Monday, 3 October 2016

Trip Report - Rondon Ridge, Papua New Guinea - 26th August - 2nd September 2016

We booked through Trans Niugini Tours, directly and organized our own return flights from Australia to Mt Hagen. Our package included pickup and drop off from Mt Hagen Airport (which we were informed was soon to become international, with flights direct from Cairn’s in Australia). The airport is known locally Kagamuga Airport and lies about 10km from Mt Hagen.  A pickup bus was waiting for us upon arrival as planned and it takes about an hour to drive up to the lodge.

The lodge which is about 2200 meters asl has breathtaking views over the Wahgi Valley and Mt Hagen and there is an ongoing program to plant more trees and continue to entice even more birdlife. The staff and locals in the area were extremely friendly. For more information the lodge website has an excellent traveller’s information page

At first we thought the expense was high but when you take into account the quality of the lodging & food and consider what is included with the package combined the true cost of running such a lodge one can begin to appreciate the expense.  That said it may be possible to negotiate ‘off season’ rates. We did experience a few power outages, but this is to be expected at such locations.  The lodge generates its own electricity through the use of its own hydro system. Throughout our stay the owners and staff went above and beyond to ensure our stay was outstanding and at no time did we feel unsafe. Put simply ‘nothing was too much trouble’. The lodge also offers cultural tours into Mt Hagen and has a wide selection of New Guinea artefacts for sale.

Weather and conditions
The weather here is consistent and for the most part pleasant throughout the year. Mostly clear in the mornings with fog to be expected at higher altitudes with clouds building up during the afternoons for possible showers late in the day, normally between 4pm and 6pm. Temperatures are cool in the mornings but for the most part very pleasant. Trails are normally muddy so water proof boots were used throughout.  Mosquitos although present were not a major problem and malaria is not present at this altitude we saw only one leech and thankfully did not experience any issues with chiggers.

There are many trails close to the lodge and a map of these (along with a bird checklist) is provided upon arrival. Remarkably the area boasts over 130 species.  Additionally there is a main trail to the summit that will require a guide. This trail can be quite a tough climb with gear but is so worth the effort; it takes about an hour and half to reach the main summit clearing and another half hour to reach the actual summit. The summit clearing is an area that has a few trees cleared and is particularly good for Sicklebills and the King-of-Saxony Bird-of-Paradise.

Food & Water
Water at the lodge is filtered and purified throughout, in fact we just filled water bottles straight from the tap (not something I would do anywhere else in New Guinea) and the food is just excellent.  Each day that we walked to the summit areas breakfast was provided by sending a porter up with a picnic breakfast and on one occasion we were simply staggered to find lunch delivered in the form of a gourmet hamburger and chips.

Birding & Photography in general
As is often the case in Papua New Guinea bird density was low and for the most part birds are very wary. Nevertheless, birding here is an experience never to be forgotten especially for those interested in seeing the birds of paradise in their natural habitat. Also on offer for those interested in targeting bird families is the Mottled Berryhunter and Wattled Ploughbill and this is certainly a wonderful locality for both.  New digital cameras these days can be outstanding when combined with a good lens (even within dark forested areas) but for the more unusual species a lot more time is needed, as once again many birds here can be very shy.  400mm or longer lenses are best.

Species List (P = photographed) Taxonomy follows IOC 6.3

Accipitridae – Kites, Hawks & Eagles

Long-tailed Honey Buzzard Haliaeeus leucogaster
One flew over the clearing near the summit

Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus
A few sighted souring from the lodge grounds

Black Kite Milvus migrans affinis
A few sighted souring from the lodge grounds and around Mt Hagen Township

Black-mantled Goshawk Accipiter melanochlamys
Two sightings, both from the summit clearing. (P)

Columbidae – Pigeons & Doves

Amboyna Cuckoo-Dove Macropygia amboinensis
Small numbers in the orchard areas just above the lodge and around the helipad clearing (P).

Bar-tailed Cuckoo-Dove Macropygia nigrirostris
Common in the orchard areas just above the lodge and around the water tanks (P)

White-bibbed Fruit Dove Ptilinopus ravioli
Seen each day that we visited the summit clearing (P)

Rufescent Imperial Pigeon Ducula chalconota
One very cooperative bird at the summit clearing (P)

Papuan Mountain Pigeon Gymnophaps albertisii
Regular flyovers at higher altitudes, especially from the summit clearing.

