BirdQuest: Remote PNG – Huon Peninsula 2016

BirdQuest Tour Report: Remote Papua New Guinea 2016

Huon Chapter

July 2016


Upon arrival we observed a cracking male Papuan Harrier quartering over the grassy expanses and soon drove in a bus fitted with grilled windows to our nice hotel in Papua New Guinea’s second city (Lae). We were warmly welcomed by Cheyne, our Mr fix it for the Huon chapter, and enjoyed a relaxed afternoon. 13 Channel-billed Cuckoos were noted in the gardens and the pizza dinner was much appreciated by all.

The Spangled Honeyeater is endemic to the Huon peninsula (tour participant Charles Davies);and flashy Pesquet’s Parrots (Mark Van Beirs)

Next morning, at Lae’s Nadzab’s airport, we observed several Horsfield’s Bush Larks while our charter plane was being serviced. We took to the air in a small New Zealand built PAC 750 XL plane and flew over the impressive, forested mountains of the Huon peninsula. We thoroughly enjoyed this exciting flight and all too soon we landed at the grassy airstrip of the coastal village of Wasu. Cheyne organized the transport and after some shopping for essentials like beer and water we were on our way up to the village of Gatop, situated at an altitude of 850m altitude. A short stop produced excellent views of a pair of Brown Falcons and also some Black-fronted White-eyes. We were given a room at the local school for young ladies and organised our sleeping arrangements. In the afternoon we explored a stretch of disturbed forest below our accommodation and heard the distinctive calls of displaying Emperor Birds of Paradise. It didn’t take too long to find a spot which offered views of these remarkable birds, but sadly their main display branches were rather hidden in the canopy, so we didn’t really get unobstructed looks at these localized BoPs. But, it was a really good start! A lanky Long-tailed Honey Buzzard circled lazily over us and a smart Great Cuckoo-Dove flew past. While standing about a brightly red and black Pesquet’s (or Vulturine) Parrot showed briefly in flight and several displaying Double-eyed Fig Parrots showed. A pair of Mountain Peltopses sat about and when dusk was threatening we walked back to our base, where the cold shower and tasty food were better than expected.

We had excellent looks at the two special Birds of Paradise of the Huon: Huon Astrapia (tour participant Charles Davies) and Wahnes’s Parotia (Mark Van Beirs)

On our first day in the mountains of the Huon (named after the French explorer Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec), we concentrated on the mid altitudes, where we had a very enjoyable time amongst the beautiful moss and lichen covered trees of this rarely visited area. Best of all were the many encounters with male and female Huon Astrapias and although it was quite difficult to see their real colours, we sure appreciated the beauty of this localized endemic. We had several excellent looks at Spangled Honeyeaters, another species that is only found in the mountains of the Huon. Very smart-looking Ornate Fruit Doves showed regularly at close range and we had good looks at gaudy Papuan King Parrots. A Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo sat up, tiny Red-collared Myzomelas flitted about in the canopy and a pair of Black-throated Robins was scoped at length. Modestly-clad Mid-mountain and Fan-tailed Berrypeckers worked their way through the mid-levels. Flowering trees held very smart Papuan, Fairy (or Little Red) and Yellow-billed Lorikeets. In mid-morning birds of prey started to use the thermals and next to already known species we found a nice Black-mantled Goshawk. Other birds that caught our attention included Marbled Honeyeater, Brown-breasted Gerygone, Tit Berrypecker, Regent Whistler, Slaty Robin, Garnet Robin (a female high in the canopy), Canary Flyrobin, Island Leaf Warbler, Papuan White-eye and Friendly Fantail. A bout at a stretch of forest edge gave us a lovely Rufescent Imperial Pigeon. On the return drive to base a Long-tailed Shrike was spotted.

