bed of branches. One night I awoke to find my sleeping bag and clothes soaked, on another Daragh’s stick bed collapsed. It was a tour where a shower or even a clean, dry pair of socks was a luxury.
Why did I put myself through so much hassle and was it all worth it?  …. the
answer undoubtedly is YES. It was a great adventure, really good fun and we had a great insight into the lives of a people who were still living in the stone age as recently as 1939. But what of the birds? well birding was very difficult,
many birds refused to show, or showed briefly, at times I thought we were on a
birdglimpsing rather than a birdwatching trip, but with perseverance most
species gave reasonable views.
To say that I saw or heard 315 species and 80 odd lifers would be factual but would not tell the whole story, many of the birds were just fantastic and must be considered some of the best in the world.

Some of our rewards included:

Squadrons of Biak Red Lorys flying across the sky like the Red Arrows on the way to an airshow

Three species of Paradise Kingfisher, the best Numfor PK, only seen by one group before, a vision of cobalt blue and white, with a bright red bill and a long spatulate tail

The tiny Biak Scops Owl caught in the spotlight beam

Biak Monach seen less than 10 times by birders

A huge prehistoric looking juvenile Channel-billed Cuckoo chasing after its much smaller Torresian Crow foster parents.

The turkey sized but very shy Western Crowned and Victoria Crowned Pigeons, the latter is hardly ever seen by groups

We  were the first group to see the mega skulking Greater Ground Robin

The huge Grass Owl that exploded from the marsh at our feet near Lake Habbena.

But the biggest reward were the BoPs (where P = paradise) From displaying Lesser and Red BoPs on the offshore islands to the huge Black Sicklebill in the Arfak Mountains we saw 18 species. Orange and black McGregor’s BoP in the alpine scenery of the Snow Mountains, the wonderful tails of the two Astrapias, the scarlet and red of the King BoP displaying in a vine tangle, the flash of gold as the MagBoP (Magnificent BoP) descended on its display area, the pole dancing Twelve-wired BoP are all imprinted on my mind for ever’

 However two species deserve special comment:

The Western Parotia male that turned itself into a spinning top and teetered around the dance area like a ballerina whilst three females sat on a branch above watching the show. We wondered if they were going to hold up score cards!

 And the Wilson’s BoP. This bird required an 0330 departure for a two hour hike up a steep, mud covered hill in torrential rain. I soon found that I needed four hands, one for the torch, one for a stick, a free hand to hold branches to pull myself up and one for the brolly. Something had to go – and it was the brolly. Soaking wet we arrived at a makeshift hide and once it was light we were entertained for two hours by what must be the best bird in the world, a vision of electric blue bald skin on the crown, yellow scapulars, bright red mantle and a green shield on the breast, but to top it all, two of the upper tail coverts are formed into helices, black in most lights but flashing bright silver when seen head on!

I am so, so glad I did this trip but equally I’m so, so glad its over and I’m back home.

I hope to post a few photos tomorrow.

Posted July 24, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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