Finding paradise, part two

2006 August 18
by David J. Ringer

UKARUMPA, PNG — I posted this picture a couple of weeks ago and promised to explain it later. Now the time has come.

That I get to crisscross PNG is one of the great things about my job. In the last four months, I have been through 11 of PNG‘s 19 provinces. I will probably make it to five more between now and the end of October.

This means that I visit the homes of some of the world’s most spectacular birds — but I often don’t get the chance to see them. My work keeps me close to people, which is fine, unless you want to see birds. So, I didn’t see the Ribbon-tailed Drongos on New Ireland, or crowned-pigeons on the Bamu. I passed twice through Murmur Pass without even glimpsing a bird-of-paradise.

I often ask about birds when I’m staying in a village. “Do you have birds-of-paradise here?”

“Istap long bus,” is usually the answer. A loose translation goes something like this: “The birds-of-paradise are deep in the rainforest, several hours’ walk up and down steep, slippery paths through the mountains, and we can’t go there right now.”

Daraia village is east a bit of Morehead, not so far on a map — but far enough on a bicycle, especially if you’ve rammed a rock-hard anthill, stopped to pull a mimosa sticker out of your toe, and bruised your backside beyond cure.

It’s a beautiful village, shaded by big mango trees and coconut palms. White cockatoos and brilliant blue butterflies cross the sky from time to time. When a man asked me if I wanted to photograph “the paradise,” I could scarcely understand him, and then I could scarcely believe him.

“You mean birds-of-paradise?”

“Yes…. We were watching them this morning.”

The next morning, I was watching them too. The females came first, more colorful than I’d expected. Dark brown throats and breasts contrasted with pink-brown bodies, and heads bore yellow wedges. Raggiana Birds-of-paradise!

“We will wait for grass skirt,” said my guide, and I realized he was talking about the plumed male birds. Nama men wear grass skirts to dance, and so do Raggianas. I couldn’t think of a better description myself.

One sunlit tree held a flock of Noisy Friarbirds. The birds are aptly named, and their ridiculous naked heads look like small black rubber balls atop a poof of feathers.

Then someone pointed, and there he was, slipping through the dense leaves after small, ripe fruits.

A throat like polished malachite and a head the color of elemental sulfur, rich red-pink plumes — a grass skirt indeed — and, did I remember to breathe?

He was gone just as quickly, not sticking around for the dance. Instead, the young males put on a show up high. If they realized they were missing their plumes, they didn’t let it bother them.

They laughed, long and loud, and they spread their wings and held them wide, jerking them slowly forward.

My neck ached so acutely that I couldn’t hold my head up. In my country, we call this aching “warbler-neck,” but it deserves a new name here.

I glimpsed two more fully plumed males — one thanks to the sharp eyes of my Nama acquaintances and one flying over the road as I bumped along with my back to Daraia and my face toward the next adventure.

Raggiana Bird-of-paradise, Paradisaea raggiana

Here again is my picture of an immature male Raggiana displaying high in a tree.

Related posts:

  1. Finding paradise
  2. Dead birds-of-paradise
  3. African Paradise Flycatcher
  4. Another day in paradise
  5. Kumul Lodge, part one
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  1. Courtney permalink
    August 24, 2006


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