28 OCTOBER – 14 NOVEMBER 2018
Our birding tour of Sulawesi and Halmahera (with a brief stop on Ternate Island) allowed us to find a spectacular number of endemics of the region known as Wallacea. This region straddles the boundary between Asia and Australasia from a bird, and other wildlife, point of view. The famous biologist Sir Alfred Russel Wallace was the first to notice an amazingly abrupt change in bird and mammal life along what was later called “Wallace’s Line”, the border between Asia and Australasia. A satellite image or map of this part of the planet shows a “bridge” of islands (including some of the world’s largest islands, Borneo and New Guinea) between the Asian and Australian mainlands, so at first glance it’s strange that the birdlife so very abruptly becomes Australian rather than Asian immediately east of Borneo. However, very deep seas (not visible on a typical map) are what have caused the real separation of these two continents’ wildlife. This is because even during ice ages, when sea levels were lower, these two continents would have been separated by the deep seas, whereas islands that are separated right now would have adjoined each other during these ice ages, allowing birds and other wildlife (including large mammals such as rhinos and orangutans) to move freely.
Sulawesi is one of the largest Indonesian islands and lies just east of Wallace’s Line, thus containing a completely different birdlife compared to nearby Borneo. Borneo has stacks of Asian birds like an abundance of woodpeckers, trogons, babblers, and others. Sulawesi, on the other hand, only has two woodpecker species, no trogons, and only one babbler, and it also has a gerygone, which is very much an Australian-type bird. Halmahera is even further “into” Australasia and has no woodpeckers, an abundance of parrots, two birds-of-paradise, including the Standardwing that Attenborough made so famous in his series “Attenborough in Paradise”, and other denizens typical of the Australian faunal region.
Both Sulawesi and Halmahera have spectacular numbers of endemic bird species because they have been isolated from other Australasian (and more specifically other Wallacean) islands for so long. That is, of course, what makes this annual tour of Sulawesi and Halmahera so incredibly exciting – it inevitably means over 100 life-birds for anyone who hasn’t previously set foot on these islands (even for those who have traveled in other parts of Australasia a lot). Seemingly so close to Borneo and the rest of Asia, yet from a bird point of view just so amazingly far away, birders who have spent a lot of time in Asia also inevitably pick up exciting new families, represented by many species, when doing this trip. Politically this is part of Asia, but bird-wise it certainly isn’t.
For 2020 we’re planning to add further Indonesian tours to make our offering on this huge, spectacularly endemic-rich archipelago more comprehensive. We already offer Sulawesi and Halmahera as well as West Papua. But in 2020 we plan to add the South Moluccas, the Lesser Sundas combined with Bali (for Bali Myna and other desirables), Biak/Numfor, and Java/Sumatra. Borneo we already access from the Malaysian side (Sabah and Sarawak), which offers a great infrastructure and a lot of remaining forest compared to Kalimantan, the larger Indonesian part of Borneo.
Day 0, October 27, 2018. Arrival in Manado
This was the day before the tour was to start, and everyone except Janice (who would join us from November 5 until the end of the tour) arrived in Manado today.
Day 1, October 28, 2018. Manado to Tangkoko Nature Reserve
After a good breakfast at the Novotel in Manado we started the drive to Tangkoko Nature Reserve, a place absolutely teaming with Sulawesi island endemics in the extreme north-east corner of the finger-like Minahasa Peninsula – one of the four main arms of a really weirdly-shaped island. Just as we were about to pile into the car we saw a pair of Barred Rails on the lawn, right in the open, so we scoped them and Anne photographed them.
