Trip Report – West Papua (Remote Islands) – October 2022
This was a birding cruise organized by Rockjumper. There were 14 of us, which was great when on the boat but made birding the forests a bit tricky!
A comment about bird names and species/sub-species. This trip was the most confusing we have ever done when it came to determining what was a species vs sub-species and the use of both the common and Latin names. Every book seems to have something different and the new book by James Eaton has split many species. We finally went with James Eaton’s list as our guides agreed that he is definitely the local expert and most of his splits will be accepted sooner or later. Quite confusing!
We met in Sorong and spent the first couple of days birding that part of the mainland. Our first afternoon we walked around the mangroves – it was quite birdy and easy to manage with 14 people and we got our first 3 life birds – Collared Imperial-pigeon, Brown-backed Honeyeater and Blue-black Kingfisher.
The next morning was to be the first of many long, early morning drives up bumpy roads to reach the depleted forests. This one was Logan Forest. It was a great spot and had a boardwalk through the forest which made birding very easy. We came here a couple of mornings because of the boardwalk and the open road just outside the forest where we also had an impressive number of species – our life list was really great: Black Lory, Black-sided Robin, Golden Cuckoo-shrike, Grey Whistler, King-bird-of-Paradise, Eastern Hooded Pitta, Golden Myna, Golden Monarch, Blue Jewel-babbler, Molucccan King-parrot, Olive Flyrobin, Red-breasted Paradise-kingfisher, Spotted Honeyeater, Sultan’s Cuckoo-dove, Grey-headed Cuckoo-shrike Yellow-billed Longbill, Yellow-capped Pygmy-parrot, Rufous-backed Fantail and Papuan Spinetail. We loved this spot!
The other area we birded in Sonego was a ‘park’ near town – Taman Wisata Alam – and we picked up a few more life birds, although the rain and mud added an extra level of challenge. Lesser Cuckooshirke, Olive-crowned Flowerpecker, Waigeo Shrike-thrush and Beautiful Fruit-dove.
Waigeo, Kri & Augusta.
Now it was time to board our boat. It was the Indo Seamore and was a great traditional Indonesian style boat but it was new so really lovely. We had the best cabins on the boat and they were great – although I am not sure I would have wanted to stay in some of the ones on the lower decks.
Our first stop was the island of Waigeo and, en route we picked up Streaked Shearwater and Bulwer’s Petrel. We birded the island for 2 days and it was great. Not a ton of species but what was there was great! The local guide from the island had everything very well organized with hides for viewing Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise and Red Bird-of-Paradise, trucks to pick us up and constant snacks and drinks. It was very enjoyable. Brown-headed Crow, Claret-breasted Fruit-dove, Common Paradise-kingfisher, Hook-billed Kingfisher, Papuan Boobook, Papuan Pitta and Waigeo Pitohui.
Late one afternoon we took the boats around the Raja Amput Islands. First, we saw Great-billed Parrot, Spice-Imperial Pigeon and Violet-necked Lory and then we sat in the small boats, watching the sun go down, with a cold beer. It was really magical.
Another afternoon we stopped at Kri Island for Dusky Megapode.
Our next stop was a tiny island, Augusta, where we spent the morning wondering around a dive resort. It was a nice relaxing morning and we enjoyed Olive Honeyeater, Arafura Fantail, Island Whistler, Moluccan Starling and Moluccan Fruit-dove.
After a bumpy ride overnight, we stopped at a small village on Kofiau and walked through the village to the forest – not tons of birds but some good lifers for us: Kofiau Paradise-Kingfisher, Sahul Sunbird, Kofiau Monarch and Moluccan Cuckoo. Wilson’s Storm-petrel and Abbott’s Booby were new for us in the afternoon as we set sail.
Another bumpy overnight ride took us to Obi Island. It is another island that hunts birds and the forest was pretty quiet. Our guides worked hard and we ended up with a good list of local specialties. Obi Paradise-crow, Black-naped Fruit-dove, Spectacled Imperial Pigeon, Rufous-bellied Triller, Moluccan Flycatcher, Halmerha Flowerpecker, Moluccan Monarch, Obi Fantail, Obi Spangled-Drongo, Moluccan Cuckooshrike, Obi Golden Bulbul and Obi Whistler.
