West Papua: Arfak and Waigeo Trip Report November 2018

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16 – 27 NOVEMBER 2018

By Andy Walker 

 

Overview

This West Papua set-departure tour commenced on the 16th of November 2018 in the town of Manokwari, situated on the north-eastern tip of New Guinea’s Bird’s Head (or Vogelkop) Peninsula. From here we traveled to the nearby Arfak Mountains, where we birded the low- and middle-elevation forests. The second half of the tour took us to Sorong, on the opposite side of the Bird’s Head Peninsula, and then to one of the Raja Ampat Islands, Waigeo. After our time on this beautiful bird-filled island we headed back to Sorong, where the tour concluded on the 27th  of November 2018.

The main focus on this tour is always the stunning and highly-sought birds-of-paradise, and we managed to find eleven species of them: Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise, Lesser Bird-of-paradise, Red Bird-of-paradise, King Bird-of-paradise, Magnificent Bird-of-paradise, Western Parotia, Black-billed Sicklebill, Crescent-caped Lophorina (formerly the Vogelkop sub-species of Superb Bird-of-paradise), Trumpet Manucode, Glossy-mantled Manucode, and Magnificent Riflebird. Other highlight birds seen were also plentiful and included Western Crowned Pigeon, Spotted Jewel-babbler, Grey-banded Mannikin, Vogelkop Bowerbird, Masked Bowerbird, Arfak Catbird, Mountain Owlet-nightjar, Arfak Honeyeater, Lowland and Mountain Peltops, Common Paradise Kingfisher, Blyth’s Hornbill, New Guinea Friarbird, Lesser Ground Robin, Vogelkop Scrubwren, Vogelkop Whistler, Ivory-billed Coucal, and Papuan Frogmouth.

The region is well blessed in terms of pigeons and parrots, and we enjoyed many of them, such as Ornate, Superb, White-bibbed (Mountain), Orange-fronted, Orange-bellied, Pink-spotted, and Claret-breasted Fruit Doves, Spice, Pied, Pinon’s, and Collared Imperial Pigeons, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Pesquet’s (New Guinea Vulturine) Parrot, Palm Cockatoo, Eclectus Parrot, Papuan Lorikeet, Moluccan King Parrot, Red-breasted Pygmy Parrot, Yellow-capped Pygmy Parrot, and Great-billed Parrot. There was also a wide range of other interesting species, such as many kingfishers, robins, monarchs, and honeyeaters (Ornate Melidectes being one of the most spectacular of the latter family).

A total of 174 bird species were seen during this short tour, plus twelve species heard only.

 

Detailed Report

Day 0, 15th November 2018. Pre-tour arrival into Manokwari

Shita, Andy, Michael, and Diana arrived in Manokwari the morning ahead of the tour starting, with the rest of the day spent at leisure. Michael and Diana had flown to Manokwari after taking part in our Sulawesi tour immediately before this tour (see here for the Sulawesi trip report) and Andy had flown here after leading the Australia east coast tour (see here for the Australia trip report). 

Day 1, 16th November 2018. Birding around Manokwari

We had our first birding of the tour along a road cutting through some forest near Manokwari, which we visited at dawn for a few hours and again late in the afternoon for another couple of hours, sitting out the heat of the day at our comfortable hotel. The morning was overcast with light showers until the sun came through and things really warmed up. Due to the overcast start birding was a bit slow to begin with, but once it got going we found some really exciting birds. On top of the list was the immature male Lesser Bird-of-paradise that was displaying to a female. Later in the day we had an amazing flyover of an adult male passing overhead across the road clearing, glowing against the intimidating dark skies. A very impressive bird!

