PAPUA NEW GUINEA WITH A DIFFERENCE TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Papua New Guinea with a Difference: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Port Moresby airport, from where we will take a flight to the town of Alotau, situated at the extreme southeastern tip of Papua New Guinea, for an overnight stay.
Here we will explore an area of pandanus savanna interspersed with patches of rainforest. Raggiana Birds-of-paradise can often be observed here and another species of note is the range-restricted Silver-eared Honeyeater.
A good selection of widespread New Guinea birds can be found in the vicinity of Alotau and should include Eastern Cattle, Great and Intermediate Egrets, Black, Whistling and Brahminy Kites, Masked Lapwing, Amboyna Cuckoo-Dove, Orange-fronted, Pink-spotted and Orange-bellied Fruit Doves, Pheasant Coucal, Glossy and Uniform Swiftlets, Forest and Sacred Kingfishers, the impressive Blyth’s Hornbill, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Purple-bellied (or Eastern Black-capped) Lory, Coconut Lorikeet, Red-cheeked and gaudy Eclectus Parrots, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Streak-headed and Scrub Honeyeaters, New Guinea Friarbird, White-breasted Woodswallow, Hooded Butcherbird, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, Grey Shrikethrush, Willie Wagtail, Brown Oriole, Torresian Crow, Pacific Swallow, Singing and Metallic Starlings, Yellow-faced Myna and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin.
More uncommon possibilities include Orange-fronted Hanging Parrot, the unobtrusive Green-backed Gerygone, Australasian Figbird and Glossy-mantled Manucode.
Just before dusk, we may hear the distinctive calls of the crepuscular Hook-billed Kingfisher and we may be able to spot this spectacular species as it hides in the mid-storey. When it gets even darker, Large-tailed Nightjars may appear.
Papua New Guinea with a Difference: Day 2 This morning we will set sail on our comfortable ‘liveaboard’ boat that is generally used by scuba divers, where we will spend three nights. Our destination is rarely-visited Fergusson Island in the D’Entrecasteaux archipelago.
While at sea over the next few days we may well encounter Black Noddy and Greater Crested and Bridled Terns.
Later today we will visit a small island in the Goschen Strait where we should find the Louisiade White-eye at the western limit of its limited distribution, as well as Torresian Imperial Pigeon, Islet Kingfisher, Varied Honeyeater and Mangrove Golden Whistler. There is even a first chance for the sought-after Nicobar Pigeon and Island (or Grey) Imperial Pigeon.
Papua New Guinea with a Difference: Day 3 BirdLife International’s EBA 196 covers the D’Entrecasteaux and the Trobriand Islands, to which two birds-of-paradise are restricted. These little-known archipelagos are situated to the north of the southeastern tip of Papua New Guinea and comprise islands with curious names like Goodenough, Normanby, Kiriwina and Woodlark. We will focus on the largest and the most central island, Fergusson, whose highest mountain reaches 2073m. It is covered in extinct volcanoes and there are lots of active geothermal areas, including hot springs, spouting geysers and bubbling mud pools. Deepwater channels between D’Entrecasteaux and the mainland betray a very old geological separation.
There are two almost unknown endemic species of birds-of-paradise to be found here. The endemic Curl-crested Manucode is the largest of the five species of manucodes and is fairly common in the woodlands and forests. This subtly-plumaged, glossy blue-black bird-of-paradise, which has a very peculiar tail, often sits in the open and betrays its presence by its mourning, rolling calls. The other endemic is Goldie’s Bird-of-paradise, which belongs with the classic birds-of-paradise and resembles the better-known Raggiana Bird-of-paradise. It favours both lowland and hill forests and displays noisily in groups in the lower canopy. This species is less shy than most of its congeners and only occurs on Fergusson and on nearby Normanby Island. It is named after the botanical collector Andrew Goldie, a Scotsman who lived in the 19th century.
Other species we should find in this remote outpost of Papua New Guinea include the distinctive, red-naped, D’Entrecasteaux-endemic forbesi race of the Papua Black Myzomela (a potential split) as well as Osprey, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Wompoo Fruit Dove, Pinon’s Imperial Pigeon, the antediluvian-looking Channel-billed Cuckoo, Rainbow Bee-eater, Tawny-breasted and Puff-backed Honeyeaters, Grey Whistler, Little Shrikethrush, Spangled Drongo, Northern Fantail, Spot-winged and Black-faced Monarchs, the eye-catching Golden Monarch, Shining Flycatcher, Red-capped Flowerpecker and Black and Olive-backed Sunbirds.
