Participants: Phil Hansbro, Brent Beach, Greg McKeough, Colin ReidComments
An independent 4 person group trip to Tari in the Central Highlands for 9 days, followed by 3 days birding by two birders in Varirata National Park and the lowlands around the Brown River area, west of Port Moresby.
The Tari part of the trip was organised by the team leader Phil Hansbro (Newcastle, NSW) and the Port Moresby sojourn by Brent Beach (Victoria, Canada) and the author, Colin Reid (Brisbane, Qld) and we were joined by Greg McKeough (Sydney, NSW) for the Tari section..
Visas and currency
A visa is required for entry to PNG. This can be obtained from the PNG consulate in your area/country (in Queensland from the consulate in Brisbane or, alternatively, from Canberra) – cost $35, the form is available on-line. Failing that, one can be purchased at the airport on arrival in Port Moresby – cost $50.
At the time of our visit the local currency, the Kina, was close enough to 2 to the $A1.00 so to simplify costs I have used that exchange rate throughout this report. It is important to know that credit cards and travellers cheques are useless outside PM, it is unfortunate, but necessary, to carry all the cash you are expected to need right from that point of entry. As in any similar situation precautions should be taken not to display large amounts of cash in public.
Getting there and getting around:
Birding trips in PNG will never be cheap, however, thanks to competition, getting to PNG has been reduced by half in recent years. We flew independently and all met in Port Moresby (PM). I chose to fly from Brisbane with Virgin Blue. Ticket cost - $496 return. Overnighting in PM we then flew together to Tari – a one and a half hour flight in a 36 seat turbo prop - cost $996 return – this was the single most expensive item of the trip and unavoidable if one wants to get to Tari. Gas and oil exploration have meant the local airline (Air Nugini) can fill a plane anytime they want to so as a result they can charge virtually any price they like.
Phil had arranged for transport to be provided via Steven Wari – owner/manager of Warili Lodge, our accommodation. (www.papua-warili-lodge.com; Email – email@example.com; Ph: 675 – 71598104; PO Box 159, Tari, Southern Highlands Province, PNG)
We had agreed to $225 (K450) per day between us for this necessary facility. We were greeted at the airport by the bus which Stephen had hired – a very battered, wheezing ancient vehicle with a self opening side door which was reduced to crawling up steeper slopes in first gear. It did however, serve our purposes – at least for the first three days after which the driver quit for more lucrative opportunities and we had to wait 24 hours for a replacement vehicle.
This arrived in the shape of a small dump truck – 2 in the cab with the driver, the rest of us in the back, hanging onto the rail. This transported us up and own the road for the rest of our stay and was great fun really – except when it rained. The bus was hired to take us back to the airport on our departure.
Vehicles in the highlands are generally in poor shape, tyres and parts are presumably very expensive so are not replaced with any regularity. Comfort is substituted by convenience and the road is anything but conducive to good motoring. It is, in fact, unsealed limestone and as rugged a road as I have ever seen. The potholes in places would swallow a small child and are, I understand, particularly bad now since the gas and oil exploration started and the number of trucks increased. It is a 2 day drive to Lae on the north coast and most of the heavy equipment and fuel is driven in overland. Hence birding along the road is regularly interrupted by convoys of semi-trailers grinding their way west, each driver honking his horn as he passes. Road works are progressing – a bridge in the valley is being upgraded and the road does appear to be graded on some sort of basis, however, at one stage the truck drivers themselves stopped en mass to repair potholes up near the Gap, so it doesn’t happen as often as desired.
Brent and I had arranged for Daniel Wakra to guide us for our three days birding in the lowlands and he provided the transport as part of the deal. His cousin’s brother (?) drove and stayed with, or followed behind, in the 4 door, air conditioned sedan while we birded.
Tari: We stayed at Warili Lodge - about an hour from Tari village and airport and a similar distance below Tari Gap - just down the road from the famous Ambua Resort. Three meals and accommodation = $80 (K160) per person per day. Excellent rates considering the exorbitant prices at Ambua, however, there are a few things you need to know before you pack your bags.
The food is local food – rice, vegetables, chicken, (canned) tuna, and eggs (usually fried). Bread is substituted by deep fried flour and bananas and tamarillos were a staple at every meal (we also had pineapple that I swear was canned, but Brent was sure was fresh – debate unresolved). The meals were adequate and for the most part tasty – especially the peppery watercress soup - but don’t expect high cuisine or a menu, you get what’s available and some of the combinations were…interesting.
The accommodation itself was grass roofed, woven matt walls, exposed beams and floor boards – a fire in a gravel pit in the centre of the floor created a mystical atmosphere until the smoke found its way out through the thatch. There was no hot water for showers – and the showers themselves were reduced to a trickle as the gravity feed was too short for any pressure build up. All water was from the rain - on reflection I’m not quite sure how the water got from the thatched roof, with no gutters, into the water tank, but once it rained – water was not a problem!
The bedrooms were similar – grass roofed, atmospheric exposed beams and unpolished floor boards, but the beds were warm and comfy and we had no problem sleeping – apart from the snoring which the woven walls did nothing to reduce.
The toilets were, I am happy to say, just as toilets are everywhere, porcelain and flushable!
It’s rough and basic – not an issue for hard core birders, but not the place for a romantic getaway. You are paying for what you get and sometimes for what you don’t get…….
The generator ran out of fuel on 3 out of the 8 nights so we ate and wrote our notes by the light from our head torches. Coffee ran out regularly and as it involved a trip to Tari to replenish supplies it didn’t happen quickly. There was no natural milk – its all milk powder – but that’s common in many parts of the world, so no biggie. We also were asked to pay ahead of time – which we did, in gradual increments - so that Stephen could go to Tari and buy the supplies needed to feed and sustain us.
I want to be clear – none of this gave us any real concern, nor am I intending to denigrate the services provided, however, I think it’s important to know what you’re going into and be prepared for hiccups along the way. I would go back and stay with Steven again, without any qualms and enjoy the challenges and the interesting food choices. To the best of my knowledge none of us suffered any ill health or side effects.
Port Moresby: Phil, Brent and I stayed at The Hideaway Hotel in PM the first night of our arrival and it is probably an experience I would try to avoid in future, given the fact that other options are available. Greg stayed in another hotel and, by all accounts, got the better of the deal for approximately the same money (~$A177– K355 per room). Brent and I had no hot water in the shower – (good preparation for Tari maybe?), only 1 light (ditto?) and a TV we turned off as we needed the plug to charge stuff and the reception was so poor it wasn’t worth looking at anyway. We had dinner in the restaurant – chicken and chips for K20 (~$A10) and it was quite acceptable.
On two nights we stayed with Australian friends of mine who gave us the freedom of their house and insisted on paying for everything – their generosity was overwhelming.
To bird Varirata we had booked to stay two nights at the Kokoda Trail Motel in Sogeri – just down the road from the turn off to the park. This is an excellent place to stay if Varirata is on the agenda as it cuts down travel time to 5 mins as opposed to 40 mins from PM. We understand it is under new management, has been re-vamped, it is secure, clean and well run and the food was excellent. Prices range about the same as PM – K175 (~$A80) each per night, K55 (~$A30) for dinner and K30 (~$15) for cooked breakfast (I think continental breakfast is complimentary, but it was quite confusing when we were there - as I will describe).
While the KT Motel was perfect for Varirata, it was a mistake when Brown River was on the agenda - it’s too far away. If birding the true lowlands is planned PM would definitely be a better base. Our choice meant a late start at 7.30am west of Brown River – so we lost one and a half hours of the best birding time on our final day.
Tari: Phil had asked Steven to organise a recommended guide – ‘Benson’ - prior to our arrival. We never actually met Benson, his unavailability appeared to be as a result of him seeking work elsewhere. Initially Steven sent his chef Perry with us – he knew the trails, but not the birds. At our continued ‘negotiations’ Steven produced a local landowner who had some experience as a guide and we spent the bulk of the week with Peter Habo, (Ph: 73126034) Peter’s dedication and endurance were exceptional, his bird knowledge good, although, as he admitted himself, some of the smaller birds were a bit confusing, however this was more than made up for with his enthusiasm and we were very well pleased with his contribution. We would recommend him for any future birding groups as the more exposure he gets the better he’ll be and it appears he may be one of the few resources available in Tari at the present time and for the foreseeable future. He was paid via Steven – in future I would attempt to contact Peter myself and organise him to guide independent of anyone else. Phil had agreed to a price of K250 (~$A125) per day for the availability of a guide.
Port Moresby area: Daniel (76880978, 7685350, 72669696) was our guide for our final three days. His price: K2,200 (~$A1,100) (or almost $200 each person per day) which included the car, driver and ‘lunch’. Daniel’s eyes and ears in the forest were beyond anything I have ever seen – unparalleled. He didn’t appear as confident with soaring raptors – always a difficult area with so many morphs and age variations, but he turned up early each day and did his best to satisfy our bird hunger until dusk - with patience and enthusiasm.
One difference between Tari and PM – we could bird all day in Tari but the humidity and heat in PM demanded a break from 12.00 – 14.30 or thereabouts - a time we spent sleeping on the park benches in Varirata.
Mobile phone coverage was available in both Tari and the lowlands – I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but understand it is similar throughout. We purchased a Digicel phone card at the international terminal and fitted it in my phone charging it with K40 (~$A20) worth of credit. We used it regularly to call and txt Steven and, as far as I know, there is still credit on it. Unlike other ‘undeveloped’ countries I have visited, not everyone had a mobile in PNG, but they appeared to be common enough thanks to the (Irish!) Digicel brand.
Landline – didn’t see any outside the airport.
Internet was unavailable in Tari unless by phone dongle, it was available at The Hideaway but at a cost. We didn’t enquire at the Kokoda Trail Motel.
Mail – didn’t see a post office anywhere except in PM on my last day.
Conclusion: I would be prepared to be ‘out of touch’ when in-country unless, the usually expensive, ‘roaming’ was organised via your mobile.