The highlands of the Huon also gave us Black-throated Robin and Ornate Fruit Dove (Mark Van Beirs)

At dawn we were overlooking a mosaic of forest patches and gardens at mid altitude, hoping for exciting new additions to the list. We heard the raucous calls of a male Wahnes’s Parotia and a female was glimpsed, but sadly, these shy Birds of Paradise didn’t want to cooperate. We had good looks at another Rufescent Imperial Pigeon, watched a pair of perched Dusky Lories and observed a Rufous-backed Honeyeater feeding in a flowering ginger. We scoped a distant male Superb Bird of Paradise and found a female foraging in the canopy above us. Brown-backed and Sclater’s Whistlers were other new birds for the tally. In mid-morning we drove to the highest part of the road, at an altitude of c2,050m and waited for things to happen. It was hot and very quiet, and the only bird of note was a Peregrine Falcon of the local, very dark race ernesti. After our picnic lunch we ventured into a nice stretch of montane forest, where we heard the quacking calls of a Forbes’s Forest Rail. A bit of strategic positioning and a burst of the tape soon gave most of us pretty good views of this skulking forest floor inhabitant. While patiently waiting a Spotted Jewelbabbler suddenly appeared, obviously attracted to the commotion. Further into the forest some fruiting trees were visited by several Huon Astrapias, including some magnificent males with very long, blunt-tipped tails. A young male Wahnes’s Parotia showed to some lucky souls. We observed the activity at these fruit-bearing trees for quite a while and observed lots of smart Spangled Honeyeaters, a retiring female MacGregor’s Bowerbird (the local form is sometimes split off as Huon Bowerbird) and a party of exquisite Tit Berrypeckers. We also managed good views of Black-throated Honeyeater, Cinnamon-browed Melidectes, Buff-faced Scrubwren, Black-breasted Boatbill and Black-throated Robin from our vantage point. A couple of Pesquet’s Parrots only allowed the briefest of looks.

A ‘poisonous’ Hooded Pitohui and the best bird plant in New Guinea: Schefflera (Mark Van Beirs)

We spent most of the following morning at the same location and had a marvellous time observing a young male and a female Wahnes’s Parotia feeding leisurely on Schefflera fruits. The scope views were quite excellent as we could discern 4 head plumes (adult males have 6) and the pale blue eye of the male bird. Huon Astrapias showed well again, a White-bibbbed Fruit Dove perched briefly and several noisy Pesquet’s Parrots gave brief looks. In the forest we observed several Papuan King Parrots in flight and we scoped a female feeding upside down on a passion fruit. We noted several Mottled Berryhunters and also found Black and Dimorphic Fantails. A male Superb Bird of Paradise was calling nearby, but only allowed all too brief views of his splendid finery. Around noon mist and rain came in, so we made our way down to our accommodation and had a pleasant afternoon at a nearby viewpoint over the surrounding hill forest. Our man on the spot pointed out two distant display trees of Emperor Birds of Paradise and although they were rather far away, we could observe and hear their elaborate display for most of the afternoon. Several males were seen hanging upside down and waving their wings and flank plumes about as the females incited mega activity. Glorious moments! While admiring these unique Birds of Paradise we also observed Whistling Kite, Pink-spotted Fruit Dove (of the grey-headed race plumbeicollis), Plain Honeyeater, Fairy Gerygone, Hooded Pitohui and Brown Oriole. A male Growling Riflebird was scoped singing away on a rather distant bough. At night a Papuan Frogmouth serenaded us nearby.

Bar-tailed Cuckoo-Dove and Rufescent Imperial Pigeon enlivened the forests of the Huon (Mark Van Beirs)

The 20th of July started with a session at the nearby viewpoint which gave us more views of the rather distant displaying Emperor Birds of Paradise. A pair of Crinkle-collared Manucodes was found foraging in an open tree and Oriental Dollarbird and a dashing Oriental Hobby were also seen. And then it was time to pack up and say goodbye to our gracious hosts. We drove down to the airstrip at Wasu where our charter plane arrived within minutes of our arrival. The lovely flight to Madang followed the coastline of the Huon peninsula and in late morning we landed at Madang airport. We said goodbye to Cheyne, our efficient Mr fix it.

The bunch in the Huon (Mark Van Beirs)

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