Layover birding

One of the troubles with working in a country that is really, really, really far away from home, is that it takes an absurd amount of time to travel from my field sites to my front door. I left my site on Saturday, PNG time, and I wont arrive back at my house in Louisiana until Thursday PNG time! One of the contributing factors to this is spending time sorting permits and samples before importing the fruits of my research into the USA.

The only upside to this is an extended layover in some places with pretty neat birds and friends. On Sunday this week, I was taken by Jeff Crocombe up to Varirata National Park just outside of Port Moresby. This national park is PNGs best kept secret. It is the only park with maintained trails running through high quality habitat where you can mostly bird on your own. For this reason, there are some great birds to be found! We spent a full day hiking the trails here and managed a bunch of fantastic birds. Exciting for me, was this Dwarf Fruit-Dove, which I have looked for throughout my travels in New Guinea without success. The book calls them “surprisingly small,” which was an appropriate description.

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One of the appeals of Varirata NP is the presence of several major skulkers. Birders love ground dwelling birds that are impossible to see, because they’re a huge pain and apparently we’re all masochists. Three of these skulkers are the Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler, Painted Quail-thrush, and Papuan Pitta. The former two are part of a colorful and secretive Australasian family and the names speak for themselves. They also sound surprisingly similar, but we managed to track down one of each that were each being quite vocal. Finally, the pitta was uncharacteristically vocal right smack in the middle of the day when any self respecting pitta should have been sulking quietly in dense thickets. None of my photos of these three are worth posting on their own, so I made a little composition.

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Chestnut-backed Jewel-babbler, Painted Quail-thrush, and Papuan Pitta

And a checklist of the other birds can be found here for the curious.
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S28849767

After leaving Port Moresby, I took a short hop over to Brisbane in southern Queensland. I had to spend a day to pick up dry ice, so I met up with Nick Leseberg who was kind enough to show me around a few local birding spots.

There were a few rain forest species that I hoped to see near Mount Glorious, where we started the morning. In the parking lot at Miala we located a massive fruiting tree that was being visited by about a dozen Lewin’s Honeyeaters, as many Satin Bowerbirds, Barred Cuckooshrikes, Wompoo Fruit-doves, and best of all, a smattering of male and female Regent Bowerbirds. Several Rose-crowned Fruit-doves were in attendance, but remained just out of sight for the entire morning, outside of a few flyovers. Just down the road, Nick quickly picked up on a small group of Red-browed Treecreepers amongst a Bell Miner colony. Nick had done research with the latter species and explained to me about their aggressive habits. Apparently, a small colony will vigorously defend a patch of forest from all other birds in the area. They are so successful at preventing other birds from coming in that insects become plentiful and devour the foliage, leading to small scale forest degradation. We found the treecreepers foraging right along the border of the colony and enjoyed watching Bell Miners chase off those birds caught unaware passing into their territory.

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Nick and I spent the afternoon traveling through the Lockyer valley looking for open country species and waterfowl. Along the way, Nick spotted this bearded dragon striking an epic pose on someone’s lawn.

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One of the species I had hoped to see was the Speckled Warbler. Nick indicated that they are a bit uncommon here. Yikes, boarding my plane so got to post this a bit early! Nick delivered on the warbler and we encountered a small flock of these boldly patterned Australian warblers.

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Fuscous Honeyeater!

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