More uncommon possibilities include Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Grey-headed Goshawk, Yellow-bellied and Azure Kingfishers, the glorious Papuan Pitta, Brown-backed Honeyeater, Dwarf Longbill and Yellow-bellied and Fairy Gerygones.
[Note: The recently refound Fergusson form (insularis) of the Pheasant Pigeon, which could be split in the future, is inaccessible without a long-duration hiking and camping expedition as the rediscovery team took ages to find any and they occur in a remote area of the island. Likewise, the Oya Tabu White-eye, which is endemic to the D’Entrecastaux islands, is only known to occur above 900 metres in altitude (around 3000ft) and cannot be reached without a long and difficult climb and camping as the local roads only reach to around 250m.]
Papua New Guinea with a Difference: Day 4 After some final birding on Fergusson Island we will head back towards Alotau.
Papua New Guinea with a Difference: Day 5 A morning flight from Alotau will take us back to Port Moresby, from where we will fly northeastwards to the town of Kavieng on New Ireland. We will spend a total of seven nights in total on New Ireland itself and on our liveaboard boat during our visit to remote Tench and Mussau islands.
Papua New Guinea with a Difference: Days 6-11 The long, narrow, oceanic island of New Ireland is very mountainous and is dominated by a high spine of peaks, which fall away precipitously to the sea along the southwestern coast. For most of its length of 350 kilometres (or 217 miles), it is less than 10 kilometres (6 miles) wide! On the east side, the island is bordered by a narrow coastal strip with magnificent broad white sand beaches. There are, strangely enough, no active volcanoes on the island. The central Schleinitz range is still covered in thick forest, where rivers of crystal clear water tumble down the slopes.
New Ireland in northern Papua New Guinea holds nine endemics and shares many others with the island of New Britain. From our resort near Silom, we will have access to the nearby highlands of the Lelet plateau. At an altitude of about 750m (or 2461ft), we should find the uncommon endemic New Ireland Myzomela in flowering trees and the gorgeous but rather shy endemic Paradise (or Ribbon-tailed) Drongo, surely the smartest-looking member of this generally drab group. With just a bit of luck, we will also encounter the endemic White-naped Lory, perhaps watching some feeding in a flowering vine and the lovely New Ireland Dwarf Kingfisher.
Fruiting trees should hold an excellent selection of doves and pigeons, including Bismarck endemics like the spectacular Pied Cuckoo-Dove, Knob-billed Fruit Dove and Finsch’s, Black (or Bismarck) and Yellowish (or Yellow-tinted) Imperial Pigeons.
Other Bismarck endemics should include White-necked (or Pied) Coucal, the splendid Bismarck Pitta (although seeing one rather than hearing one usually requires persistence), Bismarck Whistler, the adorable Bismarck Fantail, the lovely Black-tailed Monarch, the bashful Velvet (or Lesser Shining) Flycatcher, Bismarck (or Island) Crow, the striking White-backed (or Bismarck) Woodswallow and Red-banded Flowerpecker, while the dainty Bismarck (or Black-headed) White-eye is restricted to the Bismarcks and to Manus Island and travels around in small flocks. With a bit of luck, we will also find Bismarck Hanging Parrot, a species which is more common here than in New Britain. Much more tricky is New Britain Sparrowhawk.
At night we will go out, armed with a powerful spotlight, to find the vocal endemic New Ireland Boobook.
An as-yet-undescribed endemic form of Microeca flycatcher, known as ‘Bismarck Flyrobin’, lives here and we shall definitely try to get to grips with it.
The endemic New Ireland Friarbird usually favours higher altitudes than we can access, but we will keep our eyes peeled for this endemic as it sometimes wanders lower.
Other species in this interesting area are likely to include Black Bittern, Variable Goshawk, Pacific Baza, Buff-banded Rail, Bar-tailed (or Black-billed) Cuckoo-Dove, Stephan’s Emerald Dove, White-bibbed Fruit Dove, Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeon, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Pacific (or Australian) Koel, Brush Cuckoo, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, Moustached Treeswift, White-rumped Swiftlet, Melanesian and Common Kingfishers, Finsch’s (or Green) Pygmy Parrot (found only in the Bismarks and Solomons), Red-flanked and Red-chinned Lorikeets, Song (or Singing) Parrot, Red Myzomela (or Red-tinted Honeyeater), Barred Cuckooshrike, Grey-capped Cicadabird, Varied Triller, Golden-headed Cisticola and Long-tailed Myna.
