The Bird of Paradise dazzles in the wild within Papua's lush tropical jungles


The Papuan Pitta, endemic to the island of New Guinea, is known to build dome-shaped nests made of leaves and twigs on the forest floor to nest. - Photo by EDDIE CHUA/The Star

Deep within Papua’s lush tropical jungles, two hours by road from Jayapura, its capital city, is a world that has endlessly fascinated bird lovers and photographers.

Drenched by the wet season’s rains, this lush stretch is almost paradise. After all, it is home to the mesmerising Bird of Paradise.

This bird, with its vibrant plumage and intricate dance, is more than just a winged creature; it symbolises Papua’s untouched wilderness and rich biodiversity.

The enigmatic 12-wired Bird of Paradise stands tall on a dead-tall trunk to make a love call to entice the female bird.The enigmatic 12-wired Bird of Paradise stands tall on a dead-tall trunk to make a love call to entice the female bird.

The “chase” to photograph the Birds of Paradise in their wilderness draws photographers deep into the dense jungle.

With every step on the slippery mosaic of mud and leaves, the weight of the humid air is palpable.

But the promise of witnessing these avian wonders in the wild drives the cameramen on.

Armed with cameras, tripods, and long lenses, six Malaysian and Singaporean photographers relied on local porters’ seasoned expertise to navigate the challenging terrain.

With a local bird expert at hand, the group ventured deeper into the forest, with every rustling leaf and distant bird call intensifying the excitement.

The journey is gruelling, but the rewards are unparalleled.

The male lesser Bird of Paradise performs bizarre and complex courtship displays to attract potential female mates.The male lesser Bird of Paradise performs bizarre and complex courtship displays to attract potential female mates.

Not only did they encounter the iconic Bird of Paradise, but they also came face-to-face with the majestic King of Paradise and the enigmatic 12-wired Bird of Paradise – all in a four-hour jungle walk on the first day of the six-day trip.

The 12-wired bird, with unique filaments extending from its tail, and the regal King, are wonders to behold.

The Bird of Paradise, native to the dense rainforests of Papua, is a marvel of nature, celebrated for its unparalleled beauty and vibrant colours.

Males boast a dazzling array of iridescent feathers, ranging from maroon-brown and brownish-yellow to dark emerald green.

A group of photographers looking for the Bird of Paradise in Papua’s jungle.A group of photographers looking for the Bird of Paradise in Papua’s jungle.

But their splendour isn’t limited to their appearance.

To woo females, they perform intricate dance rituals, a mesmerising display of grace and flamboyance.

Often set against a lush forest backdrop, these dances involve elaborate moves, from rapid wing flapping to delicate hopping.

This combination of radiant plumage and captivating behaviour makes the Bird of Paradise a symbol of nature’s artistry.

But what drives photographers to undertake such a demanding expedition?

Beyond the fascinating beauty of the Birds of Paradise, Papua’s forests are a treasure trove of avian wonders.

Papua Island, which encompasses the Indonesian province of Papua and Papua New Guinea, hosts over 700 bird species.

The exclusive Papua Crimson Finch, a little tiny bird active during the late afternoon, can be found only in the Jayapura and Merauke Regency.The exclusive Papua Crimson Finch, a little tiny bird active during the late afternoon, can be found only in the Jayapura and Merauke Regency.

Papua Island is famous for its many endemic bird species found nowhere else in the world.

There are approximately 308 endemic birds on the island, with around 104 endemic to the Indonesian part (Papua) and 204 to the Papua New Guinea part.

The vibrant Papuan Pitta, the dazzling array of kingfishers like the Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, the mysterious Brown-headed Crow, and the nocturnal Papuan Frogmouth are just a few of the many birds that call Papua home.

Each species, with its unique behaviour and colours, offers both a challenge and a reward, making the journey a dream for many.

Papua’s indigenous tribes have revered these birds for centuries.

Their profound cultural and spiritual significance is evident in traditional ceremonies and headdresses adorned with their feathers.

The elusive King of Paradise is celebrated for its swift and agile movements, effortlessly leaping from one tree branch to another high up in the canopy.The elusive King of Paradise is celebrated for its swift and agile movements, effortlessly leaping from one tree branch to another high up in the canopy.

For these tribes, the Bird of Paradise is more than just a bird; it bridges the earthly and the divine, symbolising beauty, grace, and purity.

Emerging from the forest with cameras laden with breathtaking images and hearts filled with memories, the photographers’ tales of their journey are a testament to the magic of Papua’s wilderness.

The expedition is about capturing images and understanding these birds’ deep-rooted significance in Papua’s culture and history.

Of course, the journey into Papua’s heart is also a reminder of the delicate balance between man and nature.

As they leave the tropical rainforest behind, one of the last few places in the world that have remained largely untouched, they carry photographs and tales of a paradise found and a deeper appreciation for the natural wonders.

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