LESSER SUNDAS, INDONESIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 1 Our Lesser Sundas, Indonesia birding tour begins this evening at Denpasar on the island of Bali where we will spend the night.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 2 From Denpasar, we will catch a short flight to Waingapu on the island of Sumba. Waingapu is the principal town on the remote, hot and dry island of Sumba, where we will stay for three nights.
Sumba is one of the smaller islands of Nusa Tenggara (or the Lesser Sundas), the forgotten and little known southeastern chain of islands of Indonesia, and is famous for its ikats (beautifully decorated fabrics) and its thoroughbred horses. The isolation of this old eroded island has led to a high degree of endemism. Thirteen currently recognised species are restricted to Sumba and all but one of them, Sumba Buttonquail, are confined to the small and diminishing areas of indigenous forest. This afternoon we will spend some time in the Yumbu area, to the east of Waingapu. The dry grassland which occupies large areas on either side of the road here is the habitat of the Sumba Buttonquail, one of the least known endemics. Like most buttonquails, it is quite difficult to see, but we should at least flush one or two at close range. With a bit of luck, we will be able to watch one walking around. Apart from the buttonquail, typical grassland birds include the widespread Brown Quail, Horsfield’s (or Australasian) Bushlark and Pied Bushchat. Nearby mangroves provide good habitat for Indonesian Honeyeater, which is quite common here.
In addition, we should have time to visit a lovely freshwater wetland where we may well observe Little Grebe, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, Intermediate Egret, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Sunda Teal, Pacific Black Duck, White-browed Crake, Common Moorhen, Australian Swamphen, White-headed Stilt, Wood Sandpiper, Whiskered Tern and Australian Reed Warbler. If we are lucky, we will see a rarity or two, such as Australian Pelican, Pied Heron, Glossy Ibis, Hardhead, Swamp Harrier or Australian Pratincole.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Days 3-4 Much of our time on Sumba will be spent in the Lewa area, and in particular in one of the more extensive areas of accessible remnant forest on Sumba, Langgaliru National Park. In this very interesting part of Indonesia, we should find many of the forest-dwelling specialities. A population of the endemic Orange-crested (or Citron-crested) Cockatoo still survives in this area, and we will be making a special effort to see this distinctive and critically endangered species. The walk to the forest across the open grassland is a good place to see parrots flying over in the early morning. The magnificent Eclectus Parrot is now rare and the Great-billed Parrot decidedly scarce, but the near-endemic Marigold Lorikeet and Red-cheeked Parrot are still fairly common. The handsome Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher betrays its presence by its distinctive whinnying, and locating this Lesser Sundas endemic will be high on our list of priorities.
Black-winged (or Black-shouldered) Kite, Short-toed Snake Eagle and Blue-tailed Bee-eater hunt over the grasslands, whilst Red-backed Buttonquail, Zitting Cisticola and Red Avadavat can be flushed from cover. Once we reach the forest, we have a chance to see more of the specialities. The rare and exquisite Red-naped Fruit-Dove, one of the most beautiful of its genus, can sometimes be found resting on exposed branches. We will also be looking for Sumba Green Pigeon, the three endemic flycatchers, Sumba Flycatcher, Sumba Jungle Flycatcher and Sumba Brown Flycatcher (formerly lumped in Asian Brown), as well as the attractive endemics Apricot-breasted Sunbird and Sumba Myzomela (or Sumba Red-headed Honeyeater). Other species we hope to find include Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, Green Imperial Pigeon, Pale-shouldered Cicadabird, Lesser Wallacean Drongo, Black-naped Oriole, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, and Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher.
We will also visit some forest patches near Lewa where we will concentrate on finding any of the forest endemics that we may have missed so far, notably the threatened Sumba Hornbill, which is frequently found in this area. As night falls in one of the forest clearings, the near-endemic Mees’s (or Sunda) Nightjar begins to call, and we should hear the endemic Sumba Boobook, though finding it in the dense habitat may not prove easy. We will also be looking for the poorly known endemic Little Sumba Boobook (or Little Sumba Hawk-Owl), which was only described for the first time in 2002. Its monosyllabic hoot will hopefully lead us to its location.
