Birding Tour Indonesia: Sulawesi and Halmahera – Spectacular Endemic Birding


Dates and Costs

 

14 – 31 July 2022

Space available: 3

Price (includes all domestic flights): IDR97,613,688 / $7,144 / £5,363 / €6,343 per person sharing, assuming 4-8 participants.

Single Supplement: IDR8,528,617 / $624 / £468 / €554

 

* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to the base price when making final payments.

 

14 – 31 July 2023

Price (includes all domestic flights): IDR105,422,783 / $7,715 / £5,793 / €6,850 per person sharing, assuming 4-8 participants.

Single Supplement: IDR9,210,906 / $674 / £506 / €599


Recommended Field Guide

(Please also read our blogs about recommended field guides for the seven continents here)


Tour Details

Duration: 18 days
Group Size: 4 – 8
Tour Start: Makassar
Tour End: Makassar


Price includes:

All domestic flights (Makassar – Manado, Manado – Ternate, Ternate – Makassar, Makassar – Palu, Palu – Luwuk, Luwuk – Makassar)
All accommodation
Meals (from dinner on day 1 until breakfast on day 18)
Drinking water – please bring a refillable water bottle
Expert tour leader
Local bird and wildlife guide/trackers fees
Birdwatching site entrance fees and travel permits
Mangrove boat tour in Tangkoko area
Speedboat return travel between Ternate and Sofifi
All ground transport and tolls/taxes while on tour, including airport pick-up and drop-off

Price excludes:

Flights to/from Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport, Makassar, Indonesia
Expenditures due to flight cancellations/delays or other causes beyond our control (force majeure)
Visa fees if visa required
Departure tax
Items of a personal nature, e.g. porter fees, gifts, laundry, internet access, phone calls, snorkeling/diving trips, snorkeling/diving equipment hire, excess luggage charges for internal flights (baggage limited to 20 kg per person), etc.
Any pre- or post-tour accommodation, meals, or birding/sightseeing/monument excursions
Soft/alcoholic drinks
Personal travel insurance
Gratuities (please see our tipping guidelines blog)

Sulawesi and Halmahera – Spectacular Endemic Birding

July 2022/2023

 

This small-group birding tour of Indonesia visits the two endemic-filled islands of Sulawesi and Halmahera. These two islands straddle the equator and sit between the islands of Borneo to the west and New Guinea to the east. They also offer some of the best birding on the planet.

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursMaleo, the only member of the monotypic genus Macrocephalon in the Megapode family, is endemic to the island of Sulawesi. We will be looking for it on this tour.

 

Sulawesi, accessed through its capital city Makassar, in the southwest of this interestingly-shaped island (also a convenient international arrivals entry point into Indonesia and the start/end point of our tour) is the westernmost of the two islands and is part of the Greater Sundas (along with Borneo, Sumatra, and Java). The other island, Halmahera, is more Australasian in nature and is part of the North Maluku Islands (also known as the Moluccas). We enter Halmahera through the town of Sofifi, reached by boat from the small island of Ternate, to the west of Halmahera (the closest airport to Sofifi).


We will hope for more great views of Knobbed Hornbill.

 

This tour provides some incredible birding opportunities with a dose of adventure too, likely to leave you with a firm desire to explore further throughout this bird-filled Indonesian archipelago. Both islands are to the east of the famous Wallace Line, an invisible faunal boundary line which divides the biogeographical realms of Asia and Wallacea (a transitional zone between Asia and Australia) and named after the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace.

The avifauna of Sulawesi and Halmahera is distinctly Wallacean, headlined by the bizarre mound-nesting megapode Maleo on Sulawesi and the Standardwing (also known as Wallace’s Standardwing or Standardwing Bird-of-paradise), whose raucous calls echo through the forest on Halmahera, as they bounce around their display leks – a magical sight.

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursWe will visit a lek of the rather unique (Wallace’s) Standardwing, a range-restricted bird-of-paradise and one of many spectacular birds we will look for on Halmahera.

 

The birding on these islands is excellent, with a variety of stunningly colored endemic kingfishers which illuminate the forest in the Sulawesi lowlands (such as Lilac Kingfisher, Green-backed Kingfisher, and Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfisher), the Hylocitrea (a highly sought-after monotypic family), the enigmatic Geomalia (an aberrant ground thrush), and the Satanic Nightjar in the mountains. Further to the aforementioned Standardwing, the island of Halmahera also supports the large Ivory-breasted Pitta, several spectacular kingfishers such as Common Paradise Kingfisher, Blue-and-white Kingfisher, and Sombre Kingfisher, the unobtrusive Scarlet-breasted Fruit Dove, the bizarre Moluccan Owlet-nightjar (just one of a multitude of great nightbirds possible on the tour) and a variety of other regional endemics and distinct subspecies. It is highly likely that a number of birds we see on this tour will be further split into new species.

