Friday, 10 November 2017

October Highlights!

Weather: October was predominantly shaped by mild west/south-westerly airflow, bringing some spells of unusually high temperatures, both by day and by night. However the winds did turn northerly for the last weekend of the month, bringing the first widespread autumnal frosts. Around the middle of the month, ex-Hurricane Ophelia dragged warm air northwards across the UK, resulting in high temperatures and hurricane-force winds.

Places Visited:  Amwell and Rye Meads.

Star Sightings of the Month:
Bird: Kingfisher
Butterfly: Brimstone
Odonata: Willow Emerald
Insect: Green Shield Bug

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.’

An extremely quiet month produced only three trips out - once to Amwell and twice to Rye Meads.

Various reasons included poor-ish weather; health problems; business meetings and the fact that Amwell had closed down for several months, due to gas works. It doesn’t leave me with many options now - Rye Meads, Cheshunt or WWT Barnes, with maybe a trip down to RSPB Rainham Marsh. A very good year will end with a whimper, unless something special turns up.

My first visit of the month was to Amwell, just before it closed. However, there wasn’t too much about and so I decided to cut my losses and spend the afternoon at Rye Meads. Subsequently, with Amwell then closing down for the Winter I concentrated on RM.


There were several decent birds arriving around the County, but I never managed to pick any of them up. Only the usual suspects were about. Wildfowl continued to arrive, but have yet to appear in any great numbers. The first Snipe started to appear, while Sandpipers, both Common & Green were seen, albeit in ones and twos.


The Kingfishers were still providing great entertainment at Rye Meads, with the male perching up amongst the red berries quite close to the Hide, on several occasions. The first Redwings of the season turned up, but I have yet to see their cousins, the Fieldfare.


I would say that it was all very quiet on the birding front in October, but then I didn’t make much of an effort to get out and about. Only the constant piercing noise of the builders outside my door encouraged me to don several layers and brave the elements.

Although Autumn has now arrived, in force, blowing the golden leaves off the trees, there still haven’t been any decent mammal sightings. However, sandstorms blown up from the Sahara provided a very surreal red sun.


Lepidoptera were predictably sparse but included a lovely Brimstone in the middle of the month, at Rye Meads. Otherwise only several Red Admirals were seen on the wing and I fear that they will be the last of the butterflies for this season.


This year’s odonata season is now sadly almost over as well. Only Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers are still about and only then in small numbers. The last of the Willow Emeralds were seen at Rye Meads, where I found a few pairs egg-laying on a bramble branch – something that even the British Dragonfly Society hadn’t even heard of before. I managed to remember to inform the staff at RM of my findings, so hopefully they will leave everything in place over the winter.

 

There was a recent report regarding the decline and fall of invertebrates. There has been an alleged 75% decrease over the last 25 years. It’s something that echoes my findings over recent years. I have had to work hard to get sightings of most insects this year and last.



Dock & Green Shield Bugs were seen on a sunny day early in the month. Other than those, the only decent insects still on show included Dark Bush Crickets, a Tortoise Bug and a Hornet. I also noticed that there were still lots of Midges around, reflecting a warm and dry month.




Seasonal work has now begun on all the Reserves, with plenty of strimming and coppicing. For some reason I have volunteered my services to Jenny, at Amwell, for the upcoming Winter BitternWatch. It’ll be interesting to see if we are allowed to enter the area. It’ll be even more interesting if we see a Bittern!

Roll on the Spring!


Change happens only when you replace one story with another.’


For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.

Or you could follow me on Twitter!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

September Highlights!


Weather: The poor weather continued this month, despite the Daily Star’s assurances of a ‘Scorcher Autumn’. September kicked off with a weak ridge of high pressure which initially brought relatively quiet weather, but the rest of the month was generally unsettled with an unusually high number of rainy days. It was often cool with frequent north-westerlies and belts of persistent rain alternating with brighter showery weather. It then warmed up later in the month, with mainly southerly winds, but was often cloudy with some fog patches.

Places Visited:  Amwell; Norfolk; River Stort/Thorley Wash; Rye Meads.

Star Sightings of the Month:
Bird: Corncrake
Mammal: Pygmy Shrew
Butterfly: Speckled Wood
Odonata: Willow Emerald
Insect: Hawthorn Shield Bug

Yesterday is history, today is a gift, tomorrow is a mystery.’ Bill Keane

After the highlight of PNG, normal service was resumed this month. Actually, it would have been tough to have improved on last month.

There were trips to Amwell and along the River Stort to Thorley Wash. I also paid a couple of visits to Rye Meads, which continues to draw in the crowds and the wildlife. I also spent a few days in Norfolk, a regular, annual occurrence now.

A walk up the River Stort, to Thorley Wash was my first September visit, on the first day of the month. After a slow start, I was eventually delighted to find a dozen or more Willow Emerald damselflies along the river, this time quite close to the Reserve. Indeed, I even spotted three in the Reserve itself.


Then it was off to Rye Meads, for the first of two visits, followed by Amwell. Birds were still quite scarce, although plenty of wildfowl were now arriving.

Common and Green Sandpipers, Snipe and Kingfisher were good value at RM, while Kestrel, Hobby and a late Swallow appeared at Amwell.


I spent three lovely days in Norfolk, mainly for the birding, visiting various Reserves, including Titchwell, Cley and Snettisham. It didn’t disappoint, with plenty of wader species to be seen. I was especially delighted to see a pair of Corncrakes at Pensthorpe NR.


I’ve visited Pensthorpe several times over the years and find it very rewarding. The wader enclosure allows for some very close views. I know it’s not for some, especially twitchers, but it provides better views than most, where they are usually miles away. The Reserve is also very good at conservation, especially for Cranes and Red Squirrels.

Mammal sightings are still few and far between, but there was a lovely little Pygmy Shrew seen visiting Snettisham. There were, of course, the Red Squirrels at Pensthorpe.

The insect season is now starting to wind down considerably. Butterflies, such as the Whites, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood are still to be found, but not much else.


Willow Emeralds are now out in force, in several Reserves, together with Common Darter and Migrant Hawker. The usual, in fact. However, it’s good to see the Emerald distribution and number expanding, especially to HMWT Thorley Wash.



