Sunday, 30 December 2018

PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2006: Tabubil and Kiunga (7-14 August)

This is the third of four blogs recounting a private trip the late and greatly missed Jon Hornbuckle arranged to Papua New Guinea in summer 2006. Jon, Ashley Banwell, Carlton Collier, Pete Gammage, Mike and Stephanie Brown, Nick Preston and I had visited Varirata, Tari and Keki and were about to fly to Tabubil. This account is based on my rather inadequate notes and sometimes vague memories. It relies heavily on a report Jon wrote soon after returning while the photos included are mostly Jon’s with some of Nick’s views. Thanks to both for sharing them.

07 August 2006. We departed from Madang, changed planes in Port Moresby and continued our journey to Tabubil. We landed at noon with no issues (low cloud can often cause difficulties landing planes) and on time. We checked into the comfortable Cloudlands Hotel and used their bus to take us to Dablin Creek where we spent a rather wet afternoon. Despite the weather birding was good and we saw female Carola’s Parotia, Mountain and Yellow-billed Kingfishers, Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrots, Orange-breasted Fig-Parrot, and Mottled Whistler.
approaching Port Moresby

aerial view of river near Tabubil, presumably the Ok Tedi?
aerial view of hill forest as we prepared to land at Tabubil (nice not for it to be covered in cloud)
me and Jon on the pipeline catwalk at Dablin Creek, we'd seen Mountain Kingfisher sat on the hand rail on the way up
female Grey-headed Cuckoo Shrike at Dablin Creek
08 August 2008. We awoke to a clear sky (and it remained dry all day) but the hotel bus that was taking us back to Dablin Creek failed to materialise. We wandered around town for a while looking for transport and Jon eventually accosted a local couple and persuaded them to loan us their Toyota Hilux which they very kindly did. We returned to Dablin Creek but it was somewhat quieter although we did see male Chestnut-backed Jewel-Babbler, two female Superb Birds of Paradise, female Carola’s Parotia, Rusty Pitohui, Yellow-bellied Longbill and Pygmy Honeyeater. After lunch we took the Hilux across the river, the bridge having collapsed and been repaired since my last visit, to the Ok Ma Road where we saw two female Magnificent Birds of Paradise, Magnificent Riflebird, Crinkle-collared Manucode, male Raggiana Bird of Paradise, Greater Melampitta (poorly in my case), Shovel-billed Kingfisher (two heard, one seen in flight), Palm Cockatoo and White-rumped Robin.
pipeline road at Dablin Creek

09 August 2008. We left Cloudlands in the Hilux before dawn, arriving at the Ok Ma Road at first light. There were three Shovel-billed Kingfishers calling and one flew across the road twice. Most of us went into the forest and Ash found one that appeared to be nesting 20m up in a big tree. We twice watched it take a beak full of food (small reptiles or amphibians) to the tree but could not see a nest hole that was undoubtedly there. Nearby a Greater Melampitta was calling and this time I had good but brief views as it moved down a hillside. Back on the road Nick found a White-eared Catbird feeding in a fruiting bush that we all saw. Other highlights were small flocks of Golden and Grey-headed Cuckoo-Shrikes and two Golden Mynas. We returned to town for lunch then drove on to Km 121 and quickly found the local form of Little Ringed Plover. We continued to Ok Menga hydro station where Ash spotted a distant Salvadori’s Teal that disappeared round the bend of the river before the rest of us saw it. We had a long walk around the dredging works before locating the Teal stood on a rock. On the river we saw six Torrent Flycatchers but failed to find the trickier Torrent-Lark. Back at Tabubil Jon had arranged for us to have a meal as guests of the Golf Club, he is good at that sort of thing. Even I enjoyed fish and chips and apple pie!
Shovel-billed Kingfisher on the Ok Ma road
10 August 2006. Kwiwan, our guide for the next section of the trip, had arrived in Tabubil the previous evening and joined us for our final morning in Tabubil - another early start to the Ok Ma Road. Ash circumnavigated the Shovel-billed Kingfisher tree and found the nest hole as an adult came in with food. We watched from a suitable distance seeing an adult come in twice more in about 75 minutes. After one visit the large rear of what looked like a half-plucked chicken was stuck out of the nest hole to defecate. Nice. Kwiwan found a window onto a displaying male Magnificent Riflebird that had until then been winding us up while calling unseen. We returned to Dablin Creek for a two hour vigil at the fruiting tree. Here we saw Dwarf Koel, Yellow-capped and Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrots, high flying Blue-collared Parrots, female Raggiana Bird of Paradise, Mountain Peltops and Stout-billed Cuckoo-shrike and Pete found a Madarasz’s Tiger-Parrot nearby. After checking out of Cloudlands and grabbing a quick fish and chips, we drove to Km 17 near Kiunga, reaching it in just under three hours. Half a km along the track Greater Birds of Paradise were displaying enthusiastically with at least five males and six females seen. A male Raggiana Bird of Paradise was caught up in the excitement too. Other good birds in the area were displaying Trumpet Manucode, Australian Koel, New Guinea Babbler, Lowland Peltops and Golden Monarch with Blue Jewel-Babbler heard. We continued on the 17 kms to Kiunga and checked in and dined at the Kiunga Guesthouse.
Shovel-billed Kingfisher at nest hole
with unspecified prey item
displaying Greater Bird of Paradise at Kiunga

