West Papua is the little-visited western half of the huge island of New Guinea. It is host to an astonishing degree of biological and ecological richness with habitats ranging from steamy lowland swamp forests to the alpine grassland of the mighty Snow Mountains, the highest peaks between the Himalaya and the Andes. In addition, it is still covered by some of the largest areas of original, intact, forest on earth and yet very few birders have so far had the opportunity to appreciate its diversity.
We begin our adventure in Geelvink Bay; On Biak all of the endemic species can still be found in the secondary and selectively logged forest, including Geelvink Pygmy Parrot, Biak Red Lory, Biak Scops Owl and the stunning Biak Paradise-kingfisher. We also hope to take a boat across to Numfor island for the seldom-seem Numfor Paradise-kingfisher. In a dramatic change of scenery we then head into the heart of the island of new guinea, where amid the stunning scenery of the Snow Mountains we will search a variety of habitats from moss-laden montane forest to alpine grasslands in search of some amazing birds; the spectacular MacGregor’s Honeyeater, Snow Mountain Quail, Snow Mountain Mannikin, Mountain Firetail, Short-bearded Melidectes, Lorentz’s Whistler, Lesser Melampitta, Salvadori’s Teal, New Guinea Woodcock, Archbold’s Nightjar, Greater Ground Robin and Splendid Astrapia.
Next stop is the hot and steamy lowland rainforest in the shadow of the Cyclops Mountains where delights such as Salvadori’s Fig Parrot and Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot await, and our bird-of-paradise tally is boosted by Pale-billed Sicklebill, Twelve-wired, Lesser and King Birds-of-paradise. Our next destination is the montane forests of the little-known Arfak Mountains where wonders such as displaying Western Parotia, Magnificent Bird-of-paradise, Vogelkop Bowerbird, Black-billed Sicklebill, Arfak Astrapia and Long-tailed Paradigalla are just a few of a mouth-watering list of targets.
We continue near Sorong at the western tip of the Vogelkop Peninsula from where we head out to the island of Waigeo to finish in style as we search of Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise, surely one of the most stunning of the family. Red Bird-of-paradise is also found only here and a few neighbouring islands and we should also see Raja Ampat Pitohui, and have a chance to spot the shy Western Crowned Pigeon. West Papua is tougher than most of our tours but conditions are much more comfortable than previously and it does offer some of the most exciting birding, fascinating travel and incredible experiences for the adventurous birder.
The tour begins with morning arrivals into the island of Biak in Geelvink bay off the north cost of West Papua. In the afternoon we will begin our birding and will soon find some of the commoner island endemics. Night in Biak.
We travel by boat to the island of Numfor, southwest of Biak in Geelvink Bay, for an overnight in a basic guesthouse on Numfor. Here we will look for Numfor Paradise-kingfisher which is quite common on the island, and the scarce Numfor Leaf warbler in addition of other Geelvink Bay endemics shared with Biak, before returning to Biak on day 3.
We have a full day on Biak to catch up with any missing endemics, most of which can still be found in areas of good secondary or selectively logged forest near the main town. This rarely-visited island holds several special species, some of which are widespread across the islands in Geelvink Bay but others are restricted to Biak and neighbouring Supiori and it is these endemics on which we will concentrate, including the endemic Biak Paradise Kingfisher which is still pleasingly common and conspicuous. In more open areas we will look for Yellow-bibbed Fruit Dove, Claret-breasted Fruit Dove and Geelvink Imperial Pigeon which are vocal and often perch conspicuously. Secondary growth is also the favoured habitat of the endemic Biak White-eye, while overhead Biak Red Lories frequently flash past. Most other endemics and specialties are best searched for in the forest and include the common Long-tailed Starling, shy Biak Megapode, skulking Biak Coucal and the inconspicuous Biak Gerygone and Biak Leaf Warbler. Feeding flocks in the forest provide much excitement and are often joined by some of our targets; Geelvink Pygmy Parrot, Golden Monarch, Biak Black Flycatcher and if we are extremely fortunate, the rare orange-and-black Biak Monarch. In the evening we will try to spotlight the endemic Biak Scops Owl which is usually difficult to see, and the rather more conspicuous Papuan Frogmouth. Night on Biak.
This morning we fly to Sentani before continuing on the short but spectacular flight to Wamena in the Grand Baliem Valley, where we will switch to 4WD vehicles for the journey up into the fabled Snow Mountains. The journey is along winding roads, through wonderful forests where we will make several birding stops in search of our first specialties. Our destination today is the rolling grasslands with scattered high altitude forests surrounding Lake Habbema. We shall spend the next four nights camping in this wonderful area as we explore the surrounding grasslands and forests, using roads where possible but also venturing onto well-used but sometimes steep and muddy trails where necessary.
During our stay we will explore a variety of habitats in the area.
In the high-altitude grasslands close to Lake Habbema we will bird with the mighty Mount Trikora (4700m) as a constant backdrop. Star bird of this alpine plateau is the striking MacGregor’s Honeyeater which although shy, frequently betray their presence with loud whooshing sounds as they fly along the hillsides with orange primary patches conspicuous. DNA studies have shown this amazing bird to be a honeyeater rather than a bird-of-paradise but this makes it no less special. Other special birds in this area include Snow Mountain Quail that are often flushed from the grasslands, Snow Mountain Mannikin, Mountain Firetail, Alpine Pipit and Papuan Harrier favouring the more open areas. Sooty and Short-bearded Melidectes, Orange-cheeked Honeyeaters and Lorentz’s Whistlers prefer the alpine shrubbery, while several pairs of Salvadori’s Teal plus Spotless Crake inhabit the lake and its fringes. As dusk falls we will hope to find a displaying New Guinea Woodcock and the little-known Archbold’s Nightjar.
As we drop down into the magical mossy forests a whole new suite of birds appear. Ground-dwellers here include Chestnut Forest Rail, New Guinea Logrunner, shy red-eyed Lesser Melampitta and with a big dose of luck, the rare Greater Ground Robin in the tree-line forest above the altitude of the commoner Lesser Ground Robin.
Birding at slightly lower altitudes brings yet more different species including Splendid Astrapia, Brown Sicklebill, Black Sittella, Crested Berrypecker, Rufous-naped Bellbird, Papuan Treecreeper, Rufous-throated Bronze Cuckoo, Brehm’s and Modest Tiger Parrots, gorgeous Plum-faced Lorikeets and many more. All nights camping.
After a final morning birding in the Baliem Valley, we will drive back to Wamena for an overnight stay and the exciting prospect of a shower and a soft mattress! In the cultivated valley closer to Wamena we hope to find Ornate Melidectes, localised Black-breasted Munia and the conspicuous Superb Bird-of-paradise which can even be found in close proximity to the villages. We will try to find the giulianettii Island Leaf Warbler as a future split and the Baliem Whistler which is already regarded as a full species.
This morning we fly back to Sentani before continuing to the lowland forests of Nimbokrang at the base of the imposing Cyclops Mountains where we will be based for the next four nights at a basic homestay. The remainder of the day with be spent exploring this bird-rich area.
The flat alluvial rainforests of Nimbokrang have suffered from logging but large tracts of good secondary and selectively logged forest remain. The birding in these mosquito infested swamp forests is by no means easy but the rewards are great. Several species of Bird-of-paradise can be found here and we will be hoping to find Pale-billed Sicklebill and to witness the amazing displays of Twelve-wired and King Birds-of-paradise. The seemingly endless list of possible species here includes some true specialties of the area and thus we will target Salvadori’s Fig-Parrot, Brown and Western Black-capped Lories, Lowland Peltops, Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot, Blue Jewel Babbler, White-eared Catbird, Brown-headed Crow and Jobi Manucode. Victoria Crowned Pigeon and Brown-collared Brush-turkeys are present but extremely difficult to observe, and there’s always the chance of Shovel-billed Kingfisher. Nights at basic homestay in Nimbokrang.
After a final day of birding in these tropical lowland forests we will return to Sentani for an overnight stay.
