Tuesday, 24 August 1993

IRIAN JAYA August 1993: Arfaks and Batanta

12 August.  Back at the airport for our delayed flight to Manokwari and things were getting fraught with that day’s departures already fully booked and no immediate sign that the only plane had been fixed.  After further delays we were put on the first flight, apparently benefiting from a ‘tourists first policy’ introduced by the government.  It was the sort of thing that would cause outrage in the UK but something we were unashamedly thankful for.  We arrived in Manokwari, made our way to the local WWF Office to find our ex-pat contact, who we’d written to in advance, had tragically died.  His replacement was absolutely brilliant in contacting a guide to put together an Arfak Trek for us at short notice.  It was a complete blur to me but we got food, porters and a vehicle to drop us in Wamare in time to walk for a couple of hours to the forest edge below Inat Beab where we camped.  Few birds were seen, the best being Papuan Hornbill and Variable Pitohoui.

13 August.  We slowly walked up to Ciroubrei where we camped.  It was a fairly easy day in lowland and sub-montane forest during which half of the 22 species I saw were new.  Highlights were the immaculate Dwarf Whistler, Black-chinned Robin, Frilled and Golden Monarchs and Lesser BoP.

14 August.  From Ciroubrei at 1000m in altitude we had the option of diverting to the village of Mokwam in the hope of finding bird guide Seth Wonger who lived there.  We had not been able to contact Seth in advance and Mokwam was quite a detour, including losing precious altitude before regaining it, so we decided our limited time would be better spent higher up in the Arfaks.  In hindsight this would only have been a good move if Seth hadn’t been around.  We climbed steeply for 3-4 hours up to Gunung Umsini.  For me it was probably the toughest day of the trip being a very steep climb on a muddy trail.  Birding was particularly tough, and often I’d fall behind the others, see them stopped to look at something and it would be gone by the time I caught up.  The rest of the day was spent on the ridge trail and around Bini Bei where we camped.  A tough day but some excellent birds seen including Black Sicklebill, Magnificent BoP (although sadly only a female), Tit Berrypecker and Cinnamon-browed Melidectes.



 15 August.  All day along the ridge from Gunuing Umsini as far as Gunung Ngribbou and in the Bini Bei area, much of the time on my own.  Best birds I saw included Garnet and Ashy Robins, White-breasted Fruit-Dove, Vogelkop Bowerbird, Black Sicklebill and Western Parotia (again sadly just females).

coastal view from the Arfaks
 16 August.  A long day.  It started with a return to Gunung Umsini then much of the morning walking along the ridge to Gunung Ngribbou and back before the steep walk down to the road at Tana Mera.  Here it didn’t take long to get a bemo back to to Manokwari where we paid our guide and porters, checked into a hotel (Losmen Mulia) for two nights and went for a meal with the WWF guy.  Highlights to day were White-faced and Ashy Robins, Mottled Whistler, Black Pitohoui, Vogelkpop and Flame Bowerbirds, male Superb BoP and female Western Parotias.  I found the Arfaks particularly tough.  We probably should have spent longer up there and would definitely benefitted from having a bird guide.  Although I saw lots of good birds some of the best were only females (Magnificent BoP, Western Parotia) or brief views (Flame Bowerbirds).  I also missed a lot seen by others, much more than on the rest of the trip together.  The most painful of these were Green-backed Robin (Nick was next to me watching this one but by the time he’d stopped telling me how good it looked and started on directions it had moved out of sight – I’ve never let him forget that!), Spotted Jewel-Babbler (fortunately Nick was on his own for this one as a closer miss would have been too hard to take), Long-tailed Paradigalla (Barry) and Lesser Ground Robin.

