LEADER: MARK VAN BEIRS and JOSH BERGMARK
Most of the day was spent travelling as we first flew to Port Moresby and then onwards to Lae, the second largest town in Papua New Guinea. Upon arrival at Lae’s Nadzab airport we transferred in an infamous, grille-protected Guard Dog minibus along a truly atrocious road to our hotel in town.
A pre-breakfast stroll in the gardens surrounding the hotel gave us several Orange-bellied Fruit Doves, a couple of Red-cheeked Parrots and a party of Grey Crows. We then returned to the airport, flew in a New Zealand built Pac aircraft over the Saruwaged range and eventually reached our accommodation in a small village at mid altitude on the northern slopes of the Huon Peninsula. We organized our sleeping arrangements in a section of the local girl’s school and explored the partly forested surroundings which produced a handful of new birds for the trip. Adorable Mountain Peltopses were sitting up for excellent views and we heard the harsh calls of Emperor Birds-of-paradise emanate from the valley below us. Enticing, but no sightings yet! A well-behaved White-bellied Thicket Fantail allowed unusually good views as it circled us several times in a dense bit of woodland. We also noted Mountain Swiftlet, Barred Cuckooshrike and Common and Black Cicadabirds.
Just after dawn, we were already high up in the mist-shrouded montane forests of the Huon Peninsula. As soon as we got out of the vehicles, a couple of Huon Astrapias flew past. We walked inside a particular good forest patch where Scheffleras were fruiting and where a good number of trees were flowering. Several male and female Huon Astrapias showed quite well, although we would have to wait till another day to discern the subtle colours of their plumage. We scanned, waited and patrolled and managed great looks at a terrific selection of goodies. We spent some time trying to get to grips with a secretive Forbes’s Forest Rail, but only a few of us managed fair looks at this skulker. A White-eared Bronze Cuckoo was sedately foraging high in the canopy. A magnificent and very colourful Pesquet’s Parrot showed brilliantly in flight and we scoped a foraging female Brehm’s Tiger Parrot as it was devouring fleshy bits from an epiphyte. A flowering tree held a party of tiny Fairy Lorikeets and a single Papuan Lorikeet. A shy, modestly-attired MacGregor’s Bowerbird was playing hide and seek in a dense fruiting tree and a Huon endemic Spangled Honeyeater gave very nice views, as we were lucky enough to see it flash its fleshy facial wattle. Several participants really wanted to add Mottled Berryhunter to their lifelist as this unusual species is now placed in its own family. They were not disappointed as we got really good looks at a foraging female in a nearby fruiting tree. Several attractively-patterned female Wahnes’s Parotias also favoured the area and allowed pretty good views on different occasions. Other interesting species observed included Bar-tailed Cuckoo-Dove, Ornate Fruit Dove, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Mountain Swiftlet, Brown Falcon, Red-collared Myzomela, Rufous-backed, Black-throated and Mountain Honeyeaters, Buff-faced Scrubwren, Black-breasted Boatbill, Stout-billed Cuckooshrike, Brown-backed and Regent Whistlers, Black and Friendly Fantails, Black-throated and Slaty Robins, Canary Flyrobin and Island Leaf Warbler. While we were munching our picnic lunch, low clouds drifted in and it started to rain, so we decided to make our way to lower altitudes. We explored a stretch of secondary growth where Emperor Birds-of-paradise were known to occur. Sadly, only one female was briefly seen during our vigil. A couple of Pink-spotted Fruit Doves of the distinctive race plumbeicollis were scoped and a cute Double-eyed Fig Parrot was sitting in its nesthole. A female Barred Cuckooshrike was sitting on her nest, but very little else was happening.
The following morning we were scanning a nice stretch of forest edge high up in the mountains and we soon got rewarded with terrific views of a cracking male Wahnes’s Parotia showing off in the treetops above his display court. We could easily discern the six wires, the brassy green pompom, the golden frontal shield and the pale blue eyes of this regional endemic bird-of-paradise! Marvellous moments. Several females were also about as was an immature male. We heard a Mountain Kingfisher call in the distance, and not too much later we obtained excellent scope views of this much wanted bird. The distinctive race in the Huon (sellamontis) doesn’t sport the black line on top of the upper mandible. Several group members opted to spend some time in the parotia hides and they were lucky enough to get fantastic views at close range of a splendid adult male. We explored several other areas of mountain forest where we scored on great birds like Black-mantled Goshawk (perched and in flight), Great Cuckoo-Dove, Rufescent Imperial Pigeon, a Brown Falcon with a snake in its talons, Papuan Lorikeet, Dusky Lory (a flock high overhead), Marbled Honeyeater, Tit Berrypecker, more Mottled Berryhunters (!) and Black-fronted White-eye. In late afternoon the skies opened, so we returned to base along the now rather well known truly atrocious track.
Just after dawn we stood guard at a known Emperor Bird-of-paradise spot below our accommodation, where after a bit of a wait we obtained fair views of a female and scoped several smart-looking Ornate Fruit Doves. We really wanted to see a male Emperor BoP, so we decided to walk to a patch of woodland where we had witnessed display on previous tours. But, getting to this spot involved a rather tricky river crossing, which everyone managed very well! Soon after we arrived two males were briefly seen winging past, but luckily we soon managed excellent looks at another glorious male in flight. A couple of Meliphagas were foraging in nearby trees and after some dedicated scope study, we concluded these were rarely-seen Forest (White-eared) Honeyeaters. We also added Zoe’s Imperial Pigeon, Black-capped Lory, Great Woodswallow and several poisonous Hooded Pitohuis to the tally. In mid-morning we returned to the higher stretches of the Huon and birded a couple of nice patches of epiphyte-laden montane forest. We heard Forbes’s Forest Rail at both venues, but the birds didn’t want to show. We found a couple of Blue-capped Ifrits (or Ifritas) creeping nuthatch-like along branches and observed a couple of Yellow-billed Lorikeets in flight. A Mountain Mouse Warbler played hide and seek in the undergrowth and a shy male Superb Bird-of-paradise made a brief appearance. And then it started raining in earnest, so we decided to call it a day.
A travelling day followed. We first drove down to the Wasu airstrip, where we had to wait for quite a while for our charter plane to come in. A splendid flight took us over the thickly forested slopes of the Saruwaged range of the Huon Peninsula to the airport of Lae.