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A Report from

Papua New Guinea, 4 - 16 October 1998,

Jan Vermeulin



-                              Introduction
-                              Flight and visa
-                              Money
-                              Cost
-                              Accommodation
-                              Food and drink
-                              Medical precautions
-                              Language
-                              When to go
-                              Weather
-                              Transport and roads
-                              Safety
-                              Equipment
-                              Nomenclature & taxonomy
-                              Maps and sketch maps
-                              Common birdspecies
-                              Acknowledgements
-                              Useful addresses
-                              References



-                              Pacific Adventists' University Grounds
-                              Varirata National Park
-                              Kiunga
-                              Tabubil
-                              Tari


-                              Systematic list of birds & Dip list



This report covers a visit to Papua New Guinea from 4 - 16 October 1998.

I was accompanied by Vital van Gorp and Gerald Broddelez. Papua New Guinea does not tend to feature high on the list for places to go for most world birders, probably as a result of the high cost and of adverse reports regarding the security situation in the country.

The release of David Attenborough's documentary "Attenborough in Paradise" and the 1996 kidnapping incident in Irian Jaya has brought Papua New Guinea well and truly back on the world's birder's map and rightly so.

New Guinea is the tallest tropical island (2,300 km long) and the second largest overall (after Greenland) on earth and to this day remains one of the wildest, most sparsely settled regions on earth.

Until recently, travel in Papua New Guinea was thought to be for rugged explorers and was often thought of as the final frontier in international birdwatching. This has changed as the country's infrastructure has developed over the past decade. There are still only a few major roads, hence the best way to get from site to site is by the far-reaching internal air network.

Many people have the misimpression that a birding trip to Papua New Guinea must be unusually demanding or uncomfortable. For all of Papua New Guinea's remoteness, however, travel is quite easy and accommodations are very good.

Our trip concentrated on the endemic bird life of the lowland rainforests, the highlands and the coastal area.

Over 700 species of birds are found in New Guinea (mainland PNG & Irian Jaya). In total 269 species are endemic to New Guinea. There are many near-endemics, most of which are shared only with Australia. Almost all of the endemics are restricted to primary rainforest and to see a high percentage of them will require hard work, patience and a bit of luck. Birding in Papua New Guinea is certainly difficult, but no more difficult than birding in the Orient.

The total of 310 species we saw during the 12 days trip was well in excess of our pre-trip expectations and included most of the key species including 22 birds-of-paradise, Dwarf Cassowary, Forest Bittern, New Guinea Eagle, Pesquet's (Vulturine) Parrot, Shovel-billed Kookaburra, 2 species of jewel-babbler, Crested Berrypecker and a host of other goodies.

With its wonderful avifauna - especially the splendour and uniqueness of the many species of birds-of-paradise - PNG is a must for the avid birder. Birds-of-paradise, I am glad to say, are not too difficult to locate with most of them being fairly common. Therefore I can only repeat Richard Webb's words:



There are a number of alternative carriers to Papua New Guinea, but none of them are cheap. Vital and I travelled to Port Moresby via Sydney (Qantas). Our return-ticket (KLM) for the air journey to Sydney cost us about $1200 (¦ 2,200).

The flights were almost punctual and troublefree. Gerald used Air Singapore from Brussels - Singapore and Air Niugini from Singapore -  Port Moresby. There was a cheaper route via South Korea (Seoul) but this involved extra days travelling and was not ideal for us.

Our Pacific Airpass (Qantas) cost $900 (¦ 1,700) and included a return flight from Sydney to Nouméa (New Caledonia) and a return flight from Sydney to Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea).

The internal flights in Papua New Guinea (Air Niugini Airlines, Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) & MBA) cost about $300 (¦ 575).

A visa (¦ 20) is necessary for a visit to Papua New Guinea (embassy in Brussels, Belgium), but it is also possible to get a visa when arriving at the airport in Port Moresby.


The PNG currency is the kina. In October 1998 the exchange rate was K1.18 : ¦1.

In July 1997 the exchange rate was K0.63 : ¦1!

We only changed money at the airport although it is also possible to change money at most major hotels including the Airways Hotel. All major credit cards are accepted.


As mentioned above Papua New Guinea is expensive and the trip worked out at about ¦ 9,000 (US$ 4,500) per person, but then again is much cheaper than the prices of the bird tour companies.


All sites have convenient hotel facilities fairly close by. All types of formal accommodation are fairly expensive, but the lodges of Trans Niugini Tours are horrendously expensive.

Hotel Airways, Port Moresby                                K 145 for a three-bed room

Kiunga Guest House, Kiunga                                K 285 for a three-bed room

Hotel Cloudlands, Tabubil                                      K 155 for a double room

Hotel Cloudlands, Tabubil                                      K 110 for a single room

Ambua Lodge, Tari                                                   US$ 245 per person including meals and transport


Reasonable meals were available at the hotels and lodges where we stayed. Bottled water is readily available in most areas, although we also drunk non-bottled water at the Ambua Lodge without problems, in fact stomach problems were non existent.


Check with your physician for the latest news on the need for malaria prophylaxis and recommended vaccinations before leaving home. Polio, typhoid, yellow fever and hepatitis are recommended. Probably the main health concern is malaria. Some birders have caught malaria in Papua New Guinea and full precautions should be taken, as well as other preventive measures, such as using insect repellent. We encountered many mosquitoes during the trip, especially in the lowlands.

Be sure to get enough malaria tablets for your trip, and do take them! Take the Lariam Roche tablets rather than the nivaquine/chloroquine combination, because of the high level of chloroquine resistance in Papua New Guinea.

Chiggers were a great problem and a good repellent plus antihistamine tablets and cream are strongly recommended! Ask Vital and Gerald!

Since last year's drought all the leeches were gone and we did not see a single one.

Finally, beware of the sun. Hats and long-sleeved shirts are essential kit.


700 distinct languages are spoken by the native people. English is the official language in Papua New Guinea and is widely spoken everywhere.