During our forest birding sorties on Sumba, we should also see Brown Goshawk, Black-naped Fruit-Dove, Oriental Dollarbird, Wallacean Cuckooshrike, Cinereous (or Grey) Tit, Arafura Fantail, Spectacled Monarch, Rusty-breasted Whistler, the widespread Helmeted Friarbird, Yellow-spectacled and Ashy-bellied White-eyes, and the showy Blood-breasted Flowerpecker (the local form may merit splitting as Sumba Flowerpecker). The much sought-after Elegant Pitta can often be heard calling from cover but is more difficult to see here than on Flores. In the more open areas, one can often find Black and Brahminy Kites, Spotted Kestrel, Barred Dove, Southern Jungle Crow, Short-tailed Starling, Brown-throated Sunbird, and both Black-faced and Five-coloured Munias.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 5 After some final birding near Lewa we shall return to Waingapu and fly eastwards to Kupang in West Timor (not to be confused with the recently independent state of East Timor or Timor Leste) for an overnight stay.
Timor is the largest island of the Lesser Sundas and used to be famous for its sweet-scented sandalwood. Unfortunately, much forest has been removed and only small remnants now remain in West Timor. In the late afternoon, if the tide is low and we have enough time, we will look for a selection of shorebirds close to our hotel, including Grey-tailed Tattler and Ruddy Turnstone. Lesser Frigatebird, Pacific Reef Egret and Greater Crested Tern also occur here.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 6 This morning we will travel by ferry to the small island of Rote (or Roti), situated a short distance to the southwest of Timor, where we will spend one night. Our main purpose in coming to Rote is to look for the island’s three recognized endemic species – Rote Boobook, Rote Myzomela and Rote Leaf Warbler – plus the increasingly rare but poorly-named Olive-shouldered Parrot (which has a red wing-slash and bright green shoulders, and which is easier to find here than on Timor). There are also endemic island forms of Northern Fantail and Timor Stubtail amongst others, one or more of which might be split in future. In addition, there are often better chances for Black Cuckoo-Dove and Jonquil Parrot on Rote than on Timor.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 7 After returning to Kupang this morning for a two nights stay, we will spend the afternoon exploring the Bipolo area. Here, sandwiched between extensive tracts of cultivation, a small area of lowland forest remains where many specialities can be seen. The forest is dominated by a highly peculiar palm (Corypha utan), which dies after having produced a mass of fruit, and the dead palms are often used as perches by a variety of bird species. Sadly the area is unprotected and so its future, and that of several lowland forest birds, looks rather bleak.
In the canopy, Red-chested Flowerpeckers, Streak-breasted and Flame-eared (or Yellow-eared) Honeyeaters, and Black-breasted Myzomelas (or Black-chested Honeyeaters) feed in flowering trees, while the mid-storey holds the very attractive Timor Blue Flycatcher. With a bit of luck an Orange-sided Thrush, one of the islands most attractive endemics, will show itself. Pacific Baza and Oriental Honey Buzzard regularly soar over the more open places. Fruiting trees attract the exquisite Rose-crowned and Banded (or Black-backed) Fruit-Doves, and we will be keeping our eyes open for Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon, which is now rare here. Green (or Timor) Figbirds are common in the tree-tops and often gather in quite large concentrations.
The late afternoon is a good time to find parrots flying about. We will have a good chance of seeing Red-cheeked Parrot and Jonquil (or Olive-shouldered) Parrot, but, unfortunately, the endemic Marigold Lorikeet is far from likely.
Bipolo is a remarkably birdy place, certainly by the standards of Indonesia, and as we walk along the road watching the forest edge, we will hope to see Greater Wallacean Drongo (considered separate from Lesser Wallacean), Olive-brown Oriole, Northern Fantail, Plain Gerygone (with its distinctive melancholic song), Fawn-breasted Whistler, Timor Friarbird, Thick-billed Flowerpecker and the dazzling Flame-breasted Sunbird. Pacific Emerald Doves often zoom across the track.
