The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia

REMOTE ISLANDS OF THE BANDA SEA, INDONESIA

Monday 8th November – Sunday 21st November 2021

Leader: Julien Mazenauer.

14 Days Group Size Limit 11

The 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.

Lady Denok at anchor in the Banda Sea, Indonesia

Lady Denok at anchor

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 about to be described as endemic species 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, Pantar, Alor, Wetar, Leti, Damar, Babar and one of the Tanimbar islands. You can also opt to explore the Tanimbar islands more fully if you wish.

As we will spend a considerable amount of time onboard our very comfortable, even luxurious schooner, the seawatching opportunities will be plentiful and several special birds have already been observed in the Banda Sea by previous tour groups, including Heinroth’s Shearwater, Abbott’s Booby and Aleutian Tern, so the potential for finding the unexpected is high! We will also have several 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, White-tipped Monarch and Flores Sea Cuckoo-Dove are three seldom-recorded endemics that call this island home, and we should easily see them all.

The islands of Kalao and Kalaotoa are our next destination, where several endemic subspecies (likely to be elevated to species status in the future) occur. 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 Tanahjampea Blue Flycatcher based on morphology and vocalisation), and the endemic subspecies of Rufous-sided (or Banda Sea) Gerygone and Arafura Fantail.

Our next destination is the island of Pantar in the Lesser Sundas, where Alor Boobook will be our main target. We will also have our first opportunities to observe several species which are present on nearby Alor.

We then set sail east and visit the island of Alor itself, where Alor Myzomela, a species yet to be described, and ‘Alor Cuckooshrike’ should entertain us for the day. There are plenty of other interesting birds here and we will also have the chance to see 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.

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, Wetar Ground Dove. We will target several other endemics here, including Wetar Myzomela, Wetar Figbird and Black-necklaced Honeyeater. ‘Wetar Oriole’ and ‘Wetar Scops Owl’ are also likely to be split more widely in the near future.

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 three small islands in the southern Banda Sea.

Our next destination, the island of Damar, is hosting perhaps the most exciting 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 Black-bibbed Monarch, Rufous-sided Gerygone, Scaly-breasted Honeyeater and an endemic form of 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 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-at endemic, 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 equiped with modern navigation, radar, radio and safety equipment, has a large open deck area wiith 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 accomodates a maximum of 11 passengers in 7 quite spacious cabins (available for either twin or single occupancy). Cabins are air-conditioned and have en-suite bathrooms with toilet, washbasin and shower. Cabins have portholes or windows.

 

Just imagine birding remote Indonesian Islands in the Banda Sea while travelling on this beautiful boat!

Just imagine birding remote Indonesian Islands in the Banda Sea while travelling on this beautiful boat!

Tanimbar Extension Option: If some participants would like to explore Tanimbar after our Banda Sea cruise, Indonesia birding tour, to look for the islands’ endemics, we will organise an extension. Please mention at the time of booking if you are interested in participating in this extension. The cost will depend on both the number of participants and the duration. We expect the extension to add three extra days to the tour, but the precise duration will depend on flight schedules out of Saumlaki at the time. Please note that Tanimbar also features on the Birdquest Southern Moluccas tour itinerary. Take a look at that tour to see what Tanimbar holds in store.

In 2021 this tour can be taken together with: REMOTE SULAWESI

Accommodation & Road Transport: All nights will be spent on our luxurious ‘phinisi’ (schooner). For details see above. Road transport will be by minibus/passenger van, cars or 4x4s. Roads range from good to poor.

Walking: The walking effort during our Remote Islands of the Banda Sea, Indonesia birding tour is mostly easy.

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

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


PRICE INFORMATION

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

Deposit: 20% of the cruise price (plus 20% of the single cabin supplement if applicable)

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


2021: provisional £5380, $6990, €6220. Labuanbajo/Saumlaki.

Single Supplement: 2021: £4990, $6490, €5770.

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 between US$150-200.

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  The tour begins in the morning at Labuanbajo on the island of Flores. You can fly into Labuanbajo from either Jakarta or Denpasar (Bali). If you need hotel bookings, we can assist.

This morning 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 kilometers 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: Day 6-8  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 duriong ouyr 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.

After two full days on 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. The cruise ends in the 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.)


Other remote areas of Indonesia birding tours by Birdquest include: