Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Thursday 27 June 2019

Papua New Guinea - Kiunga & Kwatu June 2019 (Part 3)

This is the third blog post covering my recent trip to PNG with Ian Barnard, Steve Greenfield, Adam Hudson, Tony Hukin & Paulo Paixao. This post covers our last few days in the Western Provence, concentrating our efforts up the Elevata River at and close to Kwatu Lodge (also a night either side of Kwatu based in Kiunga).

Kwatu Lodge is a very basic wooded shack in the middle of the forest and completely out the way from any civilisation, the perfect place! The local guys would prepare us food everyday and our guide Edward would expertly take us around the area. Edward turned out to be the best guide we had all trip, and he didn't even have shoes!! I would say in the Kwatu area the bird life was at its most productive with a great range of exciting species encountered, and although the weather could have been better, we seemed to clean up on almost all of our targets.

Due to recent rainfall, the forest was flooded in places and therefore meant species like New Guinea Flightless Rail and Flame Bowerbird were going to be impossible and unlikely to see respectively.

To aid us along the way, the beta version of a very helpful app version of the Birds of New Guinea guide on our phones was a great attribute, meaning we didn't have to carry a book that would have otherwise been very strenuous. It also contains most of the bird calls and will be on the app store when it goes live.

Thursday 27th June (continued)

We continued down the highway south to Kiunga, but stopped along the way at KM17 and walked for 15 minutes into the forest to a lek of the Greater Bird-of-Paradise. It started to absolutely poor down with rain upon arrival, but we persisted (despite the many hungry leeches) and were finally rewarded with fine views of many displaying birds high in the treetops.

With light soon fading, we made our way to Kiunga Guesthouse (saying farewell to our driver that had a male Magnificent BoP hanging from the rear view mirror), which from the outside looked horrendous, but a brisk walk through the security guarded gates soon revealed a rather nice establishment. Logistics for the morning had changed due to Kiunga Nature Tours not organising fuel for our boat that was due to leave Kiunga (bound for Kwatu) before it got light. Now we would have to wait until 09.30 for departure, but this did mean an early visit to Boys Town Road was now on the cards.

A pure Greater Bird-of-Paradise

Presumed hybrid Raggiana x Greater BoP
The deeper orange tail but lack of pronounced
wingbars would lead to a hybrid. These hybrids
have been reported here before.
Damp scenes at Bowerbird Hill

One of many victims -
Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise

Watching the Common Paradise Kingfisher

Friday 28th June

After a frustrating previous evening organising todays logistics, we woke up to yet more persistent rainfall that sadly lasted not only for our visit to Boys Town Road (a Lowland Peltops being the top highlight here, not the hoped for ball of fire, that is the male Flame Bowerbird), but also for the exposed 2.5hr boat journey up to Kwatu Lodge.

Preparing for our time in Kwatu, we stocked up on supplies at a Kiunga supermarket, which was more eventful then normal with me smashing a jar of sweet and sour sauce, and then seeing a women with a Greater BoP laying flat on her head.

We boarded our vessel and endured a real drowning on our way to Kwatu, where it rained continuously and . It would have been easier to have worn nothing as it took nearly the entire time at Kwatu for our stuff to dry. Despite this inconvenience, we bagged another BoP in the form of a Glossy-mantled Manucode and was even heard to call which makes the identification process of the Manucodes much easier. With our heads down under our umbrellas trying to shelter from the tsunami-like conditions the highlights were few and far between.

Mercifully we reached our accommodation and stood on our varander admiring the very scenic view that was dominated by primary forest. After lunch we went to do what we came up here for, to see some of PNG's most unique and exciting species. We boarded our boat again and went downriver and walked into the very humid forest. Over the course of a couple of hours we struck pure gold, with a superb Common Paradise-Kingfisher that tried to hide from us, a superb encounter with a male King Bird-of-Paradise (which could easily be the best bird I've ever seen), but the best was saved until last when upon boarding the boat, the distinctive song of a Papuan Pitta was heard. We re-entered the saturated forest from where we had just exited, and found an open area with an obvious log. This log would prove to be vital, as after a bit of playback, the Pitta sat on the log four times in all. A superb bird and one of the most difficult to see. The journey back to the lodge produced superb views of a Palm Cockatoo and the quite ridiculous looking Scheepmaker's Crowned Pigeon. This had to be one of the best afternoons birding I've had. Things were looking up and it had finally stopped raining.