Adjacent to the forest is an area of rice paddies and an intermediate scrubby zone. A wide variety of Wallacean species enjoy these habitats. Australian Hobby, Rainbow Bee-eater, and White-breasted and Black-faced Wood-Swallows hawk for insects, and sit on exposed perches, while Glossy Swiftlets (the local form of which is a likely future split as Timor Swiftlet), Tree Martins, and Barn and Striated Swallows may be seen feeding overhead. Bushes and small trees attract species like Lesser Coucal and White-shouldered Triller, and in particular, we will be searching for the scarce Timor Sparrow, a relative of the more familiar Java Sparrow. Large flocks of munias gather in the fields in search of seeds, with Black-faced, Five-coloured and Scaly-breasted all likely, as well as groups of Zebra Finches which tag along. Mixed roosting flocks of Eastern Cattle Egrets and White-faced Herons are sometimes joined by a vagrant Royal Spoonbill. Fanning out across some of the more open areas of fields, we will try to find a Red-backed Buttonquail amongst the commoner Brown Quails, and there are normally quite a few Long-tailed Shrikes, Paddyfield Pipits and Golden-headed Cisticolas to be seen.
On the seaward side of the fields is a discreet area of fish- and shrimp ponds and a small saltworks. Needless to say, this is a great area to look for shorebirds. Red-capped Plover, Far Eastern Curlew and Marsh Sandpiper are regular and we will be in with a chance of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Long-toed Stint. Striated (or Little) Heron and Whiskered Tern often occur. A small rushy marsh holds White-browed Crake, and often a few Pale-headed Munias which tend to shun the open fields. At dusk, the characteristic song of the endemic Streaked Boobook is frequently heard, and we should hopefully be able to lure it into view.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 8 We will spend the day birding along the road and trails running through the forest above Camplong. The habitat differs considerably from the Bipolo forest, and quite a few of the specialities of the Timor and Wetar Endemic Bird Area are more readily found here, such as the pretty White-bellied Chat, that notorious skulker the Buff-banded Thicket-Warbler and the tiny Timor Stubtail. Bamboo thickets harbour another much sought-after endemic, the attractive Black-banded Flycatcher, while fast-moving groups of the hyperactive Spot-breasted Dark-eye prefer the thicker mid-storey growth or low canopy. We will have further opportunities to find Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher and Orange-sided Thrush, as well as more widespread species like Brush and Gould’s Bronze-Cuckoos, Little Pied Flycatcher, Spectacled Monarch, and Sunda Bush and Timor Leaf Warblers (both of which are commoner at higher levels).
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 9 After another morning birding at either Bipolo or Camplong (depending on what we still need to see), we will travel on to Soe, where we spend the next two nights. In the afternoon we will visit an area of forest at Oelnasi which is similar to that at Camplong. Here, we have a good chance of seeing Black Dove (or Timor Black Pigeon) and Bar-necked Cuckoo-Dove.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 10 Today we will visit the 12,000-hectare Mount Mutis Nature Reserve, which includes Gunung Mutis (2427m), the highest mountain in West Timor and one of the highest in the Lesser Sundas. The unique montane forests here are dominated by stands of the near-endemic Eucalyptus urophylla and form a crucial watershed for the island of Timor. Birding the access road and clearings early in the morning, we will hear the deep calls of Metallic Pigeon, which is quite easy to see here, and will try our best to track down the rare and elusive Timor Imperial Pigeon, one of the toughest endemics. Island Thrushes are common and easy to see, as are the busy flocks of Mountain White-eyes, along with the occasional Timor Leaf Warbler. The distinctive local race of the Pygmy Wren-Babbler utters its unusual song from rock outcrops and often shows itself at very close range. Flocks of Olive-headed Lorikeets fly over the ridge here and occasionally perch momentarily. A narrow trail winds its way towards the summit, and we will follow this in search of the imperial pigeon, as well as certain species that prefer the forest interior, such as the superb Chestnut-backed Thrush and more widespread Little Cuckoo-Dove, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, and Sunda Bush and Yellow-breasted Warblers. We will also explore some forest and clearings at lower levels in search of the tiny and now very rare Iris Lorikeet and the very colourful Tricoloured Parrotfinch.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 11 This morning we will visit Oelnasi again, in search of any species that we have missed so far, or want better views of. After lunch, we will return to Kupang for an overnight stay, stopping en route if time and season permits to look for migrant Oriental Plovers (this species generally passes through Indonesia from late September to October).