The above is just a few of the potential highlight birds we will be looking for. Some of the many other targets include Gurney’s Eagle, Sulawesi Nightjar, Purple-bearded Bee-eater, Sulawesi Pitta, North Moluccan Pitta, Invisible Rail, Blue-faced Rail, Grey-headed Fruit Dove, White-necked Myna, Red-backed Thrush, Ashy Woodpecker, Knobbed Hornbill, Sulawesi Hornbill, Blyth’s Hornbill, Yellow-billed Malkoha, Ochre-bellied Boobook, Halmahera Boobook, Scaly-breasted Kingfisher, Beach Kingfisher, Great-billed Kingfisher, Azure Dollarbird, Sulawesi Blue Flycatcher, Great Shortwing, Sulawesi Streaked Flycatcher, Malia, Rufous-bellied Triller, Piping Crow, Black-ringed White-eye, Lompobattang Flycatcher, (Halmahera) Paradise-crow (a member of the bird-of-paradise family), and Goliath Coucal. There are also plenty of brightly colored parrots (especially on Halmahera, which has a more Australasian feel than Sulawesi) such as White Cockatoo, Eclectus Parrot, Great-billed Parrot, Violet-necked Lory, Chattering Lory, Moluccan King Parrot, and Moluccan Hanging Parrot. A highly rewarding and thoroughly exciting tour is guaranteed here!

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursA large Green-backed Kingfisher waits patiently for its prey (usually a lizard) low in the forest understorey in northern Sulawesi, where it is an endemic.

 

This tour can be combined with our West Papua: Birds-of-paradise and Endemics of the Arfaks and Waigeo tour which follows on after this tour and connects with a wide-range of highly sought-after birds-of-paradise such as Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise, King Bird-of-paradise, Arfak Astrapia, Black Sicklebill, Western Parotia (and many more), as well as a spectacular list of kingfishers such as Red-breasted Paradise Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, and Hook-billed Kingfisher, plus fruit doves, parrots, and jewel-babblers to delight.

Following that tour, we also have our Papua New Guinea: Birding Attenborough’s Paradise tour which seeks out over 20 bird-of-paradise species, such as Blue Bird-of-paradise, Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, King of Saxony Bird-of-paradise, and Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia as well as numerous sought-after species, many of them endemic, including several monotypic families and endemic families. There are so many staggeringly beautiful birds in this region so why not come exploring with us, we would love to show you around!

 

 Itinerary (18 days/17 nights)

 

Day 1. Arrival in Makassar

A non-birding day. You will be met at Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport, Makassar, after your arrival in Sulawesi and will be transferred to our nearby hotel for the rest of the day at your leisure. We will meet for a group welcome dinner together in the evening.

Overnight: Makassar

 

Day 2. Makassar to Malino

After breakfast we will leave the city and drive east towards the town of Malino where we will spend the night. Malino is situated on the edge of the Bantimurun-Burusaraung National Park which unites a number of protected areas together. Much of the park is hilly with seriously impressive karst limestone landscape – you can see this as you fly into the airport in Makassar.

As we leave the city, we will look for some of the interesting species found in Makassar, such as Pale-bellied Myna, Barred Buttonquail, Woolly-necked Stork, Pale-headed Munia, Chestnut Munia, Scaly-breasted Munia, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Golden-headed Cisticola, Lemon-bellied White-eye, Common Kingfisher, and Javan Pond Heron, amongst other more widespread and common open-country and farmland birds.

In the afternoon we will commence our first forest birding session where we will hope to find range-restricted endemics such as Lompobattang Flycatcher, Black-ringed White-eye, Red-eared Fruit Dove, Sulawesi Thrush, and Hylocitrea. Hylocitrea is a major tour target as it is a Sulawesi-endemic, monotypic family; there are two subspecies and both are possible on the tour, we have a chance of the other subspecies in the Lore Lindu area. At night we will look for Sulawesi Scops Owl, Speckled Boobook, and Sulawesi Masked Owl.

