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Bird Watching in Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat Bird Watching

One of the things that I managed to do during my scuba diving trip was some bird watching in Raja Ampat in West Papua.

You may already know from my niche travel blog that I am a scuba diver, adventurer and also bird watcher having done these since 2007.

I have been bird watching as long as I have been scuba diving and as of 2017, it has been a total of 9 years doing both niche hobbies.

Raja Ampat in West Papua has always been a dream destination or major bucket list for me, and in September 2017, this dream came true.

Raja Ampat Bird Watching

Raja Ampat Green Parrot
A green parrot spotted on my trek to see the Red Bird of Paradise

Working with the Indonesia Ministry of Tourism, under the Wonderful Indonesia Campaign for 2017, a group of us were invited on a scuba diving adventure to three islands in the far east of Indonesia, and Raja Ampat in West Papua was the last stop. 

This gave me some free time and without fail, I had immediately booked a local village bird watching guide who took me for a half morning birding experience here in Raja Ampat.

Of course, my main objective was to spot the amazing Bird of Paradise, which is the star endemic bird here. And it is also one of the top birds to spot in the world by many bird watchers.

Bird Watching Resort Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat Dive Resort, where I stayed at

On this trip, my sole purpose for visiting Raja Ampat was for scuba diving and with what free time I had, I utilized it to the fullest for my bird watching.

I stayed at the Raja Ampat Dive Resort, and around the resort area, I must have spotted at least 10 species of birds. 

Every morning, I would be woken up by the calls of the Red Bird of Paradise, Parrots and a number of other canopy birds that are really loud.

While having my coffee, I would see some of the lory and parrots flying above for their morning feed.

Raja Ampat Grey-headed Cicadabird
A Grey-headed Cuckooshrike spotted eating a cicada on Piaynemo Island

West Papua is known to be a bird watchers paradise as there are over 704 species (as of 2016) of birds that can be found throughout this part of Indonesia.

However, my trip was only to Waisai in the Raja Ampat Regency and thus, I could only do bird watching around here. 

The balance of bird species is also incredible as there are a total of 640 islands that makes up the Raja Ampat Regency.

Some large islands and many smaller ones attract both lowland and water birds. On an average day, I could easily spot about 10-20 species even without trying.

Raja Ampat Great Frigatebird
A Great Frigatebird spotted flying over my dive boat in Raja Ampat

What makes this place a birding wonderland is that the pristine rainforest has been preserved all this time, with very little development done around here.

The area is not crowded with villages or people, making it ideal for the avian life. 

My Raja Ampat Bird Watching Experience 

For my special birding adventure, I paid IDR300,000 (US$22.00) for a half morning trek and this was via foot from my resort to the Bird of Paradise spot.

The journey is about one hour trek inland and then uphill. This was, of course, a special rate for the very little time I had.

Raja Ampat Paradise Kingfisher
The beautiful Paradise Kingfisher spotted at about 6.00 am on my trek

I started at about 4.00 AM and ended by 8.00 AM, so in actual fact, I only managed to do two hours of solid birding.

But the one-hour walks were equally fruitful as there were many birds to spot along the way. 

There were two locations in the rainforest where you can spot the Red Bird of Paradise and if the first location is quiet, the guide will bring you to the second location.

At the locations, makeshift benches are available which are organically made.

Raja Ampat Red Lory Parrot
The Red Lory is quite a common bird to spot in Raja Ampat

Your guide will ask you to be extremely quiet when you are near the area. Even walking, you should try not to break any twigs. Hand signals are used, or he will approach you and whisper to your ear.

At the first location, I sat for a good 10 minutes with no moment. But it was at the second location where I spotted two Red Birds of Paradise, which was pretty amazing, though I did not get a good photo.

Raja Ampat Red Bird of Paradise
What I managed to photograph the Red Bird of Paradise which was spotted

Luck was no one my side as time was crucial, by the time I spotted the Red Bird of Paradise, I could barely see them as they were plucking the top canopy leaves, and of course, blocked by the canopy.

I could get glimpses of them with my 600mm lens and also my Omicron Binoculars, however, I needed to wait for the right moment to photograph them, which of course was quite frustrating.

And soon, I needed to be back at the dive resort to go for my 8.30 AM dive, and it was already 7.30 AM when I spotted the birds.

I took whatever photos I could, but I saw them through my binoculars and they were indeed beautiful birds. 

Looking at the time, I had to abandon my mission and head back one hour to the resort to get ready for my dive.

Well, at least I managed to spot the Red Bird of Paradise and this gave me the motivation to plan another trip back here.

Birding Raja Ampat
Some of the common Willie Wagtails spotted hanging around the resort

Star Birds or Raja Ampat

Without fail, one bird comes to mind and that is the Bird of Paradise, which is endemic to Papua. However, I learned that there are 33 species for the Bird of Paradise found all over Papua, which was a shock to me.