Preparation & experience:
Phil had been in various parts of PNG previously and had a substantial bird list already. His research on Tari was very detailed, his knowledge extensive and so we looked for specific birds at specific locations based on his information. This proved very successful in a number of cases.
In 2006 I had spent 7 or 8 days in the Port Moresby/Brown River area, including Varirata for a couple of hours, and a 3 day visit to Rabaul in New Britain, but my actual PNG birding experience was minimal and I was happy to see everything again. Prior to the trip I spent hours poring over a borrowed copy of Beehler, Pratt and Zimmerman’s Birds of New Guinea (thanks Tom), Coates Photographic Guide and downloading calls from Xeno Canto onto my iPod. As a result I had a rough idea of the birds we might expect to see in Tari and, separately, in the lowlands.
Brent and Greg had had no prior PNG exposure.
The big question for PNG. Most Australians think you’ve signed a death warrant when you say you’re going to PNG – mostly unfounded, I believe, based on media hype. Naturally in any country where there is high unemployment and a percentage of the population who want what everyone else wants there is a level of crime - PNG is not that different. Having said that there are rules and expectations that it is important to understand. Obvious things like not flashing wads of cash in public, not wearing expensive jewellery, only carrying the necessary birding equipment, keeping your belongings within reach and using your common sense are all part of international travel.
• It is advisable not to walk the streets at night in the main population centres.
• It is necessary to have a local landowner/guide with you when birding anywhere off the road – this is particularly important in PNG as all land, apart from the National Parks (few and far between), are owned by the local community and they don’t look kindly on strangers wandering through, what appears to outsiders to be, their wild jungle.
• There are enough examples of cars being broken into when left unattended for it to be necessary to have someone stay with the vehicle – which necessitates a driver.
We experienced no threats to our persons or our belongs apart from a couple of minor incidents which I will describe later in this report – both were as a result of our own negligence in advising a responsible person of our intentions and neither were in any way physically threatening. Port Moresby and, I understand, most of the other centres are areas where extra caution is advised – it is important to focus on limiting opportunities for casual, rather than planned, theft.
Most PNG males outside (and sometimes inside) major population centres carry a bush knife or machete. This can be a little alarming at first, however one becomes used to their presence and we never saw one raised in anger. We did come across a large group of males in Tari returning from a tribal battle carrying bows and arrows and a few firearms. We were under no threat and later were advised that, in fact, there are few if any cartridges or bullets available, or affordable, for the guns. In the highlands tribal conflicts appear to occur on a regular basis – there is no reason why birders or any other foreigners should be involved.
I would stress these opinions are mine and mine alone, based on my own observations, discussions and very limited experience. I make no claim to ‘know it all’ – but do consider myself to be realistic, cynical at times and ‘aware’.
It is probably a good idea to visit an appropriate doctor prior to your visit. Malaria in the lowlands is a possibility and to ignore it is not the best choice. There is, as there is in any tropical area, the possibility of Dengue Fever (no prevention anyway), Japanese Encephalitis and various other scary diseases which one can take seriously or not, as you choose. PNG is no worse than anywhere else. We drank rainwater throughout and ate everything put in front of us, including some fish bought from a roadside stall all, so far as I know, without any ill effect. I chose to take Doxycycline (anti-malaria) to cover my three days in the lowlands and am still taking a tablet a day to finish the course.
It is important to realise that, (as far as I know), in the highlands there is no medical assistance, no ambulance, no hospital, no medical centre. From that perspective I would ensure travel insurance is complete and covers emergency repatriation - call me cautious, but if I break a leg I want to go home!
I carried a personal medical kit with the usual stuff – but never opened it. I also had tropical insect repellent – unnecessary in the highlands, but comforting in the lowlands. I prefer to be prepared rather than wanting if the proverbial hits the fan. At the end of the day it’s your personal choice that matters, but there is no need to be paranoid. Speaking of which – leeches are almost non-existent in Tari – we saw a couple but were advised they didn’t bite (?). Brent did suffer a couple of leech bites on our last day near Brown River, I managed to escape unscathed - although I don’t consider leeches to be a major drama anyway. Brent and Greg also reported some minor bites around their waists and on their ankles in Tari - I had soaked all my clothes in a Pyrethrum mixture obtained from my travel doctor and I credit this with my almost complete lack of insect/leech/mosquito attack, but then again, maybe I was just lucky.
A minor detail that may be of interest – I had made enquiries regarding footwear, as I knew the tracks could be rough. I had been advised by people who know that wellingtons (knee high rubber boots) would be a ‘good idea’ and so had purchased a pair. I never got to wear them as they were ‘appropriated’ by persons unknown on my second day (see below). I wore a pair of waterproof Tiva hiking boots every day and they kept the extensive mud and rain at bay successfully. The tracks were rough – very rough, the mud was deep and when it rained…..it was very, very wet underfoot. I carried a rain jacket for light rain and wind and leggings and a poncho for heavy rain – excellent protection, easy to pack and carry and the poncho covered everything including me and a little old man in the back of the dump truck on our way home one night!
Birding in general:
The forest trails in Tari were incredibly hard – ankle deep mud, running with water after rain, tree roots, mossy tree trunks, overgrown, slippery slopes, wet rocks, unseen holes under carpets of leaves…seriously challenging work. The track in the Ambua resort area is a well constructed, maintained path, although it too had its slippery moments after rain and some of the locally made fencing was rotten and fell away when leant on.
The trails in Varirata were heavily affected by tree falls that hadn’t been cleared, once these were negotiated, however, the going was quite alright, if a bit muddy thanks to recent rain.
We also birded from the road in Tari and the Brown River area –the only danger here being the blowing of horns at both locations – not sure if this is a safety measure the drivers adopt or just a friendly greeting – probably both, especially in the highlands.
I would stress – it is not a walk in the park! I regard myself as pretty fit ( I commute on my bike 170 – 200 kms a week and walk and bird every weekend) but I was absolutely knackered for the first three days clambering through the jungle for 12-14 hours a day. I would seriously only recommend the jungle trails to fit, relatively agile people willing to push their limits.
Trip Summary – birds.
Phil had a list of specific birds he was keen to get onto and we agreed that chasing those would, inevitably, bring us the ‘easier’ birds along the way. Brent, Greg and I were happy to see any of the local species as they would almost without exception all be ‘new’ for us.
We knew there were 15 Birds of Paradise (BOP) possible in the Tari area and, like all birders, these were of primary interest. I had flagged a few individuals as being of ‘special’ interest based more on what they looked like than their rarity or difficulty to observe. Birds such as any of the classic BOPs, Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, Wattled Ploughbill, Tiger Parrots, New Guinea Eagle, Crested Berrypecker and the like.
For those of you who need the details I will attach a list of locations and relevant species at the end of the report.
The Trip (Species highlighted in Red were lifers for me)
5.4.12 I arrived in Port Moresby on time at 13.10, passed through the passport check and, before I went through customs, changed $A2,000 (=K3970) at the currency exchange in what I felt was a little more security than the public counter outside.
I had an hour or so to wait until Phil and Brent arrived so I moved outside with my backpack and hand luggage to have a smoke, not realising that to re-enter the International terminal I would have to go through security again. So, hanging my bins around my neck, I waited just outside the exit door until Brent wandered out and identified me as ‘Colin’.
We managed to get the bus to The Hideaway eventually and booked in to our rooms – Brent and I chose to share a room as we knew we would be spending time together later in the trip so it seemed natural for us to start ‘bonding’. It was hot and muggy and the air conditioner struggled to keep the temperature at the same level as the heat outside – in fact it got warmer inside as the evening progressed. Brent and I were keen to start birding even tho we didn’t want to leave the hotel itself and the grounds offered minimal opportunities. We did manage to see several Willy Wagtails, House Sparrows, 3 Bar-shouldered Doves, a flock of migrating Rainbow Bee Eaters, 1 definite Yellow-tinted Honeyeater and several possible Brown Honeyeaters (they were all some distance away and partially silhouetted hence the reluctance to be certain). Just as dusk fell a flock of Pacific Swallows chased the last few remaining insects overhead.
It was easiest to have dinner in the hotel restaurant and the chicken and chips and SP beer (cost K45~$A22) were quite acceptable. They didn’t quite make up for the lack of hot water, broken ceiling light, useless television and gasless air conditioner, but we sweated through the night and were up before dawn ready to rock ‘n’ roll.
6.4.12 We were woken at 04.40 by the phone – a whole hour earlier than planned. Back to half sleep until 05.40 when our own alarms got us moving and we headed down to the restaurant for the complimentary continental breakfast – cereal, fruit (disappointingly only apples and oranges), toast and the always necessary coffee. We paid the bill – K355~$A177 – and moved our stuff outside and awaited the bus that we had arranged to collect us at 5.45.
It took Phil’s repeated enquiries and staff phone calls before it finally arrived at 6.20 – welcome to PNG, get used to it!
Our flight to Tari wasn’t scheduled to leave until 09.30, but we had heard stories of overbooked planes and missed departures and had agreed we would take steps to avoid that happening to us. Hence the early arrival and check in at the domestic terminal. We found the Digicel desk beside the ATM (where the others withdrew cash until the machine ran out of K100 notes and started delivering K20s…). We purchased a phone card and fitted it in my aging Nokia - at least now we had communication in-country, although I hadn’t brought my phone charger with me as I had had no intention of using it….
9.00 arrived and we sat patiently in the departure lounge. 9.15 and the flight showed ‘Delayed’ – we made enquiries and were advised there was a technical problem with the plane. This continued until 12.30 when suddenly without any warning the flight was ‘Boarding’ and we grabbed our stuff and hurried out into the heat across the tarmac to board the twin prop, 36 seat Dash 8-200 and 15 minutes later we were finally airborne. The plane crossed the coast and inched agonisingly slowly westwards. Re-crossing the coast again we finally, it seemed, headed north into the mountains. It wasn’t as rugged as I’d imagined, a lot of cleared, pastoral land with scattered huts and villages, the landscape appeared fairly flat and when we landed in Tari at 14.30 we didn’t appear to be very ‘high’ but it was definitely cooler and less humid. There is no ‘arrivals’ lounge at Tari airport – just an open area surrounded by a fence draped with the local inhabitants watching the activity and an older local half dressed in palm fronds carrying a couple of locally made axes he appeared to be trying to sell, although he didn’t approach us directly. My first tick came as we waited for our luggage to be unloaded – several Great Wood Swallows hawked from a dead tree behind the wire.