Overnight: Malino

 

Day 3. Malino to Rammang-Rammang (via Makassar)

We will spend the morning in the same highland forest area as the previous afternoon and will look for Lompobattang Flycatcher, Black-ringed White-eye, Red-eared Fruit Dove, and Hylocitrea, once again, along with other species such as Piping Crow, Bay Coucal, Sulawesi Blue Flycatcher, Sulawesi Myzomela, Sulawesi Fantail, Sulawesi Leaf Warbler, Malia – a large (c12 inches/30 centimeters), bizarre and slightly enigmatic endemic bird,  that is now considered to be part of the Locustellidae (Grassbirds and Allies) family, Sulawesi Swiftlet, Sulawesi Serpent Eagle, Sulawesi Thrush, Sulawesi Drongo, Black-crowned White-eye, Warbling (Mountain) White-eye, Sulphur-vented Whistler, Spot-tailed Sparrowhawk, Golden-mantled Racket-tail, Turquoise Flycatcher, Citrine Canary-flycatcher, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Crimson-crowned Flowerpecker, Sulawesi Bush Warbler, White-necked Myna, Fiery-browed Starling, and Dark-eared Myza.

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursWhite-necked Myna is a stunning yet widespread species on Sulawesi.

 

After our morning birding session, we will head back into Makassar then head northeast to the Rammang-Rammang area, another part of the huge Bantimurun-Burusaraung National Park, likely passing through Karenta Forest along the way. Here we will look for Green-backed Kingfisher (this area holds a distinct local subspecies and much-touted split as ‘Black-headed Kingfisher’), Sulawesi Streaked Flycatcher (a species described as recently as 2014), Yellow-billed Malkoha, Sulawesi Pitta, Black-ringed White-eye, Yellow-sided Flowerpecker, Grey-sided Flowerpecker, Black Sunbird, Black-billed Koel, Knobbed Hornbill, Sulawesi Hornbill, Ashy Woodpecker, Piping Crow, Sulawesi Babbler, Sulawesi Goshawk, and more.

In the evening we will have another owling session in the area around our ecolodge where we will hope to find Sulawesi Masked Owl, Sulawesi Scops Owl, Speckled Boobook, and Great Eared Nightjar.

Overnight: Rammang-Rammang

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursThere are not many woodpeckers to the east of the Wallace Line, Ashy Woodpecker is the largest of them, at 12 inches (30 centimeters) and is endemic to Sulawesi.

 

Day 4. Rammang-Rammang to Makassar, then fly to Manado and on to Tangkoko

We will check out of our lodge and then make our way back to Makassar but go via the Karenta Forest area for our final birding in the Bantimurun-Burusaraung National Park area where we will have another look for Green-backed (Black-headed) Kingfisher, Sulawesi Streaked Flycatcher, Sulawesi Pitta, Piping Crow, and Sulawesi Hornbill, along with the other species listed for the afternoon of day 3.

We will likely grab lunch in one of the many outlets in Makassar airport before we take our short flight north to the town of Manado. On getting through the airport in Manado, we will continue in a northeasterly direction to the village of Batuputih Bawah, close to Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve. We will likely start birding in the local area late in the afternoon after first getting checked in to our accommodation, where we might find Black Sunbird, Brown-throated Sunbird, Olive-backed Sunbird, and Pale-blue Monarch in the garden. We will have two full days (days 5 and 6, as well as the morning of day 7 birding the excellent Tangkoko environs and our time here is sure to be a tour highlight).

Overnight: Tangkoko Area, Batuputih Bawah

 

Days 5 – 6. Tangkoko area (including Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve, mangrove boat trip, and Temboan Hill areas)

Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve is practically as far north as you can go in Sulaswesi, not far from the tip of the Minahassa Peninsula – the long arm that bends out from Palu in central Sulawesi (where we will find ourselves later in the tour!). The geography of this island and adjacent Halmahera is fascinating, and the birds even more so! We are sure to really enjoy ourselves over our two full days here as we bird on foot and by boat as we look for four gorgeous endemic kingfishers: Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfisher, Lilac Kingfisher, Green-backed Kingfisher (the “Green-backed” subspecies rather than the “Black-headed” subspecies referenced in days 3 and 4), and Great-billed Kingfisher, along with beauties such as the ginormous Knobbed Hornbill and smaller Sulawesi Hornbill, gaudy Sulawesi Pitta, plus so many others like Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle, Sulawesi Serpent Eagle, Sulawesi Goshawk, Spot-tailed Goshawk, Red-backed Thrush, Philippine Megapode, Sulawesi Myna, White-necked Myna, Grosbeak Starling, White-rumped Triller, Pied Cuckooshrike, Sulawesi Cicadabird, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Yellow-billed Malkoha, Purple-winged Roller, Bay Coucal, Ashy Woodpecker, Black-naped Oriole, Hair-crested (White-eyed Spangled) Drongo, Isabelline Bush-hen, Barred Rail, Buff-banded Rail, and maybe even the mythical Blue-faced Rail, with some luck.

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursOn this tour you will see many stunningly beautiful birds, Knobbed Hornbill does take that up a notch, this huge bird is gorgeous.

 

Parrots, pigeons, and doves are common here and we could see Yellow-breasted Racket-tail, Golden-mantled Racket-tail, Blue-backed Parrot, Ornate Lorikeet, Great Hanging Parrot, Pygmy Hanging Parrot, Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, White-faced Cuckoo-Dove, Black-naped Fruit Dove, Oberholser’s Fruit Dove, Superb Fruit Dove, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Sultan’s Cuckoo-Dove, Stephan’s Emerald Dove, Spotted Dove, and Zebra Dove!

The park is also great for three really cool mammals, the tiny Spectral Tarsier (the smallest monkey in the world), (Sulawesi) Celebes (Black-) Crested Macaque, and (Sulawesi) Bear Cuscus – a marsupial! We are, after all, in that fascinating Wallacean mix-zone between Asia and Australasia.

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursThe Celebes Crested Macaque is a rather interesting mammal, very reminiscent of some of the African primates.

 

Nightbirds are usually plentiful here and Ochre-breasted Boobook, Speckled Boobook, Minahassa Masked Owl, Sulawesi Scops Owl, Great Eared Nightjar, and Sulawesi Nightjar are all possible, and we will hope to find some of these on day roosts while we are out birding in the forest too.

Our mangrove boat trip will likely yield a different range of species, this is the best area for the aforementioned Great-billed Kingfisher. We will also be on the lookout for Great-billed Heron, Pacific Reef Heron, Striated Heron, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea Eagle, White-rumped Cuckooshrike, Common Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Lesser Frigatebird, Slender-billed Crow, and Golden-bellied Gerygone. There may be some early shorebird migrants about too such as Eurasian Whimbrel, Grey-tailed Tattler, or Common Sandpiper.

Overnight (two nights): Tangkoko Area, Batuputih Bawah

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursEndemic to Sulawesi, we will hope to find Ochre-breasted Boobooks on their day roost, it is worth it just to see their incredibly intense bright yellow piercing eyes!

 

Day 7. Tangkoko to Tomohon (Gunung Mahawu)

After a final morning birding the wonderful Tangkoko area, we will travel to the town of Tomohon, located to the south of Manado. We will have a late afternoon birding session on nearby Gunung Mahawu where we will look for the endemic Scaly-breasted Kingfisher. We will also be back here the following morning.

Overnight: Tomohon

 

Day 8. Tomohon (Gunung Mahawu) to Ternate, then on to Halmahera

We will be back on the mountain at dawn hoping for some great birds. We will likely be greeted by a dawn chorus of booming White-bellied Imperial Pigeons, plus some of the following species: Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, Bay Coucal, White-faced Cuckoo-Dove, Sultan’s Cuckoo-Dove, Red-eared Fruit Dove, and Superb Fruit Dove. We will search for Scaly-breasted Kingfisher and while looking for that we might also find Purple-bearded Bee-eater, Sulawesi Pitta, Spot-tailed Sparrowhawk, Red-backed Thrush, Sulawesi Blue Flycatcher, Citrine Canary-flycatcher, Rufous-throated Flycatcher, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Turquoise Flycatcher, Pale-blue Monarch, Sulawesi Bush Warbler, Sulawesi Pygmy Woodpecker, Sulawesi Myzomela, Sulphur-vented Whistler, Sulawesi Babbler, Streak-headed White-eye, Warbling (Mountain) White-eye, Black-crowned White-eye, Crimson Sunbird, Yellow-sided Flowerpecker, Crimson-crowned Flowerpecker, and Grey-sided Flowerpecker.

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursFormerly called Mountain White-eye, following a recent taxonomical reworking of some Zosterops species these birds have now been merged into Warbling White-eye, regardless of their English names they are delightful little birds.

 

After our morning birding session, we will drive back to Manado where we will board a flight to Ternate in the North Moluccus. Ternate is a spectacular volcano and the flight into the island is well worth having a window seat for! Once through the small airport we will take a short car ride to the harbor where we will board our private speed boat taking us to the town of Sofifi on Halmahera. Once on land we will get into our 4×4 vehicles and start the drive to our base for the next four nights. The drive takes about four hours; we head south out of Sofifi passing through some agricultural land (lots of coconut plantations) and then we will turn east as we go over an impressive mountain range (where we will see some gorgeous rainforest – and potentially stop if we see something very interesting), after reaching the opposite coast we will then head north again, finally reaching our idyllic beachside resort. It will be a long day but well worth it. This area of Halmahera has been chosen as our base as it offers excellent accommodation, great food, fantastic snorkeling during the down time, and most importantly it offers unparalleled birding on the island with all of the island endemics possible in the forest close to the lodge.

