Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Sunday 7 July 2019

Papua New Guinea - Keki Lodge July 2019 (Part 6)

This is the sixth blog post covering my recent trip to Papua New Guinea with Ian Barnard, Steve Greenfield, Adam Hudson, Tony Hukin & Paulo Paixao.

All the blog posts up until now have covered the sites/regions where the majority of people visit, but for this second half of the trip we were covering areas rarely visited by birding groups. Keki Lodge is situated in Madang Provence, roughly a 4-5 hour drive away from Madang Airport. The remoteness of the lodge set in the Adelbert's Mountain range is a lure itself, however this is the only known site for the range restricted Fire-maned Bowerbird, where the birds often visit a fruiting tree in the gardens of Keki Lodge. Among a few other top highlights, this site is certainly worth a visit.

We had three nights at Keki which enabled everyone to visit the blind set up for the Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise arena, as well as having enough time for the male Bowerbird to come into the tree.

The journey up to Keki was one of the worst I've experienced with some severe potholes, very steep mountain tracks and a vehicle where only one passenger could face forwards. The drivers were also shoving Betelnut into their gobs continuously which wasn't the most attractive site I've seen.

Sunday 7th July

Our very early flight from Port Moresby to Madang was on time, and we soon learned as to why this flight had been cancelled yesterday, this being down to a volcano erupting a few days previous off the north coast of PNG, something that we happily saw the remnants a few days later.

Moyang (owner of Keki) picked us up from the airport, and after a bit of wasting time searching for an open supermarket among other things, we were soon on our way north along the coastline, where for the first time this trip, we did a spot of seawatching, seeing absolutely nothing on any attempt. A stop at a couple of small lakes produced only some Great-billed Mannikins. We then followed the coastline west along the northern edge passing many small villages. We stopped at one to grab some supplies and the owner kindly allowed us into his garden. We searched in vane for Beach Kingfisher to no avail, and upon leaving the owner invited us to check out a bird living underneath his house. The bird in question was a huge Victoria's Crowned Pigeon, and species no longer accessible in the Adelbert's due to hunting etc. This was another sad sight to see, and later on in the journey before the turn off to the mountains, a long line of recently cut down trees were all labelled ready to be sold to wherever. A sacrifice coming to these countries is to witness some of these saddening scenes.

After another two hours of continuous bump and bruises we arrived at the very remote and picturesque Keki Lodge. We made ourselves comfortable and were shown the Bowerbird tree, where for the majority of the afternoon we stared incessantly at the many branches above us, and although a male never appeared, at least two female Fire-maned Bowerbirds appeared. A walk along the trail produced a brief but satisfactory view of a male Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise, and a decent flock contained some superb Ochre-collared Monarchs.

Highlights for today:

Pygmy Eagle - 1
Orange-bellied Fruit Dove - 2
Sacred Kingfisher - 2
Blyth's Hornbill - 1
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - 4
Fire-maned Bowerbird - 2
Plain Honeyeater - 5
Spotted Honeyeater - 1
Tawny-breasted Honeyeater - 2
Long-billed Honeyeater - 1
White-eared Honeyeater - 1
Mountain Honeyeater - 5
Yellow-bellied Gerygone - 4
Yellow-bellied Longbill - 1
Yellow-breasted Boatbill - 1
Boyer's Cuckooshrike - 1
Hooded Pitohui - 1
Northern Fantail - 1
Ochre-collared Monarch - 2
Grey Crow - 5
Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise - 1
Lesser Bird-of-Paradise - 3
Black-fronted White-eye - 4
Yellow-faced Myna - 6
Great-billed Mannikin - 4

Lesser Bird-of-Paradise
Karkar Island (I think)

The driver's daughter took a
liking to Ian's shoulder for the 
five hour journey.

In position at the
Bowerbird Tree

Keki Lodge

Monday 8th July

Got woken up early today due to the night-owlers who were for once successful in their quest, this time for the Papuan Boobook. Sadly they didn't inform us of this information with one excuse saying the lights were off in our room...….well it was 4am!!

This morning Ian and me set ourselves up at the Bowerbird Tree and waited, and waited, and waited. The male Fire-maned Bowerbird did thankfully arrive at the tree, but not until early afternoon where all the group were thankfully in place to also witness this staggering bird. A few beers were had to celebrate, and I was for the first time in a while was feeling fresh as I had a shower due to feeling grimy for a few days now, so for me a double celebration. The morning though did produce some nice enough birds and there was enough activity to keep one's interest, with the best of the lot being an Obscure Berrypecker, which I'd heard yesterday and then again today just before this sighting. It was good to know I had learnt one song this trip!!

In the late afternoon period, I found myself sat on a log in the forest and watching the time go by, when a slight movement put me onto a Banded Yellow Robin, closely followed by a vocal Little Shrikethrush. I got joined by a couple of others and had further views of the Robin, plus a vocal White-rumped Robin also came into view briefly.

In the evening a Papuan Boobook was heard calling and so most of us gave it a go. Thankfully it was just a responsive as when the group saw it this morning, so it didn't take too long until we set eyes on this great looking Owl. I attempted to run back for my camera as I had typically left it behind, but by the time I had ran back up the hill the bird had moved slightly.

