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Arfak mountain birding trip-Papua

On this West Papuan birding break we basically follow in the footsteps of the great Italian naturalists D’Albertis and Beccari, who once collected in the Hatam-country only a few kilometers away from our village base in the Arfak Mountains on the mid-slopes of majestic Mount Indon, towering 2,425 m above the Prafi Valley. Nearly a century and a half elapsed since the intrepid D’Albertis was the first westerner to penetrate any distance into the mountains of New Guinea exactly here in 1872, but birding these magnificent woods, swathed in clouds during parts of most days, remains an irresistible adventure. A privileged opportunity also, to be taken in tow by the Hatam, across their ancestral lands, and marvel at endemic bird life that few outsiders have ventured to come and see before.

Day-by-day itinerary

Day 1

Morning arrival at Manokwari’s Rendani Airport on overnight’s domestic flight from Jakarta. Following an earlier than usual lunch in town, we shall set out on the three hours’ drive by 4WD-vehicle to our host village at 1,700 m elevation in the Mount Indon area of the Arfak Mountains. Here we shall start our exploration of these fabled mountains by early afternoon with a gentle introduction to the commoner or more conspicuous species of the garden clearings: Fan-tailed Cuckoo, White-eared Bronze-Cuckoo, Whiskered and Yellow-billed Lorikeet, Slender-billed and Black-billed Cuckoo-Dove, White-bibbed Fruit-Dove, Red-collared Myzomela, Rufous-sided Honeyeater, Vogelkop Melidectes, Western Smoky Honeyeater, Mountain and Brown-breasted Gerygone, Sclater’s Whistler, Superb Bird of Paradise, Black and Friendly Fantail, Capped White-eye, Olive-crowned Flowerpecker, and Lemon-breasted Berrypecker. A nocturnal excursion after dinner could produce Sooty Owl, Jungle Hawk-Owl, and Large and Mountain Owlet-Nightjar. Overnight in village residence.

Day 2

Following a hearty pre-dawn breakfast, we shall proceed to an area of secondary forest where numerous display courts of the Magnificent Bird of Paradise are to be found. Here we stand an excellent chance of witnessing this beautiful species’ full array of display postures at close range from a palm-frond hide. Other birds often in evidence around the courts include Cinnamon Ground-Dove, Spotted Catbird, Rusty Mouse-warbler, Pale-billed Scrubwren, and Green-backed Robin. In adjacent tracts of secondary forest we may see Long-billed and Marbled Honeyeater, Perplexing and Grey-green Scrubwren, Yellow-legged Flyrobin, Blue-grey Robin, Goldenface, Mountain Peltops, Black-shouldered Cicadabird, Black and Black-winged Monarch, Black-fronted White-eye, and Island Leaf-Warbler.

After lunch back at our village abode, we shall monitor nearby display courts of the Western Parotia from well-appointed palm-frond hides. The wacko ballet performance of the court-tending male of this species simply has to be witnessed to be believed, and invariably ranks as the highlight of a birding trip to the Arfaks. We shall spend the last hours of light birding around the garden clearings where we may be rewarded with sightings of Pygmy, Fairy and Josephine’s Lorikeet, Blue-collared Parrot, Pesquet’s Parrot, Metallic Pigeon, Long-tailed Buzzard, Vogelkop Melidectes, Mountain Peltops, Long-tailed Paradigalla, and Blue-faced and Papuan Parrotfinch. Dinner and overnight in village residence.

Day 3

We shall take a packed lunch and bird all day along a loop ascending to a high point at c. 2,000 m elevation in search of three potentially highly elusive species of bird of paradise present here: Black and Black-billed Sicklebill and Arfak Astrapia. Most of the track follows gently-sloping ridgetop cloud-forest but we shall also be traversing some more difficult terrain along two streamlets with pockets of dense thickets that hold day-time roosts of both Large and Mountain Owlet-Nightjar. Other goodies we may come across along the loop include Rufous-throated Bronze-Cuckoo, Papuan Lorikeet, Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrot, Brehm’s and Modest Tiger-Parrot, Mountain Swiftlet, Shining Imperial-Pigeon, Papuan Mountain Pigeon, White-striped Forest-Rail, Black-mantled and Meyer’s Goshawk, New Guinea Eagle, Papuan Treecreeper, Vogelkop Bowerbird, Orange-crowned Fairywren, Olive Straightbill, Black-throated Honeyeater, Cinnamon-browed Melidectes, Mountain Mouse-warbler, Vogelkop Scrubwren, Lesser Ground-robin, Canary Flyrobin, Garnet, Black-throated, Smoky and Ashy Robin, New Guinea Logrunner, Spotted Jewel-Babbler, Varied Sittella, Mottled, Rufous-naped and Regent Whistler, Black Pitohui, Lesser Melampitta, Great Wood-swallow, Black-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Dimorphic Fantail, Black-breasted Boatbill, and Fan-tailed and Tit Berrypecker. Dinner and overnight in village residence.

