As soon as I read that this special excursion was available at Papua Paradise, I wanted to go on it. I had never before seen a bird of paradise of any kind and this Wilson’s one looked pretty spectacular according to images on the interweb!
Papua Paradise takes its guests on this trip very early in the morning so they can be back in time for breakfast, and then have enough remaining hours in the day to fit in three dives after that. They limit the group size to two – which is great – because the muddy trail to the bird-watching hide is very narrow, and so is the platform where you have to sit and wait for action to happen. Bear in mind that this trip only departs in fine weather – this handsome bird doesn’t care for rain as it probably ruins his good looks.
Papua Paradise can provide torches, binoculars and also dive booties (for the occasionally wet trek up to the hide). You are advised to dress in neutral, earthy colours so as not to be easily seen. We also brought plenty of mosquito repellent, our good camera with a long lens and dark coloured hats to make sure we really blended into the bush!
The boat leaves from the resort jetty at 4:30AM; when we got up, we saw a sky full of stars – a good sign that it would be dry that morning. The journey to the Wilson Bird of Paradise island takes around 45 minutes – with plenty of luminescence to marvel at in the water plus constellations galore.
We pulled up into a mangrove swamp where a precarious two plank-wide jetty led to a cocoa plantation. Through this grove we went in pitch dark with our guide Danny and resort manager, Frederica, stepping over huge centipedes which glistened when you shone your torch on them.
After about 10 minutes, we reached a steep slope that we scrambled up, reaching a low wooden platform situated behind a thatched screen with three small windows cut out of it. Here, we sat quietly in the dark, listening to the drone of crickets punctuated by the odd loud bird call.
As the darkness lifted, bird calls grew in number including one which Frederica said belonged to the Red Bird of Paradise – who live high in the canopy (you can view these on a separate birding trip from the resort). Then, a chiming three or four-note call announced the arrival of our Wilson’s Bird of Paradise. He – always a he – flew right into the clearing (known in birdspeak as a “lek”) not long after, busily using his little beak to flick away leaves that Danny had laid down on the ground as a ruse earlier that morning.
The Wilson’s Bird of Paradise – I’m told – likes to shake away the leaves from the tree canopy right above the lek, in case they obscure the view of his bright blue head, and striking red-and-yellow back as he flits about the clearing showing off his gaudy plumage. He shakes them down, then promptly hops around on the ground (mere metres from us, behind the screen) picking the leaves up and removing them from the small patch of dirt. Once the lek is satisfactorily cleared, he darts around, spreading his wings and shaking his distinctive tail feathers in the hope of attracting a mate.
In our case, he flew about the lek and up into the trees at least thirty times, calling lustily and repeating his leaf-clearing program over and over. We watched him, transfixed for well over an hour, but alas for all of us, no female came while we were there. An American couple from our resort who visited several days later did see an interested lady – whose feathers are a dull brown – so perhaps our bird’s efforts were indeed rewarded a little later on.
We left when the bird stopped showing off as regularly as he had done in the hour before – (in my case) sliding down the muddy slope that led back to the boat on my bum. At the bottom, Danny picked a ripe yellow cocoa bean pod for us to try. Smashing it in half on a tree trunk, he showed us how to eat it – you do by sucking the white, sourish and slightly slimy fruit part off the seeds. The bitter, hard seeds are what later get fermented and roasted to make chocolate. The fruit was surprisingly good!
On the boat journey back to the resort, we glided through beautifully forested islands with hot coffee and Oreos (a typical Indonesian snack, it seems!) admiring the scenery and marvelling that Frederica had come all the way out to Indonesia from Rome, which seemed a world away from the magical wilderness that was slowly awakening to a new day.
To read our review of Papua Paradise Eco Resort, visit this page:
For tips on how to reach Raja Ampat, read this post:
For our favourite dive sites, read this: