Birding Without Borders

Day 337: The Long Tail

Noah is lulled to sleep by the call of Papuan Boobooks.

December 3, 2015: Ambua Lodge, Papua New Guinea — Within minutes of waking up this morning, I saw a male Stephanie’s Astrapia fly past my hut. Its tail feathers were so long and graduated that it made a noise like a flapping flag in flight, and I thought, “Does every bird around here have a ridiculously long tail?” Seconds later a pair of Papuan Lorikeets alighted in a blooming bottlebrush tree nearby and I had my answer: Even the parrots have two-foot-long, neon yellow tail streamers! Color and style go a long way in the bird world of New Guinea.

The rest of the day continued in the same vein, while Joseph and I birded the forest around Ambua Lodge. We visited a large tract which, Joseph explained, belongs to his wife’s family. He is promoting its use among local peoplenot as a source of timber but for conservation and ecotourism; he recently acquired a court order to punish anyone who cuts trees on this land, and hired a group of workers to create a trail network. Papua New Guinea doesn’t have many national parks, so local efforts like this are important.

As we wandered these trails today, I noticed Joseph was collecting fern fronds and asked him what they were for. “I have a young tree kangaroo,” he said, “which I rescued from someone who was selling it at the market. It eats a lot of fruit and leaves. I have to feed it every day.”

This is the kind of place where strange animals might pop out at any moment. At high elevation, the forest is cool enough to demand a sweater and thick enough to obscure a tyrannosaur. Cassowaries, a type of bird more akin to dinosaurs than anything else, still roam here, though they are rarely seen. I was happy to spot a Brown Sicklebill, which sounded more like a machine gun than a bird, as it displayed near dusk.

Tonight I am the sole guest at Ambua Lodge, which, with its 40+ huts and endless flower gardens, can be full during the tourist season in June and July. It’s nice to have the place to myself. Tomorrow brings new territory but, for now, a pair of Papuan Boobooks is calling right over my hut as I fall asleep.

New birds today: 18

Year list: 5558

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