During the morning’s drive we made lots of birding stops, getting good views of a number of aerial species, namely Pacific Swallow, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Uniform Swiftlet, Asian Palm Swift, and lots of Glossy Swiftlets. Some Sultan’s Cuckoo-Doves and Zebra Doves showed pretty well. Sulawesi has some of the world’s strangest starlings and mynas – and we enjoyed getting some Sulawesi (Short-crested) Mynas into the scope view a couple of times. Small flocks of truly bizarre, rather attractive Grosbeak Starlings often landed in dead trees along the way, and at one point when we scoped one of several flocks. A Great (Sulawesi) Hanging Parrot was also present, although most of the time we only saw these little beauts whizzing by in flight. Black-crowned White-eyes, two beautiful, endemic Flowerpeckers (Yellow-sided and Grey-sided), and three Sunbird species (Olive-backed, Black, and Brown-throated) were common in flowering trees along the route. Pairs of oddly-shaped, vocal Slender-billed Crows were prevalent, as were Sooty-headed Bulbuls and, especially around human habitation, Eurasian Tree Sparrows. We saw the occasional Chestnut (Black-headed) Munia along the route as well. This is a great trip for raptors, and we found our first Brahminy Kite today, along with the spectacular Sulawesi Serpent Eagle. There’s an amazing diversity of accipiters (sparrowhawks and goshawks) on these islands, several of them localized endemics, but today we “warmed up” with a widespread one, Chinese Sparrowhawk. Along with more Barred Rails we also located a Buff-banded Rail at one point.
After checking in and having a nice lunch at our lodge less than a kilometer from Tangkoko Nature Reserve we saw a couple of Hair-crested Drongos (this subspecies is split into the attractive White-eyed Spangled Drongo by some). We then took a boat trip, first in the open sea and then into a mangrove-lined inlet, to find some target birds. Our first White-bellied Sea Eagle showed well. Among the fishing structures and boats and along the beach and on rocks along the shore we saw our first Lesser Frigatebirds, a close-up Grey-tailed Tattler, and good numbers of Common Sandpipers. We also enjoyed seeing Blue Rock Thrush on several rocks along the beach and were delighted to find a dead tree that contained a bunch of strikingly-marked Pied Imperial Pigeons.
As we negotiated the shallow channel into the mangroves we found a humongous Great-billed Heron, dwarfing a diminutive Striated Heron standing beside it. We then encountered a magnificent Great-billed (Black-billed) Kingfisher along with a couple of attractive Collared and brightly-colored Common Kingfishers. After quite a lot of trying we eventually found a pair of White-rumped Cuckooshrikes, and finally a nearby tree contained a few Pink-necked Green Pigeons.
In the evening before dinner we did some night birding and saw Sulawesi Scops Owl very well, with Minahassa Masked Owl being heard and glimpsed-only (but seen at close quarters at its day-time roost the next day – hooray!). We heard Sulawesi Nightjar.
Day 2, October 29, 2018. Full day birding Tangkoko Nature Reserve
Today we did our birding in the forest near the beach. What a spectacular day it was, absolutely full of Sulawesi-endemic birds along with some brilliant mammals such as Bear Cuscus and later a couple of primates, Spectral Tarsier along with the more conspicuous Celebes Crested Macaque.
Philippine Megapodes ran along the forest floor, always difficult to get great views of. An amazingly tame, immature Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle allowed a remarkably close approach. Sulawesi Goshawk and Spot-tailed Sparrowhawk both showed very well through the scope, along with another Chinese Sparrowhawk, during the course of today’s birding.
We found our first White-faced Cuckoo-Doves of the trip, one of them sitting in the sun and thus showing off its bright-red eye and the stunning metallic-green sheen on its mantle as we gawked at it through our scope; it’s so many times better-looking than the field guides show! Green Imperial Pigeon, Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeon, and Pied Imperial Pigeon all showed well today. We also enjoyed views of Yellow-billed (Sulawesi) Malkoha several times during the day; again, what a gorgeous-looking bird!
Owls were incredible today, and we found a Minahassa Masked Owl rather close up at its day-time roost (thanks to our excellent local guides, Samuel and Nurlin), along with three Ochre-bellied Boobooks roosting together in a palm. We got brief views of a Brown Hawk-Owl at dusk.
A scoped Purple-winged (Sulawesi) Roller showed off its turquoise crown and much more subtle, purple wings as we stared at it through the scope. This part of the world is also teeming with equally colorful kingfishers, many of them endemic. We enjoyed close views of three of these endemic kingfisher species, Green-backed Kingfisher, Lilac Kingfisher, and Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfisher, but we were equally delighted with the more widespread Ruddy Kingfisher. In addition we found our first Ashy Woodpeckers of the trip and saw our first Ornate Lorikeets and Blue-backed Parrots.