similar view to above but clear


lower forest 
17-18 August.  We had a day trip to Warkapi, an area of lowland rainforest about two hours along the coast from Manokwari.  We knew this was where Birdquest had seen King Bird of Paradise and we managed to find the guide they used.  Hopes were high but it was to prove a very frustrating experience.  It was hot and birding was slow.  We tracked down a calling Yellow-billed Kingfisher but failed to see it despite spending over an hour peering from all angles into the tree it was sitting tight in.  What a wind-up!  On the way back I stumbled into a pair of Blue Jewel Babblers by the trail.  Brilliant, but unfortunately only Garry, who was directly behind me at the time, got onto them before they slipped away.  Nick, just behind, took this particularly hard, as I would have done in his position as Jewel Babblers are stunning birds.  To add insult to injury I then saw a Magnificent Riflebird that no-one else got onto, although it was only a female.  Other birds seen included Ornate Fruit-Doves, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Lowland Peltops, Glossy-mantled Manucode and female Lesser BoPs.  Back in Manokwari we were told that the fortnightly overnight ferry to Sorong was scheduled to depart the following evening.  This seemed a much more certain option that the following day’s Biak-Manokwari-Sorong flight, a route/plane that we’d already had issues with.  Plus we could have another crack at King BoP at Warkapi in the morning.

18 August.  We returned to Warkapi and asked our guide to concentrate on King BoP.  He took us directly to a very tall tree covered in creepers in a different area of forest.  Despite his pointing we couldn’t see anything although the lack of a common language meant that we weren’t sure if he was saying ‘this is where Birdquest look’ or ‘there is one behind that branch’.  As four of us concentrating with binoculars couldn’t see anything we hoped it was the former!  Nick was feeling really rough and retired to the main road to lie in the shade.  We wandered along the road and back to where we’d heard the Yellow-billed Kingfisher the previous day but it was silent.  In desperation we offered our guide a bonus if he showed us King BoP and, although it galvanised him into action, the result was the same - a blank.  We left Warkapi mid-afternoon feeling quite dejected and with Nick barely able to walk.  A Variable Dwarf Kingfisher, nice as it was, was little consolation for not having seen King BoP.  Nor was a better view of female Magnificent Riflebird.  Back in Manokwari we collected our gear and went down to the harbour where we got tickets for a 4-berthed cabin.  Getting on the boat was not an experience I’d like to repeat in a hurry – it was still very hot and the whole population of Manokwari seemed to be trying to get through the one gate.  Nick could hardly stand and needed us to keep him going.  Once onboard and in our cabin things were quite different.  It was cooler, peaceful and Nick started to improve.  The only annoyance was an internal speaker that played canned music and calls to prayers.  Barry, who had worked at Swan Hunters, deftly disconnected it and we got an uninterrupted night’s sleep, although hit was just as well we did not hit an iceberg as we would have missed the call to muster stations, not that we would have understood it!
Manokwari, with ferry coming into the harbour
19 August.  We arrived in Sorong slightly nervous that our contact might have given up on us as we had not been able to alert him to our change of plan.  He was waiting at the quay although claimed to have made a wasted journey to Jefman Airport to meet our plane the previous day.  This seemed unlikely as the airport was on an island served only by ferries which came into this quay!  He didn’t persist with this story and we soon suspected he always hung out at the quay hoping to avail his services to any arriving Westerners.  We spent the morning getting supplies and hiring a motorised long-boat for four days to visit Batanta.  We set off on the 3-4 hour journey.  It was initially quite choppy as we crossed Sorong Bay and headed for the northern coast of Salawati but the channel separating it from Batanta was calm.  Both Batanta and Salawati appeared to be almost completely forested and looked superb.  Half way along Batanta we came to the small village of Wai Lebed, out destination.  There we found Anton Dei who agreed to guide us and arranged for our supplies to be cooked for us.  As the light was fading we were shown to the ‘guest house’, which consisted of empty rooms with matted floors.  We’d made it to Batanta.

