Monday, 19 August 2013

WEST PAPUA Nimbokrang (15-19 August 2013)

This is part three (out of four) of a private trip to West Papua with Nick Gardner, Jon Hornbuckle, Rod Martins, Malcolm Oxlade and Nick Preston.  Royke Mananta (, made all the logistical arrangements and took us around very ably.

15 August.  We caught an early Sriwijaya flight from Manokwari to Jayapura Sentani airport where two 4WD vehicles were waiting for us.  Initially we thought that Royke needed to go into Jayapura to get our Surat Jalan, necessary to visit Nimbokrang, stamped as we were told of another group that was turned back for not having done so.  We were all set to go ahead but it transpired that the other group had not got their Surat Jalan in advance, something Royke had done on this recce visit.  We arrived at Nimbokrang in the heat of the day, seeing Lesser Black Coucal on one of our few stops on route.  We met Jamil and were shown rooms that were being built in his house.  They had breeze block walls but only a dirt floor.  Still they were better than camping in the forest as, having a vehicle remain with us (we only needed two when transporting our luggage) we were then more flexible as to where we went.  One of Jamil’s sons banged nails into the walls to order so we could put up mosquito nets although thankfully we were hardly troubled by them.  Jamil’s wife produced an excellent lunch and we were shown a nesting Papuan Frogmouth in the garden although my attempts at photographing it failed miserably.  Later, when it had cooled down a bit, we drove to an open area on the edge of town.  Here I saw Spotless and Baillon’s Crakes, Brown Lory, Papuan Spinetail, Australian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler, Crimson Finch and Hooded and Streak-headed Mannikins.

boarding at Manokwari
Crimson Finch and Streak-headed Mannikins in Nimbokrang rice-fields
Streak-headed Mannikin
not the most impressive munia
most of the 20 or so Crimson Finches were in very drab plumage

although some had a bit of colour
and one or two were stunning

an even better looking individual photographed by Jon
Nimbokrang rice-fields at dusk

16 August.  Half an hour before dawn we were driven a short way to the start of a track into the forest.  We walked a couple of miles into the forest, firstly along a logging track with old plank-runways for wheeling out tree trunks, past a forest camp used with tarpaulins by bird tour companies and then down a narrower trail to a small clearing and a fruiting tree Jamil knew.  After a short wait first a female then a male Pale-billed Sicklebill appeared in the fruiting tree, a new Bird of Paradise for me.  The fruiting tree was excellent and soon after a male and female King Birds of Paradise appeared too.  We continued towards a wetter area when what sounded like a motorbike with a very erratic engine started up nearby.  We were a bit taken aback by this noise, surely not a motorbike or a chain-saw.  Dance (Danche), Jamil’s very able assistant, told us it was a Cassowary and led us off after it but despite him imitating a lost chick in the hope it would come in the opportunity had slipped by.  Although we later saw footprints and dropping this was to be our closest encounter.  Continuing we went to an area where Blue-black Kingfisher had been seen and after some playback one flew in low to give us the once-over, landed momentarily on a branch and disappeared.  An all dark kingfisher with paler blue in the wings was all I saw.  Was it enough to count it?  Probably but certainly a case of better views needed.  Next a breeding site for Salvadori’s Fig-Parrot where a female was sat outside a nest hole and then a prolonged search of an area that was apparently the best for Victoria Crowned Pigeon but we did no’t get a sniff of one.  Very disappointing as ‘mambruk’ was my most wanted bird and being told they were not common and it was a big forest was hardly what we wanted to hear.  We cut through some more swampy forest, although it was relatively dry underfoot, and ended up back on the plank-runway when I least expected it.  Back to Jamil’s for a late lunch and another look at the nesting Papuan Frogmouth and a final session by a river on the edge of town where Shovel-billed Kingfisher was heard distantly and another Papuan Frogmouth seen.  Some nice Fruit-Doves today – Beautiful, Superb, Coronetted & Wompoo although they didn’t make up for no mambruk.  I’d also caught the cold Nick had got from Rod in the Arfaks, Rod having caught it on the plane from Jakarta.

male Pale-billed Sicklebill in the fruiting tree, light enough for a video but not normal digiscoping

the poor light was not a problem for Jon who took these images of the female

Beautiful Fruit-Dove in the same fruiting tree, another photo of Jon's
female Salvadori's Fig-Parrot at nest hole in broken trunk to right, against the light and residual moisture not helping  
Coconut Lorikeet, a recent split from Rainbow.  Photo by Jon
the nesting Papuan Frogmouth in Jamil';s garden.  Much better luck with photography today.  Leaving the camera in the sun cleared the moisture and although still somewhat against the light it wasn't too bright
backing off as far as I could just about got all of the bird in shot

the closer one sees it the more reptilian it appears
17 August.  An even earlier start had us walking down the old plank-runways and at the forest camp half an hour before first light.  We were hoping for Papuan Hawk-Owl which Frank Lambert had heard each evening while in residence with his Birdtour Asia group.  We had no success although light drizzle for part of the time probably didn’t help.  As it was starting to get light we headed for the Blue-black Kingfishers hearing a fairly close Hook-billed on the way which Nick Preston saw while I was trying to keep up with the others.  Blue-black gave better flight views to most of us but remained disappointing.  The morning was then similar to yesterday’s but without hearing a cassowary.  A male Salvadori’s Fig-Parrot was guarding the nest hole and another area of forest was searched without finding mambruk.  A conversation with Dance revealed that he thought an area in the foothills known as km 8 was probably the best site for it – somewhere we were going the next day.  We returned for another excellent late lunch and after a bit of a rest in the heat of the day Dance took us back towards the river on the edge of town - Jamil was feeling the pace after an early start!  We went to a slightly different area from that visited the previous day and here Dance came into his own by locating a silent sitting Shovel-billed Kingfisher, brilliant!  The 18 species I recorded also included a superb Buff-faced Pygmy-Parrot and male Golden Monarch.

male Salvadori's Fig-Parrot at nest hole
taken through Royke's telescope
with no moisture issues
Buff-faced Pygmy-Parrot taken by Royke
Cassowary footprint, almost a size 11
18 August.  D day in our quest for mambruk, although Jon had seen one on his previous trip and was more interested in brush-turkeys.  We left Jamil’s house before dawn and drove presumably 8 kms along a road into the foothills.  I was very pleased to see Dance following on his motorbike.  We walked fairly quickly into the rolling hills for a couple of kms before we came to a brush-turkey mound.  Jon and Royke (who it turned out had also seen mambruk previously) found a view point overlooking the mound and concealed themselves while Jamil and Dance led the rest of us several hundred metres further on.  My cold had increased its intensity and feeling the day might develop into a route march I’d left my telescope (with unreliable mount) behind, after all Royke always carried his.  Big mistake as it was only after we’d left Jon that I realised Royke had stayed too, and more importantly so had his telescope.  Jamil and Royke left the rest of us sitting on a log while they went to try and find mambruk.  A tense time ensued until rather casually Dance materialised and indicated that we should follow him as he’d seen three on the forest floor.  We crept after him and after less than ten minutes a Victoria Crowned Pigeon exploded off the forest floor and flew up into a tree about 75m away.  It landed out of my direct sight but we edged forward a bit and were soon all looking at it as it stood there looking back.  A long-term ambition achieved for although I’d seen the two other Crowned Pigeons this was to my mind the best Goura with its patterned crest and also the only one I’d seen in zoo collections.  It also featured in the Brooke Bond Tropical Birds set of tea cards I’d collected as a child (I’ve still four of the fifty to see).  My notebook said “flushed high up into a tree and in full view for 30 minutes during which time it flew to a second tree about 50m away.  Crest amazing, quite thin but very long with grey sub-terminal band and white tips.  It pumped its tail slowly when agitated and walked a few paces along the thick branch it had landed on.  Its tail tip was less extensively pale than illustrated.  Red eye, black mask, small head and neck and longish black bill.  Sturdy long greyish legs.  Extensive bright maroon breast and pale grey coverts.  Brilliant, even without a telescope and no images.  A second bird had also flushed up although I only got a poor flight view of this one.  We rejoined Jon and Royke who had been successful with the Brown-collared Brush-Turkey (fortunately something I’d seen on my previous trip) and headed back although some trawling by Nick Gardner elicited a response from another Blue-Black Kingfisher and this one, with Dance’s help, most of us got a decent perched view of.  Elated we returned to Jamil’s house for a late lunch (and me another fix of nesting Papuan Frogmouth) and when it cooled down a bit in the afternoon ventured back to a similar area to bird along the road.  By the time we returned and with uncertain weather we decided not to return to the forest camp to look for Papua Hawk-Owl.  Birds seen included Ornate Fruit-Dove, Brown Lory, Dwarf Koel, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra and Lesser Bird-of-Paradise.

Victoria Crowned Pigeon flushed up at km 8
not having a telescope was a big disappointment.  It appears headless facing left in these images although the pale grey covert bar is clear
Victoria Crowned Pigeon with chick at Chester Zoo (taken July 2010)
One of the best pages in Brooke Bond's Tropical Birds Album.  I collected these tea cards in 1961, little did I imagine then that I would get to see most of them.
another session with Jamil's frogmouth
I was being watched carefully ...
19 August.  Our last day at Nimbokrang would be along the Jalan Korea (Korean Road).  It was here in 1993 that Nick and I had camped in a clearing vacated by a logging camp.  Birding had been very hard work and being based at Jamil’s house with transport to take us to the forest was infinitely more pleasant (and successful).  I was interested to see if I recognised anything but I didn’t, even the road seemed narrower and less glaringly white than I remembered – there was even grass growing in the centre of it in some places.  Jamil warned us that the forest was now quite badly degraded and sadly it was as we saw no tall trees near the road at all.  The road was quite badly degraded too and not passable by 4WD so Jamil arranged for a fleet of motorbikes to take us down the road.  We met them at its start just as it was getting light.  The poor state of the road was soon apparent with two bridges down which would have been impassable even for a 4WD.  An entertaining morning followed although in hindsight we might have been better returning to the forest camp as bird activity very soon quietened down as the day quickly heated up.  I was somewhat apprehensive as I’d fallen off the last time I’d been a passenger on a motorbike – in Vietnam in 1997.  We had no mishaps but I didn’t push my luck by taking my telescope, using Royke's for some limited digiscoping.  Best birds seen were Pink-spotted and Dwarf Fruit-Doves, a flock of 9 Dusky Lorys flying over, Papuan Hornbill, Papuan Spinetail, Lowland Peltops and Lesser Bird-of-Paradise.  We returned to Jamil’s house for an early lunch, packed our things into the 4WDs (the second one having returned), said our goodbye’s and headed back towards Sentani looking for suitable grasslands.  Our drivers refused to drive down a road to best looking area as apparently aggressive drunks had been encountered there previously.  We felt that a visit on a Monday afternoon was likely to be pretty safe and walked about a mile along the road to the edge of a village.  The few people we encountered along the road were friendly and sober.  We also saw the hoped for Grand Mannikins along with Hooded and Chestnut-breasted, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird and Brown Quail.  In Sentani we checked into the Hotel Ratna Indah and ate in a restaurant nearby that Nick thought we might have frequented on our previous visit.  At Royke’s request they got us a Magnum each – mine was definitely celebrating mambruk.

a more enclosed Jalan Korea than I remembered with  L-R Malcolm, Jon and Rod
bikes and birders on Jalan Korea - Nick P and Rod going by on the back of bikes, Malcolm in the road, Nick G obscured and Jon emerging from the forest 
middle distance L-R Nick P, Jamil and Nick G, Malcolm in foreground
Rod, Royke, Malcolm, Dance and Nick P on Jalan Korea
Eclectus Parrot

Pinon Imperial Pigeon, flight shot by Jon
showing undertail pattern

a smart bird when seen well
female Boyer's Cuckoo-Shrike
a corner of Lake Sentani and the Cyclops Mountains
a big lake with very little decent habitat that we could see along its shores
Chestnut-breasted Mannikins near Lake Sentani
one of the more colourful munias
but not easy to get images of as the grass stems moved around in the wind
something Royke managed much better than I did
a village along the edge of Lake Sentani 

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