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This report describes a birding trip made to Sulawesi & Halmahera, Indonesia
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Other personal New Guinea Trips
2011 "Parrots & Oil Palms" New Britain
2010 "Paradise at the End of the World" Alotau, Normanby Island
2009 "The Search for the Mythical Blue Bird of Paradise" Kama/Kumul Lodge/Brown River/PAU
2009 "The Revenge of the Chiggers" Madang/Keki Lodge
2009 "Papua New Guinea, Always Expect the Unexpected" PAU/Varirata/Brown River/Tari
2008 "Papua New Guinea ,Two short trips" PAU/Varirata/Brown River/Hisui/Kumul Lodge
Coates, Bishop & Gardner, A Guide to the Birds of Wallacea 1997 The standard and essential field guide to the area. (Out of Print?)
Wallace, Alfred, The Malay Archipelago, 18xx. A classic in travel writing. Essential to give you a biological/historical background of the area. Read how he developed the Theory of Evolution.
Beehler, Pratt & Zimmerman, Birds of New Guinea, 1986. The standard field guide to PNG. Useful for Halahera (Out of Print)
MacKinnon & Phillipps, Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java & Bali, 1999. Useful as you will probably pass through Java or Bali on route.
Gregory, Phil - Birds of New Guinea and Associated Islands - A checklist (updated regularly)
Frith, Cliff & Dawn. Birds of Paradise: Nature, Art and History, 2010
Kukila - The journal of Indonesian Ornithology
Internet - Many useful trip reports and info including:
Burung Nusantara Good site for Indonesian Birding
Weda Resort. This resort on East Halmahera would certainly be worth visiting next time and apparently offers easier access to Wallace's Stadardwing
Sulawesi & Halmahera, Frank Lambert, Aug 2011
Sulawesi & Halmahera, Phil Gregory, Mar-April 2010
Sulawesi & Halmahera, Alan Drewitt & Sue Rees, Oct, 2010
Sulawesi & Halmahera, Dave Farrow, Aug-Sep 2010
Sulawesi & Halmahera, Jan Vermeulen, Aug-Sep 2009
Sulawesi & Halmahera, Nicholas & Robert van Zalinge, Sep-Oct 2009
Indonesia: Halmahera & North-east Sulawesi, John Hornbuckle, Aug 2008
Halmahera, Phil Gregory, 2006
Avibase Bird checklists of the World
International Companies offering trips to Sulawesi & Halmahera
Indonesian Company used for our trip
Royke Mananta - Explore Iso Indonesia
Address: Jl Prof. Moh. Yamin No.6, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia
The Wallacean area comprises the islands of Sulawesi, the Moluccas (which include Halmahera) and Lesser Sunda Islands.These fascinating islands provided Alfred Wallace with with plenty of observations and material with which he developed the Theory of the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. He travelled the islands on very small boats essentially by himself, with a couple of locals, throughout the region between 1854 and 1862. Despite being regularly laid low by malaria and one assistant even dying of the disease, Wallace pressed on with amazing enthusiasm collecting over 125,000 specimens, including over 1000 species new to science (mainly insects). Wallace appears to have received very little personal fame for his discoveries. His compatriot Charles Darwin, who by comparison just went on a cruiseboat around South America, appears to have received much better marketing. The theory is now called Darwinism. He has a statue outside the Natural History Museum in London and even has a large Australian town, adjacent to Wallacea, named after him. More information on Wallace can be found on various websites.
The seperation of different wildlife on the islands has given rise to a number of different lines seperating different fauna. Most well known is Wallace's Line seperating Borneo and Bali from Sulawesi and Lombok. West of the line are bears, monkeys, deer, elephants, rhinocerous and cats. East of the line are possums, kangaroos, platypus and echidnas. In terms of birdlife, west of the line are pheasants, partridges, woodpeckers, barbets, babblers and bulbuls. East of the line are honeyeaters, scrubwrens, megapodes, bowerbirds, lorikeets and birds of paradise.
Wallace's line follows a deep water channel. Even in the 1800s he was well aware of continental drift and the lowering of sea levels during the ice age. He speculated that the adjoining areas had been seperated for a geologically long period. Different species and familes had evolved on either side of this channel. Interestingly, a few animals seem to have made it across the gap. John saw the Indonesian Honeyeater in Bali, the only honeyeater west of Wallace's line. In Tangkoko National Park on Sulawesi we observed one of the few areas on earth were a monkey and a possum can been seen in the same tree (Celebes Black Macaque and Bear Cuscus).
Personally from my travels in Australia and New Guinea I have developed an interest in Australasian fauna. Australasia is perhaps defined as including New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea, Melanesia, New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu. In Wallacea it also extends to cover Buru, Ceram, Ternate and Halmahera. Another line, Weber's line sperates Australasia with Sulawesi and Timor. Thus Halmahera represents the Western extreme of Australasia. Species I can see from my window in Cairns, Queensland, Australia reach their limit here. It was great to see familiar faces such as Willie Wagtails, Torresian Crows, Metallic Starlings and Spectacled Monarchs in such unfamiliar surroundings.
Mention has to be made of that most famous family, the birds of paradise, which reach the edge of their range in Halmahera. Personally I would settle for loosing out on naming of the theory of natural selection if I could have a bird of paradise named after me instead. Wallace's Standardwing, one of the most interesting of this family, and the Paradise Crow, perhaps not quite the most interesting, still hang on in the distant forests of Halmahera. The most well known lek of Wallace's Standardwing is situated a few km from Sidangoli on a patch of rainforest owned by the famous grumpy Anu. We were keen to see if this patch of forest still existed.
In Sulawesi we saw 141 species. Of these we saw 51 of 85 possible Sulawesi subregion endemics.(This includes the Cinnabar Boobook, discovered since publication of Coates & Bishop)
In Halmahera we saw 69 species. Of these we saw 22 of 38 possible Moluccan endemics.
In Ternate we saw 24 species.
These species and endemics are as per Coates & Bishop 1997. In the 1800s Wallace described a different set of species. Different authorities have described more local species and endemics since 1997. In particular Frank Lambert's report describes some more recent definitions. As an amateur interested in recording what he thinks he has seen, the various different lists that exist to describe the world's species offer a source of constant frustration and confusion. Various different authorities split and lump species as they see fit. Examing my copy of Clement's, Birds of the World, A Checklist, 2000 which lists approx 10,000 species over 700 pages, no mention is made anywhere in the text as to how these species are defined
Contrary to what might be expected, there is no scientifically based and universally accepted process or definition by which individual creatures are assessed for the purpose of defining them as a 'species' in a particular genus.