leaving Sorong, the waves might not look much but it was quite choppy in a longboat
Batanta guest house
Batanta channel and Salawati (in distance)
20 August.  There was only one thing on my mind as we got up before dawn and were led up the mountain behind the guest house.  We climbed steadily for a couple of hours up to and along a ridge as Anton took us up to a display ground of Wilson’s Bird of Paradise.  We approached cautiously and settled behind a screen he’d made.  We could hear birds calling and then one appeared.  It was absolutely stunning.  We spent the morning engrosed and my most vivid memory is of Anton putting a leaf in the middle of the pristine display area.  The male flew in before Anton was out of sight and his anger was apparent.  Not content to merely remove the leaf he grasped it in one foot and shredded it into several pieces each of which was flung away.  Only when his ‘stage’ was immaculate again was he content.  Until that point a pair of Giant Pittas watched repeatedly in Borneo 6 years before were my best birds ever.  Now they had a very serious rival and had to settle for a share of that accolade (it became a three-way split in 1998 after I’d seen Kagu in New Caledonia, a situation that remains to this day).  On the way back down we saw a very unpleasant looking off-white snake that Anton was quite concerned by.  Barry then disturbed a pitta on the trail that he was sure was Red-bellied.  If one is going to dip on a new pitta it could be a lot worse than doing so after seeing Wilson’s BoP.  Likewise getting poor views of Pheasant Pigeon. All other birds paled into comparison but Common Paradise and Variable Dwarf Kingfishers, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Hooded Pitta and male and female Red BoPs made it a very good day.  An evening listening to the small waves breaking on the shore while my mind replayed our encounter with Wilson’s BoP was about as close to paradise as I’ve come.

Wislon's BoP displays in here somewhere ...
No 50 from Brooke Bond Tropical Birds series I collected and not very carefully stuck in the album as a seven year old in 1961.  They were illustrated and described by C.F. Tunnicliffe.
forest on Batanta
descending the ridge trail on Batanta, one bit of forest up close looks much the same as any other ...
C.F.Tunnicliffe's Tropical Birds number 49.  Understandable why out of 50 species illustrated two were Birds of Paradise, they are just so good, but a bit surprising that both were West Papuan island endemics, not that I was complaining.
sunset on Batanta, rarely have I felt so at peace
21 August.  I decided to concentrate on looking for Barry’s Red-bellied Pitta but I wasn’t successful and ended up seeing just 14 species.  Although 5 sightings of Hooded Pitta were nice it wasn’t the one I’d hoped for and in hindsight I would have done better going back up on the ridge again.
the beach at Batanta with Wilson's ridge in the background.  The beach full of broken coral and quite idyllic although it was much hotter than this picture suggests.
my only 'wildlife' shot from Batanta, oh for the poor light capabilities of digital photography
22 August.  We crossed to Salawati as it was getting light and Anton took us to a good area of lowland forest.  Despite being less than half an hour away by boat much of the avifauna is surprisingly different.  Our target here was the enormous Western Crowned Pigeon and, as hoped, Anton flushed one which perched up in a tree giving us excellent views.  We then found a female plumaged King BoP.  It appeared to be displaying, tail cocked, vent and breast feathers puffed out, wings arched and fluttered, head pointed up and undulated - presumably it was a young male.  It was brilliant, especially after our massive disappointment at Warkapi, although an adult male would be absolutely superb.  Also on Salawati we saw 27 Papuan Hornbills before returning to Batanta for a final look round, adding Yellow-capped Pigmy Parrot, before returning to Sorong.  The journey started well, in the sheltered channel.  Our boatman cut across to the northern coast of Salawati to buy some cigarettes in a village there.  I don’t know how much of a detour this was but it was probably enough to cause us great anxiety.  Back in Sorong Bay the swell had got up and the light was starting to go.  A flotilla of fishing boats heading out for the night passed us and the lights of Sorong began to come on as they got closer.  Then our engine cut out and we drifted a bit before the boatmen got it restarted.  We’d hardly made any progress when it did it again and this time there was no restarting it.  It was now fully dark, there were no boats visible and Sorong still looked a good distance away.  The waves were big enough for a broadside to swamp us, the boat had no oars and it was starting to leak water.  Barry ripped up a couple of seats to use as paddles which were enough to keep us back on to the waves.  Much to the others amusement I got a travel neck pillow out of my bag and inflated it – I’ve never been much of a swimmer.  He boatman kept trying to restart the engine and even stripped it down but to no avail.  At one stage I felt confident we were heading for the shore but as we got closer, and could see cars lights on the coast road, I realised we were heading between an island and the shore.  Next stop South China Sea?  Should we bail out?  Before we could make any rash decisions we drifted within hailing distance of a fishing platform and roused someone.  They had a boat and came out to rescue us, although they’d only been towing us for a couple of minutes when their engine died too. What odds we’d be rescued by the only boat with an engine as dodgy as ours?  Luckily it soon restarted and we were towed into Sorong Harbour.  I’ve never been so pleased to touch the land, even if it was under a foot of water.  Note to self: next time make sure the boat has two engines!

preparing to visit Salawati
dawn departure to Salawati
rescued
23 August.  Our last full day and a late start after the previous evening’s ‘adventures’.  We chartered a taxi and spent the afternoon on a logging road at km 18.  It wasn’t the best time of day and was very hot but we did see the hoped for Black Lory and a nice selection of other parrots, of which Palm Cockatoo was the best.

