14 July 2011

Not an owl or a nightjar...PAPUA NEW GUINEA (30 June)


One of the most wanted birds (not including the assumed birds-of-paradise of course) at Kumul Lodge in the highlands of New Guinea is an odd nightbird: the Mountain Owlet-Nightjar. This is the very best place in PNG to see it, but that does not mean it is guaranteed by any means. Your best chance usually is going out dawn and dusk for as long as you can and hoping to hear one, then tape it in. In recent years it has become tricky in this regard, and so I always advise anyone on our tours that this bird is a matter of endurance-if you stick to the task and keep trying it might come to you. However, usually a number fall by the wayside before tasting victory after attempts produce no sight nor sound of this night creature. The bird has a really distinctive squeaky call, that sounds remarkably like a character from a children's programme called Sooty from the BBC programme and Sooty and Sweep, and so if it calls there is no mistaking it. Trouble is it seems to have this habit of calling in the depths of night, long after our attempts have ended and everyone is deep asleep.

And so it happened this year too. Our first nightwalk produced no evidence of its existence at all and we retired to bed with plans to try again the following night. Then, of course, at 02.30am, when for some reason I was wide awake I heard the distinctive squeaking noise from right outside my cabin, mocking me just a few feet away. What I would have given to have been deep asleep at the time!
So the next night we vowed to give it another crack but were thwarted by unseasonally heavy rains that put paid to that idea and so we all headed for the shelter of our cabins. One of my group James was just ahead of me and remarked with surprise that he had inadvertently flushed abird off the fence outside our cabins. I had a good idea of what it must be-there are few small nightbirds in this area- and quickly scanned the fenceline further up (i.e. less than 2 meters away) and there it was a very cute, long-whiskered Mountain Owlet-Nightjar. It seemed complately unperturbed by our presence, perhaps just happy to be out of the heavy rain, and sat there for an age while we admired it. After we walked away from it, I checked again later and found it resting on a metal box a little further along. Never has a Mountain Owlet-Nightjar been so easy. I am a big fan of owls and other creatures of the night, because they can been downright difficult to see and it always feels special to see them, and this one was no different!

More from New Guinea (the "Land of the Unexpected) to come...

5 comments:

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Congratulations on being able to wait this one out and get your image, a very wonderful image at that. I take just horrible nightime images and would love to know how you got this without sparklies coming off those gorgeous eyes~

Matteo Grilli said...

True, they are always special sightings.. Great shot
Matteo

John said...

"Persistence pays" - good bird

Sam Woods said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam Woods said...

To be honest with you Mary, getting the shot with a flash it was more a matter of luck than judgment. I have never really worked out properly how to set the flash! So I am afraid I have no magic tips!

16 July 2011 15:05