The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia (and its islands)

REMOTE ISLANDS OF THE BANDA SEA, INDONESIA – a true adventure in search of island endemics but in comfort

Wednesday 8th November – Tuesday 21st November 2023

Leaders: Craig Robson and a local bird guide

14 Days Group Size Limit 10
Tanimbar Extension

Tuesday 21st November – Saturday 25th November 2023

5 Days Group Size Limit 10
Monday 29th September – Sunday 12th October 2025

Leaders: Dani Balla and a local bird guide

14 Days Group Size Limit 10
Tanimbar Extension

Thursday 25th September – Monday 29th September 2025

5 Days Group Size Limit 10

REMOTE ISLANDS OF THE BANDA SEA, INDONESIA: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Remote Islands of the Banda Sea, Indonesia birding tour is a wonderful adventure, and travelling on the superb Lady Denok ‘phinisi’ (schooner) with Birdquest you can enjoy it all in real comfort! Scattered across 5000 kilometres of tropical ocean, the Indonesian archipelago is remarkable for its cultural and biological diversity. Of all the regions of Indonesia, Nusa Tenggara (meaning ‘Southeast Islands’) and Maluku (the Moluccas) are probably the most varied. The most popular islands have been explored extensively for a long time, but a number of smaller, remoter islands remain almost untouched by birders since their first exploration, decades ago.

The purpose of this cruise is to visit all the ornithologically-significant islands of the Banda Sea that are inaccessible by air or by frequent ferry but which host endemic species, including new taxa still to be described as endemic species or subspecies or existing taxa that are likely to be split. How many chances does one have to visit a scattering of remote tropical islands where deserted white sand beaches are fringed with luxuriant vegetation, haunted by rarely seen endemics, and with the potential of exciting seabird discoveries? Not many, but here is one fantastic opportunity!

During this exciting journey we will visit Tahanajampea, Kalao, Kalaotoa, Alor (and perhaps adjacent Pantar), Wetar, Leti, Damar, Babar and one of the Tanimbar islands. You can also opt to explore the Tanimbar islands more fully if you wish during the optional extension.

As we will spend a considerable amount of time onboard our very comfortable, even luxurious schooner, the seawatching opportunities will be rewarding and some special seabirds have been observed in the Banda Sea, including Heinroth’s Shearwater, Tahiti Petrel, Swinhoe’s and Matsudaira’s Storm Petrels, Red-tailed Tropicbird, and Aleutian Tern, so the potential for finding the unexpected is high! We will also have some convenient stops where we can enjoy the world-class snorkelling this region has to offer.

Our cruise will start at Labuanbajo, situated on the island of Flores, from where we will sail north towards the island of Tanahjampea. Tanahjampea Blue Flycatcher and Tahanajampea (or White-tipped) Monarch are the two endemics that call this island home, while this is one of the few localities for the very range-restricted Flores Sea Cuckoo-Dove, and we should easily see them all.

The islands of Kalao and Kalaotoa are our next destination, where several endemic subspecies occur. On Kalao, we will look especially for the endemic ‘Kalao Blue Flycatcher’, which has a distinctive white breast on this island (and is a proposed split from either Mangrove Blue Flycatcher or Tanahjampea Blue Flycatcher, depending on the taxonomy followed, based on both morphology and vocalisations). On Kalaotoa (or adjacent Madu) we will be looking for the endemic subspecies of Rufous-sided (or Banda Sea) Gerygone and Arafura (or Supertramp) Fantail.

We then set sail southeastwards and visit the island of Alor in the Lesser Sundas, where the endemic Alor Myzomela and ‘Alor Cuckooshrike’ should entertain us. There are plenty of other interesting birds here and we will also have the chance to see two critically endangered Lesser Sundas endemics, Flores Hawk-Eagle and Yellow-crested Cockatoo, both of which are now very hard to see elsewhere. Now that Komodo has been rendered temporarily inaccessible by the Indonesian government, Alor is probably the best remaining site for this rapidly declining cockatoo. Another major target here or on the adjacent island of Pantar will be the recently-split Alor Boobook, which is endemic to these two islands.