Of the rest of the invertebrates, Spiders, including Cross and Nursery Web, are now out in some number. Adult Dark Bush Crickets, Dock Bugs, hoverflies, bees and wasps are now mostly the only things on view. However, the best sightings were along the canal path, at Amwell, where I found Green Shield, Hawthorn and Forest Shield Bugs.




The flowers? Oh, please. Buddleia and Purple Loosestrife are the only things still noticeable. There is, of course, plenty of flora about, but I forget the names. My fingers aren’t particularly green.

Not quite as good a month as August – but then, how could you top Papua New Guinea? Despite the continuing dismal weather, it was quite a good few weeks. Norfolk is always worth a visit, no matter the time of the year!


When to the session of sweet silent thought summon up remembrance of things past.’
Shakespeare's Sonnet


For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.

Or you could follow me on Twitter!


Sunday, 24 September 2017

Papua New Guinea’s Birds of Paradise and Culture

Papua New Guinea’s Birds of Paradise and Culture

Weather:
Hot & humid; cold & cloudy; rain on occasion.

Wildlife seen:
Nearly 200 bird species (including 15 Birds of Paradise) - a few mammal species -
lots of lepidoptera - several odonata - loads of invertebrates - abundant flora.


Knowledge is only a rumour until it is in the muscle.’ Papua New Guinea Proverb

For 10 years we in the Tory party have become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing and so it is with a happy amazement that we watch
as the madness engulfs the Labour party.’
Boris Johnson

The Duke of Edinburgh asked a British student who had been trekking in Papua New Guinea,
You managed not to get eaten then?’


Papua New Guinea, in the south-western Pacific and part of the Australasia continent, encompasses the eastern half of New Guinea and its offshore islands. New Guinea is the world's second largest island, behind Greenland. Here you can be battered by violent rains, incapacitated by the intense heat and humidity, or get stranded in a snowstorm. Probably nowhere else in the world offers such a range of climates in just one place. Being in the Ring-of-Fire it is prey to volcanic activity, earthquakes and tidal waves.

There are many traditional tribal villages, the majority of which have their own languages. Linguistically, it is the world's most diverse country, with more than 800 native tongues. It is a country of immense cultural and biological diversity, where most of the people still live in strong traditional social groups based on farming. Their social lives combine traditional religion with modern practices.

Papua New Guinea is one of the wildest and least explored regions on earth with approximately 70% of the country still covered in forest. Its astonishingly rich avifauna includes nearly 400 endemic species, amongst them the exquisite birds-of-paradise. Where else could you meet the world's largest pigeon, smallest parrot and longest lizard?


It was 7pm on a very hot, humid evening and dinner had just been announced, by the loud banging of a large, hollow, engraved wooden artefact, as was the custom here. As I took my seat the sweat had already begun dripping off me, into the food. It wasn’t the only thing – tiny insects were also dropping into the food, from the lights above. They looked a little like black peppercorns and so, in my mind, they added to the flavour.

Just so long as they weren’t big and crunchy.

We were spending our first night, of three, at Karawari Lodge, which was located near the Karawari River, an offshoot of the main East Sepik River. We were about as far away from civilisation as we could be. This was also the area where the feared female mosquitoes were. ‘Mozzie’ nets and malaria tablets were the order of the day here…


Seemingly a lifetime ago, I had left home and, after a trouble-free journey via train, coach and plane, I finally arrived in Port Moresby, after around 33 hours of travel.

Amazingly, I had bumped into one of my holiday companions at Stansted Airport. It was Marilyn, who had travelled in from Great Waltham, in Essex. We went on to meet some of our other fellow travellers at Singapore airport, whilst awaiting the flight connection. Tom and his brother Bernard were from Chesterfield, in Derbyshire and Julie, who was from London.

It was a fairly painless queue for the Visa and then we retrieved our bags to be met outside by our Tour Guide Leader – Terry Reis, an Australian from Queensland and a few Trans Niugini Tour local representatives. We transferred to a tour bus and 10 minutes later we were checking in to our first accommodation, the Airways Hotel.


I dumped my stuff in a very nice room, before enjoying a quick breakfast of fruit and coffee. It was a fantastic looking hotel; the restaurant was overlooking some superb scenery. I quickly retrieved my camera for the first of what would be hundreds of photos out here. There were also several birds about the area. It was already noticeably warm and humid, even at this early hour.

After an all-too-brief sleep, it was time for lunch. I met the rest of the tour party - Mike & Jo, who were from Scotland and then Adrienne, from Northern Ireland, who had arrived the day before.

Afterwards, I quickly put on my Factor50 and jungle juice, in readiness for our first excursion, around 2pm. It was short drive to our destination.

We then proceeded to have a very pleasant few hours. There was only the one visit, to the Pacific Adventist University, an area designated as a nature park, which was also home to a few of the students.

Pacific Adventist University
It was a wetland area, with several lagoons and some woodland. Here, I was delighted to find Swamp Hens, Whistling Ducks, White Ibis, Egrets, Cormorants, Masked Lapwing, Kites, Comb-crested Jacana and a few Sacred Kingfishers. There were all seen, while most were photographed and ‘ticked off’. Fawn-breasted Bowerbird and Black-backed Butcherbird were notables.

Australasian Swamp Hen

Masked Lapwing

Black-backed Butcherbird
It was quite humid and hot in the sunshine, something I knew I would have to get used to. However, to my surprise, clouds soon rolled over, cooling things down and then we could hear the distant sound of thunder. There was no rain, though.

Great Wood Swallow

Intermediate Egret

Rufous-banded Honeyeater
After a few hours and several dozen photos, we headed back to the hotel, for a very pleasant dinner. Terry then proceeded to give us a rough outline of the days ahead; some health and safety information, plus giving us some insight into his personal wildlife history and experiences out here.

I retired early. It had been an exhausting few days and I was glad to be able to get some quality sleep. Surprisingly, for me, I was asleep in minutes. We had to be up early the next morning. It would prove to be the norm for this trip. Well, mainly. It was a birding trip, after all.

We met our guides and driver, Neville, Jerry and Jack from TNT and left around 5.30. On the way we were informed that it would be a day of forest birding. It took an hour to get to our destination, Varirata National Park, which was a cool 800m above sea level. I sat back, as we drove through the town, watching the hubbub of life that had already begun to start up.