Black-naped Oriole and Pale-blue Monarch were yet more colorful birds we found. Several absolutely stunning Red-backed Thrushes were stumbled across, usually on the forest floor (which does not have much undergrowth here) or on fallen logs.
What a day, full of endemics, so many of them just so spectacular-looking!
Day 3, October 30, 2018. Temboan and roadside birding
We took a picnic breakfast to a lookout over the canopy near Temboan, and by the time we rewarded ourselves with coffee, eggs, and pancakes with honey we had already seen a large array of dazzling endemics that were new for the trip! This was easy birding, as we had benches to sit on, at least when not running to the scope to look at one new species after another. Some of the imperial pigeons we’d seen the previous day showed much better today. We also added some excellent new dove species such as Black-naped Fruit Dove and Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon. The doves were attracted to a large fruiting tree, and the birds ate breakfast before we did, as we were too busy getting excited about all the life-birds to even think about breakfast or even coffee. Several species preferred the bright-orange flowers on a different tree, and these included dazzling Ornate Lorikeets. Golden-mantled Racket-tails (another parrot species) kept flying over, some individuals showing well enough for us to make out their strange and attractive tail streamers.
Sulawesi Hornbills (small hornbills by Asian standards) and a couple of massive Knobbed Hornbills provided lots of excitement. The former was scoped and seen really well, whereas the latter was only seen on our forest walk later in the morning.
Japanese Sparrowhawk added yet another species to our burgeoning list of accipiters. There were also lots of other aerial birds around, a new one being White-breasted Woodswallow.
At one point we also saw two Lesser Coucals. A female Ashy Woodpecker suddenly also put in an appearance. A White-rumped (Sulawesi) Triller allowed prolonged scope views, so we could enjoy its striking pied plumage. There were stacks of Grosbeak Starlings, but we had to be patient before seeing spectacular White-necked Mynas. A Grey-streaked Flycatcher sat atop a dead tree and was seen well through the scope.
After enjoying breakfast and finding that things were quieting down, with new birds coming at us at a slower pace, we drove to a nearby site where we did a walk into the forest. Here we found pairs of Pied Cuckooshrikes and Sulawesi Cicadabirds as well as obtaining much better views of Knobbed Hornbill. We rewarded ourselves with a fascinating visit to some villagers harvesting and “peeling” coconuts – quite an operation! Anne decided to wield a machete and join in, then everyone in the group was offered coconut water and coconut flesh.
We returned to our lodge for another delicious lunch and a rest during the heat of the day before we birded the roadside for the afternoon in search of a handful of species we were still missing in this area. At viewpoints on the road that ascends back towards Manado we struggled a bit with strong wind but nevertheless had some good sightings. These included a Golden-mantled Racket-tail that we briefly saw perched and then was flying close enough to see the rackets on the tail well, a scoped Blue-backed Parrot, spectacular-looking White-bellied Imperial Pigeons, and lots of imperial pigeons of other species we’d seen before.
Today Diana and Michael found a Temple Pit Viper species on a chair on their patio, and when they told us this at lunch time it cleared the restaurant immediately, as everyone wanted to see it. The staff moved the chair with the snake on it, and when it started to move the people carrying it got such a fright that they practically dropped the chair, to an audience of laughter.
Day 4. October 31, 2018. Tangkoko to Tomohon
Consolation for a very early start (4 a.m.) was that we were excited about ascending in altitude to around 1000 meters (3300 feet), where we were to spend the morning birding Mount Mahawu near the flower-filled town of Tomohon. This town is actually famous for all the flowers people plant outside their homes and along the streets. In fact, it hosted the Tomohon International Flower Festival 2018 a few weeks prior back in August. Later in the trip we also stopped to admire Dolom village, a remarkably clean, neat, colorful village with pink, yellow, and green fences and plenty of attractive-looking ceramic trash bins lining the streets to prevent littering.