24 August.  We said goodbye to Barry who had an extra day (he returned to the logging road and saw Forest Bittern there!).  We caught the ferry to Jefman Airport and started the long journey home.  We saw Lesser Frigatebird and Crested Tern from the ferry, Moluccan Kestrel on Ambon, Tree Sparrow at Ujung Pandang, Pacific Swallow at Surabaya and Long-tailed Shrike at Jakarta.  The flight to London was less eventful with a Gulf stop in darkness.

It was the toughest trip I’ve done, both physically and in terms of finding birds but I couldn’t have asked for better companions to go on such an adventure with.  The places and the birds we saw were tremendous and if we missed a few things all the more reason to go again … 

So thanks Nick, Barry and Garry, we made a good team.  And John Tabone and crew in Wamena for making the Habbema Trek so memorable and Anton Dei for the unforgettable Wilson’s BoP experience.  Every time I see Attenborough in Paradise I’m taken right back there.
[Dale Zimmerman plate from Beehler et al Birds of New Guinea]
I could argue that 8 (Wilson's BoP), 10 (King BoP) or 11 (King of Saxony BoP) was the best in the world although only seeing male Wilson's on this trip it has the edge.  With its white gape are there any colours it doesn't have?  Oh, and Dale, the blue on the head isn't nearly vivid enough.

[blogged June 2013] 

Wednesday, 11 August 1993

IRIAN JAYA August 1993: Nimbokrang & Biak

4 August.  A travel day that was best forgotten.  We hung around Wamena airport before finally getting for our flight to Jayapura Sentani.  Once there we checked in with the police and went into town as I wanted to try to replace my ‘sole-flapping’ shoes.  My feet were larger than most Indonesians and the best I could find were an uncomfortable pair of cheap trainers which I thought would be better than nothing.  After a day I realised they weren’t!
 
Wamena market
Wamena bus and taxi depot
Merpati flight loading on Wamena runway
airborn

leaving the Bailem Valley

5-8 August.  We hired a bemo to take us to Nimbokrang, an area of lowland forest where we planned to spend 4 days.  Here we were expecting to find an old logging camp and I imagined sleeping on the shady veranda of a locked building watching birds perched around the clearing.  The reality was somewhat different!  We were dropped at the side of the baking road and shown a track that led into the forest.  We paid our driver and arranged for him to come and pick us up three days later.  A short way down the track was a clearing and in it, being rapidly packed up, were the tents of a Birdquest camp.  The logging camp had long moved on.  Mark van Beirs and Nigel Redman were leading the trip and somewhat surprised to see us, as we were them.  Their brochure indicated that they would be in the Arfaks at this stage and we hadn’t wanted to overlap for fear of treading on their toes.  As they were leaving this aspect didn’t matter, but the local guide Jamil was reluctant to help us for less than the $100/day guiding fees he’d just received from them.  This was beyond our budget, only being split 4 ways.  His assistant offered to guide us for $40/day which was more like it but he wasn’t as good a guide as we’d hoped and in hindsight the extra birds we would have seen with Jamil would have been worth the extra cost.  Birdquest cleared off, we put our tents up and headed into the forest.  The next three days we birded along very damp, sometimes flooded trails through the forest, along the road or around the clearing.  In the heat of the day, and it was very hot, our guide would go into town and come back with bottles of water for us.  We’d wander along the road or around the clearing using umbrellas as parasols when they weren’t needed for the rain.  There seemed to be no respite from the oppressive climate as the tents were too hot to lie in until well after dark.  I was constantly tired and found it hard to get up for dawn despite it being about the only time that the temperature was bearable.  Despite this we saw some good birds including Oriental hobby, Spotted Whistling Duck, Brown-collared Brush-Turkey, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Coronetted and Beautiful Fruit-Doves, Brown Lory, Palm Cockatoo, Eclectus Parrot, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Lesser Black Coucal,  Papuan Spinetail, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Azure Kingfisher, Papuan Hornbill, Golden Cuckoo-Shrike, Emperor Fairy-Wren, White-bellied Thicket-Fantail, Golden and Yellow-faced Mynas, Glossy-mantled and Jobi Manucodes, Lesser and Twelve-wired Birds of Paradise and Brown-headed Crow.  Unfortunately I only saw female Twelve-wired BoPs, the site involved crossing a deep (>5 feet) channel on a fallen trunk and after two mornings with a single female to show for them I decided to give it a miss on the third.  Big mistake as Nick and Barry saw a male but by the time I’d crossed the trunk it had flown.  Typically it was back to females only the next day too.  Barry also saw a Pale-billed Sicklebill, which I might have seen flying away, while we had no luck at all with Victoria Crowned Pigeon or much in the way of kingfishers.  Tough birding indeed.  On the afternoon of our final day our driver reappeared and took us along Jalan Korea to km 45 before taking us back to Jayapura after dark.  This was a site for Vulturine Parrot which supposedly flew over to roost.  We did see three so in that respect were successful but my notes indicate I had bad views of one and awful views of the other two!  Views there of Red-flanked Lorikeet, Lowland Peltops and Golden Monarchs were some compensation. 
swamp forest at Nimbokrang
it might have been easier going birding along the main road but was it hot!
the way to the Twelve-wired BoP display tree, the water was at least as deep as a five foot pole I'd hoped would help me cross

