West Papua: Arfak and Waigeo Trip Report November 2017

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01 – 27 NOVEMBER 2017

By Andy Walker

New Guinea is a geographical rather than a political term that refers to the main island in the region. The western half of the island of New Guinea comprises the Indonesian provinces of West Papua (Papua Barat) and Papua, once called West Irian Jaya and Irian Jaya, respectively; the eastern half of the main island of New Guinea comprises the country of Papua New Guinea. This tour was based mainly in West Papua. Some parts of the main tour (e.g. the Arfak Mountains) and one of the pre-tours (Nimbokrang in the province of Papua) were based on the main island of New Guinea. Aside from the large landmass of New Guinea, the New Guinea region includes numerous small islands on the continental shelf or verges thereof (some part of Indonesia and others part of Papua New Guinea), and we visited two of these areas belonging to Indonesia. During the main tour we visited Waigeo, part of the Raja Ampat Islands in the province of West Papua (also known as the Northwestern Islands), and during one of the pre-tours we visited the Cenderawasih Bay (formerly Geelvink Bay) islands of Biak and Numfor in the province of Papua (also known as the ‘Bay Islands’).

 

The main tour and pre-tours connected with many exciting birds. A total of 324 bird species were recorded (300 seen), including 16 birds-of-paradise. The first of our pre-tours visited the Nimbokrang area in the northeast of Papua, close to the Papua New Guinea border, and here we found Pale-billed Sicklebill, Shovel-billed Kookaburra, Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise, Lesser Bird-of-paradise, King Bird-of-paradise, Jobi Manucode, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, and Pesquet’s (New Guinea Vulturine) Parrot. The second of our pre-tours focused on the endemic species of Numfor and Biak islands, where we found Numfor Paradise Kingfisher, Biak Paradise Kingfisher, Biak Scops Owl, Biak Lorikeet, Geelvink Pygmy Parrot, Biak Scrubfowl, and the rosenbergii endemic subspecies of Hooded Pitta, a very likely future split. Plenty of potential armchair ticks after a week on these islands!

 

Our West Papua Arfak and Waigeo main tour began 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 found a fabulous series of birds such as Vogelkop and Masked Bowerbirds, Grey-banded Mannikin, Western Parotia, Arfak Astrapia, Long-tailed Paradigalla, Black and Black-billed Sicklebills, Magnificent, Superb, and Lesser Birds-of-paradise, Spotted Jewel-babbler, and White-striped Forest Rail. The second and final leg of our main tour took us to Sorong, on the opposite side of the Bird’s Head Peninsula, and then over to one of the Raja Ampat Islands, Waigeo. In this region we found Twelve-wired, King, Wilson’s (arguably one of the best-looking birds in the world), and Red Birds-of-paradise, Magnificent Riflebird, Glossy-mantled Manucode, Red-breasted and Common Paradise Kingfishers, Blue-black and Hook-billed Kingfishers, and Western Crowned Pigeon to our substantial list of top quality birds.

 

Pre-tour 1: Nimbokrang

 

1st November 2017: Arrival in West Papua

Andy arrived early in the morning after successfully scouting out Java (Javan Banded Pitta, Javan Trogon, Javan Cochoa, and many more endemics all seen well on an exciting 24-hour stopover in Jakarta – a great stopover destination for this tour). Clara arrived a few hours later after her overnight flight. Both met up with our local guide Benny and spent the remainder of the day relaxing at our comfortable hotel in Jayapura, the capital of Papua.

 

2nd November 2017: Travel to Nimbokrang and afternoon birding

After a late breakfast Clara and Andy transferred across to a homestay in a very hot and humid Nimbokrang, our base for the next four nights. A family of Black Sunbirds provided some entertainment over lunch, and a Willie Wagtail passed through the garden. A brief afternoon birdwatching session near the town gave good views of Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, White-shouldered Fairywren, New Guinea Friarbird, Great-billed, Chestnut-breasted, and Hooded Mannikins, Crimson Finch, King Quail, Buff-banded Rail, Pacific Golden Plover, Greater Sandplover, and several Swinhoe’s Snipes.

 

3rd – 5th November 2017: Birding in the Nimbokrang area

We spent three full days at Nimbokrang, with birding sessions in the early morning and late afternoon, on either side of the heat of the middle of the day, and dodging the odd torrential shower. There were many highlights from our time birding here, with most excitement going to several of the remarkable birds-of-paradise that we found. Our views of Pale-billed Sicklebill, Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise, Lesser Bird-of-paradise, King Bird-of-paradise, and Jobi Manucode were excellent and allowed a close study of their fascinating plumage, incredible range of vocalizations, and extraordinary behavior.

It wasn’t just the birds-of-paradise, though, that got us excited; there was a whole host of other incredible birds. Parrots and pigeons/doves were particularly evident and spectacular, with one of the most unique being the vulture-like Pesquet’s Parrot, (this species formerly being known as New Guinea Vulturine Parrot). Others included Black-winged Lory, Brown Lory, Salvadori’s and Double-eyed Fig Parrots, Eclectus and Red-cheeked Parrots, Palm and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, and Coconut Lorikeet. One additional parrot really stood out, too, for being incredibly tiny. The Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot stands at only eight centimeters, about the size of a kinglet! Pigeons/doves included the gorgeous Wompoo, Coroneted, and Orange-bellied Fruit Doves, Zoe’s and Pinon’s Imperial Pigeons, and the huge Great Cuckoo-Dove, which looks a bit like a coucal with its long, wide tail.