The tour companies visit Papua New Guinea throughout the year. We chose October, because in this time of year the tour companies had not booked the guides at Kiunga and Tari. It was a good decision as we only lost two afternoons to the weather and many of the BOPs were actively displaying.


Hot weather, cold weather and wet weather birding gear will all be needed for an extensive birding trip, as hot, humid damp days give way to chilly nights in the highlands, when the temperature can drop to freezing.

During the time we spent in Papua New Guinea it was mostly dry and sunny with the exception of the days at Tari, where it rained heavily almost every afternoon.


There are still only a few major roads in Papua New Guinea. Hence the best way to get from site to site is by air, although the majority of birding visitors tend to be on organised tours which provide transport between airstrips and lodges, because travelling by Public Motor Vehicle (PMV) is only totally safe in some areas of the country.


Papua New Guinea is potentially a violent country with muggings commonplace. This is only a problem within the capital Port Moresby. Away from so-called civilisation the people in Papua New Guinea are very friendly.

Kiunga, Tabubil and Tari are safe areas to visit.

The Port Moresby area is one of the most dangerous in the world and travel after dark inadvisable.

Our taxi driver became very nervous when we stopped just outside Port Moresby to buy some soft drinks and urged us to return quickly to the car.

Some localities principally Motaika Sewage Works are generally considered unsafe to visit but the Pacific Adventists' University grounds and Varirata NP were fine.

Birders who are careful will complete a birding trip to Papua New Guinea without too many harrowing tales to tell, as we did.


A small tape recorder is quite useful for drawing in birds, but for the most part not essential.

A good torch is a must. A telescope is useful at coastal sites and lakes and very useful for viewing canopy species especially from roadsides. An altimeter is useful while visiting the mountains.

Forget waterproof clothing - a warm jumper or jacket and an umbrella is far more useful.


In Papua New Guinea there is much confusion regarding the English names for birds, and often each author, having their own preferences which results in the same species having up to 2 or 3 different names.

I have decided to follow the English names of James F. Clements (July 1991, Birds of the World, A Check List).

Species in brackets are the English names in "Birds of New Guinea" by Bruce M. Beehler, Thane K. Pratt and Dale Zimmerman, but only mentioned when these differ significantly from the Clements Check List.


Although I have tried to make all the maps as accurate as possible, please allow for the vagaries of memory. The sketch maps are NOT to scale!


The following list of birds we saw frequently and if you spend any sort of time in the right habitats you will too:

Brahminy Kite, Papuan Mountain-Pigeon, Orange-breasted Fig-Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Rainbow Lorikeet, Glossy Swiftlet, Dollarbird, Blyth's Hornbill, New Guinea Friarbird, Smoky Honeyeater, Willie-Wagtail, Frilled Monarch, Pacific Swallow.


Many thanks to Mark van Beirs for his great help and valuable advise in planning this trip and last but not least to Marijke de Lannoy who coped admirably with our frequent changes of itinerary.


Samuel Kepuknai
Kiunga Nature Tours
P.O. Box 273
Kiunga 335
Western Province
Papua New Guinea
Fax: (675) 548 1195

Ambua Lodge, Tari
Postal Address
Trans Niugini Tours PTY.LTD
(Paul Liss)
P.O. Box 371
Mount Hagen
Papua New Guinea
Fax: (675) 542 2470
Tel: (675) 542 1438
Web Site:

Kiunga Guest House
P.O. Box 20
Western Province
Papua New Guinea
Fax: (675) 548 1195
Tel: (675) 548 1188 / 548 1084

Hotel Cloudlands
P.O. Box 226
Western Province
Papua New Guinea
Fax: (675) 548 9301



-              Bruce M. Beehler, Thane K. Pratt, and Dale A. Zimmerman. Birds of New Guinea The essential reference.

-              James F. Clements.Birds of the World. A Check List.

-              C. Hilary Fry, Katherine Fry and Alan Harris. Kingfishers, Bee-eaters & Rollers.

-              Wheeler & Murray. Lonely Planet: Papua New Guinea survival kit. Useful for pre-trip planning.

-              Nigel Wheatley. Where to Watch Birds in Australasia and Oceania.. Useful at the planning stage.


-              Don Roberson. Papua New Guinea 10 - 30 October 1983.

-              Tony Palliser. Report on a birding trip July 30 - October14, 1987.

-              Jon Hornbuckle. Papua New Guinea 15 June - 13 July 1995.

-              Richard Webb. Papua New Guinea 28 June - 19 July 1997.

Richard Webb's report was the principal source of reference of our trip, an excellent site guide.


BirdBase and BirdArea. Since 1996 I use this software to keep track of the birds I have seen and to make lists of any country, labelling endemics and birds previously seen in that country, outside it, or both.

BirdArea can produce checklists of the birds of any country of Clements' world birds.


We spent the bare minimum of time at Tabubil and Varirata National Park.

Extra time would have been particularly useful at Tabubil.

October  4               Sydney - Port Moresby
October  5               Port Moresby - Daru - Kiunga * KM17
October  6               Kiunga * Gre Dringas Road * area south of Kiunga
October  7               Kiunga * Fly River & Elevara River
October  8               Kiunga * Fly River - Tabubil * Ok Tedi River
October  9               Tabubil * Mount Robinson * Dablin Creek * Ok Ma Road
October 10              Tabubil * Dablin Creek * Ok Ma Road - Tari - Ambua Lodge
October 11              Tari Gap * Ambua Lodge
October 12              Tari Gap * Ambua Lodge
October 13              Tari Valley * Ambua Lodge
October 14              Ambua Lodge - Tari - Port Moresby * Pacific Adventists' University
October 15              Port Moresby * Varirata National Park
October 16              Port Moresby * Varirata National Park - Sydney
October 17/18         Sydney * Royal National Park - Singapore - Amsterdam - Chaam


For a detailed report of species and numbers please refer to the systematic list at the end of this report.

Details of all sites are well documented in Richard Webb's report, but the following notes may be useful.


Accommodation: Hotel Airways in Port Moresby. There are numerous alternative hotels in Port Moresby although none of them are particularly cheap.

This site is situated en route from Port Moresby to Varirata National Park.