After dinner and now dark, we ventured off along the river and spotlighted a Marbled Frogmouth.

Highlights for today:

White-bellied Sea Eagle - 1
Scheepmaker's Crowned Pigeon - 2
Ornate Fruit Dove - 1
Purple-tailed Imperial Pigeon - 2
Pinon's Imperial Pigeon - 2
Marbled Frogmouth - 1
Common Paradise Kingfisher - 2
Azure Kingfisher - 1
Palm Cockatoo - 2
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - 2
Papuan Pitta - 1
Lowland Peltops - 1
Hooded Butcherbird - 2
Varied Triller - 2
Spot-winged Monarch - 1
Golden Monarch - 3
Shining Flycatcher - 5
Grey Crow - 5
Glossy-mantled Manucode - 1
King Bird-of-Paradise - 3
Greater Bird-of-Paradise - 4
Black-sided Robin - 1
Golden Myna - 10

Azure Kingfisher

King Bird-of-Paradise -

Papuan Pitta

Palm Cockatoo

Scheepmaker's Crowned Pigeon

Marbled Frogmouth

Our guide Edward

Saturday 29th June

It now felt as if the weather gods had stopped being nasty to us. Despite a brief rain spell during the morning that thankfully eased in time for a superb male Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise to enter its exposed treetop bare trunk, the remainder of the day was free of any precipitation with the sun finally breaking through the omnipresent cloud cover. Due to the rain yesterday, some forest patches were submerged which drew an end of our hope to finding the New Guinea Flightless Rail, and despite looking rather gormless, it would've been great to have seen it.

Our guide though did a brilliant job of picking up a range of excellent species, but the group also did themselves proud by picking out a calling Blue Jewel-babbler. The wet and slippy trails finally took their toll and Steve did a classic slip, whist the momentum made him fall back into a rather large puddle. Mercifully he remained un-injured.

The King BoP trail we were on yesterday was re-visited, this time finding a Little Paradise Kingfisher, Hook-billed Kingfisher, and the briefest of flight views of the constantly calling but impossible to see Trumpet Manucode, allowing our impressive list of BoPs to carry on in the right direction.

Dinner was had as a few strikes of lightening approached, but after dinner we had planned to walk some trails in search of night birds, but for a change the birds decided to come to us. A brief play from the balcony brought in a very responsive Wallace's Owlet Nightjar, and after much searching and false hope when a Hook-billed Kingfisher was found roosting, we finally found the bird hunched up on a branch. A brilliant end to a not very birdy day, but seeing some top quality New Guinea endemics.

Pacific Baza - 2
Scheepmaker's Crowned Pigeon - 1
Pink-spotted Fruit Dove - 1
Collared Imperial Pigeon - 3
Zoe's Imperial Pigeon - 2
Wallace's Owlet-Nightjar - 1
Hook-billed Kingfisher - 1
Little Paradise Kingfisher - 1
Palm Cockatoo - 1
Yellow-bellied Longbill - 2
Blue Jewel-babbler - 1
Hooded Monarch - 2
Shining Flycatcher - 2
Trumpet Manucode - 1
King Bird-of-Paradise - 1
Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise - 2
Greater Bird-of-Paradise - 2
Black-sided Robin - 1

Pacific Baza

Wallace's Owlet-Nightjar

Sunday 30th June

Our last morning in the Kwatu area started off with the first showing of the moon since landing in our tropical climes. We again visited the 12-wired BoP tree but were too late this time, so we hammered it down river to the village to scan for flying over Flame Bowerbirds. With again using the recent flooding as an excuse, the locals hadn't had a chance to find any bowers for this species, so flyover views was our last chance. Soon after we had positioned ourselves and after false alarms with flyovers of both female Twelve-wired and Greater BoPs, a superb Flame Bowerbird flew over creating a huge sense of relief. Celebrations didn't stop there as another Bowerbird was spotted in some trees, though sadly from our part it was a female, but still fine scope views were had. A whole host of good birds were found on this boat trip, but that didn't end our quest for our next target bird.

We for the last time entered the muddy and swampy forest in search for our final target, and with it being a Pitta it was of course never going to be easy. Edward went about whistling the bird in, and with one responding it was game on. Sadly further numerous attempts failed to initiate a response, and with everyone just hanging about on the path admiring the very beautiful Fruit Doves, me being me went off the trail in search of the elusive Pitta. I had only walked in maybe 30 metres when I inadvertently flushed a stonking Hooded Pitta, and although I only had flight views, they were very good flight views. The only problem was I had to get everyone's attention, either by waving or flashing my laser pen. Soon, others arrived and some got reasonable views before we had to leave the forest and head back to Kwatu lodge to pack.

