REMOTE PAPUA NEW GUINEA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Port Moresby, 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 a nearby area of pandanus savanna interspersed with patches of rainforest. Raggiana Birds of Paradise can often be observed here, as can the shy Growling (or Eastern) Riflebird, whose harsh calls emanate from the forest interior. A good selection of widespread New Guinea birds can also be found in the area and should include Whistling and Brahminy Kites, Slender-billed Cuckoo-Dove, Pink-spotted Fruit Dove, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Purple-bellied (or Eastern Black-capped) Lory, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Red-cheeked and gaudy Eclectus Parrots, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Pheasant Coucal, Uniform Swiftlet, Moustached Treeswift, Forest Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Oriental Dollarbird, the impressive Blyth’s Hornbill, Pacific Swallow, White-bellied and Boyer’s Cuckooshrikes, Varied Triller, Willie Wagtail, New Guinea Friarbird, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, Singing and Metallic Starlings, Yellow-faced Myna, Brown Oriole, Hooded Butcherbird, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird and Glossy-mantled Manucode.
With a bit of luck the glorious Papuan Pitta (split from Red-bellied) will be seen. Just before dusk the distinctive calls of crepuscular Hook-billed Kingfishers resound and we will of course try to see this spectacular species as it hides in the mid-storey. When it gets even darker Large-tailed Nightjars should also appear.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 2 We will be sailing today on a 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. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Remote Papua New Guinea: 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. Deep water channels between D’Entrecasteaux and the mainland betray a very old geological separation.
There are two almost unknown 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 forest, 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 Eastern Osprey, Wompoo Fruit Dove, Pinon and Torresian Imperial Pigeons (in their hundreds), the antediluvian-looking Channel-billed Cuckoo, Northern Fantail, Yellow-bellied and Fairy Gerygones, Spangled Drongo, Shining Flycatcher, Little Shrike-Thrush, Black and Olive-backed Sunbirds, the distinctive, red-naped local race of Papua Black Myzomela, and Tawny-breasted and Brown-backed Honeyeaters.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 4 This morning we will visit a small island in Goschen Strait where we should find the Louisiade White-eye at the western limit of its tiny distribution, as well as Islet Kingfisher (split from Collared) and Mangrove Golden Whistler. Afterwards we will return to Alotau for an overnight stay on board.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 5 A morning flight will take us back to Port Moresby, from where we will fly northeastwards to the town of Kavieng on New Ireland. We will spend seven nights in total on New Ireland or on our liveaboard boat, spending three nights at a guesthouse on the east coast in the Silom district, three nights on a liveaboard boat visiting remote Tench and Mussau islands, and one night at a pleasant beach hotel in Kavieng.
Remote Papua New Guinea: 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 (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 eight endemics and shares a further fourteen with the island of New Britain. From our guesthouse near Silom we will have access to the nearby highlands of the Lelet plateau. At an altitude of about 750m (2461ft) we should find the uncommon New Ireland Myzomela in flowering trees and the gorgeous but rather shy Paradise (or New Ireland, or Ribbon-tailed) Drongo (the smartest looking member of a usually rather drably-clad group). With a bit of luck we will encounter a White-naped Lory feeding in a flowering vine. At night we will go out, armed with a powerful spotlight, to find the vocal New Ireland Boobook. An undescribed Microeca flycatcher (known as ‘Bismarck Flyrobin’) lives here and we shall definitely try to get to grips with it. (The well-known Jacky Winter of Australia and the lovely Canary Flyrobin (or Canary Flycatcher) of Papua New Guinea belong to the same genus.) The 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.
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 Black (or Bismarck), Finsch’s and Yellowish (or Yellow-tinted) Imperial Pigeons. Other Bismarck endemics could well include White-necked (or Pied) Coucal, the adorable Bismarck Fantail, the lovely Black-tailed Monarch, the bashful Velvet (or Lesser Shining) Flycatcher, Bismarck Whistler (split from Common Golden), 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.
Other species here are likely to include Variable Goshawk, Bar-tailed (Black-billed) Cuckoo-Dove, Stephan’s Ground Dove, White-bibbed Fruit Dove, Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeon, Coconut Lorikeet (split from Rainbow), Red-chinned Lorikeet, Song (or Singing) Parrot, Brush Cuckoo, Pacific (or Australian) Koel, Glossy Swiftlet, Melanesian Kingfisher (split from Collared), Grey-capped Cicadabird (split from Common), Golden-headed Cisticola, the eye-catching Golden Monarch, Red Myzomela (or Red-tinted Honeyeater), Long-tailed Myna and Bismarck (or Island) Crow.
Grassy areas in the lowlands often 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 also Rufous-tailed Bush-hen, Finsch’s (or Green) Pygmy Parrot, Bismarck Hanging-Parrot and Common Kingfisher.
From New Ireland we will travel by 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 in the Pacific Ocean. At sea we will hope to encounter Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Black-naped Tern and some Indo-Pacific Bottle-nosed Dolphins. 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, Greater Frigatebird and Black Noddy. The elegant White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Noddy and the dazzling White Tern nest in small numbers. However, our main target here will be the localized Atoll Starling, which only occurs here and at a few other localities. It is a specialist of extremely small islands and is only known from six islands, which together cover a mere 44 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, Eastern Reef Egret, Melanesian Megapode (or Melanesian Scrubfowl), Greater Crested and Bridled Terns, the cute Yellow-bibbed Fruit-Dove, Pacific Imperial Pigeon, the always spectacular Nicobar Pigeon (deliciously common here) and Island Monarch.
