Papua New Guinea mist-netting

(By PSBO Board Member Suzanne Tomassi – Updated October 15, 2011)

This spring I was able to assist Bruce Beehler, Vice President of the Indonesia-Pacific Islands research program of Conservation International, on a climate change study that’s taking place in Papua New Guinea’s YUS Conservation Area.  The study is looking at a number of taxa, including plants, along an elevational transect on the island.  Dr. Beehler’s work of course focuses on birds, and for my part, I mist-netted from about 2,400, to 3,010m, cataloging species occurrences.

The species diversity is not all that high at that elevation.  While we caught more than 100 individuals on some days, and a total of 910 birds at our four stations, comprising 42 species.  Our captures included many endemics and near-endemics, isolated by the high mountain peaks of the Finisterre range on the Huon Peninsula, where the transect is located.  Spangled Honeyeater, Huon Bowerbird, Lesser Melampitta and Huon Melidectes all ended up in our nets, and we encountered the Emperor Bird of Paradise, Wahnes’ Bird of Paradise, Meyer’s Goshawk, and many others on our long hikes between camps. Altogether, we recorded 12 species outside of their previously reported range.  Each and every species I encountered was a life-lister for me, of course.

Mammals were a very rare sight, but we enlisted the help of the Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program’s employees, who had established the transect almost 20 years ago and YUS area more recently, in tracking a collared Matschie’s tree kangaroo.  We were rewarded with a great view of a mother and juvenile!

The transect runs from sea level to more than 3,000m, and nowhere was that elevation change more evident than along some of the trails we traversed! Despite having local porters carry our supplies, the walking was challenging, to say the least.  There are no roads where we were, and trails are steep, slippery, subject to landslides, and often crossed raging rivers in deep ravines.  Our travels were at the will and whim of the many local clans, and could be complicated, to say the least.  Fortunately, our hosts were gracious as well as being fascinating (as were we to them).  As excruciating as it would get to eat the tubers manioc and ‘kao kao’ day after day, we were never wanting for new experiences.  Whether it was extracting a new and wholly unfamiliar bird from a net, witnessing a “Sing-Sing” celebration, being awakened in my tent twice in one night by earthquakes, or waiting two days with no communication when the bush plane simply failed to come and pick me up, every moment was incomparable to anything I’d ever participated in before.  I’m grateful every day that the people of PNG are working together to protect the YUS Conservation Area, and I look forward to another trip up the transect to further document the ranges of the Huon’s unique avifauna.

White-winged robin mixed juvenile-adult plumage (S. Tomassi)

White-winged robin with different mixed basic-juvenile feathers (S. Tomassi)

Third white-winged robin with juvenile-basic molt limit

Blue-capped ifrita (S. Tomassi)

Feline owlet-nightjar (S. Tomassi)

 

Black-mantled goshawk (S. Tomassi)

 

Crown of the Huon bowerbird (S. Tomassi)

Spangled honeyeaters' bare-skin face turns from yellow to red when they are excited (S. Tomassi)

Spotted jewel babbler (S. Tomassi)

 

Papuan lorikeet on bird-shaped flower (S. Tomassi)

Returning from a net run in the high-altitude rain forest (copyright R. Hawk)

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