Pink-spotted Fruit-Dove at Kiunga
11 August 2006. We drove to “Manucode Mound” on the Boystown Road leaving before dawn and seeing White-throated Nightjars on the road on the way. Our main target was Flame Bowerbird. We saw four males, mostly in flight, and Kwiwan found a bower near the mound. Other good birds were somewhat frustrating with White-bibbed Ground-Dove (sadly not me), Hooded Pitta (five heard), White-eared Catbird (heard) and Blue Jewel-babbler (also heard only) although we had excellent views of a male and two female Emperor Fairy-Wrens and again saw Trumpet Manucode displaying and more Greater Birds of Paradise. We returned to the hotel for an early lunch after which we headed to the river and climbed aboard an outboard powered long-boat which was carrying us, our luggage and food for two days. We set-off up the Fly River at 13:30, turned off onto the Elevala River and arrived at Ekame Lodge three hours later. The journey was rather quiet although we did see a Great-billed Heron, Channel-billed Cuckoo and a crocodile. The lodge was very basic (candles, no running water) but in a superb location, on the river well into apparently untouched forest. We birded around the lodge till dark, seeing a pair of Yellow-eyed Starlings, our only Ornate Fruit Dove, Collared and Purple-tailed Imperial Pigeons, Stephan’s Ground Dove and Greater Streaked Lory. As the light started to fade we heard several Hook-billed Kingfishers and a nightjar, almost certainly Papuan flew over the clearing. We returned to the boat and took a 90 minute cruise on the Elevala River were we spotlighted one (in my case) or two Southern Crowned Pigeons roosting in a large tree, followed by a superb perched Marbled Frogmouth and two others in flight. We also heard Sooty Owl.
early morning Trumpet Manucode
Kiunga port, the Fly River is still navigable here (but not much further) 840km from the sea
leaving Kiunga
Fly River

although a canoe our boat was fortunately bigger than these
Papuan Hornbills

Great Cuckoo Dove
Elevala River
Elevala River
Ekame Lodge

Elevala River from Ekame
Golden Cuckoo-Shrike
12 August 2006. We were late heading up river from the lodge and as a result arrived too late at a display tree to see the resident male Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise performing, only seeing it fly across the river. We then left the canoe and followed narrow forest trails searching for Hook-billed and Little Paradise Kingfishers but only heard them, as we did Black-billed Brush Turkey and Hooded Pitta. Not a great start but two Southern Crowned Pigeons and a displaying male King Bird of Paradise improved things significantly and we also saw Common Paradise Kingfisher, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Beautiful Fruit Dove on its nest, Palm Cockatoo, White-bellied Thicket-Fantail and Hooded Monarch. After a quick lunch I birded along a trail behind the lodge seeing two Blue Jewel-Babblers before we returned to the river to try again for Hook-billed Kingfisher. It had been notoriously difficult to find on my previous visit and was proving no easier this time although after a considerable effort we found two immatures. Other good birds were a male Flame Bowerbird which flew across the river, Large, Orange-breasted and Double-eyed Fig-Parrots and six White-bellied Pitohui (a species I’d only seen poorly before). We stayed out on the river until 19.30, seeing a Great-billed Heron feeding at dusk, a better view of Papuan Nightjar in flight, two perched Marbled Frogmouths and a White-bellied Sea Eagle flying in the dark. Again we heard a distant Sooty Owl. 
Southern Crowned Pigeons at Ekame