9-11 August,  After some delay at Jayapura Sentani Airport we flew to the island of Biak where we found a basic hotel (Losmen Solo), dumped our stuff and hired a minibus, driver and mate for the afternoon to take us to Warafiri, an area with some remaining native forest about an hour or so drive east of town.  Our main target was Biak Paradise Kingfisher and it was a little disappointing not to see it at the first attempt, although we did see Biak Scrubfowl, Claret-breasted Fruit-Dove and Biak Red Lory in our two hours there.  Driving back the minibus kept stalling every few hundred metres and to get it restarted involved hitting the starter motor with a hammer.  Our progress back to the hotel was rather arduous but being reassured that it would be fixed we agreed to charter the minibus for the next morning and for them to pick us up before dawn.  We had a meal and went shopping.  I was still after better footwear and could not resist an expensive pair of white Australian trainers.  Not the most practical colour, but the most comfortable pair I could find, although the main selling feature was their name – MacGregor’s.  They even had a ‘seal’ in the uppers that looked a bit like a facial disk!  The next morning we returned to Warafiri without breakdown, I got red mud all over my new BoP trainers but we saw 7 Biak Paradise Kingfishers, Red-fronted Lorikeet and Biak Black Flycatcher.  Back in Biak town that afternoon I found a cobbler who sewed and stuck the sole back on my walking shoe.  It sorted the flapping sole out but in so doing had made the shoe a slightly tighter fit and more prone to rubbing.  After another night in Biak we returned to the airport for our flight to Mankowari but its delay became a cancellation due to a broken engine.  We returned to the hotel for another night, grabbed normal birding gear without recourse to a repack and returned to Warafri that afternoon.  We saw 5 more Biak Paradise Kingfishers, how we missed them the first afternoon I’m not sure.  Also another Biak Scrubfowl, Grey-headed Cuckoo-Shrike and best of all a Papuan Frogmouth on a telephone wire at dusk as we were driving back.  It gave reasonable views but unfortunately we’d not thought to unpack a torch to take with us.