Birding the extensive forests this morning on Mount Mahawu was highly productive, and we added an array of new Sulawesi endemics to our list pretty effortlessly. We were happy to find the likes of Scaly-breasted Kingfisher, Sulawesi Babbler, Sulawesi Myzomela with its bright-red head, the beautiful Crimson-crowned Flowerpecker, Sulphur-vented Whistler, and Sulawesi Pygmy Woodpecker.
Mountain White-eye was present in smaller numbers compared to the more numerous Black-crowned White-eyes, and a Mountain Tailorbird was seen briefly (but we had to wait until nearer the end of the tour to get really good views of this species). Today we did get excellent views, though, of Citrine Canary-flycatcher, Sulawesi Blue Flycatcher, and Turquoise Flycatcher. A calling Sulawesi Pitta did not allow visuals, so we tried for it again in the afternoon and thankfully had excellent luck then. As usual for this part of the world, spectacular-looking doves and pigeons abounded and included Superb Fruit Dove (an appropriate name!) and White-bellied Imperial Pigeon.
We rewarded ourselves with lunch at a restaurant allowing unobstructed views of Mahawu (an active volcano) before checking into our accommodation and enjoying a “heat of the day” rest. After lunch we found Sulawesi Swiftlet, Paddyfield Pipit, and Grey Wagtail en route back to the forest where we had been earlier to try again for Sulawesi Pitta (one of the many splits off Red-bellied Pitta). While we were walking along the trail a couple of us heard a flutter of wings from near the ground, suspecting it could be the pitta, so we scanned the forest floor. Suddenly a bright-red belly appeared, almost burning a hole in my binoculars – there the pitta was! Everyone in the group managed to see this gorgeous bird. With the afternoon’s main target bird now out of the way we could relax a bit. Mountain Tailorbirds sang nicely but skulked, and getting decent views proved tricky.
A quick check of Indonesian endemics showed that we had already seen 43 of them (many of them endemic just to Sulawesi); this basically meant stacks of life-birds for everyone.
Day 5, November 1, 2018. Flight to Halmahera via Ternate
Most of today was spent traveling, as we had to take a morning flight to the tiny island of Ternate (we enjoyed the volcano and crater-lake views just before landing) and from there to Halmahera in the Moluccas. After collecting luggage from the diminutive airport in Buli we embarked on some birding on this rather more Australasian-type island (in terms of birdlife, compared with Sulawesi), with no woodpeckers, more parrots, the sudden appearance of birds-of-paradise, etc.
On the drive between the airport and our accommodation in Wasile we stopped along the road to bird the stunning forest. One of the highlights was when six gigantic Blyth’s Hornbills winged their way across the road over our heads with their loud wingbeats, setting a rather prehistoric atmosphere. We then scoped a pair of these absolutely magnificent birds. In the same forest we also found some beautiful doves and pigeons that were new trip birds. These included Cinnamon-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Spectacled Imperial Pigeon, Scarlet-breasted Fruit Dove, and the more eastern (Moluccan and New Guinean) form of Sultan’s Cuckoo-Dove (as opposed to the “Sulawesi” cuckoo-doves we’d been seeing earlier).
A majestic Gurney’s Eagle also flew across the forested hillside but did not allow very good views.
Day 6, November 2, 2018. Full day of birding Foli Forest and the Buli roadside
A horribly early start (4 a.m. in Halmahera, but 3 a.m. in Sulawesi, where we’d just come from and were thus used to) got us into the forest in time for some owling, but sadly to no avail. We then hiked down to a Standardwing lek, where we had acceptable views of a few individuals (luckily we stumbled across a more cooperative one the next day). We also found our first Dusky Megapode (all too briefly, though, and with only some trip participants seeing it), Grey-headed Fruit-Dove, Goliath Coucal (a species of which we also had fantastic scope views in the late afternoon at the end of the day’s birding session), Northern Golden Bulbul, White-naped Monarch, and various others. Common Paradise Kingfisher and Sombre Kingfisher were also added to our burgeoning list.
