Wednesday, August 16, 2023

West Papua, New Guinea - Part 4 (Conclusion)

Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise

In case you missed any of the earlier posts from this trip: 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

July 25 to August 3, 2023. From the Arfak Mountains we drove back to the coast city of Manokwari for an evening, then left early the next day for the Manokwari lowlands at the base of the Arfak Mountains. Here we would spend an afternoon and morning the next day to bird the unique lowlands habitat. By doing some hiking in an area our guides have been visiting for years we could get beyond the substantially logged flatlands and into an area of primary forest. Back in the lowlands now the temperatures were warm again and the humidity was off the charts. And to get there we would first have to cross a river. Our local guides were very helpful with the river crossing and carrying supplies for our hot days in the forest. The birding was fantastic but photography was tough. We had our first chance for King Bird-of-Paradise on this trail. King is a BoP that displays on a branch high in a tall tree constantly obscured by thick foliage. We got some decent glimpses of the bird but I couldn't get any photos. It was a disappointment but Iwein told me we would have another chance soon. 

Locations discussed in this post: Manokwari town (red), Manokwari
Lowlands (green), Sorong (yellow), and Waigeo Island (blue)

River crossing

The trail to the primary forest hadn't been used in years so the local guys macheted the way

Some really big trees

Break time along the creek

It can be really difficult to find the birds so high up

Susan has a friend on her hat

Frilled Monarch

Back in Manokwari we boarded another flight the next morning, this time to the west coast city of Sorong. This is the home turf of Like and Iwein. We spent a day and a half in the Sorong lowlands looking for specialties of the area. There was a Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise display stump that we staked out for part of a morning. While the male didn't show up on the snag, we did see several females in the area, and lots of other nice birds too. After the early morning stakeout we went a short way down the road to a known King Bird-of-Paradise tree. This time after much trying we got some good views and even one photo opportunity as I contorted my body into a pretzel to get the tiniest of windows through the leaves to shoot him. Wow, what a bird! In a nearby forest we got fantastic looks at the lowland specialty Red-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher.  

Coroneted Fruit-Dove

Gray Crow

Gray Crow

Gray Whistler

King Bird-of-Paradise

Lowland Peltops

Pinon's Imperial-Pigeon

Red-brested Paradise-Kingfisher

Female Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise

The final major destination of our trip was Waigeo Island, north of Sorong. A 2+ hour ferry ride got us there for a four day stay. Waigeo is part of the Raja Ampat archipelago and holds a number of endemic birds - none more exciting than the Red Bird-of-Paradise and Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise. Over the course of four mornings we would visit two times each at dawn a hide for each of the two BoPs. In the afternoons we would bird the surrounding forest and beach area for great birds. Every evening we would be out until late for nocturnal species. Sleep was in short supply!

Getting on the public ferry to Waigeo Island

Arriving at Waigeo Island

View from our lodge on the beach

Our bungalow on the beach for four days

First up was Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise blind which we would also visit again two days later. We hiked about half a mile in to the hide in the dark getting settled in well before the bird arrived for his morning display. This species displays in a cleared ground court containing a few vertical sticks and surrounding forest. The male spends his morning cleaning the ground court, preening his gorgeous feathers, and calling. Should a female arrive he will do his best display from low on a vertical stick with the female looking down from above. If he is successful they will move off into the nearby forest to mate. This male was very active and did get some female action during our two visits. Photography and video were tricky in the very low light, but I'm happy with what I got. Again, my modern mirrorless camera came to the rescue. 

View of the ground court from inside the blind

Stunning male Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise

Male displays to a female above from low on a stick

He spends a lot of time calling and preening

For a short time there was an additional male at the ground court,
most likely a younger male learning how to do it. 

