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Setting expectations for PNG

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Old Sunday 28th July 2019, 18:14   #1
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Setting expectations for PNG

I am recently back from 3+ weeks birding in Papua New Guinea, a trip organized by Sicklebill Safaris with only local guides, no overall guide/escort. There were many wonderful things about it: we saw 21 of the 28 Birds of Paradise on the PNG half of the main island (it included the Huon peninsula, which has 3 BoPs found only there, though we missed 3 other species we could/should have seen) and representatives of all seven of the Families of birds restricted to New Guinea.

However, there were a number of terrible things about the country, so I wanted to help set realistic expectations for others planning to go there, something that would have benefited us.

I had read a long time ago that birding in NG is the hardest in the world, but I glossed over that, figuring that birding in tropical forest is challenging - especially montane forest - and it must be just more of the same. That was wrong: PNG is qualitatively different from the 45 other countries I've visited. Most areas seem almost birdless and, when you do see birds, it's a rarity to get a prolonged, close look. If you're not prepared for that, people will be disappointed and frustrated to some degree. We can watch professional videos made there and forget that weeks of work went into some of the clips.

In a previous post here, Jurek gave the likely explanation: "Birds are typically very shy, even by rainforest standards, because even small songbirds are hunted with slingshots." We hardly saw any mammals either. The birding was clearly somewhat better in the few places where hunting is limited: Varirata (the only national park?), or the protected grounds of Kumul Lodge, Pacific Adventist University, and Crossroads hotel outside Lae.

There is a long cultural tradition of hunting birds, and some of it is just for sport, but Papuans probably eat everything they kill and it's hard to blame them given how impoverished and malnourished the people are. I always hire local guides when I travel, so that somebody there benefits from ecotourism and has a stake in conservation, and those people "get it" (e.g. in Madagascar and Sulawesi), but in PNG it seems incomprehensible even to the guides that people need to stop killing birds. We had a driver and a lodge owner with BoP skins hanging from their rear-view mirrors! It's depressing, but worse if you expected something different.

p.s. Speaking of preparation for NG, I was able to get Beta versions of an app implementation of the Pratt & Beehler guide in preparation by Birds in the Hand LLC. It was tremendously helpful, in the field and even in studying for the trip. Easy to access the information, plus includes audio! Among the features is that you can "filter" the contents for some of the main birding regions. Everyone visiting NG should have it... not live yet, but look for it in the App Store and Google Play.

Last edited by tapaculo : Sunday 28th July 2019 at 18:29. Reason: added info on app
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Old Wednesday 31st July 2019, 22:37   #2
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Thanks very much for this, we're going in September. Hope our lowered expectations will not require further lowering while there.
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