Peregrine Bird Tours
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Peregrine Bird Tours

West Papua Tour Report 1st - 14th June 2011

Our trekking tour to the Arfak Mountains of West Papua produced a rich array of highly prized and much sought-after birds and also lots and lots of rain. This was the 182nd birding tour that I had led and was without doubt, the most difficult birding tour that I have ever led. The combination of rather basic camping, long hikes on very slippery, muddy and steep trails, hot humid weather in the lowlands, lots of rain, incredibly shy and skulking birds, all made for a very challenging and difficult tour. Even so, our group had the determination to complete the walks without complaints, even when it rained so hard that the track turned into mud-slides. The avian rewards of this tour were out of this world; we observed a good number of members of the most beautiful and spectacular bird family in the world, the gorgeous birds-of-paradise, along with a supporting cast of colourful pigeons, parrots, kingfishers and bowerbirds.

Following a long and arduous series of flights from Australia, we finally arrived at the harbour town of Manokwari on the northeast coast of the Vogelkop Peninsula. While waiting for our trekking permits to be processed, a little roadside birding produced Brahminy Kite, Feral Pigeon, Pacific Swallow and lots of Eurasian Tree Sparrows. We then boarded our 4 wheel-drive vehicles and we were soon on our way, a two hour drive took us to the Oransbari Peninsula, where we flushed an immature Great-billed Heron at the mouth of a small creek. From here we began our 11 day trek in the remote and rarely visited Arfak Mountains. It was a two hour walk to our first camp site situated at a height of 240 metres, in the lowlands. Birds along the way included a splendid Long-tailed Buzzard, a Stephan's Dove, a few Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and lots of Glossy Swiftlets.

We spent the next day birding around camp, a male Superb Fruit-Dove flew in a nearby tree and added much wanted colour to the predominately green forest we were birding in. A Wompoo Fruit-Dove showed briefly and we enjoyed good looks at a pair of Red-cheeked Parrots. A mixed species feeding flock added plenty of excitement as we watched Northern Fantail a very obliging Olive Flyrobin, Yellow-bellied Gerygone, Yellow-bellied and Dwarf Longbills, the weird looking Grey Crow and best of all, a superbly plumaged male Golden Monarch.

Our third day of the trek, was by far the hardest of the 11 day trek, as we climbed from 240 metres to 1,100 metres above sea level. As we climbed steadily uphill we enjoyed flight views of a majestic Gurney's Eagle, a few normally very shy Dwarf Fruit-Doves, Palm Cockatoo, Rainbow Lorikeet and several Blyth's Hornbills, whose wings made a great deal of noise, when the birds flew from tree to tree. A Red-bellied Pitta put in a brief appearance, both Papuan and New Guinea Cuckoo-shrikes reluctantly revealed themselves in the far-off canopy, while smaller passerines at lower elevations, proved a little easier to see. These included Chestnut-bellied Fantail, Black-winged and Spot-winged Monarchs, Little Shrike-Thrush, the uncommon Black-chinned Robin, the far more obliging White-faced Robin and a pair of Pale-billed Scrubwrens. Next we saw a couple of amazingly beautiful and range restricted Masked Bowerbirds and no less than three species of birds-of-paradise, who proved very reluctant to show themselves well, Magnificent Riflebird, Magnificent Bird-of-paradise and Lesser Bird-of-paradise. On arrival in camp, we enjoyed great looks at the very impressive Vulturine Parrot.

Today we spent the whole day birding around our camp site at 1,100 metres. New birds for the tour included Slender-billed Cuckoo-Dove, the very attractive Moluccan King Parrot, a very shy Sooty Thicket-Fantail, particularly good looks at a Black Monarch, a Yellow-breasted Boatbill and an Island Leaf-Warbler. We then enjoyed tremendous looks at the very beautiful Dwarf Whistler and a supporting cast of Sclater's Whistler, both Hooded and Rusty Pitahuis, a very shy Puff-backed Honeyeater and several fairly confiding Mountain Drongos.

The following day we climbed from 1,100 metres to 1,600 metres, before making camp on the flanks of Mount Iwom. The climbing was not so arduous as the last trekking day, allowing us plenty of time for birding. As we climbed steadily up the trail a solitary Black-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, somewhat reluctantly revealed its presence in the far off canopy and a wondrous male Superb Bird-or-paradise in full breeding plumage, with blue frontal shield expanded, appeared briefly on an exposed tree stump. A small flock of foraging passerines included Perplexing and Grey-green Scrubwrens and Grey and Fairy Gerygones. Once in camp we enjoyed super looks at the very uncommon Rufescent Imperial-Pigeon and best of all, we were shown a Salvadori's Owlet-Nightjar, at its daytime roost.

