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Birding and Batteries in Port Moresby

by AMNH on

From the Field posts

This fall, a team of vertebrate specialists from the Museum—Brett Benz, Chris Raxworthy, Paul Sweet, and Neil Duncan—is heading out to one of the most remote areas in the world in search of new species and specimens on the Explore21 Papua New Guinea expedition. Paul Sweet will be sending dispatches from the field as long as his laptop—and a signal—persist. 

It’s 3 am in Port Moresby, and jetlag is not letting me sleep. In a few hours we fly out to Mount Hagen in the Highlands and get one step closer to the bush, but for now I’ll recap the last couple of days.

We arrived in Papua New Guinea on Thursday afternoon local time after 30 hours of travel from NYC via Los Angeles and Brisbane. It was a great relief when all 10 of our checked bags rolled around the baggage carousel. Nothing like losing bags to get a trip off to a bad start! After quickly checking in at the hotel we headed into Moresby for a meeting with the Department of Environment and Conservation, the government agency that, among other things, issues permits for fieldwork and specimen export. After dinner, it was an early night for us. 

Airways Hotel Port Moresby
Besides a plane, the grounds of the Airways Hotel in Port Moresby also are home to about 20 species of birds.
© AMNH/P. Sweet


Friday started too early, as I couldn’t sleep past 2 am. Fortunately, I have a copy of the excellent Searching for Pekpek by Andy Mack and read until it was light enough to go birding in the hotel grounds. It’s always a surprise to bird in a new place and see which species are more tolerant of less natural habitats. One of the most conspicuous and vocal birds in the gardens is the Willie Wagtail. One is singing even now in the dark. In all I saw around 20 species before breakfast, including many “lifers.” [Ed. New additions to a birder’s “life list” of observed species.] I am fortunately in possession of the brand new Field Guide to the Birds of New Guinea by Thane Pratt and Bruce Beehler, which the editor, Robert Kirk of Princeton University Press, sent me just before leaving New York. 

The day was occupied with shopping and meetings. Our major purchase was batteries, lots of batteries: 144 D, 288 AA and 144 AAA. These are too heavy to bring in our luggage but essential for running headlamps, lanterns, and GPS units during six weeks off the grid. 

Batteries will be essential to powering our equipment during six weeks off the grid.
© AMNH/P. Sweet

We also met with Georgia Kaipu at the National Research Institute, the institution that organized our research visas, before spending the afternoon at the National Museum. Here we met the collection manager Bulisa Iova, who will be joining us in the field, mostly working with Chris on the herpetology collection. Neil, Chris, and I enjoyed a couple of hours perusing the specimen collections—as a collection manager, it’s always interesting to check out other collections—while Brett and Bulisa went to town on errands.

Rufous-bellied Kookaburra in PNG Museum
Browsing the collection at the National Museum and Art Gallery, we saw these specimens of Rufous-bellied Kookaburra.
© AMNH/P. Sweet

This morning’s flight on Air Niugini will take us into the highlands but Brett tells us that cloud cover will likely obscure the mountains, which will give us an idea of the working conditions below. Only Chris seems excited about this because frogs are most active in the wet—it will not make bird and mammal work easy. I will try to post again from Mount Hagen.

Read the next post in the series here.