The Rest of Papua New Guinea: Huon Peninsula and Milne Bay Birds-of-Paradise

This is one of our new series of tours that we are calling Enigmatic Wildlife Tours (EWT). While most birding and wildlife tours focus on seeing as much as possible, very few focus on quality encounters with the least known and most charismatic wildlife on the planet. Tropical Birding’s new EWT tours focus on encounters with some of Earth’s most desirable and poorly-known species, and we shall use our time to make sure we maximize our chances of unforgettable encounters. While we do so, we shall certainly enjoy all the other wildlife around us, and not neglect all the other surrounding beauty. It’s important to mention that while we will do everything we can do to find these rare animals, nothing is guaranteed.

This trip is particularly suitable for those that have already done mainland PNG or West Papua (or both!) and are looking for a trip that will focus on some truly rarely seen birds, including some of the least-known and most spectacular birds-of-paradise on Earth. We visit remote and areas and there is some camping; luxury is not something to be expected on this tour.

The Huon Peninsula has long held a phenomenal allure for those keen on birds-of-paradise, and it is one of the last remaining wilderness areas in New Guinea. Its isolated montane forests are rich in endemics, including three incredible birds-of-paradise available nowhere else: Emperor Bird-of-paradise, Huon Astrapia, and Wahne’s Parotia. This area has been largely off limits until recently due to logistical constraints, but the recent provision of a mobile camp and the availability of charter flights has opened up this wilderness, where finally we can lay eyes on these near-mythical creatures, along with a bunch of other endemic birds! We also visit the islands of Milne Bay, home to the amazing Goldie’s Bird-of-paradise, and the less spectacular, but equally localized Curl-crested Manucode. We will also have a few other targets out here and enjoy birding the splendid coral reef islands. An extension to New Britain is also on the cards, which is well worth it if you have not done it before or if you still need stunners like the Golden Masked-Owl.


A note about safety: Parts of Papua New Guinea have become less safe to visit in recent years, including some highland areas we visited on some of our past tours (such as our Papua New Guinea: Paradise Untamed tour, which we are currently not offering). This tour entirely avoids these areas and sticks to areas that are currently considered safe to visit.

For an eye-full, check out these videos from Cornell Lab of some of the enigmas we seek on this trip:
Dancing Wahne’s Parotia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hVh-Jea3_I
Feeding Huon Astrapia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dNQAMv9-k
Calling Goldie’s Bird of Paradise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_yr2eB7_Vk

Day 1: Arrival in Lae. We arrive in Lae and spend a night in this city on the north-east coastline of New Guinea.

Day 2: Lae to Wasu. Early this morning we transfer to Wasu by charter flight. We will then be transferred from the Wasu airstrip where the great range of the Huon Mountains lies in front of us to the birding camp in the Huon Mountains. We will settle into the camp with its stand-up tents and cot beds – about as comfortable as one could expect in the wilderness that is surrounding us. Given that we are at medium-altitude the temperatures are comfortable. By this afternoon we will be birding, seeking out our first exciting Huon endemics!

Emperor Bird of Paradise males display at their lek in the top of the rain forest canopy
Emperor Bird of Paradise males display at their lek in the top of the rain forest canopy (Tim Laman)

Days 3-5: Full days birding Huon Peninsula. With our eyes on the enigmatic prizes of these highlands we will be focused on the big-3: the mornings yield our best chances for the inverted-displays of the Emperor Bird-of-paradise. Named after Wilhelm II, the last Emperor of Prussia, I think it’s a fair bit better-looking, and we hope to get great looks at these – the last BOP described to science, emphasizing the remoteness of this part of PNG. Next, we need to drive to higher-altitudes, and into the sub-montane Scheffleria-dominated scrub to look for the Huon Astrapia, a paddle-tailed beast of epic proportions. Our focus will then shift to Wahne’s Parotia. If we are very lucky our local guides will have found a display ground earlier in the season, and we may be able to approach that and hope for views of the males, maybe even doing a dance!

