West Papua: Paradise Regained

The island of New Guinea has long been held with fascination among birders, for it holds the majority of arguably the world’s most dramatic bird family; the birds-of-paradise. Included among the possibilities on this tour of the western (Indonesian) side of the island are Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise, Red Bird-of-Paradise, King Bird-of-Paradise, Splendid Astrapia, Magnificent Bird-of-paradise, and Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise. The number of species we are likely to see from this remarkable family is expected to reach into the 20s. Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise has been named by none other than Sir David Attenborough as his favorite world bird, and one glimpse at an image of this stunner has caused many birders to immediately add this destination onto their personal bucket list.



While birds-of-paradise will be hard to displace from center stage, the island of New Guinea, and West Papua, holds plenty of other birds that are aptly described by adjectives like spectacular, gorgeous, and outstanding, such as Golden Cuckooshrike, Goldenface, Golden Monarch, MacGregor’s Honeyeater (long thought to be a bird-of-paradise), Papuan Pitta, Biak Paradise-Kingfisher, Western Crowned Pigeon (one of the World’s largest pigeons), and a legion of parrots to support all of these. Even birders that have visited the other half of the island, Papua New Guinea (PNG), look at the list of birds on this tour with envy, and a need to return to ‘paradise’. With more than 300 species of island-endemic birds, West Papua outranks PNG in terms of New Guinea endemics. Any birder is sure to leave with a healthy list of lifers, and many spectacular ones among then. This tour covers a range of habitats, from montane cloud-forests, to tropical lowland forests, and secondary habitats too.

Good from every angle - Wilson's
Good from every angle - Wilson's "BOP" (Keith Barnes)

New infrastructure on Waigeo, and the opening of new guesthouses and construction of new roads in the Arfaks and Snow Mountains now means that camping is no longer required on this tour. Therefore, a destination that was previously very difficult and tough to visit is now comparatively much easier and open to a wide range of birders who would formerly have been reticent to go.

Day 1: Arrival in Sorong (Indonesia). After arrival in Sorong, you’ll be transferred to a hotel in the city.

Day 2: Sorong to the Arfak Mountains. We may have a chance to do some early morning birding near Sorong, where we will encounter our first birds-of-paradise and perhaps a fruit-dove or two. After a flight to Manokwari and a jeep drive, we will arrive at what is arguably the premier birding site on this side of New Guinea, the Arfak Mountains, situated on the northeast of the Bird’s Head Peninsula. Four nights will be spent at a guesthouse at an elevation of 5250ft/1600m, and we will bird from this point upwards to 6560ft/2000m.

Sometimes extreme close ups are possible of
Sometimes extreme close ups are possible of "Mag BOP" at purpose built blinds (Keith Barnes)

Days 3-5: The Arfak Mountains. With so much to see here, we will spend three full days birding the various forests, gardens and other secondary habitats that flank the mountains, and hold many of the tour’s standout birds. While in the Arfaks, we will visit the display grounds of the Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise, the display area of the Western Parotia, and the bower of the Vogelkop Bowerbird, one of the great architects of the bird world, with an extraordinarily large and decorative bower that far exceeds the dour image of the bird itself! While these may arguably be the most famous targets in the mountains, the list of other birds is both long, and mouthwatering: Superb, Bird-of-paradise, Long-tailed Paradigalla, and Black-billed Sicklebills, and that’s just the birds-of-paradise.

The incredible Feline Owlet-Nightjar is sometimes found during the daytime
The incredible Feline Owlet-Nightjar is sometimes found during the daytime (Keith Barnes)

Although some of these require long walks on tricky trails. Other possibilities include the elusive Spotted Jewel-Babbler, Papuan Treecreeper, Papuan Logrunner, Mottled Berryhunter (a monotypic endemic family), Blue-collared Parrot, the rare New Guinea Harpy Eagle, Grey and Green-backed Robins, Perplexing Scrubwren, Arfak and Ornate Melidectes, and if we are extremely lucky Wattled Brush-Turkey. The nights will be spent at a community guesthouse. Sometimes owlet-nightjars can be found by day, but failing that we will venture out at night in search of both Mountain and Feline Owlet-Nightars, as well as Papuan Boobook.

The display grounds of Western Parotia will be visited in the Arfaks
The display grounds of Western Parotia will be visited in the Arfaks (Keith Barnes)

Day 6: The Arfaks to Sorong. After driving back to Manokwari and taking a flight back to Sorong, we will spend the afternoon birding the sweltering lowlands near the city. The contrast in climate and habitat to where we have been will be extreme, but one commonality will remain, the existence of truly breathtaking birds: King and Lesser Bird-of-paradise, Hooded Pitta, and Red-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher. The endemic Black Lory will also be a major target in this area this afternoon and the following morning, before we depart for Waigeo. At night we will search for Papuan Nightjar, Papuan Frogmouth, and Papuan Boobook.