After lunch we bid farewell to the cooks and ploughed it downriver to Kiunga, with only the odd burst of rain to keep the umbrellas ever helpful.

We got picked up by the hotel staff at the 'docks' and another driver was arranged to take us up to KM17 where again we enjoyed a fine display of the Greater BoPs, but a responsive White-crowned Cuckoo was also a great find.

Highlights for the day:

Great Billed Heron - 2
Grey-headed Goshawk - 1
Whistling Kite - 2
White-bellied Sea Eagle - 1
Great Cuckoo Dove - 1
Scheepmaker's Crowned Pigeon - 1
Beautiful Fruit Dove - 1
Channel-billed Cuckoo - 2
Long-billed Cuckoo - 1
White-crowned Cuckoo - 1
Brush Cuckoo - 1
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - 4
Large Fig Parrot - 1
Double-eyed Fig Parrot - 1
Hooded Pitta - 1
Flame Bowerbird - 2
Glossy-mantled Manucode - 5
Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise - 2
Greater Bird-of-Paradise - 4

Blyth's Hornbills

Brahminy Kites

Another mixed Bird-of-Paradise,
but still an incredible display.
Kwatu Lodge

Eade-tour clients
From l-r: myself, Steve, Edward (guide),
Adam, Paulo, Tony & Ian

Arriving back to Kiunga

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Papua New Guinea - Tabubil June 2019 (Part 2)

This is the second of nine blog posts of my recent trip to Papua New Guinea, now concentrating on the region of Tabubil, situated in the Western Provence and an area famous for its significant rainfall. Sadly due to these wet conditions, the camera was seeing very little action.

At Tabubil, we were guided by Jimmy who works with Samuel who owns Kiunga Nature Tours.

Our very helpful app on our phones was also a great attribute to the entire trip, this being a Test Flight application to the Birds of New Guinea, meaning we didn't have to carry a book that would have otherwise been very strenuous.

There are only three main regions in the Tabubil area to concentrate on, these being Dablin Creek Road, forest above the hydro station, and the river crossing closeby to the Shovel-billed site, meaning two nights can be a respectable amount of time to visit here, that's ensuring the weather is on your side.

Tuesday 25th June

There was a delayed breakfast at our hotel in Port Moresby (a typical PNG theme) but we made it to the airport with plenty of time spare, and the check-in process was all very simple (despite Tony leaving his main luggage at the entrance for the first of three times!!). The flight from Port Moresby to Tabubil was on time and running smoothly until that dreaded voice of the captain disabled us from our docile state, informing the cabin that recent and continued bad weather meant that the plane would not be landing at its proposed destination, but instead at Kiunga, some three hours driving time south of Tabubil.

This was a minor set back but nothing too disastrous, and from landing we quickly organised a vehicle to take us up the highway to Tabubil at the cost of 100K each. The journey was particularly rough, not just for the cramped and uncomfortable conditions, but the road wasn't in the best of conditions. Ian came out worse of us all with severe travel sickness which led him to shouting up front for the vehicle to stop, and once stopped, Ian trying to disembark was very humorous as his legs had lost all feeling (a result of the cramped conditions), and fell out of the back of the vehicle and just laid on his belly just off the bumpy carriageway. He soon improved and we were back on our way arriving at The Cloudlands Hotel, Tabubil around mid afternoon, but not before being pulled over by the police asking us white folk if we were in safe hands, this being a surprising but equally reassuring question from the authorities.

We made our way to Dablin Creek Road (this being Parotia central.....sometimes) and walked the road full of optimism, but avian life was absent and we arrived back at the hotel reminiscing on what a poor day today had been.