Approximately 20 kms from Port Moresby you will see a sign on the right to turn to Pacific Adventists' University. Once on the road to the college continue until you arrive at a manned barrier. Explain that you are a birdwatcher and you should be waved through.

This site is currently the safest site to see waterbirds in the Port Moresby area.

The main lake is excellent for waterbirds and also the irrigated fields should be checked. The university grounds also hold a variety of open country birds.

Birds seen during our visit:

Australasian Grebe, Little Pied & Little Black Cormorant, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Green Pygmy-goose, Pacific Black Duck, Little, Intermediate & Cattle Egret, Pied Heron, Whistling Kite, Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Comb-crested Jacana, Common Sandpiper, Masked Lapwing, Peaceful & Bar-shouldered Dove, Rainbow Lorikeet, Pheasant Coucal, Rainbow Bee-eater, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Red-throated Myzomela, Rufous-banded Honeyeater, New Guinea Friarbird, Willie Wagtail, Torresian Crow, White-breasted Woodswallow, Black-backed Butcherbird, Green Figbird, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Singing Starling, Pacific Swallow, Golden-headed Cisticola, Grand Munia, Grey-headed Munia.


Accommodation: Hotel Airways in Port Moresby. There are numerous alternative hotels in Port Moresby although none of them are particularly cheap.

It is possible to stay in the park overnight either staying in the basic lodge or camping.

Varirata NP (10 km2) is situated about an hour's drive (48 km) from Port Moresby.

It is most easily reached by taxi, although PMVs to Sogeri go within 5 km.

This park protects an area of species-rich, low montane rainforest. Varirata NP has an impressive list of ground-dwelling species such as Dwarf Cassowary, Black-billed Brush-turkey, Pheasant Pigeon, Painted Quail-thrush and Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler, although all of these birds are very thin on the ground and difficult to find.

It would be worth spending several days here as most of the specialities are difficult to see.

The park is very popular at weekends and best avoided at that time.

The two days we spent at Varirata NP was certainly not enough to do it justice, and we missed some good birds that other birders have seen here in the past.

Varirata Approach Road

The 5 kms from the turn-off from Sogeri to Varirata NP entrance mainly through open eucalyptus scrub. Amongst the birds we saw here were Collared Sparrowhawk, Emerald Dove, Pink-spotted & Superb Fruit-Dove, Yellow-streaked Lory, Pheasant Coucal, Forest Kingfisher, Black Myzomela, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, Brown Oriole, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike.

There are a number of foot trails in Varirata:

Boundary Track

This obscure trail is found 300 m before the entrance gate and just before the "National Park" signpost.

This is probably the least disturbed of the trails and as a result is most likely to produce difficult to see species such as Dwarf Cassowary, Black-billed Brush-turkey, Pheasant Pigeon, Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher and Painted Quail-thrush. We birded the track till we reached a small stream (c1500 m).

The area around the Brush-turkey mound at 300 m produced Black-billed Brush-turkey, Cinnamon Ground-Dove, Pheasant Pigeon, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher, Painted Quail-thrush, Crinkle-collared Manucode, Eastern Riflebird and White-faced Robin. The Dwarf Cassowary we saw near the small stream (c1500 m). Mixed feeding flocks were regular along this track.

Circuit Trail

The best trail inside the park is the Varirata Circuit Trail, which starts shortly after you pass through the entrance gate and runs through to the picnic site in the centre of the park.

Mixed feeding flocks were regularly along this well maintained trail and contained amongst others Dwarf Whistler, Hooded Pitohui, Chestnut-bellied Fantail, Black-winged, Spot-winged & Frilled Monarch and Blue-faced Parrotfinch.

Amongst the other birds we saw were Black-billed Brush-turkey, White-bibbed Ground-Dove, Eastern Riflebird and Raggiana Bird-of-paradise.

Varirata Lookout Track

The track follows the side of a creek and can be very productive, but we were there at the wrong time of the day.

Birds seen during our trip at Varirata NP:

Dwarf Cassowary, Whistling Kite, Brahminy Kite, Collared Sparrowhawk, Black-billed Brush-turkey, Emerald Dove, Cinnamon & White-bibbed Ground-Dove, Pheasant Pigeon, Wompoo, Pink-spotted & Superb Fruit-Dove, Blue-collared Parrot, Yellow-streaked Lory, Rainbow & Papuan Lorikeet, Large-tailed Nightjar, Moustached Treeswift, Glossy Swift, Azure, Forest & Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher, Red-bellied Pitta, Pale-billed Scrub-Wren, Green-backed & Fairy Gerygone, Black Myzomela, Graceful & Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, Olive Flyrobin, White-faced Robin, Dwarf & Brown Whistler, Rufous Shrike-Thrush, Hooded Pitohui, Painted Quail-thrush, Friendly & Chestnut-bellied Fantail, Black-winged, Spot-winged & Frilled Monarch, Papuan & Spangled Drongo, Grey Crow, Crinkle-collared & Trumped Manucode, Eastern Riflebird, Raggiana Bird-of-paradise, White-breasted Woodswallow, Black-backed & Hooded Butcherbird, Brown Oriole, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Yellow-faced Myna, Pacific Swallow, Black-fronted White-eye, Blue-faced Parrotfinch, Black Berrypecker, Slaty-chinned Longbill, Dwarf Honeyeater.


Accommodation: Kiunga Guesthouse at Kiunga.

This shipping port (built to serve the Ok Tedi mine at Tabubil) is situated on the west bank of the upper Fly River in a remote part of central New Guinea close to the Irian Jaya border and is the most accessible area of lowland forest in Papua New Guinea and is the gateway to the third largest expanse of lowland tropical forest on earth. Only Amazonia and the Ituri Forest in the Congo Basin cover more ground.

The Kiunga area is one of the least disturbed areas in PNG and holds an impressive list of birds, some of which are almost impossible to see elsewhere in the country.

Success rates can be greatly improved by hiring Samuel Kepuknai, an excellent local guide who can arrange boat trips in search of local specialities such as Forest Bittern, Southern Crowned-Pigeon and Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise and also assist with birding at Tabubil. Samuel can be contacted via the Kiunga Guest House (fax +675 5481195).

