Trip Report to West Papua by Sue Bryan
June 27th – July 21st 2019
This month-long trip was proposed by Ron and Sue Johns who kindly invited John and myself to make up a group of seven birders to travel to West Papua to see as many birds of paradise that were available and to add as many new birds that the very experienced and big world listers could manage. Birdtour Asia www.birdtourasia.com were approached to organise a customised trip that would take us to the island of Biak in the Geelvink Islands where there are several Biak endemics and then onto West Papua. Four of us were going to continue onto the island of Waigeo where there were more birds of paradise to be found and an opportunity to travel to several more small tropical islands. Many flights would be involved as roads do not exist in many parts of West Papua or if they did they were extremely rough. John and I were thrilled to be asked and felt that we could not miss the opportunity but realised that this would be a very hard and physically demanding tour. As West Papua is the other side of the Wallace line I knew that potentially there would be many new birds for me as I have not birded in Indonesia before.
Guides: Rob Hutchinson
Jun 25th Norwich – Amsterdam – Kuala Lumpur –Jakarta
Jun 26th Jakarta, Muara Angke Wildlife Reserve
Jun 27th Jakarta – Makassar (Sulawesi)
Jun 28th Makassar – Biak
Jun 29th - 30th Biak
Jul 1st Biak – Sentani – Wamena
Jul 1st - 4th Wamena and Snow Mountains
Jul 5th Wamena – Sentani – Nimbokrang
Jul 6th – 8th Nimbokrang
Jul 9th Sentani –Manokwari – Minggrei
Jul 10th -13th Minggrei
Jul 14th Minggrei- Manokwari –Sarong
Jul 15th Sarong
Jul 16th Sarong – Waiego
Jul 17th Waigeo - Gem Island - Bat Island
Jul 18th Waigeo – Merpati Island
Jul 19th Waigeo – Sarong
Jul 20th Sarong – Jakarta – Kuala Lumpur – Amsterdam
Jul 21st Amsterdam – Norwich
International return flights to Jakarta via Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur with KLM and Jakarta to Biak via Mukassar with Garuda Indonesia were booked through Trailfinders www.trailfinders.com at a cost of £1251 each.
Tour cost £6600 each
Extension £1600 each
I used an ATM at Jakarta airport to exchange about £80 to 1 500 000 IDR. This was totally unnecessary as we did not stop anywhere near shops. I did manage to run into a very small village shop and bought a packet of biscuits and a chocolate bar on a couple of occasions. As West Papua is a Muslim country, alcohol was unavailable at the majority of places (except the larger hotels) that we stayed although the more intrepid in our party managed to find a few cans of lager from somewhere some nights!
West Papua is governed by tribes or so it seems and ‘fixers’ were used to negotiate issues that arose as we passed through ‘their’ area. Our group was ‘serviced’ and ably looked after by a group of porters, cooks, drivers and local guides that were employed by Bird Tour Asia via a ground agent at each location. I found them particularly helpful on the steep and muddy trails as they carried my bag and hauled me up some of the slithery slopes.
As West Papua is positioned in the tropics on the equator, the weather is hot and humid for most of the year, with average temperatures of 27°C to 32°C and relative humidity of 80%. It was colder up the Snow Mountains where we needed coats and fleeces in the early mornings. We encountered a lot of rain in some locations and used ponchos. A big good quality umbrella is essential (which mine wasn’t!)
West Papua habitats range from steamy lowland swamp forests to the alpine grassland of the Snow Mountains, the highest peaks between the Himalaya and the Andes. It is covered by some of the largest areas of original, intact, forest on earth.
The Bird’s Head peninsula is covered by the Vogelkop Montane Rain Forests. It includes more than 22,000 km2 of montane forests at elevations of 1,000 metres and higher Over 50% of these forests are located within protected areas. There are over 300 bird species on the peninsula, of which at least 20 are unique to the eco region.
Waigeo Island is the largest island of the Raja Ampat group in the Dampier Strait, Waigeo Island lies about 40 miles northwest of West Papua’s Vogelkop Peninsula, which forms the western tip of the island of New Guinea. Its central areas are mountainous, rising to 1,000 metres are heavily forested with hardwood; streams plunge down the rock faces. Some parts of the island are covered with head-high grass, casuarina groves, and stands of pine trees.
Steve, John and I caught a flight to Amsterdam and flew overnight to Kuala Lumpur.
Steve, John and I caught a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta where we spent the night in the Orchardz Hotel, Bandara.
After breakfast in our hotel we negotiated with them to leave our bags in the room whilst we caught a taxi to the Muara Angke Wildlife Reserve. It did not go well as the official at the entrance would not let us in. The language barrier did not help but he was resolute and left us to bird alongside a very busy main road peering in amongst the swamps and trees. We watched Pacific Swallow and Cave Swiflet overhead whilst Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker were in the trees along with Sooty-headed Bulbul and Spotted Dove.
