Day 336: Birding in Paradise

The highlands of Papua New Guinea offer spectacular birding.

December 2, 2015: ​Ambua Lodge, Papua New Guinea — My prop plane landed on the gravel strip at Tari, in west-central Papua’s highlands, just before lunch. It was the only flight to Tari today from anywhere. I mistook a small office for an arrivals area, walked in, looked at some startled workers, asked one where I might meet my transport to Ambua Lodge, and got a blank stare. Just then a man approached and asked, “Are you Noah?” I glanced around: Any other blond, pasty guys standing by the airstrip? “That’s me!” I said, and we were off.

Ambua Lodge sits at about 7,000 feet (2,100 meters), above the frontier settlement of Tari, and is surrounded by lush forest, though this forest has been disappearing in recent years. Joseph Tano, my bird guide here for the next day and a half, talked a lot about climate change and logging as I peppered him with questions about birds. He is originally from this area and has watched it change, culturally and environmentally, in the past couple of decades. It hasn’t rained here in six months, Joseph said, perhaps because of this year’s severe El Nino, and birds have been having a tough time with the dry conditions. While we wound our way up a newly surfaced gravel road, trucks of lumber and gas descended in clouds of dust.

We arrived at Ambua in time for lunch, then spent the afternoon around the lodge and in a patch of forest up the road near 9,000 feet. Drought aside, it was a ridiculous session of ridiculously good-looking birds. Birds of paradise rule the roost here, and we saw several spectacular ones, beginning with a male Superb Bird-of-Paradise next to my thatched hut! A Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, with twin white tail plumes more than a meter long, swooshed past, and a male King-of-Saxony Bird-of-Paradise displayed on top of a snag with zebra-striped head plumes longer than the bird’s name.

This is pretty much what I expected from interior Papua New Guinea: Unearthly birds in a raw landscape. When I arrive in Australia next week this will surely seem like a dream, but today I’m in another worldone you might even call paradise.

New birds today: 39

Year list: 5540

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