Arguably the World's Ultimate Bird: Wilson's Bird-of-paradise
Arguably the World's Ultimate Bird: Wilson's Bird-of-paradise (Keith Barnes)

Day 7: Sorong to Waigeo Island. We shall take a fast ferry to Waigeo island, where we’ll stay for the next three nights. With the bird list already gleaned in the Arfak Mountains, it might suggest Waigeo will have a difficult act to follow. However, this island located in the Raja Ampat archipelago, arguably boasts a more eye-watering list: display sites of both Red Bird-of-paradise and the awe-inspiring Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise will both be visited during our days on the island. To make it even better, these sites are easy to reach after short 10-minute walks, a strong contrast to the way it was as little as five years ago when a 2:30 a.m. wake-up was required to reach an uphill display site at dawn.

Displaying Red Bird-of-Paradise is sure to be one of the major highlights
Displaying Red Bird-of-Paradise is sure to be one of the major highlights (Keith Barnes)

Days 8-9: Waigeo Island. In addition to the aforementioned birds, the lowlands of this island offer a huge list of birds, including localized Raja Ampat Pitohui, the incredible Western Crowned Pigeon, Great-billed and Moluccan King- Parrots, Claret-breasted, Orange-bellied and Dwarf Fruit-Doves, Blyth’s Hornbill, Palm Cockatoo, Coconut Lorikeet, Yellow-faced Myna, Papuan Pitta, rarely-encountered White-eared Catbird, Brown-headed Crow, New Guinea Friarbird, and Golden Monarch. At night, we can go in search of Marbled Frogmouth and Rufous Owl. The Waigeou Cuscus – a spectacular endemic mammal is also occasionally seen here.

It is a rare tour when pittas are heavily overshadowed!!!
It is a rare tour when pittas are heavily overshadowed!!! (Keith Barnes)

Day 10: Waigeo Island to Sorong. After returning to Sorong via ferry, we shall have another afternoon birding the lowland forests in Sorong, and enjoy the comforts of a hot shower at a city hotel.

One of the largest of its kind: Western Crowned Pigeon
One of the largest of its kind: Western Crowned Pigeon (Keith Barnes)

Day 11: Sorong to Sentani. After taking a morning flight to Sentani, we will bird the area around Lake Sentani, where an area of grasslands and secondary forest patches is rich in birds. Within the grasslands we will search for two local finches, Grand and Hooded Munias, as well as Crimson Finch, and we will also search the wider area for Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Glossy-mantled Manucode, and Pygmy Eagle. The night will be spent in a hotel in Sentani.

Rufous-bellied Kookaburra heads up a long, long list of kingfishers
Rufous-bellied Kookaburra heads up a long, long list of kingfishers (Keith Barnes)

Day 12-14: The Snow Mountains. On the morning of day 12, we will take a flight to Wamena, where we will be based in a hotel for three nights, while exploring the Snow Mountains. A variety of habitats will be covered, including grasslands and highland forests close to the treeline, where we search for a series of specialties of the area. Our focus will be the fabled Grand Baliem Valley, home to a number of restricted range species, most notably, Orange-cheeked Honeyeater, Black-breasted Munia, Snow Mountain Quail, and MacGregor’s Honeyeater, long classified as a bird-of-paradise, and somewhat reminiscent of the striking Regent Honeyeater of Australia that is also black-and-gold, but lacks the conspicuous face wattles of this mega bird.

Crested Satinbird, from an endemic family to New Guinea
Crested Satinbird, from an endemic family to New Guinea (Sam Woods)

Other birds we’ll be on the lookout for include some species key to family listers, like the black-and-orange Crested Satinbird, the shy Wattled Ploughbill, and the nuthatch-like Blue-capped Ifrita. Birds-of-paradise could feature too, with Splendid Astrapia and Brown Sicklebill both occurring. Birding between 1600m to around 3300m will give us a wide range of species to search for, including Crested Berrypecker, Greater and Lesser Ground-Robin, Alpine Robin, Alpine Pipit, Chestnut Forest-Rail, and Dusky Woodcock. The rare Archbold’s Nightjar will be looked for after dark. Nights will be spent in a hotel in Wamena.

Brown-billed Sicklebill is a highland bird-of-paradise
Brown-billed Sicklebill is a highland bird-of-paradise (Iain Campbell)

Day 15: Waimena to Nimbokrang. We will leave the Snow Mountains, and fly back to Sentani, where we’ll drive straight to Nimbokrang, our base for the next three nights.

