Hunting camp at Laroki, 17 June 1893

Already at 5 o’clock came the wake-up call. Our sleep had been quite disturbed by countless ants that were partly tiny partly, like the red ants that dropped on us the day before on our ride under the trees, of considerable size whose mean bites plague and enrage the hikers on New Guinea day and night. One of the gentlemen even found a large scorpion in his hammock. Not a very friendly surprise!

The time of departure for the hunt had been set so early as the morning was the best time to hunt birds. it was beginning to dawn when we jumped out of our hammocks to cook tea and make the necessary preparations for the hunt. As each of us wanted to say out during the whole day and thus fully use the short time we could spend in New Guinea.

An original scene in the morning was the female baggage carriers bathing without any timidity in the river laughing all the time and chatting naked as Eve. This dance of nymphs naturally offered the opportunity to compare the variety of skin colors of the natives. The nuances of complexion ranged from dark-brown to light-brown with a predominance of coffee-brown or golden bronze with a tint of olive which is so characteristic for the Polynesian blood. What all had in common were the extremely beautiful dark eyes and their good nature, even friendliness of their physiognomy.

We set out in five marching groups that split on the other bank of the Laroki to the shouts of „Hunter’s Luck“ and disappeared in multiple directions into the darkness of the jungle.

I first turned towards the North shore with Bedford, my servant on board Biaggio as well as some natives and then followed the stream in a Western direction. Loud bird songs from hundreds of beaks were heard which I considered a good omen for a successful day.

One has no experience how difficult it is to discover birds in the impenetrable tangle of tree tops, branches, twigs, lianas and parasite plants of such a jungle. Especially as they most of the times sit in the highest spot on giant trees which one can see from the ground only through some gaps. Only a keen and at the same time trained eye can finally spot the birds. Sometimes this is achievable only after a long patient wait. If the bird flies away, all was in vain. Bedford and the savages showed an astonishing aptitude in spotting the birds, given that they are permanent inhabitants of the forest and each native wanted to be the first so that all ran around and made more noise than necessary.

We had big trouble to constrain this overzealousness. Finally I ordered my servant to keep the natives all close to him and follow us in a group at a distance of 100 paces while I with Bedford and one Papuan cautiously wanted to sneak forward. But as soon as the voice of a bird was heard, the whole group stood close behind us until Bedford managed to drive them definitively back with the help of strong curses in Papuan language. That the birds fled during those discussions or kept quiet and thus could no longer be detected was self-evident.

What I wanted to bag today first of all was one of the splendid king bird of paradise (Cincinnurus regius). We did find, following the voice a tree on which was such a bird too. But unfortunately, there wasn’t a male among them so that I shot only a female which had a plain color and had the characteristic skyblue legs.

In multiple places in the forest I saw giant nest of the brushturkey. This strange bird scratches leaves, twigs, earth lying on the ground, that is all the debris in the forest, together into a big pile of 6 to 8 m length and 2 to 3 m height in which it lays its eggs to hatch them assisted by the warmth of the earth or the heat from decomposition of the amassed vegetation. The effort the comparably small turkey has to spend to collect such great quantities of materials for its wall nest can be measured that around the hill-like nest the ground is picked clean for hundreds of paces. My savages dug into one of these nests but unfortunately did not find any eggs.

Out of a dense bush three Papuan frogmouths (Podargus papuensis) in front of me of which I bagged one. Really close to there I shot a forest bittern (Zonerodius heliosylus) that hid itself sitting on a twig of the tree.

Often I heard sounds in the forest that reminded me of the call of the mountain hen and which ended in loud cries. I also noticed the strong flapping of the wings of an apparently very large bird. Bedford explained that this was the hornbill that was incredibly timid and it would be difficult to bag a specimen. In vain we tried to sneak up to where the sounds were coming from. Every time even before we could see them they flew away with big cries warning all their comrades so that the forest was full of warning cries.  I had given up hope to achieve a favorable result when I discovered two rare beautiful scarlet and citron colored pigeons (Ptilopus iozonus) which I bagged. The shots seemed to cause such a disturbance among the hornbills that I heard their wings fluttering everywhere until one of them flew by accident just over me on a tall tree top so that I managed to shot it down. It was a Rytidoceros (Buceros) plicatus, an old male and a splendid specimen characterized by its giant beak, the red-brown neck, the metallic glittering black feathers and the snow-white tail. The age of the bird was estimated as seven years by examining the ridges on the beak, as the natives calculate that it grows another year on its beak every year. The savage who brought me the animal performed a very comical dance of joy by constantly kicking out his legs in an eccentric manner. As soon as he had calmed down again I sent him back directly to the camp in order that the bird was placed as quickly as possible into the hands of the taxidermist.

