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Stone axes from the highlands of Papua New Guinea

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The story of first contact in 1933 with the peoples of the central Wahgi Valley in the Papuan highlands is a remarkable one. An unsuspected group of thriving stone-age cultures came to the attention of the outside world when the Leahy brothers first flew over the area and later reached it on foot.

Tribal men carried elaborate stone axes and this contact with extant stone-age cultures provided fascinating insights on how their stone tools, such as axes and adzes were hafted. The available evidence was collated in Burton's (1984) Thesis at the Australia National University, on "AXE MAKERS OF THE WAHGI: Pre-colonial industrialists of the Papua New Guinea highlands."

I saw a number of these old axes during a visit to the highlands near Mount Hagen in October 2019 (see the Paiya chief photograph below). The area of that journey is shown in the google Earth image shown below.


The upper Wahgi River valley with locations of Paiya Village, Mount Giluwe and Mount Hagen together w…

Moluccan Paradise Kingfishers in Wallace's "The Malay Archipelago" and in the present

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I had seen pictures of the amazing paradise kingfishers in books. Beyond the normal colourful kingfisher body, they have incredible long tails terminating in flared tips.

The other weekend on the island of Halmahera in the northern Moluccas of Indonesia, I saw a paradise kingfisher in person for the first time. The bird did not present itself in the open for a photograph so I had to peer through the undergrowth, with many blocking leaves and do the best I could under the circumstances.

Here it is.

Paradise kingfisher, Tanysiptera galatea, near Weda, eastern Halmahera, Saturday 9th March 2019


Alfred Russel Wallace devoted part of his 1869 book "The Malay Archipelago" to these beautiful birds.

"I also obtained one or two specimens of the fine racquet-tailed kingfisher of Amboyna, Tanysiptera nais, one of the most singular and beautiful of that beautiful family. These birds differ from all other kingfishers (which have usually short tails) by having the two middle tail-fe…

"A great prize, no less than a completely new form of the Bird of Paradise" - an encounter with Wallace's Standardwing

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This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Wallace's standardwing bird of paradise, named for Alfred Russel Wallace in 1859 by G.R. Gray, "for the indefatigable energy he has hitherto shown in the advancement of ornithological and entomological knowledge, by visiting localities rarely if ever travelled by naturalists."


Standardwing (Semioptera wallacii wallacii), Saturday 9th March 2019, Weda, Halmahera

Alfred Wallace, co-discoverer of the Wallace-Darwin theory of evolution by natural selection, had a particular fascination with the birds of paradise, but, "Five voyages to different parts of the district they inhabit, each occupying in its preparation and execution the larger part of a year, produced only five species out of the fourteen known to exist in the New Guinea district."

On a visit to Batchian Island (Bacan these days), however, there was a great treasure awaiting.

When his assistant Ali one day brought him a "curious bird," Wallace realized that he h…

Mount Ophir, Malaysia: Alfred Wallace's 1854 ascent and a climb in the present

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Over 2017 and 2018, I reached many of the areas Alfred Wallace visited on the journeys he described in "The Malay Archipelago" (1869), from Sumatra and other Indonesian Islands to Borneo to Papua New Guinea. I was missing one excursion that's quite close to home, however, this being Mount Ophir, the highest mountain in southern peninsular Malaysia. Wallace made the climb in 1854.

"Having determined to visit Mount Ophir, which is situated in the middle of the peninsula about fifty miles east of Malacca, we engaged six Malays to accompany us and carry our baggage. As we meant to stay at least a week at the mountain, we took with us a good supply of rice, a little biscuit, butter and coffee, some dried fish and a little brandy, with blankets, a change of clothes, insect and bird boxes, nets, guns and ammunition."


View of the forest-clad Mount Ophir, (1276 m), looking south with the Straits of Malacca behind, Google Earth image

James and I decided to make this a f…