1st – 27th July – Remote Papuan New Guinea   1 comment

 

At the end of July I returned from nearly four weeks away on Birdquest’s Remote Papua New Guinea tour. This tour visits five areas that cannot be covered on the main PNG tour, and requires more basic accommodation and rougher road conditions, although the accommodation and walking effort are nowhere near as demanding as the West Papua tour I did last year.

Ragianna Bird-of-Paradise, PNG’s national bird seen at Varirata near Port Moresby.

 

Flight rescheduling meant that the tour had to be done in reverse, so after a bit of birding near Port Moresby we flew to the second city of Lea, where we were taken to the hotel in a minibus with metal bars on the windows and armed guards, such is the risk from the so-called ‘rascals’. Fortunately we didn’t need to do any birding in the Lea area and the following morning we took a light plane charter to the tiny village of Wasu on the north coast. From here we headed in an open truck up a very rough road to the mountains of the Huon Peninsula where we slept on the floor of a missionary school.

 

Of course I lost most of my photos from the early part of the trip but was able to photograph these giant spiders at a later stage.

The next two days produced some excellent birding, with all three of the Huon’s endemic Birds-of-Paradise (BoPs) recorded, although only females of the splendid Emperor BoP was seen, as the villagers had cut down the display tree for firewood. A fourth endemic, the splendid Spangled Honeyeater was easy, but the fifth, Huon Melidectes only occurs above the reach of roads and trails.

We returned to Wasu where another charter flight took us along the coast to the town of Madang. The pilot dropped us and our luggage near the runway and then departed in a hurry, we then realised the airport was closed and we were locked in! Eventually we found a way out and met up with the next guide who took us on another rough road to the basic but charming Keki Lodge in the Adelbert mountains. Over the next couple of days we tracked down the amazing Fire-maned Bowerbird, one of the most spectacular birds in the world, watched the incredible displays of the Magnificent and Superb BoPs and noted many beautiful pigeons and parrots. On one night walk we heard the falling bomb note of Sooty Owl, the double bark of Papuan Boobook, gruff growls of Papuan Frogmouth and the unbelievable whistles and pops of Marbled Frogmouth; yet only the latter showed in the spotlight and sadly the near-mythical Shovel-billed Kingfisher remained, as on my other two New Guinea trips, a disembodied voice in the gloom.

One thing you can rely on in PNG is that everything will be unreliable. Hence it was no surprise that the vehicles were three hours late in picking us up. We were staying the night in Madang before our next flight, but we didn’t arrive until the late afternoon and hence our boat trip to an offshore island to see New Guinea Scrubfowl had to be cancelled. Another downside to PNG, at least at the moment, is that elections are being held and away from hotels, you can’t get a beer. This is to reduce the inevitable riots, fights and even murders that occur when opposing political parties meet under the influence of a few cans of ‘South Pacific’.

 

We got soaked just running from the plane to the ‘terminal’ at Manus

 

The next day we flew to the island of Manus, although it lies just to the north we had to fly via Port Moresby, this is like flying from Edinburgh to Aberdeen via Heathrow. On arrival we ran into an unbelievably heavy storm, I’m amazed the plane could land and amazed so much water could fall in such a short period of time. Whilst waiting for the luggage I realised my new purchased pocket camera was missing. I knew I had it on the plane, but returning to the aircraft was of no avail, it had already disappeared. I reported the loss at Air Niugini’s office, the guy phoned Port Moresby, a long conversation in Pigin followed where I could catch just three words, ‘camera’, ‘white fella’ and ‘buggarap’!

 

Sunshine after the storm.

 

We had nearly four days on Manus. Most endemics were easy to see, but this was not the case with the main target, the wonderful Superb Pitta. This is probably the rarest and most restricted pitta in the world, with nearly all records occurring within a ten-mile radius. They had been heard and seen a few days before our arrival, but the torrential rain may have destroyed all the nests as not a single bird was heard or seen during our visit. All known territories were tried and we slogged through the forest at dawn, dusk and most times in between, in fine weather and in heavy rain. We were a pretty demoralised group at the end of our stay, but a boat trip to the nearby island of Tong, was greatly appreciated as several important species not found on Manus were easily seen with yards of the beach. Nightbirding on Manus was tricky too, with the quite vocal Manus Boobook only showing briefly, however Birdquest’s first ever sighting of the endemic, arboreal, and nocturnal marsupial, Admiralty Cuscus was compensation.

