Chasing Flying Wonders

Here we knew the birds of paradise were possible to spot just a short walk behind the village.

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We were in the bush behind Tumari village at Tufi. Philip, Pi-Pi, William and myself had walked for less than half an hour, and already we could hear the calls of several Raggianas. There must have been ten of them, spread in the canopy ahead of us. We left the path, following the calls, and soon we spotted one up to the left, 12-15 meters above us, then another one in a tree to the right.

DSC_1079The Raggiana is the fairly common bird of paradise which has become the national icon of Papua New Guinea, pictured everywhere, even on the PNG flag. Although not rare it is sensational both in appearance and behavior and to see them you have to walk for an hour or so into the rainforest. This morning at Tumari the sun was already rising in the sky so the daybreak courtship display was finished, but the birds were still staying close to the lek tree[1].

Only a few streaks of sunlight managed to slip in through the green dome of branches and foliage above us when Pi-Pi caught my attention, waving me over with one hand while holding a finger over his mouth. He had spotted one quite close. And yes, there was one – a beautifully plumed male – perched a bit lower for a rest, and checking his wings and feathers with his beak. Even in the shade this bird was almost luminous: the yellow-capped head, the deep green collar, the browns and reds, and then the radiant orange of the flank plumes.

I crossed my fingers hoping the light was sufficient for my fairly modest photo gear, and in slow-motion I raised my camera to my eye. One snap. Then one more. Then he flew off to another perch, hidden from our view, his plumes like a fireball disappearing behind a trunk and into the infinite green.

Thanks Pi-pi!

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Pi-Pi returning to the village

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[1] A dominant male can keep a favourite perch for more than ten years, and here he will display every morning and afternoon for his harem of females.

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