Grassy areas in the lowlands hold the endemic Forbes’s (or New Ireland) Mannikin, often accompanied by the Bismarck-endemic Buff-bellied Mannikin.
The pleasant town of Kavieng is surrounded on three sides by the sea. In the surrounding secondary growth habitat, we should encounter the endemic Hunstein’s Mannikin (or Mottled Munia) and Pale-vented (or Rufous-tailed) Bush-hen.
From New Ireland, we will travel by comfortable liveaboard boat to the very remote Tench and Mussau islands.
First, we will visit the distant island of Tench (or Enus Island), situated about 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the north of Kavieng in the Pacific Ocean. At sea, we will hope to encounter Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Black-naped Tern and some Indo-Pacific Bottle-nosed Dolphins.
Birdquest pioneered visits to Tench and Mussau many years ago and although we have travelled this route multiple times without success, we still live in hope of an encounter with either Heinroth’s Shearwater or the even rarer Beck’s Petrel. Both are conceivable additions to the checklist.
The island itself covers less than one square kilometre and holds a small village as well as a large seabird colony. The main species are Red-footed Booby, Great Frigatebird and Black Noddy. The elegant White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Noddy and the dazzling White Tern nest in small numbers.
One of our main targets will be the localized Atoll Starling, which only occurs here and at just a few other localities. It is a specialist of extremely small islands and is only known from eight islands, which together cover under 50 square kilometres! The total population is less than 2500 birds.
Another important and luckily fairly common species is the tiny Bismarck Black (or Ebony) Myzomela, which only occurs on islets in the Bismarck Archipelago.
Other interesting species include Brown Booby, Lesser Frigatebird, Pacific Reef Heron, Melanesian Megapode (or Melanesian Scrubfowl), the cute Yellow-bibbed Fruit Dove, Pacific Imperial Pigeon, Island Monarch and notably the spectacular Nicobar Pigeon (this declining and hard-to-get species is still deliciously common here!). We will also have another opportunity to see Bridled Tern and there are usually some lingering shorebirds present, with the most likely candidates including Pacific Golden Plover, Eurasian Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Sandpiper and Grey-tailed Tattler.
After Tench, we will visit the even more remote and rarely-visited Mussau Island, where there are no fewer than four endemic birds; Mussau Fantail, White-breasted (or Mussau) Monarch, Mussau Flycatcher and Mussau Triller. Mussau Fantail and the White-breasted Monarch inhabit secondary growth close to the shoreline, but to get to grips with the little-known Mussau Triller we will have to penetrate further inland. We should also encounter Island Leaf Warbler, Russet-tailed Thrush and Blue-faced Parrotfinch.
Papua New Guinea with a Difference: Day 12 Today we will travel by air to the isolated island of Manus. We will fly to the airstrip of Momote, on the offshore island of Los Negros – a relic of WWII – and then transfer to the main town of Lorengau, the provincial capital, for a three nights stay. Providing the flight schedule allows, we will arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Papua New Guinea with a Difference: Days 13-14 Manus is the main island of Papua New Guinea’s Admiralty Archipelago, which forms the western end of the Bismarck Islands. It is 104 kilometres (65 miles) long and 28 kilometres (17 miles) wide and consists of limestone hills that are still mainly covered in primary forest. The highest summit on the island is Mount Dremsel (720m or 2362ft). Manus Island is a steamy, sleepy place situated within a few degrees of the equator and is defined by BirdLife International as the main part of Endemic Bird Area 193, which holds eight endemics (although perhaps only seven survive) and two near-endemics (one of which also occurs outside the Admiralty Islands).
Endemic, noisy Manus Friarbirds (or Chaukas) and handsome Manus (or Admiralty Pied) Monarchs will accompany us on our walks. The near-endemic Meek’s Pygmy Parrot, which also occurs on the Saint Matthias Islands, feeds on lichens and behaves a bit like a nuthatch. The endemic Manus Dwarf Kingfisher is a secretive bird but by being alert we should add it to the tally. The endemic Manus Cuckooshrike and Admiralty Cicadabird favour open country and forest edge.
At night we will be wanting to find the endemic Manus Boobook, which should betray its presence by its throaty, guttural calls. The other nightbird on Manus is the endemic Manus Masked Owl, but nothing is known about this bird and the last reliable sighting was in 1934!
The endemic Manus (or Admiralty Rufous) Fantail used to be common on the island but is nowadays only known from several offshore islets, so we will travel by boat to one of these to add this lovely little endemic to our tally.
