Sunday 27 June 2004

PAPUA NEW GUINEA June 2004 (Part 3: Elevala and Varirata)

PAPUA NEW GUINEA June 2004 (Part 3: Elevala and Varirata)

This blog is based on notebook entries, unreliable memories and a trip report of Jon Hornbuckle's.  I took very few photographs on this trip and many of the views and all the birds used here are from a compilation CD put together by Mike Watson.  Many thanks to Jon, Mike, Janos Olah, Tamas Zalai and David and Martin Hunnybun for making this such an enjoyable trip and helping me onto some of the more secretive species even if sometimes directions started off in Hungarian - Janos and Tamas were so much sharper than me.

20 June 2004.  Before it was getting light we loaded into a motorised dug-out to head up the Fly River.  It was considered too early to stop at a Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise display tree and delay our progress so we continued to the Elevala River and Ikame Lodge getting good views of three Southern Crowned Pigeons on the way.  Very impressive.  The weather was good for once and lots of pigeons were seen flying over and perched beside the river, notably 200 Collared Imperials and 250 Papuan Mountain Pigeons – and no mountains in sight.  We also saw 12 Palm Cockatoos, 2 Greater Streaked Lorys and 40 Blyth’s Hornbills. After dropping our bags at Samuel’s lodge, we walked to a King Bird of Paradise display tree where we watched a displaying male for over half an hour.  Not seeing a male King BoP was my biggest disappointment in Irian Jaya and it was one of my most wanted birds for this trip.  I was not a bit disappointed with it, it was absolutely superb.  Around Ikame lodge we also saw Common Paradise-Kingfisher, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra and Blue Jewel-babbler but only Samuel Janos and Tamas saw a Southern Cassowary scuttling away, I was just a few paces too far behind them.  We again heard Hook-billed Kingfisher at dusk, this was becoming really very frustrating although this one did not sound that close.  We had an early night after a very basic meal and nothing was calling during the night to tempt us out, or we slept too soundly to hear anything.
one of the most outrageous inhabitants of New Guinea's lowland forest
travelling up the Fly River

on the narrower Elevala River

Western Crowned Pigeon from the river
the riverbank at Ekame Lodge
Tamas disembarking, Janos (hidden) and Jon about to
Ekame Lodge
Tamas at Ekame Lodge, it was as primitive as it looked but in such a brilliant setting who cared?
my best effort at King Bird of Paradise
what King BoP really looks like
an absolutely amazing bird, even with its green extended tail feather discs out of picture
Red, white and blue.  Having only seen a female, nice as it was, in Irian Jaya this was perhaps my most wanted bird of the trip.  It did not disappoint!
21 June 2004.  A Papuan Nightjar was seen at dawn and after a decent breakfast we cruised upstream for 90 min seeing 7 species of Fruit-Dove including Dwarf, White-bellied Pitohui, and fly-over male and female Flame Bowerbird and male and two female Twelve-wired Birds of Paradise.  Three hours inside the forest was frustrating with Hooded Pitta and Blue Jewel Babbler heard, a responsive Black-sided Robin that I never got a clear view of and a Black-billed Brush-Turkey seen by Martin and Mike only.  The return boat journey to Kiunga was a little disappointing, although we did see a Yellow-billed Kingfisher (new for me) and no fewer than 17 Channel-billed Cuckoos including 12 flying to roost.  We docked by a small tributary at Kiunga as the sun was setting and a Hook-billed Kingfisher mocked us from the opposite riverbank.  Only those of us using sulphur powder, including me, returned from Ikame chigger-free, as became evident back at the Kiunga Guest House.

view of the river from Ekame Lodge, note the low water level
leaving Ekame for the morning
loading up
Samuel Kepuknai pushing us off for a morning on the river.  Plenty of sticky mud to negotiate
on the river
idyllic & tranquil
female Papuan Hornbill
male Papuan Hornbill
22 June 2004.  Another early start saw us back on the Fly River as it was getting light and motoring 20 minutes upstream to the Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise display tree we had passed without stopping two days earlier.  Here after a short wait we were treated to a brilliant performance from a solitary male but sadly no females appeared to be watching, I’m sure they would have been impressed.  We had good views of a White-bellied Thicket-Fantail and spent two hours chasing a calling Hook-billed Kingfisher before Samuel finally tracked it down, although it appeared that he spent some of the time sleeping!  We had prolonged scope views and were not disappointed, another stunning bird.  We returned to Kiunga and walked around the airstrip looking unsuccessfully for munias.  We finished the day on the Gre Dringas Road but this was no more successful with Greater Streaked Lory and Golden Cuckoo-Shrike the most notable sightings.
Nine-wired Bird of Paradise?
no, Ten-wired BoP
any advance on eleven?  The incomparable Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise.  Another BoP that I'd only seen a female of in Irian Jaya.  Females are good but the males are something else again.
male Golden Cuckoo Shrike.  This would be a star bird in most other places but in PNG hardly gets a look in
Samuel hard at it, diligently searching for Hook-billed Kingfisher - a bird we'd heard almost daily in the lowlands (usually at dawn and dusk), and often at close range, but hadn't managed to see.
he found one though, and what a stunning bird it was and the perfect finish to a very enjoyable time on the river
23 June 2004.  We returned to Km 17 for our final morning where a party of four superb Wallace’s Fairy-Wrens were the highlight.  I also saw Long-billed Cuckoo and Greater Bird of Paradise.  We checked in at Kiunga Airport where a crowd had gathered to meet some arriving dignitary although I was more interested in three Australian Pratincoles on the runway.  We flew back to Port Moresby via Daru on the south coast.  This seemed a good opportunity to look for Spangled Kookaburra but refuelling was quicker than scheduled and it was a desperate dash to get back on board before the plane left without us – both engines were at full revs suggesting they meant business!  Four more Australian Pratincoles were all I saw at Daru and with flights only operating twice a week not something I wanted to get stuck for.  Most of the journey back to Port Moresby was over almost continuous unbroken forest which was very encouraging.  Back at POM, we proceeded straight to the Pacific Adventist’s University (PAU) grounds just outside town where we were escorted round by Mike Tarburton, an Australian ex-pat who taught there.  He showed us a good selection of Australian water-birds like Pied Heron, Green Pygmy-Goose, Wandering Whistling-Duck and Comb-crested Jacana but the land birds were of greater interest to me.  They included two roosting Papuan Frogmouths, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Black-backed Butcherbird, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird (and bower), Rufous-banded Honeyeater, Green Figbird, and Grey-headed and Chestnut-breasted Munias.  The ambience was somewhat dented by Mike Tarburton’s tales of local violence, he himself having been violently robbed at gunpoint in Varirata National Park.  Driving to our hotel in Port Moresby the amount of razor-wire, high-fenced compounds and armed guards added weight to a feeling of unease.  It was certainly not somewhere to venture out after dark.

