Baiyer River

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: Baiyer River
From: Andrew P Anderson <>
Date: Sun, 19 Sep 2004 06:25:53 +1000
Papua New Guinea, August 2004.
We finally organised John Crowhurst to get a passport, probably a highlight in itself as when he had spent 6 months in PNG 30 years ago, passports weren't required. Ben Blewitt came for the first time, bringing the eagle eyes of youth with him, and finally Blue Booth from Christchurch, New Zealand, with her insatiable curiousity and permanent good humour - and at 70 with an artificial knee on one side and an artificial hip on the other, handled PNG and it's people with aplomb. What good company she was.
Having only the four of us (including me) was a good thing as when the flights were booked Air Niu Gini had stopped flying in to Tari with their big-capacity planes leaving only the smaller 14-seat Airlink as the only other company that landed there. And we got the last 4 seats on that. Tabubil & Kiunga were not on the agenda this time.
We thought we were lucky to get a flight to Tari but that flight never went either because the Tari airport re-surfacing didn't finish until 3 days after we were due to fly there. So we had to improvise in the Hagen area by staying an extra 2 days at Kumul Lodge and another day accessing Baiyer River.
We missed out on only a half-dozen species from the Tari area by staying the extra 2 days at Kumul Lodge at 2860m (the same height as the Tari Gap). To make up for that we easily added Rufous Woodcock (three different birds, quite tame), and Papuan Whipbird (male and female well seen on seperate occasions), neither species often seen by groups on the Tari Gap road.

Baiyer River Sanctuary.

We left Kumul Lodge early to spend the last night in Mt Hagen town at the friendly Kimininga Lodge. On the way, about 0730, we photographed the Blue BoP, saw a female Superb BoP on the same tree, and digiscoped a Yellow-breasted Bowerbird (not commonly seen by visiting birders) through the mist. Ornate Honeyeater was there and Mountain Myzomela in town with Brown-breasted Warbler and Black-headed Whistler.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon we tried to hire a vehicle frrom Hagen to drive to Mendi to see the "guaranteed" Salvadori's Teal there. A$450 was the lowest price so we concentrated instead on negotiations with the police to go to Baiyer River, a brilliant birding destination that had been "out of bounds" for many years because of hold-ups. That has long changed, but a local war broke out about 4 years ago over the ownership of a coffee plantation.
Although things have been quiet for a year or so now home-made shotguns and rifles are gradually replacing bows and arrows in these "highland games" (as we call them) and there is still a possibility a non-police vehicle could be shot at so the police suggested we come in their police-blue Toyota troop carrier as no-one would mistake them for a member of either side. So with a few well-placed bribes we accessed Baiyer River inside a police vehicle protected with three of the Rapid Response Team armed with AK47s, at half the cost of a hired 4wd.
Fred, our driver, was very good. Ben and I, as experienced 4wdrivers, couldn't fault him as he made excellent time through the early morning darkness, including negotiating a difficult 150m hand-made section where a recent flood had removed the original road entirely, getting us to the Lesser BoP lek in time for the last half-hour of display. At least one bird, probably the alpha male, displayed until 0800 in full view, begging for his picture to be taken. (see the website).
It's been 12 years since I was at Baiyer River Sanctuary and apart from the main buildings bing burnt down a few months after I was there, the New Guinea Eagles gone from their cages, and no Sweat Flies, little has changed. Baiyer River is about 2 hours to the north of, and so much lower than Hagen, that it is full of a mixture of northern lowland and hill forest species.
Other Bops we saw there in our 4 hours were Magnificent (female only but heard several males at their display grounds), and Crinkle-collared Manucode. Other good birds were Bar-tailed Pigeon (nigrirostris), Ornate Fruit Dove, Zoe, White-eared Cuckoo, (heard Greater Black Coucal), Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Hooded Pitta, (heard Blue-breasted), Plain Honeyeater (the place in PNG for it), plus Tawny-breasted, Mountain, Puff-backed, and Red-throated Honeyeaters; Ochre-collared Monarch, lots of Northern Fantails and Black-browed Trillers, Grey-headed Cuckooshrike, Hooded Butcherbird, Grey Crow, Black Berrypecker, and Pygmy Longbill.
Not a great list but this is a vibrant primary forest full of potential and like other good places, 2-3 days would be needed to do it justice. I spent 3 days there in 1992 and saw in addition Dwarf Cassowary (easier there than Varirata),
Little Eagle, Cinnamon Ground Dove, Mountain Pigeon, (heard Hook-billed Kingfisher), Dusky Lory, Dwarf Fig Parrot, (heard Papuan Boobook), Rusty Mouse Warbler, Chestnut-backed Jewel, Spot-winged Monarch, Shining Flycatcher, Yellow-gaped Meliphaga, Dwarf Longbill, Golden Myna, and Singing Starling.
Other observers in the early 1990s also saw Eclectus Parrot, Sooty Owl, Marbled Frogmouth, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Dwarf Kingfisher, Pale-billed Scrubwren, Red-collared and Red Myzomelas; White-faced, Black-sided, and Northern Scrub Robins; Dwarf Whistler, Hooded and Crested Pitohuis, White-bellied Fantail, Black-winged Monarch, Stout-billed and Boyer's Cuckooshrikes, Brown Oriole, Papuan Flowerpecker, Yellow-breasted Bowerbird, Spotted Catbird, and Magnificent Riflebird. And no doubt there are many other species present seen by such birding giants in PNG as Roy MacKay who managed Baiyer River in the early 1980s.

Those of you familiar with Varirata NP will recognise many of the same species because the two locations are about the same elevation, but each has some species the other hasn't.
Baiyer River now has one 4xbunk room and if you don't want to do your own negotiations with the police Elija Hon of Paradise Tours, Mt Hagen, can arrange the police vehicle for you and food if you want to stay a couple of nights. It was probably Elijah who arranged for the good hide beside one of the Magnificent BoP display areas. The famous Jimi Ridge could be open for birders again too (think Yellow-breastd BoP) but I won't be checking that out until my next tour in April, 2005.
Andy Anderson.

-- --
Andrew P Anderson
AABirding & Travel
Box 7999, Cairns 4870
tel/fax 07 40318803, mob 0438318804
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