Our most spectacular endemic target species on the island is the Superb (or Black-headed) Pitta, which is locally known as Cou Cou or Ku Ku, an obviously onomatopoeic name. The pittas (family Pittidae) are amongst the most wanted and most valued of tropical birds, and the Superb Pitta is one of the least known of this gorgeous assemblage. The total population is probably around 1,000 and virtually nothing has been written on the ecology of this species, which is treated as Endangered by BirdLife International. We have a good chance of locating this magnificent creature in the dense bamboo thickets it favours. Nonetheless, it is much the most difficult of the endemics and there is a real element of unpredictability. If birds are calling regularly, finding one is not too difficult, but if they are both silent and unresponsive it is nigh on impossible in the very dense forest. Predicting in advance when the birds will be calling regularly seems to be impossible. Even the breeding period is conjectural. Calling may well be stimulated by recent rain.
Other species which we should observe on Manus include the islet-favouring Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove, Superb and Claret-breasted Fruit Doves, Island (or Grey) Imperial Pigeon and Beach Kingfisher.
Papua New Guinea with a Difference: Day 15 Today we will return by air to Port Moresby, where our tour ends. Depending on the flight schedule, we may have some time for birding on Manus before we leave.
HUON PENINSULA EXTENSION
Huon Peninsula: Day 1 Afternoon tour start at Port Moresby airport followed by a flight to Lae on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea for an overnight stay.
Huon Peninsula: Day 2 This morning we will take a flight to the little town of Wasu on the north coast of the Huon Peninsula. Upon arrival, we will drive into the mountains for a four nights stay in a small village. This afternoon we will begin our exploration of the surrounding area. The track above the village reaches 1950m (6398ft) at the pass and it is here that we will enter the submontane and montane forests of the fabled Huon peninsula.
Huon Peninsula: Days 3-4 On the map the Huon Peninsula looks like a giant wart on the back of Papua New Guinea. It is dominated by three impressive mountain ranges, which are separated from the central spine of New Guinea: the Finisterre, Saruwaged (or Sarawaget) and Rawlinson Ranges. These consist of coral limestone and reach an amazing 4212m (13,820ft) at their highest point. They are still mainly covered in montane and subalpine forest, with alpine grassland occurring above the treeline at about 3000m (9843ft).
The Huon forms part of BirdLife’s Endemic Bird Area 177, which also encompasses the nearby Adelbert Range. Five species of birds are endemic to the Huon and another is shared with the Adelbert Mountains. The gorgeous Emperor Bird-of-paradise belongs with the ‘classical’ birds-of-paradise and displays in noisy groups in the forest canopy of the lower hill forest. Witnessing the bizarre display of these splendid creatures will be one of our main targets here. The marvellous Huon Astrapia is a more montane species in which the males are adorned by a long and beautiful purplish tail. They display quietly in the treetops and often gather at favourite fruiting trees. The third localized bird-of-paradise, the marvellous Wahnes’ Parotia, also occurs in the nearby Adelbert Range (although it is very rare there). It is a mid-montane species that builds its dance court on the ground. This is the rarest and shyest of the three restricted-range birds-of-paradise, but we will definitely put in the necessary amount of effort to get good views.
The large endemic Spangled Honeyeater, with its striking yellow-orange facial wattle, is another frugivore that is fairly common in the area. The endemic Huon Catbird is a retiring species that can be hard to see as opposed to hear. [The last of the six Huon endemics and near-endemics is the high-montane Huon Melidectes, which sadly only occurs well above the altitudes we are able to reach on the tour.]
Mottled Berryhunter, a species which used to be considered a whistler but which is now placed in a New Guinea-endemic monotypic family, is easier to see in the Huon than anywhere else in New Guinea. We have even had multiple sightings in a single day!
Other species occurring regularly in these epiphyte-laden and moss-encrusted forests include Black-mantled Goshawk, Brown Falcon, Forbes’s Forest Rail, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Ornate Fruit Dove, Rufescent and Zoe’s Imperial Pigeons, Mountain Swiftlet, Mountain Kingfisher, Brown Falcon, the inscrutable Pesquet’s (or Vulturine) Parrot, the smart Papuan Lorikeet, Orange-billed Lorikeet, Dusky Lory, Double-eyed Fig Parrot, the retiring Macgregor’s Bowerbird, White-shouldered Fairy-wren, Red-collared and Mountain Myzomelas, Marbled, Rufous-backed, Long-billed, Black-throated and Mountain Honeyeaters, Cinnamon-browed Melidectes, Buff-faced Scrubwren, Brown-breasted Gerygone, Fan-tailed Berrypecker, the superb Tit Berrypecker, the endearing Black-breasted Boatbill, Great Woodswallow, Mountain Peltops, Hooded and Black-bellied Cuckooshrikes, Common Cicadabird, Regent, Sclater’s and Brown-backed Whistlers, Hooded Pitohui, White-bellied Thicket Fantail, Friendly and Black Fantails, the unique Blue-capped Ifrita (a monotypic family), Lesser Melampitta (hard to see as opposed to hear), Greater Lophorina, the shy Growling (or Eastern) Riflebird (whose harsh calls emanate from the forest interior), Black-throated and Slaty Robins, Canary Flyrobin and Black-fronted and Papuan White-eyes.