We collected our luggage off the manually handled trolleys and exited the airport to be met by Steven and his driver in a dilapidated bus which was to be our transport for the next few days. Our first stop was at a local trading store where Phil handed over K2,500~$A1,125 so food and fuel could be purchased for our consumption. Next stop a local open air market where watercress and spring onions joined us in the bus, then on up the unsealed, potholed road dodging other vehicles, pedestrians and dogs.
A few kms up the road and a large group of men had to be negotiated – as we passed through the crowd at snail’s pace it became evident that bows and arrows and a gun or two were part of the weaponry being carried by members of the crowd along with the ever present bush knife. Steven informed us that a death/murder had sparked a ‘war’ between two of the local tribes and these guys were returning from battle. We suffered no more than curious stares, something we would become accustomed to over the coming days, but I have to admit to a little apprehension creeping in and a certain relief when we cleared the crowd and rattled on our way.
We arrived at Warili lodge an hour or so after leaving the airport and found it …interesting! All the buildings were traditional thatched ‘huts’ with woven grass walls and rough unpolished floor boards. The main dining/resting/appliance charging/note writing area had a gravel pit in the middle of the floor where a fire would be lit. Louvre windows helped relieve the gloom and strip lights provided enough light to eat by at night when the generator was running, but head lights were always needed for reading or writing. There was no chimney for the smoke from the fire, it just oozed out through the thatch, but it was never really smoky inside despite this. Each bedroom had 2 single beds, a curtained louver window, a table and a simple bolt on each side of the door was the only security. I might note here that we left our stuff in our rooms without any qualms and experienced no incidence of anything being moved, never mind stolen.
We dumped our stuff, geared up and headed out to go birding as quickly as possible. Perry was nominated as our guide and we set off in the bus a further 10 minutes up the road entering the forest just past the main gate into Ambua. More new birds came quickly – Mountain Swiftlets, Buff-faced and Large Scrub-wrens, Common Smoky Honeyeater, Blue-grey Robin, Grey-streaked Honeyeater, Belford’s Melidectes and Yellow-billed Lorikeet were all I managed to feel comfortable with. Phil called a Rufous-throated Bronze Cuckoo and Papuan Lorikeets neither of which I managed to get onto. We crossed the river on a bridge supported by lianas and slabs of rough cut wood and struggled up a couple of steep muddy slopes hanging onto tree roots and logs. It was some introduction to Tari birding. We moved slower than had been anticipated and darkness fell while we were still on the trail. Luckily Phil had pocketed his rechargeable torch and we managed to find our way back out to the bus and return, already a little weary, but pleased with our start, to our ‘home’. We were disappointed to find no water for showering as it hadn’t rained for a week or two, but we were relieved to sit down in the dim light to pea and ham soup, followed by deep fried dough ‘balls’ (which we livened up with Mushroom Soy) and for the main meal – rice and a very nice chicken curry, bananas and tamarillos, finishing up with a fried banana each. The generator was running, there was plenty of coffee and tea and showering became a thing of the past.
7.4.12 It had rained all night – maybe showers were now a possibility? But not before dawn – we needed to get out and bird! Breakfast was Kellogg’s rice bubbles with powdered milk, bananas, tamarillos and a small omelette and baked beans. It was misty and drizzling as we boarded the bus and headed up the road in the dark, arriving at Bailey’s Bridge just as dawn broke and the rain stopped. Almost immediately we had our first BOP – a male King of Saxony perched up on an exposed stump at about 100 meters – we got him in the ‘scope – brilliant! Belford’s Melidectes, Mountain Swiftlets and Common Smoke Honeyeaters were quickly identified. A White-breasted Fruit Dove landed on an exposed branch and then 4 Brown Sicklebills became our second BOP tick crashing noisily around the top of another tree. Just hanging around the road birds kept appearing as the light increased – flocks of Papuan Mountain Pigeons whistled past high overhead on their daily journey towards the lowlands, Papuan Lorikeets trailed their amazingly long tail streamers from one side of the road to the other, a second fruit dove appeared and was scoped as an Ornate Fruit-dove. Then Greg spotted one of my target birds a male Ribbon-tailed Astrapia – not the best view, at some distance and no time for the scope – but its stunning meter long white tail streamers obvious even in the poor light as it flew out of sight.
The light had improved enough so we headed into the forest on Benson’s Trail, a steep muddy, water flooded track leading to an open area of semi logged timber backed by a low thatched smoky hut. We played for Lesser Ground Robin and Northern Logrunner – and got excellent responses, but no view. We did see our first of many Friendly Fantail, a Dimorphic Fantail and a Black-breasted Boatbill (another one I had picked out) along with more Grey-streaked Honeyeaters, Buff-faced Scrub-wrens, Blue-grey Robin and, further on in the logged area 100 meters from the road, a pair of Black-throated Robins.
At 10.00 our promised guide turned up and we welcomed Peter Habo into our group. Phil, Brent and I then spent the rest of the morning following Peter on the tracks on the opposite side of the road from Benson’s Trail without a lot of success, but we did pick up more birds long the road although the rain resumed as a light drizzle, more annoying than anything else, we just felt damp and keeping the optics clear was a constant exercise. 5 Black-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes flew across, while a pair of Hooded Cuckoo-shrikes perched up. A Grey Wagtail flew ahead of us – the only ‘familiar’ bird of the day and looking quite out of place when it landed on a tall thin dead tree. Mottled Whistler gave itself up and then two Short-tailed Parradigallas were a curious sight, while a pair of Red-collared Myzomelas were difficult to follow as they flitted through the canopy.
At 12.30 we headed back ‘home’ for lunch. As we got into the bus for our afternoon effort I spotted two raptors circling some distance away – they turned out to be Pygmy Eagles, a recent (?) split from Little Eagle - then it was onto the trail from the main gate at Ambua. Peter explained that the whole place has been taken over by the gas drilling company and no birders had visited for a while, we saw no ‘visitors’ but the security detail were in evidence around the main building, men Peter was familiar with and this eased our passage. A Papuan Harrier had greeted us as we left Warili Lodge and it was to be an afternoon of great birds – Rufous-backed Honeyeater, Tit and Fan-tailed Berrypeckers, several Sclater’s Whistlers and a pair of Blue-capped Ifritas performed stunningly, Great Cuckoo Doves flew across the gorge on several occasions. Birds already seen were seen again - Scrub-wrens, Honeyeaters, Black-throated and Blue-grey Robins - and a Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo uncharacteristically posed in the open for a definite id. We ended up at the helipad and in the trees at the far end – another Short-tailed Paradigalla (cool bird!), Yellow-browed Melidectes, Orange-billed Lorikeets, Papuan King Parrot and a couple of Papuan Flowerpeckers were found while Glossy Swiftlets and Great Wood-swallows zoomed around. We finished the afternoon with a Rufous-naped Whistler close to the reception area of the lodge.
In the bus Phil suggested we try for Nightjars up the road at a cleared area and, after some discussion, we headed up to stop at a likely spot as dusk fell – perfect. Within 5 minutes we had two Archbold’s Nightjars flying over and around the road! Back down to a quarry on the side of the road just above Bailey’s Bridge and Phil and I flushed another nightjar that nearly impaled my head as it became disorientated in the torchlights. A great finish to our first day, although it was nearly 20.30 when we got back home – a solid 14 hour birding day.
Dinner was welcome – a roast leg of chicken each, rice and a cabbage type of vegetable, desert again a fried banana. Now for a shower! Or so I thought. I was shiveringly naked when I turned on the trickle of cold water issuing from the shower rose, despite the rain the gravity feed just wasn’t enough and I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and abandoned plans for a wash in favour of smelly comfort.
8.4.12 We had made a request for breakfast at 5.45, however had to wake Steven at that time and left following a cold breakfast of cereal, bananas and tamarillos. The bus turned into Benari Road, 500 meters downhill from the lodge and we got out at the top of the first hill. Dawn was breaking as we set up the scope and began scanning the tree tops across the valley in a search for Black Sicklebill. Through the next two hours we scoped Mountain Peltops, a female Lawe’s Parotia, Brown Goshawk and Black Butcherbirds, observed in the surrounding fields White-shouldered Fairy-wrens, Hooded Mannikins, Pied Bushchats, Brown-breasted Gerygone and Great Cuckoo-dove while a Brahminy Kite, Mountain Swiftlets, Stout-billed Cuckoo-shrike and Little Black Cormorant flew over or past. In the distance, heard but unseen, two Blue and a Superb Bird of Paradise called. Finally deciding the Sicklebill wasn’t going to show we headed back for the main road to meet the bus. A few hundred meters and we were setting up the scope for distant if not excellent views of a calling male Blue Bird of Paradise. Stunning colours and markings, full plumes hanging – this was what we’d come for. The local villagers had been hanging around watching our antics and, through Peter, made some approaches for payment as the bird was on their land. Peter suggested they approach Steven for compensation and we never heard any more about it.
A walk in to a ‘village’ was suggested and Phil, Brent and I followed Peter through the fields, along narrow high walled channels, the purpose of which wasn’t explained to us, eventually to overlook another valley where again we spent some time looking for the elusive Sicklebill. Another Blue BOP flew from its perch and we saw again birds already identified (Yellow-browed Melidectes, Willy Wagtail, Hooded Mannikin, Brown-breasted Gerygones, Stout-billed Cuckoo-shrike, Orange-billed Lorikeet, Black Butcherbird) adding only a pair of Bazas and Brown Falcon to our trip list and a Black-billed Cuckoo-dove that flew past.
