I have been birding Varirata whenever I can over the last year - when I'm up on
business and with a tour in July / August 2011. I have managed to do 10 days in
the park so far, picking up many key birds like Painted Quail-Thrushes,
Chestnut-backed Jewel Babbler, Brown-headed Paradise Kingfisher etc. over that
time. However, this weekend (31March / 1 April) was exceptional. And I was the
only person there! I was going to be with Daniel Wakra - but when I called
him - he was in Madang en route to Manus Island - so I just went alone.
On Saturday - first thing I found a Forest Bittern along the river from the
main picnic site to the lookout. It flew up from the stream and rested in view
in a low tree before disappearing. This is a rare bird and one not seen often.
A Black-billed Brush Turkey (v shy!) was by its mound and bird activity was
high.Then mid morning it started to rain - and it rained all day. But 2
Pheasant pigeons were calling and calling and I also heard a Crested Pitahui.
So one new bird, before the day was abandoned - back to Moresby for work.
Sunday was my best day ever at Varirata. I looked for the Forest Bittern again
- no luck. A Crested Pitahui was calling and calling (it has a monotous ringing
call that it does for 10-15 mins (continuously) at a time) - I crossed the
river heading towards where it was singing from. They are apparently tricky to
see. I soon had it close to me and then it was over my head! He kept putting
the crest up on his head - great looks. I also had amazing looks at
Chestnut-backed Jewel Babbler, Northern Scrub Robin carrying food and a Red
bellied Pitta on the trail for several minutes. It was easy to be very quite -
just me and all the leaves were very wet from yesterday's rain - so no
noise.This is really important here - if you are with a big group you will
really struggle to see the shy ground dwelling birds.
A pheasant pigeon was calling again and during the day - at least 3 birds were
heard. I crossed the river at the picnic site at the start of the trail to the
lookout and headed up hill. One was calling all the time - and it is an amazing
eerie whistle that almost sounds owl like. I imitated the call and the bird was
close. It then walked straight in front of me and i watched it in my bins at
close range - and then it was gone. (So 2 lifers for the day). I thought I had
had all my luck but it got better - much better. I flushed a Cinnamon ground
dove on the trail from the picnic site to the tree house only 50m into the
forest - but I still did not see it well. It started calling - a soft purring
frog like noise. But no luck - I could not see it! I walked to the tree house
and on to the Raggiana display site. I then headed down the slope to go towards
the circuit trail. I saw several groups of fruit-doves / pigeons heading into
a tree just off the trail so I stopped and quitel
y watched, Oragne-bellied, Pink-spotted, superb and dwarf fruit doves. I then
had the surprise of my life! A DWARF CASSOWARY walked into view just 15m away -
I watch it with my eyes for a few seconds and then went to lift my camera - it
saw me and ran like the fastest thing on earth. It was like he was
electrocuted! I never expected to see a dwarf cassowary here! Daniel Wakra - a
local guide here told me there hadn't been any seen for about 10 years. He said
you may have to walk 10kms into the forest - and I was only 1km from the main
picnic site! But i guess I was lucky, alone, quiet, no one to talk to etc - and
I was there - out looking! I saw a lot of other really good birds during the
day with 6 species of Kingfisher seen well for example. My day ended on the
boundary track where I finally flushed a Cinnamon Ground Dove, just after the
bridge, and it landed in view and I watched it with my bins for may be 10
seconds. In this park, the birds are really shy - so 10 second
s is a treat!
So 5 new birds (and about 70 species) - Forest Bittern, Crested Pitahui,
Pheasant Pigeon, Dwarf Cassowary and Cinnamon Ground Dove. My Varirata list is
now up to about 135 species!
The trails are all in terrible condition and trees are down across the paths
everywhere. Most trails would be impassible to 'normal' people. I fell over
numerous times on very wet slippery slopes. There has been a lot of rain this
year and high winds about a month ago brought down a lot of trees. It is much,
much worse than a year ago. It will be very difficult with groups when all the
tourists arrive from Europe and the USA many of whom are retired.
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