Next is the island of Wetar, where we will concentrate our time in lowland tropical forest as we search for one of the least known species of Indonesia, the near-endemic Wetar Ground Dove. We will also target a number of pure endemics here, including Wetar Scops Owl, Wetar Myzomela, Black-necklaced Honeyeater, Wetar Oriole and Wetar Figbird, as well as the near-endemic Jonquil (or Olive-shouldered) Parrot.

After Wetar, we will make our way to the dry island of Leti, where we will look for Grey (or Kisar) Friarbird, which is endemic to just three small islands in the southern Banda Sea.

Our next destination, the island of Damar, hosts one of the most interesting endemic species of the whole tour, the Damar Flycatcher. The species went missing for over 100 years before being rediscovered here in the early 21st century. Other Banda Sea endemics are common on Damar, including the lovely Banda Sea Pitta, Black-bibbed Monarch, Rufous-sided (or Banda Sea) Gerygone, Scaly-breasted (or Banda or White-tufted) Honeyeater and an endemic form of the Yellow-throated Whistler (known as ‘Damar Whistler’).

Sailing south again, we will stop on Babar and look for a number of species, including a very distinctive endemic form of the Australian (or Southern) Boobook which has a bright cinnamon body and grey face! Several species shared with the nearby Tanimbar archipelago are also present on this island, including a vocally distinct form of the Cinnamon-tailed Fantail, yet another distinctive form of the Yellow-throated Whistler (known as ‘Babar Whistler’), Banda Myzomela, and some more widespread species like Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Orange-sided Thrush and Tricolored Parrotfinch.

The cruise ends at Saumlaki, on the island of Yamdena (in the Tanimbar archipelago), after a stop at an offshore island to look for Tanimbar’s most hard-to-get endemic, Tanimbar Megapode (or Tanimbar Scrubfowl).

By the end of the cruise, we will have seen some of the most inaccessible and rare birds on earth, enjoyed a pleasant journey aboard a comfortable vessel and been blown away by some fantastic snorkelling sessions. All in all, this is a remarkable opportunity to explore comfortably some of the most remote islands on planet Earth!

While visiting the islands we will be living in real comfort aboard our beautiful schooner, known in Bahasa (the main Indonesian language) as a ‘phinisi’. Our boat, the Lady Denok, is a 28-metres (92 ft), 114 tons phinisi. She was built in Tana Beru in southern Sulawesi by the local Konjo tribal people, the most renowned schooner builders in Indonesia.

She is well equipped with modern navigation, radar, radio and safety equipment, has a large open deck area with reclining chairs, and an air-conditioned lounge, bar and dining area. Snorkelling equipment is available during midday breaks from birding and you can even go scuba diving if you are qualified!

Lady Denok accommodates a maximum of 11 passengers in 7 quite spacious cabins (available for twin, double or single occupancy). Cabins are air-conditioned and have en-suite bathrooms with toilet, washbasin and shower. Cabins have portholes or windows.

Food on the Lady Denok is very good and service is outstanding. The friendly crew are very flexible over things like early breakfasts and late returns after nightbirding. They greet us with wet face towels and welcome drinks on almost every return to the ship! Excellent help is given to everyone getting out of or into the ship’s dinghies, and of course, in these equatorial seas it is rarely rough (usually rather calm in fact) making for very pleasant cruising conditions.

Those participants who would like to explore Yamdena Island in the Tanimbar archipelago in connection with our Banda Sea cruise, to look for the islands’ endemics, can take the optional extension.

Yamdena is the main island of the Tanimbar group of eastern Indonesia. The archipelago consists of 66 islands and currently has 15 or more endemics (depending on the taxonomy followed), as well as a number of restricted-range species.

Our major targets will include such special endemic or range-restricted birds as Tanimbar Cuckoo-Dove, Moluccan Masked Owl, Tanimbar Boobook, Tanimbar Corella (or Tanimbar Cockatoo), Blue-streaked Lory, Tanimbar Friarbird, Tanimbar Oriole, Kai Cicadabird (uncommon), White-browed Triller, Tanimbar Drongo, Long-tailed (or Charming) Fantail, Tanimbar Monarch, Golden-bellied Flyrobin, Tanimbar Stubtail, Tanimbar and Violet-hooded Starlings, the wonderful Fawn-breasted and Slaty-backed Thrushes, and Tanimbar Flycatcher.