Highlights for today:

Amboyna Cuckoo Dove - 3
Papuan Mountain Pigeon - 2
Red-breasted Pygmy Parrot - 1
Orange-breasted Fig Parrot - 20
White-shouldered Fairywren - 1
New Guinea Friarbird - 1
Scrub Honeyeater - 1
Black Butcherbird - 1
Grey-headed Cuckooshrike - 1
White-bellied Thicket Fantail - 1

Our first of 8 internals

Ian enjoying the PNG lifestyle

Wednesday 26th June

Well sadly the overnight rain didn't ease and after breakfast we made the ascent to 800m and arrived deep in the forest at a recently published site for the Shovel-billed Kookaburra, probably the biggest target for this entire region. An individual could be heard and it seemed likely we would get lucky as we coaxed two birds close to us, but they remained heard-only, although we still had the evening to try our luck, as they go completely silent during the day. What was a huge relief was ticking our first Bird-of-Paradise, this being a male Greater Bird-of-Paradise. We waked this road for a while admiring some NG Vulturine Parrots and our only Golden Cuckooshrike of the trip, before heading downhill to a river crossing (finding a Salvadori's Teal being another good find), where we spent the remainder of the day uphill from here and enjoyed some excellent birding, and for the first time this trip, the sun appeared and things were looking up.

With the sun came many raptors that made the most of getting dry before all taking flight, and my 3000th species came flying through in the early afternoon, this being a fine Eclectus Parrot.

After finding a whole host of species (including more BoPs and some staggeringly beautiful Wallace's Fairywrens), we returned to the Shovel-billed site. After a quick play of the recording, a bird instantly responded. Over a short time frame two birds came very close, and with tensions rising for a majority of reasons (one this being a mega bird to see, and light running out fast), Jimmy's (our local guide) superb whistling coaxed the bird into a good position, and I was fortunate to see a bird fly into the canopy behind some foliage. I had to quickly reposition myself which meant crawling up a scree type bank and plough through thick vegetation until I could see the exact position. Despite all my commotion, I could clearly see the bird without bins, and once I had satisfied myself with the silhouetted and gormless shape above, I set about trying to get the others on it. Of the four who did see the bird before it flew off were elated after seeing one of the PNG enigmas, and rounded off a superb days birding.

Highlights for today:

Salvadori's Teal - 1
Pacific Baza - 1
Long-tailed Honey Buzzard - 1
Pygmy Eagle - 1
Variable Goshawk - 3
Grey-headed Goshawk - 1
Pale-vented Bush-Hen - 2
Bar-tailed Cuckoo Dove - 3
Great Cuckoo Dove - 2
Superb Fruit Dove - 1
Beautiful Fruit Dove - 4
White-eared Bronze Cuckoo - 2
Shovel-billed Kookaburra - 1
Forest Kingfisher - 1
Australian Hobby - 1
Pesquet's Parrot - 3
Eclectus Parrot - 2
Large Fig Parrot - 2
Wallace's Fairywren - 3
Pale-billed Scrubwren - 1
Yellow-breasted Boatbill - 1
Mountain Peltops - 6
Golden Cuckooshrike - 1
Rufous-backed Fantail - 1
Drongo Fantail - 1
Crinkle-collared Manucode - 1
Magnificent Riflebird - 1
Greater Bird-of-Paradise - 8
Torrent Flyrobin - 2
Yellow-legged Flyrobin - 3

Variable Goshawk

Pygmy Eagle

Forest Kingfisher
Salvadori's playground

Thursday 27th June

Our last morning at Tabubil, and with yesterday's BoP (Bird-of-Paradise) bonanza we were keen to add to the list. We were praying for no rain and that's exactly what didn't happen. The rain thankfully wasn't that hard and the valley of Dablin Creek was clearer then our first time here, though the clouds were still rolling in off the steep-sided hillside.

Sad news was that Jimmy's mother had passed away during the night, and would mean Jimmy would sadly not be guiding us a Kwatu, a great shame as he was a top guide.

The main target this morning thankfully didn't take too long to show itself, in fact all ten of them, these being the superb Carola's Parotias. They were all superb, but when a young male started lifting it's skirt and dancing on the branch on which it was sat, turned out to be the biggest highlight of the trip. You see the documentaries on tv, but to actually think we would witness such an event was just not in our minds at all, but the luck of witnessing dancing BoPs carried on, this just so happened to be the best of the lot. The charismatic dance went on for a further three attempts, and was just one of those lifetime moments. A female Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise also joined the party of female Parotias adding some variation within the roadside trees, although we weren't complaining with the Parotias one bit.

A long calm down was needed after the above, and when all was normal I ventured off into a densely vegetated ditch and waited to see what came my way. A half hour stand still produced a very skulky White-rumped Robin, two species of Longbills and a superb Dimorphic Fantail.