His knowledge of the calls is invaluable. See "Useful Addresses" for more details.

Samuel has several BOP display trees staked out and has his own "lodge" in a key area along the Elevara River.

Samuel's daily guiding rates are very reasonable, i.e. K50 per group per day. The minibus cost K250 per day, however the boat trip up the Fly and Elevara River was very expensive and cost K750 for a day's trip.

There are several key areas to bird during your stay and are described below.

KM17 north of Kiunga on the privately owned road to Tabubil

Birds seen during our visit:

Slender-billed Cuckoo-Dove, Beautiful & Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove, Purple-tailed & Zoe Imperial-Pigeon, Papuan Mountain-Pigeon, Orange-breasted & Double-eyed Fig-Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo, Papuan Needletail, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Blyth's Hornbill, Long-billed Honeyeater, Spot-breasted Meliphaga, New Guinea Friarbird, Rusty Pitohui, New Guinea Babbler, Spot-winged & Frilled Monarch, Grey Crow, Glossy-mantled Manucode, Magnificent Riflebird, Greater Bird-of-paradise, King Bird-of-paradise, Lowland Peltops, Black Butcherbird, Brown Oriole, Golden Cuckoo-shrike, Varied Triller, Pacific Swallow.

Gre Dringas Road near Kiunga

Birds seen during our visit:

Long-tailed Honey-buzzard, Variable Goshawk, Little Eagle, Black-billed Cuckoo-Dove, Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove, Purple-tailed & Zoe Imperial-Pigeon, Papuan Mountain-Pigeon, Yellow-capped Pygmy-Parrot, Orange-breasted, Double-eyed & Large Fig-Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Yellow-streaked, Dusky & Black-capped Lory, Brush Cuckoo, Dwarf Koel, Asian Koel, Moustached Treeswift, Glossy & Uniform Swiftlet, Papuan Needletail, Dollarbird, Blyth's Hornbill, Emperor Fairywren, Long-billed, Scrub & Mimic Honeyeater, Meyer's & New Guinea Friarbird, Variable Pitohui, Hooded, Golden & Frilled Monarch, Spangled Drongo, Glossy-mantled, Crinkle-collared & Trumpet Manucode, Greater Bird-of-paradise, King Bird-of-paradise, Lowland Peltops, Hooded Butcherbird, Brown Oriole, Grey-headed & Golden Cuckoo-shrike, Varied Triller, Pacific Swallow, White-spotted Munia, Red-capped Flowerpecker, Black Sunbird, Pygmy Honeyeater.

Forest south of Kiunga

Birds seen during our visit:

Long-tailed Honey-buzzard, Pacific Baza, Black-billed & Great Cuckoo-Dove, Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove, Papuan Mountain-Pigeon, Red-cheeked Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Dusky Lory, Oriental Cuckoo, Asian Koel, Glossy Swiftlet, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Blyth's Hornbill, Emperor Fairywren, Puff-backed & Plain Honeyeater, New Guinea Friarbird, Black-sided Robin, Blue Jewel-babbler, Frilled Monarch, Spangled Drongo, Crinkle-collared Manucode, Greater Bird-of-paradise, Boyer's & Grey-headed Cuckoo-shrike, Pacific Swallow, Yellow-faced Myna.

Fly River

Birds seen during our visit:

Little Pied Cormorant, Great Egret, Pacific Baza, Long-tailed Honey-buzzard, Whistling Kite, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Australian Hobby, Common Sandpiper, Black-billed Cuckoo-Dove, Wompoo, Pink-spotted, Orange-fronted, Beautiful, Orange-bellied & Dwarf Fruit-Dove, Pinon, Collared & Zoe Imperial-Pigeon, Papuan Mountain-Pigeon, Yellow-capped Pygmy-Parrot, Orange-breasted Fig-Parrot, Red-cheeked & Eclectus Parrot, Pesquet's (Vulturine) Parrot, Palm & Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Yellow-streaked & Black-capped Lory, Rainbow Lorikeet, Little Bronze Cuckoo, White-crowned & Asian Koel, Moustached Treeswift, Glossy & Uniform Swiftlet, Rufous-bellied & Hook-billed Kookaburra, Common Paradise-Kingfisher, Dollarbird, Blyth's Hornbill, Mimic Honeyeater, New Guinea Friarbird, Black-sided Robin, White-bellied Pitohui, Black-thicket Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Frilled Monarch, Spangled Drongo, Grey Crow, Glossy-mantled Manucode, Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise, Raggiana Bird-of-paradise, White-breasted Woodswallow, Hooded Butcherbird, Black-faced, Boyer's & Grey-headed Cuckoo-shrike, Metallic Starling, Golden & Yellow-faced Myna, Pacific Swallow, Red-capped Flowerpecker.

Elevara River

Birds seen during our visit:

Southern Cassowary (footprints), Australian Darter, Intermediate & Great Egret, Great-billed Heron, Striated Heron, Forest Bittern, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Variable Goshawk, New Guinea Eagle, Black-billed Brush-turkey, Bare-eyed Rail, Common Sandpiper, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Coronated, Ornate & Beautiful Fruit-Dove, Collared & Zoe Imperial-Pigeon, Papuan Mountain-Pigeon, Southern Crowned-Pigeon, Orange-breasted Fig-Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Palm & Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Yellow-streaked & Black-capped Lory, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Greater Black Coucal, Glossy & Uniform Swiftlet, Rufous-bellied & Hook-billed Kookaburra, Common Paradise-Kingfisher, Dollarbird, Blyth's Hornbill, Hooded Pitta, Fairy & Yellow-bellied Gerygone, Obscure Honeyeater, New Guinea Friarbird, White-bellied Pitohui, Blue Jewel-babbler, Frilled Monarch, Shining Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Spangled Drongo, Grey Crow, Glossy-mantled Manucode, King Bird-of-paradise, Hooded Butcherbird, Boyer's Cuckoo-shrike, Metallic & Yellow-eyed Starling, Golden & Yellow-faced Myna, Pacific Swallow.