Important: In some years, owing to the Lady Denok cruise schedule before or after our cruise, the itinerary will operate in reverse, starting at Saumlaki and ending at Labuanbajo.

In years when both are offered, this tour can be taken together with Indonesia’s Southern & Central Moluccas.

Accommodation & Road Transport: All nights will be spent on our very comfortable ‘phinisi’ (schooner). For details see above. Road transport will be by cars or small or larger trucks. Roads range from good to poor.

Walking: The walking effort during our Remote Islands of the Banda Sea, Indonesia birding tour is mostly easy, occasionally moderate. On Wetar we will cross a shallow river several times and the bottom has many pebbles.

Climate: At this season it should be mostly dry and often sunny, but there will likely be some rain.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Remote Islands of the Banda Sea, Indonesia birding tour are worthwhile.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Visiting some of the most inaccessible islands of Indonesia, each hosting endemic bird species and subspecies, in the really comfortable schooner
  • Sailing through the Flores Sea and stepping foot on remote Tanahjampea in search of the endangered Tanahjampea Monarch, Tanahjampea Blue Flycatcher and Flores Sea Cuckoo-Dove
  • Hopping on nearby Kalao to look for the distinctive and likely to be split ‘Kalao’ Blue Flycatcher
  • Looking for the recently-split Alor Boobook on either Alor or Pantar
  • Exploring the hills of Alor to find the recently-described Alor Myzomela as well as the critically endangered Flores Hawk-Eagle and Yellow-crested Cockatoo
  • Walking up a beautiful river gorge on Wetar to look for one of the most-wanted birds of the tour, Wetar Ground Dove
  • Setting foot on the tiny island of Leti to observe the extremely restricted-range Grey (or Kisar) Friarbird
  • Reaching the ultra-remote Damar island, home to the exciting Damar Flycatcher, only rediscovered in 2001, and Banda Sea Pitta
  • Birding the woodlands of Babar to find distinctive endemic subspecies of Yellow-throated Whistler and Australian Boobook
  • Looking for Tanimbar’s most difficut endemic, Tanimbar Megapode, on a beautiful islet off the west coast of Yamdena
  • Seabirding across the vast Indonesian archipelago, with opportunities including Heinroth’s Shearwater
  • Snorkelling in crystal-clear water over pristine coral reefs
  • Enjoying life on board our lovely phinisi, even relaxing, between islands!

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • MAIN TOUR
  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Labuan Bajo (Komodo) airport on Flores. Embark Lady Denok and set sail.
  • Days 2-13: Exploring the islands of Tanahjampea, Kalao, Kalaotoa, Alor (and perhaps Pantar), Wetar, Leti, Damar and Babar.
  • Day 14: Search for Tanimbar Megapode, then disembark at Saumlaki on Yamdena island in the Tanimbar archipelago.
  • NOTE: In some years the itinerary will operate in reverse.
  • TANIMBAR EXTENSION
  • Day 1: Extension start at Saumlaki on Yamdena Island in the Tanimbar archipelago.
  • Days 2-4: Yamdena Island.
  • Day 5 The extension ends at Saumlaki this morning.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

Kindly note that gratuities for the expedition crew are not included in the tour price. The level of gratuities is entirely a matter for personal discretion. The crew work very long hours to make such cruises a success, and we understand that most passengers on these cruises give gratuities of around US$150-200.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)




2023: £6410, $7550, €7390, AUD10790. Labuanbajo/Saumlaki.
Tanimbar Extension: £1060, $1250, €1220, AUD1780. Saumlaki/Saumlaki.
2025: provisional £6410, $7550, €7390, AUD10790. Saumlaki/Labuanbajo.
Tanimbar Extension: £1060, $1250, €1220, AUD1780. Saumlaki/Saumlaki.

Single Supplement: 2023: £4710, $5550, €5430, AUD7930.
Tanimbar Extension: £130, $160, €150, AUD220.
Single Supplement: 2025: £4710, $5550, €5430, AUD7930.
Tanimbar Extension: £130, $160, €150, AUD220.

