The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Australasia & The Pacific Islands

UNCHARTED PAPUA NEW GUINEA EXPEDITION

Thursday 3rd September – Wednesday 23rd September 2020

Leader: Josh Bergmark.

21 Days Group Size Limit 7
New Britain Highlands

Wednesday 23rd September – Wednesday 30th September 2020

8 Days Group Size Limit 7

Birdquest’s Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition is truly ‘frontier birding’! Birdquest has been operating Papua New Guinea birding tours for decades, but this phenomenally biodiverse country still conceals hidden avian gems which have been seen only by a handful of intrepid researchers and expeditioners. This special expedition will explore well off the beaten track in search of an enticing array of endemic birds which have previously been considered ‘off-limits’ to world birders, and our adventurous itinerary will certainly break new ground, potentially even rediscovering one or more lost species!

This special Papua New Guinea birding expedition is so hard to set up that it is designed as a ‘one-off’. We have no plans to repeat it any time soon!

Our exciting expedition will focus on four areas in Papua New Guinea which have remained almost entirely off the birding map, and offers the enthusiastic explorer a chance to visit some extremely out-of-the-way places. This trip truly is New Guinea ‘with a difference’, and features a good chance for at least 20 Birdquest lifers (with half a dozen more pending taxonomic review) spread across three island groups and the isolated south-eastern highlands of the mainland.

Our Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition will commence with a flight from Port Moresby to Bougainville at the far eastern edge of Papua New Guinean territory. Bougainville lies at the northern edge of the Solomon Islands Important Bird Area, and as such supports an avifauna with a distinctly Solomon’s flavour. Birders who have not visited this adjacent endemic-rich archipelago will arrive in the lowlands marvelling at the diverse array of Melanesian specialties. In particular we will search for the rare Fearful Owl, Sanford’s Sea Eagle, the endemic race of Woodford’s Rail, Duchess Lorikeet and White-eyed Starling. However, a sizable array of other Solomon Islands endemic birds will also make an appearance.

Venturing into the highlands, local contacts will help us hike to a remote area of primary forest where the virtually unknown Moustached Kingfisher has recently been discovered. This superb species will be at the top of our wish-lists, along with a long list of endemics named for the island – Bougainville Bush Warbler, Bougainville Thicketbird, Bougainville Crow, Bougainville Whistler, Bougainville Honeyeater, and Bougainville Monarch. Other specialties of the area we hope to see include Pale Mountain Pigeon, Meek’s Lorikeet, Black-backed Thrush, Brown Fantail and maybe even the cryptic Imitator Goshawk.

After travelling to the eastern tip of mainland New Guinea, we will continue onwards by sea to the far eastern edge of the Louisiade Archipelago. On the pristinely-forested island of Rossel we will search diligently for the lost Louisiade Pitta, and may be the first people to see this species since its recent split as part of the re-organization of the Red-bellied Pitta complex. We will also keep our eyes out here for a highly distinct form of paradise kingfisher, now often regarded as a new species endemic to the island – Rossel Paradise Kingfisher.

The nearby islands of Sudest and Misima hold an array of endemics (and distinct endemic subspecies) which are significantly less skulking than our targets on Rossel, and we will make sure to find the attractive Tagula Butcherbird, along with Tagula Meliphaga, Tagula White-eye, White-chinned Myzomela, Louisiade Whistler, Louisiade Flowerpecker, Louisiade White-eye, Islet Kingfisher, and the interesting local form of the Glossy-mantled Manucode, which is by all accounts a very promising new species. This understudied region is thought to harbour a number of other future splits, including the local forms of Double-eyed Fig Parrot, White-bellied Whistler, Little Shrikethrush, Spectacled Monarch and Common Cicadabird, all of which we will search out during out visit.

Back on the Papua New Guinea mainland, the Owen Stanley Range behind Port Moresby will be a familiar sight to any seasoned New Guinea travellers who have flown over it, but few birdwatchers have ever explored the area. With no roads to speak of, the best access is along the infamous Kokoda Track, the sight of some epic Second World War battles between the Australian and Japanese forces, which we shall use to access the northern slopes.

Walking the whole track is a gruelling task (and indeed it was the problems of re-supply of front-line troops that eventually finished off Japanese hopes of taking Port Moresby), but luckily we only need to venture as far as the first village. which can be reached after just one day of walking. Here we will be in search of four species in particular – Eastern Parotia, Lesser Superb Bird-of-Paradise, Black-capped Catbird, and of course the near-mythical Chestnut-shouldered Goshawk (a species which is most regularly observed in this area). Other highlight birds in the forest may include Pesquet’s Parrot, Pheasant Pigeon, White-eyed Robin, Black-billed Sicklebill and Growling Riflebird.