Down in the water a White-breasted Waterhen ran around as a Javan Pond Heron stood still watching for fish. A Striated Heron flew along the water as a Purple Heron sat out on a distant branch. Oriental Darters flew as we watched Grey Heron, Little Egret and a Little Black Cormorant. We walked to the corner of the road and watched a pair of Freckle-breasted Woodpeckers. Javan Mynas were on the grass as were Scaly-breasted Munias. The taxi had stayed around for us and we asked to be taken to the coast. It was extremely hot and the harbour was busy with people and boats. We saw some distant terns but the heat haze beat us on getting a positive identification.
We returned to the hotel and caught a taxi to the airport to catch a flight to Makassar in Sulawesi.
We arrived in Sulawesi at some unearthly hour in the morning and flew to Biak, one of the Geelvink Islands where we were met at the airport and driven the 200 metres to the hotel. It was very hot and sticky and after breakfast I felt the need for a swim in the hotel pool before taking a nap after our lengthy journey. Later on Rob, our guide, assembled the group and we went birding along a road in some secondary forest. I was soon adding world ticks as well as some potential future splits. Long-tailed Starling was my first bird and Biak Gerygone my second. Red-capped Flowerpecker flitted around as we admired a Yellow-bibbed Fruit Dove. The conditions were not good enough for photography and so I didn’t take any photos. (Little did I know that this was going to be the case for much of the tour!) Glossy Swiflet was going to be a familiar bird for quite a while as I added Biak White-eye, Biak Triller, Black-winged Lory, Black Sunbird, Golden Monarch, Biak Black Flycatcher, Biak Cicadabird and Moustached Treeswift. Common birds included Pacific Swallow, Tree Sparrow Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Blyth’s Hornbill and Sooty-headed Bulbul.
Dusk fell and we waited until dark to see Biak Scops Owl before heading back to our hotel where Wilbur had arrived. It was good to see him again after leading us so well in Borneo.
We were out of the door by 4.30am and headed north-east of Biak to walk a track in the rain in our wellies. How we were all going to hate them by the end of the tour!
It was soon obvious that most of the birds that I would see were going to be world ticks as I added Geelvink Pygmy Parrot, Northern (Biak) Fantail, Biak Leaf Warbler, Hooded Butcherbird and Red-cheeked Parrot. However birding was very slow and coping with the rain and an umbrella did not make life easy. Luckily the rain stopped and we spent ages trying to get views of the Biak Paradise Kingfisher which was difficult to get everyone onto because of the narrow view through the vegetation. We watched another Biak Triller and Oriental Dollarbird before stopping to watch a Biak Pitta.
Parrots are always good to see as they add some colour to the proceedings as we watched Eclectus Parrot and Biak Lorikeet flying before adding Biak Monarch and Little Egret. Birding continued to be slow in the poor weather and we returned to the hotel for lunch resuming again at 3.15pm along another forested road where we added Uniform Swiftlet, Rainbow Bee-eater and a wonderful Emperor Fairy Wren. A Pacific Baza flew over as we watched a Claret-breasted Fruit Dove as the final bird of the day.
After opening my birthday cards and accepting ‘happy birthday’ greetings, we were on the road by 4.45am and back once more along the trail that we did yesterday. Once again the birding was extremely slow but we saw Black-capped Lory, Great Cuckoo Dove, Shining Flycatcher, Biak Whistler, Amboyna (Brown) Cuckoodove and Olive-backed Sunbird. A Monitor Lizard added some interest as we walked along listening for birds. We dived off into the vegetation and most of us were lucky to see Biak Coucal. However some were facing the wrong way as it flew over our heads and there was a lot of frustration involved as conditions were difficult.
After lunch we returned to the road where conditions were easier and added Brush Cuckoo, Geelvink’s Imperial Pigeon and one of my favourites Willie Wagtail! A tree full of young Metallic Starling calling gave some photographic opportunities as we struggled with the heat and humidity making us all very weary.
Geelvink Imperial Pigeon
We were up at 3.45am and walked across to the airport where we caught a flight to Sentani. We were to see quite a lot of this airport as there are very few roads in West Papua with us having to fly between sites
We remained at the airport in Sentani until our next flight to Wamena in the West Papuan mountains. We drove to our hotel and after lunch drove up to 11 500ft where we drove a track very slowly to find Mountain Snow Quail. Altitude is always a problem for me and I wondered how I was going to cope. Luckily we didn’t have to walk far and I managed without too much difficulty. We watched a Papuan Harrier, Long-tailed Buzzard in the air and Black-breasted Mannikins at the side of the road. A Pygmy Eagle gave me chance to photograph it as a Brown Falcon flew through. We stopped and watched an Orange-cheeked Honeyeater as well as Alpine Pipits. John, Steve and I stood in the back of the vehicle and got very wet in the rain. An Island Thrush added itself to the list before Steve suddenly spotted our main quarry cowering at the side of the track. A Snow Mountain Quail was not easy to spot and because I was standing in the back of the truck with John and Steve I was lucky to see it before it flew off over the top of the mountain. Mountain Swiftlet and Belford’s Melidectes were welcome additions to the list.