Other high-quality birds found during our time in the area included Grey-headed Goshawk, Golden and Yellow-faced Mynas, Hook-billed, Papuan Dwarf, and Yellow-billed Kingfishers, Shovel-billed and Rufous-bellied Kookaburras, Collared Brushturkey, Ivory-billed, Black-billed, and Pheasant Coucals, Papuan Hawk-Owl, Papuan Frogmouth, Moustached Treeswift, Papuan Pitta, White-shouldered and Emperor Fairywrens, New Guinea and Meyer’s Friarbirds, Lowland Peltops, Golden Cuckooshrike, Grey Crow, Black-sided Robin, and White-eared Catbird. Unfortunately, the Victoria Crowned Pigeon heard could not be tracked down, despite Benny’s best efforts.

 

6th November 2017: Nimbokrang to Jayapura

We left our wonderful homestay in Nimbokrang, bidding fond farewells to our kind host family before we traveled back to the capital of Papua and our very comfortable hotel in time to relax for the afternoon and get our laundry all caught up, ready for our further travels.

 

Pre-tour 2: Biak Island and Numfor Island

 

7th November 2017: Arrival on Biak Island

Clara and Andy flew from Jayapura to the island of Biak, where they met Carole and local guide Shita, who had arrived on earlier flights. The rest of the day was spent at leisure.

 

8th – 10th November 2017: Birding on Biak Island.

We spent three full days exploring the beautiful island of Biak (again dodging plenty of rain showers). Our focus was on the several endemic species found on the island as well as numerous interesting subspecies that may warrant elevation to full-species status in the future. Aside from the ‘listing’ side of things there are some spectacular-looking birds on the island worth looking at in their own right, and we enjoyed Biak Paradise Kingfisher, Biak Scops Owl, Long-tailed Starling, Biak Black Flycatcher, Black-winged Lory, Biak Lorikeet, Geelvink Pygmy Parrot, Biak Monarch, Biak Coucal, and Biak Gerygone.

Of the several interesting endemic subspecies (considered full species by some authorities [e.g. the BirdLife Handbook to the Birds of the World or the new Gregory field guide], but currently not recognized by IOC, which Birding Ecotours follow) we found the Biak forms of Black-browed Triller (known as Biak Triller), Island Leaf Warbler (known as Biak Leaf Warbler), Spice Imperial Pigeon (known as Geelvink Imperial Pigeon), Northern Fantail (known as Biak Fantail), the gorgeous Yellow-bibbed Fruit Dove (known as Geelvink Fruit Dove), Common Cicadabird (known as Geelvink Cicadabird), and the equally stunning Hooded Pitta (known as Biak Hooded Pitta). We also had plenty of other interesting and impressive birds while on the island, including Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, Large-tailed Nightjar, Golden Monarch, Moustached Treeswift, Papuan Frogmouth, Beach Kingfisher, Eclectus Parrot, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Little Bronze Cuckoo, Brush Cuckoo, and Emperor Fairywren.

 

11th November 2017: Transfer between Biak Island and Numfor Island

We took our early morning chartered boat from Biak Island, arriving at Numfor Island, after a journey of approximately four hours and 120 kilometers, around lunchtime. During the crossing we had the impressive sight of a school of tuna jumping out of the water and attracting a large variety of birds, which included Lesser and Greater Frigatebird, Brown Booby, Streaked Shearwater, Brown Noddy, and, Sooty, Bridled, Black-naped, Common, Greater Crested, and Lesser Crested Terns. We also saw several Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, some of which came very close to the boat. There was also a good scattering of Red-necked Phalaropes along the way, with singles of both Pomarine (Skua) Jaeger and Bulwer’s Petrel noted close to the boat.

On arrival at Numfor Island we drove to our basic but comfortable homestay, stopping along the way for a few new birds. Here and during the remainder of the afternoon we enjoyed watching the gorgeous endemic Numfor Paradise Kingfisher, along with Biak Scrubfowl (much easier to see here than on Biak Island itself), Geelvink Pygmy Parrot, Black-winged Lory, and plenty more. We found the island-endemic subspecies of Long-tailed Starling, Hooded Pitta (this sub-species belonging to the Eastern Hooded Pitta’ complex if split), and Common Cicadabird (a different sub-species to those already seen on Biak Island, this would be part of Geelvink Cicadabird, along with those birds if split). A Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler was a nice, somewhat unexpected surprise, and as the sun disappeared Papuan Frogmouth flew into view, and some Geelvink Bay flying foxes flew overhead to end a great day in Papua.

 

12th November 2017: Birding on Numfor Island

We spent the day dodging rain showers, at time heavy ones, but managed to eke out our few remaining target birds on the island. The local form of Island Leaf Warbler (known as Numfor Leaf Warbler) eventually gave itself up but stayed high in the canopy. We also had further looks at many of the species mentioned above, with highlights including Numfor Paradise Kingfisher, Hooded Pitta (known as Eastern Hooded Pitta), Channel-billed Cuckoo, Geelvink Pygmy Parrot, Spice Imperial Pigeon (known as Geelvink Imperial Pigeon), Yellow-bibbed Fruit Dove (known as Geelvink Fruit Dove), Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, Biak Black Flycatcher, and Island Monarch.