The final leg of our expedition will see us flying out to New Britain, where we will be among the first ever birdwatchers/ornithologists to explore the difficult-to-access highland areas in modern times.

New Britain Thicketbird has not been seen since its discovery in 1949, but we will be giving it our all on the highest ridges. The endemic Gilliard’s Melidectes should not be hard to find, and we have a second chance at Black-backed Thrush (the subspecies here is quite distinct from that on Bougainville, and almost definitely an endemic species in its own right), whilst the elusive montane New Britain Goshawk may appear if we are fortunate. Other birds which have been seen previously in the vicinity of our camp include Rusty Thicketbird, Red-chinned Lorikeet, Black Imperial Pigeon, and Bismark Fantail.

During our hikes in and out, we will also be on the lookout for specialties generally missed in the lowlands such as New Britain Sparrowhawk, Slaty-mantled Goshawk, Yellow-legged Pigeon, and maybe even Bismark Pitta or Pink-legged Rail, all of which have been seen on previous expeditions reaching altitudes above 1000m. After our montane experience, we will have time to refresh ourselves at a comfortable resort and then spend an evening in the lowlands searching for the exquisite Golden Masked Owl before returning to Port Moresby the next day.

Birdquest has operated Papua New Guinea birding tours since 1986.

New Britain Highlands-only Option: You may opt to take the New Britain Highlands section of the expedition as a stand-alone tour.

Important: Flight schedules and land access rights in Papua New Guinea change frequently, even in areas where locals are well-accustomed to birdwatchers. This tour will be particularly far off the beaten track, so participants need to be aware of this and have a flexible and relaxed approach. Changes to the order in which the localities are visited may occur and changes to the amount of time in each area may also occur. The itinerary has some built-in safety margin to allow for such eventualities.

Accommodation & Road Transport: While hotels will be of good or medium standard, most nights will be spent in small guesthouses, which will be fairly simple, or in village accommodation with the group sleeping in one or two rooms with primitive washing/toilet facilities. Some nights of very simple camping will be necessary at the highest elevations on Bougainville and during the extension on New Britain. Road transport is by minibus or 4×4 vehicle. Roads are rather poor and few and far between, but then we do not have to travel long distances on them.

Walking: Our Uncharted Papua New Guinea expedition will be demanding for participants as compared to a normal bird tour. Some target species will require long hikes, either between villages or up mountain ridges on narrow, uneven and sometimes slippery trails (although we will maintain a comfortable pace, with plenty of rest stops). Some trails may be well formed, whereas others will be cut for us by local people and we may require some ‘bush-bashing’ in places. Boat landings in the Louisiade Archipelago are likely to involve wading ashore. While you will only need to carry a daypack, with your own water and personal gear, a good level of fitness, balance, and agility are essential on this expedition.

Climate: Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny at lower altitudes, but cooler in upland areas. Overcast weather is quite regular and there is very likely to be some rain, perhaps heavy at times. It will be humid.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Uncharted Papua New Guinea expedition will be worthwhile.


UNCHARTED PAPUA NEW GUINEA BIRDING EXPEDITION: PRICE INFORMATION

Papua New Guinea Tour Prices:Prices in Papua New Guinea are high by any standards, but there are reasons for this. In the first place accommodations in Papua New Guinea, whatever their standard, are mostly expensive, as is transport for tourism purposes. Papua New Guinea is a country with only a thin ‘meniscus’ of development that sits on an otherwise very undeveloped part of the world. The very limited but often comfortable layer of infrastructure that tourism uses is also used by oil and gas development staff, miners, lumber extractors and many other expatriates, with the result that prices have risen very high. Furthermore, there are only a very limited number of local agents that specialize in eco-tourism, so they can dictate price levels. This combination makes for high prices.

Birdquest Inclusions: Our prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees. Our tour prices also include all flight costs and all tipping, including tips for local guides and drivers. Some bird tour operators do not do this, yet for participants these costs are an unavoidable part of the tour. The value of these inclusions on this Birdquest tour amounts to approximately $2500. Flights included in Papua New Guinea are: Port Moresby-Bougainville-Port Moresby, Port Moresby-Alotau-Misima (Louisiade)-Alotau-Port Moresby, Port Moresby-Kokoda-Port Moresby and Port Moresby-Kimbe (New Britain)-Port Moresby. Flight schedules change regularly in Papua New Guinea, so routings may also change.

Deposit: Main Tour: £1060, $1380, €1200. New Britain Highlands Extension: £370, $480, €420.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2020: £9940, $12590, €10990. Port Moresby/Port Moresby.
New Britain Highlands: £3460, $4390, €3830. Port Moresby/Port Moresby.

Single Supplement: 2020: £470, $600, €520.
New Britain Highlands: £150, $200, €170.

