West Papua (Irian Jaya), New Guinea
9th July - 5th August 2017
Leader: Rob Hutchinson
6th August - 2nd September 2017
Leader: Carlos Nazario Bocos
Max group size: 7
West Papua (formally known as Irian Jaya) is the little-visited western half of the huge island of New Guinea. It is host to an astonishing degree of biological and ecological richness with habitats ranging from steamy lowland swamp forests to the alpine grassland of the mighty Snow Mountains, the highest peaks between the Himalaya and the Andes. In addition it is still covered by some of the largest areas of original, intact forest on earth and yet very few birders have so far had the opportunity to appreciate its diversity.
We begin our adventure on the island of Biak in Geelvink Bay searching for some special island endemics. Although just a fraction of the original forest cover on Biak remains, almost all of the nine endemic species can still be found in the secondary and selectively logged forest, including Geelvink Pygmy Parrot, Biak Red Lory, Biak Scops Owl and the stunning Biak Paradise Kingfisher, and take a boat across to Numfor island for the seldom-seem Numfor Paradise Kingfisher. From here we head into the central Snow Mountains of West Papua for our exploration of the Grand Baliem Valley. Here amid stunning scenery we will search a variety of habitats from moss-laden montane forest to alpine grasslands in search of some amazing birds; the spectacular MacGregor’s Bird-of-Paradise, Snow Mountain Quail, Snow Mountain Mannikin, Mountain Firetail, Short-bearded Melidectes, Lorentz’s Whistler, Lesser Melampitta, Salvadori’s Teal, New Guinea Woodcock, Archbold’s Nightjar, Splendid Astrapia and perhaps even the rare Archbold’s Bowerbird.
Next stop is the hot and steamy lowland rainforest in the shadow of the Cyclops Mountains where delights such as Salvadori’s Fig Parrot, Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot and Blue-black Kingfisher await, and our Bird-of-Paradise tally is boosted by Pale-billed Sicklebill, Twelve-wired, Lesser and King Birds-of-Paradise.
From Sorong at the western tip of the Vogelkop Peninsula we head for the islands of Batanta and Salawati in search of Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise, surely one of the most stunning of the family. Red Bird-of-Paradise is also a Batanta specialty and on nearby Salawati we will hope to find the shy Western Crowned Pigeon.
Our final destination is the montane forests of the little-known Arfak Mountains where wonders such as displaying Western Parotia, Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise, Vogelkop Bowerbird, Buff-tailed Sicklebill, Arfak Astrapia and Long-tailed
Paradigalla are just a few of a mouth-watering list of targets.
It should be noted that a visit to these remote regions should be considered very much an expedition since the hiking and primitive camping conditions on much of the tour make this far tougher than our normal birding tours. West Papua does though offer some of the most exciting birding, fascinating travel and incredible experiences for the adventurous birder.
Arrivals into Sorong, West Papua where the tour begins. Overnight stay in Sorong.
We will spend any available time birding in forests outside of Sorong which makes a nice introduction to commoner West Papuan species before taking the fast ferry to Waisai, Waigeo for a three-night stay.
The island of Waigeo holds several species absent from the mainland and these will form our focus here. Our primary target is to find the quite astounding Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise, a bird frequently cited as one of the most beautiful in the world. Using specially constructed hides we will be able to observe the birds as they visit their display grounds completely oblivious to our admiring eyes. With good fortune we will see the male in full action – calling and displaying vigorously to any females which enter his display arena. Other birds present include Red Bird-of-Paradise, found only on Waigeo and Batanta, Raja Ampat Pitohui, and the shy Western Crowned Pigeon. Nights at Waisai.
After a final morning on Waigeo we return by boat to Sorong for an overnight stay in Sorong.
This morning we fly from Sorong to Manokwari on the west shore of Geelvink Bay, and from here we drive up into the Arfak Mountains, to Mokwam village, situated at 1600m. Over the coming days we will split our time between the lower levels of the forest and the higher reaches of the montane forest, each area with its own distinct avifauna and special birds. Most of our six nights here will be spent in the basic guesthouses in Mokwam or Mingre Villages but one or two night will be spent at a basic camp higher up the mountains to search for higher altitude specialities.
In these remote mountains we will be searching for many special montane birds which include some of New Guinea’s most desirable yet little-known birds. Perhaps the highlight of our stay here will be the chance to visit the dancing ground of the Western Parotia. Hides have been built overlooking some of these display areas and the chance to watch the extravagant ‘ballerina dance’ of these extraordinary birds at point-blank range is truly a mind-blowing experience. Magnificent Birds-of-Paradise can likewise be enjoyed on their display areas and other highly desirable birds here include the elusive Black-billed Sicklebill, the virtually unknown Long-tailed Paradigalla and the fascinating Vogelkop Bowerbird which not only builds an impressive bower but is also a skilled mimic, imitating the songs of many other species. Our local Papuan guides are incredibly skilled at finding these birds and often treat us to daytime views of bizarre-looking Feline and Mountain Owlet Nightjars. As we reach higher altitudes the plethora of birds seen will include additions such as Black Sicklebills, Orange-crowned Fairy-wren, Western Smoky Honeyeaters, Vogelkop Melidectes and Arfak Astrapia.
After a final day of birding in the Arfaks we return to Manokwari for an overnight stay and a welcome hot shower.
This morning we fly from Manokwari to Sentani (Jayapura) in the shadow of the towering Cyclops Mountains, where we will need to stay overnight. We will use the day to explore nearby grasslands where it is often possible to find Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Grand Mannikin, Hooded Mannikin and Glossy-mantled Manucode. The nearby Lake Sentani often has a small but interesting selection of water-birds which might include Comb-crested Jacana.