Varirata National Park
First up was a RED LETTER moment. It was my very first bird of paradise in the wild – PNG’s national bird, the Raggiana bird of paradise. We were at a well-known lek for them. Not only did we see three males and several females, all of which gave good views, we saw the males displaying as well. Fantastic! I even managed to get some half-decent photos. What a start!



Serious forest birding then followed, notably seeing Barred Cuckooshrike, Streak-headed Honeyeater and Hooded Pitohui. Other birds present included male and female Growling Riflebird, Stout-billed Cuckooshrike, Varied Triller, Mimic Honeyeater, Spangled Drongo and a female Raggiana bird of paradise.

Azure Kingfisher

Silky Owl butterfly
Earlier, on the bus, we were given some very interesting information regarding one particular bird. The Hooded Pitohui was the first bird discovered to be poisonous. Its’ feathers, skin and muscle tissue contain a toxic chemical that causes numbness, burning and sneezing if you either touched or got too close to them. They also had a strong, sour odour associated with them. I made a mental note to avoid getting anywhere near them.

The area was quite muddy in places and it was also very misty and foggy. It even rained a few times, although not for long and we were sheltered by the canopy. It was humid again today, but very cloudy and with poor light. I was quite surprised at being told that cloud and poor light were normal for PNG.


After a quick packed breakfast, we drove up the road to take a slow walk back down. A calling Yellow-billed Kingfisher gave good views perched in one of the many Casuarina trees. A short distance into the forest we saw Rufous-bellied Kookaburra and then our guide, Leonard, diverted us to a known roost for Barred Owlet-nightjar, which was in a tree hollow.

We all stood silently and watched, as he tapped the tree a couple of times. The bird magically appeared from the hollow entrance; it’s mammalian-like whiskered head peering out at us. It was a very strange looking bird.

Then a Macleay’s Forest Wallaby moved onto the track ahead of us, giving good views, its’ pale-tipped tail giving its ID away. Terry was especially pleased to see it, as it was quite a rare sighting. I managed a poor record shot of it, before it hopped slowly in to the surrounding bushes.

As we headed towards our picnic site, for lunch, we spotted Papuan Dwarf and Azure Kingfishers, Crinkle-collared Manucode, Goldenface, Spot-winged and Frilled Monarchs, Chestnut-bellied Fantail, Yellow-bellied Gerygone, Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher and Purple-tailed Imperial Pigeon. All good stuff, but not many photos, because of the poor light and most were only fleeting sightings.


However, for the final few hours we again walked along the road, seeing more birds but with much better views and light, including Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, White-throated Honeyeater, Oriental Dollarbird, Forest and Sacred Kingfishers, Varied Triller and Common Cicadabird.

Further on, we spotted Grey-headed Goshawk, Yellow-faced Myna, White-bellied Whistler, Black-capped Lory and Rainbow Bee-Eater. Birding was a lot better along this area, than it was in the forest, as the trees weren’t obscuring the birds.

We’d lunched at a very picturesque picnic area. I tried to keep an eye on my food intake, as I wanted to acclimatise first and not to eat too much. I was determined not to be ill out here!


We arrived back at the hotel around 5.30. I was feeling quite exhausted. I knew that I was out of condition and so would have to try to pick and choose my outings. I knew, from experience, that germs attacked a weakened disposition.

We said goodbye to our guides and driver, tipping them. After freshening up and some photo processing, I went for a beer with the others. Dinner was around 8 and, after our first checklist, it was bed soon after. This would also be the norm for me, for the rest of the trip. I would need a lot of sleep if I was going expend a lot of energy. Hey, wimp is my middle name!

The next day was our first internal travel day. Our bags were left at reception at 6.30, before having breakfast. We left for the airport around 7.15. It was a painless trek through check-in and security, thanks to Neville and soon we were on our way to Mount Hagen. The flight was short and sweet, lasting only an hour. It was also a lot cooler up here, than it was in Port Moresby.


There was some consternation about arriving in Mount Hagen. A week or so earlier, Naturetrek had emailed everyone to say that the country’s recent General Election had elicited some rioting in this area, forcing the closure of the local airport. Fortunately, the troubles had passed relatively quickly and the airport was soon re-opened.

We were met by a lively character called Michael who proceeded to give us a brief history of the people of PNG and his local Melpa tribe, whilst we drove to our new hotel. It was very interesting and I was impressed with Michael’s enthusiasm.

We arrived after an hour’s bumpy ride, driving through high metal gates, the accompanying uniformed, armed guards saluting us as we drove past. We said goodbye to Michael, not knowing that we wouldn’t see him again. He deserved a tip for his entertaining narrative.

It was yet again another fantastic looking place, set in and around the rainforest of Rondon Ridge. We were now at an altitude of 2,100m, or around 7,000ft in real money. My room was again quite exceptional; a lodge separate to the hotel. It was also another exceptional view.



After an introduction by Nick, the Lodge Manager, who was Canadian and sporting an odd-looking ‘goatee’ beard, we were informed that the timetable had changed. We were supposed to see the Mud Men today, but it was mysteriously cancelled. Therefore, we set off, after lunch, with Joseph, the local guide – who, for me, turned out to be our best guide of the trip – for a walk around the surrounding forest area.

It was quite a gruelling trek in thick rainforest and mud. My back was in pain, even though I was wearing a back support. We were after the Superb bird of paradise as well as the Blue bird of paradise. In the event, we were unfortunate in only hearing them. However, we did see Capped White-eye, Friendly Fantail and Common Smoky Honeyeater.

To my delight, we were also shown the maypole bower of a MacGregor’s Bowerbird. The bird itself wasn’t in attendance but we were told that it may have been quite close. Joseph informed us that the males spend about half the day within 20m of the bower, partly to defend the bower from the attacks of competing males. I quickly looked around for it, but it must have been the other half of the day.


I also managed to spot several interesting insects. However, I was hoping that the days ahead wouldn’t be as gruelling as the recent ones. I would struggle if they were.



Earlier, just after we arrived, Terry had taken us for a walk around the immediate area. Here, we spotted Long-tailed Honey Buzzard, two immature Black-winged Kites, Brahminy Kite, Red-collared and Mountain Myzomelas Honeyeater, Pied Bush Chat and Hooded Mannikin and the, already, ubiquitous Willie Wagtail. We were already building an impressive list.

