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A Report from

West Papua, Indonesia, 27 April-27 May 2011,


Nicolaas van Zalinge and Wim van der Schot

Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise  – Sorong, April 2011 (photo NvZ)

1. Summary

West Papua with its extensive forests and great variety of habitats is one of the most important areas for biodiversity in the world. It is particularly noted for its avifauna with numerous species of birds of paradise. However, it is not an easy destination. There is little infrastructure and in order to see the birds, it is necessary to walk into the damp forests and camp out there. This means coping with mud, mosquitoes, bush mites (and sometimes leeches), often poor visibility and shy birds. In addition, tribal land rights should be respected.

With three others we (all of us aged 55+) joined a tour organized by Papua Expeditions ( and very ably guided by the young Iwein Mauro and his wife, Like (pronounce Leeke) Wijaya. We birded at the following locations: Sorong, Waigeo island and an atoll in the Dampier strait, the Arfak Mountains, the Baliem Valley and Habbema plateau, Lake Sentani and the Nimbokrang lowland forest. Nicolaas privately extended his stay in West Papua by visiting Biak island after the tour had ended. Wim visited Lore Lindu in Sulawesi, which is not part of West Papua and hence not included in this report.

Even though the tour was advertised as ‘easy’, at some of the locations circumstances were certainly ‘not easy’ being aggravated by unusual heavy rainfall and at one locality by hostile tribesmen. Therefore, two of the participants left before the completion of the trip.

Each day during the trip the bird species seen were recorded. In total we saw 240 bird species, which included 135 that were endemic to New Guinea and among which were 14 Bird-of-Paradise (BoP) species and four Bowerbirds. Hardly any of the BoP were seen displaying, suggesting that this time of the year may not have been optimal or that the adverse weather conditions affected this behavior. A full list of birds and other animals seen during the trip is given Section 8.

2. Introduction

West Papua, formerly Netherlands New Guinea, became a province of Indonesia in 1963 after a six months UN transitional period during which only limited consultation of the indigenous people took place. In fact, a serious ‘Act of Free Choice’ was never carried out, which is the cause of some resentment under the Papuan population.

Traditionally, all land is tribally owned. Hence birders are considered trespassing, when leaving the public road. Papua Expeditions therefore seek permission from tribal heads before entering ancestral lands. They pay birding fees, that should be applied to benefit all members of the tribe, thereby trying to convince them that eco-friendly use of the land also pays and is sustainable contrary to tree-cutting, etc. Independent birders should keep this in mind and seek permission in advance.

In West Papua some 663 bird species have been recorded, of which 315 are endemic to New Guinea and occur in West Papua (based on Coates 2001). Most of the endemics occur within the extensive rainforest regions. Forest birding is particularly challenging, as New Guinea birds tend to be very shy. This shyness probably reflects a long history of exploitation by local people for food and ceremonial dress. Unlike in Africa, there are no large mammals, that could form an alternative source of meat. It appeared that the Birds of Paradise were not the most difficult ones to see. Hunting for them is more selective and tribesmen protect the birds occurring on their land.

The tour organizers list 414 species (of which 240 New Guinea endemics) which can potentially be encountered during the ‘easy’ tour. In reality we only recorded 240 species, including 135 endemics.

As West Papua does not have much infrastructure and only limited tourist accommodation,  it was often necessary to walk considerable distances into the rainforest in order to reach suitable birding spots and to camp.  Fortunately, porters to help with carrying baggage and food, clearing trails and fetching firewood and water had been arranged.

The tour was led by Iwein Mauro of Papua Expeditions. He has the Belgian nationality, speaks Indonesian fluently (plus Dutch, English and French) and is the re-discoverer of Bruijn’s Brush-turkey on Waigeo. He is very knowledgeable about Papuan birds and their calls. His wife, Like Wijaya,  is a charming Indonesian lady and hails from the (former) ruling family of the Raja Empat islands. She prepared her excellent meals on a wood fire. Water was taken from a nearby stream and filtered. Despite the primitive circumstances none of us suffered stomach problems during the whole trip.

