B2A Lesser Sundas 2015 tour
26 July - 14 August
Participants; Mary Ann Cane and
Margareta Shiel from Australia,
Martin Searle and Carol Mounfield from UK,
David Russell from USA, Marc Bulte from Netherlands
Tour leaders ; Stijn De Win and Peter Ericsson
Flores, Komodo, Timor, Sumba + Bali extension.
This tour turned out to be successful in every way. Fun loving participants melded together in a diverse crew driven by their passion for new horizons and discovery.
In the end we had seen almost all the endemics possible plus a lot more. Flores Scops Owl, Flores Hawk Eagle, White-rumped Kingfisher, Wallacean Hanging Parrots, Bare-throated Whistler, Flores Monarch, Elegant Pitta, Yellow and Citrine-crested Cockatoos, Sumba Hornbills, Little Sumba Hawk Owl, Sumba Buttonquail, Sumba Myzomela, Chestnut-backed, Orange-sided and Chestnut-capped Thrushes, Five-colored Munias, Timor Red-eared Parrotfinch (yet to be described form), Black-banded, Sumba and Rufous-chested Flycatchers, and Red-naped and Banded Fruit Doves to name a few.
Yellow-crested Cockatoos, Komodo NP (photo PER)Flores Scops Owl (photo SDW)
The avifauna in the Lesser Sundas is far from sorted out and lots of potential splits occur, giving rise to interesting discussions. Apart from numerous endemics these islands seem to have received a sprinkle of species from just anywhere in Australasia making it a highly interesting place to visit.
We found a new species for the Indonesian (and SE-Asia!) avifauna as well: Black-fronted Dotterel at wetlands in Sumba. This was extra fun for wader enthusiast Peter Ericsson whose spirit always seems to lift when waders are around.
The tour compromised of a visit to 4 islands. Komodo Island, Flores, Timor and Sumba. We also did an excellent 2 day Bali extension.
Female Sumba Hornbill at Langgarilu National Park.
We hired a rather large wooden fishing boat turned tourist vessel. An early morning saw us leave Labuan Bajo heading out at sea with only the stars and the moon as guide. Needless to say the sunrise was spectacular.
The boat was fitted with beds so some opted for continued sleep while others enjoyed morning coffee and breakfast while allowing the gentle tropical sea breeze to caress their faces. The enjoyable journey took a few hours giving chance to take in views of dry and barren island rock formations risen out of the sea bed. A few of these with smaller fishing villages nestled in.
Komodo Island itself gives a very nice introduction to the birdlife of the region. The prime target being the severely threatened Yellow-crested Cockatoos that thrive on the vegetated part of the island and we did indeed get long close looks of this species. Along our walk we did we not only came across several Komodo Dragons of various sizes but also Green Junglefowl and Orange-footed Scrub Fowls running around on the ground. Other interesting birds seen: Rusty-breasted Whistler, Helmeted Friarbirds, Cinereous Tit, Indonesian Collared Dove, Barred Dove, Variable Goshawk, Lesser Wallacean Drongo and Yellow-browed and Lemon-bellied White-eyes.
The boat crew produced a sumptuous lunch of local food as we left the island around noon. We then stopped for an hour of snorkeling on a nearby island. The waters were crystal clear and some incredibly coloured and intricately patterned coral fish were enjoyed with the help of snorkeling gear provided on the boat. Man, life was good! Not much was seen in terms of sea birds except for the odd Lesser Frigatebirds and Great-billed Heron on a beach but the journey back was comfortable and encouraged participants to spend time on their own and to get to know each other.
Komodo Dragon (photo PER)
The island is rather large and mostly mountainous. The Trans Flores highway stretches as an endless serpent through the landscape from West to East.
First we used our very comfortable beach resort as a base for a few nights. WiFi, AC, great food, swimming pool, beach, gardens, cold beers, it was all there! The birding started right at the resort with the endemic Flame-breasted Sunbird. Elegant Pittas could be heard in the hilly scrub nearby and incredibly so we managed to call one out for open views one early afternoon. The beach held Australian Pelican, Beach Thick-knee, Sacred Kingfisher, Little and Pied Cormorants, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Glossy and Edible Swiftlets etc.