At dusk we climbed a steep bank to watch Archbold’s Nightjar and New Guinea Woodcock. Very unusually for me, every new bird that I wrote down in my notebook today was a world tick.
Sue Ron Steve Richard Wilbur Rob Dave John and Sue in our hotel in Wamena
We drove up to the Snow Mountains from Wamena to 11 500 ft in a quest looking for mannikins all to no avail. It was a beautiful morning as we admired the scenery. We saw Orange-billed Lorikeet, Fan-tailed Cuckoo and Mountain Firetail.
Riding in the back of the vehicles
Early morning in the Snow Mountains
I was quite excited as I knew this was going to probably be my first encounter with a bird of paradise (BOP) in West Papua. It came in the shape of some young Splendid Astrapia. (BOP 1)
Wilbur Steve Sue Rob Richard Dave John Sue at breakfast in the Snow Mountains
Eventually we reached a trailhead which was extremely wet and muddy with moss-covered trees in the forest. A Dimorphic Fantail showed in the vegetation. It was incredibly steep and muddy as we made our way down. I did not enjoy it that much as we saw very little in the way of birds as we descended down. We all tucked into a little side trail where we watched a Greater Ground Robin and Papuan Longrunner. I was struggling with altitude sickness and my legs were going to jelly. I soon realised that I would lose all my balance and be unable to get back up the trail and so sadly had to make the decision to ask one of our helpers to guide me back up. My Papuan helper hauled me back up the trail which was steep and muddy with very difficult leaps to negotiate for a lady of my advancing years!!!
Later we birded the roadside managing to scope Salvadori’s Teal and Eurasian Coot on the lake. The birding took off with a few birds to look at including Mountain Robin, Black-throated Honeyeater and another Orange-cheeked Honeyeater. With a bit of effort we eventually located Snow Mountain Mannikin. Bird of the day for me was Painted Tiger Parrot which sat and posed above the road for us. I like gaudy birds!! We could hear a Papuan Grassbird singing in the area of grassland below us. Seeing it was quite a different story as we all scanned the land in front of us. We dropped down to search and eventually we picked it up in our binoculars giving us distant views. We walked forwards to get a better view before it played tricks on us again.
We drove to the top of the mountain once again and birded the road at 11 500ft for the first hour of daylight. It was excellent birding as we enjoyed Rufous-naped Bellbird, Short-bearded Melidectes, McGregor’s Honeyeater, Papuan Thornbill, Lorentz’s Whistler and Yellow-billed Lorikeet. Western Crested Berrypecker was a smart bird.
(photo courtesy of Wilbur Goh)
the short steep path to get us up to the start of the trailhead where we
watched Grey-streaked Honeyeater, Smoky
Honeyeater, Sooty Honeyeater and
Friendly Fantail. We had more views of a Papuan Logrunner before a magnificent Crested Satinbird flew in.
I was suffering badly with altitude sickness and had to return to the vehicle. Later in the day after a sleep in the vehicle, I managed to join the rest of the group and walked back down the road losing a bit of height where we had good views of Red-collared Myzomela and Plum-faced Parakeet. Feeling a bit better and able to take a few photos we watched White-winged Robin, Slaty-headed Longbill, Baliem Whistler, Mountain Fruit Dove as well as Island Leaf Warbler and Grey Thornbill.
Sue Ron Wilbur Dave and Sue enjoying a picnic lunch
(photo courtesy J.Geeson
Brown Sicklebill(photo courtesy J.Geeson)
We were up early today and drove up the mountain above Wamena at 9 200ft to another trailhead. The steep trail was treacherous as it descended the mountainside down a series of wet logs. It was a balancing act to say the least and coupled with altitude sickness meant that my legs soon went to jelly, it was not ideal. We watched a King of Saxony Bird of Paradise and a wonderful pair of Brown Sicklebills, another bird of paradise with magnificent long tails. (BOP 2 and 3) They were stunning.
Many birds showed well including Black-billed Cuckoo Dove and Josephine’s Lorikeet as well as Buff-faced Scrubwren but sadly I was too affected by altitude sickness to continue on down the trail. My Papuan friend hauled me back up the trail. John kindly accompanied me where we could enjoy a rest and a cup of tea. The rest of the group appeared several hours later and in the afternoon I had recovered enough to join the rest of the group birding along the road. We added Mountain Peltops, Fantail Berrypecker, Rufous-throated Bronze Cuckoo, Papuan Treecreeper, Brown-breasted Gerygone and Capped White-eye.
We drove to a spot to watch a Greater Superb Bird of Paradise (BOP 4) displaying raising its cape of feathers up to impress his female. It was lovely to watch through the scope but sadly a bit distant for photographs. By the vehicles we watched an Ornate Melidectes as well as adding Hooded Cuckooshrike.