 

13th November 2017: Transfer between Numfor Island and Biak Island

We left Numfor Island on our chartered boat early in the morning and arrived back on Biak Island at lunchtime. There was less bird activity during this boat journey compared to two days earlier, but we did see several Wedge-tailed and Streaked Shearwaters on the boat ride and a couple of Grey-tailed Tattlers on the beach. The afternoon was spent at leisure.

 

14th November 2017: Birding on Biak Island

It was an incredibly hot day, and activity dropped off very early, but not before we had found our last remaining currently recognized IOC endemic, Biak White-eye, which finally showed well. Geelvink Pygmy Parrot again proved frustrating, with birds seen at a couple of locations but only briefly. Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, however, showed very well. We also enjoyed final looks at several other species/subspecies endemic to the Biak Numfor Regency.

An afternoon birding session at a tidal flood area (a result of a previous tsunami) gave us some very nice views of several new trip birds, such as the hulking Great-billed Heron along with Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Nankeen Night Heron, Striated Heron, and a wide range of shorebirds, including Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Grey-tailed Tattler. A pair of Spotted Whistling Ducks showed very well at close range, and further we had good views of Eastern Osprey, Torresian Imperial Pigeon, and Beach Kingfisher. A nice way to end our birding on the islands!

 

Main Tour: Arfak and Waigeo Birding Expedition

 

15th November 2017: Arrival in Manokwari ahead of tour commencing

All tour participants arrived in Manokwari, the capital of West Papua. Geoff, John, Kevin, and Peter arrived during the morning, meeting up with Carole, Clara, Andy, and Shita, who arrived from Biak Island. The afternoon was spent at leisure, and all got together for a welcome dinner in the evening.

 

16th November 2017: Main tour starts, birding near Manokwari and Arfak Mountains

We spent a couple of hours birding some forest near Manokwari in the morning, where we got our main tour list off to a good start with a fruiting tree that held Lesser Bird-of-paradise, Black Butcherbird, Beautiful, Superb, and Wompoo Fruit Doves, and Northern Variable Pitohui. Several small flocks of Blyth’s Hornbills flew low overhead, their giant, loud wingbeats giving their impending presence away. In this beautiful patch of forest we also found Frilled Monarch, Northern Fantail, and a pair of colossal Channel-billed Cuckoos. Hook-billed Kingfisher was heard calling while it was still dark but could not be seen; we’d have to hope to see it at a later date. After breakfast and a brief shower we took the bumpy drive by 4×4 up in to the Arfak Mountains for the week. It was very birdy around our homestay village on arrival, and we found Golden Monarch, Island Leaf Warbler (the mainland subspecies), Capped White-eye, Large billed Gerygone, Perplexing Scrubwren, and Arfak Honeyeater.

In the afternoon we walked down a steep forest slope, where we hoped for and then shortly after arrival at a blind (bird hide) saw our first Magnificent Bird-of-paradise. We watched the bird attend to his display site and were even lucky enough to watch it displaying to a female and a young male bird. It also got rather agitated when a Dimorphic Fantail flew into his display site and made some rather interesting vocalizations. On walking back up the hill we found Rusty Mouse-warbler, White-shouldered Fairywren, Black-capped White-eye, Long-billed Honeyeater, and Black-capped Lory.

 

17th November 2017: Birding in the Arfak Mountains (low- to mid-elevation)

We spent an enjoyable day birding in the Arfak Mountains in some beautiful forest. We targeted two species of birds-of-paradise during the day. We split the group into two smaller groups in order to fit everyone into two blinds, both overlooking display areas of our target bird, and then we all sat patiently and waited. Thankfully, both groups were successful, and all of us managed to see the rather chunky Western Parotia, a beautiful member of the birds-of-paradise family. One group was particularly lucky and managed to observe a male displaying to a female in his ‘court’.

After the excitement of the Western Parotia we took a long walk up and down several hills back to our homestay. Over the course of the next few hours we saw many exciting species. One of them, though not a ‘looker’, was certainly interesting from an engineering point of view, the Vogelkop Bowerbird. This bird constructs one of the most complex maypole bowers of any in its family. The bowers are decorated with a wide range of colors and materials (unfortunately lots of plastic bottles, bottle tops, drinks cans, and plastic bags, but there were several clumps of forest fruits and more ‘natural’ materials too). Birding was difficult, but occasionally we came across mixed flocks or openings, where we added some great birds, such as Sclater’s, Regent, Vogelkop, and Rufous-naped Whistlers, Spotted Jewel-babbler, Vogelkop Melidectes, Arfak Honeyeater, Red-collared Myzomela, Black-breasted Boatbill, Black, Friendly, and Dimorphic Fantails, Papuan Eagle, Black-mantled Goshawk, Pesquet’s (New Guinea Vulturine) Parrot, and Papuan Treecreeper. Our afternoon birding yielded fewer species but allowed us to get visuals of our second main target of the day. Before we left the homestay we had a busy flock of Red-breasted Pygmy Parrots that showed nicely (for pygmy parrots). Our first stop in the forest gave us good looks at a day-roosting Feline Owlet-nightjar, a gorgeous and popular bird. We could hear Black-billed Sicklebill calling but never got close to seeing that individual. But we could also hear Superb Bird-of-paradise vocalizing, so we followed the sound down the hill. We eventually got into position where we needed to scan for it, but for quite a while it was not looking good. The light was fading, and the bird was calling but not coming close enough to see, and then just a few minutes before we needed to set off back up the hill a male Superb Bird-of-paradise (fantastically well-named) finally appeared into view. A fantastic end to the day, and we were all ecstatic with our sighting of this great bird.

