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But science isn't all eureka moments, and some of the scientists' prey proved maddeningly elusive. Near the end of the trip, ornithologist Ed Scholes returned from a day in the forest and sat, frowning, under the blue tarp that served as the dining room. He had hoped to record behavior proving that the parotia (a type of bird of paradise) found in the Fojas was a species that may be distinct from those elsewhere in New Guinea.

"I'm up to a ratio of 400 to one," Scholes grumbled. "Four hundred minutes of sitting in that mosquito-infested pigsty of a blind to one minute of seeing the bird."

When three weeks were up, the list of discoveries had grown from Brother Henk's first-day butterfly to include an appealingly beady-eyed rat, a long-nosed frog caught while it rested on a sack of rice, a huge dragonfly with glittering yellow eyes, a gecko spotted by its fiery orange eyeshine, and many more butterflies and moths. The expedition's biologists found several new species and—even in the tiny fraction of the Fojas' expanse explored—greatly expanded knowledge of the ranges and abundance of New Guinea fauna and flora.

As the helicopter rose from the bog, team members looked out the windows to see flocks of huge white cockatoos, startled by the roaring engine, flying over dark green forest stretching to the horizon. The noise died away, the birds settled back into the treetops, and life in the Foja Mountains returned to centuries-old rhythms, its mysteries scarcely breached. 

Mel White wrote about New Zealand's Tongariro National Park for the July 2009 issue. Tim Laman journeyed to New Guinea to photograph birds of paradise for the July 2007 issue.
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