A male Huon Astrapia at a fruiting Shefflera tree
A male Huon Astrapia at a fruiting Shefflera tree (Tim Laman)

A Wahnes's Parotia  performs his ballerina display
A Wahnes's Parotia performs his ballerina display (Tim Laman)

Of course, while the BOPs are the main course, we will also be looking for the other montane endemics of this region including Huon Melidectes, Spangled Honeyeater, and several potential splits including the lucifer race of Cinnamon-browed (Lucifer’s) Melidectes, plumbeicollis race of Pink-spotted (Huon) fruit-Dove, amabilis race of the reclusive Spotted (Huon) Jewel-babbler, and the germana race of MacGregor’s (Huon) Bowerbird. This mountain range also holds some monotypic New-Guinea-endemic families that may be targets for some family-hunters and we’ll watching out for the somber but unique Mottled Berryhunter and Blue-capped Ifrit! Other New-Guinea-endemic families are represented by Streaked, Mid-mountain and Fan-tailed Berrypecker. Other “BOP”s on the mountain include the latipennis race of Superb BOP (or Lophorina) and Growling Riflebird. High-quality raptors include the low-density Papuan Harpy Eagle and Black-mantled Goshawk. Parrots and doves are well-represented with the odd-looking Pesquet’s (Vulturine) Parrot, Papuan and Orange-billed Lorikeet, Dusky Lory, Red-breasted and Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot, Double-eyed Fig Parrot, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Ornate Fruit Dove, and Rufescent Imperial Pigeon all present. Other great birds include Sclater’s, Brown-backed and Regent Whistler, Canary and Lemon-bellied Flyrobin, Mountain and Hook-billed Kingfishers, Papuan Sitella, Red-collared and Mountain Red-headed Myzomela, Black Monarch, Black-breasted Boatbill, Buff-faced Scrubwren, Brown-breasted Gerygone, Great Woodswallow, Blue-grey Robin and White-shouldered and Orange-crowned Fairywren.

We may find Ornate Fruit Dove on the Huon Peninsula
We may find Ornate Fruit Dove on the Huon Peninsula (Henry Cook)

Day 6: Huon to Lae. This morning we pack up and transfer back to the airstrip, where we return to Lae for another overnight, and the comforts of a city hotel.

Day 7: Lae to Port Moresby. Depending on the flight times from Lae we may have some time for some local birding at the PAU gardens or some other forest on the outskirts of Port Moresby. Night in Port Moresby.

Day 8: Port Moresby to Normanby Island. We fly to Gurney Airport in Alotau, and then transfer by vehicle to East Cape Point before boarding a small outboard boat for the two-hour transfer to Normanby Island, part of the D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago. On the crossing we might see Black and Brown Noddies, Bridled Tern, frigatebirds and boobies. We arrive at our simple guest house where we will be based the next few nights. After settling in, we will bird the nearby surroundings, and of course begin our search for our first endemic bird-of-paradise, the odd-shaped and very local Curl-crested Manucode giving its last moaning calls before the sunset, and maybe the very local Purple–bellied Lory or Yellow-billed Kingfisher. Post-dinner spotlighting may reveal Marbled Frogmouth, Barred Owlet-Nightjar and Jungle Boobook (endemic goldii taxon a potential split).

Day 9: Normanby Island. After an early breakfast we head to the higher ground above Sibonia. It’s a tough walk with some river crossings but reaching the lek-tree of Goldie’s Bird-of-Paradise with several individuals displaying 8-10m above our heads is an epic and delightful experience making the walk all worthwhile. Up here Papuan Hornbill and Trumpet Manucode are also possibilities. After a picnic lunch, we walk slowly back down to the coast, looking for Louisiade Imperial-Pigeon (formerly lumped with Pinon), Spot-winged, Black-faced, Golden and Hooded monarchs, New-Guinea Dwarf Kingfisher, Papuan Pitta, Slender-billed and Grey-headed Cuckooshrike, Island Monarch, Torrent Flyrobin, Spectacled (endemic fergussonis spp) and Pygmy Longbills, Hooded Butcherbird and Grey Crow. Another night in the homestay.

Day 10: Duchess Island/Ulumwa. After breakfast we take the dinghy and transfer to Duchess Island where we hope to catch up with Claret-breasted Fruit-Dove (local vicinis spp) as well as Nicobar Pigeon, Island (Grey) Imperial-Pigeon (local postrema spp), ‘Grey-tailed’ Rufous Fantail, the local form of Golden Whistler (which is a surefire split) and Louisiade White-eye. If the birds fall fairly easily, this island is surrounded by pristine coral reefs and offers a wonderful snorkeling spot (gear and fees not included), which will be enjoyable after our picnic lunch. Once we are done for the day, we will return to Normanby and our guest house. Other good species on our wanderings here might include Stephan’s Ground-Dove, Orange-fronted and Superb fruit-doves, Zoe and Pied imperial-pigeons, Black-capped Lory, Double-eyed Fig-parrot, Dwarf Koel, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-billed, Little and Azure kingfishers, Leaden, Satin and Shining flycatchers, Little Shrike-thrush, Black-fronted White-eye, Papuan Black Myzomela, Puff-backed Meliphaga, and Varied, Tawny-breasted and Brown-backed honeyeaters. Overnight on Normanby Island.