Black-winged Kite

Red-collared Myzomela
We arrived back at the lodge around 6. Just in time to avoid the rain. It then rained heavily for about 15 minutes, with thunder and lightning; presenting us with a breathtaking display of nature. The evenings were also noticeably cooler up here, in the mountains. Time to dig the fleece out.

Dinner was at 7. It was another nice meal. I was starting to enjoy the food out here. I was in bed before 9, again feeling quite tired. It was going be the hardest trek of the trip tomorrow morning. I had to be up at 4.30. I was hoping it would be worth it.

I met up with the others just before 5, for a quick coffee. Soon we were setting off, in the dark. I had a torch with me, but it wasn’t very strong. We were already at a high altitude but we were going a few hundred feet higher, to try to see a couple of birds of paradise, the Black Sicklebill and the King of Saxony.


As I feared, it was a very tough climb. I found that my new walking boots weren’t up to scratch and I kept slipping. I soon lost all confidence in them. I think I was saved from falling over by using a walking pole. By the time we arrived at our destination, 90 minutes or so later, I was exhausted and struggling for breath, especially at the high altitude. Everyone else seemed to be ok. Just me, then. They were immediately looking for the birds, whilst I sat down and caught my breath.

Fortunately, I recovered quickly and joined in the hunt. At first, it was a fruitless search, as nothing much was about. It was too cloudy and misty, the rainforest constantly dripping down on us.


We wandered up and down a short, muddy track, looking for anything that moved. One or two birds appeared, such as Yellow-browed Melidectes and Common Smoky Honeyeater, but not our target birds.

Then a female Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia bird of paradise flew in, causing a ripple of excitement amongst us, as we all raised our binoculars. Not long after, the excitement went up a notch, as the male turned up, showing off his very long tail feathers, metallic green head and chest. When its’ feathers caught the ever-improving light we all gasped in delight. Thankfully, the mist and fog had started to disappear.


A King of Saxony bird of paradise then landed on a fruiting tree, not too far away from us. Everyone had great views of it, as it showed off its’ two long head feathers. We were told that it could move either feather individually and independent of the other.

Then suddenly, Joseph pointed to another bird high in the treetops. It was a Brown Sicklebill, another bird of paradise. I managed to fire off a few shots before it flew off. Several other decent birds followed, as the sun came out a little more and burnt the cloud layer off. It was starting to get interesting.

Brown Sicklebill bird of paradise
Other species began to fly in, including Black-breasted Boatbill, Rufous-backed Honeyeater, Friendly and Dimorphic Fantails, Belford’s Melidectes and Red-collared Myzomela. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure where to look, or to stand. Joseph was at one end of the track, while Terry was at the other. Every time one of them whistled we all hurried over.

A little earlier, two barefoot lodge staff had turned up with our breakfast. I was impressed to find still warm bacon and egg sandwiches and cold orange juice. We stayed around the area until about 11, before heading back down. It wasn't quite as gruelling as the trip up, but just as slippery. I had started to walk sideways, to stay upright.

I had actually quite enjoyed the morning, even though it was a gruelling walk, especially up the muddy and slippery trail. However, I had concentrated on trying to pace myself, together with positive thoughts of later relaxing in my room.

Just before we reached home, I spotted a dragonfly, but couldn’t ID it, as it stubbornly refused to settle. Although the brief view it gave reminded me of a Hooktail. I had already photographed a few interesting insects, to the bemusement of the others.


A nice refreshing lunch followed. We were then given a choice of taking a short walk with Joseph around the area, or to do our own thing. I did my own thing, not wanting to overdo it. I was intent on keeping my status as ‘trip wimp’ intact.

Dinner was around 7-ish. We were promised that the next few days would be easy going. I’ve heard that somewhere before. Not long after, I returned to my lodge, carrying a large jug of water. We were warned not to drink the tap water or to brush our teeth with it. I’ve heard that somewhere before, as well!

The next morning, I was up at 4.15 for a 5am breakfast. We were due to set off at 5.30, for a longish drive. Thankfully, today was a very relaxing one. First up was a visit to the famous Kumul Lodge where we spent the morning sitting on the veranda, watching all the birds at a specially set up feeder table. We were told that ‘Kumul’ means bird of paradise. The Lodge was even higher, at almost 2,860m or almost 9,400ft.

And pretty good it was too. A few Ribbon-tailed Aspatria birds of paradise flew in very close, to feed. There were lots of other birds on show, also near enough to photograph, including Brehm’s Tiger Parrot, Belford’s Melidectes and Common Smoky Honeyeater, which were by far the most numerous and frequent visitors, all of them feeding on the specially laid-on papaya. Unfortunately, the table was in the shade, with the sun shining into my face.

Ribbon-tailed Aspatria birds of paradise

Belford’s Melidectes
Common Smoky Honeyeater
We had our packed lunch here and so spent several hours watching and photographing the birds. I also went for a stroll with Joseph, to find some insects. Two gorgeous butterflies, a couple of birds and a lizard, plus hearing lots of frogs were our reward.



Other birds that were seen here included White-winged Robin, Brown-backed Whistler, Friendly Fantail, Grey-streaked Honeyeater, Blue-capped Ifrit, Red-collared Myzomela, Crested and Fan-tailed Berrypeckers and Island Thrush. Julie and I also saw a Ground Cuscus, a species of marsupial, scurrying around, beneath the feeder tables. It was a lovely, relaxing morning - just my type of birding.

Island Thrush
Then we were meant to drive to Polga village to see the ‘Mud Men’ perform. However, we first had to stop off in Town, so that Marilyn and Julie could exchange some money. It took a bit too long, because when we eventually arrived in the area, it had started to rain.

Due to ‘tribal differences’, Joseph had been replaced by Nicholas, our cultural guide, who first took us to visit Tokua Village, where we were given a tribal demonstration. Here, we were shown how they lit a ceremonial fire, the speed of which was quite impressive. Then they all danced and chanted around it. There was an explanation of what was happening, but I had trouble hearing, as I was sat towards the back.


Earlier, as we arrived, we had been challenged, symbolically, by an elderly ‘warrior’ with bow and arrow. The local medicine man, very old and very thin, was in a small hut, fasting. It was all very nice and quaint. And, of course, very photogenic.



