Papua New Guinea  - New from Paradise in 2012

Twenty four days in Paradise. OK, maybe one or two of those days spent getting there, but then, a daily diet of Birds of Paradise, extraordinary culture, huge Birdwings and extravagantly beautiful swallowtails, endless variety of Dendrodium and Bulbophyllum orchids, three species of Paradise Kingfisher, kaleidoscopic corals and tropical fish, and an amazing gamut of mostly endemic and incredibly colourful parrots and fruit doves. This year’s tour delivered in all respects, and there were so many highlights on a daily basis that we can only encourage you to read the full trip report which you can download (or will be able to in a few days time!) from the Papua New Guinea holiday page. 

To give an flavour of just what we see on this tour below are the accounts from three of the days, starting with a day in the highlands at Ambua, Attenborough’s old stomping ground, followed by a wonderful day in the Sepik lowlands at Karawari, where the culture was every bit as exciting as the fauna, and to finish, a day on New Britain, at marvellous Walindi. 

All three locations are amongst my personal favourites and I particularly enjoy Walindi, and those of you interested in how the snorkel and wildlife trip to the Bismarck’s will operate can get a very good indication from reading the account of this day.

 There are still places left on both next year’s Papua New Guineatour (a few) and the Bismarck’s tour, so contact us if you are interested.

 And take a look at the great new Gallery from this tour in the Gallery section, too!

 

Day 16      October 8th                 Ambua

 

After a six am breakfast we were out with Joseph by six-thirty waiting to see what would come around the back of the lodge. Both Princess Stephanie's Astrapia and Superb Bird of Paradise were there. The Fan-tailed Cuckoo was chased or chasing and we had good views of Blue-Grey Robin and Orange-billed Parakeets. Getting ready to depart in the carpark we were interrupted by a birdwing, this Ornithoptera chimaera.

 

We stopped at around the 8500 foot mark fifteen minutes drive from the lodge and went into the forest with Joseph. Into it we were but in fact only five metres and there we stayed for the next hour. The surroundings were truly mossy, great green masses of it cloaking everything, the contorted trees mostly just five to ten metres high with a few large emergents. Rhododendrons grew on the trees and on the ground and there were vines twisting through the whole – a real elfin forest. It didn't take long for the standing quietly to work – you'd think ten people stood together trying to communicate and to see things in the mossy world would have been difficult but it proved to be not the case, we all had great looks at most things that came passed, indeed the beauty of such birdwatching is that the birds come to you. First up was a Large Scrub-Wren which fossicked along a branch just three metres from us. Also as good views were obtained of White-winged Robin. Joseph indicated a Lesser Melampita was calling and we watched intently, but it didn't cross the path. A few minutes later a Black Fantail flickered in front of us. Crested Berrypickers were a fine sight and there were several Grey-Streaked Honeyeaters sometimes feeding at the tubular flowers hanging from the vines. A larger bird moved in the tree next to us, a female Crested Bird of Paradise. Subtle. Not so the male who appeared a few minutes later. Of all the birds we saw this morning he stayed with us the longest, and he arrived in a blaze of brilliance as his flame-coloured upperparts shone in the morning sun. A real highlight. The sun went in but he stayed and continued to give us all angles on his magnificently bright plumage, which seemed to shine even without the sun. Fabulous.

 

We moved out onto the road for a while where Ribbon-tailed Astrapias became the focus of our attention. Great views were had a male. Papuan Lorikeets flew past, zipped round us, or landed right next to you, and all got views in the end, another brilliant bird. We saw Papuan Scrub-Wren and Friendly Fantails and of course lots of those noisy Melidectes.

 

Some of us wandered into the Crested BOP area to look for orchids – we did check to make sure the bird royalty wasn't at home before continuing. We found some nice sprays of white orchids, and the fine red-orange Epiblasus. There was a little white and purple Liliacean with long yellow anthers, and the same red Rhododendron that occupies the grasslands higher up, here growing as an epiphyte. There were long orange Calocera-like fungi, and a colony of pale creamy-yellow ones. There were groups of fungi amongst the mosses, the mosses themselves, amazingly varied and beautiful. There were climbers that had large groups of pink tubular flowers and shrubs with similar but much smaller flowers. A highlight was the pair of Regent's Whistlers, though perhaps more mind-boggling was the 8mm long luminous purple-pink 'crustacean' spotted living in a little clump of moss! Then it was back down to the lodge....only.... stop that bus there are butterflies about. You just know when you see a butterfly on the Tari road that it will be a good one and so it proved, here were what we thought were three different jezebels sipping at a roadside seep. One was the brilliant red, yellow, black and white Delias leucias, but both the other two turned out to be Delias mira, one subspecies mira and the other, brown-marked one, subspecies roepkei. Into the bus but once again the butterflies didn't want us to have lunch- several Papilio weiskii, a fabulous thing whose uppersides shimmer purple and green in flight, were moving up the road. They proved difficult to photograph, but at least we'd seen this beauty.

