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 Labuanbajo airport on the island of Flores.
[You can fly into Labuan Bajo 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. After breakfast, we set sail north towards the island of Tanahjampea, our first destination.
As soon as we enter open water good numbers of seabird should entertain us. Red-necked Phalaropes winter here and should be numerous at this time of the year, as should Bulwer’s Petrels and Red-footed Boobies.
On this crossing or elsewhere on the voyage we should encounter Brown Noddy, Sooty and Bridled Terns. Cetaceans are not common but could include Indo-Pacific, Spinner and Spotted Dolphins, and various whales, including Melon-headed Whale, False Killer Whale and Bryde’s Whale.
During this cruise, we will spend a considerable amount of time in open water and the potential of finding something unexpected is high. In recent times, local rarities have been sighted in the Banda Sea, such as Heinroth’s Shearwater, Abbott’s Booby and Aleutian Tern, so we will keep an eye out!
We should arrive very early next morning at Tanahjampea.
Banda Sea, Indonesia: Day 2 The island of Tanahjampea is around 25 kilometres long and situated between the huge islands of Flores and Sulawesi. Its remoteness means that only very few birders have ever visited the island, despite its specialities.
Today we will mainly be looking for three seldom-recorded species; White-tipped Monarch, Tanahjampea Blue Flycatcher and Flores Sea Cuckoo-Dove.
The endangered White-tipped (or Tanahjampea) Monarch is endemic to the island. Tanahjampea Blue Flycatcher (or Tanahjampea Jungle Flycatcher) is endemic to Tanahjampea and nearby Kalaotoa, and was formerly treated as a race of either Mangrove Blue Flycatcher or Sulawesi Blue Flycatcher, depending on the taxonomy followed, but is now treated as a separate species. Flores Sea Cuckoo-Dove, which is endemic to several small islands, was previously part of the Bar-necked Cuckoo-Dove complex.
Other likely species include Sunda Teal, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Grey-tailed Tattler, Malaysian Plover, Elegant and Pink-headed Imperial Pigeons, Elegant Pitta (of the Flores Sea form virginalis), Sulawesi Myzomela, Arafura (or Supertramp) Fantail, Blue-cheeked Flowerpecker and Olive-backed Sunbird of the form teysmanni (known as ‘Flores Sea Sunbird’).
The nearby island of Kalao hosts yet another endemic, ‘Kalao Blue Flycatcher’, currently subsumed in either Tanahjampea Blue Flycatcher or Mangrove Blue Flycatcher as their subspecies kalaoensis, but almost certainly a different species (it has recently been proposed as a distinct species, based on differences in morphology and vocalisations).
After a full day of birding, we will set sail eastwards towards the island of Kalaotoa, where we will arrive early morning the next day.
Banda Sea, Indonesia: Day 3 An early morning arrival on the island of Kalaotoa will give us another opportunity to find ‘Kalao Blue Flycatcher’ and two distinctive subspecies of Arafura Fantail and Banda Sea Gerygone, which we don’t want to miss in case they get split! We will then sail southwards towards the island of Pantar in the Lesser Sundas.
Banda Sea, Indonesia: Day 4 After sailing through the Banda Sea most of the day, we should arrive at Pantar in the afternoon. We will be birding a complex of dry forest and mangroves, inhabited by typical Lesser Sundas specialities like Elegant Pitta, Barred Dove, Olive-headed Lorikeet, Broad-billed Flycatcher, Flame-breasted Sunbird, Black-fronted Flowerpecker and possibly ‘Alor Cuckooshrike’, currently grouped under Wallacean Cuckooshrike but lacking sexual dimorphism. As dusk falls we will be looking for our main target here, the recently elevated Alor Boobook, which was formerly considered a subspecies of Australian (or Southern) Boobook.
We will then re-embark on our comfortable vessel and sail towards our next island, Alor itself, which we should reach early next morning.
Banda Sea, Indonesia: Day 5 We will spend the whole day on the island of Alor, where the still undescribed ‘Alor Myzomela’ will be our main target. Pristine eucalyptus forest patches still remain near the highest point of the island and are prime habitat for this species.
Other likely birds in this habitat include ‘Eucalypt Cuckoo-Dove’ (still part of the Little Cuckoo-Dove complex, but vocally distinct), Black-backed Fruit Dove, Flores Green Pigeon (not an easy bird on Flores, but more likely here), an isolated Bonelli’s Eagle subspecies, a local form of the Variable Goshawk (already split by Birdlife as Lesser Sundas Goshawk), Olive-headed Lorikeet, Sunda Bush Warbler (the population on Timor and Alor may well represent a different species), and ‘Timor Bush Warbler’ (the latter, currently lumped in Javan Bush Warbler and also known as Sunda Grasshopper Warbler, is nowadays not recorded on tours visiting West Timor).