Then we thought we were to finally witness the Mud Men ceremony. Only they weren’t quite ready. They were probably still applying the mud.

So we did a bit more birding at nearby Kaip village, to look for Blue bird of paradise that had been seen around the area until they were. We didn’t see it, but we did see a few Ornate Melidectes before the rain came, forcing us back to the minibus. There were also a few large spiders about the area.

Giant Wood Spider


Unfortunately, by the time the Mud Men were eventually ready it had started to pour down. So they cut the demonstration a bit short, although it was very entertaining while it lasted. It was supposed to be all about how their ancestors fought off a much bigger tribe. We were sheltered from the rain whilst watching, all of us clad in our wet weather gear.



Afterwards, we headed for home, making a few birdy stops on the way, eventually arriving about 6.30. We again had dinner at 7. We also found that a party of Americans had arrived and so livened up the evening a bit.

After the checklist I paid my bar bill and headed to bed around 9. We were flying tomorrow, to a very humid area for 3 days and nights.

After breakfast at 6.45, we drove to the airport. This was the bit I'd had reservations about. We were told, before we flew out here, that there may be a ‘weight’ problem, with the luggage, as the plane we were using was quite small. I had tried to keep my luggage to below the recommended 10kgs, the required weight, which I managed, but only just.

As it turned out, there was absolutely nothing to fear. They weighed not only all of our bags but us, too. They only wanted to find out how much fuel to use. I could have brought a few more T-shirts with me!

At 9 we took off in the 10-seater for an hours’ journey to Karawari, which was situated in the middle of the Rainforest. Marilyn was in the seat next to the pilot. I advised her not to touch anything. The journey was notable for the mile after mile of never-ending rainforest, with absolutely no evidence of any human habitation. It was a far cry from the UK, where the rule seemed to be to chop trees down everywhere.


We landed on Karawari Lodge’s private grass runway and were met by Nigel, the Karawari Lodge manager, with a number of lodge staff and quite a few curious local villagers. We transferred to a boat for a 20-minute ride up the river to our Lodge. It was already markedly very hot and humid. I was hoping that I could adapt quickly.


Nigel drove us the short distance to Karawari Lodge. I say ‘drove’, as the ‘bus’ – a converted four-wheel drive - looked like it had seen better days. Before the War probably. The Boer War. The engine was very temperamental and difficult to start. I guess shipping in spare parts out here wasn't easy.


This Lodge too, looked to be a wonderful place, set in amongst all the flora and fauna. There were all sorts of local tribal souvenirs on the walls in the reception area, with lots of big, heavy-looking wooden furniture, which we were told had been carved from the local trees. Then we were given the usual welcome and information, before being introduced to our new guide, Chris.


When I was shown to my room I found that the bed had a large ‘mozzie’ net covering it. There was no air-conditioning, apart from a large fan overhead. It overlooked the rainforest below and for miles around, in most directions. Again, very impressive. All at once, civilisation seemed to be a very long way away. This was like a different world.


Lunch was at noon, followed by the first excursion. It became even hotter and more humid as the day wore on, quite a difference from our previous location. The fact that we were here for 3 days and 3 nights sounded just about right. This was the area that had the most mozzies. I’d already been bitten a few times by other bugs, a few days earlier.

Our first outing turned out to be a very nice lazy, slow trip up river. We spent a couple of hours going upstream and then the engine was switched off, allowing us to float gently back downstream, listening to all the sounds about us. It became quite mesmerising, sitting there, watching the world go by. I decided I could get used to this. If it wasn’t so hot and humid.

There were several good birds to be seen as we chugged around the area, including Pinon’s Imperial Pigeon and Eclectus Parrot, Dusky Lory, Black, Brahminy and Whistling Kites, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Edwards’s Fig Parrot, Zoe’s Imperial Pigeon, Blyth’s Hornbill, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Oriental Dollarbird, Black-browed Triller, Sacred Kingfisher, Great-billed Heron and Glossy and Uniform Swiftlets. To name but a few. A good haul, with most giving some great views.

Brahminy Kite

Eastern Great Egret
…we arrived back a bit later than intended, so dinner was put back to 7.15. When we sat down to dinner we soon found that, out here in the evenings, the lodge lights attracted all the insects in the area and soon the dinner table was almost covered in lots of little invertebrates. I was hoping that they would, at least, be nutritious.

I was in bed about 8.30, after spraying my nightshirt and myself with mozzie juice. The power went off around 10.30, as was the norm here. This meant the overhead fan stopped and you would need a torch for any ‘nocturnal wanderings’ during the night.

Earlier, I had found a hole in my mozzie net and so plugged it up with a sticking plaster to keep the mozzies out. I slept reasonably well, considering the humidity and no air-con.

I was up early again next morning, at 4.15. Last night Terry informed us that we were going to try to see the 12-wired bird of paradise, before breakfast, at a known location.

We headed down river, while it was still dark. However, the stars were out, with the Orion constellation very prominent, on its’ side - landscape instead of the usual portrait. I was a little disappointed not to see the Milky Way. I would have thought that out here, of all places, with no light pollution, we might have had a chance of seeing it.


We soon arrived at our destination, where Chris decided that, as the usual display post for the bird had fallen down, we should disembark and walk inland. We soon arrived at the designated spot, a little clearing and looked up.

Amazingly, within a minute or so, the 12-wired bird of paradise arrived atop the tree. It was a small, yellow and black bird with at least 2 of the 12 wires showing. Unfortunately, it was still too dark to take any worthwhile photos. However, it was quite a good, close view.

After about 15 minutes Chris moved off, scaring the bird of paradise away. It never returned. Not long after, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to return anytime soon, so we headed off. Chris said that it was because no females had turned up, prompting it to display somewhere else.

There were other birds about as well. A Lowland Peltops, a lovely striking red, black and white bird appeared, as did Metallic Starling, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater and a Spangled Drongo and then we spotted a perched Orange-bellied Fruit Dove.


It was around this time that I found out that my camera card was full. Unfortunately, the new camera chews up the memory, allowing only about 300 photos. I had other cards, but I feared that I might have a potential space problem. One of my cameras had already failed on arrival here, due to condensation. There was also a problem loading the photos from the new camera to the iPad. However, they were all problems that could be overcome, with a little bit of effort and planning.