 

In the afternoon we drove up to the montane grasslands that top the pass. Here we were at nine-thousand feet, and amid a landscape that was difficult to define. It certainly had elements of the Scottish moors, though perhaps the closest would be the high altitude grasslands on the Western Ghats in Southern India, or an even closer resemblance, the hill country of central Sri Lanka. It is really more of a fern and clubmoss-land than a grassland, though both were intermixed along with a lot of ericaceous plants. Tree-ferns lined the streams and rivers, and like the Sri Lankan hills, there was a mosaic of 'grassland' and forest (sholas in India). In short, a very pleasing landscape, and only needing a few sambar and bear monkeys for me to be looking forward to the evening curry! Of course the fauna and flora was every bit unique and bore little resemblance to anywhere else. Three male Ribbon-tailed Astrapia came and showed off their long ivory white central tail feathers, one having the longest tail feathers I've ever seen on this or as far as I can think, any bird. In the distance a Brown Sicklebill gave his machine-gun rattle. Belford's Melidectes were noisy, Island Thrushes sounded like blackbirds, and Tawny Grassbirds lurched from cover, their untidy tails characteristic. Orchids are a strong feature anywhere around here and there were a good number. There were fine orange and yellow sprays of Dendrobium subaclausum growing on the ground alongside some bright red Dendrobium cuthbertsoni both species that are normally found amongst the moss on tree or tree fern trunks. Pink Spathoglottis was frequent and the stately spikes of Calanthe flava were impressive. The clubmosses are varied with at least six species. We saw Potentillas, a Ranunculus, a Wahlenbergia, and a really very tiny Utricularia, an insectivorous plant. There was a nice red flowered Rhododendron too, and half a dozen Ericaceous species. Reg and Rowena found a fine Lomatogonium. Meanwhile I'd been flushing Brown Quail and at a surprisingly high altitude, two Lewin's Rails. Brown Cuckoo-Dove, a flock of Black Sitellas, Long-tailed Shrike, and a fly-by Archbold's Bower-bird made for an unusual mix of birds. Joseph saved the best to last – a superb Eastern Grass Owl that flew towards us across the grassland, looking like a large Barn Owl, then it turned and flew away, looking completely different with its dark grey-brown upperside plumage.

 

After dinner I went out on a night walk. Nightwalks inNew Guineaare great for insects and frogs and the like but hard work for mammals and birds so this must rate as one of the best I've had! Two and a half hours spent walking slowly round the circuit trail at Ambua produced three mammal species and a bird – the latter a Papuan Frogmouth. A Grey-bellied Tree Mouse scurried along one of the railings, a pretty and quite large mouse. Noticing a movement behind me I saw something moving through a low tree, seemingly falling out of it and having a dreadful job getting organised. The torch revealed a stunningly marked animal, skunk-like in general effect, but altogether cuter. I walked over to it and had great views down to three metres, but trying to get my camera organised (ill-prepared!) proved too difficult and the animal was up and off before I could get a picture. It disappeared behind a large tree. This was a Long-fingered Triok, a marsupial about the size of a pine marten or indeed a large skunk, and apparently even has an odour like one. Its feeding technique which involves using the extremely elongate finger to remove grubs from rotten logs owes more to the Aye-Aye though. Waiting I heard noise in the tree above me and swung my torch to reveal the same animal. Or at least, I thought it did, for as I focused on it another animal came 'flying' through the night and hit the first so hard it fell out of the tree and hit the ground (8 metres) right in front of me. I looked first at the animal that had landed in tree. At first I thought it another triok but as it turned and elegantly scurried along the branches I realised it was another species of the same group, the almost equally beautiful Striped Opossum. This made for the high branches where it sat and shouted its victory loudly. Meanwhile the triok had completely disappeared! Exciting stuff.

 

 

Day 11      October 3rd                 Karawari – The King Bird of Paradise and Sago

Making

 

We all met up at breakfast which this morning was at five-fifteen – a very nice and full breakfast too – I think we are getting used to mornings being earlier than at home! Then it was down to the jetty and on to our boat, cruising as quickly as we could upstream – the lodge's boats go very slowly passed any habitation to avoid erosion to the banks, and also they are very considerate to the local dugouts. We landed and Chris took us straight to a sport where we could see a dead snag reaching up out of the forest, and there sure enough, was our target, the Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise. It was a male in full plumage! Unfortunately it went before we'd all reached the spot. An anxious wait ensued but just a few minutes later he returned, and pottered up and down his stick, not really displaying, mostly just playing peek-a-boo. We all got a decent look at him, before he sped off. A mystery cuckoo-shrike was intriguing.

 

We moved a little way up the Arafundy, a slow moving tributary of the Karawari. Along the first stretch is a most idyllic little village, with neatly kept houses, on stilts like all the Sepik's houses, and with many cheery children, and indeed adults, waving as we went past. We pulled up again and walked just a little farther into the forest, so two hundred metres rather than one hundred. Here Chris introduced us to the King Bird of Paradise. But the King was in one of his (their!) difficult moods and he stayed almost entirely out of sight, teasing us with his laughing calls and occasional glimpses. We were patient however and in the end we all had good views of this stunning bird. The sight of him flying past, all red and white, with his two plumes trailing behind each tipped with an emerald, was simply amazing. As we tried to get a look we were treated to a succession of other visitors. The clipper butterfly Parthenos aspila fluttered about the tree. Two superb Coronetted Fruit-Doves landed in it and gave great 'scope views. Even a Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot allowed us 'scope views. A Glossy-mantled Manucode came through as did a couple of Brown Orioles.

 

Then it was on to the river for a gentle cruise upstream. A Lowland Peltops was a highlight, so too the Azure Kingfisher though for Tommy it may well have been the Common Paradise Kingfisher that stole the show, the rest of us missing it. Whistling Kites were a frequent sight and we watched Boyer's and White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrikes, and occasional Shining Flycatchers,Blyth's Hornbills and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos flew back and forth and everyone had great views of Palm Cockatoos in a tree.

 

We arrived back at eleven and after a quick cuppa I went up to the area above the helipad. Several saw the Gurney's Eagle that was flushed out of the big wild olive tree. I checked the trap camera. Nothing doing. In the forest here were plenty of 'white owls' Taeneris species, and several lovely Danis danis and its mimic Nacaduba danis, some fine Cethosia (Lacewing) cydippe posed on the greenery. Terinos tethys flew up to meet me at regular intervals. A superb bunch of earthstars and a nice stemmed 'ginger' with white flowers were photographed as was a white-flowered Begonia. A superb Wompoo Fruit-Dove posed out in the open and after flushing them from the forest floor so too did two Victoria Crowned Pigeons. These are incredible birds, so huge they take off like someone blasting a rocket through the rainforest. I found an almost equally large Greater Black Coucal, along with his four or more friends, as well as the accompanying Helmeted Friarbirds and Rufous (New Guinea) Babblers. A Marbled Honeyeater, a female Golden Monarch, a group of Yellow-breasted Gerygones and the Rufous-backed Fantail all went past.

 

Back in the garden Gill pointed out yet another of that Danis mimicry group, this time the lovely Hypolyaecena danis, different in that it has several tails. Meanwhile Tommy had found a Eupholus geoffroyi beetle. This fabulous looking weevil in sky blue and black belongs to the Cucurlionidae family.

 

In the afternoon we headed across the water to the village and a sago extravaganza. Most of the peoples in theSepikRiverregion harvest sago which occurs naturally as a co-dominant in the swamp forest which covers thousands of square kilometres here. Sago is a type of palm, and it is the fibrous insides of the palm stems that makes the staple that provides the carbohydrates for these tribes. We were shown the processes of splitting the palm stems, the pounding, straining etc. And then the cooking - a large stew was being prepared to which was added a 'stock' made from the bark (it contains salt). Then just chuck in your freshly caught gobies and fresh greens, these mainly ferns of one sort or another. We didn't get to try this one, however the 'flatbreads' being prepared on skillets we did try. They were quite glutinous, but surprisingly tasty, many of us grabbed another mouthful. This had all been put on for us by villages who were in their more traditional gear, namely grass skirts and not much else, the women bare-breasted. All were daubed to a greater or lesser extent with mud, the children enjoyed this part clearly and had joined in with a bit of face painting. Throughout the people were friendly and not at all fazed by the cameras, and were very accepting of these strange foreigners.