Surely Wallace would feel the fact that species are defined by a subjective mixture of appearance, call, habitat, ability of interbreeding & DNA, is less than satisfactory.
For the purposes of this report I am mostly sticking to Coates & Bishop's list of species names and taxonomy which is as good as any.
Indonesia is a simply amazing place, comprising over 17,000 islands containing over 250 million people. The people we came across in Sulawesi and Halmahera were without exception a cheerful and friendly lot. Everywhere we went we were greeted by smiling faces and calls of 'Hello meester!' Tourism has yet to visit these islands and so no one ever harassed us for anything. People just smiled, waved and went on their way. Everywhere on Sulawesi was very crowded and you are rarely away from people. Much of the birding is from the roadside, usually with a near continous stream of noisy traffic.This is not a wilderness experience!
As the world's 4th most populated country and containing some of the most densely populated islands in the world, conservation is not given a very high priority. There are a few national parks on Sulawesi. Lore Lindu is not the typical western ideal of a national park, containing a few centres of population who are steadily expanding agriculture into the park.
Halmahera does not appear to have any protected areas at all. The forest is disappearing at a rapid rate, some even before our eyes during the trip. The oft quoted fact that you are never out of earshot of a chainsaw appeared to be sadly true.
But there are a few glimmers of hope. The Wildlife Conservation Society have a Maleo breeding facility in North Sulawesi. Watching John release a new born Maleo into the Dumoga Bone National park was the most wonderful and uplifting experience of the trip.
We went with Royke Mananta who was excellent and 100% recommended. Royke organised all accomodation, boat, plane and car transport as well as doing all the bird guiding. He had endless patience in trying to find many of the more difficult species and nightbirds for us. Actually he had much more energy than us and would still be trying to locate owls for us long into the night, despite 5am starts, or earlier, every day. He was very knowledgeable on calls and his scope proved much more useful than I expected.
Royke provided a local check list that we enjoyed filling out over a few Bintangs each night. This check list proved very useful when writing a report some months later.
Cost each for 15 days including all internal airfares, car transport, boat transport, food (twice as much great food as you could possibly eat) and acommodation (ranging from super luxury to a mosquito breeding ground depending on what was available) was about 3000 Euros. Cheaper than staying at home! All car, plane and boat transport ran smoothly without a hitch.
Royke in standard situation (on the phone arranging what we are doing next)
Dangers and annoyances
In some of my previous reports on New Guinea I have mentioned chiggers. A chigger attack can make your visit a living hell. They are invisible mites which attack the skin around the ankles, waist and other moist areas of the body. The resulting unbearable itchiness has to be experienced to be believed. Chiggers are present in Halmahera and low altitude areas of Sulawesi like Tangkoko. I was lucky to avoid them by taking the precautions of liberally dowsing my socks, shoes, waist and feet in mosquito repellant each time I went out in these places.
Royke had a small infestation in Tangkoko and Eric had a more severe attack, the next day having to literally rip off his shoes and socks in public to try and soothe the itching by scratching. - Beware!
9 April Cairns-Bali
10 April Bali-Palu-Lore Lindu NP
11 April Lore Lindu NP
12 April Lore Lindu NP
13 April Lore Lindu NP
14 April Lore Lindu NP-Palu
15 April Palu-Makassar
16 April Makassar-Ternate-Sidangoli
17 April Sidangoli
18 April Sidangoli
19 April Sidangoli
20 April Sidangoli
21 April Sidangoli-Ternate-Manado-Gunung Ambung
22 April Gunung Ambung
23 April Gunung Ambung-Tambun/Dumoga Bone-Tangkoko
24 April Tangkoko-Manado
25 April Manado-Bali
26 April Bali-Cairns
Next time we would arrange a 'rest' day or two in the middle of the schedule. I can only manage so many 4-5am starts!
Endemics denoted in bold, (h) = heard (usually by Royke)
Although not part of the tour we spent a day at Bali at the start and end of the tour. If we had more time it would be great to visit the West Bali National Park. We walked around town a little and John visited the Botanical Gardens.
Grey Heron, Cattle Egret, Spotted Dove, Glossy Swiftlet, Little Swift, Pacific Swallow, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Bar-winged Prinia, Long-tailed Shrike, Olive-backed Sunbird, Indonesian Honeyeater, Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker, Javan Munia
We started the tour at Royke's home town of Palu, capital of Central Sulawesi. We twice visited a very productive area of rice paddies within the city of Palu. On the way back from Lore Lindu, Royke took us to an area of general dry scrub, adjoining a river, close to the city, a site for Savanna Nightjar.
Palu Rice Paddies - Species seen
Purple Heron, Cattle Egret, Javan Pond Heron, Greater Painted Snipe, Wood Sandpiper, Rock Dove, Spotted Dove, Red-collared Dove, Lesser Coucal, Uniform Swiftlet, Collared Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Yellow Wagtail, Pied Chat, Lemon-bellied White-eye, Tree Sparrow, Grey-sided Flowerpecker, Chestnut Munia, Pale-headed Munia
Palu Dry scrub area - Species seen
Barred Button-quail, Red-backed Button-quail, Blue-breasted Quail, Common Sandpiper, Spotted Dove, Red-collared Dove, Emerald Dove, Large Sulawesi Hanging-parrot, Gould's Bronze Cuckoo, Lesser Coucal, Savanna Nightjar, Uniform Swiftlet, Sulawesi Swiftlet, Glossy Swiftlet, Common Kingfisher, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Pacific Swallow, Grey Wagtail, White-shouldered Triller, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Pied Chat, Flyeater, Brown-throated Sunbird, Olive-backed Sunbird, Tree Sparrow
Lore Lindu National Park-Sulawesi
We spent about 4 days at the Lore Lindu National Park in Central Sulawesi. This is a large protected area of over 2000 sq km. It contains easily accessible habitat of higher altitude rainforest, reaching up to 2613 m at the summit of Gunung Rorekatimbu. A large proportion of Sulawesi's endemic birds can be found here.Nearly half of the 74 species we recorded here were endemics Driving time from Palu was about 3 and a half hours. Here we stayed at the cosy Sendy Inn in Wuasa village.