We’d been hearing the calls of the unusual, fabulously stunning Ivory-breasted Pitta a lot the previous afternoon and this morning, but we finally heard a pair we thought might be “chase-able”, and after a lot of effort we eventually saw one member of the pair moving quickly down the trail. Views were acceptable but not brilliant. What a beaut, though! In this area some of the participants also briefly saw Azure Dollarbird.
The afternoon birding session was equally exciting. We stopped at some rice paddies, where we saw Buff-banded Rail and Barred Rail along with various egret species to pad the list and Willie Wagtail, Paddyfield Pipit, and Eastern Yellow Wagtail, and where a couple of participants saw White-browed Crake (but everyone got great views of this small crake the next day when we tried for it again at the same site after lunch).
Ascending toward the forest we found Moluccan (Brush) Cuckoo. Moluccan Goshawk, Spotted (Indonesian) Kestrel, Moustached Treeswift, and the unusual Cream-throated White-eye.
Day 7, November 3, 2018. Birding the Buli roadside
After breakfast we headed back to do some forest birding from the roadside, finding Blue-capped Fruit Dove, Blue-and-white Kingfisher, and a beautiful White Cockatoo, which raised its crest a couple of times for people looking at it through the scope and then showed off yellow underwings in flight. Indeed this was a fantastic day for parrots, and we also saw Violet-necked Lory, Chattering Lory (several flybys and, in the afternoon, some scoped birds), Moluccan Hanging Parrot, lots of Red-cheeked Parrots, etc. Dusky Friarbird didn’t give very good views, but Halmahera Cuckooshrike (Cicadabird) and Dusky-brown Oriole did. “Halmahera Spangled” Drongos (or Hair-crested Drongos to most, as the proposed split has not been accepted by major authorities), with their red eyes unlike the white-eyed subspecies/species we’d seen on Sulawesi, were often in evidence. We worked quite hard for our second bird-of-paradise of the trip, Paradise-crow (sadly nothing to write home about if you’ve been to West Papua or Papua New Guinea: it’s just a black bird with chestnut wings, unlike a lot of its dazzling relatives).
We got better views of Cream-throated White-eye this morning and also saw Moluccan Starling. Ashy Flowerpecker showed really well and close up.
After our customary lunch-time break we went back to the paddy fields at which we had stopped briefly the day before. There we again found some good birds, the star of the show being White-browed Crake. We also saw good numbers of Common Greenshank, White-winged Tern, and many egrets.
Heading back up into the forest as the temperatures cooled down in the later afternoon we were pleased to get better views of some of the previously-mentioned parrots, and those who happened to be looking in the right direction at exactly the right time were lucky enough to be treated to a spectacular fly-by Great Cuckoo-Dove.
We headed back to the paddy fields yet again to get there by dusk, so we could see Large-tailed Nightjar. Before heading back to our accommodation for supper we tried for, but only heard, Moluccan Owlet-nightjar and Moluccan Scops Owl – everyone in the group was tired, and we also had to compete with the loud chanting from the mosques, so granted that we did give up fairly quickly.
Day 8, November 4, 2018. Foli to Binagara to Sofifi, ferry to Ternate
We had a three-hour drive (including stops, some of them nicely productive) today. Variable Goshawk was seen at one such stop, and Paradise-crows were very much in evidence. We also saw adult Common Paradise Kingfishers rather than the immatures from an earlier day during the trip. The adults have beautiful long tails and luminous colors. A Black-chinned Whistler showed itself extremely well. At one point we had three Ivory-breasted Pittas calling from near the road, but, after a bit of trying for visuals, the consensus from the group was that the previous sighting was good enough. A couple of tour participants did get good views of this very large and spectacular pitta, but most opted to focus on trying to find new trip birds.
Moluccan Monarch and Shining Flycatcher were both quite tricky to get proper views of, but with some patience we were rewarded.
We stopped to see some Javan dancing en route. That’s right, folks from Java now living in Halmahera! It’s always good to include a fun cultural stop from time to time.
