Nimbokrang – West Papua – Chasing Dinosaurs

On our flight over to Nimbokrang after the Arfak Mountains, Stephan and Ross prepped Claudia and myself by basically saying how miserable Nimbokrang would be. Apparently the birding is done while walking along muddy, swampy trails that are infested with an abundance of malaria-carrying mosquitoes and weather consisting of extreme heat and 100% humidity. Hell on earth if you ask me what I make of descriptions like that. I mean, what could possibly be more miserable?! But in addition to these less than stellar conditions, the birds were hard to come by with species being mostly unresponsive to playback and rather low in numbers. While finding the birds was as hard as it was made out to be, the conditions for doing so weren’t nearly as bad as I had expected. Nonetheless Nimbokrang was a real challenge however we still finished with a few new birds of paradise even though not all of our targets were accounted for (looking at you, Northern Cassowary and Victoria-crowned Pigeon.)

We touched town in Sentani (the town where the airport is located),  grabbed our bags and found our own transportation headed to Nimbokrang (point 4 on the map) where we would be staying at Pak Jamil’s Homestay. Despite paying a premium for airport taxi prices, we found a ride for 200,000 rupiah less than the ridiculous fee of 600,000 rupiah (apparently now 750,000!) that Pak Jamil charges for airport pickup. I can’t say I know the whole backstory, but essentially Nimbokrang is the place to visit because local man Jamil has learned the birds and opened up a small hotel-like homestay for birders who want to tick some of these lowland species. Any good patch of lowland rain forest in this area would do, but we opted to keep things simple and visit the area that everyone else visits despite the fact that Pak Jamil charges 1,000,000 rupiah per person per day to stay there!!! (AKA $75 USD per person per night!!! Absolutely outrageous considering the average income in Indonesia is 90 cents per day and 5.50% of the population, AKA 1.5 million people are jobless.) When we arrived that afternoon to the town of Nimbokrang, we were fed a delicious lunch by Jamil’s wife but soon learned that Jamil did not want to go out until 3PM and planned to take us to a grassy area so we could look for cisticolas and munias. What?! First of all, Cisticolas and Munias?! And seriously, 3pm?! Ross and Stephan talked to him and eventually he agreed to take us to a small overlook where we could scan for a few actual targets. (Cisticolas and munias were not birds we cared AT ALL to see.) Unfortunately Stephan’s scope had taken a tumble in The Arfaks so we only had one scope but were still able to find a few targets such as Dwarf Koel, Salvadori’s Fig-Parrot, and Golden Myna.

The next morning we planned to visit 12-wired Bird-of-Paradise at a lek site when we heard Shovel-billed Kingfisher calling in the distance. We figured that since the kingfisher is often very difficult, we should target this bird since we had one so close. Hindsight is 20/20 and we likely could have gone to see the BoP and still had time to find the kingfisher since it was still calling at 8 AM! Anyways, we were very fortunate to have great views of Shovel-billed Kingfisher when Claudia spotted it sitting in the tree. Jamil was down the trail smoking a cigarette and actually called the bird away while we were looking at it by whistling. We were starting to get pretty annoyed. We birded the trails for a few hours picking up Papuan Hanging-Parrot, White-bellied Thicket-Fantail, Emperor Fairywren, and Ochre-collared Monarch but by 9:30AM Jamil was ready to go back. Sometimes Ross and I do not go back for lunch, but if we do, we go at 12 and make it a fairly quick process. Jamil wanted to go back before 10AM and not go back out until 3PM.

While we did head back and listen to Jamil and not go back out until 3PM, Ross (and maybe Stephan) were starting to get a bit antsy to get back to the trails. Finally we headed to Kilometer 8, a known patch of forest good for birding and proceeded to walk the trails where we saw just one new bird Sooty Thicket-fantail. We knew Nimbokrang would be tricky birding but it’s always disappointing to walk for several hours and only see one new bird! The area was very birdy when we arrived at 3PM but died down quickly thereafter. I think that evening of birdlessness was the point that Ross decided that we would not be waiting until 3PM to go out birding ever again, regardless of what Jamil says.