Lore Lindu - Species seen
Purple Heron, Great-billed Heron, Cattle Egret, Javan Pond Heron, Sulawesi Serpent-eagle, Spotted Kestrel, Sunda Teal, Red-eared Fruit-dove, White-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Sombre Pigeon, Golden-mantled Racquet-tail, Large Sulawesi Hanging-parrot, Sulawesi Hawk-cuckoo (h), Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, Sulawesi Masked Owl, Sulawesi Scops-owl (h), Speckled Boobook (h), Cinnabar Boobook, Satanic Nightjar (h), Great-eared Nightjar, Uniform Swiftlet, Sulawesi Swiftlet, Glossy Swiftlet, Purple Needletail, Grey-rumped Tree-swift, Collared Kingfisher, Knobbed Hornbill, Sulawesi Pygmy Woodpecker, Ashy Woodpecker, Pacific Swallow, Grey Wagtail, Caerulean Cuckoo-shrike, Pygmy Cuckoo-shrike, White-shouldered Triller, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Sulawesi Drongo, Black-naped Oriole, Piping Crow, Sulawesi Babbler, Malia, Sulawesi Thrush, Pied Chat, Chestnut-backed Bush-warbler, Mountain Tailorbird, Sulawesi Leaf-warbler, Mountain White-eye, Lemon-bellied White-eye, Black-fronted White-eye, Streak-headed Dark-eye, Island Verditer Flycatcher, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Little Pied Flycatcher, Blue-fronted Flycatcher, Sulawesi (Mangrove) Blue Flycatcher, Citrine Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Rusty-bellied Fantail, Yellow-flanked Whistler, Yellow-vented Whistler, White-breasted Woodswallow, Ivory-backed Woodswallow, Sulawesi Crested Myna, Fiery-browed Starling, Lesser Sulawesi Honeyeater, Greater Sulawesi Honeyeater, Scarlet Honeyeater, Brown-throated Sunbird, Olive-backed Sunbird, Tree Sparrow, Yellow-sided Flowerpecker, Grey-sided Flowerpecker, Blue-faced Parrot-finch, Black-faced Munia, Scaly-breasted Munia, Chestnut Munia, Mountain Serin,
On Halmahera, we were based in the delightful small fishing town of Sidangoli. We went on daily morning and evening excursions to locations mostly within about 15km of the town, occasionally venturing an hour or more away. The best birding was at various locations about 12km North of Sidangoli. Here to the east of the highway is a large expanse of untouched forest. It was wonderful to stand and watch Blyth's Hornbills, Eclectus Parrots and various Fruit Doves across the valley. The constant call of Ivory-bellied Pittas rises from throughout the forest all day. Anu's Standardwing lek is nearby. Despite considerable ongoing destruction of the forests most of Halmahera's endemics can be found here. Of course the birds are all typical shy rainforest species and few are easy to see, so some time and great patience is required.
A visit Sidangoli alone is worth the price of the tour. Make sure you spend time to walk around the town and market. Small fish, referrred to as Ikan Tri, are caught by the million and laid out on the road to dry. The surrounding sea must be incredibly productive. In Sidangoli we stayed at the somewhat rough and ready Sidangoli Indah. The marshy grounds, while good for supporting Rufous-tailed Bush-hen, also act as fertile breeding grounds for mosquitos, most of which seemed to live in my room.
Species seen within 15 km of Sidangoli
Great Frigatebird, Cattle Egret, Brahminy Kite, Variable Goshawk, Moluccan Goshawk, Gurney's Eagle, Spotted Kestrel, Dusky Scrubfowl, Rufous-tailed Bush-hen, Spotted Dove, Brown Cuckoo-dove, White-throated Pigeon, Emerald Dove, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Superb Fruit-dove (h), Blue-capped Fruit-dove, Grey-headed Fruit-dove, Cinnamon-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Violet-necked Lory, Red-flanked Lorikeet, White Cockatoo, Eclectus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, Moluccan Hanging-parrot, Brush Cuckoo, Moluccan Cuckoo (h), Goliath Coucal, Lesser Coucal (h), Moluccan Scops-owl, Moluccan Boobook (h), Moluccan Owlet-nightjar, Large-tailed Nightjar, Uniform Swiftlet, Moluccan Swiftlet, Glossy Swiftlet, Moustached Tree Swift, Common Paradise Kingfisher, Blue & White Kingfisher, Beach Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Common Dollarbird, Blyth's Hornbill, Ivory-breasted Pitta, Pacific Swallow, Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Halmahera Cuckoo-shrike, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Rufous-bellied Triller, Golden Bulbul, Spangled Drongo, Dusky-brown Oriole, Long-billed Crow, Paradise Crow, Wallace's Standardwing, Arctic Warbler, Cream-throated White-eye, White-naped Monarch, Spectacled Monarch, Slaty Flycatcher, Shining Flycatcher, Willie Wagtail, Common Golden Whistler, White-breasted Woodswallow, Moluccan Starling, Metallic Starling, White-streaked Friarbird, Black Sunbird, Olive-backed Sunbird, Tree Sparrow, Flame-breasted Flowerpecker, Chestnut Munia
Additional species seen at Dodinga, 45 mins North of Sidangoli
Sombre Kingfisher, Grey's Grasshopper Warbler
Additional Species seen at Lame/Gunung Maming, 90 mins from Sidangoli
Purple Dollarbird, Chattering Lory
We had originally planned to go up to Tobelo to try and see the Moluccan Scrubfowl. The scrubfowl comes down on clear nights to lay its eggs on the black sand beaches. In recent years they seem to have become very hard to see. Various reports speak of staying up all night to see a single individual if lucky. Royke told us that the birds only come down when the moon is bright. During our stay the moon was the exact opposite. As the trip to Tobelo takes up a whole day and there are few other birds to be seen there, we decided not to go. The moluccan scrubfowl will have to wait until another day.
A friend had travelled with a different operator that arranged the Tobelo trip on the same day as the walk to see the Wallaces Standardwing. Essentially this meant getting up at 02.00 to see the Standardwing, then driving to Tobelo, staying awake 26-28hours until 04.00-06.00 the following day!
Most travel to Halahera will include flying to the small island of Ternate then making the pleasant 45 minute journey by boat across to Sidangoli. Ternate is a spectacular island mostly comprising a huge steaming volcano with a large town at the base. Wallace lived here for three years around 1860 and greatly enjoyed the place. We had a few hours to kill waiting for the plane and visited a cratar lake Danau Tolire. Despite it's proximity to the large town there were quite a few birds here, the highlight being a pair of spectacular Great-billed Parrots
Species seen on island of Ternate
Red-throated Little Grebe, Great Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Brahminy Kite, Variable Goshawk, Dusky Scrubfowl (h), Common Sandpiper, Spotted Dove, Blue-capped Fruit-dove, White Cockatoo, Great-billed Parrot, Brush Cuckoo, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Moluccan Swiftlet, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Common Dollarbird, Pacific Swallow, Torresian Crow, Willie Wagtail, Metallic Starling, Black Sunbird, Olive-backed Sunbird.
