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