The next morning Ross, Stephan and myself, along with local guides William and Dante, decided to try for Southern Cassowary and Victoria Crowned-pigeon, two large, ground-dwelling birds that are unfortunately hunted heavily and now very scarce. We were taken to a known site not far from town and walked for nearly an hour passing some rice fields and broken habitat before reaching the better area for our target birds. On the way we stopped at a small clearing where we had views of Salvadori’s Fig Parrots, Brown Lory, Black-capped Lory and Rainbow Lorikeet. We meandered through the forest following the ever energetic Dante who is said to be the man to be with if you want to see a cassowary. The muddy ground we walked around was soft and full of cassowary tracks and droppings. We proceeded to spend the next 12 hours (!!) weaving around the thick and thorny vegetation but never managed to see a cassowary.  Dante doesn’t speak much English but any time he took off we ran behind knowing he was on to something. On a few occasions he said pigeons were close by but we never saw them, nor did any of them flush into nearby trees. The best birds of the day came when we stopped along the edge of the river and watched a fruiting tree containing the likes of Grey-headed Cicadabird, King Bird-of-paradise, Golden Myna, Golden Monarch, and Long-billed Honeyeater. We may or may not have seen a Jobi Manucode fly across the river and perch up in the tree but identifying a Jobi from a Glossy -mantled Manucode can be very difficult so we couldn’t bring ourselves to count this bird as such. This bird never made it onto a list but it is pictured below (thoughts?). Going back to Jamil’s Homestay after a long day in the field where we walked over 20 kilometers and saw very few birds was a tough pill to swallow and a bit disappointing. Luckily we were fed a delicious meal and we definitely slept well that night!

The following day we once again headed back to the 12-wired BOP site. Just after dawn we managed to see the Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise at its lek site and later on at another location the King Bird-of-Paradise. Both BoPs were amazing to see with king being a highlight for sure! The photos Ross managed of the bright red and white bird does not do it any justice, the long streamers tipped with round mint green feathers are much nicer to see in person! We walked the plank trails surrounding the King BoP site seeing a few other birds before heading back to the homestay for lunch. Afterwards Ross convinced Jamil that we could not just sit around every day because it was hot outside. Despite the heat birds could still be found so we headed back to Km 8 and walked more of the trails. Luckily we managed excellent views of a Papuan Dwarf Kingfisher which came in almost immediately when Stephan played a call that had been labeled Hooded Monarch. The recording was clearly mislabeled and resulted in great looks at the tiny kingfisher! Despite it being the middle of the day, we manged to find some amazing birds including Blue Jewel-Babbler, Pale-billed Sicklebill, Tan-capped Catbird, Spot-winged Monarch, and Pinon’s Imperial Pigeon.

The next day Ross, Stephan and myself opted to give the cassowary/crowned-pigeon combo another try. I’m not sure if we are just gluttons for punishment but we walked and walked and walked coming within close proximity to a cassowary with a young one on at least one occasion. We were close for sure and heard as the Northern Cassowary made a series of low calls. We hadn’t come this close the last time we tried but we weren’t holding our breath. It was a bit like the last time where we spent all day in the field and never actually saw the bird. Apparently in a previous trip report BirdQuest counted cassowary on their list after only seeing footprints and droppings! We had seen all of the above and at least we heard it right?! (Although we still can’t bring ourselves to count a cassowary as a heard only, we were surely tempted to do so given that we had dedicated so much time and had it so close! What would you do?!)

Thankfully we were spending a total of 5 ½ days in Nimbokrang because we still had quite a few targets to go. Early morning we picked up the local “Four-colored” race of Blue-black Kingfisher while along the plank trail leading to King BoP. From there we headed to Km 8 where we were treated with a giant flock of birds for over an hour! Perhaps it was several flocks coming through but we never had to stray far from one area. It was nice to know birds do in fact exist in Nimbokrang! That morning we had views of Tan-capped Catbird, Spot-winged Monarch, Papuan King Parrot, Twelve-wired BOP, Grey Whistler, Black Berrypecker, and Buff-faced Pymgy-Parrots before heading back for lunch. Ross hated to head back for lunch so early, because he knew that leaving the homestay would be a painful process. Every time Ross asked to go out earlier than 3PM he was given the same answer – ‘it’s too hot.’ We explained that if William and Dantze were too tired to accompany us we could go on our own while they rested. But every time they decided to join us and every time we were out walking the trails we found a few new birds. Even in the afternoon. In fact, we had some of our best flocks in the afternoon!!

Nimbokrang, while definitely hot, was nowhere near as uncomfortable as I had expected. The mosquitoes were less numerous, the weather less humid, and the trails less muddy than I had anticipated. If we had known we would have had enough time to spend two days searching for cassowary we likely would have opted to walk deep into the forest and camp overnight increasing our chances of seeing these birds dramatically. Also, we had asked Jamil about visiting Jalan Korea to pick up more lowland species but he told us we could not visit that area because the forest was all chopped. If we could do it all again we probably wouldn’t have listened to him knowing that trip reports from less than a year prior had all gone to the area. We had long, hot days in the field and few birds at times, but looking back, Nimbokrang can still be considered a success despite the fact that our list of targets was missing a few key individuals. Great looks at Shovel-billed Kingfisher, Twelve-wired BoP, King Bop, Pale-billed Sickle-bill, Blue Jewel Babbler, and Blue-black Kingfisher must count for something! Here’s a photo of us looking very excitedly at one of the best birds of all of West Papua, King Bird-of-Paradise. (Stephan’s face still cracks me up!)