We made our way back to the Lodge for breakfast. I promptly broke a tooth, trying to crunch the pips in one of the many exotic fruits. Why can’t I just have a normal holiday? Fortunately, it didn’t hurt, but I guess it was a trip to the dentist when I arrived home.


Straight after breakfast we headed out, up river again. However, this time we were sat in a dug-out canoe. It was because the same group of Americans that had arrived at our previous hotel were now here and had first preference of boats. They chose the larger boat. Their loss! I didn’t mind, as the dug-out canoe was a great experience.

Not long after we set off, we encountered a young boy in another dugout. He had just speared a large fish, which we were told was a Pacu; a relative of piranha that had been introduced to PNG. It was also called the ‘ball-cutter’, for alledgedly biting the testicles off bathing men. Tom, Bernard, Mike and I all winced. However, we were told that Pacus are entirely vegetarian and that the story was entirely untrue. I made another mental note not to test the theory. Entirely.


Soon, we were disembarking – which was no mean feat – and then we set off for a walk in the Rainforest. Lots of annoying flying insects swarmed around us, presumably after the salt. Or our blood. I could also hear the much-feared mozzies, their high-pitched whine buzzing around my ears. However, we were told that only the females carried the malaria strain and that they only came out at dawn and dusk. I had still drenched myself in mozzie juice, just in case the male mozzies hadn’t been informed.

The guides soon found our target bird – the King bird of paradise, a lovely looking red, white and black bird. However, it gave us all the run-around, flitting around the tree-tops and I only got a couple of fleeting glimpses of it, as did most of the others. It was a very frustrating hour or so.


From here we journeyed back to the Lodge. By now it was really hot and humid, with the sweat streaming off me, soaking my shirt. We had been informed that we wouldn’t be out in the heat between the hours of 10.30 and 3.30. I whispered a grateful ‘thank you’ when I heard that!

The Americans had arrived and we all sat down to lunch. The next outing was at the promised time of 3.30, back in the canoe to the same place, for the same bird. Though the dug-out canoe ride was tempting, I decided to opt out, leaving the others to it and just relaxed in my room.

Wimp status assured I, unknown to the others, made a token effort to have a walk around the Lodge, but didn’t actually see too much. I did see several very colourful butterflies. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get near them.


However, it was too hot and sticky, so I joined Adrienne and Julie, who were sitting outside on the veranda, which overlooked a vast expanse of rainforest, with the river down to our right. We were soon joined by Joanne, the resident and tame Blyth’s Hornbill, who proceeded to sit on Julie’s shoulder and pick at her hair. She took it surprisingly well.

Joanne - the resident Blyth's Hornbill
The rest of the group arrived back, thankfully having seen the King bird of paradise. Dinner was again at 7. Again with associated bugs. The Americans were also there – although they were only here for one day, being on a whistle-stop culture tour. Rather them than me.

After dinner and the checklist, we were entertained by the Karawari Lodge Bamboo Band, which the locals told us was called a ‘Sing-Sing’. Jo and a few of the Americans were dragged up to join in the dancing. Not me, I told them my war wound was playing up. Bed straight after.


It was another early morning call the next morning, at 5.15. By now I was getting used to it. Unfortunately, Marilyn was starting to experience a few problems and sat most of the rest of the trips out. On the plus side, it didn’t appear to be too insufferable for her and she staunchly soldiered on. The Major would have been proud of his Mem’Sahib!

After another exciting 3-minute bouncy drive down to the ‘harbour’ in the clapped out ‘bus’, we headed off, by boat, at around 5.30. We were going to take a walk through the rainforest for an hour or so, but we were having such a good time seeing lots of birds around the area, that we decided to stay on the boat.


Amongst all the exotic birds seen, were Palm Cockatoo, Glossy-mantled Manucode, Great-billed Herons, Black-billed Coucal, Dusky Lory, Nankeen Night Heron, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Papuan Spinetail, Channel-billed Cuckoo and Variable Goshawk. Another brilliant haul of new birds to see.

We also managed to take a quick detour into a small channel, where we saw a female Shining Flycatcher and a male Pacific Koel. It was another very nice, relaxing morning.

We had to be back around 10, so that the Americans could leave for their flight out. We made it, but by only a few minutes. There followed a leisurely couple of hours until lunch, after which we took a local walk around the grounds, on a search for a Red-bellied Pitta. Only Terry managed to see it, several times. I got fed up with the mozzies and left early, along with Julie.


There then followed the now time-honoured tradition of a beer or two before dinner at 7-ish, checklist and then bed.

Back in my room, I found that lots of moths had somehow managed to gain entry. We’d had a spectacular thunderstorm earlier, which may have caused them to try to seek shelter. Unfortunately, they seemed to have been attracted by the outside lights. I wasn’t too bothered, as I managed to photograph a few of the more exotic ones, before retiring to bed.


Another 5.30 alarm call, brekkers was at 6-ish and then we went for a quick walk around the grounds to see the world’s smallest parrot – the Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot. We then saw Red-flanked Lorikeet and Double-eyed Fig Parrot, both in a nearby eucalypt tree. We also spotted Edwards’s Fig Parrot and Red-cheeked and Eclectus Parrot, making it an unusually parroty morning.

Other species seen included Sacred Kingfisher, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Black Sunbird, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, Orange-fronted, Dwarf Koel and Coroneted Fruit Doves and then a flock of Papuan Mountain Pigeons flew over. It had been quite an entertaining hour or so.



It was travel day again, although we were all in agreement that we’d had enough of the heat and humidity – and the mozzies - and so were pleased to be able to travel back up into the mountains and cooler weather. We left the Lodge around 9 for the airport.

There was the usual short delay before we took off, again to an audience of the locals. We were told that it was the highlight of their day. They had come to see the ‘great white bird swallow up and take away all the white people’. Ahem.

Karawari Lodge Airport Departures Lounge
It was a short flight of around 40 minutes to our destination, Ambua, which wasn’t the original one, Tari. Better, in fact, as the bus journey to Ambua Lodge was shorter. It was again a grass runway and we were again met by loads of the locals, all smiling and waving to us. I was very struck by everyone’s evident friendliness out here.