Days 16-17: Nimbokrang. This lowland site may be hot and sweaty, but it is loaded with special birds, a major theme on this tour. Northern Cassowary, King Bird-of-paradise, Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise, Hook-billed, Shovel-billed and Blue-and-black Kingfishers, Vulturine Parrot, and Blue Jewel-Babbler, are just some of the birds on offer. Other species to mention include Salvadori’s Fig-Parrot, Hooded Monarch, and Beautiful, Superb, and Wompoo Fruit-Doves. Papuan Frogmouth, Papuan Nightjar and Papuan Hawk-owl are all possible by night, and sometimes the frogmouth makes a daytime appearance too.

Day 18: Nimbokrang to Sorong. Those completing their tour will return to Sorong for one last night. Those staying for the Biak extension will overnight in Sentani and fly to the islands the following morning.

Day 19: Departure from Sorong, or start the Biak Extension.

Crested Berrypecker, likely a new family for many, is found in the Snow Mountains
Crested Berrypecker, likely a new family for many, is found in the Snow Mountains (Iain Campbell)

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EXTENSION OPTIONS

Biak and Numfor Extension (4 days)

Paradise-kingfishers and Island endemics

While the main tour can be said to have a clear focus on birds-of-paradise, this short extension undoubtedly focuses on kingfishers, and paradise-kingfishers, with an endemic on each of these islands that lie off the north coast of New Guinea, in Geelvink Bay. The islands are also home to plentiful other specialties to bolster the trip list, many of which can only be found by visiting these islands. There are 17 endemics shared between these islands that therefore cannot be found on the main tour.

Day 1 (day 19 of the main tour): Sentani to Biak and Numfor. We shall fly to Biak, then take the ferry to the smaller Numfor island to the west, where we spend the night.

Day 2: Numfor to Biak. We will spend much of the day on Numfor, principally to look for the Numfor Paradise-Kingfisher. While searching for the island’s celebrity bird, we may also encounter other specialties: Numfor Leaf-Warbler; Long-tailed Starling; Biak Black Flycatcher; and Yellow-bibbed Fruit-Dove. In the afternoon, we shall take a return ferry to Biak, where two nights will be spent.

Day 3: Biak. This island is home to palm-lined sandy beaches, although our attentions will be focused on the patches of forest, where the island specialties can be found. Biak is home to the stunning Biak Paradise-Kingfisher, and our priority will be to seek out this incredible beauty. However, Biak also hosts other specialties of the archipelago, such as Biak Coucal, Geelvink Pygmy-Parrot, Biak Gerygone and Biak Monarch. Other species that we may see here include Spice Imperial-Pigeon, and Golden Monarch. In the evening, we will be on the lookout for flights of parrots, and particularly Black-capped Lory. After dark, we could find Large-tailed Nightjar or Papuan Frogmouth.

Day 4: Departure from Biak. Connections to Jakarta can be taken from Biak, and so transfers will be arranged to meet these flights.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

Pace: Moderate to Intense. This tour will focus on finding as many of the endemics of the area, and as such will require long days in the fields and early starts on many of the days.

Physical difficulty: Easy to Difficult. A lot of the birding is on dirt roads and easy logging tracks and trails, although there will also be a few difficult hikes, some of which are optional. The physical difficulty of this tour has improved, but there are still some difficult but short hikes required in the Arfaks to get to the display areas of certain displaying birds-of-paradise and the feeding zones for the Parotia and other mid-altitude specialty birds. Although some of these walks are tough, this trip has never been easier to do than now, as the building of new roads, and the emergence of new guesthouses, means that some long hikes and camping are now avoided on this tour. In the Arfaks we shall not be overnighting at the very basic higher-altitude camp, nor attempting to walk up to the Japanese Camp – and therefore chances of seeing Arfak Astrapia and Black Sicklebill are reduced. There are no long drives on this tour (most are up to around 2-3 hours), but many of the roads in this area are in poor condition, and unpaved.

Climate: Very hot and humid in the lowlands (i.e. Sorong, Manokwari, Waigeo, Nimbokrang, and Biak and Numfor), to cool or cold in the Arfak and Snow Mountains.

Accommodations: There is no camping on this tour. However, many of the guesthouses used will be simple, and some of them only have shared bathroom facilities. Cold water for showers, and occasionally bucket-showers (if water shortages demand) may be required at some localities. In the lowlands there is only occasional generator-supplied electricity and therefore no air-conditioning or room fans work overnight. In Sorong, we enjoy the comforts of business hotels.

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 Indonesia can be obtained for tourists from the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and most European countries 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 18 (if not joining the extension); if joining the extension, accommodation from night of day 1 through to night of day 18 of the main tour, and nights of day 1 through to night of day 3 on the extension; meals from dinner on day 1 through to breakfast on day 19 (if not joining the extension) or through to breakfast on day 4 of the extension, if joining that too; safe drinking water throughout; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 18 (on the main tour), through to evening of day 3 on the extension, if joining that too; 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; domestic flights during the tour, ferry rides to get to Waigeo and the 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?: 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 (payable on arrival in Indonesia); departure tax when leaving Indonesia; 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.