PNG Birding Program #1
Since the BBC's legendary filmmaker David Attenborough made "Attenborough in Paradise", no birder has been able to watch this documentary without feeling compelled to visit the legendary island of
New Guinea. Undoubtedly one of the highest priorities on any world birder's agenda, reality does not disappoint, and the star-studded cast of quality birds is overwhelming. While headlined by many
species of incredible birds-of-paradise, the quality does not stop there; the average tour yields jewel-babblers slinking away in the undergrowth, incredible golden and black whistlers, superbly plumaged
parrots, gaudy parakeets, rowdy cockatoos, bizarre bowerbirds, exquisite fairywrens, and a gorgeous suite of multi-colored doves and impressive kingfishers. Although New Guinea is listed as the
world's second largest island, in reality it is best thought of as an island-continent. One of the last places on earth to be explored by Europeans, this wild island supports over 700 bird species, and nearly
half of them are endemic. Birding this island is very challenging, from trying to spot the shy, skulking forest birds to dealing with the occasional logistical difficulties, but the rewards more than
compensate in this must-see 'dream' destination.
Day 1: Arrival in Port Moresby. - Meals- Dinner only
After our international flight, we'll have some time in the afternoon to bird the campus of the Pacific Adventist University. The bush and scrub here has a distinctly 'Aussie' feel, with open woodlands of
Eucalyptus gum trees being the dominant habitat. The birding also feels quite Australian, with key species being those only found elsewhere in the northern-most recesses of Cape York Peninsula. Our
main targets will be Fawn-breasted Bowerbird and Black-backed Butcherbird, which fortunately are both quite common here. However, when the ponds are holding water we should rack up a bunch of
great waterbirds including Comb-crested Jacana, and the endemic Spotted Whistling Duck, amongst the Green Pygmy-geese, Anhingas, and cormorants. The open scrub around campus should provide
our first New Guinea endemics, such as Brown Oriole, Yellow-faced Myna or Gray-headed Munia. However, the highlight of the day for some could be finding a Papuan Frogmouth that usually roosts
somewhere on campus. We return to Port Moresby and our comfortable hotel to prepare for the wilds of the Kiunga area.
Day 2: Port Moresby to Kiunga. - Meals- BLD
This morning we fly to Kiunga and check into our hotel in the heart of mining country. Ironically, much of the infrastructure we use to travel in the country is driven by the mining industry and this will be
our first of several encounters with "gold towns". This is Fly River country, on the boundary between lowland forest and grassland savanna. While the highlands tend to get all the headlines, Kiunga
provides some of the very best Papuan birding with many breathtaking lowland forest bird species, including several that are rare and poorly known. We start our exploration of this region with an
afternoon sortie to a site simply known as kilometer 17. This is where David Attenborough and his BBC crew ascended into the canopy in harnesses and filmed the display tree of the Greater
Bird-of-paradise. Not long after alighting from the vehicle we will hear the nasal honkings of these superb creatures, but we may well have to wait until later in the afternoon to see one in display.
