Monday 21 August 2006

PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2006: Mainly Manus (15-21 August)

This is the final blog recounting a private trip the late and greatly missed Jon Hornbuckle arranged to Papua New Guinea in summer 2006. Jon, Nick Preston and I were staying on after the trip, Jon to lead a Naturetrek group and Nick and I to visit Manus. This account is based on my rather inadequate notes and sometimes vague memories enhanced by Nick. The photos are mostly Nick’s too.

15 August 2006. Jon, Nick and I were back at the airport to meet the Naturtrek group before returning to the Granville Motel to allow them to drop bags and have a quick pit stop. We then drove to Varirata seeing a male and two female Raggiana Birds of Paradise at the lek. It was a bit late and not much was happening. We returned to the main clearing where Yellow-billed and Brown-headed Paradise Kingfishers performed but it was otherwise rather quiet. It was a large group and best split so Nick and I were called into action, our hopes of birding on our own had always been a long shot. Nick and I were keen to see how the Chestnut-backed Jewel-Babbler nest was doing so Jon sent half the group with us and took the rest on a different trail. We felt under pressure to find some good birds and the jewel-babblers more than fitted the bill, or would have if we’d seen them but the nest was deserted. The young had been a modest size, was 20 days long enough for them to have fledged? We certainly hoped so. We continued birding along the trail, heard a Chestnut-backed Jewel-Babbler but it frustratingly failed to cross the trail for us. It was really very quiet and we struggled to find much else with two Rusty Mouse Warblers and two brief Wallace’s Fairy Wrens (for some of us) the best we managed. The only consolation for those we were guiding was that Jon’s group fared no better.

16 August 2006. Jon’s group were up early and returned to Varirata. We said our goodbyes, had a leisurely breakfast and made our way to the airport. Our flight to Manus stopped for an hour at Kavieng on New Ireland and hanging around outside the terminal building saw two Hunstein’s Manakins. We landed at Manus an hour later and looked around for the Harbourside Hotel van which we were expecting to meet us. Following Ian Burrow’s advice I’d phoned the Harbourside Hotel in Lorengau when we’d been in Port Moresby to give them our arrival time, make a reservation and ask if their driver Richard would contact Aron Joseph in Rossun Village on our behalf. The van arrived but it didn’tt seem as if we were expected, perhaps the driver wasn’t Richard? At the hotel it seemed our booking hadn’t been passed on which rather set us back. We dumped our bags in a rather posh room (a cheaper one would be available for the following nights) and explained to reception what we wanted. Richard came round and agreed to take us up to Rossun to find Aron. This he did and after asking in the village and at his house we finally tracked him down further up the road. He didn’t seem too pleased that we’d just turned up unannounced but when we explained that it wasn’t intentional and our request had not been passed on by the hotel he seemed to settle down a bit. He agreed to guide us the following morning and made arrangements with Richard. We then birded along the road back towards Lorengau seeing Island Imperial Pigeon, an excellent Meek’s Pygmy Parrot, two far form excellent Manus Friarbirds, three Manus Cuckoo-Shrikes and a Black-headed White-eye. Tomorrow would hopefully be the day ...