Other exciting birds were found and included Lowland Peltops sitting on a dead snag, several Blyth’s Hornbills flying about and occasionally perching and feeding in fruiting trees (these must be one of the loudest birds in flight!), and the beautiful Golden Monarch looking for all the world like a tiny New World oriole. Fruit doves were numerous but, as usual, often skittish or just very good at hiding. We heard Wompoo, saw Superb (briefly), and had good prolonged views of multiples of Ornate and Claret-breasted Fruit Doves. The most abundant bird was Papuan Mountain Pigeon, with multiple flocks flying over, some stopping for some nice scope views. Pinon’s Imperial Pigeon showed very well both in the morning and evening, allowing careful study. One of the nice surprises of the morning was a single Black Cicadabird seen well. We also had great looks at perched and in-flight Moustached Treeswifts, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Northern Variable Pitohui, Brown Oriole, many New Guinea Friarbirds, several Black Sunbirds, and a pair of Yellow-faced Mynas. Hooded and Black Butcherbirds gave us the runaround with lots of calling from deep in vegetation and no proper looks given, and a few Red-billed Brushturkeys were very vocal but not giving us a chance of seeing them. We had brief flythroughs from Long-tailed Honey Buzzard and Variable Goshawk. Pesquet’s (New Guinea Vulturine) Parrot, Moluccan King Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, and the minuscule Yellow-capped Pygmy Parrot were all seen too. A very nice set of birds from a few hours’ birding to get the tour going!

Day 2, 17th November 2018. Manokwari to Arfak Mountains

After breakfast at our hotel in Manokwari we started our journey into the Arfak Mountains. We stopped two times along the way to our new accommodation. The first brief stop yielded Sultan’s Cuckoo-Dove, Blyth’s Hornbill, and Northern Variable Pitohui. A distant Magnificent Bird-of-paradise could be heard but was a long way off.

The second, longer stop gave us several species to look at. We had some perched views of a very smart Grey-headed Goshawk, a real treat being able to look down on it and study all of its ID features, and several stunning Superb Fruit Doves gave much better views than we had had the previous day. The interesting Hooded Pitohui was also seen, interesting because this species is poisonous to eat due to a small beetle that it eats. A toxin is taken from the beetle and accumulated in the bird’s tissues and feathers! Other birds enjoyed at this second stop included great views of Mountain Peltops, a small family group of White-shouldered Fairywrens, Grey Wagtail, and more Papuan Mountain Pigeons.

We arrived at our homestay village at lunchtime, at which time the weather deteriorated and the majority of the afternoon was, unfortunately, a washout. Rusty Mouse-warbler, Brown-breasted Gerygone, Green-backed Robin, Arfak Catbird, and a few other species were heard, and Dimorphic Fantail and Long-billed Honeyeater were both seen all too briefly. We’d have to wait and hope for better weather in the morning.  

Day 3, 18th November 2018. Arfak Mountains

We awoke early after a wet and windy night for breakfast before heading into the forest at dawn. Thankfully the rain had stopped, but the wind was still quite high, therefore far from ideal. The dawn chorus was loud with the songs of Regent Whistler, Rusty Mouse-warbler, and Slaty Robin ringing out. After hiking down a trail for some way we entered a small hide (blind) and waited. While we waited for our main target to arrive (which was calling some way off to the side) we saw Lesser Ground Robin, and Ashy Robin come through. After a while the main event happened when a Western Parotia came into view and, after a couple of attempts at coming in, eventually dropped onto his display area. He cleaned some of the debris up and had a bit of a half-hearted attempt at displaying. This was a young male, so it lacked the six wiry plumes that full adults have, but it still looked rather impressive as its plumaged transitioned into something even more spectacular. His eye was a beautiful piercing blue, and his white forehead glowed in the dark, early morning of the forest. A real treat to see this bird so well!

After seeing the parotia we started to look for Vogelkop Bowerbird. We had no trouble finding its huge, incredibly impressive and intricately decorated tent bower; however, despite waiting for quite a while in another hide, we only got a very brief glimpse as it flew through after calling, seemingly not interested in checking on his bower this morning. While awaiting the bowerbird’s arrival we noted several species in the vicinity of the hide, including Rufous-naped Bellbird, Black Fantail, Dwarf Longbill, Vogelkop Scrubwren, Black Monarch, Blyth’s Hornbill, and Slaty Robin. The wind was again picking up, and the activity was waning, so we headed back to the homestay for lunch.