More uncommon possibilities include White-eared Bronze Cuckoo, White-crowned and Chestnut-breasted Cuckoos, Red-breasted Pygmy Parrot, Brehm’s Tiger Parrot, Fairy and Yellow-billed Lorikeets, Mountain Mouse-warbler, Mid-mountain and Spotted Berrypeckers, Stout-billed Cuckooshrike, Black Cicadabird, Rufous-naped Bellbird, , the nuthatch-like Papuan Sittella, Black Monarch, Lemon-bellied Flyrobin and Garnet Robin.
Huon Peninsula: Day 5 After some final birding we will return to Wasu and fly back to Lae for an overnight stay.
Huon Peninsula: Day 6 Morning flight to Port Moresby where the tour ends.
MADANG & ADELBERT RANGE PRE-TOUR EXTENSION
Madang & Adelbert Range: Day 1 Morning extension start at Port Moresby airport. We will take a morning flight to the town of Madang on Papua New Guinea’s northern coast where we will overnight.
In the afternoon we will explore a small offshore island where New Guinea Scrubfowl can normally be found. Coroneted Fruit Dove and Mangrove Golden Whistler also inhabit the island.
Madang & Adelbert Range: Day 2 Early this morning we will visit a nice stretch of lowland forest near Madang where we have a good chance of encountering the snazzy-looking Edwards’s Fig Parrot. This beautiful bird is restricted to northeastern New Guinea and favours large fig trees.
Afterwards, we will board the 4×4 vehicles that will take us along a rough track deep into the mountains of the Adelbert Range to our small guesthouse for a three nights stay. We will start our exploration of the area this afternoon.
Madang & Adelbert Range: Days 3-4 The fabled black, red and yellow Fire-maned Bowerbird is one of the rarest and one of the most dazzling and baffling birds of New Guinea and is restricted to altitudes between 900 and 1450m in the Adelbert Range. Its small bower was only described in 1986 and its display behaviour and nest remain largely unknown. One or two of these special birds regularly visit the fruiting fig trees near our guesthouse, so we stand a very good chance of adding this dramatic species to our life lists.
The unobtrusive Banded Yellow Robin leads a quiet life in the forest understorey and is usually first detected by its mellow trill. We will also want to observe the timid Brown-headed (or Brown-capped) Jewel-babbler. Like the other members of its genus, it is secretive and we will need to work a bit to entice one into view.
A display tree of Lesser Birds-of-paradise is situated nearby and there are usually several adult males in attendance. The fabulous Magnificent Bird-of-paradise is not uncommon here and with a modicum of luck, we will see a male in a fruiting tree or even at his display court.
Other species that we may well encounter during our stay include Long-tailed Honey Buzzard, Oriental Dollarbird, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, the magnificent Palm Cockatoo, (Western) Black-capped Lory, the secretive Tan-capped Catbird, Plain, Forest and Mimic Honeyeaters, the sneaky Rusty Mouse-warbler, Black and Obscure Berrypeckers, Boyer’s Cuckooshrike, Black-browed Triller, Sooty Thicket Fantail, Chestnut-bellied Fantail, Papuan (or New Guinea) White-eye and Grey Crow. We will also hear the raucous calls of the Collared (or Brown-collared) Brush-turkey on our wanderings in the area, but seeing this retiring forest denizen is another matter.
More uncommon possibilities include Beautiful Fruit Dove, Dwarf Koel, Slaty-headed Longbill, Northern Variable Pitohui, Ochre-collared Monarch and Crinkle-collared Manucode.
At night we will try to get good views of Marbled Frogmouth and hopefully Papuan Boobook.
Madang & Adelbert Range: Day 5 We will return to Madang airport and take a flight to Port Moresby for an overnight stay. Depending on the flight timing, we may have time for some final birding in the Adelbert Range this morning.
Madang & Adelbert Range: Day 6 The extension ends this morning at Port Moresby.