We returned to the bus and drove a few hundred meters back up hill before starting off on another trail on the opposite side of the road. This involved crossing a creek and climbing a steep hill before entering a very overgrown wet, muddy track which was almost invisible to our eyes looking for Lawe’s Parotia. We did see 2 McGregor Bowerbird’s disused bowers but no bird. Phil spotted a female Blue-faced Parrot Finch which I got onto for a moment before it disappeared. We all got Black Fantail well and I got very poor views of a male Parotia high in a complicated canopy situation for a few seconds. It was a lot of effort for little reward and even more frustrating when as we returned to the creek Peter saw a Torrent Lark which none of us managed to get onto. On returning to the bus I realised the wellingtons I’d left on board in the morning in favour of my hiking boots had disappeared. I had not told the driver they were there and so he hadn’t moved them into the front seat. At some stage it appears a casual passenger on the bus had absconded with my brand new wellies! I wasn’t particularly upset, accepting blame for the loss, however it made us all a bit more cautious about leaving stuff in what we had considered was ‘our’ bus.
After lunch we took the bus up the hill to Benson’s Trail. From the road we scoped a Papuan Mountain Pigeon perched up on the ridge and Regent Whistler and Large Scrub-wren along the forest edge.
Then Peter led us, quietly cutting bush aside to facilitate our passage through the moss enshrouded trees, muddy slopes and clinging trailers on the trail-less area behind the hut. We played for and eventually all got momentary views of Lesser Ground Robin – a very discrete ground dweller. We also had Friendly and Dimorphic Fantails, Smoky Honeyeaters and a White-breasted Fruit-dove.
Eventually we emerged from the forest into a cleared, logged area and while enjoying a smoke a Brown Sicklebill, male Ribbon-tailed and Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia and King of Saxony BOP all appeared in trees around the area!
The bus hauled us complainingly to the tree line before the alpine grasslands, just short of the Pass itself and we tried for Wattled Ploughbill a short distance in from the road. No luck this time, but Belford’s Melidectes, Canary Flycatchers, White-winged Robins, Red-Collared Myzomelas, Rufous-backed Honeyeaters, Great Woodswallows, Papuan King Parrot and a Grey Wagtail kept us occupied.
We birded the road until dusk then headed back down. Phil was keen to go spotlighting but it started to rain quite heavily so we decided to give it a miss and have an early one…
9.4.12 Phil and I left at 4.15 and walked up the road with Peter to Ambua. We wanted to try for Feline Owlet-nightjar before dawn. At about 6.30 we were joined by Brent and Greg having had no success, but played for Buff-tailed Sicklebill - also without success. We did have a female Loria’s BOP, now listed as Loria’s Satinbird, in a flowering tree and a brilliantly confiding Brehm’s Tiger Parrot. We all walked the track to the hydro station that provides power to the resort, across the river and up the far side of the gorge, reaching the resort building around 13.30. Birds seen included Yellow-browed and Belford’s Melidectes, 4 Black Monarchs, several Great Cuckoo -doves, Schlater’s Whistlers, Island Leaf Warblers, Black-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, Blue-grey Robins, Smoky Honeyeaters, Rufous-backed Honeyeaters, Friendly Fantails, Buff-faced Scrub-wrens, Red-collard Myzomelas, Fan-tailed and Mid-mountain Berrypeckers, a Slaty-headed Longbill, White-breasted Fruit-coves and a pair of Perplexing Scrub-wrens.
The bus was unavailable today needing to go to Tari to replace two flat tyres so we walked back to the Lodge for lunch, then Phil, Peter and I again walked up to the Waterfall track and along part of the trail again, ending up at the helipad as dusk fell to add Papuan Lorikeet, Orange and Yellow-billed Lorikeets and a pair of Brahminy Kites to the day list – then tried after dark for Feline Owlet-nightjar, again without success. Got back for dinner at 20.30.
10.4.12 Today it was Tari Gap – left at 5.30 in the bus and reached the alpine grass area at 3000 meters as dawn broke. It was misty and overcast and got colder as we progressed. We spotted Island Thrushes and a pair of Pipits which we initially thought were Alpine but on closer inspection recognised them as Australian Pipits. The bus came to a grateful rest some way across the moorland at a patch of forest which we then entered on a non-existent trail and cut and forced our way into its depths. We managed to get on to a pair of Loria’s Satinbirds poorly, again high in dense canopy, but were successful in relatively good views of Papuan Treecreeper. Other birds included Sclater’s Whistlers, Papuan Lorikeet and King Parrots, Grey-streaked Honeyeaters, the ever present Friendly Fantail and Blue-capped Ifritas. Exiting the forest we joined Greg on the road and birded along it for some way picking up Ribbon-tailed Astrapias, Canary Flycatchers, a Rainbow Bee Eater (unusual at this height?), Regent Whistler and trying to get onto a hidden Tiger Parrot. Papuan Mountain Pigeons again whistled overhead in groups of 20 or 30. We also had a couple of Brown Quail alongside and crossing the road which Brent, unfortunately missed.
We decided to give the forest another go and after a lot of persistence and patience had fleeting glimpses of Spotted Jewel-babbler – a very difficult bird to get onto, especially in this forest with no discernible tracks, i.e. making noise does not encourage jewel-babblers! We also observed a bandicoot-type animal climbing a mossy tree trunk – later identified as a Speckled Dasyure.
Back to the bus and down the road to the forest line – picking up Long-tailed Shrike and Papuan Grassbird on the way. Tried again for Wattled Ploughbill and this time were successful – unfortunately only a female, we never did see a male. We were all standing so quietly that a Lesser Melampitta walked up almost to Brent’s feet. I got only a short view of its upperparts although it was in the area for some time – incredibly difficult to pick up on the forest floor.
A female King of Saxony BOP, and same sex Superb BOP, Crested Berrypeckers, and Dimorphic Fantails also showed up.
Greg had again remained on the road and had got photos of Mountain Firetail, a bird I was very keen to see. The bus returned with lunch and we ate at the side of the road – this was an advantage as it saved us a couple of hours travel to and from the lodge.
We walked the road back down with the bus following quietly some distance behind. We had Papuan Thornbill, Ashy Gerygone, White-winged Robin, a good Rufous-naped Whistler and great views of Ribbon-tailed Astrapias feeding in the road side trees and other ‘already seen’ species, but, to my disappointment, no Firetails. I was feeling the strain and the road was killing my feet, but I managed to get it together to go in the forest on a couple of short trails – at one point we had good views of Tit Berrypecker and a brief visit from a Black Pitohui.
When we got back in the bus Phil looked for his rechargeable spotlight – it was missing. After some discussion the driver took off and returned some time later having recovered it from an unknown source. This seemed to be the straw for the driver’s back as he quit – we were told he wasn’t making enough money from our patronage. As we were paying Steven K450~$A225 a day for the transport it seemed unusual but Steven assured us he would provide a replacement vehicle so we had to rely on his promise.
Arriving home just after 18.00 it started to rain again, eliminating any desire to go spotlighting!
11.4.12 No transport so we walked down the road again to Benari Road and another try for the Black Sicklebill. Finally after an hour of scanning the valley listening to the Blue BOPs honking away, watching as the mist drifted across the tree tops, scoping again probably the same female Lawe’s Parotia, 3 Moustached Tree Swifts and a Collared Sparrowhawk Phil spotted a single male Black Sicklebill about a kilometre away. We scoped it successfully and all had satisfactory views of the distant bird. As we were afoot we decided to walk further along Benari Rd – i.e. down into the valley, up the hill to the next ridge, along and down it to the second river. We were unable to go any further as Peter’s influence ended at that point and to proceed would have been unwise. We did though have some great birds before that point. A calling Mountain Yellow-billed Kingfisher was finally located and again scoped as they sit pretty stationary for long periods. Papuan Flowerpeckers, Belford’s Melidectes, Pied Chats, Mountain Swiftlets, Island Leaf warblers, Black-billed Cuckoo-dove, Hooded Cuckoo-shrikes – the numbers were not high, but the quality was superb. Speaking of which – a Superb BOP had been calling all morning and we were of course keen to track it down. Peter negotiated access to a patch of forest and we moved quietly down a narrow track in pursuit of the call. A Marbled Honeyeater showed which I didn’t manage to get onto, but a White-eared Bronze Cuckoo fell to all our bins. There were several larger birds moving around in the trees and lower bush – very difficult for us all to get onto. Phil and I got a view of a rather boring female McGregor’s Bowerbird, but failed to see a male. We gave up after a while as the birds moved on or quietened down. Back on the road and down towards the turn back point. Peter indicated another trail into yet another patch of forest and after a few minutes of quiet negotiation Brent, Phil and I had views of a male Superb BOP reacting to territorial challenges and displaying his blue breast-shield – very impressive!
We headed slowly back up one ridge and down another and were rewarded with close views of a female Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia feeding in a roadside tree.
When we finally reached the main road again, hot now and sweaty, new transport awaited us – a little blue dump truck! Seats for two inside with the driver, the rest of us stood and hung onto the rail at the back of the cab roof. What a way to go birding! We were driven in style back to the lodge for lunch and a rest until 14.30 then off again to Benson’s Track. Perry had been nominated to cut a new track behind the jungle hut and had done a good job. As we left the road and started up the very steep watery muddy slope a bird calling close beside us stopped us in our tracks. With the assistance of Brent’s voice recorder we managed to gain views of a Mountain Mouse-warbler scurrying around like its namesake under a thick bush. Not far in from the hut we called in an Ashy Robin successfully but had little else in the following 90 minute silent forest walk.
Back in the truck and up to the top of the road again to bid the roadside until the driver told us we needed to go as he didn’t have reliable lights – Blue-capped Ifrita, more R-T Astrapias, Black-breasted Boatbill, Ashy Gerygone, White-winged Robin and Canary Flycatchers.
Phil, Peter and I hopped out at Ambua and went in search of the Feline Owlet-nightjar yet again. Got home for dinner at 20.45 FON-less.