The good news is that there is four main Bird of Paradise that people look for in West Papua. From what I know, most serious bird watchers will have these four on their checklist. 

Here is a list of star birds of Raja Ampat that birders want to spot;

  • Wilson's Bird of Paradise
  • Red Bird of Paradise
  • King Bird of Paradise
  • Western Crowned Pigeon
  • Western Parotia
  • Northern Cassowary

Raja Ampat Bird Watching Tours
A raptor seen in the skies near Piaynemo, can't really tell if this is a Honey-Buzzard

Random Bird Photos Taken in Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat Birding Tours
A Hooded Butcherbird spotted high on the canopy near the resort

Raja Ampat Pacific Reef Egret
Pacific Reef Egret spotted at sea just before my dive

Birding in Raja Ampat
A Helmeted or New Guinea Friarbird spotted on a branch

Bird Watching Tours in Raja Ampat

From what I know, bird watchers usually book a 10-day or 30-day bird watching tour around West Papua and this is to make sure that they get to spot the best of the best on this trip.

Well, to be perfectly honest, it is not cheap to get here, and once you plan your trip, you got to make the best of it in all possible ways. 

I would advise against booking a one day tour, unless you are here specifically for a business trip or a quick honeymoon or even a dive trip, then maybe you can book this bird tour for a day.

In my case, that was how I did my bird watching here, with limited time, but adamant to do it. In the end, it was an eye-opener for me.

Raja Ampat Grey-backed Tern
 A Grey-backed Tern flies near my dive boat

Price for Bird Watching Tours in Raja Ampat

Please note that the Raja Ampat bird watching tour prices below are based on actual figures from various operators.

Some of the bird tours may offer cheaper or more expensive packages and it is up to you to see what is being offered in each of the packages. 

Raja Ampat Bird Watching Prices 2018 
  • 1/2 Day Raja Ampat Birding Tour - IDR 450,000 / US$33.00 (RM140.00)
  • 1 Day Raja Ampat Birding Tour (2 Locations) - IDR 600,000 / US$45.00 (RM187.00)
  • 5 Day West Papua Birding Tour - IDR 8,041,425 / US$ 595.00 (RM2,512)
  • 12 Day West Papua Birding Tour - IDR 79,130,325 / US$ 5855.00 (RM24,728)
  • 30 Day West Papua Birding Tour - IDR 121,071,000 / US$ 8958 (RM 37,835)
*Prices are based on per person and minimum two or four to go. You need to double check with the operator on this.

*Prices are also without flights and for longer days, accommodations, food, and transport are included. 

West Papua Bird Watching
A Spice Imperial Pigeon spotted on one of the trees on my trek back

How to go to Raja Ampat

Generally, there are flights that connect from Makassar in Sulawesi, directly to Sorong, the capital of West Papua. Once you arrive in Sorong, you need to take another flight or take the Bahari Ferry to Waisai harbour. 

From Waisai harbour or airport, your bird watching guide will pick you up and send you to your resort. In simple layman terms, you need one full day just for travelling from Bali or Jakarta.

However, if you are flying in from elsewhere, be prepared to spend two days just for travelling to Raja Ampat one way. Usually, if you book tours, it only includes the pick up from the port of entry. 

You can also read my other article on getting to Raja Ampat, which explains everything in detail. Hopefully, that can give you a better idea o the travels to this part of the world. 

Final Thoughts to Bird Watching in Raja Ampat

Honestly, if you are an avid bird watcher, or want to see some of the most beautiful birds in the world, Raja Ampat is your next destination.

For me, it was my first time setting foot on this exotic and mysterious land, and how could I not even try a little birding here. 

For my bird count, I spotted at least 45 species of birds during my five days in Raja Ampat. This includes the many sea birds, raptors and the lowland birds.

On my bird watching morning trip, I counted the number to be around 25 species of birds spotted in a total of four hours.

R4 Bird Watching
An Asian Glossy Starling was seen on Arborek Island, Raja Ampat

I would easily pack my bags again to visit Raja Ampat in West Papua to do some serious bird watching, probably for a week. Well, not everyone has the luxury of doing a 30-day birding tour.

But I know of some birders who are all out to get the world bird count numbers out and they would engage on tours like that. 

The good thing about birding here is that most of the guides are professional and know what they are doing. They are well knowledgeable about the local birds and know the best times and spots to locate them.

Piaynemo Raja Ampat
Piaynemo in Raja Ampat, one of the iconic places in West Papua

They understand the difference between a bird watcher and bird photographer too. And the best part is that they communicate in English which makes bird watching here in Raja Ampat easy.

You can also read about my other bird watching articles from Malaysia, Borneo and other places as I always make it a point to do this whenever I visit a new destination.

I also manage another dedicated bird portal called Bird Watching Asia, which currently focuses on birding around Malaysia.

For anyone planning to do some bird watching in Raja Ampat, make sure you are well prepared and ready to spend at least five to seven days at a minimum.

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