Female Wilson's BoP

Video compilation of Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise activity over two mornings

For those reading by email, here is a direct link to the video of the Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise

The other hide we visited for two mornings was Red Bird-of-Paradise. In this species, the males gather at a group lek high in some tall trees. For a couple of hours each morning the males will show their best to any arriving female. We hit this one perfect as it was nesting season for them and there were many females stopping by. The action was fast and furious as the males all competed for the attention of the females. The males dance and display on an open branch and if he is successful they mate right then and there. The photography and video conditions were very difficult as the birds were high up with a bright white sky in the background. But hopefully these images and video will give you a taste of the amazing lives of this species. 

Male Red Bird-of-Paradise

The male gets the attention of a female

Video compilation of Red Bird-of-Paradise over two mornings

For those reading by email, here is a direct link to the video of the Red Bird-of-Paradise

Other afternoon and evening activities had us in the forest searching for some specialties. The bird of utmost importance was the endemic Western Crowned-Pigeon. Like the Victoria Crowned-Pigeon we worked so hard for earlier in the trip, these birds would not be easy. Late afternoon searches on the forest edge would hopefully produce a bird or usually two coming out to be seen on the quiet trails. One afternoon we had some success as our local guide Marlon heard a pair moving toward the trail. We stood absolutely still and waited. As these huge pigeons came just to the edge they noticed us standing there. Not quite coming into the open they flushed with only unsatisfying looks by us birders. The next afternoon we tried the same area again, and while we could hear them not far away in the deep forest, no looks were had. As darkness started to get us we strolled down the trail back to our parked vehicles. With only a hint of light still penetrating the forest, somehow local guide Marlon spotted a pair roosting in a nearby tree. What amazing spotting skills! We got a scope on them and had fantastic views (spotting scopes gather light and give a much brighter picture than your unaided eyes). But there was absolutely no way to get a photo. I asked Iwein what he thought of putting a flashlight on them. He said if we did it at that time they would flush immediately. Wait 15 minutes and let real darkness set in and there would be a chance. I waited, trying my best to frame on the correct branch and pre-focus in near complete darkness. I so wanted this image... Finally Iwein asked if I was ready. Okay, lets do it. He hit the light and one bird immediately raised it's wings then slowly dropped them. But they stayed for about 30 seconds and many images were taken. Yay! 

Western Crowned-Pigeon

Other outings on the island produced lots of new sightings. We spent time at the beach and lots of time night birding. We even spotted the Waigeo Cuscus, and endangered marsupial endemic to the island, during one of these evenings. 

Moonrise while nocturnal birding

Local guide Marlon, landowner Uddin, and tour guide Iwein

Beach Kingfisher

Beach Kingfisher

The mostly nocturnal Hook-billed Kingfisher

Large-tailed Nightjar

Olive Flyrobin

Palm Cockatoo

Papuan Boobook

Papuan Frogmouth pair

Spice Imperial-Pigeon

Spice Imperial-Pigeon

Spice Imperial-Pigeon

Spotted Honeyeater

Spotted Whistling-Duck

Waigeo Cuscus

Yellow-billed Kingfisher

Yellow-billed Kingfisher

Yellow-breasted Boatbill

Great Cuckoo-Dove

Marbled Frogmouth

After our outstanding days on the island we took the ferry back to Sorong for one final day of birding. Returning to the lowland forests near Sorong we added a few more missing species, including a flyover of the difficult Papuan Owl and endemic Black Lory, and wonderful looks at a nemesis bird for the entire trip - Papuan Pitta. The pitta is a deep forest ground dweller and we'd heard their mournful call any time we were in the lowlands for almost the entire trip. But it wasn't until the final day that we finally got to see one. 

Papuan Pitta

Papuan Pitta

Thanks as always to our special friends Tim and Agnes for another wonderful trip together. Our guides Like and Iwein of Papua Expeditions were outstanding and we can't thank them enough for a perfectly executed trip and a special time. For anyone reading this and considering a trip to West Papua, we highly recommend them.

The sun sets on our final evening of the trip

And no kidding, there really was a rainbow