Please note that the price quoted includes the internal flights providing you book your international flights into and out of Port Moresby with Air Niugini and through our office. Higher rates for internal flights will apply if you travel into and out of Port Moresby with another carrier, or you book your flights in and out with Air Niugini separately from the internal flights.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

The single room supplement excludes nights at village houses and while camping.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

UNCHARTED PAPUA NEW GUINEA EXPEDITION: ITINERARY

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Day 1  Our Uncharted Papua New Guinea expedition will commence with a flight from Port Moresby to Kieta on the island of Bougainville at the far eastern edge of Papua New Guinean territory.  After meeting up with our local agent, we will transfer to our comfortable hotel accommodation in Arawa and prepare for the coming days.

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Day 2  We will trek upwards today, starting from the vehicles at 1100m and ascending to the altitudes required for the star bird of this region – Moustached Kingfisher. Seen by less than a dozen ornithologists since its discovery, this beautiful kookaburra-sized species has never been photographed in the wild. With our new montane site now accessible and expert local assistance, we rate our chance of success with this mythical species as very high. Our camp will be set in the evening, and will act as our base for the following days.

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Days 3-5  With three full days under our belt to explore the forests around our lodgings, we will dedicate our time to finding not just Moustached Kingfisher, but additionally the plethora of Bougainville endemics which have never before been observed on Birdquest tours. Bougainville Bush Warbler, Bougainville Thicketbird, Bougainville Crow, Bougainville Whistler, Bougainville Honeyeater, and Bougainville Monarch are the key birds, but other specialties are restricted to only a few islands in the region, and are just as special – Pale Mountain Pigeon, Meek’s Lorikeet, Black-backed Thrush, Brown Fantail, the endemic race of Grey-throated White-eye, and maybe even the cryptic Imitator Goshawk.

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Day 6  After a final morning in the high forest, we will descend back to the road and transfer to our hotel in Arawa for a two nights stay.

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Day 7  The lowland forests and wetlands around Arawa hold an array of birds which can be seen only here and in the Solomon Islands – we will spend the day searching out whatever we can find. Sanford’s Sea Eagles may glide lazily overhead while we search the coconut palms for gaudy Duchess Lorikeets, and we will focus on any remaining Bougainville endemics (Bougainville Crow in particular can be tricky to pin down). The endemic race of Woodford’s Rail frequents marshy areas and is likely to be a future split, and we will attempt to follow up on some old records of the ultra-rare White-eyed Starling in the area. We will also continue our spotlighting efforts for Fearful Owl and West Solomons Boobook in the evening. Other interesting species we may see in the lowlands include Pied Goshawk, Cardinal Lory, Ultramarine Kingfisher, Solomons Cuckooshrike, North Melanesian Cuckooshrike, Red-capped Myzomela, Oriole Whistler, Cockerell’s Fantail, Steel-blue Flycatcher, Solomons Monarch, Yellow-throated White-eye, Brown-winged Starling and Long-tailed Myna.

We will go spotlighting after dinner in the forest behind town for the imposing and poorly known Fearful Owl, which is closely related to both the extinct Laughing Owl of New Zealand and, confusingly, the widespread Short-eared Owl.

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Day 8  Today we will fly back to Port Moresby, then onwards to the island of Misima at the eastern end of the Louisiade Archipelago for the next section of our expedition. (We will have to overnight in Port Moresby en route if schedules do not allow for a through connection.)

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Days 9-15  This area of the Louisiade Archipelago is extremely under-travelled, and facilities for tourists do not exist outside of the main town of Liak on Misima. As such, an exact day-to-day itinerary is impossible to ascertain in advance, but we will be aiming to transfer directly to Rossel Island for a two or three night stay in one of the villages on the west coast. Here we will be in search of Rossel Paradise Kingfisher and Louisiade Pitta, and in doing so we will be among the first birdwatchers to in fact look for these species on this out-of-the-way island, which is still very well forested. A number of endemic subspecies can also be found on Rossel, the most alluring being the distinct form of White-bellied Whistler, along with a colourful local variant of Louisiade White-eye.

After wrapping up our time on Rossel, we will speed westwards and begin our exploration of Sudest, the largest island in the region. It is here that most of the Louisiade endemics can be found, and a further two nights in one of the local villages should allow us to enjoy not only the traditional Louisiade hospitality, but the birding as well! Compared to our targets on Rossel, the species we will be searching out on Sudest should prove much less skulking, and between the mainland forests and a few small offshore islands, we will be able to enjoy the attractive Tagula Butcherbird, along with Tagula Meliphaga, Tagula White-eye, White-chinned Myzomela, Louisiade Whistler, Louisiade Flowerpecker, Louisiade White-eye and Islet Kingfisher. Undervisited and understudied, many of the subspecies we see on Sudest could well prove to be distinct species in the future. Birds like the Glossy-mantled Manucode and Little Shrikethrush having completely different calls to elsewhere in New Guinea, while the plumages of Spectacled Monarch and Double-eyed Fig Parrot here look nothing like those elsewhere.