12.4.12 Another try for Buff-tailed Sicklebill in Ambua at 5.45 and we walked the complete track Hydro and Waterfall for little return – only seeing some of the previously recorded birds, Black Fantail, Buff-faced Scrub-wrens, White-breasted Fruit-dove, Fan-tailed, Tit and Mid-mountain Berrypeckers, Common Smokey Honeyeaters, both Melidectes, Sclater’s Whistlers, Black-breasted Boatbill, Papuan Lorikeet, Dimorphic and Friendly Fantails, and a Black Butcherbird – all hard to get onto. Finishing at the helipad our only real reward (!) for a long tiring morning was a briefly perched up White-throated Pigeon.
It started to rain heavily as we reached the main gate and we hurried back to the lodge in the open truck. I donned the poncho I’d been carrying all week and, turning my back into the wind, arrived back home in a relatively dry state – worth its weight in gold!
As it continued to rain we relaxed and slept or read until 16.00 when we decided to have another go as it appeared to ease. Back to Ambua again and time only to bird the main track in from the gate and part of the canal system, checking a spot on the river for Torrent Lark – nope. Down near the open area beside reception Phil checked a side trail and quickly called me over – a male Orange-crowned Fairy-wren provided a few seconds viewing on top of a reed stem, then he was gone along with the rest of his family party not to be seen again. Stunning little bird and one that Peter had never seen before!
As the rain returned in force we again sought refuge at home and whiled away the evening, hoping it would not continue next day.
13.4.12 The generator started at 4am for some reason, we rolled over and got up at 5.15 for a pancakes with honey breakfast. Off to the Tari Gap again – this time a search for Harpy/New Guinea Eagle reputed to perch up at dawn along the ridge line. If it does it didn’t that morning. We did have an estimated 1000 Papuan Mountain Pigeon flying past high overhead in groups of 30 to 100 birds, the whistling from their wing beats clearly audible in the still air. Hooded Mannikins and Yellow-billed Lorikeets with a pair or two of Plum-faced Lorikeets distinguished by their calls flew past on their way to their food trees and a couple of Island Thrushes along the road. Back again to the tree line after negotiating the horrendous pot holes partially filled in by tanker crews as they passed and birding the road back towards Tari. A Landrover had rolled into the ditch not long before we arrived – it was pretty smashed up, but no one was hurt although a crowd had gathered and generally disturbed the birding so we moved past them and on down the road. Much the same as previously seen with the addition of Brown-backed Whistler.
Back home for lunch – spam and beetroot on a bread roll - and then, after the rain stopped at 15.00, Phil and I headed back to Benson’s Trail while Brent took on the Ambua trail alone (by this time the security detail were well used to us and so Brent was able to bird this well-trodden trail without issue.)
Bensons’ Trail was quiet although we did see a male King of Saxony BOP feeding in the canopy which was nice, although my photos were shockingly poor due to the dim light. – much the same as previously until near the end when we did manage a Chestnut Forest-rail for a brief couple of seconds crossing a muddy patch in response to playback. It rained most of the afternoon – dripping through the canopy, annoying but not disastrous, however, the poncho came in very useful again on our return trip to the lodge for dinner and the elderly local who sheltered under it in the back of the truck appeared to appreciate it too!
14.4.12 Last day in Tari and we split up to make the most of the remaining time. Phil went to Benson’s Trail with Perry as his ‘guide’ while Peter accompanied Brent, Greg and I to the upper tree line again where we wandered slowly along the road, birding as we went. No new birds initially but good relaxed viewing of birds already seen and time to try for photos and we did manage to get Brent his Brown Quail. We also picked up a Rufous-throated Bronze-cuckoo which was nice, having missed the one on the first day – a lifetime ago!
We reached a track that Peter had cut a couple of days before and went in through thick grass and eventually again into moss draped forest hoping for Crested BOP. We failed in this hope but did get Scrub (white-eared) Meliphaga quite well in the canopy.
Back to the truck and lunch, then at 15.00, as the truck had not re-appeared as expected, Phil and I started out to walk back to Ambua yet again. The truck came ‘roaring’ up the road before we reached the gate and we hopped aboard. We went to the helipad but the rain started and after a short while we returned home to write notes etc – a bit of a short end to our last day in the highlands, the rain also knocking on the head plans to have a final try for Feline O-nightjar. No lights tonight either as the generator had a filter problem.
15.4.12 A lie-in today as we were planning on being at the airport early for our 10.45 flight. We had breakfasted, (omelette and three sweet biscuits?) packed up and settled our account by 7.00 when the bus arrived back. We had insisted on the bus thinking that it would be a miserable hour long ride in the back of an open truck if it was raining. Peter accompanied us to the airport - the tribal differences now seemingly settled as compensation payment had been agreed. We checked in, had our bags weighed on a bathroom scales and settled in the departure area – two open sided thatched huts to await the Dash. The valley was heavily fogged in and we were concerned that the flight may be delayed – in fact the weather cleared up pretty well and the plane landed and departed without any issues.
Arriving in PM just after midday we were greeted by the heavy humidity and heat of the lowlands – and John, my Australian friend, who whisked Brent and I off to cold beers and luxuries such as hot showers, yacht club lunches and roast Moroccan lamb for dinner!
16.4.12 We had arranged for Daniel to pick us up at John’s place at 5.30am and sure enough he was there bang on time. We headed out for Varirata in the pre dawn arriving at the turn off with perfect timing. A few hundred meters in and Daniel called for a halt and we bailed out ready to rock ‘n’ roll. And what a start!
Female Raggiana BOPs, Rainbow Lorikeets, Helmeted Friarbirds, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Yellow-faced Mynas, Spangled Drongo, Zoe Imperial Pigeons, Brown Orioles, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, White-shouldered Fairy-wren, Pink-spotted Fruit-dove, Glossy-mantled Mannucode, Eclectus Parrot overhead, a Dwark Koel calling out of sight– it was all happening faster than we could really take it in. I had seen some of these birds before – for Brent it must have been a blur! And we missed stuff – at least two species of Parrot flew over we didn’t get onto, although we did see them later in the day.
We drove further up the road and stopped again to check out movement in a nearby patch of forest in a gully. As we approached a Large-tailed Nightjar flushed, flew a few meters deeper into the forest and went to ground. We couldn’t see it on the ground but flushed it again for another flight view before it went out of reach to resume its interrupted rest. Hooded Pitohuis, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Black Cicadabird, Plain Honeyeaters, Frilled Monarch, Spot-winged Monarch, Papuan Flowerpecker and a difficult Rusty Pitohui which we half saw, but cleaned up on later in the day. It was a tick fest.
Moving yet further up the road we stopped again for Coroneted Fruit-dove spotted by Brent in a dead tree – bins angled out the car window at a difficult angle, a Brahminy Kite circling caused some excitement, quickly dismissed in favour of chasing down a Red-headed Myzomela, followed by Mimic Melaphaga and a difficult Streak-headed Honeyeater. We had a quiet period following up a Leaden Flycatcher, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike and Rainbow Bee Eaters then it was on to the forest proper.
We parked in the picnic area and left the car in the driver’s hands. A fruiting tree in the middle of the grass produced a pair of Crinkle-collared Mannucodes and in the trees around the open area – a female Magnificent Riflebird tore at bark, several Varied Trillers and a small group of Boyer’s Cuckoo-shrikes moved through. A family party of Red-cheeked Parrots flew in and were scoped well. A Whistling Kite overhead distracted us but we were soon onto several small birds high in a dead tree – Black-fronted White-eyes and I struggled to get the scope onto them before they moved on. Daniel called a cuckoo – a Rufous-throated Bronze and then it was time to enter the track labelled for the tree house.
Moving as quietly as possible we had walked in about 50 meters when a number of small birds in a mixed flock drew our immediate and undivided attention – Chestnut-bellied Fantail was first up, then Yellow-bellied Gerygone, Spot-winged and Frilled Monarchs, a pair of Black Berrypeckers, Black-faced Monarch and a male Fairy Gerygone all came to be seen by everyone eventually.
We walked further up the track and then Daniel indicated there was a bird up ahead, we struggled to find it but eventually both saw a Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher sitting quietly only meters off the track. I hadn’t brought my camera of course, but Brent stalked closer and captured the moment. It flew a little further into the forest perched up again and was promptly harassed by a White-faced Robin – how good can it get?
After a further check around the immediate area we returned to the picnic ground and wandered around the perimeter – Papuan Frogmouths perched up pointed out by Daniel, a Brown Cuckoo-dove, called as Slender-billed (same thing, the Australian one should probably be re-named) and 6 Grey Crows flew overhead as we caught our breaths and wondered where the morning had gone – it was lunch time. A can of tuna in tomato sauce each, sliced bread and an apple, followed by scotch finger biscuits and a jar of Apricot jam all washed down by water. It went down well and we were grateful for it – but it did become a little tedious on the third day….
Settling down for a nap, Daniel told us nothing would be happening until 14.00 as all the birds also slept through the heat of the midday. So, we did as was suggested and fell asleep on the picnic tables in the shade…
Getting going again around 14.30, we headed up the road to the Lookout. The car pulled in just past the marked BOP display area and we pulled a Dwarf Longbill (a real goodie), Grey Whistler, Little Shrike Thrush and Stout-billed Cuckoo-shrike out of the bush while I missed out on Pale-billed Scrub-wren. From a distance we watched and listened as up to 5 Raggiana males displayed in the well named arena. Then it was on up to the Lookout – heavily fogged in, so no view until the mist cleared momentarily and the coast came into view. Daniel did his party trick with a Barred Owlet-nightjar in a dead tree, stimulating it to pop its angry little face up and pop down again when it realised all was OK.
The day was dampening as the afternoon drew on so we started our return journey stopping once again at the open grass area to walk for a while along the road picking out birds from the scattered clumps of trees or flying overhead – Red-flanked Lory, Papuan Black Myzomela, Dollarbird, Brown Cuckoo-doves, Rainbow Lorikeets while a calling White-bellied Whistler proved impossible to find.