In the early afternoon, after a brief siesta, we again headed into the forest, but this time along a newly-created trail. After a short hike down a hill we found ourselves at another hide. After waiting patiently for a short while, hearing our target bird calling from an unseen location behind the hide, we were duly rewarded when a stunning adult male Magnificent Bird-of-paradise hopped onto his display court. We enjoyed watching this bird clean his area and then do some display to a female that had also come into the area (image of the male bird in tour overview section). It was great to be able to soak in all the finer details of this bird and really study it closely. Also coming into view (maybe attracted to all the commotion from the male bird-of-paradise?) was a big bonus bird in the form of the very attractively-marked (and often secretive) Arfak Catbird. The catbird continued to show well for quite some time, and after a while we left the two species to get on with their afternoons as we hiked back up the hill, feeling rather satisfied with our sightings.

On returning to our homestay village we birded a little on the entrance road and found several new species, such as Vogelkop Whistler, Sclater’s Whistler, Red-collared Myzomela, Mountain Myzomela, Northern Fantail, Friendly Fantail, and the mainland form of Island Leaf Warbler. As the wind picked up and the temperature dropped we headed back to the village for an early dinner and an early night, ready for the following morning’s early start.

Day 4, 19th November 2018. Arfak Mountains

Another windy morning was spent in the forest near our village. We went into the forest targeting one bird-of-paradise and hoping for another. Our target was Black-billed Sicklebill. Hearing it was not a problem, for its loud call was ringing out as soon as we got into its territory. Seeing it, however, proved a lot more difficult, but after quite a while we finally had perched views as it sat high up in a huge tree opposite our viewpoint. While trying to locate the calling sicklebill we bumped into a pair of our other hoped-for target, Crescent-caped Lophorina (a very recent split from Superb Bird-of-paradise and also known as Vogelkop Bird-of-paradise or Vogelkop Lophorina – the new English name is apparently somewhat up for debate.). This new species was briefly visiting a fruiting tree, which also contained a female Western Parotia. Although our attention during the morning was firmly focused on trying to see the birds-of-paradise we also saw several other species in the area, such as Arfak Honeyeater, Green-backed Robin, Capped White-eye, Regent Whistler, Black Fantail, Blyth’s Hornbill, and Stout-billed Cuckooshrike, while a distant White-striped Forest Rail and Grey Crow were heard calling. As we were leaving the forest in the midmorning we had one final treat in store in the form of the stunning Spotted Jewel-babbler, a tricky bird to see; but after a short while all of us had some nice views of this highly-sought and tough species. We came back to the village for an early lunch, where we had the nice surprise of a day-roosting Mountain Owlet-nightjar in one of the buildings, and we also had good looks at a nesting Glossy Swiftlet.

After our early lunch we took a drive along a very rough road/track to search for a very local endemic species, Grey-banded Mannikin, whose global population is only found in a very small area a couple of hours from our village. As we entered its range we quickly found a flock of thirty birds, which gave some really great views as they fed on seed heads. A really beautiful bird, and great to be able to get such prolonged and close-range views! It definitely made the bumpy drive worthwhile. Here we also enjoyed the added bonus of Great Woodswallow, a brute of a bird with its huge, white, shoulder ‘landing lights’ standing out even at long range before they flew closer and gave nice views! Our drive back was fairly uneventful (apart from a small landslide), and we managed a quick bit of birding between rain showers near the village, where we found our first Ornate Melidectes and improved our views of Slaty Robin and Red-collared Myzomela. Plenty of other birds were moving through too, such as Friendly Fantail, Sclater’s Whistler, and Island Leaf Warbler.