However, the sight of this, our probable first bird-of-paradise, will not be easily forgotten as they throw their heads forward, elevating the gold plumes on their backs, and perform a pogo-dance jump to
attract the attention of potential mates. While waiting for this incredible treat we should see birds crossing the canopy including dainty Red-cheeked Parrots and Orange-breasted Fig Parrots which fly
incessantly to and fro. A less remarkable bird-of-paradise, the strange Trumpet Manucode, can also often be found at this site. We might even see the less common Raggiana Birds-of-paradise also
displaying in a double-whammy spectacle. There is also a small trail in this area, and we will explore it at various times to search for some forest interior birds. Specifically, we'll be listening for the
incredible Blue Jewel-babbler. This bird seems like a cross between a rail and a babbler, and it slinks along the ground incredibly stealthily. If given the luxury of good views, the royal blue emphasizes
the crisp white throat, which remains amazingly well hidden in the undergrowth. We will need considerable luck to see this gem along with the surprisingly shy Hook-billed Kingfisher, which is frequently
heard but seldom seen. More likely quarry include the amazing Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Golden Monarch, Boyer's and Black Cuckoo-shrikes (two of eight endemic cuckoo-shrikes that we may
encounter on this tour) and the amazingly dapper and elegant Lowland Peltops, a black-and-white creature that fortunately sits exposed on the canopy's highest branches. A fruiting tree might also
reveal the first of many dazzling pigeons we are likely to see on tour, with this area being particularly good for Pink-spotted Fruit-Dove and Purple-tailed Imperial Pigeon. We return to Kiunga for the
Days 3-4: Fly and Elevala Rivers. - Meals- BLD
We have the better part of the next two days to explore the marvelous array of birding opportunities that abound on the Fly and Elevala rivers. We will need to be up early on both mornings to maximize
our time on these rivers, as we ply our way upstream into the thicker recesses of one of the wildest forested areas remaining in New Guinea. It won't be long before we are enveloped in new birds, and
side trips along these rivers offer large numbers of Collared and Pinon Imperial-Pigeons. The outlandish Palm Cockatoos screech as they fly over the river and we are likely to be swamped by huge
numbers of Blyth's Hornbills in our first morning. The amazingly dimorphic Eclectus Parrots, with the female being the remarkable crimson-and-blue, will also leave a lasting memory. We will stake-out
key areas for display grounds for two of New Guinea's most remarkable birds-of-paradise; the pole-dancing Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise and the elegant and spectacular crimson and snow-white King
Bird-of-paradise, replete with tail-streamers of coiled green ribbon. We will need a bit of luck to find some of other more reclusive denizens of the river's edge, but we will spend much time looking for
the remarkable Vulture-like Pesquet's Parrots, immense and overwhelming Southern Crowned-Pigeons (the largest in the world and the size of a turkey) as well as the noisy endemic White-bellied
We will work a few trails where the birding gets a little tougher, but hopefully we will see some of the quality residents including Common Paradise-Kingfisher, Hook-billed Kingfisher, the incredible
Hooded and Blue-breasted Pittas, Spot-winged and Black-faced Monarchs, Emperor Fairy wren and Black-sided Robin. Fruiting trees may reveal Dwarf or Beautiful Fruit-Dove, Great Cuckoo-Dove or
Black-capped Lories. However, even if we have seen most of these incredible birds, the coup-de-grace may yet be to come. Some enterprising members of a village along the river have learned that
there is more to be gained in protecting birds, and they have found an excellent way to get unrivalled views of the incredible gold-and-orange Flame Bowerbird. We may have to sit in hides for a while,
but we will hope to see this bird displaying at the bower. In the past, this was a sight few other birders have been privileged to witness, with views of flying birds being regarded as a success.
Days 5-7: Tabubil. - Meals- BLD
After breakfast we drive up to Tabubil, in the Ok Tedi Valley, set in the foothills of the Star Mountains. Depending on what we still need we may make a few strategic stops in the lowlands en route.
However, as we approach Tabubil, the rise in altitude will provide a whole new suite of enchanting possibilities. Our first stop will be for the dubius race of Little Ringed Plover that many shorebird
experts regard as a distinct species. However, the afternoon will be spent at one of the few accessible sites where we may get our first glimpse at one of the key birds in this area, the Magnificent
Bird-of-paradise. The male is incredibly reclusive (unlike many others in the family) and it may take us some time to get decent looks, indeed in some years this species is missed altogether. However,
we will also search for another very tricky bird-of-paradise here, Carola's Parotia. Our best chance to see these species is by staking out fruiting trees, in hopes that the birds approach to feed on them.
