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Papuan Flying Architect: The Vogelkop Bowerbird in Pegunungan Arfak

Bowerbird

The land of Papua is one of the best places to enjoy the diversity of wildlife in Indonesia.

It is famous for its endemic animals and the unspoiled beauty of nature.  

People mostly visit the mountainous area in Papua to hike and witness the amazing native birds. My visit to West Papua gave me the chance to explore the tropical forest. Minggre Village in Pegunungan Arfak is where I spent my time to see the miracle of Papuan nature.

Minggre Village
Pegunungan Arfak lies 90 km to the east of the West Papuan capital of Manokwari. Pegunungan Arfak is a mountainous area with many ecosystems, including tropical forest, foothill forest, and lower mountain forest. With peaks reaching 2,955 metres, Pegunungan Arfak is the highest regency in West Papua. The Nature Conservation Agency of West Papua (BBKSDA Papua Barat) has recorded that Pegunungan Arfak has 110 mammal species and 320 bird species. Some of the favourite endemic animals to see are the black tree kangaroo, birds of paradise, the Papuan bowerbird, and cuscus. People can also find the paradise of birdwing butterflies, one of the biggest butterfly species in the world that, rather uniquely, flies like a bird.

Aside from the diversity of the fauna, Pegunungan Arfak is also inhabited by various unique plants. It has around 2,770 important orchid species that grow abundantly and Cendawan Menyala (Mycena), a plant that can emit light even in the darkness.

Bowerbird of Papua
Bowerbird of Papua

Papuan Bowerbird
Among all the available species, my trip focussed on observing the Vogelkop Papuan bowerbird, known as the Namdur bird. The locals named it Mbrecew bird which means “smart”, as they have a wide range of vocalisations. Some utter loudly, cackle, and even chatter. They can imitate any type of sound, such as cats and other birds. Both males and females even can mimic the sound of predatory birds. The males perform these calls at the bower, whereas the females vocalise at the nest if she is threatened or disturbed. The Vogelkop bowerbird is an endemic bird in Pegunungan Arfak. Many types of bowerbirds can be found mainly on the island of New Guinea and some areas in Australia with various colours from yellow, red, green, black, and brown.

The Vogelkop bowerbird is a medium-sized bird, 21-35 cm in length, mainly olive-brown, and it resides in a foothill forest. Uniquely, the male birds build and decorate a structure to attract the females. Male bowerbirds are famous for creating complicated bowers that are used for display during the mating ritual. The structure they build is similar to a house. This capability leads them to be known as “The Flying Engineer”. Compared to most birds that build a structure in trees, the bowerbird makes it on the ground.

Bowerbird nest
To construct the structure, the male bowerbirds collect things, including tree twigs, leaves, gravel, and dried grass. They will place them into one place and manipulate them to build a structure. The bower is usually one metre high and wide. It consists of three parts: a dome which is wide enough for the bowerbird to pass through; the main area with large leaves laid upside down or tiled with rocks; and a pole which uses a sapling as a central tower, with an assortment of vegetation packed around the base. A male may need a week to two months to get his bower in order, depending on the weather.

True to its name of the flying architect, the bowerbird also thinks about making the bower look attractive. The bird collects various objects such as plastic bottles, bottle caps, seeds, dried fruit skins, plastic, and other items discarded by humans.

Sometimes they carry things bigger than their body size. They put the objects all around the nest. Later, the bird will group them based on colour. Blue is its most favourite. It is a part of the decoration to make the nest look more beautiful, aiming to attract a female bowerbird. The females will visit the males if the bower architecture entices them. The males can attract the females by dancing or generating a beautiful song.

West Papua
It must be understood that bowers are not nests. After a male sings and dances around the bower begging a female to accept him, the female usually leaves. After that, the male will tidy up his bower and prepare for the next routine to attract another mate. Bowerbirds have their nest in a higher location, particularly in a tree hole. The female builds the nest alone for laying eggs, incubating, and feeding the young.

When exploring the foothills of Pegunungan Arfak, the track is challenging. The trail I passed to make my trek was more difficult; it rained the previous night. I had to make sure the ground was solid to step and grasp tree trunks to avoid slipping. However, this is the price I had to pay to witness the unique creature and its habitat. Visitors love to hike and explore nature as Pegunungan Arfak provides a good atmosphere.

Remember, Pegunungan Arfak is a regency and it has a wide area that contains many beautiful sites. Some of the most popular places are Arfak Mountains Nature Reserve and Minggre Village. Wherever you go, the cool and fresh air of the site will eliminate your tiredness when walking around the area. It’s relaxing. With lots of tropical forest plants, it is going to be a fun hiking adventure. What a wonderful place to escape from the crowd if you love nature trekking.

How to Get There
Minggre Village is a village located in the regency of Pegunungan Arfak. If you travel from outside of West Papua, the first checkpoint is at Rendani Airport in Manokwari. From there, tourists need to take a local transportation service to Arfak Mountains. Most people use double cabin cars considering the challenging mountainous road. It takes about four to five hours to drive from Manokwari’s city centre to Minggre Village. To know more about the site, you can hire a local guide. They are friendly and knowledgeable.

 

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