Day 5, 20th November 2018. Arfak Mountains

A slightly earlier start this morning saw us setting off on the trails in darkness in order to get into place before it was light. As we walked along the trail a distant Greater Sooty Owl could be heard calling. In the dawn light birds started to call, one of these was the Black-billed Sicklebill that flew across in front of us and vanished into the undergrowth. We heard him calling for quite a while but he never showed again, although a female did briefly perch up in full view. Also in this area we again saw a pair of Crescent-caped Lophorinas, and these showed much better than those on the previous day. Here we also got another new bird-of-paradise, Trumpet Manucode, which flew into a fruiting tree, grabbed some fruit, and then flew off again. Among all of this activity there were also plenty of other birds around, such as the gorgeous Goldenface, Regent Whistler, Hooded Pitohui, Bar-tailed Cuckoo-Dove, Black-bellied Cicadabird, Rusty Mouse-warbler, Green-backed Robin, Arfak Honeyeater, Ornate Melidectes, and more, with flyovers from Great Cuckoo-Dove, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Pesquet’s (New Guinea Vulturine) Parrot, Mountain Swiftlet, Glossy Swiftlet, Blyth’s Hornbill, and White-bibbed (Mountain) Fruit Dove. A little past an hour after it all got going there suddenly was silence as the dawn chorus was over.

In the midmorning we headed to another rather steep forest trail. Eventually we reached our hide, where we sat and looked at a Masked Bowerbird avenue-bower. We waited for quite a while, but the bird didn’t drop down to the bower, despite calling near to it. While here we could also hear Lesser Bird-of-paradise, Magnificent Bird-of-paradise, Crescent-caped Lophorina, and several other species. The Lesser Bird-of-paradise was seen on our way back up the hill, along with Mid-mountain Berrypecker, Olive-crowned Flowerpecker, Drongo Fantail, Black Monarch, Regent Whistler, Black Fantail, and Slaty Robin. A surprise was the Red-billed Brushturkey that we flushed off the trail. We also had an excellent sighting of Northern Common Cuscus (see photo at end of report).

Over lunch there was a bit of activity around the village with the following species noted: Garnet Robin, Regent Whistler, Sclater’s Whistler, Vogelkop Scrubwren, Ruby-throated Myzomela, Red-collared Myzomela, Black Berrypecker, Grey Thornbill, Dwarf Longbill, Black-breasted Boatbill, Capped White-eye, Slaty Robin, and Friendly Fantail.

Unfortunately, the afternoon birding was curtailed a little by a period of heavy rain and an approaching thunderstorm. Before the rain hit, and during a brief break, we all had good views of stunning Papuan Lorikeets feeding in a flowering tree, along with Vogelkop Bowerbird, Ornate Melidectes, and Black-breasted Boatbill. A pair of Lesser Ground Robins were nearby too.

Day 6, 21st November 2018. Arfak Mountains and travel to Manokwari

We awoke early after an incredibly wet and windy night, but thankfully both stopped before it was time to hit the trails. Our plan was to head into the forest, where on the previous two mornings we had seen so much. Full of anticipation we made the walk into the forest in darkness, arriving at our spot just in time for the dawn chorus to start. However, the dawn chorus simply didn’t really happen this morning for some reason or other, presumably because of yesterday’s rain and the overnight conditions. Black-billed Sicklebill and Crescent-caped Lophorina called just once each, the latter showing briefly. It was a really disappointing end to our time in the forest here. Regent Whistler called but didn’t show, and a pair of Green-backed Robins gave great views to some of us and none to others. Frustrating indeed! Arfak Honeyeater, Moluccan King Parrot, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, and our first White-bibbed (Mountain) Fruit Dove did show, though. The latter was found as we were following the call of a Masked Bowerbird that could be heard calling for a brief spell but could not be located.

We decided to leave the forest and try our luck on the road. We were very quickly successful in locating our main target for the drive, the until-now-elusive Masked Bowerbird! The bird was sitting on some bare branches at the top of the tree, glowing in the murky skies. Luckily it perched long enough for all of us to get good scope views – at times like these it’s nice having the Swarovski ATX-95 to really allow us to see the staggering colors of this species. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this bird rivals the beauty of many of the birds-of-paradise. You really do need to see this bird!