Please note that for couples there are only double-bedded cabins available, not twins.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a cabin, even if there is no room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

REMOTE ISLANDS OF THE BANDA SEA, INDONESIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Banda Sea, Indonesia: Day 1 Our Banda Sea birding tour begins in the morning at Labuan Bajo (Komodo) airport on the island of Flores.

[You can fly into Labuan Bajo (Komodo) from either Jakarta or Denpasar (Bali). If you need flights and/or hotel bookings, we can assist.]

Here we will board our comfortable schooner, our home for the next 13 nights, and set sail northwards towards the remote island of Tanahjampea, our first destination.

Numbers of seabirds should entertain us during the daylight crossings between the islands. The most likely seabird species during our voyage are likely to include Brown and Red-footed Boobies (both numerous at times), Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Bulwer’s Petrel, Streaked Shearwater, Pomarine, Parasitic (or Arctic) and Long-tailed Jaegers, Brown Noddy and Sooty, Bridled, Black-naped, Common and Greater Crested Terns. In addition, Red-necked Phalaropes migrate to the Banda Sea to overwinter. Scarce species include White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Heinroth’s and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Little Tern. Heinroth’s Shearwater is poorly known and could even breed in the region.

During this cruise the potential of finding something unexpected is high. In recent times, a series of rarities have been sighted in the Banda Sea, including Red-billed Tropicbird, Swinhoe’s and Matsudaira’s Storm Petrels, Tahiti Petrel, Tropical Shearwater, Christmas (Island) Frigatebird, Aleutian and Spectacled (or Grey-backed) Terns and even Abbott’s Booby, so we will be keeping a careful eye out for whatever turns up.

During the inter-island crossings, we will also encounter a number of cetaceans. The most regular are Indo-Pacific Bottle-nosed and Spinner Dolphins. The huge Blue Whale and Great Sperm Whale are quite regularly recorded and less frequent sightings include Pantropical Spotted, Risso’s and Rough-toothed Dolphins, Short-finned Pilot Whale, Bryde’s, Fin, Sei and Melon-headed Whales and False and Pygmy Killer Whales. A remarkable diversity of species!

Banda Sea, Indonesia: Days 2-13  Exploring the islands of the Banda Sea.

TANAHJAMPEA

The island of Tanahjampea is around 25 kilometres (27 miles) long and is situated between the huge islands of Sulawesi and Flores. Its remoteness means that only very few birders have ever visited the island, despite its specialities.

On Tanahjampea we will mainly be looking for three seldom-recorded species; Tanahjampea Blue Flycatcher (or Tanahjampea Jungle Flycatcher), Tanahjampea (or White-tipped) Monarch and Flores Sea Cuckoo-Dove.

The endangered Tanahjampea Monarch is endemic to the island. Tanahjampea Blue Flycatcher is also endemic to Tanahjampea (unless the Cyornis blue flycatcher form kalaoensis on nearby Kalao is lumped with it rather than lumped with Mangrove Blue Flycatcher as at present by the IOC or treated as a distinct species). Flores Sea Cuckoo-Dove is endemic to several small islands in the region.

Other likely species include Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Asian Emerald Dove, Elegant (or Yellow-eyed), Pink-headed and Pied Imperial Pigeons, Great-billed Heron, Pacific Reef Egret, Javan Pond Heron, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Collared Kingfisher, Elegant Pitta (of the form virginalis), Sulawesi Myzomela, Black-naped Oriole, White-breasted Woodswallow, Arafura (or Supertramp) Fantail, Lemon-bellied White-eye, Blue-cheeked (or Red-chested) Flowerpecker and Olive-backed Sunbird of the form teysmanni (known as ‘Flores Sea Sunbird’). There are also chances for Sunda Teal, Pink-necked and Grey-cheeked Green Pigeons, Glossy Swiftlet and Malaysian Plover.

