The northeastern region of the Bird’s Head or Vogelkop Peninsula of West Papua is made up of an isolated yet massive, more or less continuous mountain chain. The name ‘Tamrau’ applies to the western portion, bisected by the grassy Kebar Valley, heartland of the indigenous Karoon peoples. The Tamrau Mountains have been very scantily surveyed for any purpose till this day. In contrast, the easternmost sector, known as the Arfak Mountains — ‘Arfak’ meaning little more than ‘interior’ in the language of the coastal Biak peoples — is since Dutch colonial times one of the most frequently explored and best known regions of West Papua.
As a consequence of this factor, and because they support all presently described Vogelkop endemics as well as provide straightforward access to largely untouched foothill, hill and montane forests that support a wonderfully diverse avifauna, the rugged Arfak Mountains are bound to become West Papua’s premier birding destination. In the northeastern watershed these mountains rise steeply from the sea — little or no coastal plain being present here — to reach a high point on Mount Humeibo (2,820 m), which, when viewed from the provincial capital and gateway Manokwari — the ‘Dorey’ of former days — is nearly hidden by Mount Tumyobou (2,480 m). Hattam, Meyah and Sougb indigenous peoples, who speak mutually unintelligible languages, all call the Arfaks home, and ultimately are the guardians of the future of the exquisite yet increasingly threatened birdlife of these mountains.
The Bird’s Head region, which for our purpose comprises the actual Bird’s Head Peninsula plus the Bomberai and Wandammen peninsulas as far east as the ‘Zoogeographer’s Gap’, harbors 14 endemic bird species, all of which occur in the Arfak area. Among these are the Vogelkop Bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus with its formidable so-called 'roofed maypole' bowers, the rare Long-tailed Paradigalla Paradigalla carunculata, easily overlooked when not vocalizing, the beautiful and little-known Arfak Astrapia Astrapia nigra, and the violently enrapturing Western Parotia Parotia sefilata. In addition, the Bird’s Head boasts 21 species with a restricted range, 15 of which can be seen in the Arfaks. In total, more than 320 bird species have so far been recorded from the Arfak region.
Vogelkop endemic birds (14 species)
White-striped Forest Rail Rallicula leucospila
Restricted-range species (15 species)
Red-billed BrushturkeyTalegalla cuvieri
Dwarf Cassowary Casuarius bennetti
Read on about our short birding break to the Arfak Mountains.
Read on about our Amazing Arfak birding expedition to the Arfak Mountains.
Read on about our other prolonged birding expeditions visiting the Arfak Mountains.
Read on about our filming expedition for Vogelkop Bowerbird in the Arfak Mountains with the BBC Natural History Unit.
Browse our check-list of the birds of West Papua.
Some secluded Arfak endemic forms became known in Europe remarkably early into the 18th century. The Arfak Astrapia, for instance, was first illustrated as early as 1734! However, it took until September 1872 before the exuberant L. M. D’Albertis would be the first European collector to penetrate any distance into the Arfaks and as a matter of fact into montane New Guinea as a whole! The Arfak Mountains thus constitute the type locality of numerous widespread upland New Guinea animals and therefore alone are renowned in scientific literature. D’Albertis was followed by that other great Italian collector, O. Beccari, by native hunters in the service of A. A. Bruijn, by J. M. Dumas, F. Shaw-Mayer, E. Mayr, S. Bergman, and by a number of less known field collectors, who between them, little by little, unveiled and documented the enchanting birdlife of the Arfaks.