We twitched today.
“Twitchers”, we have learned, is the affectionate (or perhaps not so much) term given to bird watchers and aficionados.
Our tour officially ended today and we parted ways with our fellow travelers. We will certainly keep in touch with several – they were a nice group of people and we shared some great experiences with them. Jen and I decided to spend a few extra days in PNG, though, so today we said our goodbyes. We wanted to experience a bit more of the Highlands, so we went up to another lodge that our tour company owns - Rondon Ridge.
The place is set high above Mt. Hagen town on Rondon Mountain and it is beautiful. It is a very welcome change from the Highlander Hotel in Mt. Hagen where we spent the past two nights – though the staff there tried their best, some of the unfortunate highlights included a buffet dinner without food followed directly by a buffet dinner with food but without plates and showers where the water cut off mid way through.
The Rondon Ridge lodge is famous for two things – its cook, Honnie, who supplies the rest of the TNT (the tour company) lodges with his recipes and baked goods, and its tour guide, naturalist, botanist and engineer extraordinaire, Joseph Ando.
We’ve taken some pictures to try to demonstrate Joseph Ando’s works but they need to be seen to be believed. Joseph wanted to turn Rondon Ridge into a premier site for birders and naturalists coming to PNG. PNG has 33 out of the total 38 birds of paradise flying over its lands and thus is already a popular destination with twitchers. Rondon Ridge, however, is fairly new and being right outside of Mt. Hagen, would not be the most evident destination for ecotourism. Joseph is dead set on turning that around.
He has constructed a path, including hundreds of mud stairs, wood bridges, proper paths and even stair rails(!) for just under 2 miles through dense rainforest between the lodge and top of the mountain. He did this, he said, because he wants the beauty of PNG to be accessible for people even if they have a hard time getting around. The trail certainly provides some aerobic exercise, as it is around a 1,000 foot elevation gain, but it is pretty easy to ascend and descend. He built drains throughout to ensure that the rains did not destroy his mud stairs and he did all of this in less than 3 years. It would have taken me several life times.
In his spare time, Joseph also built an orchid garden around the size of a basketball court. PNG has more wild orchids than anywhere in the world and Rondon Ridge is at the perfect elevation for them to grow. In order to ensure, though, that even the lazier guests had access to this beauty, Joseph built this orchid garden that displays apparently more than 100 different types of orchids. We spotted about 20 different ones in bloom when we were there for a brief period, even though we are not here for peak blooming period.
|A MacGregor's bower bird displaying area. This spot is currently under construction. When finished, the bird will have tamped down all the moss and decorated the entire thing with flowers, in hopes of attracting a mate.|
Despite no formal training, Joseph also knows every single bird noise and what that noise means (and each bird makes about 5 or 6 different types) for each of the 230+ species of birds that live in his Rondon Mountain. He has developed a full guide for the lodge and he takes people out for all day nature walks and birding tours (which we will be doing with him) where he guarantees (yes, he guarantees nature!) that you will see several types of birds of paradise. He knows where each bird lives and eats, which way they fly, and the precise time they will arrive at each tree at the top of the mountain.
Yes, today we twitched. We spent about 4 hours on top of Rondon Mountain with 5 different species of birds of paradise (the King of Saxony, Stephanie’s Astrapia, the Brown Sicklebill, the Black Sicklebill and the Superb) flying all around us and easily a couple of dozen different types of non-paradise birds cooing and flying around us. It was nature at its most brilliant – all courtesy of Joseph Ando. This post is dedicated to him.