At this season we can expect to encounter a good selection of Palearctic landbird and coastal wetland migrants from northern Eurasia during our Banda Sea voyage, although which islands we see individual species on will vary widely from trip to trip. Many of these migrants are shorebirds, but there are also passerines and others. Among the most likely species are Oriental Cuckoo, Pacific Swift, Pacific Golden Plover, the sought-after Oriental Plover and Little Curlew (surprisingly regular in the Banda Sea area in late September and October), Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek, Common and Marsh Sandpipers, Common Greenshank, White-winged and Whiskered Terns, Eastern Osprey, Crested (or Oriental) Honey Buzzard, Barn Swallow and Grey Wagtail.

More uncommon migrant possibilities during our expedition include White-throated Needletail, Grey (or Black-bellied) and Greater Sand Plovers, Wood Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Red-necked Stint, Far Eastern (or Eastern) and Eurasian Curlews, Chinese Goshawk, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Grey-streaked Flycatcher and Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

KALAO

The nearby island of Kalao hosts another endemic form, ‘Kalao Blue Flycatcher’, currently subsumed in either Tanahjampea Blue Flycatcher or Mangrove Blue Flycatcher. However, the subspecies kalaoensis has recently been proposed as a distinct species, based on differences in morphology and vocalisations.

After our visit to Kalao, we will set sail eastwards towards the island of Kalaotoa.

KALAOTOA

A visit to the small island of Kalaotoa will give us an opportunity to find two distinctive endemic subspecies of Arafura (or Supertramp) Fantail and Rufous-sided (or Banda Sea) Gerygone, both shared with the neighbouring island of Madu, which we don’t want to miss in case they get split in the future.

We will then sail southeastwards across the Banda Sea towards the islands of Pantar and Alor in the Lesser Sundas.

We will have a good opportunity to see both seabirds and cetaceans on this leg of the journey. In particular, this is the best area for the uncommon Heinroth’s Shearwater.

ALOR (& PANTAR)

We will spend plenty of time on the island of Alor, where the recently described Alor Myzomela and also ‘Alor Cuckooshrike’ (the alfrediana taxon is currently grouped under Wallacean Cuckooshrike but lacks sexual dimorphism) will be two of our main endemic targets. Pristine eucalyptus forest patches still remain near the highest point of the island and are prime habitat for these species. Another important target, but not an easy one by any means, is ‘Eucalypt Cuckoo-Dove’ (an undescribed form that is vocally distinct from Little Cuckoo-Dove).

Other likely birds in this habitat include the smart Banded (or Black-backed) Fruit Dove, Bonelli’s Eagle of the isolated subspecies renschi, the sylvestris form of the Variable Goshawk (split by Birdlife International as Lesser Sundas Goshawk), Olive-headed Lorikeet and Sunda Bush Warbler (the forms kolichisi on Alor and everetti on Timor and Wetar may well represent different species).

Another target is ‘Timor Bush Warbler’. The form timorensis is currently lumped in Javan Bush Warbler (which is also known as Sunda Grasshopper Warbler) but is nowadays not recorded on tours visiting West Timor. Flores Green Pigeon is also quite possible but is not an easy bird on either Flores or Alor.

We will also have opportunities to observe two critically endangered species, Flores Hawk-Eagle and Yellow-crested Cockatoo. Now that Komodo has been rendered very difficult of access by the Indonesian government, Alor is probably the best remaining site for this rapidly declining cockatoo. While the cockatoo is fairly straightforward to find the hawk-eagle is decidedly uncommon.

At lower altitudes, dry forest is inhabited by typical Lesser Sundas specialities like Ornate Pitta, Barred Dove, Black-fronted Flowerpecker and Flame-breasted Sunbird, as well as Broad-billed Flycatcher (or Broad-billed Monarch).

As dusk falls we will be looking for the recently elevated, near-endemic Alor Boobook, which was formerly considered a subspecies of Australian (or Southern) Boobook. Alternatively, we may decide to look for Alor Boobook on the adjacent island of Pantar, the only other island on which it occurs.