Highlights for today:

Variable Goshawk - 1
Pink-spotted Fruit Dove - 20
Superb Fruit Dove - 1
Orange-bellied Fruit Dove - 6
Zoe's Imperial Pigeon - 1
Papuan Boobook - 1
Papuan Spine-tailed Swift - 1
Vulturine Parrot - 2
Eclectus Parrot - 1
Red-cheeked Parrot - 2
Black-capped Lory - 2
Fire-maned Bowerbird - 2
Mountain Honeyeater - 2
Obscure Berrypecker - 1
Barred Cuckooshrike - 4
Little Shrikethrush - 1
Chestnut-bellied Fantail - 2
Crinkle-collared Manucode - 4
Lesser Bird-of-Paradise - 5
Banded Yellow Robin - 1
White-rumped Robin - 1

Obscure Berrypecker

Fire-maned Bowerbird

Crinkle-collared Manucode
Black-capped Lory
Superb Fruit Dove
Celebrating setting eyes on
the male Fire-maned Bowerbird.

The obvious trail below Keki Lodge

Tuesday 9th July

Up very early this morning as myself, Ian & Paulo were in the Magnificent BoP hide, so we had to slowly navigate our way down the track with Moyang leading the way in the darkness. We arrived before any light had emerged in the forest and we sat very quietly and patiently. I think I fell asleep but woke to the sound of a Mag. BoP calling around the hide, and a Banded Yellow Robin just outside the hide in the dancing arena. Soon a more inspecting call from the Mag. BoP echoed around the hide, and this was game on. I was already stood up whilst the other two were sat down, and just as all seemed lost, the male Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise flew in low and landed in the open, well in the open for me. I had a clear line of sight and quite frankly had superb views of this really class looking bird. Sadly Ian and Paulo were out of the line of sight and before I even had a chance to quietly explain where the bird was, it flew off and was not seen again, although it was heard calling a few more times.

With this (personal) success, I set about trying to clean up on what this area had left on offer. With the male Bowerbird seen yesterday I was keen to hit the trails, and therefore just after lunch I sneaked off onto one of the trails and spent the next three hours alone wandering, and on the odd occasion going off the trail to seek out good looking areas. I sat on the forest floor for a prolonged period deep in the valley, and got lovely views of a Banded Yellow Robin, whilst a fly through male Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise also was a firm highlight. The circular path dissipated (as I'd anticipated), but my good sense of direction came into play and after negotiating some dense thickets and clinging vines, I found the other side of the path. This seemed like a bit of a risk, but I did come across a Sooty Thicket Fantail, a tricky species to catch up with due to its secretive nature.

By the time I got back to the lodge I was very tired and resorted to chilling on the balcony, where I got rewarded with a Stout-billed Cuckooshrike.

After dinner, I opted to do a night walk down the trail and most of the others joined me. I wish I hadn't gone first down the trail as there were so many nocturnal insects that were ready to cling onto my lower limbs. Some very brightly coloured Crickets made their way onto me, whilst various sizes of Spiders were encountered, as well as Stick Insects. Sadly no mammals were encountered, not only tonight but throughout the entirety of the trip, leading on to a sad state of affairs in this country.

Highlight for today:

Wompoo Fruit Dove - 1
Pink-spotted Fruit Dove - 15
Spotted Honeyeater - 1
Long-billed Honeyeater - 1
Fairy Gerygone - 1
Black Berrypecker - 1
Stout-billed Cuckooshrike - 1
Barred Cuckooshrike - 2
Boyer's Cuckooshrike - 2
Grey Whistler - 1
Northern Fantail - 1
Sooty Thicket Fantail - 1
Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise - 2
Banded Yellow Robin - 1
Red-capped Flowerpecker - 1

Wompoo Fruit Dove

Long-billed Honeyeater

Stout-billed Cuckooshrike
Queen Alexandra's Birdwing
Apparently the world's largest Butterfly

Wednesday 10th July

We had a first light departure from Keki Lodge to get to Madang Airport for early afternoon. I wanted an earlier then normal departure in case of something going wrong, but typically nothing did apart from our driver not arriving on time or up until and hour after. This meant most of us piled onto Moyang's pick up and descended the mountains. A momentous moment along the way was witnessing Mt Manam's volcano still smoking away, and it looked amazing in the sunrise.

Other then this is was a dull affair as we headed back east along the coastline towards Madang. A quick stop at a beach only had us rushing back into the vehicles as apparently a couple of armed men were walking along the beach. Unbeknown to us at the time this area is extremely dangerous and with a very high crime rate. In fact the area felt vey dodgy and it was nice to roll into Madang. Our flight was an hour late but this didn't matter to us as it just meant less time in Lae, and also we now had time for a very nice Chinese lunch in the harbour.

We departed Madang bound for Lae, a flight of only 30 minutes. Most was over untouched mountain valleys, but once around Lae our first experience this trip of what were presumably Palm Oil plantations were below us and stretching for some distance.

We got a shuttle (not the airport one annoyingly so we had to pay a fee) to the hotel which was in a very secure compound, and there was no way we were heading out to explore the riches of this deprived area. Instead I washed some clothes and sorted my luggage for the next four nights on the Huon Peninsular, an area I've been wanting to visit ever since I started preparing this trip as its home to many endemic species cut off from the high mountains ridges.

Mt Manam smoking away 
on the right side.

Adelbert Mountains

Madang Harbour