We were informed that Ambua is situated in the Hela Province, in the Central Highlands. The Lodge had taken its’ name from the yellow clay used as face paint by the Huli people, who we were to see a little later.

Our new Lodge was just as superb as the others. All of our accommodation out here seemed to be big and spacious. This time, we were all given one of the outside thatched chalets. It was again another tremendous view from my window.


It was also noticeably cooler here, more like English birding weather, though it wasn’t to Terry’s liking. Being an Aussie, he preferred the heat. I think there was talk of ‘thermals’ being unpacked.

Here, we were again up at around 7,000ft or more. The little ‘chalets’ were set in a very large garden, with lots of flowers. It put me on ‘invert alert’. I’d already photographed two very colourful butterflies on the way to my chalet.



After a short presentation from Dennis, the Lodge Manager, we were introduced to our new guides, Thomas and Joseph. Another very nice lunch followed. Terry and the guides would be taking us out at 2pm for a local walk.

Another group had also turned up at the same time, more Americans. A third group was expected as well. It sounded like it would be quite lively at mealtimes.


The afternoon walk was very nice. It was notable for a pair of Black Sicklebills, which only Julie and I managed to see.

We also spotted Torrent-larks, Slaty Robin, Canary Flyrobin, Black and Friendly Fantails and Mid-mountain Berrypecker. Further on, we saw Black Butcherbird and Great Woodswallow. Not a bad outing, but not many photos.


Apart from the poor light, another thing that surprised me out here was the paucity of insects. I had thought that we would be wading knee-deep in them and having to watch where we put our hands. The reality was that I saw very few. However, the ones that I did see were quite spectacular.

We arrived back at the Lodge where everyone had a coffee, while I had a cold beer. The other group had also been on a bird walk, which they seemed to enjoy.

At 5.30 we were told that a Blue bird of paradise sometimes appeared around the chalets, so we trooped down the pathway, to try to see it. Unfortunately, nothing showed.

Dinner was at 7, followed by the checklist and then bed.

The following day was a RED LETTER DAY!

I was up again at 5.15, for coffee and orange juice before returning to the path outside the chalets, to try for birds of paradise again. This time we were luckier, as the Blue bird of paradise and then a female Brown Sicklebill bird of paradise were spotted. And photographed. In fact, in all, we saw 5 species of bird of paradise before breakfast. Not too shabby!

Brown Sicklebill bird of paradise
Around 8.30-ish, we drove a little ways down the track before alighting and walking in to the Rainforest. We were on the hunt for a Short-tailed Paradigalla, an unpretentious, mostly black, species of bird of paradise.

There followed sighting after sighting of really good birds. Essentially, we spotted around 8 or 9 different species of bird of paradise, this morning, all in the space of a few hours. A female Brown Sicklebill was seen briefly, giving its’ very distinctive tat-tat-tat machine gun-like call. Our luck continued when we saw and heard a male King of Saxony bird of paradise sitting on a branch.

King of Saxony bird of paradise
Further on, we saw a pair of Loria’s Satinbirds, in the company of a female Mid-mountain Berrypecker. Then a female Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia bird of paradise appeared, followed by our target bird, the Short-tailed Paradigalla, delighting everyone. Finally, a pair of Black-breasted Boatbills concluded a highly enjoyable visit to this part of the forest.

Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia bird of paradise
We drove further up the road, seeing Ribbon-tailed Astrapia bird of paradise. Other birds started to appear in the same area, so we decided to walk a little distance to see what else was about.

Not long after, while we looking for Salvadori’s Teal - which we didn’t find - we were rewarded by seeing a wonderful New Guinea Harpy Eagle fly past. A rare event out here - too good for words!

Other birds spotted in this area included Papuan Grassbird, Large Scrubwren and New Guinea Thornbill. It was a very special morning and we were all still buzzing during lunch.

There was a little bit of local birding afterwards and then we headed off, in the bus, to return to the same spot we were at earlier this morning - Tari Gap. This time we saw Long-tailed Shrike and two Island Thrushes. A little later a female Crested Satinbird, a female Regent Whistler, Red-collared Myzomela and Black Monarch appeared.

Unfortunately, as these birds were all a bit distant, the only thing I managed to photograph was a family herding pigs. The weather had turned, bringing heavy cloud. Fortunately, it didn’t rain.


A little later, when the clouds went away we alighted from the bus again and took a walk down the track, eventually seeing some pretty good birds, including lots more Ribbontails, plus a lovely Black-mantled Goshawk, another Blue-capped Ifrit, Papuan Scrubwren, Friendly Fantail, Papuan Lorikeet, Painted Tiger Parrot and a male Tit Berrypecker, which, to me, resembled a Great Tit.

Then, a Papuan Mountain Pigeon flew over and perched on a tree, in the distance. Terry tried to get the scope on it, but inadvertently pointed it straight at a King of Saxony bird of paradise! How lucky was that!


Satisfied with our day, we drove back to the Lodge, where we did another 15 minutes or so lodge birding. There was nothing more to be seen and, as my back was playing up, I returned to my room.

Dinner was again at 7. I managed to get to bed just after 8. I was pleased that, so far, my stomach was behaving itself. I was religiously watching what and how much I ate. So far, it had worked.

I rose at 6 the next morning, meeting up with the others, for coffee, before having a look for more birds of paradise outside the chalets again. Unfortunately, it was too dark and cloudy, with a hint of rain. However, we did see a few fleeting birds of paradise zipping around the area. It was amazing how many there were, here in this Lodge area, around our chalets. There were also more insects to see!





We had an early breakfast, another last look and then we were off on another visit. The fun machine just never stops around here!

We did a bit of birding from the bus, not very successfully, before another highlight of the trip - the world-famous Huli Wigmen spectacle. Thomas, our head guide translated while the Wigmen did their thing. We heard all about how the wigs were grown, cut and rented. Yes, rented. I was offered one, much to everyone’s amusement. I politely declined, saying I couldn’t afford it.



To my delight, just behind them, a damselfly landed. When the men had finished their presentation I got a little closer to photograph it. It looked like a Blue-tail. My first photographed odonata of the trip!


After the demonstration we were taken to see a Greater Sooty Owl, where we paid the local landowner 10-wotsits. If we had failed to see it, then we wouldn’t have had to pay. That wouldn’t have happened in the UK. I was quite happy to pay either way.


Our last stop before lunch was to Joseph’s Orchid garden. I had thought that it would be an ordinary little garden, but it was a maze of paths and trails about an acre big. It was very impressive.

We were then given a choice, after lunch, to either go birding in the forest or stay at the Lodge. As it was raining I stayed at the Lodge. Wimp-mode had kicked in again.

When the rain cleared a little later, I did a circuit of the gardens again, like I had the day before. I spotted 2 small Praying Mantis, not nearly as large as the adult I had seen yesterday, on a similar walk. That one was about as big as my hand!



It had started to rain again so I returned to my room. While the others headed out again, Adrienne, Julie, Marilyn and I watched a film called ‘First Contact’, about the initial arrival of Europeans and Australians to PNG.

Afterwards, I showered and changed and headed up to the reception area, for dinner, around 6.30. It was pouring with rain by then and I got a little wet. After dinner and the checklist, I had another early night.

It was another early start the next morning, to again try for the local birds of paradise. It was a much clearer and sunnier morning. We saw the female Blue bird of paradise again, as well as a Short-tailed Paradigalla bird of paradise. A few of the other Group were with us this time, all eagerly looking up, eyes straining in the search for birds.

Short-tailed Paradigalla bird of paradise

Blue bird of paradise
Breakfast followed, then more local birding, until we left the Lodge at 11.15-ish to catch the flight to Port Moresby. Ambua Lodge was by far my favourite place out here and I was sorry to leave.


There was some confusion regarding the flights. No one seemed to know which flight we were on or at what time. Finally, Terry sorted it out. The flight would, or should be, around 2.30-ish.

This, of course, gave us a bit more time to do some final birding at the Lodge before we left. Sat in a nice comfortable lounge, we saw Black Pitohui, Little Shrikethrush, male Sclater’s Whistler, Black and Friendly Fantails, Black Monarch, Buff-faced Scrubwren and Slaty Robin. A nice ending to our visit.

Packed, checked out, bar bill paid, tips given out, we left for the short journey to Tari airport.

I say ‘airport’. It was a bit basic. The departures lounge was a circular straw hut. Airport security was interesting, too. Bags weighed – mine was 13.3kgs. My new bag was proving to be a very good buy. A wheelie! We waited in the ‘departures lounge’ for about an hour, until our flight boarded. Everyone seemed obliged to give their lunch away to the locals. I was quite happy to, mine had a seafood filling.

Tari Airport Departures Lounge
I had a window seat, but a local woman was in the aisle seat, with a new-born baby. I suggested that, rather than I climb over her, she move to the window seat. Where she promptly ran out of bottled milk and began to breast-feed. I read a magazine.

About 90 minutes later we arrived in Port Moresby. It was a quick out of plane and bag retrieval and then we were met by the same local staff again and driven back to the Airlines hotel.

Terry had informed us that we wouldn’t be in similar rooms like the last time, as those rooms were allocated to us by mistake. Our new rooms weren’t going to be as classy. We checked in and then walked outside to our rooms, wandering what to expect.

I was gobsmacked. My room – the ‘Directors Suite’ was a two-tier place, complete with kitchenette, 2 TVs, 3-piece suite, 2 fans, dimmer switches, writing table and upstairs bedroom. Even the TV and fan remote controls were in leather wallets.

I had to walk upstairs to get to bed and downstairs to get to the shower room. Can’t have everything, I suppose! Terry was in the next room to me and his was similarly laid out.


Because of our late arrival, there was no birding in the afternoon. I just had time for a quick shower and was back out at 5.30 for a beer before dinner. Terry, as usual, was already there.

There was a final checklist and then Terry gave us some leaving information. Then it was bed. It was to be our last day tomorrow.

Up at 5 for a 6 o’clock start to go birding one last time, at the PAU wetland reserve we had visited at the start of the holiday. It was an unscheduled trip and so we had to pay a bit extra. No problem for me, I needed to get rid of the local currency before I flew home.

This visit turned out to be the best non-birding day of the trip. Not only did we see plenty of wetland birds I spotted several odonata species. We stayed for a couple of hours. I could have stayed longer.

First up, the birds. Three Papuan Frogmouths were seen, looking like tree-stumps, as were Radjah Shelduck, Green Pygmy Goose, Comb-crested Jacana, Australasian Swamphen, Wandering Whistling Duck, Pied Heron, Australian White Ibis and Dusky Moorhen. A little later, we spotted Pheasant Coucal, Brown Quail, Coconut Lorikeet, Black-backed Butcherbird, Red-cheeked Parrot and White-breasted Woodswallow.

Comb-crested Jacana

Pied Heron
Delighted as I was to see them, I mainly concentrated on the odonata, that I had excitingly discovered around the area. Eventually, I managed to photograph around half-a-dozen species, later identifying some as Green and Ground Skimmer and Painted Grasshawk. I was ecstatic!

Green Skimmer

Ground Skimmer

Painted Grasshawk
However, all too soon, it was back to the hotel for the final presentation of tea and medals and for a quick shower, re-pack and meet the coach to take us to the airport, at 11.15. All bills and tips paid we bade everyone farewell.

From here it was thankfully all pretty straightforward. We had a few hours to wait, in the Port Moresby departures lounge, where we bade Terry, Mike and Jo farewell. They were flying off to Brisbane. Soon after, the rest of us were flying off, back to Singapore.

At Singers, we said goodbye to Adrienne, who was staying for three nights, before travelling home. It was a surprisingly and wonderfully quick 13-hour flight to Heathrow.

It was a fairly painless trip through Heathrow airport security and then, while waiting for the bags to arrive, I said goodbye to Tom, Bernard and Julie.

That left Marilyn and I. With bags retrieved we headed to the coach station for our trip to Stansted. I said farewell to the Mem’Sahib when we arrived – she was being met by her husband, the Major!

I eventually arrived home just before 11.30am, pleasantly satisfied that I had avoided any illnesses.

Top trip!

NB: Insects with meals are optional!


Dispela man bai i bekim pe long olgeta samting.
Translation: ‘This gentleman will pay for everything.’



For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.
Or you could follow me on Twitter!