Accommodation: Hotel Cloudlands in Tabubil

The town of Tabubil (c.150 km north of Kiunga) is situated at about 600 m in the Ok Tedi River valley at the base of the Star Mountains. Tabubil was built to serve the monstrous Ok Tedi mine, one of the largest gold and copper mines in the world.

Tabubil provides an ideal transition from the lowlands of the Kiunga area to the southern foothills of the remote Star mountains, an area still almost ornithologically unknown.

En route from Kiunga - Tabubil stop at KM 119 and check the islands in the Ok Tedi River for Golden-backed Whistler. We also saw Torrent Flycatcher here.

Bird the road and trails around the town with the assistance of Samuel Kepuknai, the guide from the Kiunga area.

There are several key areas to bird during your stay and are described below.

Dablin Creek

Dablin Creek is located about 7 km north of Tabubil en route to the Ok Tedi mine and is a steep track along a pipeline south-east from the main road. A good spot is an open area after c400 m.

Birds seen during our trip:

New Guinea Eagle, Little Eagle, Slender-billed Cuckoo-Dove, Superb Fruit-Dove, Papuan Mountain-Pigeon, Orange-breasted Fig-Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Rainbow, Goldie's, Striated & Fairy Lorikeet, Brush Cuckoo, Little & White-eared Bronze-Cuckoo, White-crowned & Asian Koel, Moustached Treeswift, Glossy Swiftlet, Dollarbird, White-shouldered Fairywren, Rusty Mouse-Warbler, Scrub, Tawny-breasted & Spotted Honeyeater, New Guinea Friarbird, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, Rusty & Brown Whistler, Sooty Shrike-Thrush, Variable Pitohui, Northern, Friendly & Rufous-backed Fantail, Carola's Parotia, Magnificent Bird-of-paradise, Greater Bird-of-paradise, Mountain Peltops, Brown Oriole, Stout-billed, Papuan, Grey-headed & New Guinea Cuckoo-shrike, Pied Bushchat, Pacific Swallow, Red-capped Flowerpecker, Black Berrypecker.

Ok Ma Road

Take the road south-west out of Tabubil through the industrial area. Cross the river and continue along the road west of the river past two villages. We birded the road in the vicinity of the highest point. we birded the roadside forest and an undergrowth trail, but spent only a few hours in this area, due to bad weather and our itinerary.

Birds seen during our trip:

Long-tailed Honey-Buzzard, Blue-collared Parrot, Glossy Swiftlet, Red-bellied Pitta, White-rumped Robin, Rusty Pitohui, Chestnut-backed Jewel-Babbler, Greater Melampitta, Short-tailed Paradigalla.

Mount Robinson

The base of Mount Robinson was one of the key sites in the area and is a regular early morning stake-out for Magnificent Bird-of-paradise and Carola's Parotia. We only birded the area near the explosives factory at the base of Mount Robinson. In order to reach this area you will need to obtain permission at the security gate. The area is very degraded now and in a few years the area will not be worth a visit.

Birds seen during our trip:

Barred Rail (heard), Papuan Treecreeper, White-eared Catbird, Torrent Flycatcher, Carola's Parotia (heard), Mountain Peltops.


Accommodation: Ambua Lodge

The vast Tari basin is the home of the race of wigwearers that are known as the Huli and was the last of the Highlands provinces to be explored by some intrepid western gold miners (1935). The Tari Valley is a remarkable backdrop for birding, with most people still practising their traditional lifestyles and many wearing traditional dress.

Tari is the premier birding site in Papua New Guinea and as most of the books and reports say 'this is where it is at'.

Tari holds a never-ending list of total cripplers including 15 birds-of-paradise and is without doubt the best place in the world to observe birds-of-paradise.

Ambua Lodge is located 60 minutes by road from the Southern Highlands town of Tari and is built on a hill with a spectacular view across the valley below. Until recently this remote area was almost inaccessible. Today however, frequent flights to the nearby airstrip at Tari make Ambua Lodge easily accessible. The superb, but extremely expensive, Ambua Lodge is situated some 2,100 metres above sea level, but is worth every dollar.

When you make reservations for the Ambua Lodge, make sure that during your visit Joseph the local bird guide (almost as good as Samuel Kepuknai) will accompany you. His expertise and keen eyes helped us immensely and his knowledge of the calls is invaluable.

There are several key areas to bird during your stay and are described below.

Ambua Lodge

Spent one day here. The lodge grounds hold a lot of birds, most notably Loria's Bird-of-paradise and Short-tailed Paradigalla. The carpark area was particularly productive during our stay producing MacGregor's Bowerbird, Blue-capped Ifrita, Mountain Peltops, Wattled Ploughbill, Loria's Bird-of-paradise and Tit Berrypecker amongst other species.

The well-maintained forest trails are also very productive and we did see Shovel-billed Kookaburra and Garnet Robin.

Heavy rain during the afternoon seriously interrupted the birding at this site.

Birds seen during our trip at the lodge grounds:

Black-mantled Goshawk, Bronze Ground-Dove, Rufescent Imperial-Pigeon, Blue-collared Parrot, Yellow-billed Lorikeet, Jungle Hawk-Owl, Archbold's Nightjar, Moustached Treeswift, Mountain Swiftlet, Shovel-billed Kookaburra, Mountain Kingfisher, MacGregor's Bowerbird, Mountain Mouse-Warbler, Large & Buff-faced Scrub-Wren, Papuan Thornbill, Marbled & Rufous-backed Honeyeater, Belford's & Yellow-browed Melidectes, Smoky Honeyeater, Canary Flycatcher, Garnet & Blue-grey Robin, Varied Sitella, Mottled, Rufous-naped, Brown-backed & Sclater's Whistler, Rufous Shrike-Thrush, Wattled Ploughbill, Blue-capped Ifrita, Willie Wagtail, Friendly, Black & Dimorphic Fantail, Black Monarch, Black-breasted Boatbill, Superb Bird-of-paradise, Loria's Bird-of-paradise, Short-tailed Paradigalla, Lawes' Parotia, Princess Stephanie's Astrapia, Great Woodswallow, Mountain Peltops, Hooded & Black-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Pied Bushchat, Capped White-eye, Blue-faced Parrotfinch, Grey Wagtail, Red-capped Flowerpecker, Lemon-breasted, Fan-tailed & Tit Berrypecker.