During the day we were frequently bitten by mosquitoes despite using Deet, but did not suffer ill effects. Daily we took malaria prophylaxis (Malarone) and at night we slept under  mosquito nets. Bush mites were particularly rampant on Waigeo and on Biak. Bites result in itchy red blotches on the feet and legs that last a few weeks which - although irritating - are thought to be harmless. The best prevention for getting bitten is to wear boots.

Rainfall. Although May is supposed to be at the start of the lesser wet part of the year, it rained daily and sometimes in great quantities due to the ENSO effect. This affected the muddy tracks, in particular in the Arfak mountains, where we climbed from sea level up to 2000m and (slithered) down again. In the lowlands of Nimbokrang the forest floor was largely inundated during our stay. Knee-high rubber boots are therefore essential (as was recommended by the tour organizers), and those of us without suffered foot problems, as shoes would not dry out during the nights. The high humidity requires high quality binoculars (to avoid ‘steaming up’).

Government bans on alcohol are now in force in both Wamena and Manokwari regencies and alcohol is available only in some of the larger towns.

Money. One needs sufficient cash Rupiah as foreign currency is not widely accepted. At major airports (e.g. Jakarta, Makassar) there are banks where credit cards can be used to draw money or Euros exchanged. The exchange rate with the dollar was around Rs.9,000 per one US$. We found that during the tour itself not much cash was needed.

3. Trip account

We flew with Garuda Airways from Amsterdam via Jakarta to Makassar (Sulawesi) and onwards with Merpati to Sorong, where the guides (Iwein and Like) live and the participants gathered. For citizens of the EU a one-month visa for Indonesia is obtainable at the airport for US$ 25. A ‘surat jalan’ (internal travel permit) is required in West Papua and this was taken care of by Papua Expeditions.

Sorong. We stayed at the comfortable Meridien hotel in town. Visits were made in the vicinity, including a 1.5 hr early morning drive to a spot where a male Twelve-wired BoP has a display post close to the road. This turned out to be best opportunity to see this species. Other important birds seen here were the Black Lory, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra and the Crinkle-collared Manucode.

Waigeo. A water taxi took us from Sorong harbor across the Dampier strait to Waigeo island, where we landed at the mouth of a small river. We camped a short walk inland not far from the river (for washing). The boat remained at the landing site during our time on the island. The most important birds to see here are the Wilson’s BoP and the Red BoP (both are endemic to Waigeo and Batanta islands). The Wilson’s BoP male displays at a fixed court arena on the ground and can be seen (with some luck) from a hide placed nearby. The Red BoP males gather in certain trees. We saw several Wilson’s BoPs, but none had spiral tail feathers, as they were molting at this time of the year.

Camp on Waigeo island, May 2011(photo NvZ)

On the way back to Sorong we visited an atoll in the Dampier strait, which is interesting for its (coral) island specialists, including the Beach Kingfisher, Dusky Megapode, White-bibbed Fruit-dove and the Olive Honeyeater.

Dampier strait coral island with Beach Kingfisher (photo WvdS)

Arfak. From Sorong to Manokwari we travelled by plane (Express Air) and from there to the Arfak trailhead by car. After a two days strenuous walk uphill we reached the final camp at 1600m, where we stayed three nights and explored the woods up to 2000m. The return walk again took two days. The in-between camp was at 1000m.

Bower of the Vogelkop Bowerbird,  Arfak mountains (photo NvZ)

At 500m we sat in a hide for at least one hour to see the Magnificent BoP for about one minute. At 1500m there was a hide for the Western Parotia BoP. Having sat there for an afternoon in the rain and being stung by numerous mosquitoes I (Nicolaas) was finally rewarded with the view of a displaying bird for a couple of minutes. The wait was well worth it. The performance, even though short lived, of a bird that expanded to nearly double its size, was really stunning.

Other major highlights were: Long-tailed Paradigalla, Arfak Astrapia (a male with a nearly 1m long tail), Vogelkop and Flame Bowerbird, Black Sicklebill, Red-breasted Pygmy Parrot (at its nesthole), Red-collared Myzomela, etc. In addition, we found the brilliantly constructed bowers of the Vogelkop Bowerbird, and a roosting Feline Owlet-Nightjar close to the camp.

Baliem. In Manokwari we took the plane to Jayapura/Sentani (Batavia Air) and continued to Wamena in the Baliem valley (Trigana Air). The next day we were dropped near Lake Habbema (3200m) by two pick-up cars. This was about three hrs driving from Wamena (1600m). As the plan was to camp out there, the cars returned having off-loaded all equipment. However, when we visited the lake side, we were summoned by a group of angry Papuans, who claimed to be representatives of the government of the newly established Nduga Regency. They accused us of trespassing the area without permission and asked us for a large sum of money. But as we did not have this, we were ordered to sit in the open back of their pick-up. Their intention was to abduct us to their village further along the road.

As it happened, there was a deep gully to be crossed and while doing this they damaged the cooling system of the car to the extent that the car had to return to Wamena for repairs. As no other traffic would be passing by, they decided to leave us near the lake and told us that they would come back and pick us up again the next day. Fortunately, Iwein, our guide, had a satellite telephone and was able to organize the return of the same cars that took us up in the morning with an armed guard of four soldiers. They arrived that same night and we had a safe trip back to Wamena. The following day we stayed in Wamena and visited the Ibele valley and other places. The event was reported to the police. The Habbema lake area is considered to belong to the Ibele tribe which receives a fee from Papua Expeditions for allowing access. By contrast, the abductors belonged to a different tribe (the Nduga). We were told that a convoy of seven cars chartered by the same Nduga people indeed did go up on the Habbema road early that morning, making clear that we had escaped potentially far greater trouble.

Even though our stay at the Lake Habbema site was very short, we were lucky enough to see Salvadori’s Teal, Snow Mountain Quail and a few other species, but unfortunately failed to see birds such as the Macgregor”s BoP.

Lake Sentani. From Wamena we flew back to Sentani, where we stayed 2 nights. In the wetlands around the lake we saw the Grand, Hooded and Chestnut-breasted Munias. In the scattered patches of woodland Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, White-shouldered Fairy-wren, Channel-billed Cuckoo and Lesser Black Coucal were recorded. Two participants had had enough and decided not to join the trip to Nimbokrang and to fly home.

Nimbokrang camp with sleeping platforms (photo NvZ).

Nimbokrang. From Sentani a two-hour drive took us to the Nimbokrang area. We were dropped at a trail head and walked for more than 5 hrs into the lowland forest.

Progress was very slow as it had rained heavily prior to our visit and the forest floor was inundated for most parts with the small streams nearly overflowing. We reached the camp - an open muddy spot in the forest - after dark. We stayed there for three nights and experienced a lot of rain.

Nimbokrang camp with Wim van der Schot (first left)t,  Like Wijaya, Iwein Mauro and Ian Campbell (far right), (photo NvZ).

The Nimbokrang forest is in the coastal lowlands, which are quite rich in bird species. Top birds included: Black-and-white, Hook-billed and Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Black-capped Parrot, Jungle Hawk-Owl, King BoP, Pale-billed Sicklebill, Victoria Crowned Pigeon and the Northern Cassowary.

From Nimbokrang we returned to Sentani. This was the end of the guided tour. Wim left for Makassar and flew onward to Palu and then by road to Lore Lindu on Sulawesi. Later we met again at Makassar and flew home together to Amsterdam.

Biak island. Privately, I had made prior arrangements to fly to Biak and stay there another six days. Initially, I lodged in a convenient hotel (Aerotel Irian) near the airport to give me time to get my bearings. Then I moved to a ‘losmen’ (Ms. Agustina’s guesthouse) in Bosnik, which was much closer to the forested areas in the east of the island around the village of Makmakerbo. One-way took about 1.5 hrs on the back of a motorcycle. I planned to arrive in the forest at day-break (about 6 am) and left around noon, as it often rained in the afternoons. In Makmakerbo I also met with the local chief and hired him to ‘guide’ me.

Biak is a fairly large island in the Geelvink Bay which is fringed with coral. The island supports 8-10 additional endemics (depending on what splits one follows), including such goodies as the Biak Red Lory, Geelvink Pygmy Parrot, Biak Paradise-kingfisher and the Biak Monarch. Other notable birds included the Yellow-bibbed and Claret-breasted Fruit-doves, and the Spice Imperial Pigeon.

In Makmakerbo woodcutters had captured a Biak Spotted Cuscus, which is a threatened species due to the continuing logging of the forest.

The guesthouse was practically on the beach and after a morning birding, it was great to relax in the warm ocean water. These days on Biak were the most relaxed ones of my stay in West Papua.

Biak Spotted Cuscus - Makmakerbo, Biak (photo NvZ).

4. Conclusion

Nicolaas is of the age-group from which  individuals were sent out as soldiers to former Dutch New Guinea in the early sixties and always wanted to visit those places with legendary names, such as Manokwari, Baliem, Biak, etc. Therefore he is happy to have made the trip. Apart from this, we feel that the joys of birding in West Papua did not outweigh the hardships experienced. Even though both of us coped well with the difficulties, we think we would have taken it better at a younger age. From the information provided we did not expect it to be an ‘easy’ tour, but the other  participants were not sufficiently prepared for such a demanding itinerary.

Unfortunately, the security situation at the Lake Habbema area had unexpectedly deteriorated. Papua Expeditions has stopped going there since.

5. References


Dutch Birding

Other books

6. Acknowledgements

The escorted tour was run by Iwein Mauro and his wife Like Wijaya. We are grateful to Iwein for sharing his knowledge of the West Papuan birds and in particular for keeping his cool during the attempted kidnapping in the Baliem. We also would like to thank Like for her good humor at all times and for cooking excellent meals under very difficult circumstances. Both Iwein Mauro and Chris Goldspink commented on this report.

7. Itinerary and (rough) map of West Papua





27 Apr

Departure Amsterdam.


28 Apr

Arrival in Makassar via Jakarta. Overnight in Hotel Transit.


29 Apr

Flight to Sorong. Afternoon birding.


30 Apr

Early morning trip to 12-wire BoP. Afternoon boat to Waigeo island.


1 May

Waigeo. Wilson’s BoP hides.


2 May

Waigeo. Hides plus walks.


3 May

Departure from Waigeo. Boat to coral island and then to Sorong.


4 May

Flight to Manokwari. Overnight in Transmigration village.


5 May

Arfak mountains. Walk from sea level to 1000m camp


6 May

Arfak. Walk from 1000 to 1600m camp.


7 May

Arfak. Birding around 1600m camp. Vogelkop Bowerbird bowers, etc.


8 May

Arfak. Walk uphill to 2000m. Arfak Astrapia, etc


9 May

Arfak. First uphill for Black Sicklebill, later to 1000m camp


10 May

Arfak. Walk down to sea level. Overnight in Fujita hotel, Manokwari.


11 May 

Flight from Manokwari via Sentani to Wamena, Baliem valley. Ibele valley.


12 May

Drive up to Lake Habbema area and visit to the lake. Confrontation with Papuan tribal people. Return to Wamena at night.


13 May

Stayed in Baliem Pilamo hotel. Ibele valley.


14 May

Flight back to Sentani and visit to lake. Overnight in hotel Ratna Indah.


15 May

Departure of 2 participants. Drive to Nimbokrang and 5-hr walk to camp.


16 May

Nimbokrang. Walk in the forest.


17 May

Nimbokrang. Walk in the forest.


18 May

Nimbokrang. Return walk and drive to Sentani.  Ratna Indah hotel.


19 May

End of the guided tour. Wim departed for Makassar and Sulawesi.


20 May

Nicolaas flew to Biak island. Overnight in Aerotel Iriani. Visit to Kota Biak.


21 May

Biak. Taxi to Bosnik. Visit to Taman Burung (bird park). 


22 May

Biak. Moved to Ms. Agustina’s guesthouse in Bosnik.


23 May

Biak. Early morning trip to forest in Makmakerbo area. Afternoon swim.


24 May

Biak. Early morning trip to forest in Makmakerbo area. Afternoon swim


25 May

Biak. Early morning trip to forest in Makmakerbo area. Return to Aerotel Iriani.


26 May

Flight via Makassar to Jakarta and Amsterdam. We met again in Makassar.


27 May

Arrival in Amsterdam.

Full Bird List: (200kB .pdf )


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