A short drive to Potawangka, a forested area near Labuan Bajo, gave us our first taste of forest birding and we managed to see the sometimes very difficult Wallacean Hanging Parrot (3 birds), White-rumped Kingfisher showed well, Elegant Pitta called all over, Wallacean Cuckoo Shrike, Crested White-eyes, Cream-browed Dark-eye, Black-naped Fruit Dove, Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, Lesser Wallacean Drongo, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and Black-fronted Flowerpeckers. A Mees’s Nightjar showed very well but owling only produced heard Moluccan and Wallace’s Scops Owl.
We also visited Puarlolo which is a stronghold for the only endemic to West Flores: Flores Monarch. Inside the forest we lined up as we tried to get everyone on to the birds. In the end we all had seen Russet-capped Tesia, Flores Monarch and Chestnut-capped Thrush. We then did a walk along a trail in search of Rufous-chested Flycatcher. The bird responded very well but unfortunately didn’t stay long enough for everyone or photography. Still, a great highlight for yours truly!
The road to Ruteng winds its way through mostly forested hills but also along an open area with a lot of rice fields. This year no Woolly-necked Storks about but spending some time in the fields near the town of Ruteng surprisingly yielded a flock of Five-coloured Munias! Top notch birds! Buff-banded Rail, Red Avadavat, Collared Kingfisher, Yellow-ringed White-eyes and a few other birds were around in this scenic area of terraced rice fields.
From Ruteng we explored Kisol, Danau Ramanese Lake and Golo Lusang. We found it profitable to be at Ruteng as it offered an option of dining, WiFi and shopping if needed. The day visit to Kisol gave us exactly what we wanted: Flores Green Pigeons, Flores Crow and Flores Hawk Eagle!!! The area is severely degraded and besides the targeted birds not much of a magnet. Our move not to stay in nearby basic accommodation proved totally justified. Ramanese Lake gave us Little Grebe and Pacific Black Ducks but the real star was a pair of Flores Scops Owls that came real close one evening (our only owling session needed here). We had to walk away from the birds after having stayed with them for over 20 minutes! Wallace’s Scops Owl was heard but not seen!
Some of the best birding is done along the high pass of Golo Lusang (1900m). The temperatures at Ruteng are already temperate but up at the pass they dropped to a lovely 12C in the early morning shade! Some of us indeed enjoyed it when the first rays of sunlight hit their body from over the forested ridge. It is hard to express the feeling of listening to the endemic Bare-throated Whistler as it sings it’s powerful and far reaching elaborate song over the hill side. It is not for nothing that it is called the Nightinggale of Flores!
Slowly walking downhill is great fun trying to get on to the various birds here. One hears a lot more than one sees as usual but eventually most species do show. Endemic to Lesser Sundas, Chestnut-backed Thrushes sang and gave sporadic glimpses of intricate plumages. The very beautiful Banded Fruit Dove is common but hard to see well. We did get good scope views! And we even managed scope views of Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon! A drab looking creature but much wanted! Russet-capped Tesias are common, Mountain Tailorbird present and Flores Jungle Flycatcher abound, the latter giving great views. We managed to tape out a Pygmy Wren Babbler briefly and Sunda Cuckoo flew across the road. Flores Minivet was rather easy to spot and Scaly-crowned Honeyeater as well. Cream-browed Dark-eye and Crested Dark-eyes added to the charm.
Along the road our guide Martinius had us stop at a site for Flores Lorikeets and closer views of Banded Fruit Dove. Our flight from Ruteng to Timor had us look down on huge volcanic craters in a landscape more often seen on National Geographic then in real life.
Our birding base - beach resort on Flores.Komodo Island (photo PER)
The flight went well and we headed to our very nice upscale hotel in Kupang which is a larger city with a good number of hotels and restaurants. Traffic is intense and as Indonesian as it can get.
Our 1st birding was in the afternoon near Kupang. No sooner had I gotten out of the car when a Red-backed Buttonquail was spotted. Unfortunately not everyone got out of the vehicles quick enough. However everyone got to see Timor Sparrows and the local form of the very common Zebra Finches. Our first male Timor Bush Chat for the trip also appeared briefly. Also our 1st Indonesian Honeyeaters were quickly seen and a walk to a spot overlooking the beach had us put the scopes to use. Despite picking up lots of wader species we felt that the distance was a bit too far so later that day we revisited and walked along the beach. Lots of Australian Pratincoles, Red-capped Plovers, Malaysian Plover, Australian Pelicans, Beach Thick-knees, Australasian Gull-billed Terns, Red-necked Stints, Black-tailed Godwits and other stuff were seen.
