Enter the realm of a New Guinean cloudforest.
Approaching 2800 meters in the Papuan mountains, the upland rainforest habitat transitions to actual cloudforest, which the local people describe as mossforest.
Both names are very appropriate. The clouds which form at this altitude swirl as mists through the trees. This airborn moisture encourages prolific growth of mosses, and everything is cloaked in a vibrant green; fallen timber on the forest floor and the trunks of living trees, while epiphytic mosses hang from high branches.
Many bird species in these mountains are restricted to altitudinal zones, and those heard here form a community unique to these high elevation forests. In addition, several are endemic to the Huon Peninsula, where this recording was made.
The Huon Melidectes is one of them; a large honeyeater whose loud, rollicking call is a signature sound of this forest. Lesser Melampittas are heard from the understory with their penetrating 'zizzing' calls, a Greater Ground Robin sings a particularly beautiful song, lorikeets skitter overhead, Black-throated and Rufous-backed Honeyeaters are very vocal, and the aptly-named Friendly Fantail whistles delicate musical phrases. Meanwhile, moisture accumulating in the canopy overhead drops as dewfall.
This is an unedited recording, made shortly after dawn. Birdong ebbs and flows as they move through the forest pursuing their morning activity. As well as a document of a seldom-visited and unique habitat, this is a relaxing and spacious recording.
"This high altitude habitat was a principle destination for the expedition I joined with fellow members of the Australian Wildlife Sound Recording Group to the Huon Peninsula in November of 2017. I've written of the expedition itself on our AWSRG website.
"To reach the highest point on the range, we set off from a mid-point campsite at 2700m, first trekking down into a deep valley, then up the other side and higher. As we approached 3000m in the afternoon, the forest gradually changed. We sensed we were entering somewhere special. Maybe it was our footfalls sinking into the soft, mossy layers on the forest floor, or hearing a Huon Melidectes for the first time.
"After establishing our camp, we each set off to explore, listen, and decide where we'd like to record. Both Sue Gould and I felt that a small saddle nearby held prospect of being an interesting site, being somewhat more open and forming a small amphitheatre. She recorded there the first morning, and I the second.
"This recording is from that location. I set up my microphones in the middle of the saddle, just as the dawn chorus was waning. You can hear the last of the Regent Whistler who's territory was close by. At first, I felt there wasn't much going on, but as I atuned to this new place, I began hearing all kinds of interesting calls. I was hearing all these species for the first time.
"I listened with a mixture of excitement, curiosity and natural stillness. I hope that in playing this recording, you can too."
I travelled to PNG in the company several experienced ornithologists, and so we all shared both our knowledge and that of our local guides. Yet many of the vocalisations heard here we found challenging to correlate with species. Below is my list of identifiable species and some indication of their calls.
There is a lot of wing noise and fluttering activity to begin, plus the falling of overnight moisture from the forest canopy as dew.
Regent Whistler - rich call with double 'whipcrack' and 4-5 'chop's, repeated. This is the conclusion of their dawnsong, heard from beginning to around 5.00
Huon Melidectes - a melodious and full-voiced song (one close by at 2.33, and 6.02)
Papuan Mountain Pigeons feed in the canopy, and I think most of the pigeon calls are from them (eg; 5.10). Also their wigbeats are characteristic (around 15.20). There may also be Ornate Fruit-doves, which have a similar call, often accelerating toward the end (possibly 6.35). While on doves; I spotted a rare Bronze Ground Dove at my recording location on another occasion, so I know they were around, but unlikely they were calling.
The melodious songbird giving repeated phrases (3.50-5.00, and 6.36-7.16) may be (not sure) a Rufous-naped Bellbird
Several species of Lorikeet can be heard, often when flying overhead (one unknown species at 9.45 and another (smaller one) at 13.57 and 19.16)
A Friendly Fantail sings in the background (around 14.00-17.30) with tuneful sequences of whistled notes, given about 15 seconds apart.
Lesser Melampittas forage in the forest understory, and have amazing, piercing, 'zitting' calls. One appears, getting closer around 14.00, and again around 9.20.
Two medium sized honeyeaters are expecially common and vocal; the Rufous-backed Honeyeater, with a repeated 'up-down' whistle (eg; 38.07-38.50), and the Black-throated Honeyeater with loud, shimmering, slurred phrases (eg; 40.08, 41.23 and a duet 42.15).
A Greater Ground Robin has the most attractive and melifluous song. One approaches (57.10...), singing every few seconds. For the next ten minutes it gradually expands its repertoire of phrases, coming quite close by the end.
A pair of Black Fantails fly in (96.00) giving loud 'chip's and squeaky whistles.
The high-pitched scratchy calls (particularly around 98.21 and continuing the next few minutes) maybe from Blue-capped Ifrits (and possibly later from 150.31). A Black-breasted Boatbill calls in the distance, a series of buzzy rising calls (101.24 - 102.13, and again a bit later)
A Brown-breasted Gerygone gives occasional calls, a silvery down and up ripple of notes (127.07, and closer at 134.51) and a Lesser Melampitta gives a more percussive variation on its contact call (from 151.39)
There are some nice quiet moments toward the latter part of the recording, as activity quietens toward the later morning, the honeyeater species tending to be the ones remaining vocal.
Finally, a Huon Bowerbird can be heard giving a few (quite extraordinary) vocalisations (152.38, and 153.36) and the Rufous-naped Bellbird returns (154.30-155.30)
All land is owned in New Guinea. Even when one is in 'wilderness', it is actually someone's land; a family or nearby village. Not only does one need the permission of the land owner to be there, but no conservation initiatives can be undertaken without their active support and involvement.
Large areas of the Huon Peninsula are currently managed for conservation through an innovative program co-ordinated by the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Project, an internationally funded NGO backed by Seattle's Woodland Plains Zoo. The region included is known as the YUS Conservation Area, and embraces the watersheds of 3 major river systems. The tree kangaroo is the icon species of the project, and they are actively tracked and monitored. Of course in protecting tree kangaroos, the whole ecosystem is preserved and maintained.
To support the villagers in this, the TKCP has taken an active role in promoting and marketing their coffee crop. This is sold as a fair trade product through outlets in Australia and the USA. In addition, the TKCP administers research in the region, necessitating that visiting academics hire guides and porters at established rates. In addition, the TKCP employs several rangers from local villagers to police the forests, and report any unapproved activity such as hunting or the establishment of additional gardens.
During our visit, the TKCP was our primary contact, assisting us in negotiating the logistics of our trek. In return, local villagers received wages and further experience in guiding, and the TKCP benefits from the research outcomes of the expedition.