We spent the next three days at the highest camp site making daily forays up the slippery slope of Mount Iwom and spending time at three palm-fringed hides, overlooking the display grounds of Western Parotia and Volgelkop Bowerbird. The hides proved very rewarding; we were indeed fortunate to observe the splendid display of the Western Patronia, where the male performed his dervish dancing and ballerina display in splendid fashion, just a few metres away from us. Witnessing this rather unbelievable, but very gripping display, must surely be one of the highlights of any birders birding career. A lucky few were present in one of the hides when the rarely observed Pheasant Pigeon walked across the clearing at the Western Parotia display site. We were all treated to the spectacle of a displaying male Volgelkop Bowerbird at the entrance to his bower, which is the largest and most ornately decorated bower, of any species of bowerbird. The bower is a cone-shaped hut-like structure some 100 centimetres high and approximately160 centimetres in diameter, with a large oval-shaped entrance. The forecourt, directly in front of the bower, is cleared of all debris and artistically arranged with piles of bright red flowers, coal black seed pods, purple berries, shining beetle wings and dead leaves. Males go to great lengths to ensure that their displays are in prime condition, replacing old items as needed, as well as trying to outdo their neighbours by finding more spectacular decorations, and arranging them appropriately. If a male finds a rare or unusual item; the item will become a prime target for theft by neighbouring males. Females visit bowers and, depending on whether they like the "treasure trove" on display, will mate with the attendant males.

On our first foray up Mount Iwom we found a nesting pair of Ornate Fruit-Doves, enjoyed good looks at a perched White-breasted Fruit-Dove, watched a pair of Papuan Lorikeets foraging in the canopy and enjoyed close looks at a pair of Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrots excavating a nest hole. New species of passerines for us included both Black and Friendly Fantails, several very beautiful Regent Whistlers, the rather cryptic Vogelkop Scrubwren and a fairly obliging Papuan Treecreeper. High up on the mountain, some of the eucalypts were in flower, sporting bright red blooms. No less than three species of honeyeaters were attracted to the flowers and we enjoyed good looks at Cinnamon-browed and Rufous-sided Honeyeaters and Red-collared Myzomela. In the late afternoon back at the camp site, we had the good fortune to be shown a Feline Owlet-Nightjar at its daytime roost, this has to be one of the most spectacular birds in the world and the sighting was much enjoyed by everyone. Later in the afternoon we also enjoyed very close looks at an immature Papuan Mountain-Pigeon.

A great deal of rain fell the following day, which kept us fairly close to camp, which is where we wanted to by anyway. As yesterday, when we were trudging up Mount Iwom, two of the most wanted birds of the tour, two species of birds-of-paradise, the Long-tailed Paradigalla and the Black Sicklebill, were both seen well by the camp staff, right in the camp itself. Our patience was rewarded and in the morning we enjoyed good looks at both species of birds-of-paradise. An added bonus was a beautiful Black-throated Robin, which also turned up in our camp site In the afternoon a short foray up Mount Iwom did produce two new species of birds for the tour, a Mid-Mountain Berrypecker and the very range restricted Western Smoky Honeyeater.

Our last trek up Mount Iwom proved fairly rewarding as we trudged through the rain, in between downpours we managed to find a few new species of birds, which included a splendid Dimorphic Fantail, a rather obliging Ashy Robin, the very brightly coloured Canary Flyrobin and the extremely range restricted Vogolkop Honeyeater.

On the last morning before our descent down the mountain new birds in the camp site included the beautiful Black-breasted Boatbill and the Western Mountain White-eye. During the next two and a half days we scrambled our way back down to where our four wheel-drives vehicles were waiting for us. Few new birds were added to the list, as we were mainly pre-occupied by watching where we placed our feet and trying not to slide down the entire length of the mountain! New birds during the descent included Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Frilled Monarch and Mountain Mouse-Warbler.
Some members of the group had the good fortune to be present in one of the hides when a male Magnificent Bird-of-paradise put in an appearance.

Back in Manokwari, it was good to have a warm shower, eat in a restaurant and best of all, to sleep in a real bed, but unfortunately, it was the end of the tour. We had to endure two travelling days back to Australia, which gave us plenty of time to reflect upon what had been a very special, quiet demanding and fabulous tour of New Guinea, during which we had seen some of the most beautiful birds in the world.  

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