The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia

INDONESIA’S SOUTHERN MOLUCCAS

Buru, Ambon, Tanimbar, Kai, Seram & Boano

Friday 6th September – Monday 23rd September 2019

Leaders: Craig Robson and a local bird guide

18 Days Group Size Limit 8
Monday 6th September – Thursday 23rd September 2021

Leaders: Craig Robson and a local bird guide

18 Days Group Size Limit 8

Birdquest’s Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas birding tours explore the remote islands that form the farthest limits of Wallacea and the edge of the Australasian faunal region. Our Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas birding tour provides comprehensive coverage of the endemic-rich islands of Buru, Ambon, Tanimbar, Kai, Seram and Boano, places which are still almost completely off the birding tour map!

In 1869 Alfred Russell Wallace wrote “Owing to the great preponderance among the birds of parrots, pigeons, kingfishers and sunbirds, almost all of gay or delicate colours and many adorned with the most gorgeous plumage, and to the numbers of very large and showy butterflies which are almost everywhere to be met with, the forests of the Moluccas offer to the naturalist a very striking example of the luxuriance and beauty of animal life in the tropics”. Why not see for yourself?

The Moluccas or Spice Islands form a major part of the region of present-day Indonesia that is named after this famous explorer and biologist. Wallacea is something of a transition zone between the Oriental and Australasian faunal realms, and is home to a remarkable number of endemic species. This exciting trip will concentrate on the many and little-known endemics and specialities of the southern Moluccas and the easternmost Lesser Sundas in Indonesia, and covers areas of Wallacea not included in our Sulawesi & Halmahera or Lesser Sundas tours.

The Moluccas in Indonesia boast more than 80 endemic birds, of which around 60% occur on Buru, Ambon, the Kai Islands and Seram (and almost all of the remainder on Halmahera), whilst the Tanimbar Islands with their 14 endemics belong geographically to the Lesser Sundas. In total, about 100 Wallacean endemics or restricted-range species should be encountered during this tour of eastern Indonesia. There is also scope to add to the ornithological information available for the region, as only a very small number of ornithologists and birders have ever visited these islands and many species are barely known.

This is a normal Indonesia bird tour with normal walking effort and reasonable and comfortable hotels and other accommodations. However, as flights in this remote part of the world are sometimes cancelled or delayed for various reasons, we expect participants to show patience.

We will start our Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas birding tour at Ambon, the political and airline hub of South Maluku (as the Indonesians call the Moluccas). From Ambon, we will take the ferry service to Buru. This little visited but beautifully forested island boasts 22 endemics, including the superb Buru Racket-tail, Buru Green Pigeon, Buru Dwarf Kingfisher, Buru Thrush and Black-tipped Monarch, as well as Streak-breasted Jungle-Flycatcher, Tawny-backed Fantail, and Buru White-eye. We also have our best chance of seeing the rare Lesser Masked-Owl here, while the local form of Red-bellied Pitta is now sometimes split as Buru Pitta.

After returning to Ambon, we will have a chance to do some birding on this small, mountainous island. We will primarily be looking for its only near-endemic, Ambon White-eye, but should also have time to make a night-time boat trip to neighbouring Haruku, where we can visit one of the best preserved Moluccan Scrubfowl breeding areas in the world.

We will then fly to Saumlaki, at the southern end of Yamdena, the main island of the Tanimbar group of eastern Indonesia. The archipelago consists of 66 islands and currently has 14 endemics, as well as many restricted range species (species shared only with the Kai and Banda Is). Tanimbar Scrubfowl, Tanimbar Corella, Tanimbar Boobook (split from Moluccan), and Fawn-breasted and Slaty-backed Thrushes are amongst the targets here.

Next we travel to the Kai Islands (Kai Kecil or Little Kai, Kai Besar or Great Kai, and Kai Dullah). Six endemics reside here: Kai Boobook (split from Southern), Kai Coucal, White-tailed Monarch, Kai Leaf-warbler (split from Island), and Great and Little Kai White-eyes.

We will then return to Ambon and take the ferry across to the nearby, rugged island of Seram, the largest in Maluku, in search of its 15 endemics. Here we will be spending most of our time in the marvellous forests along the Trans-Seram highway through the impressive Manusela National Park, looking for the rare Salmon-crested Cockatoo and Purple-naped Lory, Seram Honeyeater and Rufescent Darkeye and Grey-hooded White-eye, as well as Streak-breasted Fantail and the highly distinctive Long-crested Myna. As with Buru, the local Red-bellied Pitta form is now sometimes split as Seram Pitta, and we even have the possibility of seeing the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern. We will also visit the neighbouring island of Boano in search of the endemic Boano Monarch.