Overnight: Weda Bay

 

Days 9 – 11. Halmahera Birding

We will have three full days to focus our attention on a range of Halmahera island endemics as well as many North Moluccan regional endemics. Our first morning will see us make an early start to get into the forest before it is properly light, the reason for this is to get in place to wait for the amazing display of (Wallace’s) Standardwing. This bird-of-paradise does not look like much in the field guides but let us assure you when you see it in real life, it is a stunner!

There is also a second member of the bird-of-paradise family present on the island, the (Halmahera) Paradise-crow. As its name suggests this is a very crow-like bird-of-paradise that has a beautiful duet and makes a wide-range of interesting sounds, alas, it’s not the best-looking bird-of-paradise but it is nonetheless a very interesting bird and we will hope for some good views of this one too.

Another big (literally) target is the Ivory-breasted Pitta. This is definitely one of the best-looking pittas in the world and is actually, on average, the largest. We will hope for some good views of this one, as well as the smaller and also beautiful, but possibly more secretive North Moluccan Pitta. We will also keep our eyes peeled on the ground for Dusky Megapode, Nicobar Pigeon, and if we are incredibly lucky maybe even the Invisible Rail (the clue is in the name!).

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursWe will hope for a repeat of the excellent views of Ivory-breasted Pitta here.

 

The area is full of fruit doves and pigeons and we will look for Blue-capped Fruit Dove, Grey-headed Fruit Dove, Superb Fruit Dove, Scarlet-breasted Fruit Dove, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Sultan’s Cuckoo-Dove, Spectacled Imperial Pigeon, Cinnamon-bellied Imperial Pigeon, and Pied Imperial Pigeon. Parrots are abundant here too and over the course of our stay we will hope to get perched views of many, such as White Cockatoo, Moluccan King Parrot, Great-billed Parrot, Eclectus Parrot, Violet-necked Lory, Chattering Lory, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Moluccan Hanging Parrot, and more!

Kingfishers, too, are very well represented in Halmahera and we will hope to find Moluccan Dwarf Kingfisher, Sombre Kingfisher, Common Paradise Kingfisher, Azure Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Blue-and-white Kingfisher, and Beach Kingfisher – the latter two are possible around our accommodation, watch out for the Beach Kingfisher as you take a swim right outside your room! A common sound here is the huge, heavy wingbeats of Blyth’s Hornbill and we should get repeated good views of this impressive species. Other large birds often in the area can include Azure Dollarbird, Goliath Coucal and Gurney’s Eagle.

There are so many other interesting birds here, and we will build our list of specials, likely finding Rufous-bellied Triller, Halmahera Flowerpecker, Dusky-brown (Halmahera) Oriole, White-streaked Friarbird, Dusky Friarbird, Black-chinned Whistler, Drab Whistler, White-naped Monarch, Moluccan Monarch, Moluccan Flycatcher, Moluccan Goshawk, Rufous-necked Sparrowhawk, Variable GoshawkMoluccan Cuckooshrike, Halmahera Cuckooshrike, Moluccan Cuckoo, Rufous Fantail, Island Leaf Warbler, Cream-throated (Halmahera) White-eye, Northern (Halmahera) Golden Bulbul, and Long-billed Crow.

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursBeach Kingfishers are often right outside our rooms so we will hope for some good views.

 

Nightbirds we will search for during our stay include the uncommon Halmahera Boobook, Barking Owl, Moluccan Scops Owl, Large-tailed Nightjar, and Moluccan Owlet-nightjar. We will hope to see some of these on day roosts, otherwise in early-evening owling sessions.

Overnight (three nights): Weda Bay

 

Day 12. Halmahera to Ternate then fly to Makassar

Reluctantly we will leave our lovely beachside resort as we prepare to leave the beautiful and remote island of Halmahera and start our journey back to Sulawesi. Essentially a travel day, we journey by 4×4, speedboat, and plane back to Makassar where we hope to arrive in the afternoon.