However, in between the stake-outs, we should bump into a variety of new and different species including the frustratingly secretive White-bellied and Sooty Thicket-Fantails. Although fantails are usually
easy to see elsewhere in the world, they are really tricky in New Guinea. While we are watching the fruiting trees we might also see Fairy and Red-flanked Lorikeets and the diminutive Red-breasted
Pygmy-Parrot. With luck we will hear the rare Doria's Hawk calling and we may even see one. We'll also keep an ear out for the melancholic call of the White-rumped Robin, which might reveal itself
clasping to the side of a tree in characteristic style. Another stakeout will include the singing perches of the amazing Magnificent Riflebird. Other excellent species resident here include White-eared
Bronze-cuckoo, New Guinea Bronzewing, the powerfully built Stout-billed Cuckoo-shrike, the elegant Great Cuckoo-Dove, Spotted Honeyeater, and the recently-described and well-named Obscure
Berrypecker. Mountain Peltops, should be found sitting on their indistinct treetop nests. Other really secretive species that will require much patience and good fortune to see include Mountain Kingfisher,
Northern Scrub-Robin, Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler and Greater Melampitta. With an early start one morning and a good dose of luck, we may also locate the immense, strange and crepuscular
Day 8: Tabubil - Mt Hagen - Kumul. _ Meals-BLD
After breakfast (and some birding if time permits), we transfer to the airport for the flight to Mt. Hagen. Upon arrival we drive about an hour to our superb base for the next four nights, Kumul Lodge.
Days 9-11: Kumul Lodge. _ Meals-BLD
Kumul Lodge is exceptional, and in more than one sense. The birding in the grounds and surrounding areas is simply stunning. But the lodge also offers great service and comfortable rooms that make
this sector of the tour feel decidedly luxurious. What is more, after the relatively hot and humid lowlands, the cool crisp air of the highlands offers a welcome respite. We will spend the next three days
exploring the many treats that this varied mountainous area in Enga Province offers. However, our exploration will begin right in the lodge gardens, at the now world-famous feeding table. There are not
many places in the world where you can see Birds-of-paradise from your room window, but Kumul Lodge is one of them! The strict wildlife protection policies of local landowners have resulted in many
birds being incredibly tame, and Kumul attracts a host of confiding resident species. We are likely to see Belford's Melidectes, Smoky Honeyeater, Brehm's Tiger-Parrot, Papuan Lorikeet, Mountain
Firetail, Red-collared Myzomela, and Black-backed and Black-throated Honeyeaters right in the garden. Also, the waxwing-like Crested Berrypecker, one representative of an endemic New Guinea family,
is quite easy near the lodge. Other superb treats nearby include Black-throated and White-rumped Robins, confiding Island Thrushes, and the glowing Regent Whistler. However, the feeding-table
highlight comes in the form of the amazing Ribbon-tailed Astrapia (some males with full tail streamers measuring more than a meter) and Brown Sicklebill, two species of Bird-of-paradise practically on
your windowsill. Nightbirding in the lodge grounds is no less impressive with both Mountain Nightjar and Mountain Owlet-Nightjar regular.
We will also have time to venture onto the great trails around the lodge and nearby areas for some of the others specialties though. Here we will seek out more BOPs including the spectacular long-tailed
Stephanie's Astrapia, the golden-and-black Crested Bird-of-paradise, and the remarkable King-of-Saxony Bird-of-paradise, with his amazing ratcheted head feathers that twirl as he sings his grating song
from an elevated perch. However, recently, the Kumul area has been noted to hold yet another member of this spectacular family. We'll make a special effort to get up early to make it to the Lesser
Bird-of-paradise display tree (voted the most remarkable spectacle of our last tour). Here we should see more than one male bouncing about the Casuarinas trees, calling and posing in a variety of
ridiculous postures as he tries to outdo his competitors for the attention of the choosy females. Once we have managed to shut our own gaping mouths, we'll pay attention to some other special
residents of this area including the Yellow-breasted Bowerbird, Ornate Melidectes and New Guinea White-eye.
There is more to the trail network, however, including some juicy Forest-Rails that we will keep a keen ear out for, as well as Orange-crowned Fairywren, Blue-capped Ifrita (one of the bizarre
poisionous birds of New Guinea), Tit Berrypecker, Mountain Mouse-Warbler, several scrubwrens, myzomelas, and if we are lucky, the bizarre Wattled Ploughbill or beautiful Black-breasted Boatbill.