Boat crossing with Ternate in the background
Makassar (Ujung Pandang) - Sulawesi
Most flights to Sulawesi end up passing through this huge city of 1.6 Million people. We had one good night here at the luxurious Novotel Hotel. Makassar is interesting due to a large network of fishponds which surround the city. But our visit to the fishpond area was cut short by a massive torrential downpour.The nearby Karaenta forest holds one local endemic, the Black-ringed White-eye.
Species seen around Makassar, Karaenta and fishponds
Whiskered Tern, White-winged Black Tern, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Javan Pond Heron, Little Heron, Yellow Bittern, Woolly-necked Stork, Black-winged Kite, Sulawesi Serpent Eagle, Sulawesi Hawk Eagle, Wandering Whistling-duck, Spotted Dove, Small Sulawesi Hanging Parrot, Yellow-billed Malkoha, Savanna Nightjar (h), Uniform Swiftlet, Sulawesi Swiftlet, Grey-rumped Tree Swift, Collared Kingfisher, Pacific Swallow, Hair-crested Drongo, Black-naped Oriole, Sulawesi Babbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Black-ringed White-eye, White-breasted Woodswallow, Brown-throated Sunbird, Black Sunbird, Olive-backed Sunbird, Crimson Sunbird, Tree Sparrow, Yellow-sided Flowerpecker, Grey-sided Flowerpecker, Scaly-breasted Munia, Chestnut Munia, Pale Headed Munia, Java Sparrow
Gunung Ambang - Sulawesi
Our high speed white-knuckle drive west from Manado had us at the foot of the Gunung Ambang Nature Reserve in about seven hours, although we are uncertain that the most direct route was taken. Gunung Ambang, near Kota Bomagu, is another higher altitude area containing a good number of Sulawesi endemics. It appears to be the best site for the endemic Matinan Flycatcher and Scaly-breasted Kingfisher, neither of which we saw, but we did catch up on the Satanic Nightjar, with very good views. The trail into the reserve was deeply rutted, up to four feet deep in places, by oxen dragging timber from the reserve. Near the reserve we stayed at the ranger's house which gave us a great insight into local Indonesian life, again meeting many friendly locals.
Species seen at Gunung Ambang
Cattle Egret, Black Kite, Brahimany Kite, Spotted Harrier, Sulawesi Goshawk, Sulawesi Hawk-eagle, Oriental Hobby, Barred Rail, Isabelline Waterhen (h), Spotted Dove, Brown Cuckoo-dove, Sulawesi Black Pigeon, Red-eared Fruit-dove (h), Superb Fruit-dove, White-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Yellow & Green Lorikeet, Golden-mantled Racquet-tail, Large Sulawesi Hanging-parrot, Black-billed Koel, Yellow-billed Malkoha, Lesser Coucal, Bay Coucal (h), Satanic Nightjar, Uniform Swiftlet, Sulawesi Swiftlet, Glossy Swiftlet, Purple Needletail, Collared Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Sulawesi Pygmy Woodpecker, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Slender-billed Crow, Sulawesi Babbler, Malia, Chestnut-backed Bush-warbler, Mountain Tailorbird, Sulawesi Leaf Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Black-fronted White-eye, Streak-headed Dark-eye, Grey-streaked flycatcher, Island Verditer Flycatcher, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Citrine Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Rusty-bellied Fantail, Yellow-vented Whistler, White-breasted Woodswallow, Fiery-browed Starling, Black Sunbird, Olive-backed Sunbird, Tree Sparrow, Yellow-sided Flowerpecker, Crimson-crowned Flowerpecker, Chestnut Munia
Tambun/Dumoga Bone/Bogani Wartabone National Park - Sulawesi
Two hours from Gunung Ambang is the 3000 sq km Bogani Wartabone NP (formerly Dumoga Bone). Adjacent to the park is an area referred to as Tambun. It is here that the Wildlife Conservation Society are funding a Maleo recovery program. These megapodes lay a single large egg in ground heated by hot volcanic springs. Park rangers remove the eggs and place them in a special secure enclosure. Here the chicks can hatch out in peace and they are left a few days to build up strength before being released ino the adjacent forest. We saw several rather nervous Maleo and relased one chick. This was quite a good area and although we only spent a few hours in the morning, we recorded a number of other interesting birds. Quite a few km back towards Manado we also stopped at a small wetland area.
Species seen at Tambun
Brahminy Kite, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Maleo, Barred Buttonquail, Red Junglefowl (h), Rock Pigeon, Brown Cuckoo-dove, Emerald Dove, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon, Maroon-chinned Fruit-dove, Black-naped Fruit-dove, Black-billed Koel (h), Yellow-billed Malkoha, Lesser Coucal, Bay Coucal, Sulawesi Swiftlet, Grey-rumped Tree-swift, Red-bellied Pitta (h), Pacific Swallow, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Hair-crested Drongo, Black-naped Oriole, Slender-billed Crow, Black-fronted White-eye, Asian Glossy Starling, White-necked Myna, Grosbeak Starling, Black Sunbird, Tree Sparrow, Black-faced Munia, Chestnut Munia
Additional species at nearby wetland
Purple Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Javan Pond Heron, Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern, Wandering Whistling-duck, White-browed Crake, Isabelline Bush-hen (h), Common Moorhen, Dusky Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Comb-crested Jacana, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Collared Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Yellow Wagtail, White-breasted Woodswallow,
Tangkoko National Park - Sulawesi
Despite looking close on the map it was 8 hours drive at high speed from Tambun to Tangkoko, perhaps 3 hours drive from Manado. Here we stayed a the comfortable Dove Villas. Situated on the tip of North Sulawesi Tangkoko is a very pretty park with volcanos, black sand beaches and the tallest trees we saw anywhere in Indonesia. It must receive a reasonable level of protection compared to other areas. It's size is only about 90sq km. We only had one day here but at least three would be better. The evening boat trip to see the Great-billed Kingfisher was an absolute joy.
