WEST PAPUA EXPEDITION: ITINERARY
West Papua Expedition: Day 1 Our expedition will start at the Jayapura airport at Sentani, situated on the north coast of West Papua not too far from the regional capital of Jayapura. From here we will take a flight south across the width of New Guinea to Merauke, the main town on the south coast. Upon arrival we will transfer to the edge of the Wasur National Park for a five nights stay.
West Papua Expedition: Days 2-5 The Wasur National Park covers 4138 square kilometres (1598 square miles) and forms just part of the largest wetland in West Papua. About 70% of the total area of the national park consists of savanna and wetlands, while the rest is covered in monsoon, mangrove and bamboo forest and large stretches of sago swamp forest. The dominant trees are different species of mangrove, Terminalia and Paperbark (Melaleuca). Birdwatchers who have visited Kakadu National Park in Northern Australia will see a great resemblance.
The high value of its biodiversity has led to Wasur National Park being dubbed the ‘Serengeti of West Papua’. The vast open wetlands attract a very rich fauna, with flocks of a wide variety of waterbirds and a distinct Australian influence.
However, the main attraction for us here is the impressive Spangled Kookaburra, a member of the kingfisher family, which looks like a small, more attractive version of the more widespread Blue-winged Kookaburra. It calls less and keeps more in hiding than its close relatives, but we should soon get to grips with this much wanted species.
Grassy edges are the habitat of two very localized seed eating passerines, the Grey-crowned and the Black Mannikin. Both of these are a bit nomadic, so we may need to cover different areas of the park to locate these specialities. The Fly River Grassbird is only known from two localities in the nearby New Guinea Trans Fly region, but there is an unconfirmed record from Wasur National Park, so we will definitely keep our eyes and ears open for this very little-known bird. This subtly-coloured species is very habitat specific as it only lives in inundated or floating reeds along watercourses.
Several other interesting, but more widespread species include the rarely seen and reclusive Forest Bittern, the amazing New Guinea Flightless Rail, the magnificent Southern Crowed Pigeon, the splendid Flame Bowerbird, Black-eared Catbird and the skulking and rarely-encountered Painted Quail-thrush. Southern Cassowaries are not uncommon and raucous Greater Bird-of-paradise are regularly encountered in the patches of monsoon forest.
A fair number of what one might call ‘Australian’ species only occur in this far flung corner of West Papua: Magpie Goose, Black-necked Stork, Brolga, Australian Bustard, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Bush Stone-curlew, Bar-shouldered Dove, Little Corella, Red-winged Parrot, Australian Owlet-nightjar, Noisy Pitta, Little and Noisy Friarbirds, Brown, White-throated and Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Mangrove Gerygone, Black-faced Woodswallow, Australian Magpie, Black-backed Butcherbird, Grey-crowned Babbler, Restless Flycatcher, Rufous and Mangrove Fantails, Magpie-lark and Green and Olive-backed Orioles.
We will of course also savour the rich birdlife of the marshes, lakes and rivers where waterbirds abound. We can expect to find Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, Great-billed, Pied and Striated Herons, Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, Nankeen (or Rufous) Night Heron, Australian Ibis, Spotted Whistling Duck and Buff-banded Rail.
Other species include Long-tailed Honey Buzzard, Whistling and Brahminy Kites, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Collared Sparrowhawk, Brown Falcon, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Australian Pratincole, Amboyna Cuckoo-Dove, Pink-spotted, Orange-fronted and Orange-bellied Fruit Doves, Pinon’s, Collared, Zoe’s and Torresian Imperial Pigeons, Greater Streaked and Western Black-capped Lories, Coconut and Red-flanked Lorikeets, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Red-cheeked and Eclectus Parrots, Brush Cuckoo, Ivory-billed (or Greater Black) and Pheasant Coucals, Marbled Frogmouth, Large-tailed Nightjar, Moustached Treeswift, Uniform Swiftlet, Rufous-bellied and Blue-winged Kookaburras, Forest, Sacred, Yellow-billed and Azure Kingfishers, Rainbow Bee-eater, Oriental Dollarbird, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, Emperor Fairywren, Yellow-bellied, Green-backed and Fairy Gerygones, Black Thicket and Northern Fantails, Willie Wagtail, Spectacled and Frilled Monarchs, Shining and Lemon-bellied Flycatchers, Grey-headed Whistler, Little Shrikethrush, Red-capped Flowerpecker, Black and Yellow-bellied Sunbirds, New Guinea White-eye, Mimic and Yellow-gaped Meliphagas, Silver-eared, Tawny-breasted and Streak-headed Honeyeaters, Yellow-faced Myna, Brown Oriole, Spangled Drongo, White-breasted Woodswallow, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Glossy-mantled and Trumpet Manucodes and Torresian Crow.
Agile Wallaby, Dusky Pademelon and introduced Rusa Deer can often be spotted at Wasur.
West Papua Expedition: Day 6 After some final birding at Wasur we return to Merauke for an overnight stay.
West Papua Expedition: Day 7 This morning we will take a flight from Merauke back to Jayapura (Sentani) where we connect with an onward flight to Sorong in the western part of West Papua for a three nights stay in the Sorong region.