Daniel and driver dropped us off at The Kokoda Trail Motel as darkness fell – and a 20 strong group of Kokoda Trail trekkers arrived fresh from Australia. There was some confusion with our booking as a result – for a few minutes, then it sorted itself out and we were led to separate rooms and settled in with showers and beer. Dinner on the verandah followed – three courses, help yourself from the selection of fish, chicken, vegies followed by ice cream (!) and fresh (?) fruit. Coffee and another beer or two finished us off and we retired for a good night’s sleep.
17.4.12 Our second day at Varirata started off with a good cooked breakfast - again help yourself to - cereal, eggs, bacon, sausages, toast and coffee. The right way to start a hard day’s birding.
Daniel was early and we headed up the road again to the park, not stopping this time except for a party of 3 Glossy-mantled Mannucodes in a tree by the road, until we got to the Picnic Ground.
Yellow-faced Mynas, Hooded Pitohuis, Pink-spotted Fruit-doves, 6 Moustached Tree Swifts and Red-cheeked Parrots were seen and noted before we started into the trail to the Lookout – but first Daniel tried to get us Black-billed Brush-turkey, they were calling loudly at the start of the track, but, unfortunately, were too shy to let us see the. Crossing the creek at the start of the trail was a challenge as a fallen tree blocked access, but with a bit of balancing and careful negotiation we made it across and on up the track. We picked up Chestnut-bellied Fantail, Yellow-bellied Gerygone and Black-faced and Frilled Monarchs again, then Daniel pointed excitedly and we caught sight of a large heavily barred bird flying up and along the creek below us – a Forest Bittern and only Daniel’s 6th. It flushed again and flapped off out of view.
Birds were relatively few and far between but we did manage a few – Little Shrike Thrush, Spangled Drongos, Papuan King Parrot, Rusty Pitohui while female Raggiana BOPs seem to turn up everywhere. 2 Magnificent Riflebirds – one male seen briefly. Further on a White-faced Robin provided a better opportunity for Brent’s camera and White-breasted Fruit-dove perched up in the canopy. We sat quietly for a while listening to the calls in the forest – Pheasant Pigeon, Brush-turkeys, Jewel-babblers, White-eared Catbird, Drongos dominating. Daniel tried calling in the P Pigeon with a very good imitation of its whistle, but although it came very close we didn’t manage to get on to it. Moving off track and up a slope we managed to find Pygmy Drongo and Daniel kept calling “Golden Whistler” which I didn’t pay a lot of attention to, as they are common in Australia, I was too busy trying to find Pygmy Parrots somewhere up there in the canopy…We got more Pale-billed Scrub-wrens, thank goodness, Mimic Honeyeater, Grey Whistler, Fairy Gerygone and Zoe Imperial Pigeon. I also found the lens cap for what appears to be a Swarovski scope (60mm) on the track – if it’s yours, email me and I’ll post it on!
Back to the track and we tried to call in a Rusty Mouse-warbler – it came in, but so discreetly we only saw it leave when it realised there was no other bird involved. Moving off the main track we scrambled up a steep slope and through the forest on the ridge. A number of small birds were moving in the canopy and Daniel again started pointing and declaring ‘Golden Whistler’ - as there was nothing else visible right then I thought, OK I’ll see it and tick it off for PNG – I caught a glimpse and realised that what he was calling Golden Whistler was in fact one of my targeted birds - Dwarf Whistler or Goldenface! Wow! Brilliant! It was difficult to get much of a view of it as it flitted around, but the golden yellow face with the solid black eye was obvious and charming. Further along the track we managed to get underparts views of two Superb Fruit-doves, just as hard to see here as at home!
The track eventually brought us to the tree hut and we realised we were very close to the picnic area and returning along the track we had started on yesterday. As we descended towards the car park through bamboo thickets Daniel stopped suddenly and indicated there was something to our left – we caught a glimpse of it, a Painted Quail Thrush walking quietly and disappearing into the undergrowth.
Tuna, dry bread and an apple for lunch then another kip on the picnic table before starting off in a heavy humid afternoon. We walked up a trail beside a creek along which the only excitement was when Daniel jumped about a meter off the ground and landed about a meter to one side, then burst out laughing at the front half of a large very dead python stretched across our path. We speculated it may have been a Harpy Eagle breakfast or, more likely, last night’s dinner, but despite our looking there was no Eagle perched up above to satisfy our efforts…
Back to the picnic ground and we walked to the main gate looking for a regular Yellow-billed Kingfisher we had heard but not seen. No luck, it was very, very quiet.
We kept walking down the road seeing nothing, eventually getting back in the car for about 5 minutes, then exiting again as a Yellow-billed Kingfisher could be heard – Daniel played and in it came, at last! Distinctly smaller than the Mountain Y-B we had seen in Tari it was great to have seen both species on the one trip.
Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, White-throated Honeyeater, Red-cheeked Parrots, Rainbow Bee Eaters, Spangled Drongos, Hoody Pitohuis, Rainbow Lorikeets, a Blue-winged Kookaburra were picked up as we continued down the road, eventually just before the turn onto the main road a flock of Grey-headed Mannikins perched up nicely beside the car.
We said goodbye to Daniel and driver at the Motel again and agreed that the extra drive from PM to pick us up would be inconvenient but we had booked two nights and accepted that it may not have been the best choice…
The motel was much quieter tonight with only one group of 4 trekkers in evidence and we were back to a normal menu for dinner. We ordered rump steak with mushroom sauce and it was one of the best steaks I have had in a long time – cooked to our requested medium rare perfectly, it was a pleasure, followed by fresh apples, oranges and watermelon and ice cream.
18.4.12 Our last birding day and it started badly. We had , we thought, negotiated a 5-5.30 hot breakfast the night before, but it appeared we hadn’t actually made contact as no one was around at 5.00 when I turned on the water urn in the dining room and switched on the lights. We managed to make a pot of coffee while we tried to spot the Barking Owl in the trees out the back and waited for someone, anyone, to appear. At 5.50 Daniel arrived and I got the gateman to get the manager who arrived, made up the bill, we paid and departed as quickly as we could, but we had already lost 20 minutes and breakfast.
We hammered down the mountain road as fast as conditions arrived, stopping only for a small wetland that also appeared to double as a sanctuary – Rajah Shelducks, Great and Cattle Egrets, Masked Lapwing and 2 Common Sandpipers were seen. Then it was on towards Brown River.
Once we had crossed the bridge the car slowed and eventually stopped and we continued along the road on foot – but it was already 7.30 and we’d lost valuable time. However, a female Eclectus parrot was scoped, along with Singing Starling, Orange-bellied Fruit-dove, Blue-winged & Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Pinon Imperial Pigeon, Ornate Fruit-dove, Variable Goshawk, a Black Bittern broke cover and flew out of sight again, a nice Baza sat up for photos and Yellow-faced Myna, White Ibis, Brahminy Kite and Pacific Swallows were noted also.
Daniel took us off road through an overgrown banana plantation and into a patch of forest. It wasn’t particularly birdy to start with, however, we soon had Frilled and Black-faced Monarchs, a Graceful Meliphaga/Honeyeater and he called in a pair of Emperor Fairy-wrens – the male a stunning variety of shades of blue. We tried desperately to get two Common Paradise Kingfishers to show themselves but although they were calling just meters away, they wouldn’t come out to play – really frustrating. We tried to call in a Blue Jewel-babbler, but it too refused to show interest. Black and Rufous-backed Thicket Fantails however behaved as if their tails were on fire and, the Black especially, showed well. A high-pitched pishing sort of call was heard and Daniel was peering into the canopy muttering ’pygmy parrots’. I immediately started playback and we soon had two tiny Buff-faced Pygmy Parrots peering down at us and excitedly calling back before they hummed off to another place – some compensation for the loss of CP King.
Back to the road and a long relatively slow drive west looking for birds perched up – not much.
We walked down a track to the left and into some trees in search of Hook-billed Kingfisher, without success, but did see a very fast Stephan’s Ground Dove, Sacred Kingfisher, Dusky Myzomela/Honeyeater, Black-billed and Great Cuckoo-dove and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike. Further along over grasslands a beautiful male Papuan Harrier showed really well beside the car as we rolled along slowly and it hunted. A couple of White-breasted Wood-swallows and Forest Kingfisher were picked up at another stop off.
We stopped for lunch at a rubber plantation I remembered from my previous visit and an overhead raptor which I am still not completely convinced was a Baza, although I can’t see what else it might have been. It was too hot to stay beside the road so on we pushed on another few kilometres, stopping only for a police checkpoint, arriving at Anna Pinu’s service station and store where we got ice cold cokes and water and ate fish on banana leaves from a roadside stall while we sat out the worst of the heat with the engine and air conditioning running.
Finally around 14.30 we walked around the immediate area to the curious glances of the local population eventually spying a bird in a coconut tree that was initially identified as Silver-eared Honeyeater, but on reflection by Brent recognised as a Brown-backed Honeyeater. Just down the road a house on the left had several coconut trees in the front ‘yard’ and we walked in and, this time, found 3 Silver-eared Honeyeaters. Seemingly this species hangs out almost exclusively on the coconut palm flowers in this area and certainly the ones we saw landed almost nowhere else, just don’t assume because it’s in a coconut tree that it is this species! We also had Australian Darter and Little Pied Cormorant overhead and a Rufous Night Heron perched up.
Heading back towards PM, we again stopped for perched or soaring raptors – or anything else of interest. A large marsh area with very limited viewing access due to the tall grass produced the only Purple Swamphen of the trip and a Pied Imperial Pigeon overhead ditto. Whistling Kites were the only soaring birds of interest and a couple of Variable Goshawks and Collared Sparrowhawks perched. We tried again for the CP King alongside the road and, although we had interested responses the birds refused to show.
We arrived back in PM at 18.00 and said goodbye to Daniel and driver and again submitted to the luxury offered by John and Jo. Beers as always and Japanese teppanyaki for our last night in PNG – this time.