Species seen at Tangkoko
Pacific Reef Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Heron, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Sulawesi Hawk Eagle, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Rock Pigeon, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeon, Ornate Lorikeet, Yellow-breasted Racquet-tail (h), Large Sulawesi Hanging-parrot, Rusty-breasted Cuckoo (h), Channel-billed Cuckoo (h), Black-billed Koel (h), Lesser Coucal (h), Sulawesi Scops-owl, Sulawesi Nightjar, Sulawesi Swiftlet, Glossy Swiftlet, Grey-rumped Tree-swift, Green-backed Kingfisher, Lilac-cheeked Kingfisher, Great-billed Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Purple-winged Roller (h), Common Dollarbird, Sulawesi Dwarf Hornbill (h), Knobbed Hornbill, Ashy Woodpecker, Pacific Swallow, White-rumped Cuckoo-shrike, Sulawesi Cicadabird (h), Sooty-headed Bulbul, Hair-crested Drongo, Black-naped Oriole, Slender-billed Crow, Black-naped Monarch, Black Sunbird, Olive-backed Sunbird, Tree Sparrow
9th April, 2012 Cairns-Bali
I flew Cairns-Darwin-Bali, arriving at Bali early evening. I was very glad to meet up with John Seale at the hotel. John had arrived a day earlier. He hired a car and driver for the day at minimal cost and toured some of the island as an introduction to Indonesia, seeing Indonesian Honeyeater at the Botanical Gardens. We had a very good meal and tested some Bintangs, very excited at the prospect of visiting distant exotic islands over the next couple of weeks. Bali was absolutely packed out with tourists, mainly Australian, tempted in by the very low costs of holidaying in Indonesia.
10th April, 2012 Bali-Palu-Lore Lindu
I was up early and spent a couple of hours enjoying walking the streets of Bali, which were very quiet compared to the chaos and noise of the previous evening. Yellow-vented Bulbuls were everywhere but interesting birds were hard to come by until I found a large vacant block by the beach. Here I was pleased to find Javan Munia, Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker and Bar-winged Prinia.
The flight to Palu was on time and we were looking forward to meeting Eric Finley, who was flying in from Java, and our guide Royke Mananta. The flight stopped briefly at Makassar where we collected all our cabin baggage, got off the plane, walked up a flight of steps, back down the same flight of steps and back into our same seats.
There was no sign of Eric at Palu airport and Royke soon arrived to tell us that his plane had been delayed. To pass the time our trusty driver Herro, took us all off to some nearby rice paddies. Birding got off to a very good start as almost the first bird we saw was a Greater Painted Snipe. In our Coates & Bishop guide book, this bird was not even mentioned as exisiting in Sulawesi. But knowing Painted Snipe from Australia that is no great surprise, as they are hard enough to find in a country where they are known to exist. Many other birds including Yellow Wagtail, Wood Sandpiper and Chestnut Munia were present in the rice paddies and we had to be careful to not fall in the water from the narrow walkways.
Stopping for our first endemic, Grey-sided Flowerpecker, we were amused at Herro's helpful driving. If we thought we saw an interesting bird, he would just stop the car in the middle of the road, regardless of the usually substantial traffic, which would then have to battle to get around us, everyone all the time blowing their horns helpfully just in case we hadn't noticed them.
Eric arrived and we headed off to Lore Lindu, stopping at a few patches of scrub for Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Lemon-bellied White-eyes and White-shouldered Trillers. Herro was a good careful driver and did well to get us there in about three and a half hours, the road steadily deteriorating as we went.
11th April, 2012 Lore Lindu
In Lore Lindu we stayed at the comfortable Sendy Inn at Wuasa village. This was our first experience of food on an Explore Iso Indonesia tour and we soon found out that there would be about twice as much as we really needed and it was always delicious. It is very helpful if you like fish in Indonesia. Up in the mountains it was rather chilly and the bucket showers were always bracing.
As was to be the habit we were up at 05.00 and off to the forest. Initially birding was very frustrating with lots of small unidentifiable birds at the top of the canopy. After a few hours we got our eye in and started to pick up some of the more common new birds like Yellow-vented whistler, Sulawesi Babbler, Streak-headed Dark-eye and Rufous-bellied Fantail. We even found some of the more interesting ones like the strange Piping Crow, Lesser Sulawesi Honeyeater and Fiery-browed Starling. Most of the birding here was from the roadside but we made occasional forays off onto side tracks where we discovered Royke's considereable patience as he tried to find us Sulawesi Thrush and the highly elusive and never seen Great Shortwing.
We visited a small body of water, Kalimpa Lake where we could see a distant perched Sulawesi Serpent Eagle and we continued to try and identify all the various White-eyes. Also at this lake were a pair of the only Sunda Teal that we saw. These teal would be unlikely to win a competition for the world's most interesting duck.
After lunch, a rest and a tropical downpour we headed out again to a different area adding more good birds such as White-bellied Imperial Pigeon and Knobbed Hornbill. We stayed out until nightfall and were extremely lucky when Royke found for us a Cinnabar Boobook. This owl was only first described in about 1999. Much time was spent owling on this tour, the easiest one being a Sulawesi Masked Owl opposite the hotel.
The hotel had an absolutely adorable Bear Cuscus kept in a small cage and it was very hard to resist taking the poor creature away to be liberated into the forest.
12th April 2012, Lore Lindu
The next day we were up early again to walk up the famous Anaso track to the top of Gunung Rorekatimbu at about 2600. A number of higher elevation endemics are present on this track. John sensibly decided to stay in the forest below. The walk started well and we heard Satanic Nightjar nearby. There is a clearing some way up the track where they had been seen the the day before, but never returned. Actually birds were rather few and far between along the very pretty fern-laden track. We saw Golden-mantled Racquet-tails high overhead and also Greater Sulawesi Honeyeater and Sulawesi Thrush. The strange endemic Geomalia is said to be occasionally found near the summit.
Unfortunately, while this track is usually deserted we chose to visit on the same day that 600 students were doing an overnight orienteering expedition, They were camping near the summit. The students were very friendly, thrilled to see us and they all needed a photo, providing great entertainment.
Eric and some of the students
13th April 2012, Lore Lindu
Today we explored some more around the lower forests and looked at some different tracks. We enjoyed seeing two of the three woodpeckers that occur east of Wallace's line, the giant Ashy Woodpeckers and the diminutive Sulawesi Pygmy Woodpeckers. We finally got a good look at the noisy but elusive Malia, behaving a bit like a treecreeper in a large mixed flock that also contained Pygmy Cuckoo-shrike and for some, Blue-faced Parrot-finch.
In the canopy we observed just a couple of the first of two monkey species on Sulawesi, the Tonkean Macaque.
On a previous trip to outback Queensland with Eric we had travelled about 2000km and Eric casually mentioned that it was strange we hadn't seen a Goanna the whole trip. At that exact moment one crossed the road in front of our car. After a few days in Sulawesi Eric remarked that it was strange that we hadn't seen a single reptile on the trip. At that exact moment we looked down to see a lizard, flattened to the road. It had obviously recently been run over. I went to pick it up and it made a miraculous recovery, running up my leg and resting on my shoulder. It was a flying lizard and in flatttening its body for flight looked just as if it had been squashed by a car.
14th April 2012, Lore Lindu-Palu
We decided on another trek up the Anaso track. Birdwise it was still very quiet, but we added Mountain Serin, Sombre Pigeon, Yellow-flanked Whistler and Purple Needletail to our list. Numerous attempts to locate the Great Shortwing all met with the same result. We were perhaps in the wrong season for the fantastic Purple-bearded Bee-eater. Once it was possible to drive a fair way up this track but floods washed out the bridge, which Royke helped rebuild. More recently more floods completely washed out the bridge and it will now never be passable by car. This didn't stop one of the students on a scooter with no exhaust giving it a go.
Herro took us back to Palu stopping at a few rice paddies on the way. Closer to Palu we stopped at a very productive dry scrubby area. We did a poor job in sticking together which meant that most of us missed Savanna Nightjar, Red-backed Button-quail, Blue-breasted (King) Quail and Barred Button-quail. This was a very good area for Blue-tailed Bee-eaters which were nesting directly in holes in the ground.
We finally caught up with the invisible Flyeater and then spent more time disrupting the traffic in Palu, stopping in the middle of the road to watch Barred Rails, White-breasted Waterhens, Pale-headed and Chestnut Munias in the rice paddies. A good night was spent at the best hotel in Palu and we all enjoyed hot showers after 4 days using cold buckets. Even Royke stayed at the hotel instead of going home, his poor excuse being that it was too far to go.
15th April 2012, Makassar
As usual we were up early and on the flight down to the big smoke at Makassar. We checked in to the positively palatial Mercure Hotel, even better than the top hotel in Palu. Then we headed South out to the Karaenta area, passing some fancy homes along the way. At the Karaenta site we spent some time birding beside on an incredibly noisy winding hillside road. Amazingly there were a few birds here including Hair-crested Drongo and Crimson Sunbird. Eventually Royke found us a good track away from the road. Down here we found the famous endemic Black-ringed White-eye which was very tame, posing close by for photos.
It was rather hot along the track as the day progressed but we continued on and up finding Yellow-billed Malkoha and Eric saw a Small Sulawesi Hanging-parrot.
Later in the day we headed out to the fishpond area. Here we came across hundreds of White-winged Black Terns and the occasional Whiskered Tern. A few Yellow Bitterns showed themselves in the reeds and we occasionally caught a glimpse of a Zitting Cisticola zitting high above the ponds. Our visit was cut short by the most torrential downpour and we had to head back. But it soon stopped and we spent time peering into some roadside gardens at Javan Sparrows and a very large Water Monitor in a pond, four lanes of traffic passing all the while
Birding at the Makassar fishponds
16th April 2012, Makassar-Ternate-Halmahera
Early morning again saw us racing the Makassar rush hour for our flight to Ternate. It was pleasing to fly over large areas of forest remaining in Central Sulawesi. After a while we were flying over the sea and passing idyllic looking coral islands surrounded by clear blue ocean.Eventually the giant volcano of Ternate loomed into view and we turned in to land. From the airport we were whisked down to the ferry port area of Ternate and after some negotiations, Royke had us racing across the strait to the fabled mythical island of Halmahera.
It was a wonderful crossing under a clear blue sky with various other majestic volcanic islands rising from the surrounding sea. There was no real bird life to distract us and we just enjoyed riding on the roof of the boat in the sunshine. Closer to the town of Sidangoli, Royke organised the boat to slow down and we surveyed the mangroves. First we came across a perched Gurney's Eagle then eventually we came across two gleaming white Beach Kingfishers. After a very short car drive we were deposited at the Sidangoli Indah, our accomodation for the duration of our stay on the island.
Attempts to wave the large population of mosquitos living in my room proved fruitless and I spent some time failing to see the Rufous-vented Bush-hens calling from the swampy vegetation on the block next door.
In the evening we made a brief foray to an area just north of the town and started to catch up with some new Australasian endemics, the strange Long-billed Crow, White Cockatoo and Cream-throated White-eye. We found a few birds familiar from New Guinea, Red-cheeked Parrot and Blyth's Hornbill. We also found a few old friends from back in Queensland, Metallic Starling, Rainbow Bee-eater and Spangled Drongo.
17th April 2012, Halmahera
Our first full day on Halmahera was spent back in the same area about 12km north of Sidangoli. Eric had actually visited the same are about 17 years ago. He was quite shocked by the disappearance of forest. Back then it went right up to the town but now there are several km of grassland and scrub to be passed before the forest is reached. Birding was hard work due to the generally very shy nature of all rainforest birds in this part of the world. But over time we were rewarded wih a number of good sightings. Blyth's Hornbills, Eclectus Parrots, Red-cheeked Parrots and White Cockatoos were seen every day and are always great to find. Occasionally we would see Violet-necked Lories which Eric said were present in big numbers during his last visit. These have been decimated for the pet trade. Chattering Lories were also common in the past but these have fared even worse. We only heard a few in the Sidangoli area.
Halmahera marks the westernmost limit of Birds of Paradise and we fairly readily found a pair of Paradise Crows, perching on a dead limb. We were to see these most days. Other new endemics came along steadily including Grey-headed Pigeon, Blue & White Kingfisher, Halmahera Cuckoo Shrike, Moluccan Goshawk and White-naped Monarch. The White-naped Monarch looks very similar to the Australian White-eared Monarch and even seems to occupy the same niche, fluttering on top of the canopy to disturb prey.
All day we could hear the calls of Ivory-breasted Pittas coming from the surrounding forest. But in typical Pitta style, actually seeing these birds is another matter. I once went to Danum Valley in Borneo, 'Pitta capital of the world', containing about ten species, and failed to see even one! But Royke was armed with his mp3 player and we found that they were fairly responsive, calling and coming in quite close. But even then seeing one was another matter. Without exception they always hide themselves behind branches or vegetation, occasionally peering out to have a look. When you finally catch a glimpse of them, these large handsome Pittas are very impressive.
