Like the Wilson’s bird of paradise, the red bird of paradise is also endemic to two islands—Waigeo and Batanta—in Raja Ampat. The bird’s ornamental red feathers take up to six years to grow fully. Photographs by Dhritiman Mukherjee
Like the Wilson’s bird of paradise, the red bird of paradise is also endemic to two islands—Waigeo and Batanta—in Raja Ampat. The bird’s ornamental red feathers take up to six years to grow fully. Photographs by Dhritiman Mukherjee

A flight of fancy to Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Islands

Indonesia's Raja Ampat Islands are well known for their rich marine life. Few know that there are plenty of colourful surprises above ground as well

Raja Ampat, the archipelago of more than 1,500 jungle-covered islands located in Indonesia’s West Papua province, is bound to figure on any diver’s wish list. The waters around them teem with marine life, from the small critters that macrophotographers love to big fish like sharks and giant trevallies.

The only way to reach Waigeo Island is via the daily ferries from Sorong. Groups of four or more people can also consider renting a boat.
The only way to reach Waigeo Island is via the daily ferries from Sorong. Groups of four or more people can also consider renting a boat.

Few know of the rich bird and animal life above ground. Even fewer know about the Wilson’s bird of paradise, a richly hued bird only found in the rainforests of the islands of Waigeo and Batanta in Raja Ampat.

For many years, scientists completely missed an important aspect of the complex mating dance of the brightly hued Wilson’s bird of paradise. It displays a breast shield that looks like a vibrant green disc when seen from the point of view of the female perched just above it, on a branch. The bird recently starred in David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth II’ series for the BBC.
For many years, scientists completely missed an important aspect of the complex mating dance of the brightly hued Wilson’s bird of paradise. It displays a breast shield that looks like a vibrant green disc when seen from the point of view of the female perched just above it, on a branch. The bird recently starred in David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth II’ series for the BBC.

Among birdwatchers, though, the Wilson’s bird of paradise is legendary. The small and colourful male birds put up an amazing courtship display to impress the rather dull, brown females. Besides dancing, they display a stunning green breast shield that I was lucky to capture on camera.

For many years, scientists completely missed an important aspect of the complex mating dance of the brightly hued Wilson’s bird of paradise. It displays a breast shield that looks like a vibrant green disc when seen from the point of view of the female perched just above it, on a branch. The bird recently starred in David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth II’ series for the BBC.
For many years, scientists completely missed an important aspect of the complex mating dance of the brightly hued Wilson’s bird of paradise. It displays a breast shield that looks like a vibrant green disc when seen from the point of view of the female perched just above it, on a branch. The bird recently starred in David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth II’ series for the BBC.

As the biggest island in the Raja Ampat chain, Waigeo has a large variety of birdlife. This includes parrots, cockatoos and kingfishers. I stayed on the island for five days, at a home-stay in the small village near the coast. The rest of the land mass is covered in thick forest.

Taking a short nap in the middle of the stake-out at the ‘lek’ of the Wilson’s birds of paradise to photograph the mating dance.
Taking a short nap in the middle of the stake-out at the ‘lek’ of the Wilson’s birds of paradise to photograph the mating dance.

During those five days, I hiked into the forest daily and set up my equipment in a hideout near the lek—the place where the Wilson’s birds of paradise come for their mating dance. It takes place close to the ground, making it quite a challenge to capture. After this, filming the mating dance of the red bird of paradise, which takes place in tree canopies, was much simpler.

Raja Ampat’s beautiful coral formations and large schools of fish are best seen from liveaboard cruises on which travellers stay for several days, and which allow divers to travel much further than they could on a day trip from one of the archipelago’s few resorts.
Raja Ampat’s beautiful coral formations and large schools of fish are best seen from liveaboard cruises on which travellers stay for several days, and which allow divers to travel much further than they could on a day trip from one of the archipelago’s few resorts.

Though both birds are stunning, the one that posed the harder challenge always lingers in memory.

A black-capped lory kept as a pet in one of the village homes on Waigeo Island
A black-capped lory kept as a pet in one of the village homes on Waigeo Island
The female Wilson’s birds of paradise are dull brown creatures. But the males do a lot to impress them, including sweeping the ground clear of debris and fallen leaves before performing the mating dance.
The female Wilson’s birds of paradise are dull brown creatures. But the males do a lot to impress them, including sweeping the ground clear of debris and fallen leaves before performing the mating dance.
The common spotted cuscus is a marsupial found only in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia. The size of a small cat, it is a shy nocturnal animal that spends its time almost entirely among the treetops. Photographs by Dhritiman Mukherjee
The common spotted cuscus is a marsupial found only in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia. The size of a small cat, it is a shy nocturnal animal that spends its time almost entirely among the treetops. Photographs by Dhritiman Mukherjee

Wildlife and nature photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee, whose work has been showcased by, among others, the BBC, National Geographic, The New York Times and Unesco, spends more time in forests and oceans around the world than his home in Kolkata.

Close