Cuculidae - Cuckoos

Rufous-throated Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx ruficollis
One seen on the 1st September on the lower sections of the main summit trail

Brush Cuckoo Cacomantis variolosus
One heard calling in the valley below the lodge.

Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis
A bird assumed to be this species (or Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo perhaps) calling from forest at the very summit above the summit clearing.

Strigidae - Owls

Papuan Boobook Ninox theomacha
A pair near the lodge carpark and a few more heard in the forest as we walked the summit trail in the dark in the early mornings (P).

Podargidae - Frogmouths

Papuan Frogmouth Podargus papuensis
One found roosting by our guide Joseph in a rainforest gully just below the lodge (P)

Aegothelidae – Owlet Nightjars

Feline Owlet Nightjar Aegotheles insignis
We heard these to be calling throughout forested areas below the wet mossy areas; they seemed to prefer the lower altitudes.  They responded well to playback but frustratingly, always remained out of view.

Mountain Owlet Nightjar Aegotheles albertisi
Two were calling at the summit clearing area when we arrived at dawn, one of which was seen.

Apodidae – Swifts & Swiftlets

Glossy Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta
Fairly common in many areas

Mountain Swiftlet Aerodramus hirundinaceus
Just a few sightings around the summit areas of what we assume were this species.

Meropidae – Bee-eaters

Rainbow Bee-eater Merops ornatus
Heard high over the forest at higher altitudes daily but seen only once.

Falconidae - Falcons

Brown Falcon Falco berigora
One flew across grassland near the gate entrance.

Psittacidae – Old World Parrots

Stella’s Lorikeet Charmosyna papou
Common around the summit clearing and many fly through sightings elsewhere (P).

Yellow-billed Lorikeet Neopsittacus musschenbroekii
A few seen mostly around the half way mark as we climbed the summit trail (P).

Orange-billed Lorikeet Neopsittacus pullicauda
A few around the summit clearing area (P).

Blue-collared Parrot Geoffroyus simplex
A party flew across the summit clearing one morning

Modest Tiger Parrot Psittacella modesta
One heard calling (identified by our guide) as we descended one afternoon

Ptilonorhynchidae - Bowerbirds

Macgregor's Bowerbird Amblyornis macgregoriae
Quite common in the area, but difficult to observe well.  We saw one from a hide at one of the active bowers about half way up the main summit trail and a few incidental sightings elsewhere.  Best areas seemed to be the upper sections. The local guide knew the locality of many of the bowers that were off the main trails. Some of the older bowers had been disturbed by locals and the hide that we visited was in need of repair.  

Yellow-breasted Bowerbird Chlamydera lauterbachi
Just the one sighting of a bird in flight at the entrance to the lodge.

Maluridae – Australasian Wrens

White-shouldered Fairywren Malurus alboscapulatus
A grassland species that was quite common around the lodge itself

Orange-crowned Fairywren Clytomyias insignis
Small parties regularly encountered, preferring sedge and bamboo areas within the forest especially towards the summit clearing. Although also seen in the dryer forest lower down (P).

Meliphagidae – Honeyeaters

Mountain Myzomela Myzomela adolphinae
A few sightings around the lodge, especially along the road between the gate and the lodge itself (P).

Red-collared Myzomela Myzomela rosenbergii
Common in forested areas above the lodge.

Rufous-backed Honeyeater Ptiloprora guisei
Common, especially around the summit clearing and upper areas of forest (P)

Common Smoky Honeyeater Melipotes fumigatus
Most sightings were around the summit clearing and upper sections of the forest.

Black-throated Honeyeater Caligavis subfrenata
Seen each time we visited the summit clearing (P).

Yellow-browed Melidectes Melidectes rufocrissalis
Common throughout the upper forested areas (P). Our guide told us that Belford’s Melidectes is also in the area but we did not see any.

Ornate Melidectes Melidectes torquatus
Easily located in trees around the cultivated areas below the lodge (P).