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 12 This morning we will take a flight to Ruteng, in the highlands of Flores, our fourth island among the Lesser Sundas of Indonesia. Upon arrival, we will travel eastwards to the village of Kisol, where we will stay for two nights.
We will stop along the way at Rana Mese, in the Ruteng Nature Recreation Park, for some introductory montane birding. During the afternoon, we will begin our exploration of the Kisol area.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 13 The tiny village of Kisol, situated at the foot of the isolated, forest-covered Gunung Pacandeki, will be our base from which to explore the remnant lowland forest close by. Following a rocky track that passes right through the forest, we will soon hear the comical nasal calls of the bizarre Flores Crow, which lives in small groups below canopy level.
This is one of the best places in Indonesia to look for the highly attractive Elegant Pitta, and several can often be heard calling at once, though seeing one takes patience and persistence. Even more efficient at keeping itself out of sight is the Chestnut-capped Thrush, a widespread but usually rare bird in Indonesia, that is a target for unscrupulous bird traders. Easier to see is the brilliant blue and white Glittering (or White-rumped) Kingfisher, which is readily located by its loud monotonous calls. A rich, rapid outpouring of song betrays the presence of the wild-eyed Thick-billed Heleia (or Thick-billed Dark-eye), which inhabits the thickish mid-storey. Low down, in the tangled understorey, cheeky Russet-capped Tesias utter their jumbled song, and we should eventually all get views of one.
Positioning ourselves at the forest edge, we will scan Gunung Pacandeki in search of Kisol’s most impressive resident, the huge Flores Hawk-Eagle, which regularly patrols the thickly forested slopes. Other forest birds that we will be on the lookout for are Variable Goshawk, Green Junglefowl (more often heard than seen here), Black-naped Fruit Dove, Little Minivet, and Spectacled and Black-naped Monarchs. If we are very fortunate, we will find the scarce Flores Green Pigeon, which visits the area in search of fruit. The forest edge is a good place to see hawking flocks of Edible-nest Swiftlets, as well as Black-fronted Flowerpecker, and the local race of Olive-backed Sunbird.
As nightfall approaches, Sunda Nightjars call from different directions, and we will soon hear the distinctive rude, husky hoots of Moluccan Scops Owls emanating from the forest edge. Just inside the forest, we may also find the stocky Wallace’s Scops Owl, with its deep, creepy call that gets louder and louder.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 14 En route to Ruteng, where we will stay for three nights, we will spend the morning searching for high-altitude specialities in the splendid montane forest at Danau Rana Mese. The surroundings of this small lake are covered in moss-encrusted, orchid-laden and fern-covered trees which harbour many of our target species. Feeding flocks along the roadside often hold Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker, Brown-capped (or Trumpeting) Fantail (with its nasal calls), Flores Leaf Warbler, and both Cream-browed and Crested White-eyes (or Yellow-browed and Crested Dark-eyes); the latter four all confined to Flores, Sumbawa and Lombok.
Another distinctive species only found here and on Sumbawa, and readily located by its superb, powerful song, is the striking Bare-throated Whistler. The sombre Scaly-crowned Honeyeater, another near-endemic, is attracted in numbers to the many flowering trees. In the undergrowth by the roadside, a beautifully varied snatch of song will betray the presence of a ‘Flores Shortwing’, a highly distinctive form that is currently still lumped in the widespread White-browed.
Several species of pigeon occur in this part of the Lesser Sundas, including the rather scarce Ruddy Cuckoo-Dove. Green Junglefowl can occasionally be seen along the roadside here, and other species that we should see include Sunda Cuckoo, Pygmy Wren-Babbler, Mountain Tailorbird and a yellow-bellied montane race of the Oriental White-eye (a likely future split). If we are very lucky, we will stumble across one of the more difficult species, such as Sunda Thrush or Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch.