We drove back up the road where we walked a stretch back down again adding White-shouldered Fairywren, Meyers Goshawk and Blue-collared Parrot.
We flew (flight 8 of the trip) from Wamena back to Sentani to discover that our suitcases had not come with us. A Singing Starling was perched on a lamp post as we left the airport. We had to wait in a local hotel until our suitcases arrived on a cargo plane later. At least it gave us a chance to get some wi-fi and catch up with news etc as well as having a rest! After their arrival we drove to Nimbokrang in the lowlands of West Papua.
We settled into our cabins and after lunch began the walk in our wellies up the muddy trail. It was obviously going to rain and we sweated underneath ponchos. Ron was clearly not well and he and Sue returned to the cabins. We watched Northern Fantail as well as a pair of Salvadori’s Fig Parrots on the trail. A Lesser Bird of Paradise flew away from me (BOP 5) before getting caught in a tropical rainstorm with no shelter. I soon found out how inadequate my umbrella was. I was soaked through to the skin and my wellies filled up with water. We found a ledge where we could try and ride out the downpour still watching the canopy as we added Yellow-faced Myna, Streak-headed Honeyeater, Great-billed Heron, Pinon Pigeon, Helmeted Friarbird. I had a very uncomfortable walk back to the lodge through all the mud down the trail. Yuks!
We had listened to a tropical rainstorm all night in our wooden cabin and could not believe that Rob was going to take us out in it at 4.30am. However this was our only opportunity to see Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise sitting on its display tree at dawn. So getting soaked from the start, we trudged up the extremely muddy tail where my boots soon filled with water after sinking right into a deep muddy puddle. It was a gruelling walk up the trail but after ½ hour we were in position behind a screen. A couple of minutes later we were watching a Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise (BOP 6) on its display tree. A magical moment as we attempted to count its wires (I only made it 9!) The dark conditions made photography very difficult to say the least and I was pleased with my attempt in the rain.
Twelve wired Bird-of-Paradise
We walked to the same view point as yesterday where after adding many new species for my world list including Coroneted Fruit Dove, Orange-bellied Fruit Dove, Dwarf Koel, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, White-bellied Thicket Fantail, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Boyer’s Cuckooshrike, Grey-headed Cicadabird and Grey Whistler. One of the local guides had found a couple of displaying Lesser Bird-of-Paradise and I was thrilled at being able to watch them in their antics of trying to impress a female.
We were rotating along the trail as is customary along trails and I was lucky enough to be in front when a Red-legged Brushturkey ran along the track before disappearing before the rest of the group could see it.
We trudged down a very difficult wet, muddy trail crossing streams in our boots to reach another tree that held a King Bird of Paradise. We played a good game with the King Bird of Paradise (BOP7) that did not want to give us good views of it. A few of the group (minus Ron and Sue who had gone to the hospital) caught a glimpse of it but it took some time before we all saw it well enough in its scarlet suit. By now I was soaked through to the skin and John and I commandeered a Papuan lad to guide us back down the trail to our cabin where a shower was needed and some serious washing and drying of our clothes. I had mud everywhere!
After lunch we were taken to a canopy tower where we spent the afternoon watching a Pale-billed Sicklebill (BOP 8), another bird of paradise as it extracted a grub from a tree. We added Brown Lory, Papuan Spinetail, Black-browed Triller and Coconut Lorikeet to our lists as well as having good views of Red-cheeked Parrot and Long-tailed-Buzzard. Once again we got soaked in a tropical rainstorm and stopped play. Deep joy!
We were up at 3.30pm and drove for an hour and a half along a rough track deep into the forest. We walked for the next 5 hours in the sweltering hot and humid weather. We watched an Ochre-collared Monarch singing as well as a Green-backed Honeyeater, Large-billed Gerygone, Yellow-billed Gerygone, Northern Variable Pitohui and a Black Cicadabird. Luckily I was looking the right way as a Rufous-tailed Bush-hen ran across the track and promptly disappeared. John was pleased to see Lowland Peltops just after watching a Little Bronze Cuckoo. Most species were new for me as they zipped about the trees. It continued to be fairly birdy as we added Black Butcherbird, Plain Honeyeater, Black-sided Robin, Mimic Meliphaga and Ruby-throated Myzomela as well as a good view of a Rufous-bellied Kookaburra.
Back at the lodge we watched Bare-faced Pygmy Parrots, Sultan’s Cuckoo Dove and Double-eyed Fig Parrot. Sadly I had to bow out of the afternoon’s excursion as I was still exhausted from yesterday’s gruelling walk and badly needed to rest. The heat and humidity and lack of sleep is beginning to tell on all of us as only 3 out of 7 of us were fit enough to make this afternoon’s excursion! However I did manage to wander around the lodge’s gardens and was shown a Papuan Frogmouth. This is a very gruelling tour and we are still only half-way through!!