17 August 2006. Richard drove us to Rossun where we met Aron and his friend Timothy Kepo. Apparently we might have to go onto Timothy’s property to look for Superb Pitta and of course that meant more access fees. We set off along narrow trails and Aron soon started whistling an imitation of the pitta’s call. We continued in what sometimes appeared to be somewhat haphazard fashion crossing creeks and streams. After almost two hours with no response at all my hopes were sinking towards an all-time low and I was becoming increasingly wound up by Aron’s whistling. I wasn’t sure I could stand three days of it although if that was what it took we’d do it. With such defeatist thoughts running through my mind a bird responded from a little way ahead. We very tensely headed in its direction but the skies opened and we were hit be an intense downpour on the way. What rubbish timing. We sheltered under umbrellas for what seemed an age, but was probably less than thirty minutes, until the storm passed over and the rain drops from the trees lessened. Thankfully the pitta started calling again and it was game on. A tense but thankfully fairly short ‘tape’ duel ensued before we had good views of two birds, presumably a pair, perched and flying 2-4m in the lower canopy. Brilliant and rarely have I been so relieved. We heard back to Rossun. We also saw Variable Kingfisher, Superb Fruit Dove, Admiralty Pied Monarchs, Bismark Golden Whistler and what we assumed were two Mayr’s amongst the smaller White-rumped Swiftlets. We returned to Lorengau and wandered around a rather uninspiring town before returning to Rossun where we’d been invited for an evening meal by Aron’s wife Susan. We then looked around the village for Manus Boobook but didn’t even hear one despite being told they often visited trees in the village early in the evening.
looking for Superb Pitta at Rossun
after we'd seen it
one of many streams we crossed
Aron's son starting to show off
we wouldn't have known where to start looking had we been on our own
18 August 2006. We were back at Rossun before dawn and heard Manus Boobook but it didn’t show. We had breakfast at Susan’s before wandering back to Lorengau seeing Manus Friarbird on the way. There we arranged a boat trip that afternoon to Rarah, a small wooded island in the bay and within the reef a little more than a km off-shore. It was an easy option to see a couple of small island specialities. Anything more required visiting Tong, over 50km away across open ocean and definitely more adventurous (and expensive) than our faint hearts we were prepared for. It took about 20 minutes to reach Rarah Island and not much longer to walk around it. We soon saw Mackinley’s Cuckoo Dove, Beach Kingfisher, Island Monarch, Rainbow Lorikeet and over 20 Island Imperial Pigeons on the island before we were hit by another ferocious storm. We found a ‘hut’ with a canvas roof to shelter in but the wind picked up so much we feared it might blow away. Watching water pouring off it we were concerned that our boat might not be able to return for us but as quickly as the storm had arrived it moved on and things quietened down. We saw Brown Noddy and Black-naped Tern between Rarah and Lorengau to finish off a rather more relaxing day.
me in Rossun village with Aron's children
Aron, Susan and family with Nick, who's camera was on UK time
more relations
view north from Rossun
vines on Rarah Island
they made the island very dark 
19 August 2006. We had another whole day on Manus and decided we’d like to go back and look for the Superb Pittas again. We returned to Rossun and walked directly to the area we had seen the pittas previously. It was very nice to be completely relaxed about it, and not taking a roundabout route we arrived at much the same area in about half an hour. The pittas responded and we saw one well and the other only in flight. Brilliant. Otherwise it was rather quiet and we slowly made our way back to Lorengau. The better birds seen were an excellent Crested Baza, Stephan’s Dove, Island Imperial Pigeon, two Meek’s Pygmy Parrots, Manus Cuckoo-shrike and Bismark Golden Whistler while we heard another Variable Kingfisher. Back in town we saw Crested and Black-naped Terns offshore and from the hotel I bought some small carved wooden animals - a pig for Megan, dolphins for Nessa, sharks for Josh and a ray for me. We bumped into Aron in town and for some reason, presumably still euphoric with the pitta, I gave him a tip for helping us despite our having one owling session left and so more opportunities to do so. Bad move as it happened as when we picked him up that evening he was very drunk. I immediately wished I’d given the tip to Susan. In Rossun Aron was an embarrassment to his family and his sister was soon rustled up to help us look for the boobook. Despite her best efforts, and they were considerable, we only heard one. Disappointing as we’d made quite a bit of effort for it but most boobooks look the same anyway and the pitta, which we had seen it well twice, was the reason we came to Manus.
Superb Pitta at Rossun (photos taken by Jon Hornbuckle on one of his visits)
an impressive species

20 August 2006. A lazy morning with Crested and Black-naped Terns offshore and eight very distant Island Imperial Pigeons flying over the sea. In town we saw over 100 Uniform and two White-rumped Swiftlets, Moustached Tree-Swift and Rainbow Bee-eater. Richard took us back to the airport where we saw two Pacific Reef Herons, an Oriental Pratincole, a likely Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (views not good enough to rule out Pectoral) and 27 Pacific Golden Plovers. We had an hour on the ground at Kavieng but were not allowed to wait outside the terminal building and just saw a Willie Wagtail. We were back in Port Moresby early afternoon and in the Granville Motel’s grounds and nearby we saw a Papuan Marsh Harrier, Sacred Kingfisher, eleven Rainbow Bee-eaters, White-breasted Wood Swallow, Rufous-banded Honeyeater and Figbird.
Megan's pig
my Ray
21 August 2006. We arranged a taxi to take us back to the Pacific Adventists University outside Port Moresby for our last morning’s birding in PNG. We saw nearly 50 species during our visit including two Swinhoe’s Snipe (my 39th and final new bird of the trip), a Grey Teal, the two roosting Papuan Frogmouths, Green Pygmy Goose, Rufous Night Heron, Buff-banded Rail and at least four Fawn-breasted Bowerbirds and a bower. A very enjoyable end to a very enjoyable trip. We returned to Port Moresby and late afternoon departed to Singapore.

Fawn-breasted Bowerbird's bower, supporting the Green Party
Papuan Frogmouth at PAU

Swinhoe's Snipe at PAU

22 August 2006. We changed planes in Singapore and returned to Heathrow stopping for an hour’s daylight refuelling in Bahrain. There we saw Laughing and what appeared to be Collared Doves, Indian House Crow and House Sparrow, ideal for easing us back into local British birding …

Many thanks to the late Jon Hornbuckle for arranging the trip and inviting us along. Ashley Banwell found some great birds and drove us up to Keki and back on a dreadful track while Pete Gammage, Carlton Collier and Mike and Stephanie Brown were great company. Greatest thanks to long time travelling companion Nick Preston who didn’t take much persuading to come on the trip and stay on to visit Manus.

[blogged December 2018/January 2019]

Monday 14 August 2006

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