Dancing In The Trees –By Josje

The thought of having to wake up at 4am didn’t sound too appealing, but the thought of what we were going to do was very exciting. So when the alarm beeped, something that doesn’t happen very often on Delos, we awoke in the pitch darkness and prepared a cup of tea. Slowly and quietly we ate some bread, put on our backpacks, made sure we had all the cameras and most importantly the binoculars.

Delos was moored at the Raja Ampat dive lodge and our destination was north, across the bay, way up in the forest on mainland Gam. On the 20 minute dinghy ride over to Yenwaopnor village, our usual bubbly selves were quiet in anticipation; the darkness surrounded us and we listened to the slosh of water as the dinghy slowly made her way over the channel. The stars began to fade and that beautiful early morning light, the kind that makes you feel fresh at the thought of a new day, slowly creeped in as dawn approached.

We met Nico at the dock, tied the dinghy off and quickly made our way across the village, zig-zagging through the sleepy streets of candle lit huts. Apart from a few cats, we were the only ones awake and once across the village we came to small bridge before starting our climb into the jungle. We strained our eyes to see the small dirt path; the light was still dim and our other senses seemed to be heightened. We could feel the dew from the leaves brush past our skin and the sounds of the jungle echoed in our ears; crickets, birds and I swear we could even hear the rustling of the spiders. Small fire flies lay across the path, flashing life as we walked on, guided by Nico in the front. The smells of the jungle were fresh and natural, everything about it was alive and well.

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We reached a point where Nico put his finger up to his mouth, hushing us to be quiet. We walked the last part of the path in utter silence, careful enough not to snap a twig or crunch a leaf. At the top, we were surrounded by huge towering trees, and a small opening in the middle where a row of wooden benches were laid out, all facing in the same direction. It was like the church of nature, except no preacher and no altar, only the view of the jungle surrounding us, protecting us. We sat, we listened, we felt, we breathed and we craned our necks into the forest above.
The sun shimmered through the jungle and up onto the leaves and branches above. The perfect set up. I thought I saw a flicker of a movement, or was that a leaf in the wind? Nope, there it was; the beautiful tail and the elegant wings of the red bird of paradise.

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I could only see one at first, following its movements across the tallest tree in the forest, fluttering from branch to branch. Every morning at sunrise, if the weather is just right, they dance. It is a dance that takes years and years to practice, the younger males learning from their elders in hopes of one day finding a mate. After a while, more came and before we knew it, there were 8 or 9 all fluttering about, dancing together in the morning sun. We passed around the binoculars to get a closer look, but even from a distance they looked spectacular. Luckily I had checked out Outdoor Empire list of long range binoculars before I visited so I came prepared!!

There was a small lookout hut built up one of the trees near the benches, camouflaged in big leaves and twigs. We took turns climbing up the ladder and into the hut to get a closer look, where we took some great pictures and videos.

We sat in silence, the positive energy and happiness was really felt; we knew we were witnessing something truly incredible. And just like that, as quickly as they had arrived, they left, leaving us feeling blessed that they had shared their morning dance with us.

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Walking back through the now sun filled jungle; I couldn’t help but think how amazing that was. That an animal so small could bring me so much joy. Here I was, walking through a jungle in Raja Ampat, on a small dirt path, completely at one with nature, having just witnessed one of the most unique birds in the world. I couldn’t help thinking about the early explorers like Alfred Wallace, a 19th century naturalist and explorer, who searched the globe, year after year to catch a glimpse of this magnificent creature for even a few moments. It was like following the footsteps of Lorne and Laurence from the Ring of Fire documentaries, and all those before them that had walked this very path in search of this bird. I felt like I was living in a BBC documentary, it wouldn’t have surprised me if David Attenborough had popped out of the bushes.