December 8, 2015: West New Britain, Papua New Guinea — For the past two days I’ve been staying at a dive resort called Walindi, which was started by an Australian couple in the 1970s. In the past 45 years, they have built this place into a wonderful accommodation on New Britain and one of the world’s best scuba diving spots. It’s a unique setup, located inside an enormous oil palm plantation along a beautiful strip of coastline within the so-called “coral triangle”—a region of extreme marine biodiversity. It was never meant to be a birdwatching spot.
“Birding was kind of an accident,” said Cheyne, a manager at Walindi and part of the resort’s second generation. “A few years ago, some people came here and said they wanted to see some endemic birds on New Britain. We said, ‘What?’”
New Britain is a logical extension to any birding trip to New Guinea as it adds more than a dozen endemics. In this part of the world, getting around can be tricky, so it’s nice to have Walindi as a comfortable base from which to explore the area. They are now used to birders, and Joseph Yenmoro, a local guy who has accompanied me for the past two days, knows his stuff.
This morning we took a boat to Restorf Island, a tiny hump of trees ringed by coral reefs, where Island Imperial-Pigeons, Island Monarchs, and Beach Kingfishers kept watch over their tropical paradise. Flocks of Black Noddies and Bridled Terns fished offshore, and a Lesser Frigatebird floated high over the island in a breeze.
This is December, I kept reminding myself, even as we jumped off the boat and waded a couple hundred yards to a shallow beach. The water felt refreshing. It’s winter at home, I thought, and I’ll soon be spending Christmas in a hot country during the summer. Tomorrow I will reach Australia, my seventh continent of the year—and officially the home stretch!
New birds today: 13
Year list: 5618