A rather tatty Common Paradise-kingfisher and a friendly Spectacled Monarch put in an appearance while we were trying to look at the Pittas.
18th April 2012, Halmahera
Today was the day to make the epic night trek to visit the famous Wallace's Standardwing lek. This lek is apparently visited by the birds each morning. I don't know if it is used all year round. A friend had made the trip last year and regaled me with tales of wading waist high through raging rivers in the middle of the night, climbing up the side of soaking forest clad mountains for hours, all camera equipment failing due to the extreme conditions of heat and humididty. I had carried with me a large waterproof container for my camera to stop it being ruined. Strapped to my pack it was very large, heavy and ungainly. 'You won't be needing that' said Royke as we staggered wearily about the hotel at 02.45, in great trepidation for the early assault on the Standardwing lek. John sensibly again opted to stay behind. We reached Anu's hut at 03.40 and Royke somehow convinced a young fellow from the hut to help us. Quite soon we reached the ferocious raging river. Fortunately it was only 6 inches deep, but we did have to take off our shoes and socks for the rigorous crossing in case they got wet. A number of birds were asleep on branches beside the track, including Common Golden Whistler, Spectacled Monarch and best of all a lovely Moluccan Scops-owl which glared obligingly for photos.
We had prepared ourselves for at least a 3 hour uphill slog through the pitch black rainforest. So we were quite surprised when, just after an hour and a half we stopped. "Here we are then'' said Royke. We were far too early and had to stand in the dark for ages waiting for it to get light. Dawn came with to the background of calls of the Dusky-brown Oriole and the Dusky Scrubfowl. The site is on a steep slope and so it is possible to climb up to a position almost level with the Standardwings. A rough and ready and rather unstable looking old platform had been constructed but really just a good a view can be had from ground level.
Eventually, in the still gloom of the very early morning we were treated to a brilliant sight that view have witnessed. A handful of Wallace's Standardwings arrived and proceeded to go through their bizzare dance ritual and calls. This is one of the strangest and most amazing birds we had ever watched. It appears different from every angle, sometimes shimmering green, sometime irridescent blue, sometimes just plain brown. Its bizarre long white plumes stick out at strangely up or sideways. It looks like a combination of a Friarbird, a Peacock, a Sunbird and an Orange-footed Scrubfowl, if that can possibly be imagined .We were very fortunate and honoured to be able to witness these rare creatures.
Photographing them was rather difficult in the early morning darkness, but we managed a few poor quality shots. Eventually they moved off into the forest to feed. We collected up a sackful of piles of plastic bottles, wrappers, cigarette packets and other rubbish left behind at the site by previous birders, and headed back down the hill, feeling very satisfied with our experience. This track through Anu's forest was quite productive and we moved back slowly seeing a good variety of other birds, Rufous-bellied Triller, Moluccan Hanging-parrot, Dusky-brown Oriole, Blue-capped Fruit-dove, Dusky Scubfowl and Slaty Monarch. The Slaty Monarch is a very good match to our Austalian Restless Flycatcher.
We reached Anu's hut, met his wife and signed the guest book. No more than about six other groups appeared to have signed the book for all of 2011. Anu is extending his facilities and workers were building a new cabin for guests. During the few short hours we had been there, a massive digger had smashed a huge swathe at least 300m long through the rainforest. The idea was to put in a new road so visitors could get to the site more easily.
19th April 2012, Halmahera
Today we visited a couple of areas slightly further afield. We spent the morning by roadside at Dodinga, about 45minutes north of Sidangoli. Royke had seen the Purple Dollarbird at this location in the past. We found a few new birds here, including the appropriately named Sombre Kingfisher, Golden Bulbul and Red-flanked Lorikeet. Royke recorded an unusual call from the bushes. Eventually a couple of strange brown birds straggled across the road and dived back into the bushes. Weeks later, playing the call at home compared to those on the Xenocanto website, I identified this bird as Gray's Grasshopper Warbler.
Great fun was had at lunchtime walking around the town and market of Sidangoli. Everywhere people smiled and waved, tended to their drying fish and wanted to pose for photos. It seemed like a very happy place, fitting in with our Western ideal of an idyllic unspoilt local destination, everyone probably living in great deprivation and poverty. No one goes hungry in Sidangoli, especially if they like fish. But there are other dangers. Our careful driver, Kiel, told us that only a couple of months ago, late evening, one of the locals was cleaning fish on the waterside. He was sadly taken and killed by a very large Saltwater Crocodile. We didn't see any crocodiles and I don't think that particular animal is still with us, but the frequent warnings we get in Northern Australia about leaving dead fish by the waters edge obviously apply further afield.
20th April 2012, Halmahera
We had another good morning further down the track past Anu's new road. Here I finally got a good view of the White-streaked Friarbird. We spent some time listening to some justifiably very nervous Chattering Lories high and invisible in the canopy. But the most interesting sight of the day was a group of eight Goliath Coucals which launched themsleves one after the other over our heads across the track.
In the afternoon we went for a drive out to the Guning Mamin/Lame Area about 90 minutes away. Here we eventually got a view of a flypast pair of the famous Purple Dollarbirds. As the sun was setting and we were turning to go home, Royke made one last stop and through the telescope we could finally see a group of 15-20 Chattering Lories, on a tree top about 5km away. It was pleasing to see that at least a few are still hanging on.
We had another evening out owling. Royke was excellent at owling which envolves playing the call just a couple of times, then waiting in the darkness for about ten minutes, exactly as the owls do. The process is repeated many times. This is really only recommended in the unlikely event you have had a good nights sleep and a lie-in on the day . But we were quite successful, seeing Moluccan Owlet Nightjar, Moluccan Scops-owl and hearing Moluccan Boobook.
21st April 2012, Halmahera-Ternate-Manado-Guning Ambang
Eventually we had to leave the fabulous mythical Island of Halmahera and we enjoyed the return boat trip across to Ternate. Alfred Wallace, without doubt the most important scientist to have ever visited Indonesia lived on Ternate for three years. It is possible to visit the site of his home and we asked the taxi driver if he could take us there. He had never heard of him.
