National Geographic : 1953 Apr
New Guinea's Rare Birds and Stone Age Men 465 train. Its curved bill darted and nudged among the moss and flower s. Suddenly, in a series of graceful leaps, it hopped to a bare limb about six inches in diameter and some 80 feet above the ground. With my 8-power glasses glued to my eyes , I watched it quickly flex its wings. It curved its tail inward, spread wide the tips of its two immense central plumes , and waved both tail and wings together in nervous but related cadence. For half a minute it held its wings cocked far behind its back, so that the wrists touched; thumped several times like the Greater bird ; then, as abruptly as it had begun, relaxed , sat sedately for a little while, and flew away. Fire Menaces Blue Bird's Home From these ventures on Mount 0-Mar we turned for a quick two-week side trip to Mount Hagen in search of the elusive Ribbon- tail and the Golden-crowned Bowerbird, which in 1950 we had discovered and named Arch- boldia sanjordi, after our friend and sponsor, the late Dr. Leonard C. Sanford. We learned much on Mount Hagen about hybridization of the long-tailed birds of para- dise; we obtained some excellent photographs of the Wattled bird and Loria 's Bird of Para- dise (page 452); but the Ribbon-tail and Golden-crowned gave us the slip . Our disappointment was keen, but it was softened by the arrival at our base camp of young Henry Kaltenthaler, the botanist from Philadelphia. I had saved for him several particularly sticky assignments , including the photographing and recording of the Blue Bird of Paradise (page 441). Henry shared my concern over the fate of this bird- Paradisa ea rudolphi-threatened with extinction by native hunters and farmers. The most delicately beautiful and lacelike of birds of paradise, this creature has about it an aura of romance. Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria, for whom it is named , was the ill-fated hero of the tragic Mayerling story. The tar- get of native collectors for a good half-century , the Blue bird is now gravely reduced in num- bers. More serious still, deforestation is wip- ing out its very home. As primitive man has pushed up from the coast in to the interior, he has stripped the upper reaches of the Markham, Ramu , Sepik, and Wahgi valleys of their timber and left a sea of inflammable grass. When fire strikes, 30-foot palisades of flame sweep these upland meadows, charring the earth and driving bird and man into cramped gulches (page 459). The Blue bird is all the more vulnerable in that it will not live higher than 6,300 feet, no matter how inviting the forest; its range stops there with the precision of a topographer's contour line. Yet the tide of destruction now laps to 7,200 feet in the Kubor Range and up to 8,300 feet in the Chimbu gorge. Result: Where thousands of Blue birds once fluttered and danced in the forests, it is hard now to find a few inbred coveys backed into precipitous cul-de-sacs. One of the most for- lorn memories I retain of the island is the spectacle of a male Blue bird I saw at Katum- bag, perched on a fire-blackened tree trunk in the heart of a burned-out wilderness. Can anything be done to check these rav- ages? Our Australian member thought so. What is needed is a bird of paradise reserva- tion, rather like Africa's Kruger National Park, in which primitive man can be taught to live side by side in harmony with those treasures of Nature that can be found in New Guinea alone. It would not be too dif- ficult, Bob Doyle pointed out, to administer such an area through the government's dis- trict officers , men well-trained , fair, and much respected by the highlanders. This project, however, is still but a gleam in a naturalist 's eye; and in the shrunken domain still left to the Blue bird we found slim photographic pickings. We were luckier in our pursuit of the Magnificent Bird of Paradise (page 440). We discovered, in fact, no fewer than five dance grounds of the Magnificent, all within two miles of our base camp at Kup. Hitherto, kombok 's courtship had been observed and fully described by only one white man-Dr. Austin L. Rand, of the American Museum- Richard Archbold Snow Mountain Expedition. * Altogether, Kaltenthaler, Robert Doyle, and I spent 14 man-days in blinds close to the Magnificent's dance grounds before we were able to snare the bird's choreography on film. We felt well rewarded, however, for the antics of this strange bird with its police- whistle voice are among the most intriguing in the bird kingdom. Dance of the Magnificent Golden-naped , the Magnificent boasts a shining blood-red back patch and a chest shield of blackish green. For its dance it selects a tree of broom-handle size, deep in the forest and usually on a steep slope. Me- ticulously it clears the ground beneath the trunk and snips the leaves overhead to spot- light its arena with dramatic shafts of sun- light. When all is ready, the male screeches his invitation to those whom it may concern and whirs down upon his sharply slanted stage. There he flexes his plumage and promenades slowly and with obvious pride up and down *See "Unknown New Guinea," by Richard Arch- bold, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, March, 1941.