19.4.12 Up at 4.00 to take Brent to the airport for his 32 hour return flight home. Thankfully my three hour flight to Brisbane didn’t depart until 14.00 so I had a relaxing morning adding only Peaceful Dove to the trip list. At the airport incidentally both Coate’s Photographic Guide and Birds of Bougainville was on sale – approx. $A100 each. I had bought both 5 years ago, so didn’t indulge, although I’m sure I didn’t pay that much for them. (Good coffee shop in the airport now, though, as well as three souvenir/duty free stores. I mention this because nowhere on our travels did I see any take home type bits and pieces, not even postcards.) My last bird in PNG was a Pheasant Coucal spotted as the plane taxied, flying between patches of bush in the middle of the runway.
A pleasant relaxing flight saw me arrive back in Brisbane on time at 17.10 to have my boots cleaned by the customs officer, not impressed with the grass seeds harboured within.
Little Black Cormorant – Tari and Brown River area
Little Pied Cormorant – Brown River
Australian Darter – Brown River
Intermediate Egret – Port Moresby area
Great Egret – Port Moresby
Cattle Egret – Port Moresby
Rufous Night Heron – Brown River area
Forest Bittern – Varirata NP
Black Bittern – Brown River
Australian Ibis – Brown River
Radjah Shelduck – wetlands near Port Moresby
Pacific Baza – Brown River
Whistling Kite – lowlands in general
Brahminy Kite – both Tari and lowlands – commonest raptor
Papuan Marsh Harrier – Both Tari (1) and lowlands (2)
Brown Goshawk - Tari
Variable Goshawk – Lowlands – several.
Collared Sparrowhawk – Both Tari (1) and lowlands (2)
Pygmy Eagle – Tari (2)
Brown Falcon – Tari (1)
(Black-billed Brush-turkey) – Varirata NP
Brown Quail – On two occasions along the road in Tari, once at the Gap and once lower down below the tree line
Chestnut Forest Rail – Benson’s Trail
Purple Swamphen – only 1, lowlands.
Masked Lapwing – wetlands near Port Moresby, 2 pairs.
Common Sandpiper – 2 at wetlands near Port Moresby
White-throated Pigeon – only 1 at the helipad at Ambua Resort.
Slender-billed Cuckoo-dove (aka Brown Cuckoo-dove) –Tari, Varirata and the lowlands.
Black-billed Cuckoo-dove – Tari on a few occasions, generally flying through.
Great Cuckoo-dove – Several around the Tari area especially in the Ambua resort .
Stephan’s Ground-dove – just one, a brief flight view near Brown River
Peaceful Dove – heard only in Port Moresby
Bar-shouldered Dove – 3 only the first afternoon from the Hideaway Hotel
(Pheasant Pigeon) – heard in Varirata.
Wompoo Fruit-dove – heard regularly and seen in Varirata.
Pink-spotted Fruit-dove – Varirata and the lowlands
Ornate Fruit-dove – 1 in Tari and 1 in Brown River – both scoped.
Superb Fruit-dove – heard regularly, but bloody hard to see – finally 2 at Varirata.
Coroneted Fruit-dove – 2 on one occasion – scoped on road to Varirata
White-breasted Fruit-dove – several seen in the Tari area, calling continuously.
Orange-bellied Fruit-dove – several in Brown River area.
Pinon Imperial Pigeon – just one scoped near Brown River.
Zoe’s Imperial Pigeon – Tari, Brown River and Varirata, singles perched up.
Torresian or Pied Imperial Pigeon – just one fly by lowlands.
Papuan Mountain Pigeon – hundreds overhead at Tari early every morning
Rainbow Lorikeet – dozens on road into Varirata
(Goldie’s Lorikeet) – heard only at Tari Gap
Black-capped Lory (Western)– several pairs/groups seen well at Varirata
Red-flanked Lorikeet – a few pairs seen as fly bys, 2 scoped at some distance at Varirata
Papuan Lorikeet – Seen well, but difficult to photograph along road at Tari
Plum-faced Lorikeet – seen as fly bys along the higher road at Tari
Yellow-billed Lorikeet – very often heard flying over and seen well at the helipad in the Ambua Resort every afternoon
Orange-billed Lorikeet – ditto as Yellow-billed, less common though.
Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot – heard by Daniel as fly bys around Varirata, but only two seen well in lowlands – a real cutie!
Brehm’s Tiger Parrot – the best view of any parrot seen on the trip on the waterfall track in Ambua. Appeared to be feeding on the green lichen on the earth wall beside the track. Several heard and poorly seen elsewhere in Tari.
Red-cheeked Parrot – seen well at Varirata on several occasions.
Eclectus Parrot – 1 female scoped in lowlands and a few fly overs in same area.
Papuan King Parrot – difficult to get good views, but seen on several occasions at Tari, Varirata and lowlands
Channel-billed Cuckoo – one seen from the car near Brown River – fly over.
Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo - one seen very well at Ambua, Tari
Rufous-throated Bronze Cuckoo – 2 seen quite well, 1 at Tari and one at Varirata.
White-eared Bronze Cuckoo – one only seen quite well at Benari Rd.
(Dwarf Koel) – heard at some distance along the road to Varirata
(Greater Black Coucal) - ditto
Pheasant Coucal – heard on a few occasions, the last bird for me for PNG, flight view as the plane taxied for take off…
(Sooty Owl) – probable one heard the first evening at Tari, but not followed up.
(Barking Owl) – one heard only at the Kokoda Trail Motel, unable to visualise.
(Papuan Boobook)- heard on several mornings at Warili Lodge before dawn, unable to get up to go look for it..
Papuan Frogmouth – 2 at the Picnic area in Varirata, same trees both days.
Barred Owlet-nightjar – 1 in Varirata near the Lookout (dead tree near toilet block)
Archbold’s Nightjar – 3 at Tari, open area high up on the road and at the quarry.
Large-tailed Nightjar – 1 flushed on road into Varirata
Glossy Swiftlet – Tari and lowlands area.
Mountain Swiftlet – almost continuous presence overhead at Tari
Moustached Tree Swift – Tari (2) scoped at Benari Rd and 6 flew over the picnic area at Varirata.
(Common Paradise Kingfisher) – heard only in Brown River area – probably the most frustrating loss of the trip for me.
Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher – one brilliantly seen in Varirata
Rufous-bellied Kingfisher – 2, the first on the road into Varirata and the second near Brown River
Blue-winged Kookaburra – several seen around Varirata and the lowlands in general.
Forest Kingfisher – only 1 in the lowlands.
Sacred Kingfisher – ditto.
Yellow-billed Kingfisher – finally 1 seen on the road into Varirata – heard often there and in the lowlands, difficult to track down.
Mountain Kingfisher – one only seen on Benari Rd, heard on several occasions around Tari, ditto to above sp.
Rainbow Bee Eater – one at 3000 meters at Tari Gap seemed a little unusual, seen widely in Varirata and the lowlands
Dollarbird – several seen in Varirata and the lowlands.
Pacific Swallow – Port Moresby area and the lowlands in general
Grey Wagtail – several or the same bird (?) seen along the road at Tari and on the creeks.
Australian Pipit – 3 seen in the alpine area, first thought to be Alpine…
Varied Triller – 2 seen from the picnic ground in Varirata.
(White-eared Catbird) – heard only in Varirata
(Northern Logrunner) – heard only along Benson’s Trail, Tari.
Lesser Ground Robin – seen on Benson’s Trail once.
White-faced Robin – several seen in Varirata
Black-throated Robin – Benson’s Trail and in Ambua Resort grounds on Waterfall Track
Blue-grey Robin – common in forests in Tari.
White-winged Robin – the higher forest/tree line – not difficult.
Ashy Robin – one only seen on Benson’s Trail, but heard at upper treeline also.
(Northern Scrub Robin) – heard only in Varirata on track from picnic ground to ‘tree house’
Pied Bushchat – easily seen on benari Rd, a pair also 100 meters up road from Warili Lodge, Tari
Island Thrush – several seen along road edge from treeline to Tari Gap – early morning only.
Painted Quail Thrush – one seen poorly at Varirata
Grey Shrike Thrush – one seen near Brown River
Little Shrike Thrush – several seen in Varirata
Rufous-naped Whistler – one at Ambua Resort building and one along road near upper Treeline, Tari
Brown-backed Whistler – confusing bird, due mainly to its lack of plumage characteristics, seen positively a couple of times along the road, near the tree line, Tari
Grey Whistler – several seen in Varirata.
Regent Whistler – regular along the road at Tari – strikingly attractive bird.
Sclater’s Whistler – common in forests and along road at Tari.
(White-bellied Whistler) – one heard only on road in to Varirata.
Mottled Whistler – seen on one occasion along road near Benson’s Trail, Tari
Dwarf Whistler or Goldenface – seen on two occasions within a few minutes of each other in Varirata, but also called incorrectly earlier in day at same location.
Papuan Grassbird – a couple of individuals seen flying above grass in Alpine area around Tari Gap.
Island Leaf Warbler – common in forests in and around Tari
Papuan Thornbill – several identified in forests in Tari – usually at higher elevations.
Orange-crowned Fairy-wren – a family party seen once only near reception at Ambua Lodge.
Emperor Fairy-wren – a pair seen in forest near Brown River
White shouldered Fairy-wren -– several along Benari Rd and a pair on the road in to Varirata.
Black-breasted Boatbill – seen regularly at all forest elevations in Tari
Yellow-breasted Boatbill – heard and seen a couple of times in the Varirata and lowlands areas.
Canary Flycatcher – seen regularly and sometimes in numbers in Tari – usually at the higher elevations.
Lemon-bellied Flycatcher – only one noted – on the road in to Varirata.
Frilled Monarch – commonly occurring in forests in Varirata and lowlands.
Black Monarch – a couple seen in Ambua on the waterfall track – mixed flock.
Black-faced Monarch – usually seen in company with Frilled M in Varirata and lowlands.
Spot-winged Monarch – easily found In Varirata on several occasions.
Leaden Flycatcher – only one, along road to Varirata in more open country.
Black Fantail – seen on Waterfall track in Ambua Lodge.
Chestnut-bellied Fantail – several seen in company with Frilled and Black-faced Monarchs in and around Varirata
Dimorphic Fantail – seen regularly in the forests in Tari.
