Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Birding Papua New Guinea Day 2, Part 1

Tuesday, November 2, 2010
6 comments
Our birding gang awoke to a chilly, misty morning to start our first full day at Ambua Wilderness Lodge. Being so near the equator, one might suspect that the temperatures would be quite warm, but this was the highlands. At this elevation of 7,000 feet the weather here stays moderately cool all year long. We ate breakfast in the main lodge building in the darkness, our gear piled up near the front door.

The patio lights had attracted some spectacular moths overnight. While we awaited our transportation, we took some photos of these insects, and tried our best to see some birds in the pre-dawn light.


Still no bus, so I decided to run back to the cabin to drop something off. Just as I approached my door, I saw Mark Cocker standing farther down the path, looking up into the trees. "I've got a bird-of-paradise here, Bill!"

He may as well have said "I've finally found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Bill!"

I raced down the slippery steps to where he stood and followed his pointed finger into the dark, mist-enshrouded trees. Just then a black bird with a ridiculously long tail fluttered from one tree to another. "I think that's an astrapia," Mark said calmly, "Probably a Princess Stephanie's."

I was gasping at the spectacle, trying not to scream out loud or soil my boxers. Oh. My. GAWD!
Mark Cocker, astrapia conjuror and birding smock wearer.

Princess Stephanie's astrapia! My first-ever BOP! And I had Mark to thank for it!

It's here that I need to explain why there is no stunning photo of this bird. Due to the weight limitations for our airplane flights, I elected to take only three cameras with me on this trip: my digiscoping rig (a Leica scope, adapter, and camera), my new Canon G11 point and shoot, and my Canon Vixia video camera. I also knew from prior experience that it can be very hard to get keeper bird photos with a big rig/DSLR camera in the light-poor tropical jungle (read my posts on birding in The Philippines and Guyana for more on that).

Luckily, my scope and digiscoping camera were all back up at the main lodge. So I ran like the wind. Up and back. And here's what I got to show for it.





I also got one still (digiscoped) image of the astrapia's silhouette.


The whole gang came down when they heard about the bird. We did not get good looks at it—the light was horrible and the birds (there were two) were not particularly cooperative. Sensing this was a fool's errand, our guide Benson, who works out of Ambua Lodge, pulled us away from our astrapia stake-out, saying "We'll see many more of them where we're going!"

Our group watching for the astrapia's reappearance.

It was hard to leave a known site of a bird-of-paradise, but we needed to do so—the day was coming on. So we piled into the bus and headed out to the only major roadway through the area, the Highlands Highway.

Spreading out along the Highlands Highway.

The Highlands Highway is a wide gravel road running from the coastal city of Lae through the highlands, connecting the primary towns and cities of PNG to the ports of the coast. During our trip we used the highway many times. At places it was as rough as any road I've ever seen. In other spots there would be pavement and smooth sailing.


This morning, we stepped out of the bus onto the highway, and into the still-cool morning. A few jammed trucks or buses passed us over the next hour or so, but mostly we had the roadway to ourselves.

At the first stop, just as the sun began to make itself known, we formed a loose skirmish line of optics, tripods, and cameras facing the sunlit forest along one side of the road.

The sunlight came streaming through the forest and mist.

It was then that Benson called out what would become my favorite bird of the trip—and it was right at the start of the first day!

It was a displaying male King of Saxony bird-of-paradise! In full sun. Waving his long, opulent head feathers to and fro, oblivious to the gasps and exclamations of our group. Focus wheels were turned so speedily that smoke rose from our fingers. Our eyes strained to catch every glint of iridescence on the shimmering plumes. Our ears tuned to the male's long, sputtery, squeaky song—which was nowhere near as beautiful as his appearance.

Male King of Saxony bird-of-paradise.

This was heaven on a stick! My heart raced and sang a song of victory for I had, at long last, experienced a truly magnificent/incredible/sweetly awesome/mind-blowing bird-of-paradise. Sorry Princess Stephanie, but the King of Saxony rules!

A couple of my British travel companions agreed that this bird was "a crippler!"

In my next post, we'll go closer and grab the video camera!

6 comments:

On November 2, 2010 at 12:39 PM Seabrooke said...

Love that first moth! Great leaf camo on the forewings, fabulous pop on the hind.

Oh, and the birds-of-paradise are pretty cool, too.

On November 2, 2010 at 2:50 PM Bill of the Birds said...

I appreciate hearing from a moth-head about these pix, Seabrooke! You would have freaked out at the moths we saw there!

On November 2, 2010 at 6:11 PM Tim said...

Sounds like you are having a great time! Loved the moth photos!

On November 3, 2010 at 12:30 AM Bird Feeders said...

What a fantastic opportunity to see the birds-of-paradise. PNG is on the bucket list! Can you post your bird list from your trip?

On November 8, 2010 at 5:31 AM Anonymous said...

Yo Billy Boy
Great moths shots. Birds of paradise quite good too! Thought you might like to know that the really big moth (with double eye spots) is shown in the Trans Niugini brochure. Guessing it must be a fairly well known Papuan beast

On November 9, 2010 at 4:23 AM Steve Bennett said...

Oh the memories your blog brings. I can recall my time at Ambua and the amazing country that is PNG. I look forward to reading on, thanks for sharing!


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