In the late afternoon we tried for Beach Kingfisher, but this species was nowhere to be found. We did see some other new trip birds, such as Halmahera Swiftlet, Little Pied Cormorant, Greater Crested Tern, and Spotted Dove. Nearby we also saw an Azure Kingfisher flying down, then up the river, really low over the water as they like to do, and a couple of us also saw a Common Emerald Dove doing the same (most trip participants saw this species during the tour at one stage or another).
We saw no birds on our half-hour ferry crossing to Ternate, but when we got to this tiny volcanic island we visited two homes where the famous biologist Alfred Russel Wallace had lived.
Day 9, November 5, 2018. Ternate to Makassar and then to Rammang-Rammang
In the morning we flew from Ternate back to Sulawesi, more specifically to Makassar in the far south of this unusually-shaped island. We then drove about an hour to the picturesque Rammang-Rammang village area, where we stayed at the ecolodge of the same name for one night. En route we saw a few new birds, such as our first of very many Javan Pond Herons and White-shouldered Trillers.
A late-morning birding session at Rammang-Rammang was highly productive. The unusual Black-ringed White-eye was one of the specials we saw well at the start of our walk. This is a real anomaly of a white-eye; it actually has a black eye ring instead of the white eye ring after which the group is named. The scientific name acknowledges this, as the species is called Zosterops anomalus. We also had brief views of both Sulawesi Cuckoo and Oriental Cuckoo. A Little Bronze Cuckoo was one of an amazing number of new species that pitched up in a dead tree as we waited beside it for about half an hour. Other good birds in this tree were Great (Sulawesi) Hanging Parrot, Pygmy Hanging Parrot, Sulawesi Cicadabird, and various others.
Blue-tailed Bee-eater, a different subspecies of Sulawesi Hornbill, and Sulawesi Pygmy Woodpecker were enjoyed by all of us. A group of five White-breasted Woodswallows, huddling together allopreening, were great to see, but we only got poor views of a couple of Ivory-backed Woodswallows. Luckily, though, we were rewarded with spectacular views of this stunning bird later in the trip.
Red Junglefowl was seen just before it got dark as several of these birds ventured into open areas.
Perhaps the highlight of the whole day might have been the emergence from nearby caves of perhaps a million bats, hunted by opportunistic Black Kites and Spotted Kestrels.
After dark we saw Great Eared Nightjar and heard Sulawesi Masked Owl and Speckled Boobook.
Day 10, November 6, 2018. Karaenta Forest and Bontoa, back to Makassar
We started the day with a transfer up the river by boat, during which we saw Common Kingfisher, White-breasted Waterhen, Common Emerald Dove, Sunda Teal, Purple Heron, and other nice birds.
We then met up with the vehicles and went to the Karaenta Forest. This generated some amazing birds, such as the rather large Black-capped Kingfisher, the minuscule Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfisher, Piping Crow, White-necked Myna, an amazing interaction between a Sulawesi Serpent Eagle and an immature Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle, a scoped Barred (Sulawesi) Honey Buzzard, Yellow-billed Malkoha, Ashy Woodpecker, and various others. Wow!
After checking in at our hotel near the Makassar airport we went to the Bontoa fish ponds, where we saw our first Pacific Reef Heron, Pied Stilt, Whiskered Tern (a couple of them in breeding plumage), and various others. Chris’s restroom visit led to the discovery of large numbers of Clamorous Reed Warblers, which were then seen by the whole group. Our first Lemon-bellied White-eyes also put in an appearance in this area.
Day 11, November 7, 2018. A full day in the Makassar area (the airport and Battene)
We started the day at the rather birdy airport. Here we saw lots of Munias – a couple of times we saw all three species (Pale-headed, Chestnut, and Scaly-breasted) really well in the same scope view. Golden-bellied Gerygones with their attractive calls were much in evidence. Common Kingfisher as well as Collared Kingfisher both provided bright splashes of color. We saw several Barred Buttonquails, both the more brightly-colored females and the drabber males (unusual, of course, in birds). We scoped an attractive-looking Golden-headed Cisticola along with cooperative Clamorous Reed Warblers.