Other species likely on Alor include Spotted Dove, Pacific Emerald Dove, Black-naped Fruit Dove, Edible-nest Swiftlet, Pacific Koel, Lesser Coucal, White-breasted Waterhen, Spotted (or Indonesian) Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Rainbow Bee-eater, Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker, Helmeted Friarbird, the limbata form of the Brown Honeyeater (sometimes split as Indonesian Honeyeatear), White-shouldered (or Leseur’s) Triller, Long-tailed Shrike, Large-billed Crow, Cinereous Tit, Pacific, Striated and Tree Swallows, Zitting Cisticola, Lesser Pied Flycatcher, Pied Bush Chat, Olive-backed Sunbird (here of the form ornatus, known as ‘Ornate Sunbird’), Zebra Finch and Scaly-breasted and Black-faced Munias. In addition, Black-winged Kite, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Barred Buttonquail, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Black-naped Monarch, Warbling White-eye, Lesser Shortwing and Pale-headed Munia are also possible.

From Alor, we will travel eastwards to the island of Wetar.

WETAR

Wetar, while politically part of the Maluku (or Moluccas) islands, is geographically part of the Lesser Sundas and shares most of its avifauna with the nearby island of Timor. However, a number of species are either endemic to Wetar or easier to see on Wetar. These will be our main targets during our visit.

Without a doubt, our number one target will be Wetar Ground Dove, an endangered species which was not recorded for over 100 years, before being rediscovered on Wetar by the Columbidae Conservation charity and found to be locally abundant. We will be walking in a deep, pristine wooded gorge in search of this very special bird which otherwise only still occurs in East Timor (Timor Leste) where it is apparently extremely rare.

Those having already travelled elsewhere in the Lesser Sundas will be stunned by the abundance of pigeons and doves, thanks to the absence of widespread hunting and trapping on Wetar. This will be obvious during the course of the day, as Timor and Black Cuckoo-Doves, Timor Imperial Pigeon (which is nowadays very difficult at accessible sites in West Timor), Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon and Banded (or Black-backed) Fruit Dove thrive on this island, giving the best possible observation opportunities.

We will keep our eyes peeled for other Wetar endemics including Black-necklaced Honeyeater, Wetar (or Crimson-hooded) Myzomela, Wetar Oriole and Wetar Figbird. At night, we will be looking for the endemic Wetar Scops Owl.

We will also look for several species shared only with the nearby island of Timor (and sometimes Rote) including the uncommon Iris Lorikeet, Jonquil (or Olive-shouldered) Parrot, the so far undescribed ‘Timor Nightjar’, ‘Timor Cuckooshrike’ (a potential split from Wallacean), ‘Timor Fantail’ (a proposed split from Northern), Timor Stubtail, Timor Leaf Warbler (the form on Wetar probably represents a distinct species) and Timor Blue (or Timor Warbling) Flycatcher.

We will also be seeing our first Scaly-breasted (or Banda or White-tufted) Honeyeaters, endemic to the islands of the eastern part of the Banda Sea.

Species of a somewhat wider distribution include Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Marigold Lorikeet, Red-cheeked Parrot, Plain (or Timor) Gerygone, Rusty-breasted Whistler, Arafura (or Supertramp) Fantail, Orange-sided (or Orange-banded Thrush), Ashy-bellied White-eye, Tawny Grassbird and Blue-cheeked (or Red-chested) Flowerpecker. Common Kingfisher is also likely.

From Wetar, we will sail eastwards towards Leti.

LETI

This remote, arid island (one of the driest in Indonesia) holds Grey (or Kisar) Friarbird, which is endemic to the three small islands of Kisar, Leti and Moa, making it one of Indonesia’s most range-restricted and inaccessible species.

Other potential new birds include Brown Goshawk, Brown Quail (uncommon), Metallic Pigeon, Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, the rufomenus subspecies of the Little Bronze Cuckoo (initially described as a distinct species and known as ‘Banda Bronze Cuckoo’), the restricted-range Drab Swiftlet, Scaly-breasted (or Banda or White-tufted) Honeyeater, the restricted-range Fawn-breasted Whistler and ‘Banda Sea Fantail’ (a proposed split from Northern).

As dusk falls we will be looking for the near-endemic moae subspecies of the Australian (or Southern) Boobook before boarding our boat again and heading north-eastwards towards our next destination, the island of Damar. We may also come across Savanna Nightjar.

