Trip report: Papua New Guinea, Paradise Untamed (Aug-Sept 2008) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods.

Papua New Guinea is a wild and untamed place, swathed in thick, lush rainforest, that is full of some of the weirdest and most awe-inspiring birds on the planet. None are more jaw-dropping than the main group of birds that New Guinea is justly famous for – the incredible Birds-of-paradise. Our tour, as with any bird tour to this wild island, focused first and foremost on these amazing birds, although we picked up a ‘few’ others along the way too (our trip total ended up over 340 species).

PNG is so full of spectacular birds that it is a tough call when it comes to naming the bird of the trip at the end, and it is quite shocking what can be overlooked at the end of a trip in the ‘bird of the trip debate’. Birds like Shovel-billed Kookaburra lurking in the shadows along the OK Ma road at Tabubil, the monstrous Southern Crowned Pigeon found at the death on our first Fly River cruise, the blue legged, ‘blood-and-snow’ covered King Bird-of-paradise seen hopping along its display perch by the Elevala River, and the male Brown Sicklebill watched calling, ‘machine-gun style’ from the Kumul bird table, all not even getting a mention at the final call. The pair of male Raggiana Birds-of-paradise seen in the full throws of their incredible display at Varirata were also worthy of note, although this spectacular show was still not voted for as the overrall showstopper of the trip, when it came down to it at the end. Similarly, a couple of dazzling male Painted Quail-thrushes that slowly walked past us in the steamy forests of Varirata right on the edge of PNG’s infamous capital, (Port Moresby), was also not considered a good enough topic of discussion at our last night farewell dinner at our seaside resort! For the guide it was tempting to call the showy pair of Papuan Whipbirds as the top trip bird, if not for looks but for the ‘grip value’ alone, as it is one of the most tricky of the New Guinea endemics to come by. In addition to that this legendary skulker somehow decided to let EVERYONE present get a great look. Wholly unexpected by all of us.

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