Day 12: Kumul Lodge - Warili Lodge- Meals-BLD
We take a flight from Mt. Hagen to Tari, where the dramatic mountain scenery and spectacularly adorned Huli Wigmen will be an undoubted highlight. We should have time for some late afternoon
birding in the Tari gap. We'll spend the next three nights at the Warili Lodge. (Note: the Mt. Hagen to Tari flight is currently (as of Aug 2007) not operating. It may be necessary to fly to Tari via Port
Days 13-14: The Tari Gap. - Meals-BLD
Tari is probably the most famous birding area in New Guinea. The reason for this is simple - the area ranges in altitude from 1700-2800 m resulting in a massive range of forest types and a high
diversity of species in the area. The stunning birds are not the only attraction here, as Tari is also a culturally fascinating area. The varied birding will be mixed up between roads and forest trails (none
of them difficult). We will spend time at various altitudes, checking out the lower ends of the valley before heading into the high alpine grasslands for other special targets. Fortunately our lodge is placed
strategically close to all key localities making the sorties simple and hassle-free. Tari is especially rich in birds-of-paradise, and it is not unusual to record an incredible eight or more species in a day. We
will stake out some key spots here, and we will need much patience to find the large black 'spaceship' shape of a displaying male Black Sicklebill. These birds hop up on dead snags at first light, and we
will need some persistence to find one, as we have to scan the hillside from a considerable distance. However seeing one is worth it as it extends it epaulets and wing coverts over it's head to give the
impression of an alien-being wafting in the breeze.
A frequently quoted highlight of any PNG birding trip is the first sighting of a flashy male Blue Bird-of-paradise, and this is the place to get it. We will spend a fair bit of time on this beauty with its
ivory-bill, fancy tail streamers and neat white spectacles. Other cool montane birds in this area include Forbes's Forest-Rail, Yellow-browed Melidectes, and the notoriously skulking Lesser Melampitta.
Ambua is a parrot-lover's paradise and here we have a shot at Papuan King-Parrot in addition to Papuan, Plum-faced, and Goldie's Lorikeets, as well as Painted and Modest Tiger-Parrots. The lush
rainforests around Ambua also host several representatives from the other of New Guinea's two endemic bird families: the Berrypeckers and Longbills. Mid-mountain and Fan-tailed Berrypeckers are
fairly common, and we have a shot at the uncommon Slaty-chinned Longbill. Other more common residents include Marbled Honeyeater, Blue-faced Parrotfinch, the endemic Hooded Munia, Lawes'
Parotia, White-breasted Fruit-Dove and Sclater's Whistler. There are also many rarer birds here and we will need much luck to find the likes of Buff-tailed Sicklebill, Papuan Treecreeper, Papuan
Whipbird, and Madarasz's Tiger-Parrot. The lodge grounds are spectacular, and a great place to spend any downtime with amazing birds moving through the trees right next to your chalet, including yet
another bird-of-paradise, the Short-tailed Paradigalla, as well as Rufous-backed Honeyeater. We'll also seek out the flighty yet flashy Garnet Robin. The higher trails also hold some mega-skulkers, and
we will do our best to get looks at the reclusive Lesser Ground-Robin, Northern Logrunner, and skittish Sanford's Bowerbird.
Day 15: Tari to Port Morseby. After breakfast we transfer to the airport and fly to Port Moresby, where we will spend the afternoon birding at a local mangrove area not to far from the city before
settling into a comfortable island resort hotel.
Days 16-17: Varirata NP. _Meals-BLD
Based near Port Moresby, we will work Varirata NP, about an hour's drive from our hotel. This area is a great combination of open Eucalyptus scrub, Cassuarina woodland and some extensive scarp
forest. Despite the close proximity of this park to the capital, it is largely under-visited and is frequently deserted aside from a few keen birders. We should find our last bird-of-paradise: the 'Eastern'
Riflebird (a split of Magnificent Riflebird). However, the area can also be loaded with fruiting trees and we should hopefully score some of the excellent doves that frequent the area. One of the key
target birds here is the amazing red-breasted Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher. Fortunately, it is rather common here, and we have an excellent chance of seeing this bird over the next two days.