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Day 16  Today we will fly from Misima back to Port Moresby, then travel onwards by air to Kokoda on the north side of the Owen-Stanley Range for an overnight stay. (We have allowed enough time in the Louisiades in case we have to return to Port Moresby an overnight the previous day, owing to changing flight schedules.)

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Day 17  Today will be primarily a trekking day as we hike up to Isurava Village. We will arrive after lunch and hopefully will be able to locate a fruiting tree to relax our legs under during the afternoon.

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Days 18-19  The forest around Isurava holds four particularly special species which have been seen by very few birdwatchers (although considering the number of Australian hikers who visit the area each year, they have probably been seen by a fair few non-birdwatchers!). Eastern Parotia and Lesser Superb Bird-of-paradise are two of only three Bird-of-paradise species not targeted on regular Birdquest tours (the third being the Bronze Parotia of the inaccessible West Papuan Foja Mountains). Both are regularly seen in fruiting trees around the village, and the locals should know of a few active parotia display courts if we are lucky. The reclusive Black-capped Catbird is another species found only in the mountains of the south-east peninsula, but as with all catbirds, getting to grips with this one will be a challenge. During our time around Isurava, we will constantly be casting our eyes skywards in search for the near-mythical Chestnut-shouldered Goshawk, which has been seen and photographed around Isurava in recent years. The forests here are in good shape, so we will also hope to enjoy species like Pesquet’s Parrot, White-eyed Robin, Black-billed Sicklebill and Growling Riflebird during our stay. The ultra-elusive Pheasant Pigeon is not uncommon in the area, but seeing this species is never a guarantee!

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Day 20  After some final birding in the morning around Isurava, we will head back down to Kokoda for an overnight stay.

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition: Day 21  Today we will take a morning flight back to Port Moresby, where the main part of our Uncharted Papua New Guinea expedition ends.

NEW BRITAIN HIGHLANDS

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition (New Britain): Day 1  Those going to New Britain will catch an afternoon flight from Port Moresby to Kimbe and transfer to Walindi Resort, where we will finalize the preparations for our highland experience.

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition (New Britain): Days 2-7  The montane forests on the largest Bismarck island are extremely poorly known, having been visited less than half a dozen times by teams with specific interest in the local avifauna. Our goal is to reach an old research camp high up in the Nakanai Range, which we will use as a base to explore the higher ridges where we have a slim chance at locating the lost New Britain Thicketbird. This species has not been recorded since the only two existing specimens were first collected during 1959 in the adjacent Whiteman Range, however almost nobody has searched! During our thicketbird chase, we will likely come across the more common montane endemics and Bismarck specialties. Gilliard’s Melidectes, Rusty Thicketbird, Black-backed Thrush (the birds here almost certainly a distinct species to the one on Bougainville), Red-chinned Lorikeet, Song Parrot, Black Imperial Pigeon, Bismarck Pitta, Bismarck Whistler, Bismark Fantail and Bismarck White-eye should all feature, having been seen at or near our campsite on previous expeditions. More widespread species also in the area include Bronze Ground Dove, White-breasted Ground Dove, Red-breasted Pygmy Parrot, and a cryptic endemic race of Island Thrush.

There are of course a number of exceedingly rare species which apparently rely on intact or undisturbed primary forest on New Britain, and if we are exceedingly lucky we may spot some of them. These include New Britain Goshawk, New Britain Sparrowhawk, Slaty-mantled Goshawk, New Britain Bronzewing, Yellow-legged Pigeon, Pink-legged Rail and Bismarck Hanging Parrot. Given that we will be almost the first birdwatchers to explore the area, it is anyone’s guess as to how successful we will be on this front – the actual population density of these birds in good hill forest is unknown!

On our final full day on New Britain, we will pack up camp and return to the lowlands. After transferring back to Walindi Resort and refreshing ourselves in the afternoon, we will spend the evening searching for exquisite Golden Masked Owls in a nearby oil palm plantation. In recent years this mythical bird has become almost guaranteed, so we stand a good chance.

Uncharted Papua New Guinea Expedition (New Britain): Day 8  Today we return to Port Moresby, concluding our groundbreaking expedition. We may find that our discoveries from these uncharted regions will put some of the region’s most mythical and unknown birds on the map. If Golden Masked Owls could be found after decades of absence only a few kilometres from the main birding area on New Britain, who knows what we may uncover in the far reaches of Papua New Guinea?!


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