Friendly Fantail – probably the most common bird in Tari, in the forests almost every time we stoped.
Rufous-backed Fantail – only one seen as a whirlwind in forest near Brown River.
Black Thicket Fantail – one only seen well in forest at Brown River.
Willy Wagtail – nest at friend’s house in Port Moresby, a pair on road at Tari and others on odd occasions in lowlands.
Black-fronted White-eye – a small party seen at picnic grounds in Varirata.
Mountain Mouse-warbler – one only on Benson’s Trail in Tari – very discrete.
(Rusty Mouse-warbler) – one heard and almost seen in Varirata on picnic ground-Lookout trail
Brown-breasted Gerygone – commonly seen along open road edges in Tari area – nest found at Warili Lodge.
Fairy Gerygone – a few seen in Varirata, generally in mixed feeding flock situation.
(Mangrove Gerygone) – one heard on creek near lunch place along road in lowlands – did not respond to playback.
Ashy Gerygone – several seen, incl one small party of 6, along road in Tari.
(White-throated Gerygone) – one heard near Anna Pinu’s store, lowlands, did not respond to playback.
Yellow-bellied Gerygone – seen on several occasions in mixed feeding flock in Varirata.
Buff-faced Scrubwren – seen regularly in Tari – usually in groups of 2-4.
Large Scrubwren – seen in pairs occasionally in Tari forests.
Pale-billed Scrubwren – found on 2 occasions in Varirata, one beside road near display area and secondly in forest on picnic-Lookout trail.
Papuan Scrubwren – seen occasionally in forests in Tari.
Perplexing Srubwren – one pairseen mating on waterfall track in Ambua.
Papuan Treecreeper – several (probably 4) birds seen in forest on Tari Gap.
Papuan Black Myzomela – one only poorly seen from road into Varirata.
Dusky Honeyeater – one seen on side track in lowlands, may have been overlooked at other sites.
Red-collared Myzomela – seen on a daily basis along road or in forests in Tari.
Red-headed Myzomela – only one found – along road in to Varirata.
Silver-eared Honeyeater – 3 seen on coconut tree flowers near Anna Pinu’s store in lowlands.
Graceful Honeyeater – seen on several occasions in lowlands and Varirata.
Mimic Honeyeater – seen on several occasions in lowlands and Varirata
Yellow-tinted Honeyeater – 3 seen from The Hideaway Hotel in Port Moresby.
Plain Honeyeater – several seen on road into Varirata.
Streak-headed Honeyeater – 2 seen on road in to Varirata.
Helmeted Friarbird – several seen on road in to Varirata
Grey-streaked Honeyeater – seen on a daily basis in Tari forests, sometimes in small parties of 3-5 birds.
Rufous-backed Honeyeater – seen on a few occasions in Tari, usually singly.
Belford’s Melidectes – commonly seen along the road and in forests in Tari in general.
Yellow-browed Melidectes – seen in Ambua for the most part, especially around the helipad.
Common Smoky Honeyeater – seen commonly in forests and along the road in Tari.
Brown-backed Honeyeater – one only seen on a coconut tree near Anna Pinu’s store in the lowlands.
Long-tailed Shrike – 2 birds seen in alpine area at Tari Gap.
Black Butcherbird – scoped from Benari Rd and seen elsewhere in Tari @ 2800+ meters– strange as this species is almost exclusively a mangrove dweller in Australia.
Pygmy Drongo – onle only seen, but others heard in Varirata along picnic-Lookout Trail.
Spangled Drongo – seen on several occasions along road to Varirata and the lowlands.
(Blue Jewel Babbler) – heard once only in forest near Brown River – did not respond to playback.
(Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler) – heard once only in Varirata along the picnic-lookout trail, did not respond.
Spotted Jewel-babbler – two seen poorly together in forest at Tari Gap. Believed heard at several other locations, but refused to respond to playback.
Blue-capped Ifrita – usually if not always seen in pairs feeding on mossy trunks – great bird!
Black Pitohui – one only seen briefly in upper forest at Tari
(Crested Pitohui) – heard only in Varirata – almost continuous but would not respond
Hooded Pitohui – seen easily in Varirata – especially in the picnic ground.
Rusty Pitohui – difficult to see, fleeting glimpses initially but eventually gave it itself up in Varirata
Wattled Ploughbill – only one female seen at higher elevations at Tari, although tried for at several locations.
Mountain Peltops – scoped distantly at Benari Rd on two occasions.
Grey Crow – a party of about 5 birds flew over the picnic ground at Varirata and one seen distantly from the lookout.
Torresian Crow – seen commonly along road in lowlands.
Shining Starling – large nesting colonies in lowlands appeared temporarily deserted – one large flock of about 60 birds specifically noted, but probably others as fly overs, scattered pairs.
Singing Starling – a pair noted specifically at a marsh in lowlands again probably ditto as previous species.
Yellow-faced Myna – several pairs of birds seen on the three days in Varirata and lowlands.
Papuan Flowerpecker – several birds seen over the trip period at all locations – usually just as a tiny flyover.
Olive-backed Sunbird – a few birds seen in the lowlands.
Dwarf Longbill – only one, along the road near the Raggiana BOP display area in Varirata.
Slaty-headed Longbill – only one, on the waterfall tarck in Ambua Resort.
Black Berrypecker – seen on a few occasions in Varirata.
Fan-tailed Berrypecker – seen on most days in forest and along road in Tari.
Mid-mountain Berrypecker – seen regularly, but not as commonly as previous sp, in Tari – especially along Waterfall Track – more discreet than previous.
Tit Berrypecker – seen on a few days in Tari – not particularly easy to get good views.
Crested Berrypecker – seen a couple of times, once well along road and in forest at Tari – striking bird.
Brown Oriole – several seen in and around Varirata and the lowlands – generally in the more open areas, rather than heavy forest.
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike – one seen on road in to Varirata
Stout-billed Cuckoo-shrike – seen at both Tari and lowlands, not common, but obvious.
Boyer’s Cuckoo-shrike – party of 6 flew through the picnic area at Varirata
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike – seen in small numbers at a couple of localities in the lowlands
Hooded Cuckoo-shrike – twice at Tari – along the road at lower elevations.
Black Cicadabird – once, along the road to Varirata, hard to get onto.
Black-bellied Cuckoo-shrike – several times at Tari, a party of 5 flew over the road at one stage.
MacGregor’s Bowerbird – female seen only – forest on Benari Rd, second ridge..
Fawn-breasted Bowerbird – 2 seen briefly at first stop along road to Varirata.
Blue Bird of Paradise – seen and heard regularly at Tari – around the lower elevation of Benari Rd
Superb Bird of Paradise – female seen poorly near upper tree limit, displaying male and a nearby female seen in forest along Benari Rd.
Loria’s Satinbird – female seen at fruiting tree in Ambua and male on opposite side of valley high in canopy – no plumes seen –Tari.
Raggiana Bird of Paradise – several females seen – possibly 15, 5 males displaying at display site – all in Varirata.
King of Saxony Bird of Paradise – male seen very well both from the road and inside the forest at Tari, female seen briefly once.
Crinkle-collared Mannucode – seen in picnic ground in Varirata
Glossy-mantled Mannucode – seen on each day at Varirata
Short-tailed Paradigalla – only seen on one day – but 4 birds seen along road at upper elevation and at the helipad at Ambua late in the afternoon.
Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia – seen throughout the time at Tari, mainly females, only 1 male seen well on Benson’s Track
Ribbon-tailed Astrapia – males seen almost daily along road and a few females during the period at Tari.
Lawe’s Parotia – female scoped from Benari Rd and two other separate birds seen poorly – Tari.
Magnificent Riflebird – 1 female seen well in picnic ground at Varirata, heard on and off during the day at Varirata, one male seen briefly later on.
Lesser Melampitta – one seen poorly (by me) in forest at upper elevation in Tari – it approached us in the forest and then realised its mistake. Others had better views especially Brent.
Black Sicklebill – one seen after two attempts and several hours spent scoping from Benari Rd.
Brown Sicklebill – seen on a few occasions dueing the 9 days at Tari – both along the road and in the forest – difficult to get onto in the forest itself, despite its size, much easier from the road or edge.
Great Woodswallow – several at Tari airport on landing, always a few around the helipad at Ambua or at higher elevations on the road.
White-breasted Woodswallow – only two seen in lowlands.
Blue-faced Parrotfinch – one female seen in forest below Warili Lodge and opp Benari Rd.
Grey-headed Mannikin – flock of approx 15 seen near turn off to Varirata from main road.
Hooded Mannikin – seen in flocks near village below Warili Lodge and in twos and threes at Tari Gap and elsewhere.
House Sparrow – only in Port Moresby.
I have never used guides before. I have always claimed I’d prefer to find the birds on my own. However, bowing to the necessity of PNG I learned that in a short space of time guides can get you onto a lot more birds and it’s not just a case of them pointing them out! In most cases we were taken to areas where specific birds had been seen and then worked with the guide to find them. In some cases we pointed them out to the guide.
Tari would be impossible to do without one. Varirata could be done without one, except that a visitor wouldn’t know the calls and hence know what they were looking for. Security would demand a car and driver or a drop off and pick up minimum.
As always preparation, preparation, preparation is the key. I surprised myself by remembering a fair bit about the birds and recognising them without being told – in some cases. I’m a learner and a jizz person, calls are a nightmare for me, and plumages sometimes cause me issues. Let me see a bird, see it move and I’ll imprint most of them for ever- not the best ‘skill’ for a visiting birder, but this time I had done homework and some had stuck.
PNG is doable without a tour company! Its knowing who to contact and then working through the arrangements, keeping in mind the common sense issues I listed in the introduction part of this report. I dare say I’ll go again, maybe not to Tari, but certainly to PNG, and catch up with some more of the stunning BOPs.
NB: This report is solely based on my experience, observations and notes, I take responsibility for the ‘advice’ and details included – if I can offer any other information or assistance or there are any queries please feel free to email at firstname.lastname@example.org.