In the afternoon we will visit the forested lower slopes below Golo Lusang. Many of the same species can be seen here but, in addition, we will have a good chance of finding the near-endemic Flores Jungle Flycatcher (now considered separate from Sumba Jungle). Bonelli’s Eagle can often be seen soaring above the slopes and the local form is a potential future split as Rensch’s Eagle.
After nightfall, we will search for one of the least known nightbirds of the Lesser Sundas and indeed the world, the endemic Flores Scops Owl, but we really will need to make great efforts, and have luck on our side, to see this one! It was originally only known from three specimens collected in 1896 until it was rediscovered near Ruteng in 1995. At first, its voice was misidentified as that of Red-legged Crake, but since this issue was resolved there have been several observations. We will also have more opportunities to try and find Wallace’s Scops Owl.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Days 15-16 Some of our time in the Ruteng region will be devoted to some mid-elevation forest near the village of Pagal, to the north of Ruteng, where our main target will be the rare and declining Wallace’s Hanging-Parrot. We may well see this tiny psittacid flying like a bullet low overhead, and with a bit of luck one or two will be observed in a favourite fruiting or flowering tree. This is also a very good area to see another endemic parrot, the noisy Leaf (or Flores) Lorikeet, and Golden-rumped Flowerpecker is common.
We will also visit the high pass of Golo Lusang. Dark-backed Imperial Pigeon is common here and we will have a good chance of seeing one giving its deep booming call from the treetops. Here, Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagles skirt the ridges, and the dawn chorus of Bare-throated Whistlers is very impressive. We shall also have the option of more nightbirding.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 17 An early start will take us to some lovely forest at Puarlolo, along the road to Labuan Bajo, where we will spend two nights. Here we will listen for a distinctive ringing whistle that could lead us to the extremely rare Flores Monarch, which was only discovered in 1971 and has still only been seen by very few birders. We will also have more chances to see Elegant Pitta and Chestnut-capped Thrush, as well as Rufous-chested Flycatcher.
Labuan Bajo is located at the western end of Flores and is the gateway to the famous Komodo island group. In the late afternoon, we will explore the coastal scrub, fields and bits of mangrove near our hotel, which is a good place to see Lemon-bellied White-eye. Javan Plover can often be found along the beach, and exposed areas of mud attract a variety of commoner shorebirds.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 18 Our boat will leave during the early hours and we will aim to arrive at one of the islands that form the Komodo National Park soon after dawn, where we will be guided to some truly impressive Komodo Dragons. Even before reaching the island, we may already have seen a lone Great-billed Heron standing on a quiet stretch of shoreline, or a Beach Thick-knee hunting crabs. Most of the birds will already be familiar to us, but the Yellow-crested Cockatoo, which is rare if not extinct over much of the rest of its range, is still relatively common here. Orange-footed Scrubfowl was once easy to see, but is now difficult, whereas the colourful Green Junglefowl is now relatively tame and confiding. If we are very lucky we will locate a roosting Moluccan Scops Owl.
Apart from the dragons, numbers of Timor Deer are regularly encountered, and Green Turtles can often be seen loafing just offshore. The seas are quite rich in this region of Indonesia and, during the return journey to Labuan Bajo we will settle down to some dedicated sea-watching. Small numbers of Bulwer’s Petrel often pass through the deeper channels, while Lesser Frigatebird, White-bellied Sea Eagle and fishing groups of Black-naped Terns are frequently encountered. With some luck, we will spot Lesser Crested Tern, Bridled Tern or even a wintering Aleutian Tern. Small groups of Indo-Pacific Bottle-nosed Dolphins can also be found, and sometimes we encounter Risso’s Dolphins.
Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas: Day 19 After some final birding, our Lesser Sundas, Indonesia birding tour ends this morning at Labuan Bajo airport on Flores.
(There are direct flights from Labuan Bajo to Jakarta and Denpasar and indirect connections to other cities. If you are arranging your own flights to and from the tour and would find it more convenient if we provided your internal flight ticket out of Labuanbajo, we will be pleased to help.)