We start the day to exploring nearby grasslands in the shadow of the Cyclops Mountains, where it is often possible to find Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, Grand and Hooded Mannikin. We then fly to Manokwari on the west shore of Geelvink Bay, and from here we drive up into the Arfak Mountains, to Mokwam village, situated at 1600m. Over the coming days we will split our time between the lower levels of the forest and the higher reaches of the montane forest, each area with its own distinct avifauna and special birds. Most of our seven nights here will be spent in the basic guesthouses in Mokwam or Mingre Villages but one or two nights will be spent at a basic camp higher up the mountains to search for higher altitude specialities.
In these remote mountains we will be searching for many special montane birds which include some of New Guinea’s most desirable yet little-known birds. Perhaps the highlight of our stay here will be the chance to visit the dancing ground of the Western Parotia. Hides have been built overlooking some of these display areas and the chance to watch the extravagant ‘ballerina dance’ of these extraordinary birds at point-blank range is truly a mind-blowing experience. Magnificent Birds-of-paradise can likewise be enjoyed on their display areas and other highly desirable birds here include the elusive Black-billed Sicklebill, the virtually unknown Long-tailed Paradigalla and the fascinating Vogelkop Bowerbird which not only builds an impressive bower but is also a skilled mimic, imitating the songs of many other species. Our local Papuan guides are incredibly skilled at finding these birds and often treat us to daytime views of bizarre-looking Feline and Mountain Owlet-nightjars. As we reach higher altitudes the plethora of birds seen will include additions such as Black Sicklebills, Orange-crowned Fairy-wren, Western Smoky Honeyeaters, Vogelkop Melidectes and Arfak Astrapia.
After a final day of birding in the Arfaks we return to Manokwari for an overnight stay and a welcome hot shower.
Today we fly to Sorong, hopefully arriving in time to explore areas close to the city which host specialities like Blue-black Kingfisher and Black Thicket-Fantail. Overnight stay in Sorong.
We have a full day to spend in forest near Sorong which hold their own set of special birds, foremost among which are Black Lory and Red-breasted Paradise Kingfisher. Night in Sorong.
We will spend any available time birding in forests outside of Sorong before taking the fast ferry to Waisai, Waigeo for a three-night stay.
The island of Waigeo holds several species absent from the mainland and these will form our focus here. Our primary target is to find the quite astounding Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise, a bird frequently cited as one of the most beautiful in the world. Using specially constructed hides we will be able to observe the birds as they visit their display grounds completely oblivious to our admiring eyes. With good fortune we will see the male in full action – calling and displaying vigorously to any females which enter his display arena. Other birds present include Red Bird-of-paradise, found only on Waigeo and Batanta, Raja Ampat Pitohui, and the shy Western Crowned Pigeon. Nights at Waisai.
After a final morning on Waigeo we return by boat to Sorong for an overnight stay in Sorong.
The tour finishes with departures out of Sorong.
Deposit: £ 1000 or $ 1,400
Single room supplement: £500/$650
Maximum group size: 7
Tour cost includes: all accommodation, main meals, drinking water, internal flights (as stated in itinerary), overland transport, tips to local drivers and guides, travel permits, entrance fees, and guide fees.
Tour cost excludes: International / domestic flights and departure taxes to and from West Papua (tour starts in Biak and ends in Sorong), visa, travel insurance, tips to tour leaders, laundry, drinks and other items of a personal nature.
Accommodation: basic to comfortable twin-bed, and single rooms, all with private facilities everywhere except; Numfor (1 night) and Arfak Mountains (5 nights). Two nights in the Arfak Mountains will be spend in a well-constructed camp with shared toilet facilities. Two nights at Malagufuk will be spent in basic shared accommodation with shared facilities.
Walking difficulty: easy to moderate on Numfor, Biak, Nimokrang, Sorong area, Waigeo, and most of the time in the Snow Mountains, mixture of trails and roadside birding.
Some steep on arduous walks in the Snow and Arfak Mountains.
Maximum altitude on the tour is 3,400m in the Snow Mountains.
Expected number of species: 370-420 species.
Number of endemics and range-restricted species: 230-250 New Guinea endemics, including 50-55 West Papua endemics.
Our latest tour reports from the region