Overnight: Makassar

 

Day 13. Makassar to Palu then on to Lore Lindu

We will take a morning flight from Makassar to Palu in central Sulawesi. On leaving the airport we will start our journey to Lore Lindu National Park, our next base for a few nights. Along the way we will likely stop for a few open-country birds such as Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Lemon-bellied White-eye, White-shouldered Triller, Red Collared Dove, Pale-headed Munia, Black-faced Munia, Chestnut Munia, and maybe even day-roosting Savanna Nightjar.

As we reach the Lore Lindu area we will make some roadside stops where we might find Red-eared Fruit Dove, Fiery-browed Starling, Sulawesi Thrush, Pygmy Cuckooshrike, Cerulean Cuckooshrike, Great Shortwing, and the bizarre Geomalia (now considered to be an aberrant ground thrush and not a babbler as previously thought).

Overnight: Lore Lindu Area

 

Days 14 – 15. Lore Lindu National Park area (Anaso Track and Lake Tambling area)

Lore Lindu National Park protects some of the largest tracts of montane rainforests remaining on Sulawesi. We will have two full days here as well as the morning of day 16. We will likely focus our birding attention on two areas while here, the famed Anaso Track (considered a tough hike) and Lake Tambling. There are a lot of new birds for us here with potential highlights including Hylocitrea (the monotypic family), Purple-bearded Bee-eater, Geomalia, Malia, Sulawesi Streaked Flycatcher, Sulawesi Woodcock, and Satanic Nightjar.

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursThe unusual Geomalia is usually a shy and secretive bird but we will hope to get some views during our time in Lore Lindu National Park. (Photo Allin Sawuwu)

 

Plenty of other highlight species here will make our birding time really exciting with further possibilities including Snoring Rail, Great Shortwing, Purple Needletail, Sulawesi PittaSulawesi Thrush, Red-backed Thrush, Rufous-throated Flycatcher, Blue-fronted Blue Flycatcher, Sulawesi Blue Flycatcher, Mountain Serin, Grey-headed Imperial Pigeon, Sombre Pigeon, Sulawesi Ground Dove, Red-eared Fruit Dove, Oberholser’s Fruit Dove, Scaly-breasted Kingfisher, Green-backed Kingfisher, Sulawesi Drongo, Piping Crow, Yellow-billed Malkoha, Sulawesi Hornbill, Knobbed Hornbill, Ivory-backed Woodswallow, Sulawesi Goshawk, Dwarf Sparrowhawk, Spot-tailed Sparrowhawk, Sulawesi Masked Owl, Minahassa Masked Owl, Eastern Grass Owl, Speckled Boobook, Cinnabar Boobook (the currently undescribed “White-spotted Boobook” form), Ashy Woodpecker, Sulawesi Pygmy Woodpecker, Golden-mantled Racket-tail, Citrine Lorikeet, Maroon-backed Whistler, Streak-headed White-eye, Sulawesi Leaf Warbler, White-eared Myza, and Crimson-crowned Flowerpecker.

Overnight (two nights): Lore Lindu Area

Sulawesi and Halmahera birding toursSulawesi Masked Owl is one of several exciting nightbirds possible on the tour.

 

Day 16. Lore Lindu to Palu to Luwuk

We will have a final morning birding around the Lore Lindu National Park area before we drive back to Palu, where we will board our afternoon flight to Luwuk in the east of central Sulawesi. On clearing the airport, we will make the short journey to our comfortable hillside hotel where we will enjoy some excellent views of the bay as we relax before our evening meal.

Overnight: Luwuk

 

Day 17. Taima

We will have a long day today as we look for one of the most charismatic birds of Sulawesi. We will make an early start from Luwuk in order to reach Taima on the tip of eastern central Sulawesi in the morning, where we will hope to watch a breeding colony of Maleo at fairly close quarters. The set up at this site is great, with jobs provided to local people who help monitor and protect the birds, this has massively reduced hunting pressure on this Endangered (BirdLife International) species. We will view the breeding area (a sandy beach that looks like it has had bombs dropped on it, due to all the nest holes dug by the birds!) from blinds and/or a tower hide depending on whether you like heights or not. We will view the area and the birds in small groups, so as not to disturb them.

While in the area we will look out for other species that may be found here, such as White-rumped Cuckooshrike, Sulawesi Babbler, Red-backed Buttonquail, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Black-naped Oriole, Philippine Megapode, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon, Black-naped Fruit Dove, Green Imperial Pigeon, Isabelline Bush-hen, Collared Kingfisher, Purple-winged Roller, Great Hanging Parrot, White-breasted Woodswallow, Grosbeak Starling, Hair-crested (White-eyed Spangled) Drongo, Great-billed Heron, Sulawesi Serpent Eagle, Barred (Sulawesi) Honey Buzzard, and Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle.