Night in Sentani.
This morning we make the short flight to Wamena where we will switch to 4WD vehicles for the journey up into the fabled Snow Mountains and in particular the Grand Baliem Valley. The journey is along winding roads, through wonderful forests where we will make several birding stops in search of our first specialties. Our destination today is the rolling grasslands with scattered high altitude forests surrounding Lake Habbema. We shall spend the next four nights camping at two different locations in this wonderful area as we explore the surrounding grasslands and forests, using roads where possible but also venturing onto well-used but sometimes steep and muddy trails where necessary.
During our stay we will explore a variety of habitats in the area.
In the high-altitude grasslands close to Lake Habbema we will bird with the mighty Mount Trikora (4700m) as a constant backdrop. Star bird of this alpine plateau is the striking MacGregor’s Honeyeater which although shy, frequently betray their presence with loud whooshing sounds as they fly along the hillsides with orange primary patches conspicuous. Recent DNA studies have shown this amazing bird to be a honeyeater rather than a bird-of-paradise but this makes it no less special. Other special birds in this area include Snow Mountain Quail that are often flushed from the grasslands, Western Alpine Mannikin, Mountain Firetail, Alpine Pipit and Papuan Harrier favouring the more open areas. Sooty and Short-bearded Melidectes, Orange-cheeked Honeyeaters and Lorentz’s Whistlers prefer the alpine shrubbery, while several pairs of Salvadori’s Teal plus Spotless Crake inhabit the lake and its fringes. As dusk falls we will hope to find a displaying New Guinea Woodcock and the little-known Archbold’s Nightjar.
As we drop down into the magical mossy forests a whole new suite of birds appear. Ground-dwellers here include Chestnut Forest Rail, New Guinea Logrunner, shy red-eyed Lesser Melampitta and with a big dose of luck, the rare Greater Ground Robin in the tree-line forest above the altitude of the commoner Lesser Ground Robin. Archbold’s Bowerbird is another of the main targets although this shy bird can be extremely difficult to find.
Birding at slightly lower altitudes brings yet more different species including Splendid Astrapia, spectacular King of Saxony Bird-of-Paradise, Brown Sicklebill, Black Sittella, Crested Berrypecker, Rufous-naped Bellbird, Papuan Treecreeper, Rufous-throated Bronze Cuckoo, Brehm’s and Modest Tiger Parrots, gorgeous Plum-faced Lorikeets and many more. All nights camping.
After a final morning birding in the Baliem Valley, we will drive back to Wamena for an overnight stay and the exciting prospect of a shower and a soft mattress! In the cultivated valley closer to Wamena we hope to find Ornate Melidectes, localised Black-breasted Munia and the conspicuous Superb Bird-of- Paradise which can even be found in close proximity to the villages. We will try to find the giulianettii Island Leaf Warbler as a future split and the Baliem Whistler which is already regarded as a full species.
This morning we fly back to Sentani before continuing to the lowland forests of Nimbokrang at the base of the imposing Cyclops Mountains where we will be based for the next three nights at a basic homestay. The remainder of the day with be spent exploring this bird-rich area.
The flat alluvial rainforests of Nimbokrang have suffered from logging but large tracts of good secondary and selectively logged forest remain. The birding in these mosquito infested swamp forests is by no means easy but the rewards are great. Several species of Bird-of-Paradise can be found here and we will be hoping to find Pale-billed Sicklebill and to witness the amazing displays of Twelve-wired and King Birds-of-Paradise. The seemingly endless list of possible species here includes some true specialties of the area and thus we will target Salvadori’s Fig-Parrot, Brown and Western Black-capped Lories, Lowland Peltops, Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot, Blue Jewel Babbler, White-eared Catbird, Brown-headed Crow, Jobi Manucode and striking Blue-black Kingfishers. Victoria Crowned Pigeon and Brown-collared Brush-turkeys are present but extremely difficult to observe. Nights at basic homestay in Nimbokrang.
After a final day of birding in these tropical lowland forests we will return to Sentani for an overnight stay.
This morning we will fly to Biak and spend the remainder of this day and the next day birding on Biak. Much of the island has been cleared of native forest but most of the island’s specialties can still be found in areas of good secondary or selectively logged forest. This rarely-visited island holds several special species, some of which are widespread across the islands in Geelvink Bay but others are restricted to Biak and neighbouring Supiori and it is these endemics on which we will concentrate, including the endemic Biak Paradise Kingfisher which is still pleasingly common and conspicuous. In more open areas we will look for Yellow-bibbed Fruit Dove, Claret-breasted Fruit Dove and Geelvink Imperial Pigeon which are vocal and often perch conspicuously. Secondary growth is also the favoured habitat of the endemic Biak White-eye, while overhead Biak Red Lories frequently flash past. Most other endemics and specialties are best searched for in the forest and include the common Long-tailed Starling, shy Biak Megapode, skulking Biak Coucal and the inconspicuous Biak Gerygone. Feeding flocks in the forest provide much excitement and are often joined by some of our targets; Geelvink Pygmy Parrot, Golden Monarch, Biak Black Flycatcher and if we are extremely fortunate, the rare orange-and-black Biak Monarch. In the evening we will try to spotlight the endemic Biak Scops Owl which is usually difficult to see, and the rather more conspicuous Papuan Frogmouth. Night on Biak
After some final birding on Biak we travel by boat to the island of Numfor, southwest of Biak in Geelvink Bay, for an overnight in a basic guesthouse on Numfor.
We spend the morning birding on Numfor where our main target is the fabulous endemic Numfor Paradise Kingfisher which is quite common on the island. In the afternoon we return to Biak for an overnight stay.
Tour ends this morning and we depart for our international flights via Jakarta.