A 2nd visit in the afternoon to a different part of the island wasn’t quite so successful. We had been told there was the possibility of Invisible rail but it lived up to its name and we didn’t see it! Partly because it rained so hard! But before the rain we did get Chinese Sparrowhawk, Obi Myzomela and Pied Imperial-pigeon.
A sail to Seram provided us with a nice lazy morning as we didn’t start birding until 3.30pm. We headed to a lowland forest and enjoyed Red Lory, Seram Friarbird, Seam Imperial Pigeon, Seram Swiftlet and Violet Crow.
A trip higher up the mountain the next morning required the normal early start and lengthy bumpy jeep ride but we were rewarded with 11 life birds! Drab Whistler, Moluccan Whistler, Purple-naped Lory, Seram Honeyeater, Seram Leaf Warbler, Seram Mountain Pigeon, Seram Oriole, Seram Spangled Drongo, Streak-breasted Fantail and Turquoise Flycatcher.
An afternoon visit back to the lowland forest, gave us the much sought after Salmon-crested Cockatoo, Lazuli Kingfisher and Ashy Flowerpecker.
A super-early start for owls paid off with the Seram Boobook – although the scops-owl was elusive. A few more hours up the mountain gave us 3 more life birds – Grey-capped White-eye, Drab & Seram Myzomelas. Although it was only 9am the heat and humidity were intense and the birding really quiet so we called it a day after a further search for Long-crested Myna that was unsuccessful.
Boano Island – Last stop
This tiny little island is extremely remote and the village of Huhua, while seemingly very well organized, is an example of how tough life is in this part of the world. We were there for 2 very specific species – Boano (Black-chinned) Monarch and Greys’ Grasshopper-warbler. It was quite a hike to get to their location and the heat and humidity were immense but we were successful with both species and happy to head back to the boat.
The village, unknown even to the cruise organizers, had decided to put on a show for us – it was fabulous and we really enjoyed it. It was a great way to end the cruise.
There were 7 of us that continued on to Buru for an additional 4 days. It was quite grueling. The accommodation, while adequate, was quite strange, the mornings early, the driving long and challenging and the food truly terrible. But the birds……
The lowland forest was easy birding along the road and the support team really looked after us with drinks and snacks. A couple of visits here gave us: Buru Flowerpecker, Buru Oriole, Black-faced Friarbird, Buru Spangled Drongo, Buru Green Pigeon, South Moluccan Pitta and Pale Cicadabird.
The higher forest was a bit more challenging to reach with a long, very bumpy road but the birding was easy once we go there. We went up a few times and saw the following over these trips : Moluccan Scops-owl, Buru Mountain-Pigeon and Buru Cuckooshrike, Black-tipped Monarch, Buru Fantail, Buru Golden-Bulbul, Buru Leaf Warbler, Buru Racquet-tail, Buru White-eye, Streak-breasted Jungle-Flycatcher, White-naped Monarch and Wakolo Myzomela.
The final area that we explored was a steep and lengthy hike at the top of the road. We were looking for the fabled Madanga (only discovered in 2016) and although we were unsuccessful we had a great hike and saw some great birds including Buru Thrush, Buru Honeyeater and Tawny-backed Fantail.
We left Buru and flew to our last stop – Ambon Island. We were only there for one night before leaving but a morning trip gave us Ambon White-eye and Seram Golden Bulbul. A later afternoon outing to a small, offshore island was fantastic with amazing views and Moluccan Megapode coming into to roost and lay their eggs – and even a recently split Forsten’s Megapode. Night at Santika Hotel.
Sonego – Swiss Belhotel – good for the location
Ambon – Santika Hotel – we were pleasantly surprised!!
Guides & Resources
Trip organized by Rockjumper Birding Tours
Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago, Greater Sundas & Wallacea – James Eaton