DAMAR

Damar is a small island of roughly 20 kilometres (12 miles) diameter  and hosts one of the most exciting endemics of the whole cruise, Damar Flycatcher, whose range is entirely restricted to this tiny island. It was discovered in 1898 by a German collector and remained unseen for 103 years, before being rediscovered in 2001 by a Birdlife International expedition led by Colin Trainor. Since then, only a small number of birders have reached the island to see this species, considered one of the most inaccessible on Earth. We will be walking uphill in moist tropical forest in search of this distinctive endemic, which happily is fairly common.

Other species on Damar include Rose-crowned and Banded (or Black-backed) Fruit Doves, Elegant (or Yellow-eyed) and Pink-headed Imperial Pigeons, Little Bronze Cuckoo, Variable Goshawk, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Scaly-breasted (or Banda or White-tufted) Honeyeater, ‘Damar Whistler’ (currently often treated as a subspecies of the Yellow-throated Whistler), the restricted-range Wallacean Whistler, ‘Banda Sea Fantail’, Spectacled Monarch, Black-bibbed Monarch (found only on Damar, Babar and Tanimbar), Orange-sided Thrush and Blue-cheeked (or Red-chested) Flowerpecker.

From Damar, we will cruise southeastwards towards our next destination, the island of Babar.

BABAR

Babar island is roughly 30 kilometres (18 miles) across and shares most of its avifauna with the much larger island of Timor and the Tanimbar archipelago. During our visit we will be birding through a variety of woodlands, searching in particular for ‘Babar Whistler’, a distinctive form likely to be split from Yellow-throated Whistler.

The supporting cast may include Banded (or Black-backed), Wallace’s and Rose-crowned Fruit Doves, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Scaly-breasted (or Banda or White-tufted) Honeyeater, Banda Myzomela, Rufous-sided (or Banda Sea) Gerygone, Wallacean Whistler, Arafura (or Supertramp) Fantail, Cinnamon-tailed Fantail (the form occurring on Babar has a distinctive song and could represent a different species from the Tanimbar population), Island and Black-bibbed Monarchs, Orange-sided Thrush and Tricoloured Parrotfinch.

At dusk, we will look in particular for the endemic subspecies of the Australian Boobook, known as ‘Babar Boobook’, which is morphologically strikingly different from its southern counterpart (which its rich cinnamon body and grey face) and may represent a different species (despite its similar vocalisations). Large-tailed Nightjar and Eastern Barn Owl are also possible.

Banda Sea, Indonesia: Day 14  While sailing from Babar to Yamdena island in the Tanimbar archipelago, we will stop at a small islet to look for Tanimbar’s most tricky endemic, the Tanimbar Megapode (or Tanimbar Scrubfowl). This is a hard bird to see on Yamdena, the main island of the Tanimbars, but easier on the small islands with reduced hunting pressure. Other new birds may include Beach Stone-curlew (or Beach Thicknee) and Pied Oystercatcher.

We may also have time for some final snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters.

Our Banda Sea birding tour ends today at Saumlaki, on the island of Yamdena in the Tanimbar archipelago.

(Flights out of Saumlaki mainly go to the island of Ambon, a major hub from where there are flights to Jakarta, Makassar, Denpasar and other cities.)

 

TANIMBAR EXTENSION

Tanimbar Extension: Day 1  The extension begins today at Saumlaki on the island of Yamdena in the Tanimbar archipelago, situated at the eastern edge of the Banda Sea. We will stay on the island for four nights.

(Depending on the cruise direction, the extension will either start after disembarkation from our vessel or after arrival at Saumlaki airport.)

We will spend the afternoon exploring Yamdena.

Tanimbar Extension: Days 2-4  The Tanimbar Islands form the easternmost group of the Lesser Sundas (Nusa Tenggara) and, from a zoogeographical standpoint, are not part of the Moluccas, although politically they are considered part of Maluku. Currently, 15 species of birds are strictly endemic to the archipelago, and there are a number of near-endemics shared with the Kai Islands or with Babar and/or Damar.

In the past, there were some violent clashes between logging companies and local villagers over the irresponsible destruction (i.e. absolute clearing) of the forests on Yamdena, but luckily the situation has now calmed down, and the locals concentrate once again on farming, fishing, ikat weaving and the carving of ‘patongs’ or wooden figures.