We left at 5am and drove back along yesterday’s track out of Nimbokrang, with some of the group as we had been given options this morning. Some had gone to try and see a kingfisher but had been warned that it was very steep and only a 50/50 chance. John and I enjoyed Wilbur’s company and so had decided to stay with him as we set off. Wilbur was still learning the birds and it was a lot less birdy this morning. We had a local guide with us and after adding Purple-tailed Imperial Pigeon and Tan-capped Catbird Wilbur had been advised by our local guide that there was a possibility of seeing a Victoria Crowned Pigeon only 200 metres off the roadway. Some of our group had trudged 6km through mud and swamp in a thick jungle-forest yesterday to see one in high heat and humidity. Wilbur asked us if we wanted to try. Oh yes came the reply! We followed the local guide through the jungle and crossed over a log over a stream keeping extremely quiet as we went. The guide could hear the pigeon.....and we saw the Victoria Crowned Pigeon fly to a nearby tree. The guide soon located it and we all had excellent views of this massive stunning pigeon with its fancy headdress. Result! It was certainly one of the most memorable pigeons that I have ever seen in the world. There were high fives all round with Ron and Sue Johns and John. We were all delighted! I was even more pleased to get a photo through a very narrow window in the vegetation!
Sue Sue and Ron celebrating their success
We returned to our cabins and packed our cases once again. After lunch we left our accommodation to visit a fast flowing river to watch Torrent Fly-robin, Grey Crow, Greta Black Coucal and Whistling Kite before making our way back to Sentani for the night in a hotel. The luxury was bliss!
We were up before dawn and drove to nearby grasslands to the hotel in Sentani, West Papua. For once we had abundant birds to look at as Golden-headed Cisticola, Crimson Finch, Grand Mannikin, Lesser Black Coucal, Hooded Manikin, Helmeted Friarbird and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin were all present in the reedy area. Cinnamon Bittern and Black Bittern flew over the reeds as we looked for birds to watch. Blue-breasted Quail popped out of the tall grass and ran back into cover as soon as they could. I had my 9th bird of paradise in the shape of a Glossy-mantled Manucode (BOP 9) sitting in a tree. We counted Little Egret, Intermediate Egret and Great White Egret as well as watching a Australian Purple Swamphen in the sunlight. It was good not to have to wear wellies for the morning. Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were picked out by Wilbur as we wandered along the track. Tree Martin flew overhead as a Pied Bushchat sat to be admired.
We continued down the track to the lake where we saw a White-bellied Cuckooshrike and Australian Darter. After watching a Spotted Dove there was some debate about the Common Tern present.
All too soon it was back to the hotel for a second breakfast and early lunch before heading for the airport for our ninth flight of the trip to Manokwari where we would drive up to the Arfak Mountains.
We drove up an exceeding rough mountain track to Minggrei to stay in a homestay for the next few nights after a short bit of birding on the track seeing a distant Masked Bowerbird as well as Goldenface, Mountain Meliphaga and a Mid-mountain Berrypecker.
It was to be a gruelling day’s birding as the group walked steep mountain forest trails. I was soon exhausted from the difficult terrain and struggled with the steepness and treacherous conditions underfoot. We sat for 2 ½ hours in a hide not being able to see out of it as the holes in the banana leaves were too high. We also had to fight off mosquitoes too. It was not a pleasant experience as we did not hear the bowerbird that we had all come to see and we were all fed up. We climbed slowly back up the mountain for little reward except for a stunning Spotted Jewel Babbler that ran around the forest floor. We added Green-backed Robin, Fantailed Black Monarch, Grey-green Scrub Wren, Perplexing Scrub Wren, Blue-Grey Robin and Hooded Pitohui. I was shattered and not in a good mood at all!
Lunch was taken back in the homestay and John persuaded me to come on the afternoon’s expedition. I was not at all sure I had any energy resources left. Once again we descended another steep slope to another hide made from banana leaves and ferns where we joined Wilbur, Dave and Richard. En route we watched Vokelkop Melidectes, Western Smoky Honeyeater, Black Pitohui and Vogelkop Whistler. (Vogelkop meaning bird’s head the area of West Papua where we now were, is shaped like a bird’s head.) Luckily we did not have to wait long in the hide before a stunning Magnificent Bird of Paradise (BOP 10) flew into its display ground with its feathered wires emerging from its tail. A wonderful sight!
Buoyed up with the excitement from the BOP I had just about enough energy left to get back up the slope with a Papuan helper carrying all my bags etc. We passed by a Vogelkop Bowerbird bower but the bird was nowhere to be seen. We added Black Fantail and Lesser Ground Robin to our list. I was absolutely shattered by the time I reached the vehicle and had to ask to be taken back to the homestay early as my legs were now like jelly.
