s a small, tearful, six-yearold boy on his first day at school in January 1945, the teacher took pity on me and offered me a book to look at. This was my first introduction to the wonders of nature, and I shall never forget the beautiful colour paintings of Birds of Paradise that I saw in the book.
My teacher explained what they were, and little did I realize it at the time, but that was undoubtedly the start of a lifetime interest in nature, and birds in particular.
Anyone who has seen a live adult male Bird of Paradise will know what a beautiful bird it is. Many will have seen
some of the 42 species in television documentaries. Apart from Papua New Guinea, Irianjaya and some of the surrounding islands, including Halmahera and Batjan Islands in the Moluccas, Birds of Paradise are not found anywhere else in the world.
Zoos that have been fortunate enough in the past to obtain these magnificent birds for display, have always treasured them. Nowadays, they are scarcer than ever. They feature greatly in Papua New Guinea tribal culture, and the feathers are used as adornments for ceremonial dress among the men.
Today, all Birds of Paradise are
he seen to be believed. Many places in PNG are accessible only by air.
Papua New Guinea is one of the most fascinating places to visit. Populated by some 4,000,000 people belonging to various tribes, there are over 700 languages spoken between the different tribes. The cultures are as diverse as the colorful tribes. Cannibalism, headhunting, and other equally abhorrent practices were only recently abolished. When we visited Papua New Guinea, it was different from anything else that my wife and I had experienced before.
We soon realized - because of the limited time available - that the best way forward was to arrange for an organized tour to visit the Southern Highlands where we could see and enjoy some of the cultural heritage of the Huli Wigmen, one of the most interesting tribes in PNG. I had also learned that there were a fair number
of Birds of Paradise, and many parrots in this area.
Ambua Lodge was chosen as the focal point for all our bird activities. What we really wanted to see was the abundant and varied bird life that prevailed in this area. As soon as we went down to our chalet after hooking in, we were entertained by a flock of Hooded or New Britain Mannikins (Loncbura spectabilis) right in front of our chalet. They were clambering up and down the stems of the long, tall (about 2 meters high) seeding grass growing at the edge of the jungle right below us. This occurrence was repeated at regular intervals during our fiveday stay at the lodge. These rnannikins are widely bred by aviculturists in I Iolland and around the world.