Wednesday, 22 October 2014


Further to my last post about Birds of Paradise, here are a few more PNG birds. Brehm's Tiger-Parrots live in highland forest, and in a few places become confiding visitors to bird feeders, where they enjoy papaya and pineapple. They have a comical way of moving down a branch: by a series of jumps alternately facing left and right. Tiger-Parrots are a group of four species endemic to the New Guinea mountains, staying under the canopy of forest and never flying over it. This is the largest: 23 cm. We got to know its plaintive ee-yore call.   

Owlet-nightjars are a small family (neither owls nor nightjars) almost endemic to Australia and New Guinea. Swifts and hummingbirds are (surprisingly) their closest relatives. This is the forest-dwelling Barred Owlet-nightjar. As it peered out of its hole, it somehow reminded me of an Aye-aye. They feed only at night on insects taken by pouncing on the ground or in flight. Not much is known about the nesting ecology of this species, but its repeated yapping call could be mistaken for a small dog's.

 Here's another bird that has been confusing taxonomists. The Blue-capped Ifrit (formerly Ifrita) used to be classed as a babbler, but is now placed in its own family (between monarchs and drongos). It behaves like a nuthatch, exploring lichens, mosses and epiphytes on cloud forest trees. In the sun, the blue cap is as brilliant as any hummingbird. It lays a single egg in a bulky nest of moss and plant material. Its rising and falling song has the quality of a child's squeaky toy. The word ifrit is Arabic for a spirit or djinn.  

This male Regent Whistler was photographed in the same forest garden as the Ifrit, at 2800 m. When two males meet each other, they can expand the yellow nape patch in defiance and sing a loud whistling song. Related to the whistlers are the pitohuis, a group of New Guinea passerines whose skin, flesh and feathers have recently been found to be poisonous, thanks to a beetle that forms part of their diet. 

Also up in the cloud forest lives Belford's Melidectes, a large honeyeater. They are common, conspicuous, noisy and bullying towards smaller birds such as tiger-parrots, which they chase away from a food source. Their varied notes, both clear piping and harsh cawing, were often our morning alarm calls. The nest is a cup of twigs and moss; but despite their abundance the egg is still undescribed. Melidectes means 'receiver of honey' in Greek.

A birdless photo here, but instead the bower of MacGregor's Bowerbird. The owner made it quite clear he was too shy to pose in the picture. Up on a ridge at 2100 m, we came across this 'maypole bower' of small twigs built up around a small sapling with a mossy 'running track' around it. The male may decorate it with berries and fungi. The male - a stocky brown bird of 26 cm with a flattened orange crest - spends most of the day near the bower; while the crest-less female has to attend to all nesting duties on her own. Maintaining that bower is a full-time job!

Finally, not all our PNG tour was within forest. We spent time in savanna, and boating along a river in the Sepik lowlands, in the north of the country. Near Port Moresby our first outing was to a campus where two lakes held a variety of duck, cormorants, herons and egrets, plus grebe, jacana, and swamphen among much else. This group of Plumed Whistling-Duck were non-breeding visitors from Australia, which is only a short flight across the Torres Strait. Thanks again to Jenny and Bryan for these photos. Soon I will post a few PNG landscapes and some of its more colourful human residents!  

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