My photography of birds on Planet Earth is not complete without a collection from Papua New Guinea (PNG), the second largest Island on the planet. PNG is famous for its “Birds of Paradise”. There are 33 species of Birds of Paradise in PNG of which 12 are unique to that country. The males are very colorful and attractive compared to the females. They are very active in the morning and late afternoon with their distinct mating calls, together with the courtship display with iridescent colours to attract the female partners.
It was on 21st July 2018 that I arrived at the Port Moresby International airport in PNG to join a three week birding tour organized by a company based in South Africa. My main objective was to photograph these spectacular birds as well as Kingfishes that are not found in other parts of the world.
During my stay in PNG, we travelled extensively by air, road, foot and on one occasion by boat to the areas and locations where most of the bird species are frequently sighted. The major cities we visited were Mount Hagen, Kiunga, Tabubil and the capital, Port Moresby. There were 7 birders in the group, I travelled in; 5 from the USA, 1 from UK and the other from Germany while I was the only photographer in the group. The rest were very experienced in birding which made it easy for me to spot most of the birds on the checklist of 450 species given by tour leader Gareth Robbins. He is also a very experienced birder from South Africa. At the end of the tour, the total official trip count was 284 while the endemics and near endemics sighted were 80 species.
In Port Moresby, the main destination for birding was the Varirata National Park, an hour’s drive from the city where I photographed both the male and the female of Raggiana Bird-of-paradise. The lighting was perfect on the bird and the images captured when the bird was active with its beautiful plumage, were excellent. It is the national bird of Papua New Guinea. In addition, I was able to photograph three Kingfishes: Brown-headed Paradise KF(E), Azure KF, Yellow-billed KF and 2 Kingfishers outside the park: Blue-winged Kookaburra and the Forest KF. I have not sighted these Kingfishes in the past.
During our stay in Mount Hagen, the capital of Western Highlands Province, which is at an elevation of over 1,700 meters, I was able to photograph more species of Birds of Paradise such as Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia, King of Saxony, both Black and Brown Sicklebills, Lesser Bird-of-paradise, and Superb Bird-of-paradise. Unfortunately we missed the Blue Bird-of-paradise due to logistic reasons.
In Tabubil, the city that was built to serve the mining operation of copper and gold, I was lucky to see both the male and the female of the Magnificent Bird-of-paradise. Thereafter we drove back to Kiunga, a port town on the Fly River in the Western Province of PNG. While in Kiunga, we saw the King Bird-of-paradise and the Greater Bird-of-paradise. We stayed a night at Kwatu Lodge in a remote location, two hours by speed boat from Kiunga on the Fly River branching off to Elevala River. While on the way to the destination, we stopped the boat half way in search of the Little and Common Bird-of-paradise Kingfishers. We had to get off from the boat and walk on a muddy trail in the forest in search of these 2 beautiful birds and it was successful. At the Kwatu Lodge, 12 species of Birds of Paradise were sighted but at far. On our way back to Kiunga, we had a great sighting of one of the most brilliantly coloured bowerbirds, the Flame bowerbird, endemic to the rainforest of PNG.
During my 18 days stay in PNG, I was able to photograph 12 Birds of Paradise, 9 Kingfishes and a few other birds endemic to PNG. Before this trip, many whom I spoke to before I left to Port Moresby had a negative impression about the country, especially on the security aspect. But, after returning from PNG, I have a different opinion. I never encountered security issues. People in PNG are very nice and helpful. When it comes to security, no country in the world is safe today.
For birding, Papua New Guinea is the “Jewel of the Pacific” and the best period to visit is from June to August.