The birds-of-paradise are the undisputed stars of our West Papua tour and arguably the most amazing amongst an amazing group is the incomparable Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise. Photo: Susan Myers
The island of New Guinea is surely one of the most exciting birding destinations on earth. The array of monarchs, honeyeaters, fruit-doves, kingfishers, and parrots are thrilling in their own right, but the other worldly birds-of-paradise are without doubt the most superlative avian wonders to be found anywhere. Our tour of one of the world’s most biodiverse regions is not luxurious, but conditions have greatly improved over the last few years. It’s nothing like the uncomfortable challenge that it once was. Many local people have become involved in providing comfortable birding experiences to foreign visitors, and the revenue from our visit directly helps conservation efforts in these very important bird havens.
We’ll explore the western half of New Guinea, a part of Indonesia, and in particular the province of West Papua. Here we’ll encounter many species of bird-of-paradise, a number of which are unique to West Papua — birds such as Western Parotia, Vogelkop Lophorina, Long-tailed Paradigalla, and Red Bird-of-Paradise will surely get our pulses racing, but the amazing Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise is definitely the jewel in the crown.
We’ll visit five exceptionally bird-rich areas in West Papua. We’ll start in the remote Arfak Mountains before heading further west to the island of Waigeo, home to a number of endemics including Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise. Our next stop will be the small northern island of Biak which harbours a startling twelve endemics, all of which we hope to see. Heading into the interior, we’ll be based in the isolated town of Wamena in the cool highlands from where we’ll explore the legendary Baliem Valley, only discovered by the outside world in 1938 and home to the Dani people. As we explore the forests over a varied altitudinal range, we’ll observe a fascinating array of unique wildlife, including the highly sought-after MacGregor’s Honeyeater, so fancy that until very recently it was thought to be a bird-of-paradise. We’ll finish our adventure in West Papua with a stay in the steamy lowlands on the north coast where key species include the evocatively named Vulturine Parrot, the often-elusive Shovel-billed Kingfisher, and the endemic Pale-billed Sicklebill among many others.
Even birders who’ve previously visited the eastern half of New Guinea find West Papua thrilling. Over 300 New Guinea endemics can be found here, including 25 birds-of-paradise, and remarkably there are seven endemic bird families in West Papua alone. In short, it’s just amazing.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening at our hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. Night in Jakarta.
Day 2: We’ll take an early flight to Manokwari on New Guinea’s northwest coast and from there drive directly for about two hours into the Arfak Mountains. We’ll drop our luggage off at our forest lodge, a simple but comfortable and clean place set in lush, epiphyte-laden cloud forest with incredible birding right on our doorstep. After a tasty lunch prepared by local ladies, we’ll head up the road for our first looks at some Arfak endemics, including the remarkable Vogelkop Bowerbird with its impressively colourfully decorated bower. Bronze Ground Dove sometimes comes into the bower and forest birds such as Rufescent Imperial Pigeon, Yellow-billed Lorikeets, Blue-collared Parrot, White-eared Bronze Cuckoo, Grey-green Scrubwren, White-rumped Robin, Hooded Pitohui, Olive-crowned Flowerpecker, Black-fronted White-eye, Rufous-sided Honeyeater, and Mountain Meliphaga can be seen near the lodge or along the roadsides. Night in Mokwam.
Days 3-5: We’ll spend the next three full days exploring the trails and roadsides for many Arfak specialities. The local people have in recent years put a great deal of effort into making their amazing birdlife more accessible to visitors. The well-kept trails will lead us to a number of strategically placed hides where we’ll wait for and observe the highly sought-after endemics, including Black Sicklebill and Arfak Parotia, as well as the recently split Vogelkop Lophorina (formerly called Superb Bird-of-Paradise). We’ll station ourselves at these various hides to observe the bowerbird attending his bower, the sicklebill and lophorina will hopefully perform showing off their remarkable displays, and the parotia spinning in its whirling- dervish dance.
There are a host of other exciting birds in the area and with luck we may find the scarce and exotically-named Long-tailed Paradigalla, another bird-of-paradise. The area is well represented by whistlers with Dwarf, Sclater’s and the endemic Vogelkop all possible. Vogelkop Catbirds sometimes come into the bird-of-paradise dance grounds but are soon detected by their meowing calls. Black Monarch, the rather plain but endemic Vogelkop Scrubwren, Black Pitohui, and Red-breasted Pygmy Parrot are all also possible, as is the more secretive, ground-dwelling Spotted Jewel-babbler. Our local guide is highly skilled at tracking down both the Feline and Mountain Owlet-Nightjars so we’ll have our fingers crossed for sightings of these remarkable nightbirds.
Around our lodge we’ll have a good chance of seeing Orange-crowned Fairywren, and Smoky and Ashy Robins, and attractive Tit Berrypeckers can sometimes be found in fruiting bushes. Along the roadside Western Smoky Honeyeater can be seen, as well as another type of honeyeater, the Melidectes, represented by Cinnamon-browed and the endemic Vogelkop. Nights in Mokwam.