Day 4

Today we shall bird the first hour of light around the garden clearings and then spend some time again at the parotia display courts, which besides the not-to-be-missed display performances of the parotias themselves, also provide a reasonable chance of seeing otherwise highly retiring species as Wattled Brush-turkey and Bronze Ground-Dove casually walking across the courts in search of parotia faeces containing undigested fruit items. Following lunch, there shall be further opportunities to spend potentially rewarding time with the parotias, or to get up close and personal with the highly entertaining Vogelkop Bowerbird at one of its formidable so-called roofed maypole bowers present in the area. Dinner and overnight in village residence.

Day 5 We have an entire day to capitalize on some of the more elusive Arfak specialties already mentioned above, with lunch in between. Dinner and overnight in village residence.

Day 6 After a final morning’s birding and lunch back at our village abode, we shall drive back to Manokwari in the afternoon for dinner and a longer than usual night’s rest.

Day 7 We shall enjoy a late breakfast and transfer to Manokwari’s Rendani Airport for the mid-morning’s flight to Jakarta.

Recommended extensions

Extension : Arfak foothill forest birds

This extension carries us to the increasingly threatened foothill forests of the Oransbari Peninsula, home to a rich and colorful lowland forest avifauna that includes Northern Cassowary and Western Crowned-Pigeon, a profusion of parrots, from the diminutive Yellow-capped Pygmy-Parrot to the vulturine Pesquet’s Parrot, dazzling forest kingfishers, gorgeous Painted Quail-thrush and Blue Jewel-Babbler, plus five species of bird of paradise.

This is the most complementary of the three recommended Arfak extensions in terms of species diversity. Its distinction from the next destination primarily lies in the presence here of such tantalizing extreme lowland specialists as the delightful Western Crowned-Pigeon and not-to-be-missed King Bird of Paradise, forest birds which do not normally venture above 300 m elevation.

Day-by-day itinerary

Day 1

After a hearty pre-dawn breakfast in our Manokwari hotel, we shall set out on the two hours’ drive by chartered vehicle to our drop-off point on the Oransbari Peninsula. From here, we shall bird all morning toward a camp at 200 m elevation in primary foothill forest along a refreshing stream. All along the walk, wacko Blyth’s Hornbills, majestic Palm and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, and noisy Red-cheeked and Eclectus Parrots fly overhead as we familiarize ourselves with the common or more conspicuous forest interior birds: Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo, Slender-billed and Great Cuckoo-Dove, Wompoo, Superb and Beautiful Fruit-Dove, Purple-tailed and Pinon Imperial-Pigeon, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, New Guinea Friarbird, Rufous Babbler, Little Shrike-thrush, Variable and Rusty Pitohui, Hooded and Black Butcherbird, Brown Oriole, Northern Fantail, Spangled Drongo, Spot-winged and Frilled Monarch, Yellow-faced Myna, Black Berrypecker, and Green-crowned Longbill.

After lunch at camp, we shall bird all afternoon in the vicinity, where we stand an excellent chance of seeing avian delights as Large Fig-Parrot, Western Crowned-Pigeon, Hook-billed Kingfisher, Common Paradise-Kingfisher, Moluccan King-Parrot, and Magnificent, King and Lesser Bird of Paradise. The King Bird of Paradise is moderately common in the area and it should not take long before we come to grips with this little gem, in fact the smallest of all paradisaeids, which 19th century naturalist A. R. Wallace so amiably described as ‘a wanton waste of extreme beauty’. If we are really lucky, we may also hear and see the sought-after Shovel-billed Kookaburra here toward dusk. A nocturnal foray after dinner could produce Jungle Hawk-Owl, Wallace’s Owlet-Nightjar, and Marbled Frogmouth. Overnight at camp.

Day 2

This morning we shall ascend to a narrow ridge above camp that supports a display tree of the Lesser Bird of Paradise where several plumed males usually gather. We shall take ample time to observe and truly absorb the full array of displays and interactions at the lek. Besides, while sitting quietly in the forest, there’s always a chance of a Northern Cassowary, Red-billed Talegalla, or Pheasant Pigeon casually walking by here. After lunch we shall spend most of the afternoon in a gulley where we may be rewarded with sightings of Variable Dwarf Kingfisher, Thick-billed Ground-Pigeon, Red-bellied Pitta, Rusty Mouse-warbler, Painted Quail-thrush, Blue Jewel-Babbler, Sooty Thicket-Fantail, and Rufous Monarch. Dinner and overnight at camp.

Day 3 Today we shall bird higher-up in the surrounding foothills. Red-billed Talegallas and Magnificent Rifle birds call everywhere here and it need not take long before we shall surprise a pair of Blue Jewel-Babbler running away into cover. Other birds that we may see here include Long-billed Cuckoo, Double-eyed and Large Fig-Parrot, Pesquet’s Parrot, Pheasant Pigeon, Wallace’s Fairywren, Black-chinned Robin, and Rusty Whistler. Following lunch back at camp, we have an entire afternoon to look for some of the more elusive species already mentioned above. Dinner and overnight at camp.

Day 4 After a final morning’s birding and lunch at camp, we shall require most of the afternoon to slowly bird down to our pick-up point where vehicles stand by to transport us to Manokwari. Dinner and overnight in Manokwari hotel.