Just as we were leaving Jamil’s the group of Swiss birders that we had run into before were just arriving. Ross and Stephan exchanged notes with David, Raffael, and Jonas who had just finished up the Snow Mountains. After a nice meal as a big group, Claudia and Stephan, along with Ross and myself headed back to Sentani, snagged two rooms at Izy Guesthouse in town and got some much needed sleep in a nice air conditioned room!

On the last morning before the flight, Ross, Stephan and I birded alongside of Lake Sentani picking up our three target grassbirds, Hooded, Grand, and Chestnut-breasted Munias. We left the lowlands with our sights now set on Biak Island a small island found off the coast of the mainland with a whole slew of endemics to find. Stay tuned!

 

 

7 thoughts on “Nimbokrang – West Papua – Chasing Dinosaurs

  1. 75$ includes 3 meals, guiding and rooming…..darn cheap I would say……this man and his family are in need of the income…he has invested in an expensive vehicle which needs to be paid off….he is a guardian of the forest, needs revenue to stay motivated, guiding is not a daily job but seasonal, needs to make it pay when he can.

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    • There were four of us. That’s $300 a day in an area of the world where that could easily be 1-2 months salary. Looking at Jamil’s house, car, and accessories he is far from hurting for money. I’m not arguing the fact that he’s been able to make a very good living in a poverty stricken area, but I will say that the cost is no where near justifiable. Couple that with the fact that daily he wanted to stop birding at 1000 and not go back out to 1500 and it makes for a very unsatisfactory experience. In 4 months of traveling Indonesia, those 4 days were by far our most expensive and really for no reason. Also, unfortunately, Jamil does not seem to be a guardian of the forest. The areas around Nimbokrang are severely degraded and only getting worse. I’ve met plenty of local guides who truly have a passion for nature and their local environment, but at least to us, Jamil was not that guy. Like I said, I think he’s getting old and is burnt out, but if I was visiting the lowlands of West Paupa again or recommending someone to the area, I’d definitely recommend a different area or using another local in order to gain access to the surrounding forests.

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    • Rob,
      Actually Stephan and Claudia had only brought rubber boots after hearing about how muddy the conditions usually are. Ross and I would wear our rubber boots but only if it had rained because regular hikers are far more comfortable! Although there are supposedly dangerous snakes in the area, unfortunately we did not see any!!

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    • Rob, the rubber boots were due to the mud (well kind of). Nimbokrang is usually very muddy/many prior trip reports referenced that rubber boots were very necessary. For us, due to dry conditions, we didn’t actually need the rubber boots any of the days except the ones where we went looking for the cassowaries. The Snow Mountains were a whole different story though, very wet up there and rubber boots were 100% necessary!

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  2. Hello!

    We are going to Jamils place next month. This trip is probably our once and only, to the area – It´s a really remote place for us to visit (we are from Sweden) and yes – I can agree about the price. But we couldnt find any alternative place/guides at all (and that’s also “the key” to the price of course). Anyway, we hope that he (or the local guides) can give us value for Money. And not to much resting and waiting time…. :-/

    My question is: How is the ground and the vegetation in walking distance around Jamils house? Can I walk around there or is it hard to access/force the nature around? I´m not a birder (like my serious birding husband) but I am trying to collect some information about the area, trails and the possibilities for mee to hang around, take photos of plants and insects and just walk/hiking. Is there any other houses or village close by?

    About the shoe-issue, if we want to bring rubber boots (If we need it…. In February…) do you think it´s possible to find that that kind of stuff in a shop in Yayapura, or better up, close to the airport….? The space in my bag is really limited as I´m going to bring a iSUP/paddle equipment to Raja Ampat.

    Sorry, I have a lot of questions… Feel free to answer or not answer 🙂
    Did you visit the policestation to announce your presence? I think that another DIY-birding –traveler-blogger wrote that you do not need any special permit to visit Nimbokrang, but he visit the station anyway, just to announce. But Im not sure how it works.

    Thanks a lot for sharing your story!!!!!

    /Sara

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    • Hi Sara. Sorry for the late reply. We haven’t had much internet lately! Jamil lives in a village so there are other houses around. There’s one patch of forest within walking distance. It is degraded, but has a number of trails that have planks along them. Even though it’s degraded there are still plenty of birds and lots of interesting plants/insects. For rubber boots, you will have no problem buying them in Sentani (town you’ll fly in to), but your husband might have a problem if he had big feet (not many sizes to choose from!) We didn’t visit any police stations. This used to be a requirement but as of late, there doesn’t seem to be any issues with not announcing your presence. Good luck and I hope you see some great things!

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