We then decided to go to a viewpoint overlooking a huge swathe of forest. We could hear and see Blyth’s Hornbills and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and could hear Pesquet’s (New Guinea Vulturine) Parrot. In our pursuit to better our views from earlier in the tour Michael took a tumble on the road and, ironically, where he ended up turned out to be the best place to view the parrots. However, that tumble resulted in the premature end to the birding for the day and unfortunately impacted on the birding over the coming days too. We went back to the village to have lunch and pack up and, as planned, headed back to Manokwari after lunch.

Day 7, 22nd November 2018. Travel from Manokwari to Sorong, birding the Sorong Area

We took a morning flight between Manokwari and Sorong, where we arrived at our new hotel in time for lunch. We sat out the heat of the day and late in the afternoon headed to an area of mangroves near the city, where we found many new birds, including Orange-fronted Fruit Dove, Collared Imperial Pigeon, Little Kingfisher, Little Bronze Cuckoo, Pacific Baza, Peregrine Falcon, Black Bittern, Little Egret, Eastern Cattle Egret, Brown-backed Honeyeater, Torresian Crow, Willie Wagtail, Barn Swallow, and Metallic Starling. Unfortunately the Blue-black Kingfisher was calling in the mangroves but not from a position that we could see.

Day 8, 23rd November 2018. Morning birding near Sorong, afternoon ferry to Waigeo

After breakfast we drove to a forest block near Sorong where we targeted one special bird. After arriving at the site we followed the sound, and quite quickly we were watching a gorgeous male King Bird-of-paradise as it sat high in the trees calling, giving us all excellent views. After enjoying watching him (we also found a female too) we had a quick look around the area, where we found Pink-spotted, Superb, Orange-bellied, and Wompoo Fruit Doves, Brush Cuckoo, Coconut Lorikeet, Black-capped Lory, Black Lory, and Magnificent Riflebird. At least three riflebirds were calling within earshot, but all were too far away to get there, although one did fly across the road, allowing brief views. A few other species around the area included Hooded and Papuan Pittas, Blyth’s Hornbill, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Red-billed Brushturkey, Golden Cuckooshrike, Spangled Drongo, and Frilled Monarch.

After lunch back in Sorong we caught the afternoon ferry to the island of Waigeo for the next few nights at a very picturesque resort right on the beach. As we made the short journey across the island in the late afternoon we found a few good birds, such as a perched Long-tailed Honey Buzzard and Variable Goshawk, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Moluccan Starling, Oriental Dollarbird, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Pinion’s Imperial Pigeon, Grey-tailed Tattler, Far Eastern Curlew, and Lesser Frigatebird, with brief views of Eclectus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, and Golden-headed Cisticola. Red Bird-of-paradise was heard calling but remained out of range on the wrong side of the slope; we’d have to wait to see that one…    

Day 9, 24th November 2018. Waigeo

There were three main targets for our morning birding session, two birds-of-paradise and a pigeon. We knew we had a good chance of the first two birds, but the third bird would take some luck. We gingerly made our way up the hills behind our beach resort via a combination of walking and driving a 4×4. We entered the forest to the sound of Rusty Pitohui, Raja Ampat Pitohui, Common Paradise Kingfisher, and Black-sided Robin. We hiked up a short trail, and when we got closer we could here what we wanted to hear, the sound of a male Red Bird-of-paradise announcing his presence. In a short amount of time we found ourselves enjoying great views as he called and displayed, throwing himself upside down, and generally showing off! We were certainly appreciative of the views. While watching this, we could hear the huge Channel-billed Cuckoo calling.