The Superb Bird-of-paradise was high in a tree, but after the initial panic of getting everyone on the bird we could enjoy good views of this gorgeous species. He wasn’t going anywhere, as a female was interested in his elaborate display and dancing, and he put on a nice show for her, and us. Prior to all of the bird-of-paradise excitement, as we walked along the trail, we found a couple of Papuan Mountain Pigeons, several Sultan’s Cuckoo-Doves, and some loud Black Monarchs (behaving and looking very similar to the Black Fantails we had seen earlier in the day – this species used to be called Fantail Monarch, and it’s easy to see why). While we were waiting for the Superb Bird-of-paradise to appear we had a few minor distractions from a distantly-calling Arfak Catbird and Moluccan King Parrot, which helped prevent boredom setting in. But seeing the amazing Superb Bird-of-paradise displaying was a wonderful end to a long and tiring but rewarding day.

 

18th November 2017: Birding in the Arfak Mountains (low- to mid-elevation)

An early start had us heading into the forest while it was just getting light. We made our way to a set of blinds and again had to split the group in two to fit into them. After a short wait the target bird of the morning, Black-billed Sicklebill, a member of the birds-of-paradise family, flew in and showed well, but very briefly for one of the blinds, with the other half of the group also seeing the bird, but possibly an even briefer sighting. These birds can be very tricky to get prolonged views of, despite being very vocal. A Green-backed Robin was also seen hanging around one of the blinds while we waited for the sicklebill. While we were trying to better our views of the sicklebill we found several large birds in flocks, such as Ivory-billed Coucal, Stout-billed Cuckooshrike, White-eared Bronze Cuckoo, White-crowned Cuckoo, Dwarf Koel, Pacific Koel, Vogelkop Melidectes, and Drongo Fantail. Arfak Catbird was calling distantly but didn’t come close enough for views, unfortunately. A fruiting tree gave us some fantastic views of several feeding Superb Birds-of-paradise. A male bird, on seeing the female birds in the tree, started displaying, giving the females, and us, a great show. A female Western Parotia dropped in to feed too, and a juvenile male Lesser Bird-of-paradise was vocal but remained out of view to most. A couple of Hooded Pitohui also joined the fruiting tree and showed well. There were plenty of small birds moving through the forest, and over the course of the morning we connected with the stunning Goldenface and many other birds such as Garnet and Slaty Robins, Black Monarch, White-shouldered Fairywren, Regent and Vogelkop Whistlers, Arfak Honeyeater, Brown-breasted Gerygone, Grey Thornbill, Grey-green, Vogelkop, and Large Scrubwrens, and Rusty Mouse-warbler. By a lucky few at the front of the group a Spotted Jewel-babbler was seen. Another bonus sighting of the morning was a female White-bibbed (Mountain) Fruit Dove, incredibly found by our local guides sitting on a nest. How they spotted it a few feet off the ground remains a mystery! However, bird of the morning undoubtedly went to the simply staggering male Masked Bowerbird that appeared at the top of a tree at a forest opening. The gaudy colors of this bird need to be seen to be believed!

We had some rain over lunch but noted a female Western Parotia and some Red-breasted Pygmy Parrots in the village gardens. During the afternoon we took a long and (at times very) rough drive from our village, eventually arriving at a patch of reeds and grasses. Fairly quickly we located our main target, the range-restricted endemic Grey-banded Mannikin; however, it took quite a while to get everyone on them as they were rather flighty. During the mannikin search we had some very good views of a pair of Papuan Grassbirds taking food to a nest, and Pale-vented Bush-hen, Australian Reed Warbler, and Golden-headed Cisticola were heard calling but were not accessible. Otherwise it was quite quiet, with lots of Grey Wagtails and several swifts the only other birds of note seen. It was clear that hunting and habitat destruction in this area has had a hugely detrimental effect on the region’s avifauna. Luckily, the area we had been birding in for the last few days is well protected and was full of exciting and wonderful birds.

 

19th November 2017: Birding in the Arfak Mountains (mid- and high-elevation)

Andy headed to the high elevation of the Arfak Mountains with Geoff, John, Kevin, and Peter, with local guide Zeth. Carole and Clara remained at the middle elevation with Shita and were joined by local guide Benny, who had been birding with Clara and Andy in Nimbokrang earlier during the pre-tour and would remain with the group till the end of the tour.