Geelvink Bay islands
view from our hotel window in Biak
very poor image of an endemic Long-tailed Starling
Claret-breasted Fruit-Dove
possibly the worst photo taken of Biak's most famous bird, the superb endemic Biak Paradise Kingfisher

Tuesday, 3 August 1993

IRIAN JAYA July /August 1993: Lake Habbema trek

Introduction.  There are superb birds to be found in any part of the world but the area that stands out as probably having more than anywhere else, and so is perhaps of the greatest attraction to the travelling birder, is New Guinea.  Not only does it have most of the world’s Birds of Paradise (including all of the best ones) but it has a mystery and remoteness, not to mention a hint of danger, that make it an almost irresistible destination.  The down side is that many New Guinea birds are very shy and hard to find (the male Birds of Paradise are still hunted for their feathers) in quite tough terrain while its remoteness makes it expensive to get to and it is even more so when there.  By 1993 New Guinea was becoming a rather obvious ‘gap’ in the places Nick Preston and I had visited and we felt the time was right to take the plunge that summer.  We quickly ruled out visiting Papua New Guinea as we could not afford to go on a tour or stay in the very expensive lodges there.  Neither did we feel confident of sorting out ground arrangements ourselves in a country known for its sporadic violence.  Irian Jaya, the Indonesian half of the island, seemed the obvious destination, more so as we’d had a successful trip to Sulawesi and Halmahera the previous year and Nick obtained a very helpful report from David Gibbs.  The downside of Irian was that the infrastructure was less well developed making us more reliant on internal flights which were notoriously unreliable.  Also English was less widely spoken and our Bahasa Indonesian, the official language, was limited to a few words.


just some of the reasons one might wish to visit New Guinea
Not to be put off we soon recruited Garry Edwards and Barry Stidolph and started booking flights.  This blog recounts our trip but as with most of mine it relies on inadequate notebook entries and somewhat unreliable memories.  It is mainly illustrated with scanned images of prints taken at the time with a pocket camera but I also took a slide film but the colours have degraded quite badly.  The images taken on the Lake Habbema trek, where we retraced our steps on the way back, may not be in chronological or even geographical order.  After an almost complete lack of success in getting any bird photographs in Sulawesi the previous year, and conscious that the terrain would be even tougher I left my SLR camera and telephoto lens behind.  It was probably the right decision.  More foolishly, as I was paranoid about carrying too much weight, I left my Leica binoculars behind and took a light pair of Swarovski 8x20s.  They were fine when I found a bird but their narrow field of view made it much harder than it already was getting onto anything in the first place.

Barry left a couple of months before us taking the slow route to Jayapura, via most of the rest of Indonesia.  Garry, Nick and I flew more directly, although it was still a long and arduous journey with stop-overs and/or changes of plane in Abu Dhabi (where I saw two Hoopoe Larks running around on the tarmac), Jakarta, Ujung Pandang (seeing Lemon-bellied White-eye and Flyeater) and Biak.  We met Barry in Jayapura on 26 July, found a hotel (the Mansapur Rani) and made for the nearest police station to get our Surat Jalans, the permits needed to visit pretty much anywhere outside of a few towns and Biak.
heading east over Indonesia



27 July.  After a brief attempt to access decent habitat in the nearby Cyclops Mountains, where the rather uninspiring Mimic Meliphagia was the only new bird identified, we headed for the airport for our flight to Wamena to find we’d been bumped off it.  Barry instigated a sit down protest at the only check in counter which we monopolised and, whether as a result or not, we were put on to the next flight.  We arrived in Wamena at 3;30 pm only two hours late.  We needed to find a guide who would put together a trek to Lake Habbema for us as we’d not arranged one in advance and had refused the attentions of a couple of ‘wannabees’ in Jayapura who were not convincing enough for us to fork out for their plane fare.  Before we could catch our breath and look around for any Tourist Information that might help with a guide we were approached by John Tabone.  He seemed very knowledgeable and friendly and after a short negotiation we agreed that he would put together a week long trek to Lake Habbema for us.  Jon took us to Losmen Syahril Jaya a short walk away and while we were getting sorted out left to take our Surat Jalan to the local police station, check on his crew and arrange a vehicle charter for the morning.  John returned with his cook, Holyk Meyaga, and we visited the local market to buy enough food and other supplies to last ten of us a week.  I didn’t have a clue as to what we’d need but John and Holyk clearly knew their stuff and Barry was on the ball too.
view of the Cyclops Mountains from Jayapura
flight to Wamena
first sight of Baelim Valley
descending over Baelim Valley
view from Wamena airport
28 July.  We set off in the back of a pickup for an hour’s journey along a rough road to Beneme.  From here we would be on foot and our porters (Dilatus Waida, Sem and Yacob Tabuni and Lukas Elopeze) and Holyk shared our rucksacks, their meagre kit and our food between them.  These were very tough guys and once loaded they set off at a fast pace.  We followed in a more leisurely fashion being led by John, not that we needed much guiding at this stage as the trail was quite obvious.  I had to pinch myself that here I was trekking in the mountains of New Guinea.  Our plan was to reach Dyela that day, a fairly steady, undulating five hour walk through mainly open, cultivated country.  After a couple of hours we caught up with the porters who had a brew on and were preparing a meal.  This was to be the pattern for the trek.  Our porters would go ahead and just when we were beginning to tire, or feel hungry we’d come across them with a fire going, a brew made and food on the stove.  Perfect!!  Birds were good too, if rather thin on the ground, with a male Superb Bird of Paradise, 2 female Splendid Astrapias, White-eyed Robin and Fan-tailed Berrypecker the best of the 26 species seen.  At Dyela we put up tents and had a superb meal.
setting off from Beneme.  Some of our team loading up, watched on by locals in western and traditional dress (if you can call it that)
Garry, Barry and Nick, all as stunned as I was that we were actually about to set off into the New Guinea highlands
the first part of the trek was through heavily cultivated land
although it was interspersed with forest patches