Tari Gap (including road Ambua Lodge - Tari Gap)

Mountain slopes covered by luxuriant moss forest continue upwards some nine kilometres to the Tari Gap, at an altitude of about 2,500 metres. At this altitude, mornings at the Gap can be quite frosty.

The best strategy for birding above the lodge is to start at the Tari Gap at dawn (a free lodge minibus travels up to the gap each morning to give their guests a chance of seeing birds-of-paradise). There are a couple of good muddy trails on the left as you go down. Joseph will show them to you.

Birds seen during our trip:

Brown Quail, Black-billed Cuckoo-Dove, White-breasted Fruit-Dove, Brehm's Tiger-Parrot, Modest Tiger-Parrot, Papuan King-Parrot, Fairy, Papuan & Yellow-billed Lorikeet, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, White-crowned Koel, Mountain Swiftlet, Papuan Treecreeper, Sanford's Bowerbird, Large, Buff-faced & Papuan Scrub-Wren, Mountain & Brown-breasted Gerygone, Red-collared Myzomela, Mountain Meliphaga, Black-throated & Black-backed Honeyeater, Belford's Melidectes, Smoky Honeyeater, Lesser Ground-Robin, Canary Flycatcher, Black-throated & White-winged Robin, Black Sitella, Rufous-naped, Brown-backed & Regent Whistler, Rufous Shrike-Thrush, Blue-capped Ifrita, Friendly & Dimorphic Fantail, Black-breasted Boatbill, Crested Bird-of-paradise, Brown Sicklebill, Ribbon-tailed & Princess Stephanie's Astrapia, King-of-Saxony Bird-of-paradise, Hooded Cuckoo-shrike, Island Thrush, Tawny Grassbird, Mountain Firetail, Blue-faced Parrotfinch, Hooded Munia, Spotted Berrypecker, Crested Berrypecker.

Tari Valley

In the Tari Valley, home of the Huli wigmen, near the small town of Tari there is a small patch of forest at 1700 m which supports display trees of Raggiana and Blue Bird-of-paradise. It will be necessary to use the transport provided by the lodge to visit sites in Tari Valley. Joseph, the local birdman, will bring you to this site.

The other key site is the Trans-Niugini compound with holds Papuan King-Parrot, Superb Bird-of-paradise, Lawes' Parotia and Raggiana Bird-of-paradise.

We also made a long stroll with Joseph along a river in the Tari Valley, in search for Salvadori's Teal, but alas we dipped.

Birds seen during our trip:

Black-shouldered Kite, Brahminy Kite, Brown Goshawk, Buff-banded Rail, Papuan King-Parrot, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Brush & Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Sacred Kingfisher, White-shouldered Fairywren, Mountain Meliphaga, Marbled Honeyeater, Torrent Flycatcher, Black-headed Whistler, Superb Bird-of-paradise, Lawes' Parotia, Raggiana Bird-of-paradise, Blue Bird-of-paradise, Great Woodswallow, Black Butcherbird, Stout-billed Cuckoo-shrike, Long-tailed Shrike, New Guinea White-eye, Clamorous Reed-Warbler, Island Leaf-Warbler, Hooded Munia.


Sunday, October 4

After a successful trip in New Caledonia Vital and I began our PNG trip with a Qantas flight from Sydney via Brisbane to Port Moresby. The flight touched down at Port Moresby at 2.00 p.m. local time (eight hours time difference with The Netherlands). Gerald was already waiting for us at the airport. Having changed money we left the confines of the airport building and a minibus transferred us to the luxurious Airways Hotel close to the airport, where we got an air-conditioned room. Gerald was suffering from jetlag and went to bed very early, while Vital and I drank our first cold beers (the local South Pacific Lager was pretty good) of the PNG trip.

Monday, October 5

The following morning we began the trip with a MBA-flight to Kiunga, far to the west on the border with Irian Jaya. A short stop on the way at the 'airport' of the island Daru produced amongst others White-faced Heron, Far Eastern Curlew, Australian Pratincole and Pied Imperial-Pigeon.

At midday the Twin Otter landed at Kiunga airport where a Kiunga Guesthouse minibus was waiting for us. After lunch we met our guide for the next 5 days, local birder Samuel Kepuknai. He did not seem to need shoes.

In the afternoon we headed to km 17 of the privately owned road to Tabubil. We spent our first birding hours walking quiet forest trails and becoming acquainted with some of the bird families best represented in PNG. Some of the highlights included Purple-tailed Imperial-Pigeon, Orange-bellied Fruit-Dove, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Spot-breasted Meliphaga, Rusty Pitohui, New Guinea Babbler, Frilled Monarch and our first introduction to birds-of-paradise. An hour spent in the centre of a lek of displaying Great Birds-of-paradise clinched the fact that we were indeed in Papua New Guinea.

The last hour of the day we spent birding along the Kiunga - Tabubil road and saw many birds including Blyth's Hornbill, Papuan Needletail, Grey Crow, Magnificent Riflebird, Lowland Peltops, Black Butcherbird, Golden Cuckoo-shrike and Varied Triller.

Tuesday, October 6

We started early on our second birding day and at 5.30 we headed together with our highly skilled local guide Samuel to the nearby Gre Dringas Road. We made a leisurely stroll on a road in an accessible area of secondary lowland rainforest. The habitat was superb and the forest was alive with birds and we had barely started when we saw a beautiful male Emperor Fairywren. Birds came thick and fast after that: Long-tailed Honey-Buzzard, Variable Goshawk, Yellow-capped Pygmy-Parrot, Large Fig-Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Dusky Lory, Dwarf Koel, Meyer's Friarbird, Variable Pitohui, Hooded & Golden Monarch, three species of Manucode, King Bird-of-paradise, Brown Oriole, Grey-headed Cuckoo-shrike, White-spotted Munia, Red-capped Flowerpecker, Black Sunbird and Pygmy Honeyeater.