Those heading up the mountain left early in the morning on a very tough and physically demanding uphill hike (this hike is only suitable for those with good fitness levels). Thankfully, the weather was kind, and we enjoyed a dry walk. The lower section of the hike held several birds we had seen the previous days, such as Bar-tailed Cuckoo-Dove, Garnet Robin, Vogelkop Melidectes, Superb Bird-of-paradise, Western Parotia, etc., but also a few new ones such as Rufous-sided and Marbled Honeyeaters, Papuan White-eye, and Blue-faced Parrotfinch. As we gained elevation more new birds came at us, like Lesser Melampitta, Lesser Ground Robin, and Mountain Mouse-warbler, and just before the toughest part of the hike Zeth found a Long-tailed Paradigalla on a nest! We were therefore treated to very nice looks at this rare bird-of-paradise, it certainly made a hard morning walk more bearable. In this zone we also got great views of several Red-breasted Pygmy Parrots. After a final (hard) push to our very basic campsite we enjoyed an hour’s rest, listening to the sounds of White-bibbed (Mountain) Fruit Dove, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, Papuan Lorikeets, and a variety of robins.

There was, however, little rest, since the afternoon involved another strenuous hike uphill (and later back down to the campsite), where we had great success in seeing at least three individuals of our main target bird, the stunning Arfak Astrapia, our second new bird-of-paradise of the day. The birds were busily feeding, and, astonishingly, we also found our third new bird-of-paradise of the day in the same tree a short while later, when a female Black Sicklebill dropped in to feed (we could also hear the distinctive sound of the male ringing out through the adjacent valley, what an incredible sound!). Five species of birds-of-paradise in a day is not to be sniffed at! We also had a bonus in the form of a day-roosting Mountain Owlet-nightjar, a beautiful bird and a great find by our porters. Unfortunately, the clouds came down as the afternoon progressed. But we still managed a few good birds although viewing conditions became difficult. We added Regent and Sclater’s Whistlers, Mottled Berryhunter, Obscure, Fan-tailed, and Tit Berrypeckers, Cinnamon-browed Melidectes, Ashy, Smoky, and Black-throated Robins, Red-collared Myzomela, and Papuan Lorikeet. When it started to rain we decided to head back to our campsite and have a nice dinner and an early night, thoroughly exhausted after a long, hard, but very rewarding day.

It wasn’t just the team that headed up the mountain that had a great day, though. Carole and Clara, with the help of Shita and Benny, found some very nice birds too, including several birds-of-paradise of their own, such as Superb, Magnificent, and Lesser Birds-of-paradise, Western Parotia, and Black-billed Sicklebill. Their other highlights during the day included White-faced Robin, Moluccan King Parrot, White-bibbed (Mountain) Fruit Dove, Rusty Pitohui, Hooded Pitohui, Drongo Fantail, Black Monarch, Black-shouldered Cicadabird, Large Scrubwren, and a dozen or so of the beautiful Goldenface.

 

20th November 2017: Birding in the Arfak Mountains (mid- and high-elevation)

Those on the top of the mountain had a very early start. After an early breakfast, serenaded by a Papuan Boobook, we headed into the forest, with our head torches guiding us along the way. After a bit of a hike we got in place and waited. Within a few minutes and in the half-light we were suddenly face to face with a giant male Black Sicklebill displaying at close quarters. Seriously spectacular, visually and vocally!

After we had soaked in our views of this amazing bird we spent the rest of the morning birding around the pretty, mossy, and wet forest. It was a hard morning with many birds heard, but seeing them was very difficult, although we did OK, finding nest-excavating Red-breasted Pygmy Parrots, Palm Cockatoo, Rufous-naped, Sclater’s, and Regent’s Whistlers, Brehm’s Tiger Parrot, White-bibbed (Mountain) Fruit Dove, Rufous-sided, Arfak, and Marbled Honeyeaters, Cinnamon-browed Melidectes, Ashy, Smoky, and Black-throated Robins, and Papuan White-eye. It was also great to see several incredible bowers belonging to the Vogelkop Bowerbird (and a baby bird in its nest too). What this bird lacks in beauty it certainly makes up for in brains and artistry!

After an early lunch we started our descent back down to the start of the mountain trail, which was just as strenuous as the hike up in some ways, and the rain for the last hour was really not appreciated! During the walk, before the cloud came down and it started raining, we did find some interesting species such as Modest Tiger Parrot, Tit (our best looks at a stunning male), Fan-tailed, and Spotted Berrypeckers, Bronze Ground Dove, Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Lorikeet, Papuan Treecreeper, Orange-crowned Fairywren, Vogelkop Melidectes, Perplexing Scrubwren, Black-breasted Boatbill, Ashy Robin, and Canary Flyrobin.

Carole and Clara had another good few sessions of birding near the homestay, where they found many quality birds such as Black-fronted White-eye, Green-backed Robin, Lesser Ground Robin (on a nest!), Vogelkop Whistler, Little Bronze Cuckoo, Black-breasted Boatbill, Black Cicadabird, Pesquet’s (New Guinea Vulturine) Parrot, Blue-collared Parrot, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Red-collared Myzomela, Masked Bowerbird, and the stunning Feline Owlet-nightjar (getting much better, unobstructed views than previously).

When the group from the mountain hike returned to our homestay there was much discussion about all the various birds and the hiking we had all been doing across (generally up and down!) the Arfak Mountains, and it was wonderful to hear about all the amazing birds everyone had seen over the past two days. We all agreed that we owed a huge debt of gratitude to all the wonderful local people in our village who had helped to support us (e.g. porters, cooks, local guides, etc.) in our endeavor to go birding in some remote and beautiful areas.