Elevala River at Ekame
Hook-billed Kingfisher
Marbled Frogmouth at night on the Elevala River
13 August 2006. We were back on the river early the following morning before returning to the lodge and birding the trails until lunch time. Highlights of an otherwise relatively quiet morning were male Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise (behaving better this morning), good views of Little Paradise Kingfisher (probably the bird we’d heard the previous day), two Black-sided Robins (also new for me), Greater Black Coucal, two Southern Crowned Pigeons (one was flushed in the forest and the other flew across the river), an excellent Hooded Pitta, three Blue Jewel-Babblers and four Rufous-bellied Kookaburras. After lunch Nick saw a Wallace’s Fairy-Wren that disappeared into a tangle of vines before I could get onto it. At least I’d seen one before. We could easily have spent twice as long at Ekame Lodge and still be seeing different birds. We returned to the boat and saw six or seven Channel-billed Cuckoos on our journey back to Kiunga. We’d realised that the river had dropped while we were at Ekame but it was only when we arrived at Kiunga that we realised by how much. It was now necessary to wade/slither through deep mud to reach the shore and washing off mud at the Kiunga Guesthouse took longer than usual.
Golden Myna at Ekame
Pacific Baza over the Elevala River
14 August 2006. We returned to Km 17 for the first hours of daylight having abandoned the Boystown Road as it was raining quite heavily. Greater and Raggiana Birds of Paradise were displaying despite the weather and we saw Trumpet Manucode and New Guinea Babbler but little else. After checking out of the Kiunga Guesthouse we went to the airport but the flight was late. We birded at the end of the runway seeing Lesser Black Coucal and White-spotted Munia but there was a certain amount of anxiety in the group as most were returning home and connections were quite tight as it was. The flight eventually came and we quickly boarded stopping briefly at Mount Hagen (seeing another Papuan Harrier) and landing in Port Moresby with only just enough time for the homeward flight - a close run thing. Jon, Nick and I waved them off and returned to the Granville Motel to reflect on an excellent trip and prepare for the next few days. A Naturetrek group was arriving the next morning which Jon was leading and Nick and I agreed to help with their first day at Varirata before going on to Manus.
Greater Bird of Paradise at Kiunga
male Raggiana Bird of Paradise at Kiunga
Kiunga Airport, Stephanie and Mike rear left

Thursday, 27 December 2018

PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2006: Keki Lodge (2-7 August)

This is the second of four blogs recounting a private trip the late and greatly missed Jon Hornbuckle arranged to Papua New Guinea in summer 2006. Jon, Ashley Banwell, Carlton Collier, Pete Gammage, Mike and Stephanie Brown, long time travelling companion Nick Preston and I had visited Varirata and Tari and were about to fly to Mount Hagen and then Madang. This account of the trip is based on my rather inadequate notes and sometimes vague memories. It relies heavily on a report Jon wrote when we returned while most of the photos included are Jon’s and some Nick’s. Thanks to both for sharing them.

02 August 2006 (continued). We left Tari and arrived in Mount Hagen to find our booked flight to Madang was delayed. After some discussion five of us, including Nick and me, were put on a small plane going via Goroka and Lae. The other three in our group would leave 90 minutes later stopping only at Goroka. While waiting at Mt Hagen we saw three Eastern Marsh Harriers (two males) and a Brahminy Kite with another Eastern Marsh Harrier and an Australian Bush Lark at Goroka and another Eastern Marsh Harrier, two Black Kites and an Australian Pipit at Lae. The flight in the small plane was probably the most enjoyable that I’ve done seeing spectacular mountain scenery, skimming over forested ridges and crossing braided rivers. Arriving in Madang it was an anxious hour wait for the other three and it was with some relief that they arrived on time. We collected a 4x4 Toyota Jon had managed to rent and squeezed into it with our gear. We proceeded to the Jais Aben Resort as thousands of fruit bats were leaving roost in Madang.

Ashley still birding while waiting to depart from Mt Hagen 
Ashley and me about to board the Airlink Cessna 404 Titan
near Mt Hagen
forested ridges we seemed to just scrape over
braided rivers