 

They had laid out a selection of wares for sale, notably the sago palm fruit necklaces and billum bags. Tommy suddenly became quite animated, and beckoned us quickly to him. He'd found one of his two target species. This was the stunningly beautiful Hypochrysops geminatus, indeed a gem of a butterfly. The combination of red and black surrounded by iridescent shining silver-lime was incredible. The family who'd been showing us their sago techniques must have been bemused to see us crouched down animatedly photographing this little butterfly.

 

Then it was off up the river for a final hour. The river was beautifully lit and we saw lots of Dusky Lories, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Eclectus Parrots, Edward's Fig Parrots and Red-cheeked Parrots. Collared and Pinon Imperial Pigeons flew over and two imps sitting atop a distant tree and doing passable White-tailed Sea Eagle impersonations were in fact a species of Imperial Pigeon. Stephan's Ground Dove flew across as did hornbills and groups of Metallic Starlings, and we saw Little Egret, Yellow-faced Mynahs and Pied Cormorant before returning as the setting sun lit the river and forests in front of us.

 

 

Day 4        September 26th   Walindi – Kimbe Bay & Kilu Ridge

 

We were into breakfast by just after five! Already there was a hint of dawn in the air and by the time we had boarded the boat for our trip out intoKimbeBay, it was just about fully light, at five-forty-five. The sun came up amongst clouds surrounding the volcanoes to the east, a beautiful sight. We sped across the very calm waters, making for several small islands off to one side of the bay, in these we were going to birdwatch, and then round one of them, snorkel.

 

However cetacean-kind thought differently and we were duly enticed to one side by a small group of Bottle-nosed Dolphins. Two of these came in to bow-ride, moving powerfully and smoothly through the water below the prow. We all crowded round and watched spellbound. Once or twice the dolphins moved on to their sides and looked up at us. There were dolphins scattered over the area and we caught up with various groups of them. Suddenly something strange in the water – was it two dolphin tails continually sticking out of the water – no – it was a Sailfish. What a magnificent sight this was, the metre and half long fish was lounging on the surface and had its impressive dorsal fin erected out of the water as well as its upper caudal fin. Andrew gradually drew the boat closer... until we had this stunning fish right under the prow. Its tall sail was strongly purple-infused with the rising sun lighting it from the side. As if this wasn't good enough there was a group of Bottle-nosed Dolphins cruising through fifty metres further in front and the volcanic slopes beyond were crowned with a decent little plume of smoke!

 

We left them, passing more dolphins, these more Bottle-nosed and some distant Spinner Dolphins. Black-naped and Common Terns were frequently seen, and one collection of terns included two Black Noddies.

 

To the west were geysir-like spouts of steam which we were told erupt from a bubbling hot spring. Then we reached the islands, first one, Big Malumalu, looked to be just a few acres, and was raised coral rubble, topped by a luxuriant hat of trees with a background of striking volcanic peaks. Here we anchored up and spent an hour studying the birdlife. We were introduced to the pigeon of the isles, otherwise known as Island Imperial Pigeon, whose soft good looks and resonant self-effacing laughing call was to be with us the rest of the morning, the call audible even below the water when we were snorkelling! These were abundant, but here we also noted theBismarckendemic Yellow-tinted Imperial Pigeon – a rather odd name in that the bird is clearly black and white! Andrew soon spotted a perched up Nicobar Pigeon, that great island hopper, and during the next hour we saw one or two more as well as at least two Stephan's Ground Doves parading up and down the beach. Metallic Starlings were visiting their nests. Red-throated Sclater's Myzomela, aNew Britainendemic, and the very neat little Island Monarch and pretty Mangrove Golden Whistler were seen. From our mooring we could see specks of blue where Chromis inhabited the shallow reef-top and an impressive Smashing Mantis Shrimp was spotted off one side of the boat. Ospreys showed us their fishing moves and all the while pigeons came and went.

 

Then it was to Restorf where we disembarked onto an idyllic little beach. We spent the next hour or so covering a few hundred metres, partly because there was so much to see and partly because the terrain was a little difficult! We found a beautiful orchid which seems to be a Dryadorchis, with typical orange-spotted white flowers, the only thing is this genus seems to be confined to mainland PNG, so more research needed on this one! Many of the trees had a nutmeg-like fruit complete with 'mace'. Skinks scattered everywhere as we went. We started to see the occasional butterfly, a 'rustic' Cupha prosope and the 'great crow' Euploea phaenareta, though here it was an odd white form of this widespread butterfly. Pigeons were to the fore again with more brief views of several Nicobar Pigeons, and Alan spotted a Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove. We found two Beach Kingfishers and a Pacific Reef Egret along the shoreline.