 

21st November 2017: Early-morning birding in the Arfak Mountains, transfer to Manokwari, flight to Sorong, and late-afternoon birding in Sorong mangroves

Most of the day was spent traveling from the Arfak Mountains to our next base in Sorong. We had an optional brief morning walk in the forest prior to our departure and were treated to excellent views (eventually) of the rare, localized, and secretive White-striped Forest Rail. We nearly saw the Spotted Jewel-babbler, in fact a couple of us did as it flew through our viewpoint, but it disappeared into the undergrowth never to be seen again, although we were all treated to its impressive call. A few other forest birds were seen, but, as is typical for this kind of habitat, views were often brief and not for everyone. But Green-backed, Lesser Ground, and Slaty Robins were all seen by some of us. Otherwise it was the final time for some of the birds we had become familiar with over the last few days, such as Arfak Honeyeater, Vogelkop Melidectes, Vogelkop Bowerbird, Western Parotia, Superb Bird-of-paradise, and Black-billed Sicklebill.

By midmorning we were driving away from our village, after bidding fond farewells to our gracious hosts, and headed to Manokwari, where we had lunch. We then took the very short flight to Sorong on the opposite side of the Bird’s Head Peninsula. Here, after a very quick check-in at our new hotel, we took a drive to some nearby mangroves. Lots of new birds were flying around, and it was a bit overwhelming at times, with birds being called out left, right, and center. Barred Rail was very vocal, and eventually one showed briefly (we also saw Buff-banded Rail and heard Pale-vented Bush-hen later in the day). One of our targets for the afternoon was Blue-black Kingfisher. Several were calling, but getting a view was apparently impossible. But just as we were walking away from one bird it flew across the path behind us, allowing some of the group to get less than satisfactory flight views of this rare and difficult bird. Other species were more cooperative, however, and we enjoyed seeing Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Orange-fronted Fruit Dove, Collared Imperial Pigeon, Orange-breasted Fig Parrot, Little Bronze Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Myzomela, Brown-backed Honeyeater, New Guinea Friarbird, Variable Goshawk, and Black Bittern. The surprise of the afternoon, though, was a female-type Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise that bounded across the area we were watching between two patches of forest!

 

22nd November 2017: Morning birding in Sorong, afternoon ferry to Waigeo Island

We had a very early start this morning in order to get to some really beautiful and productive forest near Sorong, and it was definitely worth it. As we headed through the forest road as it started to get light a huge flock of circa 50 Blyth’s Hornbills, and circa 25 Sulphur-crested Cockatoos flew overhead, a spectacular sight. The valley we wanted to go birding in was quite misty at the beginning, but as this burned off we started to get some fantastic species, such as Magnificent Riflebird (yet another new bird-of-paradise for our rapidly expanding list), further looks at Magnificent Bird-of-paradise, Yellow-capped Pygmy Parrot, Double-eyed Fig Parrot, a giant Palm Cockatoo, Red-cheeked Parrot, Black-capped Lory, Coconut Lorikeet, the pretty Golden Cuckooshrike, Yellow-faced Myna, Brush Cuckoo, Brown Oriole (its flute-like song is so easy on the ear), Dwarf Fruit Dove, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Dwarf Koel (giving excellent walk-away views), Rusty Pitohui, Golden Monarch, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, and the huge Moustached Treeswift. Several other birds were also calling but hidden either in the thick forest or the mist, such as Western Crowned Pigeon, Zoe’s Imperial Pigeon, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Black-sided Robin, Hooded Pitta, and Glossy-mantled Manucode. When it was light enough we headed into the forest, where in no time at all we were enjoying fantastic close-range scope views of a male King Bird-of-paradise as it sat out in the open for all to enjoy at length. What a gorgeous bird, and it’s great when a plan comes together!

As if the staggering views of King Bird-of-paradise were not enough, a short while later we were watching the equally colorful and spectacular Red-breasted Paradise Kingfisher. Not many people actually get to see this uncommon and difficult species, so we were very, very happy when we got great views of a pair of birds. We were limited for time before we had to be back in Sorong for our ferry to Waigeo, so after a celebratory drink (watching some incredibly beautiful and varied butterflies) we headed back to the city, stopping briefly on the way to look at a Long-tailed Honey Buzzard getting mobbed by a Brahminy Kite and admire some very nice coastal and forest scenery.

After some rest during the middle of the day we boarded the ferry to Waigeo in the early afternoon. The journey was uneventful, although the Shania Twain and Bryan Adams karaoke on board (a special request for our Canadian travelers) was entertaining in the rain showers and freezing cold air conditioning. Out at sea little was happening, with singles of Lesser Frigatebird, Greater Crested Tern, and Bridled Tern noted among the more numerous Common Terns. On arrival on Waigeo we saw White-breasted Woodswallow and Singing Starling from the boat dock, and as we drove to our homestay in the last hour or so of light we found many Eclectus and Red-cheeked Parrots, Claret-breasted Fruit Dove (a family with a baby), Pinon’s Imperial Pigeon, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Ruby-throated Myzomela, Pygmy Longbill, Black Sunbird, Oriental Dollarbird, and many New Guinea Friarbirds. Most of the group even saw yet another new bird-of-paradise when two Red Birds-of-paradise flew overhead. Another long but enjoyable day ended with a lovely meal at our very nice beach-side homestay.