After a 5.15am breakfast I was simply not well enough (with a bit of stomach trouble) to go out on the early morning visit but joined the rest of the group at 9.30 am up a steep forest trail in Minggrei to see a Feline Owlet-nightjar at a day roost before continuing on to a Long-tailed Paradigalla, another bird of paradise (BOP 11) on a nest.
Sue and her West Papuan helper
The climb was arduous as we puffed and panted in the hot sweaty conditions in our wellies and the weather wasn’t great. The ascent was almost birdless except for a Black-breasted Boatbill that brightened up the day. We were glad of the shelter under a canopy whist we watched a Rufous-sided Honeyeater after watching the Long-tailed Paradigalla sitting motionless on its nest. We could just about see its head. Lunch was taken as the rain fell but interrupted by the local guides finding a Mountain Owlet-nightjar that we all slithered down some mud to see, well hidden in the thick vegetation. In my hurry I left my camera behind. I returned to get it, but by the time I got back the bird had gone. Grrr... We added Mottled Berryhunter and Mountain Mouse-Warbler but I was shattered and was concerned about the deteriorating weather conditions. A tropical storm was quite clearly brewing.
After a couple of hours John and I returned to the homestay ahead of the rest of our group ably supported by one of our helpers who guided us down. We were treated to a big bowl of hot water (we only have a couple of hours of electricity a day from a generator and mostly cold showers!) This trip to West Papua has been the most gruelling arduous birding trip that I have ever done and I wish I had done it when I was thirty years younger and fitter! I am shattered after every climb up each trail. As it is also a month’s trip the effect is also cumulative as we are getting so little rest time and sleep with every morning a 4am get up! However the birds are stunning and will remain in my memory for quite some time.
I started the day on my own in a hide over-looking a Western Parotia Bird of Paradise hide whilst the others went in search of a Forest Rail without success. I watched the Western Parotia Bird of Paradise, my twelfth Bird of Paradise (BOP12) clear the display ground of leaves before doing a brief display before the rest of my group passed by and disturbed it before it started its well-known dance Grrrr..... I started the big sit once again. The bird returned and was just about to start its display once more when the group passed by once again and disturbed it again. I was not happy bunny after sitting there in silence for several hours in the dark conditions on my own and having the bird disturbed not once but twice! To say I was annoyed was an understatement!
I joined the rest of the group who were sitting on chairs by a fruit watching for a Black Sicklebill. I perched as best I could on a very uneven slope down on a chair at the back bracing myself against Wilbur so as not to slide off my chair. It didn’t take long before a Black Sicklebill (BOP13) and a Vogelkop Superb Bird-of-Paradise (BOP14) added themselves to the list. A Moluccan King-Parrot was seen by some of the group and I was lucky to be in the right place for a quick photo.
I was not in a good mood as I climbed back up the steep trail back to the homestay for lunch. I felt cheated out of watching a good display of the Western Parotia. I cursed the fact that my stomach had let me down on yesterday’s group visit and the disturbance by the group (who weren’t to know that the bird had just arrived on both occasions) who had been very quiet as they had passed by, this morning. The display was very much something that I wanted to see having watched David Attenborough’s programmes over the years. Poor John had to listen to my wrath back at the homestay!
With Rob wanting a break from us and doing a bit of research along a possible new trail he organised an
afternoon trip for us. I enjoyed the drive along a treacherous mountain road to Penibut for 4 hours in search of Grey-banded Mannikin which we eventually all saw. The scenery was stunning and the drive exhilarating to say the least as we bumped along.
Road to Penibut
As I didn’t see the display of Western Parotia yesterday, I opted out of the forest trail this morning and Rob asked Shita the local ground agent to take John (who had kindly agreed to accompany me as he knew how upset I was after yesterday’s events) and myself back to the same hide as yesterday where we would not be disturbed. It turned out to be an excellent decision as John and I were treated to a magnificent display of a male Western Parotia displaying to 2 females. Photography was all but impossible with the poor light conditions but I did manage a video clip (which can be seen on my website at https://suebryan.webs.com/sue-s-diary-2019 and scroll down to 13th July. The bird displayed wonderfully well and we were both delighted, so much so that John fell off his chair and broke it in his excitement! We also added Bronze Ground Dove here.
We found our local guide and organiser, Shita patiently waiting for us further up the track. Together we walked to the bower hide after ten minutes watched a Vokelkop Bowerbird rearrange his decorations after Shita had altered its arrangements of plastic blue bottle-tops. We also watched a Large Scrubwren which was new for the list.
We returned to the homestay and I had a bit of time to myself whilst John went with Shita in search of the Vokelkop Superb Bird-of-Paradise down a steep tail without success. I enjoyed watching the children of the village playing in the sun whilst sitting and relaxing (a rarity in this trip!)
The village was built and organised by Shita as a project to look after visiting birders and wildlife photographers. Each local tribe take it in turns to live in the wooden houses as a community to act as guides, drivers, cooks and helpers to facilitate our needs to have a wonderful experience seeing the birds in the Arfak Mountains. We were very well cared for in this remote location and brought money to help the communities. Well done Shita for this inspirational work!