West Papua Expedition: Days 8-9 In a nice stretch of lush lowland forest we will search for the vocal, but retiring Red-breasted Paradise Kingfisher. This jewel is a very localized forest denizen in New Guinea, as its distribution comprises two disjunct, well separated areas: the Sepik-Ramu lowlands, the foothills of the Adelbert mountains and the Huon Peninsula in central eastern Papua New Guinea and the Vogelkop Peninsula, the Bomberai Peninsula and the Bird’s Neck in the extreme west of West Papua. This much wanted kingfisher favours the shaded forest interior and no nest has ever been found. When we visit this area on the regular West Papua tours in July or August this beauty remains very elusive and typically we only manage to hear its distinctive trills emanating from the dense forest, but in November we stand a much better chance of seeing the species as the birds are known to be much more responsive.
Flowering trees can attract another localized speciality, the modestly-clad Black Lory, whose distribution is confined to the Vogelkop Peninsula, the Bird’s Neck and the island of Misool.
Many other great birds can be found and may include Red-billed Brushturkey, Papuan (or New Guinea Harpy) Eagle, Pacific Baza, Grey-headed Goshawk, Bar-tailed Cuckoo-Dove, Dwarf Fruit Dove, Dwarf Koel, Brush Cuckoo, Glossy and Uniform Swiftlets, Papuan Spine-tailed Swift, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Papuan Dwarf Kingfisher, Blyth’s Hornbill, Yellow-capped Pygmy Parrot, Moluccan King Parrot, Double-eyed Fig Parrot, Ruby-throated Myzomela, Spotted and Tawny-breasted Honeyeaters, Rusty Mouse Warbler, Dwarf Longbill, Black and Hooded Butcherbirds, Barred, Boyer’s, Grey-headed and Golden Cuckooshrikes, Black-browed Triller, Grey Whistler, Metallic and Singing Starlings, Yellow-faced Myna and Black and Olive-backed Sunbirds.
West Papua Expedition: Day 10 This morning we will board a sturdy boat which will take us to the distant island of Kofiau. It will take us four or more hours to reach this little-visited island and on the way we will encounter flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes, Common, Little, Bridled and Greater Crested Terns, Lesser and Great Frigatebirds and Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers. Upon arrival we will transfer to our simple accommodation for a three nights stay.
West Papua Expedition: Days 11-12 Kofiau is one of the smaller islands in the celebrated Raja Ampat islands and has a surface area of 144 square kilometres (56 square miles). It is situated about 90 km (55 miles) west of the island of Salawati and consists mainly of raised coral limestone with some volcanic hills. Most of the original rainforest was selectively logged in the 20th century, but luckily most of the island is still covered in closed canopy primary and secondary forest.
Kofiau holds two intriguing endemic species: the attractive Kofiau Paradise Kingfisher and the pied Kofiau Monarch. The former species is fairly common in the forest interior and closely resembles the widespread Common Paradise Kingfisher, differing mainly in having a shorter and totally white tail. Like its sister species it is quite vocal and perches quietly in the forest understorey, slowly pumping its tail and occasionally sallying out to catch invertebrate prey. The little known Kofiau Monarch was discovered in 1955 and described in 1959. It favours the lowland forest interior and bears a close resemblance to the widespread Spot-winged Monarch, looking blackish on the upperparts and lacking the distinctive wing spots.
As well as these two major specialities we should also encounter Dusky Megapode, Great-billed Heron, Spectacled and Spice Imperial Pigeons, Beach Kingfisher, Violet-necked Lory, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Great-billed Parrot, Hooded Pitta, Island Monarch, Spangled Drongo, Large-billed Gerygone and Olive-crowned Flowerpecker.
West Papua Expedition: Day 13 After some final birding on Kofiau we will board our speedboat and return to Sorong for an overnight stay.
West Papua Expedition: Day 14 The expedition ends this morning at Sorong airport.
SNOW MOUNTAIN ROBIN EXTENSION
West Papua Expedition (Snow Mountains): Day 1 The extension will start this morning at the Jayapura airport at Sentani. From here we will take a flight into West Papua’s mountainous interior, to the town of Wamena for an overnight stay.
West Papua Expedition (Snow Mountains): Days 2-5 During these four days we will visit the third highest mountaintop in New Guinea, Puncak Trikora, which is home to the fabled Snow Mountain Robin. This once snow-covered mountain, which used to be called Wilhelmina Peak, reaches 4730m (15,584ft) high and is situated in the eastern part of the Sudirman (Nassau) Range of the Maoke Mountains. The ice cap of Puncak Trikora melted between 1936 and 1962.
The Snow Mountain Robin is only known from two mountain areas in western central West Papua and is the highest living bird on the island of New Guinea. To reach its habitat we will have to hike to the inhospitable rocky slopes near the top of this mountain. Once we reach this altitude the bird is usually not too difficult to find, if the weather behaves. This sooty black bird has an very obvious red breast and sits conspicuously on the rocks.
We will of course see many other birds typical of the highlands of West Papua during the extension. We will camp at Puncak Trikora for two or possibly three nights in very simple conditions. We have a day spare to allow for bad weather and if we complete the Snow Mountain Robin hike on time we will have a day for birding at lower altitudes. On Day 5 we will return to Wamena for a very welcome overnight at a comfortable hotel.
West Papua Expedition (Snow Mountains): Day 6 This morning we fly back to Jayapura (Sentani) airport, where the extension ends and we meet up with those arriving for the main expedition.