Day 6: After some morning birding to conclude our stay in this wonderful lush forest, we’ll head back to the city of Manokwari in preparation for our early flight tomorrow. En route we’ll stop to search for the Masked Bowerbird, a recent split from Flame Bowerbird, that favours lower elevations closer to the city. Night in Manokwari.
Day 7: We’ll take the morning flight to Sorong and transfer to the ferry for our short trip over to the island of Waigeo, which lies just north of the tip of the Vogelkop (Bird’s Head) Peninsula. Depending on the ferry schedule, we should have plenty of time to commence our birding explorations. Night in Waisai.
Days 8-10: Waigeo is home to one of the world’s most amazing birds, the Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise. Again, thanks to the efforts of a number of smart local farmers, we can visit rainforest hides that allow close-up views of the male busy at work attracting females to his dancing grounds. It’s truly an unforgettable experience! While we watch the birds-of-paradise we may be distracted by trilling Common Paradise Kingfishers and pretty Black-sided Robins. An added bonus is the Red Bird-of-paradise, endemic to the islands of Batanta and Waigeo, and we’ll watch them displaying early in the morning from viewing hides constructed high in a tree allowing literally a bird’s eye view!
Other birds that we may see include the shy Pheasant Pigeon, and with luck we may find one foraging on the forest floor. Along the roadsides we’ll keep an eye overhead for Purple-tailed Imperial Pigeons feeding in fruiting trees, as well as Pygmy Eagle, Great-billed Parrot, and Torresian Crow amongst others. Lower down in the thick forest the endemic Raja Ampat Pitohui, belonging to a group of birds with poisonous feathers, is common. Other mid-level birds include the Pale-billed Scrubwren, Frilled Monarch, Grey Whistler, Puff-backed Meliphaga, and Tawny-breasted and Spotted Honeyeaters, while Yellow-capped Pygmy Parrot can sometimes be seen working along the tree trunks like a nuthatch or creeper. On the forest floor we may spy Dusky Megapode and Papuan Pitta. It’s also highly likely that we’ll find the very cute Waigeo Cuscus, a bear-like opossum, within the grounds of our accommodation. Nights in Waisai.
Day 11: We’ll take the midday ferry back to Sorong, and later in the afternoon we’ll visit an area of mangroves close to the city in search of the gorgeous Blue-black Kingfisher, as well as Black Thicket-Fantail. Other possibilities here include Spotted Whistling Duck, Orange-fronted Fruit Dove, Collared Imperial Pigeon, Lesser Black Coucal, Orange-breasted Fig Parrot, Brown-backed Honeyeater, Large-billed Gerygone, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, and Willie Wagtail. Night in Sorong.
Day 12: We’ll leave our lodging early to explore a stretch of hilly lowland forest close to Sorong. We’ll start by looking for the amazing Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise which, with luck, we may see displaying at dawn. We’ll keep a look out for Black Lory and make an effort to find the attractive but shy Red-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher. The long list of spectacular birds here also includes Long-tailed Honey Buzzard, Pink-spotted Fruit Dove, Dwarf Koel, Long-billed Cuckoo, Moustached Treeswift, Hook-billed Kingfisher, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, impressive Blyth’s Hornbill, and Palm Cockatoo. Coconut Lorikeet commonly zip raucously overhead as the harsh calls of Red-cheeked and Eclectus Parrots announce their presence. If we hear Hooded Pitta we’ll station ourselves in place to get a glimpse of this ground-dwelling gem. The appropriately named Emperor Fairywren can be seen flitting amongst thick undergrowth while a rich diversity of the Meliphagidae can also be found represented by Streak-headed and Tawny-breasted Honeyeaters, New Guinea Friarbird, and Long-billed, Mimic, and Yellow-gaped Meliphagas. Night in Sorong.
Days 13-14: We’ll fly from Sorong to the island of Biak in the Geelvink Bay, recently renamed Cenderawasih Bay (meaning ‘bird-of-paradise’ in Indonesian). After a short drive to an area of secondary forest on the island’s east side, we’ll start our birding by concentrating mainly on the endemics: Biak Lorikeet, Biak Paradise Kingfisher, Biak Triller, Biak Black Flycatcher, and Biak White-eye. With perseverance and determination we should also find Biak Scrubfowl, the secretive Biak Coucal, and the tiny Geelvink Pygmy Parrot. The scarcer endemics Biak Gerygone, Biak Monarch, and Biak Leaf Warbler may require a bit more effort, but we’ll persevere . More common targets include Gurney’s Eagle, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, Black-winged Lory, Red-fronted Lorikeet, Hooded Butcherbird, Common Cicadabird, Shining Flycatcher, Long-tailed Starling, and Red-capped Flowerpecker. Biak also hosts a number of more widespread species represented by endemic subspecies. Amongst them are Common Emerald Dove, Spice Imperial Pigeon (sometimes split as Geelvink Imperial Pigeon), Little Shrikethrush, Northern Fantail, Golden Monarch, and the distinctive Biak Hooded Pitta (subspecies Pitta sordia rosenbergii). Night in Biak.