 

23rd November 2017: Birding on Waigeo Island

After an early breakfast we headed into the hot and humid forest in the hills near our homestay. The first target bird of the day was Papuan Boobook. Two birds were calling on our arrival in the forest, and after a short while views were had in the dawn light. We also enjoyed seeing our first Waigeo cuscus (an interesting arboreal marsupial). Finding our second target bird of the day involved a small hike to a viewpoint at the top of one of the nearby hills. We didn’t have to wait long, in fact we could hear it calling as we got closer. In no time at all we were all enjoying great views of a beautiful male Red Bird-of-paradise as it called and danced in a tree right above our heads. A real treat to observe this behavior so well, and yet another gorgeous bird-of-paradise!

Several other birds were heard in the forest here, such as Raja Ampat Pitohui, Brown Oriole, New Guinea Friarbird, Black-sided Robin, Hooded Pitta, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, and Wompoo Fruit Dove.

As time was getting on we continued for our third main target of the day. After another short walk we found ourselves in a large blind overlooking a small opening in the forest floor, and our third target bird of the day, and possibly our most eagerly anticipated bird of the trip, was found. Two male Wilson’s Birds-of-paradise were attending the display area, but as there were no females present, they were generally keeping to the edge of it, hidden in the darkness of the vegetation. Briefly the two males came down to the ground in the open display area, but we didn’t get to see any display, not that there were any complaints at seeing one of the most bizarre-looking and beautiful birds in the world a mere few meters away from us.

We decided to head out of the blind to look for some other birds and come back another day for better looks at the Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise, since we had plenty of time scheduled for this bird. As we hiked out of the forest we found a family group of Common Paradise Kingfishers. They were quite flighty, sticking near to the canopy, but good views were had by some of us. The extremely localized Brown-headed Crow was heard but remained out of sight, but several other birds were seen, such as Blyth’s Hornbill, Moustached Treeswift, Black Berrypecker, Northern Fantail, Eclectus Parrot, Black Butcherbird, Purple-tailed Imperial Pigeon, Tawny-breasted and Green-backed Honeyeaters, and Grey-headed Goshawk. By now it had started to get really hot (it had been just regular hot since 4 a.m.!), so we headed back to our homestay for lunch, another cuscus, this time the northern common cuscus in our garden (see picture at the end of the report), a swim around the reef stacked full of beautiful fish and coral, and a siesta before heading back out birding in the late afternoon.

During the afternoon we concentrated our efforts on finding a rather secretive and unpredictable bird, Western Crowned Pigeon. By driving on a forest track we hoped for a view. First we had a frustrating encounter on the side of the track, where one bird was seen walking into the forest in a really inaccessible area and was only seen by some of the group and for only a brief but unforgettable view. We decided to press further along the road, hoping we would get lucky (again), and we certainly did as our expert local guide Benny pulled out all the stops and found us another one, and this one sat in a tree, allowing us all to get incredible views of this huge bird. Needless to say, everyone was delighted.

Also during the afternoon a male Papuan Pitta showed for most of the group, but unfortunately some of us were blocked by vegetation and missed out this time. Everybody, however, got great views of a couple of Hooded Butcherbirds nearby, and some of the group got a flyover view of Brown-headed Crow.

 

24th November 2017: Birding on Waigeo Island and offshore islets

We had another early start in order to get into the forest while it was still dark, as we had another nocturnal target in mind, Marbled Frogmouth. Very quickly we found ourselves looking at one of these incredible birds and got to listen to its very interesting calls. We continued to a blind, where we hoped that Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise would put on more of a show than on the previous day, which it duly did, despite no obvious presence of any female birds. At least three males came down into the display area, one of them allowing phone-scoped videos to be made and photos to be taken for everyone as it sat facing us (see trip report front cover photo for one of these images).

While in the hide we were also visited by a Common Paradise Kingfisher, but frustratingly it was only visible from a couple of windows, so most of us did not see this bird. After getting our fill of the indescribably beautiful Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise, we decided to leave the blind and look for a few other species. This proved a good move, as we finally had great views (after hearing them a couple of times previously) of a Hook-billed Kingfisher that flew into view. We also enjoyed great looks at a perched Brown-headed Crow, which was mightily impressive when seen close up. A Hooded Pitta called as it moved up the valley, but we were otherwise occupied with the kingfisher at the time. A final stop for the morning’s forest birding gave many interesting species such as Papuan Pitta, Beautiful Fruit Dove, Raja Ampat Pitohui, Spot-winged Monarch, Frilled Monarch, and Black-sided Robin. Another highlight of a great few hours in the forest was the finding of a 6-foot-long olive python (photo at end of report) and then see our local guide Benny running around the corner of the road to get away from the snake!

After enjoying the above birds we headed back to our homestay, where a boat was waiting to take us to some smaller islands for the remainder of the day. Our first islet gave us Pied Imperial Pigeon, Metallic Pigeon, Beach Kingfisher, and Varied Honeyeater. We continued to our lunch-stop island, stopping to look at Common, Black-naped, and Greater Crested Terns, Lesser Frigatebird, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Eastern Osprey, and Pacific Reef Heron. However, the most exciting observation involved watching a grey reef shark attacking a shoal of fish that were jumping everywhere to try and get away from the attack!

