December 1, 2015: Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea — A birder named Leonard Vaieke met me at 4:30 this morning and we headed to Varirata National Park, outside of Port Moresby, for an exciting day.
Leonard arrived with nothing more than a laser pointer and a sharp machete. No binoculars, scope, camera, phone, recordings, field guide, not even so much as a snack (he didn’t eat anything until dinner). I’m a proponent of “bare naked birding”—the less equipment the better—but this guy takes it to an extreme! At first sight I wondered if he’d have his birds down, but needn’t have worried; Leonard is one of the best spotters I’ve met this year.
Varirata is a well-preserved piece of forest in the foothills above Port Moresby. We didn’t see another soul there all day, except birds. My first-ever birds-of-paradise, of the spectacular Raggiana species, were waiting when we arrived; we also saw the infamous Hooded Pitohui, a bird so poisonous that touching its feathers can send you to the hospital (as it did one poor student here); and Yellow-legged Brushturkeys tended a 15-foot-wide nesting mound where females bury their eggs in leaves to keep them warm. Things were extremely dry, the result of a six-month drought in this area, and we discovered some birds by the rustling sound they made in fallen leaves.
Somewhere in the melee of sightings, I passed a personal milestone without realizing it: This morning I saw my 6,000th life bird! I don’t even know which one it was—maybe the Brown-headed Paradise-Kingfisher, or perhaps the Barred Owlet-Nightjar?—because I was focused on a more immediate benchmark, year bird #5,500. That seemed pretty far away this morning, but I nudged past fifty-five hundred late in the afternoon with a trio of roosting Papuan Frogmouths on the campus of Pacific Adventist University, a great birding spot, en route back to the city.
Leonard and I ended at dusk having seen a total of 102 species of birds, 82 of which were new—officially the second biggest day I’ve had all year. (On January 14, in Argentina, I recorded 108 additions).
I wouldn’t have managed half this tally without Leonard’s help; he knows vocalizations and can spot a Beautiful Fruit-Dove a mile away with his naked eyeballs. I saw him do it. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He doesn’t have a website.
When I returned to my room this evening, I found an email in my inbox from Walter North, the United States Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. Walter had chanced across this blog and stopped by my hotel’s bar for a glass of wine this evening (after leaving “a function”) and a chat. “I wish more birders would come to Papua New Guinea,” he said. Plenty already do, but I agree: At least after one day here, this place rocks.
New birds today: 82
Year list: 5503