Snow Mountains of New Guinea
The discovery in 1938 of the densely populated and agriculturally advanced Grand Baliem Valley in the heart of the Snow Mountains by American mammalogist, explorer and millionaire, Richard Archbold, and the massively supplied, 14-month's expedition he mounted under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History, may well have been the last great feat of the age of exploration. Among the scores of novelties brought back from the field were no less than 40 undescribed bird taxa, four of which received full species status.
Following in Archbold's footsteps, a superb selection of New Guinea's wonderfully diverse montane avifauna can be seen when hiking through cultivations and upper montane forests up the Ibele Valley onto the Lake Habbema alpine plateau at 3,200 m elevation above the timberline, in the shadow of Peak Trikora. Here, in some of the most splendid mountain scenery this side of the Himalaya, lives MacGregor’s Honeyeater Macgregoria pulchra. This monotypic genus has long been treated as a bird-of-paradise. However, T. Iredale observed living birds and back in 1956 already indicated that Macgregoria is instead a member of the honeyeater family Meliphagidae, a conclusion which more recently was reinforced by molecular and morphological evidence. Only three bird species appear to be genuinely confined to the Snow Mountains, but a staggering 34 montane restricted-range species occur.
New Guinea Snow Mountains endemic birds (3 species)
Orange-cheeked Honeyeater Oreornis chrysogenys
Restricted-range species (34 species)
Snow Mountain Quail Anurophasis monorthonyx
Salvadori’s Teal Salvadorina waigiuensis
Browse our check-list of the birds of West Papua.
Lorentz and Habbema
Habbema certainly sounds most exotic and one would almost swear that it is therefore a local Papuan toponym. However, this alpine lake was in fact named for the Dutch Lieutenant Habbema who's military detachment supervised the 1909 Lorentz Expedition to New Guinea led by Dr. H. A. Lorentz. The expedition came first to reach the tropical snow at the base of the jagged summit of Mount Trikora, then called Wilhelmina, an achievement which earned Lorentz the hero status back home. Interesting detail: each Dayak-porter the expedition employed apparently was rewarded with a tatoe of a snow-clad mountain with a dragon. The 1909 Lorentz Expedition, however, ends catastrophically. During the descent of Mount Trikora, of which the actual summit was never reached, Lorentz falls down and breaks a few ribbs. One Dayak-porter gets lost in the thick fogg and dies of exhaustion. Then, due to lack of food on the return journey, the rest of the expedition nearly succumbs. One Dutch soldier disappears without a trace in the dense forest, and a second Dayak-porter dies totally enfeebled. Eventually, the party manages to reach the expedition vessel 'Arend' which lay anchored on an inland jungle river, still known as the North or Lorentz River. In 1913 the actual summit of Trikora was reached on a Dutch military expedition led by Captain A. Franssen Herderschee. Sadly, the snow caps on Trikora have now vanished completely, revealing only glinstering limestones.