Everyone who has visited Timor knows Bipolo is an excellent location to get on to some of the birdlife rather easy. A small forest patch still holds a good number of birds. In quick succession we got onto many of them. Timor Blue Flycatcher, Fawn-breasted Whistler, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Orange-sided Thrush, Flame-eared Honeyeaters, Timor Figbird, Red-cheeked Parakeets, fly-over Marigold Lorikeets, Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove and a superb sighting of the highly endangered Olive-shouldered Parrot. Photo in this report. After all it does not seem it is needed to visit Roti for this Parrot as we had sightings at all 3 main birding sites visited on mainland Timor.
A couple of nights in the highlands and back to cooler weather at Soe. From here we visited a couple of sites for Timor Stubtail (seen well by all), Buff-banded Thicket-Warbler (never easy to see but did give brief views), Sunda Bush Warbler (we found one snared in some vegetation and released it), Timor Olive-brown Oriole (brief views first but later seen and photographed at Bipolo), Black-banded Flycatcher (seen well by only 2 of us in spite of long searches), Red-chested Flowerpecker, Timor Friarbird, White-bellied (Timor) Chat, Bar-necked Cuckoo Dove (good flight views and also perched for David only) and Brown Goshawk. As usual some good Indonesian cuisine washed down with a drink of your choice. Food always tastes so good after long days birding.
Up early for a day at Mt Mutis. We hired 4WD vehicles to get up there as the road is rather rough but also quite interesting for those who like to soak up some nice hill country sights. Lots of cultural scenery along the way gave insight in to the lives of the locals. Very few birds were seen along the way. Stopping for landscape photography gave us some Paddyfield Pipits but not much more. (I should say the various forms of Glossy Swiftlet stayed with us on most days of the tour) Once we got out of the cars and started walking a surprisingly open wooded landscape appeared. Very little understory vegetation and trees of mature stature formed a rather European landscape. The endemic to Mt Mutis race of Island Thrush seemed to thrive up here and we saw many birds.
Gunung Mutis is also the area where an undescribed form of
Parrotfinches were found as recent as 2012. They do look
extremely (suspiciously) similar to the Red-eared
Parrotfinches of Mount Kitanglad on Mindanao in Philippines.
(Please note a few other such ‘connections’ for example the
“Red-headed” Coppersmith Barbet of Cebu and Negros gets
‘repeated’ on Bali but nowhere in between. Few Sulawesi
birds, mainland Asia birds, the Bonelli’s Eagle,
Australia…it is interesting to see how these islands have
received a sprinkle from just about anywhere.) Well, we got
to see the Parrotfinches with no less than 5 sightings all
in all. They go down as Timor Red-eared Parrotfinches in my
book. The child needs a name I suppose while science may not
be in a hurry for a description as the big news and credit
of the find had already been taken by a birding tour group
haha!! We are happy to share the location for any birders
interested to see these look-alike Red-eared Parrotfinches.
It is an easy accessible area not too far from Fatumnasi
village at about 1500 masl. We have GPS coordinates to
share. Simple request by email is all it would take.
The local race of Pygmy Wren Babbler was heard but not seen. In the afternoon it was good to connect with more Iris Lorikeets rather than the usually easier Olive-headed Parakeets. Timor Leaf Warbler and Metallic Pigeon were other good additions. Again we saw Banded Fruit Doves well but in general it was not very birdy. It seems that birds are scarce in the vicinity of human dwellings as the capturing of especially parrots and songbirds seem to continue with little control. Another night at Kupang and some more birding at Bipolo followed. The fields and wetlands behind the forest were particularly good. Black-faced and White-breasted Wood Swallows, Australian Pratincoles, 3 Masked Lapwings (a lifer for our local guide Martinius), Pied Herons, White-faced Herons, Brown Quail, White-browed Crake, Red-capped Plover, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Australian Reed Warbler, Javan Pond Heron etc.
Orange-banded Thrush, BipoloBlack-chested Myzomela, Timor
The island is a risen coral sea bed thus not very fertile soil. I have never seen such a barren landscape but of course it also had to do with it being the dry season. Flying in you see these narrow steep ravines which are green (water flows) but otherwise the hilly and often flat landscape is all brown and without trees. The people of Sumba have a special relationship to horses and horses are found just about everywhere. So grazing and annual burning is preventing any re-growth, leaving huge areas of grasslands. The endemic Sumba Buttonquail take advantage of this landscape and even though not easy to find we did see 4 of them in a field that we worked walking in a line.