Our lunch-stop island contained several new birds for us, and over the course of a couple of hours birding, mixed in with a wonderful lunch and a snorkel over the spectacular reef (full of beautiful tropical fish), we found Dusky Megapode, Raja Shelduck, Spice Imperial Pigeon, Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, Violet-necked Lory, Moluccan and Singing Starlings, Arafura Fantail, Common Paradise Kingfisher (our best looks yet for the whole group, and the best-looking of all the individuals of this species seen on the tour to date), nesting Hooded Butcherbird, Shining Flycatcher, and Island Monarch. But best of all were the fantastic close-up views of many Glossy-mantled Manucodes, yet another bird-of-paradise, in fact our 14th bird-of-paradise seen on the main tour and 16th seen for the entire trip. We left the island in the late afternoon, when we took a boat to some more small islets, where we watched several Great-billed Parrots flying in to roost, along with numerous Spice Imperial Pigeons. Another really enjoyable day came to an end with yet another tasty dinner.

 

25th November 2017: Birding on Waigeo Island

After the successes of the last two mornings we allowed ourselves an extra hour in bed, arriving in the forest as the dawn chorus just got going. We had a fairly relaxed morning’s birding, getting good looks at several interesting species such as Red Bird-of-paradise, Glossy-mantled Manucode, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Purple-tailed Imperial Pigeon, Yellow-faced Myna, Brown-headed Crow, Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, Raja Ampat Pitohui, Rusty Pitohui, Stephan’s Emerald Dove, Brown Oriole, New Guinea Friarbird, Moluccan King Parrot, Great-billed, Red-cheeked, and Eclectus Parrots, and Pinon’s Imperial Pigeon. One of the highlights of the morning were the kingfishers we saw, with good perched looks at Common Paradise Kingfisher, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, and the gorgeous Papuan Dwarf Kingfisher. We heard several Papuan and Hooded Pittas, but these were not overly forthcoming and were not seen well by anyone. Golden and Frilled Monarchs were seen, but Spot-winged Monarch unfortunately remained out of sight. Another two Western Crowned Pigeons were also seen; these really are spectacular birds.

Over the course of lunch in our homestay several Brahminy Kites, White-bellied Sea Eagle, and a pair of Gurney’s Eagles were seen overhead, with Beach Kingfisher and Pied Imperial Pigeon along the coast also. An afternoon drive around a different section of the island from our previous excursions presented us with the opportunity to get good views of several species, such as Spotted Whistling Duck, Palm Cockatoo, Red-cheeked and Eclectus Parrots, Coconut Lorikeet, Brown Oriole, Red Bird-of-paradise, Pacific Baza, Variable Goshawk, Pinon’s Imperial Pigeon, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Little Egret, and a pair of very confiding Rufous-bellied Kookaburras. As the sun went down we had the impressive sight of a flock of 50 Blyth’s Hornbills flying into some trees to roost.

 

26th November 2017: Ferry from Waigeo Island to Sorong, birding Sorong

The final full day of the tour was mainly a travel day between Waigeo Island and Sorong. Before leaving Waigeo we had a brief walk around our homestay, where we had nice looks at Great-billed, Eclectus, and Red-cheeked Parrots, Palm Cockatoo, and Beach Kingfisher. Our ferry was delayed for an hour as we waited for some dignitary to arrive, but, luckily, we were allowed on deck for birding, and the weather was better than on our previous crossing. It was fairly quiet, but we did see Black Noddy, Brown Booby, Lesser Frigatebird, Pomarine (Skua) Jaeger, and Common, Greater Crested, and Black-naped Terns.

When finally back in Sorong we had another walk through some mangroves, but it was incredibly hot and bird activity was much reduced compared to our previous visit, and Blue-black Kingfisher and Barred Rail, although vocal, failed to show. We did find a few good birds such as Little Bronze Cuckoo, Orange-fronted Fruit Dove, Collared and Pinon’s Imperial Pigeons, Shining Flycatcher, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, and Orange-breasted Fig Parrot. We then enjoyed a final meal together at our very nice hotel in the city and reflected on all the great birds and moments we’d had on the tour. Everyone had a very interesting list of Top 5 species, and the stunning Western Crowned Pigeon was voted ‘Bird of the Tour’, with Black Sicklebill, Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise, Goldenface, and Pesquet’s (New Guinea Vulturine) Parrot all rated highly and closely following behind the pigeon.

 

27th November 2017: Tour concludes and international departures

After breakfast everyone transferred to the airport in Sorong, where the tour concluded.

 

Summary:

A huge thank you must go to our local ground agent Shita for all her incredible help before and throughout the tour, going well above and beyond her duties every day to ensure everything on the tour ran smoothly, which it did. A huge thank you must also go to all of the local guides (especially to Benny, who was with us for most of the time and who’s help was essential), porters, cooks, drivers, etc., who helped make things run smoothly and safely for all. Finally, a massive thank you goes to Carole, Clara, Geoff, Kevin, John, and Peter for being great and fun travel companions. It was a pleasure birding with you all, and I really look forward to the next time.

 

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