at this stage the the trail was easy to follow and relatively flat
Barry, Nick, me and some of our 'support team' taking a break.  Barry reflective, Nick studious, me wrecked (and we'd hardly started)!  I'm not sure how I'm so much muddier than Barry and Nick either!
29 July.  A tough day.  From Dyela we walked up to Pos III.  I say walked and it started off like that but we were soon in the forest and the trail deteriorated and became very muddy.  Past Yaugabema the trail climbed steeply and following it became a scramble in the mud.  Ordinary mud might not have been too bad but this was really thick sticky mud, so much so that the front half of the sole of my stout walking shoe came unstuck and flapped around with every step.  Later I found a spare shoelace in my rucksack and tied the sole in place but it was only partially successful.  There were times when I wasn’t the only one thinking I wouldn’t make it to Pos III but I did, tired and wet.  We camped and were treated to another superb meal - I never realised how nice sweet potatoes were.  It was another low species day, not helped by my having to spend so long concentrating on not slipping over on the trail, and I only managed to see 19 species.  However they did include King of Saxony and Superb Birds of Paradise (a female of each), Spendid Astrapia (4 females), a male Loria’s Bird of Paradise (now a Satinbird), Black-breasted Boatbill, Mountain Peltops and Modest Tiger Parrot.
Nick's repack attracted quite a crowd at Dyela
'fortified' hill-top village, the spiked wooden fences were not just to keep their animals in
local villager on the trail, he certainly did not make us feel overdressed
remnant forest on the distant hillside

30 July.  We packed the tents and continued slowly climbing through the forest to the pass.  From here the terrain flattened out with boggy grassland and isolated patches of trees on ridges.  Wet feet were becoming the norm for this trip and we squelched on to Danau Habbema where we found what looked like a newly built hut.  It wasn’t occupied, we had seen hardly anyone since leaving Yaugabema the previous day, or securely fastened so we took advantage of it.  It was nice not to have to put up a (damp) tent but the hut was completely empty (we slept on the floor) and a bit drafty and so probably not as warm.  John and the rest of our guys were in a more traditional hut nearby and we joined them for meals.  Down by the lake we found Salvadori’s Teal and towards the end of the lake a group of three very impressive MacGregor’s Bird of Paradise, our main target species for this part of the trip, although it is now considered to be a honeyeater!  Just 19 species for me again although as well as MacGregor’s they did include the superb Crested Berrypecker, Island Thrush, Short-bearded Meledictes and Western Alpine Mannikin.
Garry and onlooker on the trail above Pos III
montane forest near Pos III
above the tree-line


distant view of Lake Habbema, note how boggy the foreground is.  Even Wellington's wouldn't have kept our feet dry.




distant view of MacGregor's Bird of Paradise - very impressive in flight and brighter orange than we were expecting
not bad perched either
... even if it is a honeyeater
Lake Habbema
hut at Lake Habbema used by our guys
fire going, kettle on ...




me and friend
Alpine moorland
31 July.  An easy day around Lake Habbema and the Pass, or it would have been had the grassland where we unsuccessfully looked for Snow Mountain Quail not been so boggy.  24 species today although two were unidentified and another was just a silhouette.  The best were 2 MacGregor’s Birds of Paradise near the Pass, a pair of superb Painted Tiger Parrots, Crested Berrypeckers, White-winged and Mountain Robins and Salvadori’s Teal.

me at Lake Habbema
later with the clouds coming in



what was I thinking taking 8x20 binoculars?



1 Aug.  We walked slowly down through the damp forest to Yaugabema although the birding wasn’t much easier than it had been coming up.  The trail was no less muddy and it needed even more care not to slip over.  We were treated to 6 MacGregor’s BoPs around the Pass as we left while the other species seen included King of Saxony BoP (sadly just a female), a pair of Brown Sicklebills, Splendid Astrapia (3 including a superb male), Papuan Lorikeet, Hooded Cuckoo-Shrike, Black Sitella, Crested Berrypecker and Torrent Lark.  Still only 28 species but 9 were new.  We camped in a clearing putting our tent up next to a hut our guys were using and where we had another superb meal.  In hindsight we should perhaps have spent two days on this section as we doubtless missed a lot of good birds, including Archbold’s Bowerbird which we failed to find the bower of.
Barry, Garry, me and Nick
the pass


Barry on the trail
slippery log crossing ahead


Nick's tent in the clearing at Yaugabema
hut at Yaugabema
Nick and Barry enjoying a brew by candlelight
2 Aug.  We birded around Yaugabema for a couple of hours in the hope that the tent change might dry out but it did not.  We did however see the female King of Saxony BoP again.  Once packed we continued slowly to the edge of the forest above Dyela.  My main recollection is being last in line and catching up with the others just as they’d found a Blue-capped Ifrit climbing up an obvious bare trunk to our right.  Unfortunately there were two obvious bare trunks and I looked at the wrong one, realising my mistake just too late to get onto the bird before it flew, probably not helped by only having brought 8x20 bins with me.  I waited some time but unfortunately it did not reappear.  We continued to the river where we got involved in an altercation with some locals, or at least our guys did.  It seemed to revolve around our use of the hut at Yaugabema which they wanted paying for.  As we’d slept in our tent and according to our guide John the hut did not belong to these villagers anyway we were advised to continue.  We did and our guys soon followed after a bit more shouting.  They were obviously a bit concerned as we walked quickly past the next village, our original destination, and continued after dark to reach Senokolik.  This was a ‘friendly’ village and the guys, and we, were quite relieved to get there.  The head man told us the other village were ‘bad men’ and if they came to his village he would kill them.  Having heard stories of village warfare and payback it was hard not to believe he was entirely serious, although at five foot nothing in his bare feet I'm not sure how much of a threat he would have been.  We were put up for the night and treated as guests of honour.  Another day during which I saw 28 species including Plum-faced Lorikeet, Black-throated Robin, Crested Berry pecker, Blue-faced Parrotfinch and Splendid Astrapia.
clearing at Yaugabema
Garry on the trail

looking back up to the pass
me wearing sytlish elephant trousers, colour co-ordinated to hide the mud, legs of different lengths from walking on hillsides
rest stop for our guys


Nick crossing the bridge
trouble at the bridge


3 Aug.  We spent the morning slowly walking back to road, mainly through cultivated habitat.  Despite birds being easier to see I still only managed 26 species, certainly this is not a place to visit for a big day, but they did include Superb BoP (a displaying male and two separate females),  Back on the road at Beneme we didn’t have to wait too long for a bemo to Wamena.  We returned to the hotel near the airport and said goodbye to John and our guys who had been really excellent.  They looked after us so well that we wished we could have taken them with us for the rest of the trip.
Chief of Senokolik, he spoke more fearsomely than he appeared 
Senokolik chief and our support team, John in white
us (less Barry who took the photo), our team, Senokolik chief and villager






rest stop, final day
local school kids
our support team, a better bunch of guys it would be hard to imagine
us and our guys in the garden of Losmen Syahril Jaya