1st morning we started our birding at some wetlands. Before we reached the small bodies of water we walked through barren fields. Lots of Zebra Finches seemed to thrive here. The wetlands gave us a few things but nothing outstanding until Peter suddenly spotted a familiar face from the land ‘down on under’! A Black-fronted Dotterel! Not having seen one for a few years gave rise to excitement then I realized it wasn’t on the Lesser Sundas or the Indonesian checklist which heightened the excitement further. We moved closer to the bird, got some images before it decided it had posed enough and took to the skies! As it turns out it was a 1st find for not only Indonesia but also South East Asia!
After a night at Waingapo we moved to the Lewa area 2 hours drive away. A simple Home Stay with good food but very basic rooms was to be our abode for a couple of nights. The birding on Sumba is all about finding the endemics with the prime targets being Sumba Hornbills, Red-naped Fruit Dove, Citrine-crested Cockatoos, Sumba Boobook and Little Sumba Hawk Owl. We did get on to them all and only missed out on Sumba Brown Flycatcher, a dull muscicapa closely related to Asian Brown FC. The Hornbills were seen several times and seen well perched not too far from the road. On the higher grounds there was more forest then in the lowlands but still very patchy distributed. The generally very dry landscape really makes for a feel that these huge Hornbills ended up out of place. The Cockatoos were seen well through the scope but too far for proper images. The owls performed well at close range. We also saw Sumba Myzomela, Sumba Flycatcher, Sumba Jungle Flycatcher, Marigold Lorikeets, Sumba Flowerpecker and Apricot-breasted Sunbird.
Sumba was a very interesting experience. We saw no tourists on the island and it seemed to be the least developed that we visited. The main tour ended as we flew back to Bali where some went on a Bali Barat extension while others either stayed on for a day or two at Bali and others went straight home. Everyone was very happy about the experience and outcome. Living in a world with increasing demands on the environment it felt very good to have experienced much of the wildlife still found on the Lesser Sundas before it may all be gone!
We found the first Black-fronted Dotterel for Indonesia (and SE Asia)Mt. Mutis Island Thrush
Our trip to Bali Barat NP was equally enjoyable, successful and well organized. It was especially heartening to find a pair of Bali Myna’s many miles away from any breeding station. The Bali Starling project is going well!!
From our very nice hotel in Pemuteran we first explored some coastal woodland with birds as Laced Woodpecker, Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Indonesian Collared Dove, Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Racket-tailed Treepie and Pink-necked Green Pigeon all well enjoyed. We then did the Bali Myna breeding centre and breakfast in the field followed by a first attempt for Javan Banded Pitta which remained heard only.
At yet another site the tall monsoon forest held both Blue-eared and Oriental Dwarf (Rufous-backed) Kingfisher as well as a troop of Ebony Leaf Monkey (Javan Langur). A Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher also showed well before we went back to the hotel for lunch, swimming pool and rest. In the afternoon we first went to the saltpans for Javan Plover, an easy twitch. After that Sunda Scops Owls on the day roost and little later Small Blue Kingfisher showed well. Green Junglefowl was everywhere and both Timor Deer and Red Muntjac crossed the track as well. Banded Pitta heard again! But first we got onto the endangered Black-winged Starlings with good flight views in the late afternoon light and also briefly perched as well as nice to hear them. Another Banded Pitta attempt produced a sighting of a female in dense undergrowth but it was ‘tour-leader only’ so with just about all targets seen in 1 day we must focus on getting the Pitta again next morning. A pair of Sunda Cuckoo-shrike and calling Javan Owlet and Black-tighed Falconet rounded of the day.
Next morning we set off for a visit to West Bali NP (Blimbingsari district). At the forest edge here we enjoyed a perched Black Eagle, Grey-rumped Treeswifts, Common Flameback, fly-by Yellow-throated Hanging-Parrot, Crescent-chested Babbler and Olive-backed Tailorbird. At yet another location we first had brief views of Javan Kingfisher before finally getting on to the Javan Banded Pitta. A male first showed briefly perched in the open on a branch 2 meters off ground. Little later we did see it hop around in the undergrowth as well.
Our lunch stop on the road back to Denpasar held 2 more Javan Kingfishers and of course some excellent food again. Bali does not only hold different bird species as compared with Lesser Sundas, it also does provide with a totally different birding experience and culture. All this makes an extension of a couple days well worth it.
Bali Myna--look better in flight still and even better was that we found
a couple many miles away from any breeding station.
Australian Pratincole (beach walk on Timor)Queen of the Bees (at lunch stop - photo of the trip?? SDW)