An afternoon visit to the Battene area generated Javan Myna, Zitting Cisticola, White-breasted Waterhen, Little Ringed Plover and good numbers of other shorebird species, about 40 Sunda Teals, Yellow-vented Bulbul, and more.
At dusk we had extremely close flybys of a calling Savanna Nightjar.
Today we also encountered several Common Water Monitors, including one high up in a tree as well as one that belly-flopped into the water.
Day 12, November 8, 2018. Flight to Luwuk and four-hour drive to Taima
This was a long travel day, but we managed to get to Taima just in time to see the Endangered (IUCN) megapode, the pink-breasted Maleo, on a white sand beach next to our accommodation. We opted to stay at a rustic accommodation for one night in order to practically guarantee close encounters with this charismatic bird. We certainly weren’t disappointed.
Day 13, November 9, 2018. Taima, drive back to Luwuk, birding en route
We started the day birding around Taima, getting amazing views of several Purple-winged Rollers, about 50 Maleos, good views of Bay Coucal (which we previously had only heard near the beginning of the trip at Tangkoko), and various others. We finally managed to find Sulawesi Streaked Flycatcher along with a couple of Little Pied Flycatchers.
Driving back toward Luwuk we stopped at various sites to do roadside birding, locating Wandering Whistling Duck, Tricolored Grebe, Oriental Darter, Isabelline Bush-hen, Oberholser’s Fruit Dove, Purple Needletail, Knobbed Hornbill, Blue-backed Parrot, Pygmy Hanging Parrot, and spectacular Ivory-backed Woodswallows (finally we had amazing views of this species!).
We spent the night in luxury at the Santika Hotel in Luwuk, which provided spectacular sea views, after our very basic accommodation for one night in Taima (which was necessary, however, in order to virtually guarantee close encounters with Maleo).
Day 14, November 10, 2018. Flight to Palu and transfer to Lore Lindu National Park
While this was largely a travel day it was very exciting, as we were heading toward one of Indonesia’s most famous protected areas, crawling with endemics, Lore Lindu National Park. En route we found our first Red Turtle (Red Collared) Dove. After arrival in the park we had a little time for initial birding in the montane forest, finding some exciting species such as Citrine Lorikeet, Sulawesi Leaf Warbler, and Fiery-browed Starling.
Day 15, November 11, 2018. Birding Lore Lindu National Park and other sites
This was one of the most exciting and productive days of the trip, comparable to the first few days of the tour at Tangkoko in terms of numbers of new species (including Sulawesi endemics) that we managed to add to our burgeoning list. In the montane forest we found beauts such as Cerulean Cuckooshrike, the pied-looking Pygmy Cuckooshrike, Sulawesi Thrush, Blue-fronted Blue Flycatcher (although seen a whole lot better the next day), Red-eared Fruit Dove (which Bill learned to imitate pretty well), Sulawesi Drongo, and our first (Sulawesi) Brush Cuckoo. Maroon-backed Whistler worked us very hard but eventually gave good views. Sulphur-vented Whistler was much more cooperative and quite numerous. Sulawesi (Rusty-bellied) Fantail was voted one of the most attractive birds by several group members. White-eyes abounded (they’ve speciated wildly in this part of the world), and we found our first Streak-headed White-eye (also known as Sulawesi Heleia) and Mountain White-eye along with two other species we’d seen on previous days of the tour.
In the afternoon we birded farmland, which was highly productive, not to mention rather relaxing in contrast to the more difficult forest birding that was a feature of this tour. There were so many great species around, and we enjoyed seeing Glossy Ibis, Black-winged Kite, the beautiful Rufous-winged Buzzard (a couple of perched birds scoped and a couple of them seen flying, showing off their gorgeous red wings), Short-tailed Starling, Pied Bush Chat, Common Moorhen, and others. One of our main targets, Eastern Grass Owl, was seen without problems, we enjoyed watching three of these fabulous birds quartering like harriers low over the grassland as they hunted in broad daylight. Red-backed Buttonquail was the last new addition of the day as we saw a couple of these birds scurrying through a corn field.