Black-capped Lory can be seen on Duchess Island
Black-capped Lory can be seen on Duchess Island (Nick Athanas)

Day 11: Normanby to Port Moresby. After a final night on the island paradise of the D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago we start our return journey to Port Moresby. The tour end here for except for those joining the optional New Britain extension, where the excitement continues.

OPTIONAL EXTENSION

New Britain Extension (6 days)

The extension offers many more birds to the list, most of which are regional specialties and endemics not possible on the mainland. Like many small islands in this region, large, flashy bird groups like kingfishers, pigeons and parrots are well-represented on New Britain, although there is a distinct lack of smaller songbirds. For the extension we are based in a single, high-end dive resort for the entire time – a nice antidote to the camping of the main tour, and so we stay in comfort, and make day trips to forests areas from there. On one day we will also take a boat trip out into Kimbe Bay, and search for small island specialists. We have a real chance of adding species like New Britain Kingfisher, Purple-bellied Lory, and Red-knobbed Fruit-Dove to your list, while staying in the beautiful surroundings of the resort, perched right on the edge of tranquil Kimbe Bay.

Day 1: Port Moresby. We arrive in Port Moresby, where we spend the night.

Day 2: Hoskins (New Britain). On this day we’ll fly out of Port Moresby, on mainland Papua New Guinea, to the tiny city of Hoskins, on the island of New Britain. After arrival we’ll be transferred to our extremely comfortable dive resort, perched on the edge of the beautiful Kimbe Bay. Before we even arrive at the resort, the drive in could produce our first endemics like Bismarck Munia, and the strange, blue-eyed, Bismarck Crow. After a break at the resort, where more specialties, like Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeon or New Britain Friarbird might be found, as well as Red-flanked Lorikeets, which can also be around in good numbers if any trees are bearing fruit, we will take an afternoon drive out to search for more endemics close-by. This will give us our first shot at species like Blue-eyed Cockatoo, Red-banded Flowerpecker, Long-tailed Myna and “Black-capped” Paradise-Kingfisher. The next four nights will be spent at the excellent Walindi Resort.

Days 3-5: New Britain. We will have three full days to search for a myriad endemics on the island, by taking day trips out from our comfortable resort. The order, and exact, locations visited can vary from year to year as new sites are found, so this will be decided at the time based on the best, up-to-date knowledge of where the best sightings are at the time. However, two of these days will be spent in lowland forest, where large flashy birds like kingfishers and pigeons are well-represented; we’ll be trying to track down Yellowish Imperial Pigeon (currently considered a form of Torresian), Knob-billed Fruit-Dove, and Finsch’s Imperial-Pigeon, and these sites will also offer us our best chances at Stephan’s Dove too. In terms of kingfishers, New Britain’s forests host the rare Bismarck Kingfisher, “Black-capped” Paradise-Kingfisher and New Britain Kingfisher. Other endemics we’ll be searching for include Volcano Megapode, two spectacular coucals: Pied and Violaceous; Black-tailed Monarch, Dull Flycatcher, Black-bellied Myzomela, Purple-bellied Lory, and Song Parrot. One of the most common birds on the whole island is Eclectus Parrot, and while we will have seen them on the mainland by this point of the tour, the extension is sure to offer the best views of all. If we are lucky, we might also track down one of the rarer endemics like Black Honey-Buzzard, Bismarck Imperial-Pigeon, New Britain Boobook, or Bismarck Woodswallow. On the other day, we will spend time cruising the various small islands dotting Kimbe Bay, where we can search for a host of small island specialists, sometimes known as “tramp” species. These include Island Imperial-Pigeon, Island Monarch, Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove, and Scarlet-bibbed Myzomela. However, targets like Nicobar Pigeon and Beach Kingfisher are also likely to steal the limelight here too. Recently a spot near the lodge has been delivering one of the most desired owls on Earth, the spectacular Golden Masked-owl, and while this near-mythical enigma is far from guaranteed, we will certainly be doing whatever we can to see it.