Acanthizidae – Australasian Warblers

Mountain Mouse-warbler Crateroscelis robusta
Most often encountered higher up.  Particularly in the forest surrounding the summit clearing or higher.

Papuan Scrubwren Sericornis papuensis
The most common scrubwren in the upper forested areas (P).

Large Scrubwren Sericornis nouhuysi
A few as we entered the forest above the lodge.

Buff-faced Scrubwren Sericornis perspicillatus
Fairly common around the summit clearing and surrounding upper forest (P).

Brown-breasted Gerygone Gerygone ruficollis
Common around the lodge

Melanocharitidae – Berrypeckers & Longbills

Mid-mountain Berrypecker Melanocharis longicauda
The common Berrypecker throughout.  A fruiting tree at higher altitude was the most productive spot (P).

Fan-tailed Berrypecker Melanocharis versteri
Three or four seen well around the summit clearing and nearby fruiting trees (P).

Slaty-bellied Longbill Toxorhamphus poliopterus
Only seen in flight in the forest near the lodge itself so we were not entirely sure that they were not Yellow-bellied Longbill,

Psophodidae – Whipbirds, Jewel-babblers and Quail-thrushes

Spotted Jewel-babbler Ptilorrhoa leucosticte
A few were heard calling about half way up the summit trail but we did not spend time trying to lure them in.

Machaerirhynchidae – Boatbills

Black-breasted Boatbill – Machaerirhynchus nigripectus
A few pairs around the summit clearing (P).

Artamidae – Woodswallows

Great Woodswallow Artamus maximus
A pair near the entrance gate

Rhagologidae – Mottled Berryhunter

Mottled Berryhunter (Mottled Whistler) Rhagologus leucostigma
Rondon Ridge is a key site for this difficult species that has now been placed into its own family.  We heard them daily in areas about half way up the summit trail and in forest surrounding the summit clearing.  We saw birds briefly without playback twice by simply looking carefully for birds that were calling. Three more were attracted to playback but proved very difficult to observe well. In total 4 birds were seen. Most were in the understory although; at one spot they were chasing each other more towards the canopy. At this time of year (we suspect after breeding) they were not calling often and were not responding well to playback. This could be that the call we had appeared to be of a different dialect as it had more notes to it. In each case the birds appeared to favour the more densely vegetated gullies within the forest. The call is conspicuous and is the best way of determining their presence.

Campephagidae – Cuckooshrikes

Stout-billed Cuckooshrike Coracina caeruleogrisea
One bird flew across the summit clearing one morning.

Neosittidae – Sittellas

Papuan Sittella Daphoenositta papuensis
A party of about 10 about 2/3rds of the way up the summit trail (P). Note: now split from Varied Sittella (P).

Eulacestomidae – Wattled Ploughbill

Wattled Ploughbill Eulacestoma nigropectus
Another key species that is now in its own family. Heard a lot more than seen and quite common throughout the bamboo areas particularly at higher altitudes around the summit clearing.  Two males were seen along with 3-4 female and juvenile birds. Best located by call near areas of climbing bamboo in the upper forest areas.  The call is very similar to that of Black-throated Robin (P).

Oreoicidae – Australo-Papuan Bellbirds

Rufous-naped Whistler Aleadryas rufincha
Only a few sightings. All from the lower forested areas above the lodge.  One bird seen feeding a juvenile and quite a few were heard calling.

Pachycephalidae – Whistlers & Allies

Black Pitohui Melanorectes nigrescnens
Five seen.  All were in the lower forested areas along the main summit trail. Difficult to view at close range.

Sclater’s Whistler Pachycephala soror
A few sightings throughout the forested areas. Mostly at higher altitude (P).

Regent Whistler Pachycephala schlegelii
Quite common in the upper mossy forest areas.  Several were seen feeding young birds

Little Shrikethrush Colluricincla megarhyncha
Only one seen, which was in the forested area just above the lodge.

Laniidae – Shrikes

Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach
Easily located in grasslands below the lodge (P).

Rhipiduridae – Fantails

Willie Wagtail - Rhipidura leucophrys
Easily located in cultivated areas below the lodge (P).

Black Fantail - Rhipidura atra
Quite conspicuous along the forested trails about half way up the summit track (P).

