Birdwatching in Papua New Guinea
Most birders dream of visiting Papua New Guinea (PNG) to see its amazing birds of paradise, exotic parrots, and other unique bird species. Even if you are not into birding, watching the BBC documentary “Birds of Paradise” only takes a few minutes to make you long to visit the exotic land. I am one such traveller who took a trip to PNG almost ten years ago. Since then, I have been to Papua New Guinea six times and have no intention of stopping there. After visiting this mystically beautiful country six times, I can categorically tell you that it has some magic that makes you keep coming back. In this blog post, I will provide you with the four must-see birding locations in PNG, based on the quality and quantity of birdlife, locations in varied elevations, locations where reasonable infrastructure is in place, safety and security of travellers, and cost.
Before we get into the four must-see places in PNG, you should know a few things. Let me list them for you:
A. You will never be able to see ALL the Birds of Paradise performing their awe-inspiring dances up close, as you saw in the BBC documentary. However, you can see the lovely display of Regianna Bird of Paradise in Varirata National Park from a reasonable distance. The Magnificent Bird of Paradise and Flame Bowerbird (an expelled member of the Bird of Paradise family) come to the ground for the display. In Tabubil, you can see them in close proximity from the comfort of bird hides. Many birds of paradise are canopy birds that live in remote areas. You’ll never be able to see them at eye level. However, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are a few of them that you can see from hides, feeding tables, and low leks. The BBC crew had millions of dollars available to dispense for transportation, logistics, equipment, and manpower while producing their epic documentary series. Most of us will be there on a much more modest budget, so we need to be reasonable with expectations.
B. In PNG, you’ll hear more birds than you see. Birds in PNG are notorious for their ability to make a call from a tree next to you and then hide in the foliage, leaving no trace. They may be hesitant to respond to the tape calls as well. I believe some species are born with this ability to hide and call; others might have honed to avoid hunters.
C. PNG is an exorbitantly expensive birding destination. Some of you may have firsthand experience of receiving outrageous quotations from local operators for bird trips to PNG. In PNG, everything you touch is expensive. The high prices of goods and services in PNG are attributed to dispersed human settlements, a lack of infrastructure (road density is very low in PNG), and a heavy reliance on imports.
D. What are the most visited birding destinations in Papua New Guinea? Traditionally, Variarata National Park and the campus of Pacific Advent University (PAU) in Port Moresby, Mt Hagen and local spots in and around the famous Kumul Lodge in Enge province, Southern Highlands (Ambua Lodge Area), Spik river (Karawari Lodge Area), Kiunga, Tabubil, and New Britain are the most touted birding locations in Papua New Guinea.
Based on the following factors, we have chosen the four best and most important birding locations in Papua New Guinea for you to visit.
1. Quality and Quantity of Birdlife
2. Locations in varied elevations
3. Locations where reasonable infrastructures are in place
4. Safety and security of travellers
1. Birding in Varirata National Park and (PAU)
Elevation: 2000-2500 ft
Varirata National Park is Papua New Guinea’s only national park. While travelling through PNG, you may come across vast forested areas that you may mistake for national parks, but remember that all forested areas in the country belong to one or more tribes. Trespassers should not expect a warm welcome here. You can reach the Varirata national park within an hour’s drive from Port Moresby city centre. It is home to over 240 bird species and has many well-established trails to explore.
The most sought-after species in the park are the Reggiana bird of paradise, Glowing Riffe bird, Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher, the poisonous bird Black-headed pitohui, Barking owl, and New Guinea Vulture-parrot, among others.
Download a copy of the e-Bird Checklist here
Recommended Accommodations in Port Moresby
a. In Port Moserby City Centre: Rain Tree Lodge
b. Near the Varirata National Park: Gate Way Hotel
2. Birding around the Kumul Lodge ( Mt Hagen )
Elevation: 8500 ft.
On Mt. Hagen, you are likely to see a lot of species that live high up. The best place to see birds is at the Kumul lodge, which is in the nearby Enge province and is more than an hour away by car. The eco-friendly lodge has a feeding table where we have seen birds of paradise like the Ribbon-tailed Asprapia and Brown sicklebill, Brehm’s Tiger parrot, crested Berry-peckers, and honeyeaters that change colour, among others.
You might also see the Blue-bird of Paradise, King of Saxony bird of Paradise, Black Sicklebill (in the Randon Ridge area), Crested Satin Bird, Torrent Flycatcher, Lesser Bird of Paradise, etc., in and around the Kumul lodge area.
Recommended Lodge: Kumul Lodge
Luxury Birding Resort: Rondon Ridge
Local Birding Tour Operator: Kim’s Miok Tour
3. Birding in Tabubil
Tabubil is a rarely visited birding location in the Fly River Zone’s Star mountain range. It is important to note that Tabubil and Kiunga are home to more than half of Papua New Guinea’s bird life. Hence, we recommend that you spend a significant portion of your PNG days in these two locations. Birding tourism is now picking up in the area. We had also recently heard about new hides being built by local guides and the opening of new birding lodges. Unfortunately, most of this news failed to be verified.
Key species: Magnificent Bird of Paradise, Superb Bird of Paradise, Carola’s Parotia, Short-tailed Paradigal, Trumpet Manucode, Golden Myna, Salvadori Teal, Shovel-billed Kingfisher, Greater Melampitta etc.
Recommended Lodge: Cloudland Hotel
Recommended Guide: Samuel Kepuknai
4. Birding in Kiunga
Elevation: 110 ft
Kiunga is a port town on the Mystique Fly River and used to be a mining area. The mine is now closed. Since the mining industry collapsed, growing natural rubber has become a new way to make money. The 140-kilometre highway will take you to Tabubil, which is another important town and birding in the area. There are many well-known birding locations in and around for amazing birding. The most memorable and productive would be river cruises you make in small boats through the fly river, scanning for birds on both banks of the river.
In Kiunga, a few days of river cruises and island expeditions can yield excellent birding results. Greater Birds of Paradise, King Birds of Paradise, 12 Wired Birds of Paradise, Flame Bower Bird, Victoria Crown Pigeon, and a variety of parrots, parakeets, kingfishers, and other species are commonly seen here.
Download e-Bird Download e-Bird checklist for Kiunga and Tabubil here:
Reccomoded Accommodations: Kiunga Guest House
Recommended Guide: Samuel Kepuknai