The handsome Knob-billed Fruit-Dove is a target on New Britain
The handsome Knob-billed Fruit-Dove is a target on New Britain (Sam Woods)

Day 6: Hoskins to Port Moresby. On this day we will transfer to Hoskins airport to connect with a short flight back to mainland PNG, and Port Moresby, arriving in time to connect with onward flights to Brisbane in Australia, or elsewhere.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. This tour will require long days in the fields and early starts on most days. On some portions of the trip, especially those spent in the hot lowlands, we will have some time off in the middle of the day. At higher elevations, in the Huon mountains, the birding can stay active all day, and we will have a more intense pace.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate, occasionally difficult. A lot of the birding is on dirt roads and easy logging tracks and trails, although there will also be one difficult hike, which is optional. Most of the walking in the Huon is easy, as it is done from the roads. There are some short walks into the forest to get to territories for secretive or displaying birds at various locations. One challenging walk is required on Normanby Island to reach the lekking tree of the Goldie’s Bird-of-paradise. This requires a moderate level of fitness and involves a 400m elevational gain over 3 km on trails. The general birding is very challenging, but fortunately the birds-of-paradise are usually not difficult to see. There are no long drives on this tour (most are up to around 2-3 hours), but many of the roads are unpaved and in poor condition.

CLIMATE: Hot and humid around Port Moresby, D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago and New Britain (extension). Generally pleasant in the Huon mountains, and early mornings at higher altitudes can be downright cold. Expect some rain, often heavy, at any time.

ACCOMMODATION: At Port Moresby and Lae, we’ll stay in fairly good hotels with air conditioning. New Britian is positively plush at the magical Walindi Dive Resort. All of these places have private bathrooms, hot water, and electricity. At Huon we stay in well-appointed tents (that you can stand up in) with cot beds. Generator electricity and solar ‘showers’ provide a surprisingly moderately high level of comfort considering the conditions. At Normanby we will be in a simple homestay, with thatched huts with cots. There is no electricity or running water. Cold water for showers, and bucket showers may be the only options. Very little wifi is available, even at the comfortable large town hotels.

ADVENTURE: This trip requires participants with an adventurous spirit. We are visiting some of the most remote parts of one of the wildest islands on the planet. Although physically things may be relatively easy, there may well be surprises during the travel and we will need to understand that things work differently in New Guinea to practically anywhere else on the planet. The accommodation is rustic. But the places we visit are wild, pristine and very seldom seen by anyone, including dedicated adventure naturalists.

SPECIAL NOTE FOR PNG TOURS

Even though this tour starts in Lae, we strongly recommend that our office staff book your international flight to Port Moresby, which usually departs from Brisbane, and from there to Lae. This makes it easier to book some of the internal flights and usually gives you an additional luggage allowance. We do not include the cost of internal flights in the tour price due to fluctuations in airfares and exchange rates, and possible schedule changes.

It is possible that the final itinerary for this tour will be different from the one given above. Flight schedules in Papua New Guinea are complicated and ever-changing. Most flights only operate only on certain days of the week, and the itinerary above is based entirely on those schedules. We will monitor the situation and adapt our itinerary as necessary. Flights can even change on a moment’s notice based on weather conditions (or even the whims of the airline!), so last-minute modifications are also a distinct possibility. Papua New Guinea is an underdeveloped country. While we endeavor to use the best providers possible, sub-par service (e.g. uncomfortable or poorly-maintained vehicles, fuel shortages, cancelled or redirected flights) can sometimes cause inconveniences to travelers. Every tour company running trips here has to deal with this, and we feel it is best to inform you beforehand, as it can be quite disconcerting considering the costs involved in visiting this country.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Visas on arrival in PNG can be obtained for some tourists from the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, for stays of under 30 days. There is a fee for this, payable in cash (in US Dollars). Travel requirements are subject change; we recommend double-checking entry requirements six weeks prior to the tour, or ask our office staff for help.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge staff; accommodation from night of day 1 through to night of day 10 (main tour); accommodation from night of day 1 through to night of day 5 (extension); meals from dinner on day 1 through to breakfast on day 11 (main tour), and also through to breakfast on day 6 of the extension if joining that; safe drinking water throughout; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 11 (main tour), and through to the evening of day 5 on the extension if joining that; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they are on the same flight); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary; a return charter-flight from Lae to Wasu; boat transport to get to Normanby Island and back and the to and from islands on the extension; entrance fees to all birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Roundtrip flights Port Moresby-Lae, Port-Moresby-Milne Bay, and (if taking the extension) Port Moresby-Hoskins (these will be booked for you and the cost will be added to your final balance due); optional tips to the tour leader; tips for optional luggage porters in city hotels; international flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; visa fees; departure tax if applicable; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.