Dimporhic Fantail Rhipidura brachyrhyncha
A few seen, mostly at higher altitudes (P).

Friendly Fantail Rhipidura albolimbata
One of the more conspicuous species throughout (P).

Melampittidae – Melampitta

Lesser Melampitta Melampitta lugubris
Commonly heard throughout, mostly in dense gullies higher up.  Seen a few times without much effort.

Ifritadae - Ifrita

Blue-capped Ifrit Ifrita kowaldi
A confiding party seen a few times at the edge of the summit clearing (P).

Paradisaeidae - Birds-of-Paradise

Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia Astrapia stephaniae
One or two females close to the lodge and one feeding a young bird along with a male near the summit clearing and a few other sightings in upper forested areas.

King of Saxony Bird-of-paradise Pteridophora alberti
Conspicuous around the summit clearing.  At least 3 males were seen (P).

Superb Bird-of-paradise Lophorina superba
Common in forested areas between the lodge and the summit clearing but difficult to observe at close range. The guide new the main display areas and of course finding a suitable fruiting tree a key technique for seeing these birds (P).

Black Sicklebill Epimachus fastosus
This species is a Rondon Ridge speciality (such a magnificent bird).  The summit clearing is main site.  It is necessary to be there at dawn or at least early morning.  Birds were calling (what a sound) from dawn to about 8.30am.  They are a little shyer than the Brown Sicklebill which is at the same site.  We only had brief views as it was calling from a difficult spot.  Once you are at the clearing one cannot miss hearing the bird.

Brown Sicklebill Epimachus meyeri
Once again the summit clearing is the main site at Rondon Ridge.  At least two males were active each morning that we visited (P).

Blue Bird-of-Paradise Paradisaea rudolphi
Another speciality of Rondon Ridge.  Best approach is to identify the call which is loud and conspicuous.  Our guide Joseph certainly new the best spots and led us to a display tree where the bird was calling.   It was then just a matter of waiting for the bird to show itself.  This species prefers the forest at lower altitudes (P).

Petroicidae – Australasian Robins
Black-throated Robin Poecilodryas albonotata
A few seen and photographed at lower altitudes.  The call is very similar to Wattled Ploughbill (P).

Slaty Robin Peneothello cyanus
Quite common but often inconspicuous but seen in most forested areas, especially areas that were denser.

Canary Flyrobin Microeca papuana
Only a few were seen, mostly in moss forest higher up (P).

Lesser Ground Robin Amalocichla incerta
Heard at higher altitude above the summit clearing.

Phylloscopidae – Leaf Warblers & Allies

Island Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus maforensis
Quite common in forested areas close to lodge and often in flocks (P).

Locustellidae – Grassbirds & Allies

Papuan Grassbird Megalurus macrurus
A pair close to the gate entrance – took some time to see for us as we did not have the call.  Recently split from Tawny Grassbird.

Zosteropidae – White-eyes

Papuan White-eye Zosterops novaeguineae
Fairly common especially in the orchard areas near the lodge although, quite difficult to get good views of here.

Muscicapidae – Chats & Old World Warblers

Pied Bush Chat Saxicola caprata
Easily seen around the lodge (P).

Dicaeidae – Flowerpeckers

Red-capped Flowerpecker Dicaeum geelvinkianum
Common around the lodge and nearby forest

Estrildidae – Waxbills, Munias & Allies

Blue-faced Parrotfinch Erythrura trichroa
I was hoping for Papuan Parrotfinch but the only bird seen well seemed more in tune with Blue-faced.  Small head and bill and looking quite typical. We heard parrotfinch at few spots but only managed the one decent view which was near the summit clearing they are fast and very inconspicuous.

Hooded Mannikin Lonchura spectabilis
Common in cultivated areas around the lodge

Prepared by
Tony Palliser

For more information on our birding tours please see our sample itineraries under Trips on our website

If you have any queries or would like to be removed from this list please do contact me.

Best Regards
Shirley Johnson
Sales Manager

Trans Niugini Tours
Twitter: @TransNiugini

Tel: +675 542-1438
Fax: +675 542-2470
Cell: +675 719-89397

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