Next we will visit the even more remote and rarely-visited Mussau Island, where there are no fewer than three endemic birds; Mussau Fantail, White-breasted (or Mussau) Monarch 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.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 12 Today we will travel by air (possibly directly, but more likely via Port Moresby) to Lae on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea for an overnight stay.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 13 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.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Days 14-16 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. Four 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 which is fairly common in the area. The last Huon endemic is the montane Huon Melidectes, which normally occurs above the altitudes we will be able to reach and so we would be very fortunate indeed to encounter this species.
Other species occurring in these epiphyte-laden and moss-encrusted forests include Black-mantled Goshawk, Brown Falcon, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Ornate Fruit Dove, Rufescent Imperial Pigeon, Dusky Lory, the smart Papuan Lorikeet, Orange-billed Lorikeet, Red-breasted Pygmy Parrot, the inscrutable Pesquet’s (or Vulturine) Parrot, Mountain Swiftlet, Mountain Kingfisher, Hooded and Black-bellied Cuckooshrikes, the unique Blue-capped Ifrita (a monotypic family), White-shouldered Fairy-wren, Brown-breasted Gerygone, Buff-faced Scrubwren, Friendly and Black Fantails, Black Monarch, the endearing Black-breasted Boatbill, Lemon-bellied and Canary Flyrobins (or Lemon-bellied and Canary Flycatchers), Slaty (or Blue-grey) Robin, Regent, Sclater’s and Brown-backed Whistlers, Mottled Berryhunter (a species which used to be considered a whistler, but which is now placed in a monotypic family), the nuthatch-like Papuan Sittella (split from Varied), Red-capped Flowerpecker, the superb Tit Berrypecker (representing one of three endemic New Guinea families), Mid-mountain, Fan-tailed and Spotted Berrypeckers (members of another endemic family), Black-fronted White-eye, Black-throated, Marbled and Rufous-backed Honeyeaters, Scrub Honeyeater (or Scrub White-eared Meliphaga), Red-collared and Mountain Red-headed Myzomelas, Cinnamon-browed Melidectes, Great Woodswallow, the retiring Macgregor’s Bowerbird and Superb Bird of Paradise.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 17 After some final birding in the Huon we will fly to the town of Madang, where 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. (As the track has deteriorated in recent times, we may have to walk the last stretch, while porters carry our luggage.)
Remote Papua New Guinea: Days 18-19 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 lifelists. The unobtrusive Banded Yellow Robin leads a quiet life in the forest under storey and is usually detected by its mellow trill. We will also try to observe the timid Brown-headed (or Brown-capped) Jewel-babbler here. This form used to be considered a subspecies of the Blue Jewel-babbler, but the female looks very different and the male has a dissimilar song. Like the other members of its genus, it is secretive and we will need to work a bit to entice it 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. 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.
Other species that we may well encounter include Orange-bellied Fruit Dove, Zoe Imperial Pigeon, the magnificent Palm Cockatoo, (Western) Black-capped Lory, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Stout-billed Cuckooshrike,. Black-browed Triller, the sneaky Rusty Mouse-warbler, the unobtrusive Green-backed Gerygone, Ochre-collared Monarch, Plain Honeyeater, Papuan (or New Guinea) White-eye, the secretive White-eared Catbird and Grey Crow. At night we will try to get good views of Papuan Boobook and Marbled Frogmouth.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 20 After some final birding in the Adelbert mountains, we will return to Madang for a two nights stay.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 21 This morning we will visit a nice stretch of lowland forest near Madang where we have a fair chance of encountering the snazzy-looking Edwards’s Fig Parrot. This beautiful bird is restricted to northeastern New Guinea and favours large fig trees. We may also find Double-eyed Fig Parrot, Common Paradise Kingfisher, Common Golden Whistler and Mimic Meliphaga.
In the afternoon we will explore a small offshore island where New Guinea Scrubfowl can be found. Coroneted Fruit Dove and Mangrove Golden Whistler also inhabit the island.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 22 After some final birding around Madang we will return to Port Moresby for an overnight stay.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 23 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 flight schedules allow, we will arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Days 24-25 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 which 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 and two near-endemics.
Endemic, noisy Manus (or White-naped) Friarbirds (or Chaukas) and handsome Manus (or Admiralty Pied) Monarchs will accompany us on our walks. The localized Meek’s Pygmy Parrot, which also occurs on the Saint Matthias Islands, feeds on lichens and behaves a bit like a nuthatch. The Manus Dwarf Kingfisher (split from Variable Dwarf) is a secretive bird but by being alert we should add it to the tally. The Manus Cuckooshrike favours open country and forest edges. 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 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 tiny and virtually nothing has been written on the ecology of this species, which is treated as Vulnerable 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 silent it is nigh on impossible in the very dense forest. Predicting in advance when the birds will be calling regularly seems to be impossible.
Other species which we should observe on Manus include White-bellied Sea-Eagle, the islet-favouring Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove, Island Imperial Pigeon and Beach Kingfisher.
Remote Papua New Guinea: Day 26 This morning we will return by air to Port Moresby, where our tour ends.