Day 16, November 12, 2018. Birding Lore Lindu National Park: Anaso Track
This was the only day that was a bit strenuous, as we walked up the Anaso Track, previously an old logging road that has in more recent years deteriorated into a narrow, quite steep, and eroded trail in many places. But we found some of the best birds of the trip this morning. Spectacular Purple-bearded Bee-eaters cooperated well, as did several Cerulean Cuckooshrikes. Hylocitrea (one of the most important birds, as it is the only representative of a whole family, endemic to Sulawesi) showed up right near the start of today’s walk. We finally caught up with the last imperial pigeon species we “needed”, Grey-headed Imperial Pigeon. Some of the group saw Dark-eared Myza, but we had to find this species along the roadside the next day for those who had missed it today. A tiny Snowy-browed Flycatcher darted around near the ground at one point along the trail. A couple of participants were lucky enough to get views of a Blue-faced Parrotfinch that never sat still. But we all had stupendously good views of Mountain Tailorbird and Sulphur-vented Whistler.
Relaxed late-afternoon birding by some group members generated a couple of new trip birds in the form of Black-backed Swamphen and Oriental Reed Warbler. Other group members tried some owling, but only heard a couple of species.
Day 17, November 13, 2018. Final birding at Lore Lindu, drive to Palu, birding en route
Final birding in the mountain forest of Lore Lindu National Park allowed us to see a spectacular Rufous-bellied Eagle along with four Sombre Pigeons that flew over (poor views of the latter species, though).
A stop en route generated Savanna Nightjar as well as superb views of four different munia species, the best one (since it was new to everyone on the trip) being the endemic Black-faced Munia. Despite this stop being during the heat of the day we were able to scope these already-close birds as they came in to drink at a stream.
Near the Palu airport at Biromaru, before we checked into our hotel, we managed to find some great species such as Cinnamon Bittern, what must have been Pin-tailed Snipes (although we were unable to confirm with photos) and, more importantly, being a Sulawesi endemic, Pale-bellied (Makassar) Myna, sitting atop a cow.
Entering Palu it was sobering to see the horrible damage caused by the big earthquake and tsunami a few weeks back. So many of the survivors had lost homes or, worse, family members. We were privileged to be able to have dinner with some of Nurlin’s family and a bunch of children (including some recent orphans because of the earthquake) – this was one of the most memorable nights of the trip.
Day 18, November 14, 2018. Shorebirds and more around Palu, departure
Again we were able to see the huge damage caused by the September earthquake and tsunami as we birded close to the shore, finding quite a good number of waders, including our main target, Javan Plover, along with Little Curlew, Pacific Golden Plover, Red-necked Stint, etc. Many of these species were right at the tsunami site along the shore, near the damaged mosque pictured below.
Post trip day for three participants, Jakarta, Java
A lucky three of us had a full day in Jakarta on our ways back home. A boat trip through the mangroves here was amazing, as we saw a ridiculously-close Yellow Bittern, loads of Javan Pond Herons and numerous other heron species, a cooperative Sunda Coucal, Island Collared Dove, Cave Swiftlet, Edible-nest Swiftlet, and other birds that were seen from the boat. Once we got back to land we quickly found Freckle-breasted Woodpecker and Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker also in the mangroves. Malaysian Pied Fantail was restless, never stopping for more than a millisecond.
Another boat trip, this time out to sea, was amazing for Christmas Frigatebird, Lesser Frigatebird, thousands of Little Black Cormorants, egrets, etc.
A late-afternoon walk on a rather dodgy boardwalk in a different mangrove area from the morning was, from a birding point of view, very exciting. Cerulean Kingfishers were scoped, and Racket-tailed Treepies perched well for quick but good views. Small flocks of Daurian Starlings flew over. Milky Storks and various other water-associated birds were also present.
At dusk we headed back to the hotel in preparation for our flights home – a Savanna Nightjar flew over the car as we negotiated the busy Jakarta streets, the last bird of the trip.
Excluding the day in Jakarta we saw over 100 Indonesian endemics, most of them found only in Sulawesi and Halmahera. What a phenomenal trip!
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.