Day 15: We’ll fly this morning to Jayapura back in West Papua, and later explore the grasslands and the northern shore of picturesque Lake Sentani, where we’ll look for Fawn-breasted Bowerbird and Grand and Hooded Munias. We may also find Brown Quail, Buff-banded Rail, and Rufous-tailed Bush-hen on the roadsides, while Dusky Moorhen and Comb-crested Jacana can be seen on the lake shores. Channel-billed Cuckoo, Rainbow Bee-eater, Dollarbird, Pacific Swallow, Tree Martin, White-bellied Cuckooshrike and White-breasted Woodswallow can often be seen flying around while Pied Bush-chat, Papuan Grassbird, Golden-headed Cisticola, White-shouldered Fairy-wren, Scrub Honeyeater, and Chestnut-breasted Munia have made the grasslands their home. Night in Sentani.
Day 16: This morning we’ll return to Jayapura for our flight to Wamena, the largest town in the Baliem Valley in the central highlands of Papua. From here we’ll travel by four-wheel-drive vehicles into the Baliem Valley at the base of the Snow Mountains. Travelling along winding roads we’ll stop frequently to search the impressive lush forest for the many unique and special birds that inhabit this remote corner of the world. Arriving at our destination amongst the sumptuous rolling grasslands dotted with copses of high-altitude forests that surround Lake Habbema, we’ll make ourselves at home in our comfortable campsite before commencing our explorations. Night at Lake Habbema.
Days 17-19: Against the backdrop of the Mount Trikora, one of the highest mountains in the region, we’ll spend the next three days birding the high-altitude grasslands surrounding Lake Habbema. One of our most-hoped-for targets will be the remarkable MacGregor’s Honeyeater, formerly thought to be a bird-of-paradise. The huge Snow Mountain Quail can often be flushed from the grasslands as we walk in search of Snow Mountain Munia, Mountain Firetail and Alpine Pipit. As we bird on foot, or by car, we may encounter both Sooty and Short-bearded Melidectes, Orange-cheeked Honeyeaters, and Lorentz’s Whistlers in the alpine brush. The scarce high-altitude dwelling Salvadori’s Teal can be found on the lake shore and, at dusk, we’ll be on the lookout for displaying New Guinea Woodcock and maybe perhaps even the rare Archbold’s Nightjar.
We’ll take the vehicles down to lower altitudes where we’ll search for New Guinea Logrunner, Lesser Melampitta and Lesser Ground Robin. As we descend, we’ll notice marked changes in the avifauna, and lower down the road we may find such beauties as Splendid Astrapia, Brown Sicklebill, Black Sittella, Loria’s Bird-of-Paradise, Garnet Robin, Crested Berrypecker, Rufous-naped Bellbird, Papuan Treecreeper, Rufous-throated Bronze Cuckoo, Brehm’s Tiger Parrot, Mountain Mouse-Warbler, Black-breasted Boatbills. Nights near Lake Habbema.
Day 20: This morning we’ll drive back to Wamena in preparation for our flight to Jayapura tomorrow. A bit of luxury in our comfortable hotel will be most welcome! Night in Wamena.
Day 21: On arrival in Jayapura we’ll transfer to Nimbokrang on the north coast of West Papua at the base of the Cyclops Mountains. This is a great area for lowland birding and several species of bird-of-paradise occur here including Pale-billed Sicklebill and Lesser Bird-of-Paradise. Other possibilities include another chance to see the improbable Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise. Night in Nimbokrang.
Days 22-23: We’ll bird along the famous ‘Jalan Korea’, a now unused logging track that provides access to excellent forest that is home to a number of localised species such as Western Black-capped Lory, Lowland Peltops, Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot, White-eared Catbird, Brown-headed Crow, Jobi Manucode and, with special effort and good luck, Shovel-billed Kingfisher. For species such as Northern Cassowary and Brown-collared Brush-turkey we’ll take side trips off the road on trails into the swamp forest. On a different road in the foothills south of Nimbokrang, an entirely different set of birds can be found including Zoe Imperial Pigeon, Salvadori’s Fig-Parrot, Yellow-bellied Longbill, Green-backed Gerygone, and Golden Myna, while Papuan Nightjar can often be seen from the road at dusk. Further along the road, as we drop down into a valley, we have a chance to find Victoria-crowned Pigeon as well as Blue Jewel-babbler and Hooded Monarch. Nearby there are known sites for King Bird-of-Paradise and, with luck, maybe even Vulturine Parrot, which is every bit as impressive as its name suggests. Nights in Nimbokrang.
Day 24: We’ll return to Jayapura around midday for our onward flights to Denpasar then Jakarta, where the tour concludes.
Updated: 16 April 2019