After lunch we drove back down the mountain for a few miles for some roadside birding along the mountain tracks. It was hard going as we added Scrub Meliphaga, Dwarf Fruit Dove, Black-fronted White-eye and Pink-spotted Fruit Dove.
Views at Minggrei
We set off once again into the forest at Minggrei, this time to find Black-billed Sicklebill, another bird of paradise. We walked to a known area deep down into the valley along a steep forest trail. Our local guide could hear it but after an hour of waiting we had to walk even further down (which meant an even longer exhausting walk back up). John was not well having caught the group’s cold. Eventually we could hear the bird calling close by but in the very difficult terrain not all the group could get into the spot in order to see it. With the help of Sue Johns I managed to see the Black-billed Sicklebill (thanks Sue) just before it flew. Unfortunately some of the group that were behind me did not see it. It was my fifteenth bird of paradise. (BOP 15) On our way up Wilbur got us onto a Garnet Robin that we very high up in the canopy.
We drove to a hotel at Manokwari for lunch stopping to find and eventually finding an Obscure Berrypecker en-route. We drove onto the airport for our tenth flight of the trip to Sarong. After landing we drove to a hotel to drop our bags and straight out again to bird a mangrove area where we saw Blue-black Kingfisher, Brown-backed Honeyeater, Variable Goshawk, Striated Hereon and Orange-fronted Fruit-dove. We dived into mosquito-infested vegetation to see Black-thicket Fantail. This bird (instantly forgettable has the honour of being a landmark bird as I have now seen half the world’s birds according to I.O.C listing as of June 2019.) Now for the other half ;-) !!!!
John and I were both too poorly with the cold that was going around the group and exhausted to do any birding today and stayed at our hotel in Sarong to rest. We made the most of the day getting clean again and washing our now filthy clothes as well as catching up with processing photos and writing up diaries and sorting out checklists etc.
We had a slightly later start today in Sarong, West Papua because some of the group and our leader were leaving and a few of us were on an extension to Waigeo Island with Wilbur who had guided us so well in Borneo. We bid goodbye to Ron, Sue and Dave and thanked Rob for his efforts. John and I along with Richard and Steve caught to 9am ferry to Waigeo watching Bulwer’s Petrel and Black-naped Terns as we sailed the two hour trip to the island.
We were picked up at the dockside and driven to our sea-front hideaway-cabin. We had to descend some steep steps to the beach and I was extremely thankful that our helpers were going to get my suitcase down for me. We have certainly been looked after well at each location. Down at the beachside open-air restaurant a pair of Papuan Frogmouths were roosting.
After checking in to we drove to the Red Bird-of Paradise lek. We had a 30 minute uphill forest trail following a local guide. I was really struggling with a nasty cold and had to have several stops to rest. Luckily I wasn’t the only one! We entered a long hide made of banana leaves and other vegetation. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long before we watched a dozen Red Bird-of-Paradises displaying. (BOP 16) What a magical experience it was! We were all entranced by the display and I realised how lucky I was to be here! There are some magical moments in birding and this was certainly one of them, as one of the male Red Bird-of-Paradise hung upside down flapping his wonderful colourful feathers to display to a female. Stunning!
Red-Bird-of-Paradise with its tail wires
After walking back to the vehicle we added Common Sandpiper and Torresian Crow to our lists as we drove back along the bay to our cabins.
We were up at 3.30am and drove the same forest track that we had been on yesterday. After watching Papuan Boobok and Marbled Frogmouth in the dark we walked the short distance in the rain and dark to the screen made with forest materials and sat and waited underneath our umbrellas. All of a sudden the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise (BOP17) appeared and we watched it clearing its display ground. Unfortunately the light in the rain was exceedingly poor for photography and most failed to get any photos at all. I was lucky to get what I achieved! This was certainly dream birding.
We birded a logging track and I neared 200 world ticks which pleased me but I have to say it really didn’t matter as I was just so pleased to see my 17th Bird-of-Paradise this morning.
A flyover Palm Cockatoo was a welcome addition to the list as we added White-breasted Woodswallow, Spotted Honeyeater, Brown-headed Crow, Spectacled Longbill, Raja Ampat Pitohui, Olive-crowned Flowerpecker and Common Paradise Kingfisher to the list. We drove back toward our beach. A group of Greater Frigate and Lesser Frigate Birds flew over as we took photographs.
We returned to the cabins and had lunch in the beachside restaurant at our small dive resort and enjoyed the peacefulness of the beach and the jetty as our group were the only ones in residence. John and I walked along the white sands and watched a Beach Kingfisher.