 

Then it was into the water for some snorkelling. What can I say! Superb. Certainly the best place I've snorkelled in terms of fantastic corals and amazing variety of fish. The corals came in all shapes and sizes, and were exceptionally colourful too. Amongst these perched anemones and starfish. One of the boatmen showed us the marvellous frilly pink Nudibranch. Christmas Tree Worms opened and closed on large coral, they were red, orange, blue, green, white etc. On the deeper sandy bottoms were huge sea slugs, and I saw a White-tipped Reef Shark swim purposefully past me. There were so many butterfly and angel fishes. There were Latticed and Eastern Triangular Butterflyfishes as well as boldly-marked Vagabond and delicate Redfin Butterflyfishes, and Regal Angelfishes. Lurking by steep coral walls were groups of Humphead Bannerfishes, these strangely-shaped fish are always great to see. Among the large Angelfish were Regal, Emperor and Six-banded. ‘Herds’ of Pinktail Triggerfish were seen as well as groups of Tomini Bristletooths, these latter forming large mixed groups with various Parrotfishes and Foxfare Rabbitfishes. The parrotfish were really quite something with groups of them forming large feeding parties, notably Schlegel's and Chameleon Parrotfishes amongst the plentiful Bleeker’s Parrtofishes. I saw three Bluefin Trevally have a cruise around before disappearing off into deeper water. By intricate coral heads were all sorts of brilliant small fish, especially Jewel Damsels and Blue-green Chromis, whilst anemones gave shelter to Orange-finned Anemonefish. There were Crown of Thorns starfishes, Pretty Feather Stars (really, they are called that), Banded Urchins, Noble Feather Stars, and a superb large Octopus which rose like a ghost from his shelter turned himself a vibrant red and then seemed to be trying to change himself in one of the red feather stars. There were groups of Indian and Sidespot Goatfish, lots of sergeants, Black-banded Snappers and the Paddletail and Scarlet Soldierfish, the latter lurking in the shade of the convoluted corals. Scarlet-breasted Maori-Wrasse looked more like parrotfish in size. There were many surgeonfish too, Striped and White-cheeked often forming mixed groups, and there were Golden Damsels, fabulous Purple Anthias, and Honey-breasted Damsels. A Keeled Needlefish drifted past. We clambered out of the water, bewildered by all the colourful underwater life and trying desperately to remember fish patterns! Even on the surface we were able to watch them, groups of sergeant majors took the boat under their wing, an impressive Thick-lipped Wrasse drifted around and a group of seven squid undulated past. The pretty wrasse there was the Six-banded Wrasse.

 

We headed back to shore, once again pausing to enjoy some dolphins. A rain storm came across as we landed, but had disappeared once we had met go out again. In the afternoon, several of us went up the hill behind Walindi, and had a little bird bonanza. Joseph took us up through a cacao plantation which was under-planted coconuts and breadfruits. The next hour provided amazing for parrots. Our first, and one of the finest, were the richly-hued Eastern Black-capped (or Purple-breasted) Lories, these stunning mainly parrots were joined by female (red and blue) and male (green). Suddenly our first Blue-eyed Cockatoos flew in. What impressive birds! Almost as good were the abundant Eclectus Parrots, the males green and the females red, but with blue on the wing. Pure colour. Two tiny Red-flanked Lorikeets were spotted and White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrikes landed in a nearby tree. A fantastic female birdwing, Ornithptera priamus, flew past whilst nearer at hand was the pretty little pansy (butterfly!) Junonia villida. Whiskered Tree Swifts sat high a distant tree as we admired pairs ofBlyth's Hornbills taking it in turns on a nearby snag. Other good birds included a Sacred Kingfisher, some diminutive Bismarck Flowerpeckers and a couple of superb White-necked (Pied) Coucal. Then it was back down to Walindi for a spot of relaxing before another excellent dinner.

 

And just for something different – here’s the a little something about the lunch we had at the Airway’s Hotel atPortMorsebyAirport– “We headed back into the midday shade and a rather superb buffet. The main courses were fine, the salads excellent, especially the Japanese dishes, but it was the puddings which took the biscuit! One or two of us tried a bit of each to decide which was best; there were some really fine chocolate creations, but it was the passion fruit crème brulee tarts that won – truly scrumptious!”

 

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