After lunch we will drive back to Luwuk, likely stopping at some rice paddies or forest patches along the way in case there are any potential last-minute additions we can make to, what is sure to be, a pretty impressive bird list by this time. We will have a final group evening meal together. during which time we will try and pick a ‘bird of the trip’; not likely to be an easy decision!

Overnight: Luwuk

 

Day 18. Luwuk to Makassar where tour concludes

Non-birding day. After a leisurely breakfast at our hotel we will fly back to Makassar where the tour will end in time for an afternoon departure out of Indonesia or your further travel (such as our West Papua: Birds-of-paradise and Endemics of the Arfaks and Waigeo tour). Please do not book your onward flights until we have confirmed the internal flight times which may be subject to change!

Overnight: Not included

 

 

Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.

Download Itinerary

Indonesia, Sulawesi and Halmahera: Set Departure Trip Report

28 OCTOBER – 14 NOVEMBER 2018 

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Overview

 

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.

 

Detailed Report

 

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. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.

For more information please also read our two blog posts on Sulawesi and Halmahera.

Sulawesi and Halmahera: Spectacular Endemic Birding – General Information

 

Important Information:

Remember you are visiting a developing country, expect many things to be very different to what you might expect from home. We have tried to make this tour as comfortable as possible however some areas we visit are still very remote, even by Indonesian standards, but the birding certainly makes up for that.

 

Physical Toughness:

The birding on this tour is a mix of flat forest trails and roadside birding, gently sloping low hills (on a mix of proper trails and more “off-piste” – e.g. if we have to go and look for a day-roost of an owl, or a hornbill nest, or pitta etc.), some short forest trails that might be considered tricky in places by some people, e.g. when we go to the Standardwing lek in Halmahera (particularly when the heat and humidity of some areas is considered), and one difficult hike (the Anaso Track – a former logging track that is now a heavily eroded gulley but offers some of the best birding in Lore Lindu National Park). Most days we will take a “siesta” during the middle of the day when the heat is at its strongest and bird activity generally wanes which will be good for resting and relaxing for a few hours. We have local guides and other support staff with us so if at any time anyone in the group wants to opt out of an activity that will be possible.

 

Accommodation:

In Sulawesi we stay in accommodation ranging from good hotels in the towns and cities, such as in Makassar, Tomohon, and Luwuk, to more basic yet comfortable lodges catering for birders such as in Tangkoko, the countryside outside of Makassar, and at Lore Lindu. In Halmahera we stay in a comfortable dive resort for the duration of our stay on the island. All accommodation has been chosen for its proximity to excellent birding locations while still providing an adequate level of comfort. Most accommodation has either air con or a ceiling/standing fan, and sometimes a combination of both. Where necessary (such as in Halmahera) accommodation has mosquito nets and provides insect repellent/mosquito coils. Some accommodation have swimming pools and the resort on Halmahera has a sheltered bay for swimming.

 

Power Sockets:

In Indonesia the power sockets are of type C and F. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. See here for details. You may need to consider a converter and/or an adaptor.

 

Phone and Internet:

Phone service (and therefore mobile internet etc.) is not widely available, particularly in the forest and on the mountains and we do not have a satellite phone. Local sim cards can be purchased in the towns that will have limited connection in some places. Most places we stay at (particularly in the cities, and occasionally in the more rural areas) will have WiFi.

 

Meals:

Food is of local Indonesian style in most places, some of the larger hotels in the towns and cities may have more western style food but this is not necessarily to be expected. Bringing energy/cereal bars might be advantageous for during early morning hikes etc.

Please remember to give us your dietary preferences. Are you vegetarian? Can you eat spicy foods?

 

Weather:

It is likely to be hot and humid in the lowlands, more so in Halmahera and northern Sulawesi verses southern Sulawesi, with a possible temperature range of c.77-95F (c.25-35C). It is likely to be a touch cooler when we are in the mountains such as c.59-68F (c.15-20C) and may go cooler overnight. July is typically one of the drier months in the region but rain could occur at any time.

 

Travel:

We use various forms of transport on the tour. In Sulawesi we will likely use a range of minibuses of varying sizes, sometimes 4x4s. In Halmahera the driving is carried out in 4×4 vehicles. Depending on the final group size we may have 1-3 vehicles. We will take six internal flights to move around the two islands, a necessity in Indonesia. We will use a speedboat to get between Ternate and Halmahera and we will take a smaller outrigger boat for a mangrove trip in northern Sulawesi. The boat trip to the mangroves may result in wet/sandy feet as we enter and exit the boat on the beach, the speedboat trip between the islands involves proper harbours.