Sue at Raja-Ampat Dive Resort
I love boat rides, especially on calm seas in tropical waters and so was excited to find that Wilbur had arranged one. It was now beginning to feel a bit more like a holiday! The afternoon was spent on a boat sailing and landing on a few deserted tropical islands in search of endemics. We saw the Spice Imperial Pigeon on Gam Island and set off once more. We landed on Bat Island but this was the wrong island for one of the honeyeaters that we were seeking. The boat operators had tried to con us! En-route we watched many frigate birds but the boat was too fast for us to be able to specifically identify them. We passed a small islet where we slowed down and watched nesting Black-naped Terns as well as a pair of Bridled Terns.
On Bat Island we watched Varied Honeyeater and had a group of Pied Imperial Pigeons fly over. The island was alive with Spectacled Fruitbats all swirling above our heads. It made birding difficult as the bats wriggled in the trees as there was just too much movement to spot any birds.
Richard and Steve were unhappy about being on the wrong island and it was now too late in the day to go to the right island. Words were had with our fixer and we were promised another boat trip tomorrow! Result! I was delighted!
Waigeo Island was a stunning place to be and I felt in need of a break. Since we were at a wonderful tropical island dive-resort with no-one present I took the morning off and went snorkelling along the coral reef just off the beach. I had an amazing morning watching tropical fish, all colours of the rainbow swimming around me. There were so many of all shapes and sizes. It was just as well that I never had an underwater camera otherwise there would be more photos to process. Absolutely magical! How lucky I have been to have been here.
The others returned for lunch and John and I spent some time on the jetty watching an Osprey diving for fish and Spinner Dolphins swimming offshore just off the jetty. Magical moments! A Whistling Kite also flew over just before a Sacred Kingfisher caught our attention on the beach.
Our fixer sorted out another boat ride for us and we motored on a fast boat to Merpati a deserted tropical island in the Banda Sea. The sun was shining and it could not have been better. The white coral sand dazzled us as we arrived having watched frigate birds on our journey across the sea.
Sue on Merpati
We soon disembarked upon arrival and quickly found our target bird of Olive Honeyeater as well as Island Whistler. All of a sudden we also had 3 Beach Stone Curlew running along the sand. John was overjoyed as this was a tick for him and was a much-wanted bird.
We watched Arafura Fantail and Violet-necked Lory feeding in the vegetation before all too soon it was time to get back on the boat. We posed for one or two photos before I took a long wistful look at how beautiful it was to be on a deserted tropical island. The stuff dreams are made of!
The island was just a very magical way to spend one of our few remaining days and we were sad to leave it after a few hours or so.
Sue enjoying the remoteness of Merpati
(photo courtesy of J.Geeson)
We were up early once again for our last day on Waigeo. We birded the roadside of the area behind the airport and were lucky to have good flight views of Palm Cockatoo as well as perched views of Grey-headed Goshawk and Collared Sparrowhawk.
I was pleased with the views of Beautiful Fruit Dove and one of my favourites, Moustached Treeswift as we walked the road with Wilbur. We were fascinated with how fast the vegetation grew as keeping the road clear form it was clearly a problem. I took photos of Black-capped Lory, Blyth’s Hornbill and Eclectus Parrot as we added Channel-billed Cuckoo, Orange-fronted hanging Parrot and Barred Cuckooshrike to our lists before returning for our lunch at the dive resort on the beach.
I managed another snorkelling session before it was time to pack and catch the afternoon ferry back to the mainland and Sarong. The water was so warm and once again the variety of fish and creatures were amazing as they swam around me exhibiting their myriad of colours.
John and I were sad to be leaving the island of Waigeo as I think John and I would both agree it has been the best part of the trip.
And now a tribute to my boots......................I never ever want to see you again......living in you for a month and carrying you on every single Garuda flight as hand luggage, was not a pleasant experience..........which is why you were left at the top of the stairs of the cabin! How dare you con a helper and try to follow me to the ferry!!!!
My £6 Asda wellies
We were met at the harbour-side at Sarong and taken to our hotel for the night.
Early in the morning we were taken to the airport where we caught the flight to Jakarta.
In Jakarta we thanked Wilbur for
his efforts said goodbye to him and Richard. Steve, John and I spent most of
the day at the airport waiting for our flight (number 12) to Kuala Lumpur.
At Kuala Lumpur we caught an overnight flight (flight 13) to Amsterdam.
We arrived early in the morning at Amsterdam where it was a beautiful day. We caught an early and final afternoon flight (flight 14) back to Norwich.
It has been a
very gruelling trip and we are all exhausted but what a trip and what memories!
Who will ever forget those bird-of-paradise displays? Some of the ultimate
birds of the birding world! A must for
any world-birder to see. Although physically very demanding I want to thank Ron
and Sue Johns for inviting me and all those who helped me along the way,
including those who hauled me up some of the steep treacherous, muddy trails. I
amassed 206 new world ticks but seeing 17 birds-of-paradise will remain in the
memory for years to come.
Thanks must also go to John who made it all possible and put up with me!