After lunch in Kiunga the afternoon was understandably an anticlimax failing to produce the hoped for Flame Bowerbird although Great Cuckoo-Dove, Oriental Cuckoo, Boyer's Cuckoo-shrike and especially a stunning Blue Jewel-babbler provided some consolation.

Wednesday, October 7

Early next morning found us on the riverbank of the great Fly River eagerly waiting dawn and transport.

With Samuel's boat we made a trip on the Fly River and we had not to wait long before the first birding highlight of the day was there - watching an adult male Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise displaying in the early morning.

New birds came quickly - Pink-spotted Fruit-Dove, Palm Cockatoo, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Raggiana Bird-of-paradise, Yellow-eyed Starling, Golden & Yellow-faced Myna in particular caused the adrelin to start flowing.

After one hour we reached the Elevara River, a tributary of the Fly River, and headed to Samuel's Lodge.

Our friendly guide navigated through the maze of islands, backwaters and oxbows and two hours later we arrived at Samuel's lodge set on the banks of the Elevara River.

In this area we started to explore a river trail. Our walks through the forest were enlivened by many large butterflies, but our main interest was of course the birds.

The memories of some of the birding highlights we had in the forests along the Elevara River are as vivid today as when they occurred - telescope views of a pair of Southern Crowned Pigeons, the largest pigeon in the world, watching a beautiful male King Bird-of-paradise, Great-billed Heron, Greater Black Coucal, the magnificent Common Paradise-Kingfisher and a very obliging Hooded Pitta hopping along the ground in front of us.

In the late afternoon we headed back to the Fly River and great looks were had of a Forest Bittern - this is a rare species which is seldom seen - luck was really with us today!

With the engine turned off we could float and enjoy a tremendous stillness and silence while we watched Australian Darter, Striated Heron, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Ornate Fruit-Dove, Channel-billed Cuckoo and Glossy-mantled Manucode. Surely the most spectacular bird we saw on our way back, and one of the best of the trip, was an impressive New Guinea Eagle only 10 metres from the boat. It had been quite a day, but there was more to come. When we were almost back in Kiunga we spotted a single Pesquet's (Vulturine) Parrot, the only one of our trip.

This day was undoubtedly one of my best birding days ever!

Thursday, October 8

The next morning we returned to the Fly River and spent a few hours in the rainforest. Despite the fact that we had spent all day yesterday in this area we saw some new birds amongst them Orange-fronted Fruit-Dove, Dwarf Fruit-dove, Black-sided Robin and Black-sided Thicket-Fantail.

The rest of the day was largely a non-birding day as we headed with our minibus to the mining town of Tabubil.

We made a stop at km 119 at the Golden-Backed Whistler stake-out in the Ok Tedi River. On the small island we had good views of the whistler and also added Torrent Flycatcher to our triplist.

At 18.00 hours we arrived at Tabubil and checked into the Cloudlands Hotel.

Via the satellite television in my room I was able to see a match of Ajax Amsterdam, my favourite football club!

Friday, October 9

We set out the following day very early to drive to Mount Robinson. We parked our car at the explosives factory.

The area was almost completely destroyed and only a few small forest patches were still present. We spent more than two hours here and only had a poor 'by-fly' view of Carola's Parotia. Other birds we did see were Papuan Treecreeper, White-eared Catbird and Mountain Peltops.

We then headed to Dablin Creek and spent the rest of the morning in an open area along the pipeline.

It was a very productive morning and we added amongst others Goldie's & Striated Lorikeet, White-eared Bronze-Cuckoo, White-shouldered Fairywren, Rusty Mouse-Warbler, Spotted Honeyeater, Rusty Whistler, Friendly Fantail, Magnificent Bird-of-paradise, Stout-billed, Papuan & New Guinea Cuckoo-shrike and Black Berrypecker to our list.

Samuel imitated for more than one hour the call of the New Guinea Eagle. The eagle responded every time but was too well hidden in the valley for us to locate the bird.

After an afternoon break we spent the rest of the day at the Ok Ma Road. We spent quite some time using the tape in trying to lure in the Greater Melampitta, but this time luck was not on our side and we did not see the bird.

Other birds we heard were Red-bellied Pitta, White-rumped Robin and Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler.

At 16.45 it started raining and we had to stop birding.

Saturday, October 10

The break of dawn found us birding along the pipeline at Dablin Creek, but we did not see any 'new' birds.

Hereafter we headed to the Ok Ma Road and amongst the birds we did see were Blue-collared Parrot, Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler and Short-tailed Paradigalla. We then left the area: another day would certainly have produced more birds for the triplist.

Back in Tabubil our flight to Tari was delayed for several hours, but eventually we said goodbye to Samuel and left the mining town and flew across the magnificent mountains of Central PNG to Tari.

A minibus was waiting at the airport and it took more than one hour to drive to the lodge. At 17.45 hours we arrived at the Ambua Lodge. Just before it got dark we noted Mountain Peltops and Lemon-breasted Berrypecker.

At the lodge we could not drink a beer, but there was a good selection of wine available.

Sunday, October 11

Next morning we headed with Joseph, the local bird man, to Tari Gap.

In contrast to Kiunga and Tabubil, the temperature here was pleasantly cool at night and the early mornings were fresh with the scent of the forest.

En route to the Gap we had excellent views of Black Sitella and stunning Ribbon-tailed & Princess Stephanie's Astrapias.

A productive morning was spent birding Tari Gap and the road leading back to the Ambua Lodge. A wealth of species here quickly expanded our list and highlights included Papuan Lorikeet, Red-collared Myzomela, Black-backed Honeyeater, Belford's Melidectes, Regent Whistler, Black-breasted Boatbill, Crested Bird-of-paradise, Brown Sicklebill, an absolutely mind-blowing male King-of-Saxony Bird-of-paradise and Crested Berrypecker.