 

Luggage:

Make your luggage as light as possible, most domestic flights only allow 44 lb (20 kg) of hold luggage per person, any overweight luggage may not be carried and/or will be charged extra. The tour cost includes 44 lb (20 kg) of baggage only (per person), any excess charges will need to be paid for locally by cash payments only.

 

Currency:

Currency exchange is only available in Makasar, Manado, Pulau, and Jakarta but ATMs are available in every town. Traveller’s cheques are not accepted in most banks or stores in Indonesia, and we don’t recommend the use of credit cards except in major hotels or larger stores. Plan on either using your ATM card for money (ideally bring two), and bring American money (US$), preferably $100 bills. But Note: Any bills dated 1996 or 1999 will not be accepted anywhere in Indonesia due to counterfeiting problems in the past. The highest rate they will accept is the newest edition of $100 bills. Allow at least several weeks for your bank to obtain these for you. Also, throughout Indonesia, people will not accept bills that are worn or ripped. A rip of only 1/16th of an inch can make a bill unusable. Note that ATMs will usually allow you to only take a small amount of cash out in one go, such as IDR 1,500,000 (c$100 at the time of writing this in October 2020). Please also note that you will most likely be charged by one or both banks (at home and in Indonesia) for each withdrawal. The following cards seem to work best in Indonesia: Mastercard, Visa, Cirrus, and Alto.

 

Passport:

Your passport must be valid for a period of at least 6 months after the date of your departure from Indonesia. Please make sure that there is at least one full empty page available in your passport. Please make sure that you also bring a photocopy of your passport, to be kept in a different location from your passport (given to your tour leader), in case of loss/damage of your passport.

 

Visa and Arrival into Indonesia:

Makassar (where the tour starts and ends) is an Indonesian international arrival city. It is here that you will get your passport stamped and visa issued. If you are traveling around the region before the tour, the other international arrival points into Indonesia are Denpasar (Bali) and Jakarta (Java), both have frequent flights to Makassar.

Most visitors to Indonesia usually gain a 30-day visa on arrival. If you are planning to stay longer than 30 days you will need a different visa. Please check with your government advice as you will likely need to visit an embassy or consulate to gain this. Evidence of onward travel may be required on your arrival into Indonesia. We will provide you with the name and address details of the hotel for the first night of the tour which you will need for immigration.

 

Travel Insurance:

We require that you purchase trip cancellation insurance to protect yourself against accidents, medical, illness, loss of valuables, luggage etc., and travel interruptions or delays of all kinds. You can email us copies of this information.

 

Health and Medical Conditions:

Please consult your doctor regarding any vaccine requirements. All travelers should be up to date with routine vaccination courses and boosters (e.g. tetanus). There is no risk of yellow fever transmission in Sulawesi/Halmahera, however, there is a certificate requirement if travelers have visited/come from the following countries. Malaria is a risk in Halmahera and so anti-malarial drugs are recommended. See here for further specifics on yellow fever and malaria in the region.

Some travelers may require hepatitis A, tetanus, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, and tuberculosis (TB). Please see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for a useful overview of the requirements and recommendations here. Please also refer to the advice of your own country.

Sunblock should be carried, and a hat should be worn to protect from the powerful rays from the sun, with sunglasses to help prevent glare. A plentiful supply of water should be carried at all times to maintain hydration (please bring a refillable bottle with you).

Please make sure that you are covered with medical insurance in case of an emergency while on this tour. Without insurance the cost of medical care can be extremely high. Please notify us at the time of registering for this tour of any medical conditions you think we should know about (including allergies, heart conditions, epilepsy, etc.). This will greatly help us to cater to your needs and update emergency services if required.

If you bring any prescription medication into Indonesia, make sure you have a copy of the prescription with you. The prescription must cover the quantity of medication you bring. Be aware that some prescription or other medication available in the US/UK/other countries, including some psychotropic medicines, may be illegal in Indonesia. If you are unsure, speak to your doctor and the Indonesian Embassy for advice before you travel.

 

Do not forget – Binoculars, prescription drugs (also bring the generic names for these drugs and information stated above), toiletries, prescription glasses (and a spare pair), insect repellent, sunscreen and sunglasses, camera, flashlight, batteries (for electronic equipment, and chargers for the re-chargeable batteries if required), converter plug set if needed and plug adaptors, alarm clock, money pouch, field guide(s), and daypacks.

 

We will provide all clients signing up to the tour with further information and a packing list along with a detailed itinerary, bird checklist, and animal checklist.

Download General Information

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