Gradually we had entered more mountainous terrain where the scenery changed. The forest was more open, tall grass covered the ground and the stony places and rocks were surrounded by eucalyptus trees. Here I shot a wallaby and a beautiful falcon (Accipiter cirrhocephalus).

It was shortly before noon when the heat became very muggy and the bird world had become very quiet and Bedford proposed to rest. We camped with the Papuans between the rocks in the shadow of some trees, ate our tins and tried afterwards to sleep a bit what however was unfortunately made impossible by the countless vexing ants.

Thus I entered into an „English“ conversation with Bedford in which I learned that this hunting ground chosen by the governor was an unsuitable one and that the best hunting opportunity was actually in a territory about 40 kilometers out of Moresby in the valley of the Vei Maori River where the governor used to go hunting too. But, added Bedford, he still hoped to find some birds of paradise to shoot in a valley nearby in the afternoon.

The Papuans spent their break in a much more agreeable manner for them: They smoked tobacco which they had begged off from me, grilled the freshly shot wallaby and ate this strange roast with pleasure.

Despite the strong heat we started again already at 2 o’clock and climbed up a steep mountain ledge which was as tiring as it was difficult as we could not follow a set path but had to climb what we encountered over blocks of rocks and clefts covered with grass without knowing where to put one’s foot and slipping at any moment. Short of breath  and bathed in sweat we arrived on the hill where we let ourselves fall into the grass to recover some of our breath and regain some of our strength.  As now it was necessary to climb down on the other side of the mountain ledge what was even more difficult at the beginning. The descent continued very slowly as we advanced only gradually. Halfway down even the natives ran out of force one after another and sat down and did not want to continue marching. Only the insistent admonitions of Bedford as well as the circumstance that we had the strikers march in front of us and thus drove them forward made them move.

Slashed and flayed we arrived finally in the small densely overgrown valley in which Bedford hoped to find birds of paradise. In profusion, however, just at that moment a heavy rain started pouring down so that all hopes for a catch were dashed. As soon as it starts raining, all the birds of paradise hide themselves in the densest mountain tops, concerned about their feathers, press themselves against the trunk and thus absolutely can not be seen.  I still climbed up the hill on the other side of the valley and saw a female bird of paradise but a male was not to be seen.

As Bedford now declared that it was futile to continue the search for birds of paradise and we had to cover an important distance to return to the camp, we changed our path in that direction.

The valley was so densely overgrown that we could only enter it by advancing in the stream running through the valley floor. At its shore the natives eagerly rushed into the stream to quench their thirst but found not much refreshment in the warm water.

Continuing to wade in this stream, we noticed right at the start that our shoes were filling with fine sand which hurt me especially as the walking had blistered my feet. Where the deep areas of the stream prevented wading we had to go around the stream and squeeze ourselves between the trees at the shore or climb over the fallen trunks. Finally we arrived at the Northern end of the valley where I had hunted in the morning and where we now were returning home, that is to the camp which I reached late in the evening fully soaked and very tired. Such a ten hour expedition in the tropical jungle in such a muggy atmosphere is much more exhausting than a march double its length in our latitudes.

The other hunting group arrived earlier than I and every gentleman had brought something interesting, thus Clam a splendid bird of paradise and three crowned pigeons, Wurmbrand two  blue bitterns (Ardeiralla flavicollis), a snow-white kite with light-brown wings (Haliastur girrenera) and two strange crake-like birds called comb-crested jacana (Parra gallinacea), Prónay finally a cockatoo, a pink pigeon etc.

According to the original plan the next day would be spent hunting at the shore of the Laroki too but the information given by Bedford made me ask the governor to organize an expedition to the famous hunting grounds at the shore of Vei Maori. To lessen the concerns of the governor regarding the limited time for this plan I declared to prolong my stay on New Guinea by two days. This prolongation decided the matter.  Sir William accepted the hunting expedition to Vei Maori under the condition that he would have enough time to prepare so that we unanimously agreed to return to Port Moresby the next morning.

This evening sleep came easy despite ants and scorpions as even the natives were exhausted from the activities of the day so that they forgot to sing and dance and the camp was completely quiet at an early hour.

Links

  • Location: Port Moresby, New Guinea
  • ANNO – on 17.06.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Die Jungfrau von Orleans“. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is closed from 1 June to 19 July.

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