We will explore patches of forest along the main road that runs along the east coast of the island. Logging trails provide access to some good stands of forest and the mosaic of scrub, grassland and secondary growth will also provide us with some exciting birding.

Tanimbar Corella (or Tanimbar Cockatoo) is one of the most wanted endemics in this part of Indonesia, and can still be found easily, although the two endemic thrushes are much more dramatic in appearance. Diligent searching of the tracks and watercourses should reveal the presence of the Fawn-breasted Thrush, whilst the strikingly-patterned and more obvious Slaty-backed Thrush prefers the subcanopy.

The endemic Tanimbar Stubtail (or Tanimbar Bush Warbler) is a skulker that will need the right amount of careful coaxing before good views will be obtained. This species was only described as recently as 1987.

Bird flocks often hold the endemic Cinnamon-tailed and Long-tailed (or Charming) Fantails, together with the endemic fulviventris form of the Broad-billed Flycatcher (or Broad-billed Monarch) and the endemic Tanimbar (or Loetoe) Monarch. In the understorey, we will encounter the endemic Tanimbar Flycatcher, while the brightly-coloured endemic Golden-bellied Flyrobin tends to sit in the open. Flowering trees often attract flocks of unobtrusive endemic Tanimbar Starlings and gaudy endemic Blue-streaked Lories. Elegant (or Yellow-eyed) and Pink-headed Imperial Pigeons, Rose-crowned Fruit Doves (of the modestly-hued xanthogaster race), magnificent Wallace’s Fruit-Doves and endemic Tanimbar Cuckoo-Doves gather in fruiting trees, while the splendid Pied Bronze Cuckoo leads a quiet life hiding in the canopy. The endemic White-browed (or Tanimbar) Triller often poses in the treetops and the dainty, regionally endemic Rufous-sided (or Banda Sea) Gerygone flits about in the mid-storey.

We will go out at night, armed with a spotlight to try for the more straightforward endemic Tanimbar Boobook and, with luck, we will also encounter the endemic nominate form of the Moluccan Masked Owl.

Other special birds we can expect to encounter on Yamdena include the endemic Tanimbar Oriole, the near-endemic Tanimbar Friarbird (shared with Kai), the near-endemic Banda (or Black-breasted) Myzomela (shared with Babar) and the near-endemic Violet-hooded Starling (shared with Damar). Additional specialities include Mistletoebird of the distinctive race fulgidum that is sometimes split as Salvadori’s Flowerpecker.

The shy endemic Tanimbar Megapode (or Tanimbar Scrubfowl) inhabits the dark forest interior and can be heard duetting in the vicinity of its huge nest mounds, although it takes persistence and a bit of luck to set eyes on one owing to hunting pressure. It is definitely the hardest Tanimbar endemic to see on Yamdena and is easier on the offshore islets where hunting is absent or reduced.

More widespread species include Uniform Swiftlet, Australian Pratincole, Eastern Cattle Egret, Brahminy Kite, Pacific Baza, Bonelli’s Eagle (of the form renschi, known as Rensch’s Eagle), the eye-catching Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Oriental Dollarbird, Australian Hobby, Eclectus and Great-billed Parrots, the restricted-range Wallacean Whistler, Wallacean Cuckooshrike, Arafura (or Supertramp) Fantail, Shining Flycatcher (or Shining Monarch), Ashy-bellied White-eye, Golden-headed Cisticola, Metallic Starling, Scaly-breasted (or Banda) Honeyeater, Five-coloured Munia and the gorgeous Tricoloured Parrotfinch. Uncommon possibilities include the attractive Azure Kingfisher and the surprisingly scarce Torresian Crow.

Along the coast we should find Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, Great and Little Egrets, Striated Heron, Nankeen (or Rufous) Night Heron, Australian Pelican, White-bellied Sea Eagle and Pacific Swallow.

Tanimbar Extension: Day 5  The extension ends this morning at Saumlaki.

REMOTE ISLANDS OF THE BANDA SEA, INDONESIA TOUR REPORT 2022

by Mark Beaman

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Other remote areas of Indonesia birding tours by Birdquest include: