Waitanta : Waigeo and Batanta
The fabled Raja Ampat or ‘Four Kings’ archipelago comprises over four million hectares of land and sea off New Guinea’s northwestern tip. Also known as the West Papuan Islands, the group is made up of the four large islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo, plus a myriad of smaller satellites, including Kofiau and Gebe, scattered around these.
Whereas Salawati and Batanta lie only five kilometers apart today, the calm and deep waters of the narrow Sagewin Strait that separates them, betray a dramatically different geological past for the portions of the archipelago respectively lying to the north and south of the strait. To the south, Salawati and Misool together with the adjacent Bird's Head or Vogelkop essentially consist of a large, north-moving fragment of Australian continental crust that has always been in relatively close proximity to its modern location and is now apparently fully docked. In contrast, Waigeo and Batanta to the north, originated more than 2,000 km to the northeast in the Pacific as part of an Eocene ophiolitic suite known as the Halmahera Arc! During Pleistocene lowering of sea-level, Misool and Salawati were joined into an enlarged Bird's Head Peninsula, while Waigeo and Batanta were fused to a single landmass: ‘Waitanta’.
Waitanta’s prolonged isolation produced nearly mythical, endemic feathered life forms as Bruijn’s Brushturkey Aepypodius bruijnii, Wilson's Bird-of-paradise Diphyllodes respublica and Red Bird-of-paradise Paradisaea rubra, one by one species that make the hearts of ornithologists and birders alike beat faster. In fact, every self-respecting world birder is bound to at least once in a lifetime undertake the pilgrimage to the avian delights of Waitanta.
The village of Wai Lebed on the southern shores of Batanta has been used as a base by famous New Guinea workers as S. Bergman in 1949 and E.T. Gilliard in 1964, and by virtually every birder subsequently seeking Waitanta’s violently enrapturing birds-of-paradise. Unfortunately, however, low-lying sectors bordering the Sagewin Strait in general, and the Wai Lebed area in particular, have now lost much of their magic in the wake of an illegal logging boom in Indonesian New Guinea from the turn of the century onward. Moreover, the brushturkey only occurs on Waigeo, and then quite likely only east of the visually stunning Mayalibit Bay that divides the island in two. All the more reason then, to redirect the dedicated birder’s attention to Waigeo, which further boasts the highest number of land and fresh water bird species of any island in the Raja Ampat group, including the delightful Western Crowned Pigeon Goura cristata and mysteriously distributed Brown-headed Crow Corvus fuscicapillus.
Waitanta endemic birds (4 species)
Bruijn’s Brushturkey Aepypodius bruijnii
Restricted-range species (9 species)
Dusky Megapode Megapodius freycinet
Great-billed Heron Ardea sumatrana
Read on about our short birding break to Waigeo Island.
Read on about our Best of West Papua birding expedition visiting Waigeo Island.
Read on about our other prolonged birding expeditions visiting Waigeo Island.
Read on about our Community Conservation and Ecotourism Agreement for the Orobiai River catchment on Waigeo Island.
Read on about the first photographs taken of Bruijn's Brushturkey in the wild on Waigeo Island on a PE exploratory bird tour.
Read on about the field discovery of Bruijn's Brushturkey Aepypodius bruijnii on Waigeo Island by PE birder-in-residence Iwein Mauro (from www.publish.csiro.au).
Read on about the conservation status of Bruijn's Brushturkey Aepypodius bruijnii on Waigeo Island by PE birder-in-residence Iwein Mauro (from www.journals.cambridge.org).
Browse our check-list of the birds of West Papua.
Named in 1880 in honor of the immortal Dutch merchant of Ternate, A. A. Bruijn — a dealer in virtually every product the Moluccas and Vogelkop region had to offer, including natural history specimens — Bruijn’s Brushturkey arguably was the most sought-after bird species of the entire New Guinea faunal region. Indeed, it were native collectors in the service of the ‘King of Ternate’ (as Bruijn was nicknamed during the height of his entrepreneurship) that stood at the origin of the collection of likely all but one of a staggering twenty-four historical museum specimens known from this brushturkey. However, despite more than fifteen subsequent ornithological expeditions and reconnaissance visits actively searching for this megapode, it managed to remain entirely unknown in the living world during the more than 120 years that elapsed in between its formal description and its ultimate field discovery on Mt. Nok in May 2002 by PE birder-in-residence Iwein Mauro.