fires near Lae

Jon and Ashley returning to the plane at Lae
Lae to Madang
spectacular scenery

landing at Madang
fruit bats over Madang
03 August 2006. After a buffet breakfast, we went into town to collect Moyang, the owner of Keki Lodge, and bought food for our stay there. It was now very cosy in our vehicle and Ash drove 90km along the coastal road before stopping at a remnant forest patch. Here we saw Buff-faced Pygmy-Parrot (new for me), Eclectus ParrotTorresian and Pinon Imperial PigeonsLarge-billed GerygoneDusky Myzomela and a flock of Chestnut-breasted Munias. We soon left the metalled road and turned inland on what might very generously be described as an overgrown track. As we progressed my main thought was ‘well that’s another km less to walk’ as I was sure we;’d not make it. One incident of being stuck in deep mud, required jacking-up the wheels to lay vegetation under the tyres. However, Ash’s excellent driving prevailed in the end and covered the 27km to Keki Lodge in a very commendable two hours. Had I been driving we would still be up there. The lodge was unexpectedly very basic but disappointingly Moyang only knew of one fruiting tree although fortunately it was by the lodge and no bird of paradise leks. We spent the afternoon around the lodge seeing two male and a female Fire-maned Bowerbird (the main reason for our visit), Lesser Bird of ParadisePapuan HornbillBlack-browed Triller and a brief Banded Yellow Robin while others saw female Magnificent Bird of Paradise Palm Cockatoo, Slaty-chinned Longbill and Long-billed Honeyeater.
shopping in Madang

Fruit Bats in Madang
Keki Lodge sign complete with Fire-maned Bowerbird at the turning off the main road 
Jon returning to the vehicle after a birding stop
Keki Lodge
04 August 2006. We spent two hours before breakfast watching the large fruiting tree at the lodge and after breakfast spent the rest of the morning on the forest trails. After heavy rain for most of the afternoon we spent the last hour of daylight at the fruiting tree and in the adjacent forest. Birds seen during the day included a female Fire-maned Bowerbird, six female Lesser Birds of Paradise, Crinkle-collared Manucode, Ochre-collared Monarch, Sooty Thicket-Fantail, Obscure and Black Berrypeckers, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater and Forest Meliphaga. A Vulturine Parrot flew over and we heard Brown-capped Jewel-babbler but I didn’t even hear the supposedly common but very elusive Banded Yellow Robin. Spotlighting after dark produced two Papuan Boobooks.

05 August 2006. After more time at the fruiting tree, which now seemed past its best we devoted the morning to seeing Banded Yellow Robin and Brown-capped Jewel-babbler on the forest trails below the lodge. We all had good views of the robin (eventually) but only I saw the jewel-babbler, a male looking very similar to Blue and so a bit of a disappointment (but at least I saw it). Jon and Carlton walked down the main track seeing Golden Mynas and one good flock with Black Cuckoo-shrike and Magnificent Bird of Paradise while Ash saw two White-eared Catbirds in the forest. The rain held off and most of the afternoon was spent in the clearing at the lodge. During the day we saw an immature male Fire-maned Bowerbird, two male and nine female Lesser Birds of Paradise, Spot-winged MonarchYellow-legged Flycatcher and Long-billed Honeyeater. Obscure Berrypecker was seen again and some saw Red and Red-headed Myzomelas while raptors included Long-tailed BuzzardGrey-headed and Meyer’s Goshawks and Gurney’s Eagle although I only saw the first two. Sadly we did not even hear New Guinea Harpy Eagle which is sometimes recorded at this site.

forest at Keki Lodge
Adelbert Mountains
Keki Lodge
nice clearing, when its not raining
the track from the main road
butterfly at Keki
06 August 2006. On the final morning Ash found a better fruiting tree where we saw adult and immature male Fire-maned Bowerbird and six Lesser Birds of Paradise. Pete saw a White-eared Catbird and Jon a small flock of Edward’s Fig-Parrots flying over while Ash had seen a Magnificent Bird of Paradise in his fruiting tree before we arrived. We left Keki Lodge at 09.30 as it started to rain. A successful trip in so far as we’d seen the bowerbird well but we’d hoped the area might have produced a bit more than we managed to dig out but that is very much Papuan birding. We spent the next three hours on a very hairy journey down to the coast. The road was more slippery than it had been on our way up and we became stuck in the mud on one of the few uphill sections. Lots of pushing and superb driving by Ash got us through but it was touch and go and I was starting to think the only way out would be on foot. We made it to the main road and had a couple of roadside stops on the way back to the Jais Aben Resort at Madang. On the way we spent half an hour at the Gilagil River seeing Channel-billed Cuckoo and a distant frigatebird. Returning the vehicle to Lama Rentacar in town, we saw hundreds of large fruit-bats flying around in daylight. Jon learnt that they are caught for soup and for shark-bait, apparently to try to catch a shark that had killed three swimmers earlier in the year. Those inclined to swim did so in the resort pool.
forest at Keki

birding at Keki, left to right Moyang, Mike, Carlton, Pete, Ashley, Stephanie, Nick and me

one of the slipperier sections of the track (note Nick's camera was still on UK time)
it didn't look as if the weather at Keki had improved after we left

we were pleased to see this sign again
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Gilagil River, halfway back to Madang
07 August 2006. We departed from Madang on a morning flight to Tabubil via Port Moresby.