Another highly sought-after species here is the strange Barred Owlet-Nightjar, which we will look for in several day-roost holes. We will also work the trails seeking out White-faced Robin perched
sideways on liana tangles, stunning Yellow-billed Kingfishers, Yellow-legged Flycatchers, Black Berrypeckers, and nuthatch-like Buff-faced Pygmy-Parrots. Flocks may reveal Black-winged Monarch and
Fairy Gerygone among some great New Guinea endemics such as Hooded and Rusty Pitohuis and the very handsome Chestnut-bellied Fantail. While we search through these flocks we will hope for
another of Varirata's great specialties, the impressive Dwarf Whistler (Goldenface). The savanna adjoining the forest holds Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Black Myzomela, Streak-headed Honeyeater and
Blue-winged Kookaburra. As with other forested areas of PNG, this park is home to many extremely shy and skulking birds, including Black-billed Brush-turkey, Painted Quail-thrush, White-eared Catbird,
Pheasant Pigeon and Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler, but it would be a red-letter day if we were to see more than one of these rarities. After loading up on our final New Guinea endemics of the trip, we
return to Port Moresby where we might stop off at fantastic arts a crafts store replete with masks, statues and vivid paintings that can be bought as memories of one of the greatest birding tours you
have ever done.
Day 18: Port Moresby - Brisbane. _Meals- B
We wake up early and bid Port Moresby farewell before jetting back to your country of origin for your return flights home.
CLIMATE: Hot and humid around Port Moresby and Kiunga. Generally pleasant in the mountains, but the early mornings at Kumul Lodge can be downright cold. Expect some rain, occasionally heavy, at
this time of year.
DIFFICULTY: Most of the walking is easy, though there are some short, steep trails at Kumul and Dablin Creek. The birding is very challenging, but fortunately, the birds-of-paradise are usually not
difficult to see.
ACCOMMODATION: At Kiunga and Tabubil, we'll stay in fairly good hotels with air conditioning. In Port Moresby, Kumul, and are excellent. All accommodations have private bathrooms, hot water, and
electricity.Warili Lodge is fairly very basic lodge.
Special notes for this tour:
1) It is quite likely that the final itinerary for this tour will be different from the one given above. Flight schedules in Papua New Guinea are complicated and ever-changing. Most flights only operate only
on certain days of the week, and the itinerary above is based entirely on those schedules. We will monitor the situation, and adapt our itinerary as necessary. Flights can even change on a moment's
notice based on weather conditions (or even the whims of the airline!), so last-minute modifications are also a distinct possibility.
2) Papua New Guinea is an underdeveloped country. While we endeavor to use the best providers possible, sub-par service (e.g. late drivers, uncomfortable or poorly-maintained vehicles, and fuel
shortages, cancelled or redirected flights) can sometimes cause inconveniences to travelers. Every tour company running trips here has to deal with this, and we feel it is best to inform you beforehand,
as it can be quite disconcerting considering the costs involved in visiting this country.
--------------END OF OUR ARRANGEMENTS----------------
COST INCLUDES = Accommodation on twin share basis. Tours and Airport transfers on seat on bus basis. Meals as specified on above itinerary B = Breakfast, and D = Dinner, and guides, land owner
fees, Local English Speaking Bird Guide, 0% VAT (government tax on all above services.
COST DOES NOT INCLUDE = International & domestic airfares, items of personal nature as such baggage charge, passport & visa fees, laundry, dry cleaning, beverage of any kind, trip & baggage
insurance, medical expenses and departure tax and any other items of this nature.
Additional Required flights that we urge you to book/ticket in conjunction with international arrival / departing flights are:
Day 1- International arrival PX flight
Day 2- CG flight POM/Kiunga- book with Air Niugini flights
Day 8- CG flight Tabubil/Mt.Hagen
Day 15- PX flight Tari/POM
Day 12- PX International departing flight to be nominated from your end.