We left Dablin Creek very happy with our list from here, and after lunch we made our way south towards Kiunga finding three Little Ringed Plovers along the way. A brief stop at a bridge looking down on the river below (Pratts Crossing) produced very little, other then six prats trying to find a Torrent-Lark.

Highlights for today:

Superb Fruit Dove - 1
White-eared Bronze-Cuckoo - 1
Rufous-bellied Kookaburra - 1
Blue-collared Parrot - ca. 20
Ornate Melidectes - 1
Dwarf Longbill - 1
Yellow-bellied Longbill - 1
Black-bellied Cuckooshrike - 1
Black Fantail - 2
Dimorphic Fantail - 1
Carola's Parotia - 10
Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise - 1 fem
White-rumped Robin - 1

female Carola's Parotia - Tabubil
being the best site in PNG for this species.

Dwarf/Spectacled Longbill
Waterfall at top of Dablin Creek

Dablin Creek Road

Pratt's Crossing

Monday 24 June 2019

Papua New Guinea - PAU Ponds June 2019 (Part 1)

This is the first of nine blog posts covering my recent trip to Papua New Guinea with Ian Barnard, Steve Greenfield (America), Adam Hudson (London), Tony Hukin (Herts) and Paulo Paixao (Portugal). I had planned the trip and used the excellent services of Sicklebill Safaris who acted as our ground agents, and as heard from other independent groups, they were a key component on the successes of the trip.

Monday 24th June

Despite the 20 hours of flying I had a good nights sleep and woke up early at the Brisbane Airport hotel, and the four who weren't catching a flight to Port Moresby until mid-morning, opted for a short stroll around the nearby ditches. The bird list for such a unproductive looking area was fairly decent, with such species like Shining Bronze Cuckoo, Rufous Whistler, Little Grassbird and Mistletoebirds being seen with ease.

The Air Niugini flight from Brisbane to Port Moresby was fine, and after quickly grabbing a visa and the luggage, we got transferred to the Citi Boutique Hotel, where a short while later, Leonard and a large vehicle picked us up and we quickly made our way to the PAU (Pacific Adventist University) Ponds, some 30 minutes from the hotel. This site is a classic start for groups visiting PNG for their first time as it allows the commoner species to be seen easily, but interestingly some species seen today were not seen for the whole of the trip. Its also one of the few places close to Port Moresby where it's safe to walk around and birds being used to people, just a shame that couldn't be said for the rest of the trip where birds obviously feared any human presence.

A circuit of the grounds in the two hours we had produced good views of Fawn-breasted Bowerbirds (with an acting bower nearby), Orange-fronted Fruit-Doves and a number of water birds. The highlight came at the end where Leonard led us to some trees, where after much looking up, a total of three absolutely huge Papuan Frogmouths were found. It was great to see the two targets so easily, and would hopefully prove to be a good omen for the rest of the 23 days.

Getting back to the hotel was quicker due to less traffic, although a rolled over bus caused a minor disruption, but the sights of locals hacking off wing mirrors and whatever else they could find was very comical.

A good start to the trip, and our first of eight internal flights was booked for the morning, so an early night was most welcome.

Highlights for this afternoon:

Wandering Whistling Duck - ca. 50
Plumed Whistling Duck - ca. 50
Grey Teal - 5
Nankeen Night Heron - 20
Masked Lapwing - 10
Bar-shouldered Dove - 3
Orange-fronted Fruit-Dove - ca. 20
Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove - 1
Torresian Imperial Pigeon - 10
Greater Black Coucal - 2
Pheasant Coucal - 1
Papuan Frogmouth - 3
Red-cheeked Parrot - 1
Fawn-breasted Bowerbird - 6
Rufous-banded Honeyeater - 3
Black-backed Butcherbird - 3
Brown Oriole - 10
Yellow-faced Myna - 10

Papuan Frogmouths at PAU Ponds
PAU Ponds

Bowerbird's bower

Leonard showing his son
the Frogmouths.

Locals grabbing what they can

Friday 21 June 2019

Local Orchids 21/6/19

Another quiet week bird wise, so once again the Orchids come into play before my big trip to Papua New Guinea. Many of the late form of Burnt Orchids are now out at their normal location.

An unusual pink Burnt Orchid

Burnt Orchid near Seaford
Bee Orchid near Seaford

Small Eggar Moth caterpillar

The superb electric storm from Tuesday evening.