Reports, with Bird Lists, of our Meetings, Walks and Outings

Papua New Guinea
by Dr Peter Gasson

Date: Thursday 15 February 2018 at 19:30


Thirty-five people attended this meeting at which Dr Peter Gasson gave an illustrated presentation of the birds, flora and fauna of Papua New Guinea.

Peter painted a fairly depressing picture of Papua New Guinea as a wilderness that is suffering high losses of pristine rainforest habitat to illegal logging, mining and deforestation due to palm oil production.  It is the world’s largest tropical island and is rapidly losing its tropical hard woods to mass scale illegal logging.

There are around 40 species of bird-of-paradise of which approximately 30 occur in Papua New Guinea.  We saw pictures of 17 of them, although some of the photographs required a bit of imagination to recognise the birds!

The rainforests are very difficult habitats in which to take photographs, many birds can only be seen at long range or in very dense undergrowth and the lighting means that light exposure is near impossible to get right.  Despite this Peter showed us a very impressive count of exotic birds.  In addition to the birds-of-paradise we saw several different species of honeyeaters, fantails, tiger parrots, tropical pigeons, mynah birds, kookaburras, kingfishers, cuckoo shrikes and scrub wrens.

Some individual standouts were:  Madarasz's tiger parrot (very rare), a flock of Blyth’s hornbill (very large impressive birds), fig parrot (very very small), barred owlet-nightjar (rare) and spectacular pictures of a King of Saxony bird-of-paradise.

Mammals were very scarce – a large black rat, a possum and flying fox fruit bats.  

Naturally the vegetation and flora is very exotic and the butterflies many and beautiful.

It was a very interesting and entertaining presentation and we certainly hope Peter will come along to present another talk at a later date.

In the absence of Peter Gaines and Brian Clews, Ken Cottam presented What’s About and reported:

  • Staines reservoir – horned lark.
  • Opposite Slough Sewage Works – 700–2,000 ring-necked parakeets. Roost can be seen from M4.
  • Junction 8/9 of the M4 – merlin sightings
  • Pinkneys Green – raven
  • Little Marlow GP – 15 snipe and an oystercatcher
  • Theale GP – Mediterranean gull
  • Lower Farm, Newbury – Two black-necked grebes
  • Box Hill, Surrey – Around 260 hawfinches
--- Original Programme Information ---

Brown Sicklebill bird
Brown Sicklebill  bird-of-paradise


Anyone with an interest in natural history will find Papua New Guinea an exciting destination, although birding there can be frustrating with tantalising sounds and often only fleeting views in the forests.Papua New Guinea is a very wild country with a limited road system and you need to fly to the best places for birding.

After visiting Varirata National Park near the capital Port Moresby we flew to Kiunga over endless tropical forest and explored this lowland area. Driving north to Tabubil we were at a higher elevation at 615m. It rained a lot, and with low cloud and dangerous flying conditions our flight to Mount Hagen was delayed for 24 hours.

Taenaris butterfly Plumed Whistling Ducks
Taenaris myops kirschii Plumed Whistling Ducks


We spent only one afternoon at Kumul Lodge at 2,800m in high moss forest, an area that could have kept us occupied for days and provided some of the best photographic opportunities of the whole trip. We then flew west to the Tari Gap where Ambua Lodge has an idyllic setting overlooking a forested valley with nearby upland grassland.

In 16 days we enjoyed the spectacular scenery in this wonderful country and saw 263 bird species, including 18 birds of paradise, various parrots, pigeons, kingfishers, fairy-wrens, cuckoo-shrikes, honeyeaters and berrypeckers. We watched butterflies, photographed some beautiful orchids and other plants and visited the local Huli wigmen, a digression that even an obsessive birder should not miss! In this talk I’ll show you a good selection of what we saw.

Ribbon-tailed Astrapias birds in a Schefflera Blyth's Hornbills in a tree
Ribbon-tailed Astrapias Blyth's Hornbills



Peter Gasson is a plant scientist at Kew Gardens, specialising in wood structure, various tree related subjects and timber identification. He has a BSc(Hons) in Agricultural Botany from Reading University and a PhD in botany/timber technology from Imperial College. He is an avid wildlife photographer and travelled naturalist. He has visited many parts of the world in pursuit and animals and plants.

Early morning clouds and forest from Ambua Lodge
Early morning clouds and forest from Ambua Lodge

All pictures are © Copyright. Do not reproduce without permission from Dr Peter Gasson.