Kiunga Guest House
outside Kiunga Airport
awaiting the arrival of a local dignitory

a reception provided by the local boy band

best dresses all around although I fear we rather let the show down

refuelling at Daru, we almost missed the flight
reefs and islands off the south coast
approaching Port Moresby
Pacific Adventists University grounds
Night Heron
Green Pygmy Goose
Comb-crested Jacana
two roosting Papuan Frogmouths, just about visible on the horizontal branch
an early attempt, by me, at digiscoping.  fortunately I've improved a lot!
this is what they really look like
Rainbow Bee-eater at PAU
Hooded Butcherbird
Singing Starling
Brown Oriole, something of an anomaly in that where New Guinea birds are usually more colourful than similar species elsewhere their oriole is one of the dullest anywhere
Fawn-breasted Bowerbird
and bower, this one only likes green

Grey-headed Munia
24 June 2004.  We left Port Moresby before dawn with local guide and fixer Daniel to make sure we were OK and headed for Varirata National Park, almost two hours drive away, picking up Mike Tarburton on the way.  Excellent views of a superb Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher in the main clearing was the ideal start and we also saw Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Crested, Rusty and Hooded Pitohuis, Papuan Drongo, Dwarf Whistler, Chestnut-bellied Fantail, Spot-winged Monarch, Crinkle-collared Manucode and females of Eastern (Magnificent) Riflebird, Ragiana and Magnificent Birds of Paradise.  I flushed a Cinnamon Ground-Dove from the path and briefly saw a Black-billed Brush Turkey as it walked away but again only heard Chestnut-backed Jewel-Babbler.  An attempt to find Painted Quail-Thrush was unsuccessful although not playing the right recording did not help.  Low cloud forced us to leave the park in the late afternoon to look for Grand Munias at the Kukoda Monument, but without success.  Dropping Mike back at PAU we saw again a few of the birds seen there yesterday, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird being the most notable.  A very enjoyable day even if there were a few disappointments along the way.
Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher at Varirata, a superb bird somewhat let down by its name.  Is brown-headed really the best descriptor for such a stunning bird
25 June 2004.  We left early for Varirata arriving just before dawn, hearing a distant Barred Owlet-Nightjar below the entrance gate in the rain.  Dave, Martin & I walked one of the trails but only saw Pale-billed Scrub-Wren and a couple of monarchs.  We reluctantly left Varirata to return to PAU but our delaying was almost our undoing as the ford at the start of the entrance road was in full flood and we only just got the minibus back across it.  Spotted Whistling-Duck and Buff-banded Rail were the highlights at PAU where most of the time was spent sheltering from the rain.

26 June 2004.  There was no let up in the rain and the day was a complete write-off.  Fortunately our day at Varirata had been a good one but frustrating not to get a couple more like it, although perhaps the birds knew what was coming and had been particularly active for us then?  It was a disappointing finish to an otherwise very enjoyable trip although Mike and Janos were going on to Manus for a few days to look for Superb Pitta.  That was something I wished I was doing too but I’d been fortunate to get the time off work as it was, maybe next time ...
Jon, Martin, Janos, Mike, Tamas, Dave and me relaxing at the end of a very enjoyable trip
27 June 2004.  It was still raining hard when we flew out of the country on the last morning.  Another couple of hours outside Cairns Airport in much nice weather produced 7 Black-fronted Dotterel and 20 Straw-necked Ibis with 2 House Crows seen in Singapore.  It had been a very enjoyable trip with many of my target species seen (King, King of Saxony, Blue and 12-wired Birds of Paradise, Carola’s Parotia, Southern Crowned Pigeon, Hook-billed, Shovel-billed, Yellow-billed and Mountian Kingfishers, Lesser Melampitta, Spotted Jewel Babbler and Mountain and Feline Owlet-Nightjars).  Very many thanks to Jon Hornbuckle for inviting me along and he, Dave and Martin Hunnybun, Janos Olah, Mike Watson and Tamas Zalai for being such good companions.  Thanks too for Mike for putting together a compilation CD of photos, none of which I took but many of which I’ve included in this blog.
leaving Port Moresby
... still raining
[blogged November 2013]