After lunch at the lodge we spent a rainy hour at the carpark area.

A lot of birds can be seen here and amongst the species we ticked off were MacGregor's Bowerbird, Yellow-browed Melidectes, Blue-grey Robin, Sclater's Whistler, Wattled Ploughbill, Blue-capped Ifrita, Black Fantail, Black Monarch, Loria's Bird-of-paradise and Tit Berrypecker.

A rainy afternoon was spent along the road leading to the Tari Gap. Despite the rain we did see quite a few birds and amongst the additions of our triplist were White-breasted Fruit-Dove, Brehm's Tiger-Parrot, Black-throated Honeyeater and  Black-backed Honeyeater. Best of all however was a good view of the beautiful Brown Sicklebill.

Monday, October 12

In the early morning we enjoyed an Archbold's Nightjar flying overhead at close range and good views of a Birdwing, Papua New Guinea's largest butterfly. With a pre-arranged early breakfast we left with Joseph to Tari Gap.

Blessed with good weather we were able to walk slowly back to the lodge.

Amongst the additions to our list during this stroll were Modest Tiger-Parrot, Sanford's Bowerbird, Brown-breasted Gerygone, Lesser Ground-Robin, a very obliging Black-throated Robin, Rufous-naped & Brown-backed Whistler, Mountain Firetail, Hooded Munia and Spotted Berrypecker.

In the afternoon we explored the Ambua Lodge area. However, as the afternoon progressed the rain started and became worse and worse. Three wet and unpleasant hours of climbing around the Ambua Lodge were eventually fruitful. Amongst the birds we encountered were Mountain Mouse-Warbler, Buff-faced Scrub-Wren, Papuan Thornbill, Marbled Honeyeater, the beautiful Garnet Robin, Mottled Whistler, Lawes' Parotia and Fan-tailed Berrypecker.

The day was capped off with fantastic looks at a Shovel-billed Kookaburra, a rare species which is seldom seen. An extra bottle of white wine during dinner seemed appropriate at the time.

Tuesday, October 13

Next day found us in a minibus driving to a small patch of forest in Tari. It took some time but eventually we found our target bird, a beautiful male Blue Bird-of-paradise. Amongst the other birds we encountered here were Mountain Meliphaga, Black-headed Whistler and New Guinea White-eye.

Hereafter we drove back into the valley and made a long stroll along a river in search for the rare Salvadori's Teal. We searched in vain and dipped miserably. At the Trans-Niugini compound we had great views of villagers in traditional dress but were also treated to our first sightings of Papuan King-Parrot, males Superb Bird-of-paradise, males Lawes' Parotia and males Raggiana Bird-of-paradise.

We spent a rainy afternoon around the lodge, but managed to see Black-mantled Goshawk, Rufescent Imperial-Pigeon and Bronze Ground-Dove.

Wednesday, October 14

In the early morning we made a leisurely stroll in the lodge area and added Varied Sitella and Black-bellied Cuckoo-shrike to our triplist.

All too soon our time at Ambua ended and we left the Tari Valley at mid-day for a spectacular flight over virgin forest back to Port Moresby. We again checked into Hotel Airways and then set off for our late afternoon trip to the Pacific Adventists' University grounds.

Strolling around the grounds along the lake revealed many waterbirds amongst them Australian Grebe, Little Pied & Little Black Cormorant, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Green Pygmy-Goose, Pacific Black Duck, Pied Heron, Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen and Comb-crested Jacana, all seen during our 1991 trip to Australia.

We then made a stroll around the grounds and in the garden of the university and here we saw a few lifers: Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Red-throated Myzomela, Black-backed Butcherbird, Singing Starling and a single Hooded Munia in a group of 50 Grey-headed Munias.

Thursday, October 15

Our final destination was the very birdy Varirata National Park. We spent all morning on the Boundary Track.

Blessed with good weather at this often wet site, birding this rainforest was hard work, but our survey produced a great diversity of species including Black-billed Brush-Turkey, Cinnamon & White-bibbed Ground-Dove, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, White-faced Robin, Dwarf Whistler, Hooded & Crested Pitohui, Chestnut-bellied Fantail, Black-winged Monarch, Eastern Riflebird and Blue-faced Parrotfinch.

We were also fortunate to have very good views of a Pheasant Pigeon on the trail. At midday we did the Circuit Trail and here we saw nearly the same species as on the Boundary Track, but added Dwarf Honeyeater to the triplist. The Varirata Lookout trail was very disappointing, but we did see Azure Kingfisher here.

Friday, October 16

The final morning once again saw us back in Varirata NP. We again explored the least disturbed of the trails, the Boundary Track. Our last day brought us a stunning climax. As we crossed a small stream the forest yielded a very shy Dwarf Cassowary! Amongst the other additions of our triplist were Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher surely one of the world's most spectacular kingfishers, Painted Quail-thrush, Olive Flyrobin, Pale-billed Scrub-Wren, Papuan Drongo and Slaty-chinned Longbill.

We then headed back to Port Moresby. Vital and I said goodbye to Gerald and then flew across the Coral Sea back to Sydney.

Saturday/Sunday, October 17/18

In the morning we made a visit to the nearby Royal National Park. At 15.00 hours we headed to the airport and after a bit of delay we flew to Singapore and then onwards to Amsterdam.


Papua New Guinea had certainly been everything I had expected and more and the trip was a great success.

We saw many endemics and near-endemics, as well as a good number of other interesting species.

I finished the trip with 221 lifers. The final total for the two weeks trip was 310 species of birds.

My ten best birds of the trip? Forest Bittern, New Guinea Eagle, Southern Crowned-Pigeon, Shovel-billed Kookaburra, Brown Sicklebill, Superb Bird-of-paradise, King-of-Saxony Bird-of-paradise, Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise, Blue-faced Parrotfinch and Crested Berrypecker, lifers all of course.

Chaam, 2 December 1998,                                                                                                                  

If you need any help or further information, contact me at the following address and I'll try and help if I can!

Jan Vermeulen
Bredaseweg 14
4861 AH Chaam
The Netherlands
Tel:         0161 - 491327

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