After making our way back down the hill a little we jumped in the 4×4 and started driving to our next spot; however, along the way something hoped-for but not expected happened when a pair of the magnificent, huge Western Crowned Pigeons were found walking along our track! We couldn’t believe our luck to have seen these major target birds so easily! Full of excitement we continued on our way to the next bird we were targeting, and arguably one of the most-sought species in the world, Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise. We didn’t have to wait long. We could hear the bird calling, and after a short while a male flew into of our view from the hide and proceeded to give us some really excellent views. First he was slightly hidden at the back, but then he came out into the open and started to display. A Long-billed Honeyeater flew in, and that seemed to set him off! We all thoroughly enjoyed the sighting (also see the photo on front cover of this report). After this excitement we glimpsed Rusty Pitohui, had great looks at a pair of Black-sided Robins and a couple of Northern Fantails, and then started our drive back to our beach resort. Along the way we picked up a couple of new species, including our eleventh and final bird-of-paradise of the trip, Glossy-mantled Manucode, although the views were not too prolonged, so this was one to try and improve on over the next couple of days. Other highlights here included Yellow-faced Myna, Great-billed Parrot, Coconut Lorikeet, Eclectus Parrot, New Guinea Friarbird, Spangled Drongo, Eastern Osprey, and Hooded Butcherbird. When we returned to the resort we enjoyed watching a Papuan Frogmouth on its nest with a young bird right outside our cabins, and another Glossy-mantled Manucode flew in, giving further brief (but much closer) views!

The afternoon was spent relaxing around the resort, having a swim, and watching the Palm Cockatoos destroying the almond trees! It was great to be able to watch these magnificent, huge, and rather attractive cockatoos for so long and at close range. We sat on the pier and watched several species come through, such as Beach Kingfisher, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, Grey-headed Goshawk, Variable Goshawk, Lesser Frigatebird, almost three hundred Great Frigatebirds, Greater Crested Tern, Eclectus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, and several other species. We then enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the adjacent Raja Ampat Islands.

Day 10, 25th November 2018. Waigeo and Raja Ampat Islands

Papuan Frogmouth was sitting on its nest as we went to breakfast, allowing a nice photo opportunity.

We then jumped into a small boat and headed to a couple of small islets, landing on one briefly for some exploration. We added quite a few new birds during this trip, with highlights including proper views of Glossy-mantled Manucode, a nest building Dusky Megapode, the stunning Common Paradise Kingfisher, and Beach Kingfisher, along with Spice Imperial Pigeon, Metallic Pigeon, Varied and Mimic Honeyeaters, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Eastern Osprey, and Shining Flycatcher. We also found Waigeo (Spotted) Cuscus (see photo at end of report) and Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin. An interesting interaction involved watching the dolphins fishing, with fish leaping out of the water to escape them. While the fish were leaping out of the water a flock of Greater and Lesser Frigatebirds were diving down, trying to catch the escaping fish. Great fun to watch!

Our afternoon was spent back at the resort relaxing. Some of us ventured out snorkeling right in front of the resort, which was incredible, with a plethora of kaleidoscopic fish and corals on view. It is definitely worth spending some time in the water out here, the rewards are very high. The diving in this area is rightly considered to be some of the best in the world.

Day 11, 26th November 2018. By boat from Waigeo back to Sorong, the rest of day at leisure

We took a speedboat from our resort on Waigeo back to Sorong where we arrived late in the morning. The sea was flat and calm, and the bird activity was low, but we did note Red-necked Phalarope, Brown Booby, Great Frigatebird, and White-naped, Greater Crested, and Common Terns. The rest of the day was spent at leisure at our very comfortable hotel.  

Day 12, 27th November 2018. Departure from Sorong and tour concludes

We all departed on early-morning flights out of Sorong to make our international departures, and this enjoyable bird-of-paradise-packed tour concluded. Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise was voted “Bird of the Trip”, which was not surprising given the amazing close views we had had of this stunning bird, with Red and King Birds-of-paradise and Masked Bowerbird coming closely behind.

[1] Usually this tour would include a trip to the higher elevations of the Arfak Mountains for three bird-of-paradise species, Long-tailed Paradigalla, Arfak Astrapia, and Black Sicklebill, as well as other high-elevation species. However, based on client preferences we did not bird the higher elevation on this trip. Please see the 2017 trip report for an example of the birding at the higher elevation.

Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.

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