After finishing up in the highlands around Kumul with a Garnet Robin and Wattled Ploughbill the day before, we returned to Port Moresby, ready to explore Varirata NP, in the foothills of the Owen Stanley Range in PNG's southeast. We had a remarkable day there, with exceptional birds like the national bird, Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise, an incredible the literally glowed within the dark understorey Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher, a Yellow-billed Kingfisher that posed for an endless time by the roadside, and a day-roosting Barred Owlet-Nightjar to add to the Mountain Owlet-Nightjar we had enjoyed so much in the highlands.
On our way out of the park we stopped off for a White-bellied Whistler, before returning to Port Moresby which was in a state of excitement with the impending crucial third game in the State of Origin Rugby League series. After a one-sided first half surrounded by ecstatic New Guineans I retired to bed with Queensland dominating and my head buzzing from a classic day out at Varirata NP. For good reason this is my favorite site on tour....
More from Varirata and Papua New Guinea to come...
Could not resist one more shot of the first Mountain Owlet-Nightjar seen on our first night at Kumul Lodge. I will admit to having a bit of an obsession with nightbirds (especially owls). I like this shot because it reveals its remarkably long whiskers...Papua New Guinea is particularly rich in Owlet-Nightjars, with FIVE species possible on the traditional circuit there!
The following night at Kumul Lodge was similarly wet, but despite a thorough check of the fence outside our cabins we could not find the previous night's accommodating Mountain Owlet-Nightjar. So Nick Leseberg and I retired to our cabin. Not long later, we noticed a shape fluttering around our window. Then the unmistakable squeaking calls of a Mountain Owlet-Nightjar were heard immediately outside the room. Clearly the bird had been collecting insects attracted to our cabin lights, one of the few lights emanating from the area. On checking the surrounding trees with a spotlight we soon found this night critter perched on a broken-off tree fern stump. We maneuvered outside our cabins to get a better angle on the bird that was lightly sprinkled with raindrops, evidence of another damp night in New Guinea's highlands. Amazingly though it soon obvious this was a very different bird from the night before. Indeed comparison of the two photos on my blog here reveals how remarkably different the birds were. As there is no information out there on immature birds it is difficult to know for sure, although I wonder if this second bird was indeed a young bird? Never has Mountain Owlet-Nightjar been so easy at Kumul Lodge. I suspect this will not continue for long!
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...
Visiting Kumul Lodge in the highlands of Enga province in Papua New Guinea is all about one thing-their bird table. A large wooden platform is cloaked in grass and moss and appears like a mere extension of the alpine forest surrounding it. It is now world famous for drawing in some fantastic mountain birds, not least some of the birds-of-paradise that get birders salivating and desperate to visit this stunning birding venue. Our first afternoon saw us feasting on such sights as this female Brown Sicklebill (a large bird-of-paradise that sounds disturbingly like the rapid fire of a machine gun), and the bruiser of the bird table-the ever present and ever-greedy Brehm's Tiger-Parrot.
We started this whistlestop custom tour of New Guinea in the Bird-of-Paradise rich highlands. A short flight from Port Moresby had us landing in Mount Hagen and whisked into Enga province and the world famous Kumul Lodge. The lodge is named Kumul after the Pidgin name for Birds-of-Paradise, and well-named. An hour after checking in we were 3 birds-of-paradise the richer: their fruit laden bird table lured in first a Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, then a Brown Sicklebill bounded onto the platform, before a flash of orange and a rustle in the flower bed revealed the flame-colored Crested Bird-of-Paradise. Although it should be said this odd BOP has now been reclassified and has been moved into a whole new family, the satinbirds. So I guess we had two BOPs and one Satinbird. A quality birthday if ever there was one!
More treats to come from the so called "Land of the Unexpected", Papua New Guinea, to come soon...
A pair of tits (Blue and Great) in a London park 30 years back changed my life; I became a birder, and an obsessive birder by the following weekend. Works like Bill Oddie's Little Black Bird Book and Richard Millington's A Twitcher's Diary helped in no small part to nurture this in my formative years.
30 years on I am still an avid birder but have also learnt to appreciate other sectors of the natural world, especially frogs and primates in particular, through the undoubted influence of David Attenborough The Great and others. I now work as a full-time professional tour leader for Tropical Birding Tours, and now reside in the Andes of Ecuador. I love my job, sharing birds with people provides every bit of a buzz as a lifebird, which, of course, still creates a wave of excitement every time. I have been lucky enough to see well over 6550 bird species on my travels, which does not make me any more talented than anyone else, just one that is always greedy and impatient for more, which has taken me to all seven continents, and always yearning for that ONE...MORE...B-I-R-D!
I use Swarovski binoculars & scope, & shoot with Canon 7D and Canon 400m f5.6L lens.