 

Local children help Elaine across the swollen stream.

 

The boat to Tong, some enjoy the wind in their hair more than others.

 

Black Noddies accompanied us on the crossing to Tong.

 

The lagoon on the island of Tong

 

Smoke from the villages fires gave an atmospheric effect.

 

On New Ireland our plans had to be hurriedly rewritten as we couldn’t get the use of a boat on a Saturday (the locals are all Seventh Day Adventists). On our first morning we took a boat to New Hanover, to see its endemic mannikin. For some reason every fly on New Hanover seemed to congregate around my head and I gained the new nickname of ‘Lord of the Flies’.

 

 

Lord of the flies?

 

On our return the boatman took us to the island of Nusa where we found a Laysan Albatross was being cared for at a local diving centre. Picked up offshore, this USA ringed bird (probably from Midway or Laysan) was becalmed and now wandered around the huts with the chickens, eating fish from a bowl and was herded inside every night for its own protection. It was only a life bird for one of the group, so only he had to decide on the ethics of ticking it!

An unusual place to see a Laysan Albatross

 

Getting acquainted with the locals!

 

Safe sex and safe driving, presumably not at the same time!

 

Our time on New Ireland was divided between staying at a hotel in the north and a beautiful, if basic lodge on the beach further south. Here there was a nearby river to wash in and terns and tattlers along the shore. Birding in the mountains brought a good range of endemics but perhaps the most notable were Mayer’s Swiftlet, a bird known only from four specimens and a couple of field sightings and the as yet, undescribed ‘Bismark Flyrobin’. A real surprise was running into Richard Schofield, a former Birdquest leader on a private trip, who was less than satisfied with the Papuan way of doing things and the cost and lack of availability of beer.

 

It might look like an abstract painting, but it is actually tree bark.

 

Perhaps the most memorable day whilst on New Ireland was our boat trip to the remote island of Tench. Situated 100km north of New Ireland and just south of the Equator, this tiny island of less one kilometer square is home to about 30 adults (and many children), huge numbers of Boobies, Noddies, Frigatebirds, White Terns and a few Tropicbirds and best of all Atoll Starlings, a bird only known from six tiny islets throughout Melanesia. It took three hours each way in a small boat, calm on the way, but rough and wet on the return. We were made very welcome by the islanders who live in almost total isolation and who had to be evacuated a few years ago when a large wave contaminated their water supply and destroyed their taro crop. They have only recently returned.

 

Tench islanders

 

Great Frigatebirds and Red-footed Boobies

 

The beautiful White (or Fairy) Tern makes no nest but lays its egg on a fork in a branch.

 

 

Once again we had to return to Port Moresby before flying to Alotau in the extreme south-east. Here we boarded a dive boat that was to be our home for the next three nights. We motored through Goodenough Bay and the wonderful scenery of the D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago to reach Ferguson Island, where we encountered two more BoPs; Goldie’s BoP and Curl-crested Manucode. Again we were made welcome by the islanders. This boat trip proved to be a relaxing and very enjoyable conclusion to the tour.

 

Relaxing on the MV Chertan

 

Indo-Pacific Bottle-nosed Dolphins bow riding.

 

On arrival at Ferguson Island the locals rowed out to find out what we were up to.

 

The widespread Sulphur-crested Cockatoo showed well.

 

Two male Goldie’s BoPs displaying. This one of the least known BoPs, occurring only on two islands in the D’Entrecasteaux archipelago.

 

 

We returned to the boat to sleep and witnessed this stunning sunset.

 

Our final birding was on the uninhabited Duchess Island where we searched without success for the Louisiades White-eye.

 

Sadly we had to return to Port Moresby where the group split up and went their separate ways. Such is the international nature of Birdquest groups these days (ours consisted of two Brits, two Belgians, two Yanks, a Swede and Frenchwoman) that I was the only person flying back to Heathrow. It had been a wonderful tour, great company, great fun and lots a great birds, I managed to add 36 new birds to my list and travel to some of the least visited areas of the world, it certainly was off the beaten track. The only downside was that, as in the UK recently, we experienced an awful lot of rain and this was the probable cause of us missing a few excellent species.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted August 3, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

One response to “1st – 27th July – Remote Papuan New Guinea

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  1. Hey Gryllo! Lae is spelled L-A-E and BBL tells me the albatross was ringed (banded) as a nestling at French Frigate Shoals (Hawaiian chain) on 1 June 1990. And what about all your other names?

    Cheers, P

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