So instead we visited the volcanic crater lake Toliere, with the volcano of Ternate steaming up above. This is perhaps the westernmost limit of Australasia and we found many birds from home including Torresian Crow, Willie Wagtail, Brush Cuckoo, Rainbow Bee-eater and Metallic Starling. Peering into the lake deep below we coud see a small Saltwater Crocodile as well as a few egrets and some exotically named Red-throated Little Grebes, just known as Little Grebes in England. But best of a was a flypast by a pair of Great-billed Parrots. As with many birds, these spectacular parrots are not really done justice by the plates in the guide books.
We flew to Manado, Sulawesi and met with our next driver, Deddy. Deddy's main goal in life was to get from one place to another at the maximum possible speed. It was his personal challenge to overtake every single vehicle in front, regardless of the conditions or the rain. The roads on Sulawesi are very heavy with traffic of various speed capabilities ranging from modern cars, buses, old trucks, scooters, horse drawn carts, ox carts, chickens, pedestrians and small children. It was an absolute miracle no one was killed. After some request we did slow down a little but there were limited opportunities for birding out the window at such speed, apart from one Barred Rail in the road. After a long seven hours driving we were finally very relieved to arrive at the village of Singson village and were welcomed into the house of Julius the ranger for Gunung Ambang.
22nd April 2012, Guning Ambang
In the morning we were taken up to the higher altitude Guning Ambang Nature Reserve by Julius and friends on their motorbikes.
Guning Ambang was a good area for birds athough it is being reduced by agriculture steadily encroaching from the sides and timber being steadily removed from the middle. It contains similar birds to Lore Lindu and we saw a few of the same species such as Malia and White-bellied Imperial Pigeons, as well as a few new ones such as Sulawesi Goshawk, Black-billed Koel, Yellow & Green Lorikeet and Asian Glossy Starling. We tried for some time at lower elevations for local endemics Scaly-breasted Kingfisher and higher elevation Matinan Flycatcher before being driven unsuccessfully back by ferocious mosquitos.
John was attacked by strange fierce creature we later learned to be a Flatworm, subsequently identified as Bipalium salvini Graff, 1899.
In the evening we finally caught up with the Satanic Nightjar and had a small group hawking for some time above the road, with a bonus Oriental Hobby. Apprently the Satanic Nightjar was almost unknown in Coates & Bishop's time but now it seems to be more regular.
23rd April 2012, Tambun/Dumoga Bone - Tangkoko
To reduce the driving time the next day, we shad spent the night an hour south of Guning Ambang at Kotamobagu. It was only another hour's drive on to the Maleo breeding area. I was a bit apprehensive as to whether we meet be successful here, having heard that they had been hard to find in years past. But the breeding program must be having some success and we were shortly peering at a couple of nervous Maleos peering back at us from the mid canopy. I was really pleased as this was another of the birds I had most wanted to try and see.
The rangers showed us the Maleo breeding enclosure as described above. John had the lovely experience of releasing a young chick back into the forest. We wished him good luck and are all hoping to come back to the Dumoga Bone forest in ten years time to see how he is going.
Tambun was quite a birdy area and we found quite a few more here to add to our list, White-necked Myna, a Grosbeak Starling colony, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon, Maroon-chinned Fruit-dove, Black-naped Fruit-dove, Bay Coucal and Rufous-bellied Eagle. A Blue-breasted Pitta was calling from within the undergrowth but I resisted the temptation to attempt to see it, knowing what a poor use of time that would be.
Sadly we soon had to leave as we now had an eight hour drive with Deddy over to Tangkoko. Not far out from Tambun, Royke stopped at a small wetland where we picked up few more new birds for the trip, Common Kingfisher, Cinnamon Bittern, White-browed Crake, Comb-crested Jacana and Purple Samphen. In another east meets west situation we had both Common Moorhen and Dusky Moorhen together in the same pond.
We survived the journey without hitting anything and just on dusk arrived at the very scenic Tangkoko National Park. At a nice lookout we had Knobbed Hornbills, Ornate Lorikeets, Green Imperial Pigeons and a Sulawesi Hawk Eagle. Night fell and after some considereable difficulty crashing about on a steep slope in pitch darkness Royke managed to somehow find a Sulawesi Nightjar for us.
24th April 2012, Tangkoko
Our last day had us out early to the lowland forest of the Tangkoko National Park, looking for it's famous selection of Kingfishers. The park ranger, Anis, had to come with us, but he was pretty helpful (although requiring a small extra payment). Tangkoko was the only place where we saw really good size trees. It must enjoy far better protection than the other parks. Our schedule meant that we only had one day here but really three days would be better to do it justice.
We eventually located three of the kingfishers, Ruddy Kingfisher, Green-backed Kingfisher and Lilac-cheeked Kingfisher. The Ruddy Kingfisher was on a creek but the other two endemics were rather more secretive inhabitants of the forest interior. At various locations on Halmahera we had been peering at Pied Imperial Pigeons to see if we could turn them into Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeons. But it was not until Tangkoko we finally got a good look at the real thing.
Anis found for us a very angry Sulawesi Scops-owl, pictured at the start of this report, who didn't move and just glared at us for disturbing his rest. But best of all we located a tree with a couple of hollows containing Spectral Tarsiers. There was one by himself in one hollow, also pictured above and another five peeping out of another. These diminutive little gremlins are descended from a very ancient lineage which spans Wallace's line, one species being found in Borneo and also one in the Phillipines.
On our way out at midday we were looking for Bear Cuscus along the entrance track and were caught in a tropical downpour. In the midst of the downpour we were visited by a small group of Celebes Crested Macacques. These large impressive animals with their distinctive faces are common in the park. Along with their cousins, the Tonkean Macaques, these monkeys have bucked the trend, crossed Wallace's line and met up with with another family the possums. It would be interesting to observe the two when they come across each other.
As a final excursion we had a boat trip out to nearby mangroves to look for the huge Great-billed Kingfisher. It was still raining at the start but we were undaunted and fascinated to see some of the amazing huge floating contraptions the local people put together to do their fishing. With some great effort our transport was launched down the black sand beach and we headed off into the rain. Eventually it cleared up. Despite our skipper having to jump out to push us over the low sand banks we reached a mangrove lined river, littered with old fishing boats in various states of disrepair. It was a very pleasant evening and it took us ages but eventually we were treated to a flyby of this near Kookaburra sized bird.
Eventually we headed back across the bay in calm seas, the sun setting over the palm trees, woodsmoke drifting up from villages along the shoreline, an idyllic scene probably little different from that enjoyed by Alfred Wallace in the 1800s.
Cairns, Australia Jan 2013
p: PO Box 208, Bungalow, QLD 4870
t: 61 740 562 658