We will also have a second chance for ‘Alor Cuckooshrike’, and opportunities to observe two critically endangered species, Flores Hawk-Eagle and Yellow-crested Cockatoo. Now that Komodo has been rendered temporarily inaccessible by the Indonesian government, Alor is probably the best remaining site for this rapidly declining cockatoo.
At the end of a bird-filled day, we will travel overnight towards the nearby island of Wetar.
Banda Sea, Indonesia: Days 6-7 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, or easier to see on, Wetar. These will be our targets during our visit. Without doubt, the 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 valley in search of this very special bird.
Those having already travelled elsewhere in the Lesser Sundas will be stunned by the abundance of Columbidae, thanks to the absence of trapping on this island. This will be obvious during the course of the day, as Timor Cuckoo-Dove, Black Cuckoo-Dove, Timor Imperial Pigeon (which is nowadays very difficult at accessible sites in West Timor), Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon and Black-backed Fruit Dove thrive on this island, giving the best possible observation opportunities.
We will keep our eyes peeled for other Wetar endemics like Black-necklaced Honeyeater, Crimson-hooded Myzomela, ‘Wetar Oriole’ (still often, if oddly, included within Olive-brown Oriole) and Wetar Figbird. At night, we will be looking for an endemic form of the Moluccan Scops Owl, which is already split by several authorities as Wetar Scops Owl, mainly based on the distinct vocalisations.
We will also look for several species shared with the nearby island of Timor, like Iris, Olive-headed and Marigold Lorikeets, Jonquil Parrot, Bonelli’s Eagle, the undescribed ‘Timor Nightjar’, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Rusty-breasted Whistler, ‘Timor Wallacean Cuckooshrike’ (yet another potential split!), Arafura Fantail, ‘Timor Fantail’, Timor Stubtail, Timor Leaf Warbler (again, the form on Wetar probably represents a different species), Ashy-bellied White-eye, Orange-banded (or Orange-sided) Thrush, Timor Blue (or Timor Warbling) Flycatcher and Red-chested Flowerpecker. We will also be seeing our first Scaly-breasted Honeyeaters, endemic to the eastern part of the Banda Sea.
Banda Sea, Indonesia: Day 8 From Wetar, we will move eastwards towards Leti, one of the driest islands in Indonesia.
Banda Sea, Indonesia: Day 9 We will reach Leti after lunch and spend the afternoon on this remote, arid island looking for Grey (or Kisar) Friarbird, which is endemic to Kisar, Leti and Moa, making it one of Indonesia’s most range-restricted and inaccessible species.
Other possible new birds include Brown Goshawk, Brown Quail, Metallic Pigeon, Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, the local subspecies of the Little Bronze Cuckoo (initially described as a distinct species), Savanna Nightjar, Drab Swiftlet, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, White-tufted Honeyeater, Rufous-sided Gerygone, Fawn-breasted Whistler, Wallacean Cuckooshrike, Arafura Fantail, ‘Banda Sea Fantail’ (often lumped in Northern)and Ashy-bellied Fantail.
We will be looking as dusk falls for the endemic subspecies of Australian Boobook before boarding our boat again and heading north-eastwards towards our next destination, the island of Damar.
Banda Sea, Indonesia: Day 11-12 Damar is a small island of 20 kilometers width 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 handful 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 distinct endemic.
Other potential species here include Rose-crowned and Black-backed Fruit Doves, Elegant and Pink-headed Imperial Pigeons, Little Bronze Cuckoo, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Scaly-breasted Honeyeater, ‘Damar Yellow-throated Whistler’, Wallacean Whistler, ‘Banda Sea Fantail’, Spectacled and Black-bibbed Monarchs, Orange-banded Thrush and Red-chested Flowerpecker.
At dusk, we will embark and cruise southwards towards our next destination, the island of Babar, which we should reach the following morning.
Banda Sea, Indonesia: Day 13 Babar island is roughly 30km (18 miles) across and shares most of its avifauna with the surrounding larger islands of Timor and the Tanimbar archipelago. This morning, we will be birding through a variety of woodlands in search of ‘Babar Yellow-throated Whistler’, a distinctive form likely to be split soon.
The supporting cast may include Black-backed, Wallace’s and Rose-crowned Fruit Doves, Eastern Barn Owl, Large-tailed Nightjar, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Scaly-breasted Honeyeater, Banda Myzomela, Rufous-sided Gerygone, Wallacean Whistler, Arafura 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-banded Thrush and Tricoloured Parrotfinch.
At night, we will look 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).
Banda Sea, Indonesia: Day 14 After sailing from Babar to Yamdena island, we will briefly stop on a small islet to look for Tanimbar’s most tricky endemic, the Tanimbar Scrubfowl. We may also have time for some final snorkelling in crystal-clear waters. Our Banda Sea birding tour ends in the early afternoon 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, Denpasar (Bali) and other cities.)