Trip report: Papua New Guinea (including New Britain Extension), Paradise Untamed (July-August 2010) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods.

Papua New Guinea is known as the “land of the unexpected”, and their national saying is “expect the unexpected”. For good, and bad, we experienced some examples of this during this successful tour on this resource-rich island, and ammased a great trip list of 407 species. Some of what we saw was very much expected: a slew of species from arguably the most spectacular bird family on the planet, the outrageous birds-of-paradise. We picked up 24 species of birds-of-paradise on the tour, with the majority being males, some of which were seen in full, jaw-dropping display mode! The flurry of displaying male Greater Birds-of-paradise during a late afternoon show in the steamy lowland jungle near Kiunga standing out, as did the wonderful performance put on by PNG’s national bird, the Raggiana Bird-of-paradise near the nation’s capital, at Varirata NP. Getting a bunch of BOPs was expected, even in the land of the unexpected. However, on only our third day in the country watching a tree full of BOPs, of NINE different species (and 3 sicklebill species at one time in the same tree) was very much unexpected even in New Guinea. All of this happened right in the garden of our fancy highland lodge, Ambua. Also unexpected was a recent development in the lowland jungle surrounding Kwatu Lodge: a genuine stake out for the near mythical New Guinea Flightless Rail! We watched on as one of these hulking rails came to feed in a sago swamp during the late afternoon, parading for us all. Something I am personally still reeling from!

PNG is paradise for kingfishers too, and we always expect a good haul of these colorful species on this tour, although 18 kingfisher species was remarkable, including 5 different Paradise-kingfishers! The standouts among this Technicolor crowd were the odd Shovel-billed Kookaburra found nesting in the mining town of Tabubil; the Brown-headed Paradise-kingfisher that glowed red in the forest understorey at Varirata NP; and 3 Bismarck endemic species on New Britain: Black-capped Paradise-kingfisher seen near the massive megapode colony at Pokili, a pair of frisky New Britain Kingfishers on our final afternoon at Garu; and a fine Bismarck Kingfisher lurking alongside a forest stream at Tove. Other groups we experienced a good number of included fantails (10 species); 9 monarch species; 14 Australian Robins; 30 types of pigeon/dove including many colorful fruit-doves like Beautiful on the mainland and Knob-billed on New Britain, in addition to the monstrous Southern Crowned Pigeon on the banks of the Ketu River, and “shackled” Nicobar Pigeons on a small islet in Kimbe Bay; 27 parrot species with all three fig-parrots seen perched and all 4 tiger-parrots seen; 17 species of whistler including a family of the bizarre Wattled Ploughbill at Kumul, and the vivid Dwarf Whistler or Goldenface at Varirata NP; and 12 cuckoos including Long-billed Cuckoo, and Dwarf and White-crowned Koels.

Other avian gems we were treated to included several audacious male Flame Bowerbirds passing over the infamous knoll in Kiunga; a good set of scarce raptors including the hulking New Guinea Harpy Eagle that flapped past us at the Tari Gap, with a close passby of Meyer’s Goshawk too there the next day, a couple of Gurney’s Eagle sightings, and even a flyby Doria’s Hawk at Tabubil all on the mainland, and a group of 3 Black Honey Buzzards that glided overhead on New Britain; just visiting the huge Volcano Megapode colony at Pokili on New Britain was a standout experience as literally hundreds of birds were flushed up dramatically from the colony as we strolled through the forest and then seen peering down at us below!

At the end of it all we had the tough task of trying to pick out a top five from this delectable set of unique birds, and not surprisingly there were quite a few choices from the group. Indeed, 22 different birds were picked by the group including a few BOPs of course: King-of-Saxony BOP; Brown Sicklebill, Greater BOP, Raggiana BOP, Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, Superb BOP, Lawe’s Parotia, and King BOP all being picked; along with Gray-headed Goshawk; Marbled and Papuan Frogmouths; Barred and Feline Owlet-Nightjars; Moustached Treeswift; Yellow-billed Kingfisher; Shovel-billed Kookaburra; Blyth’s Hornbill; New Guinea Flightless Rail (my personal pick!); Southern Crowned Pigeon; Orange-fronted Fruit-Dove; Mountain Peltops; and Orange-breasted Fig-Parrot.

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