Birdquest has operated Southern Moluccas birding tours to these remote islands in Indonesia since 2008.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels on Buru, Ambon, Tanimbar and Kai Kecil are of good or medium standard. On Seram we will be staying in simple but comfortable guesthouses (with en suite bathrooms). Road transport will be by minibus, cars and 4x4s. Roads range from good to poor.

Walking: The walking effort during our Southern Moluccas birding tour is easy or moderate throughout.

Climate: Unpredictable and dependent on local topography, but at this season it should be mostly dry and often sunny, but there will likely be some rain. It is generally hot and humid in the lowlands and foothills. At high altitudes daytime temperatures are pleasant but it can get cold at night or when it rains.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Southern Moluccas birding tour are worthwhile.

 


PRICE INFORMATION

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

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers, boatmen and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include these flights: Ambon-Saumlaki, Saumlaki-Tual and Tual-Ambon.

Deposit: £540, $700, €610.

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


2021: provisional £5110, $6390, €5620. Ambon/Ambon.

Single Supplement: 2021: £320, $400, €350.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

The single room supplement excludes the two nights on the ferries.

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.

INDONESIA’S SOUTHERN MOLUCCAS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 1  Our tour begins this afternoon at the small island of Ambon in the Moluccas. Transfer to the harbour in time to catch the overnight ferry across the Manipa strait to the town of Namlea, the capital of the island of Buru.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Days 2-4  The island of Buru in eastern Indonesia holds at least 22 endemic birds and has been visited by very few ornithologists since Wallace explored it in 1861. Much of the island is mountainous, with peaks reaching an altitude of 2429m. Most of the lowland forest has been logged, but the extensive uplands are still largely clothed in superb forest, much of it primary.

On arrival, we will visit some relict lowland forest at Waslabi, an hours drive from Namlea. Here we should find the pretty Black-tipped Monarch and Buru White-eye, along with other endemics like Buru Golden Bulbul (split from  Golden), Buru Drongo (split from Spangled), Buru (or Black-faced) Friarbird, and Buru Flowerpecker. We should also find the restricted-range Amboyna (split from Slender-billed) Cuckoo-Dove, Superb Fruit-Dove, Buru Green-Pigeon, Buru (or Spectacled) Imperial-Pigeon, Coconut Lorikeet (now treated as a separate species from Rainbow Lorikeet), Red-cheeked Parrot, Moluccan Cuckoo, Pacific (or Australian) Koel, Lesser Coucal, Seram Swiftlet (split from Moluccan), Moustached Treeswift, Collared Kingfisher, Pale Cicadabird (a Moluccan endemic), Golden-headed Cisticola – with its unusual local vocabulary, White-naped Monarch, Moluccan (or Slaty) Flycatcher, Northern Fantail, Drab Whistler (endemic to the Moluccas and Sula I), Black Sunbird, the regionally endemic Black-breasted Sunbird (a highly distinctive split from Olive-backed), and Black-faced Munia. Palearctic migrants are few, but if we are lucky, there may be wintering groups of White-throated Needletail, as well as the more expected Barn Swallow, Grey Wagtail, Arctic Warbler, and Grey-streaked Flycatcher.

We will then drive to our accommodation at Waspait, mid-way along the north coast, which for three nights will be our base for forays southwards into the forested highlands. With four-wheel drive vehicles at our disposal, we will spend several days exploring the Wamlana logging road and a side road to Danau Rana, reaching as high as 1420m (4659ft) elevation. At the highest levels we should find the endemic Buru Mountain-Pigeon (split from Long-tailed), Buru Cuckoo-Shrike, Buru Bush-Warbler (split from Chestnut-backed), Buru Leaf-Warbler (split from Island), and neat Tawny-backed Fantail with its highly distinctive voice. Buru Oriole and Streak-breasted Jungle-Flycatcher require a bit more effort, but should give themselves up, and we have a good chance of bumping into the tricky Cinnamon-chested Flycatcher, a scarce regional endemic. Wallacea is a great place for parrots of course, and here we have a very good chance of seeing the highly vocal Buru Racket-tail, as well as the more widespread Red (or Moluccan Red) Lory (endemic to the southern Moluccas), Great-billed Parrot, weird Moluccan King-Parrot, and amazing little Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrot.

Other species that we should find along the logging road are Brahminy Kite, Black Eagle, Spotted Kestrel, Oriental Hobby, White-bibbed and Claret-breasted Fruit-Doves, Large-tailed Nightjar, Glossy Swiftlet, Gray’s Grasshopper-Warbler, Mountain Tailorbird, Common Golden Whistler, the dazzling Wakolo Myzomela, Moluccan Starling, and Mountain White-eye. The endemic local form of the Red-bellied Pitta is now sometimes split as Buru Pitta.

There will be a fair chance of finding Buru Thrush and Buru Honeyeater, but we would be more than fortunate to find Black-lored Parrot, Blue-fronted Lorikeet or the strange Madanga (formerly known as Rufous-throated Darkeye), which has now been reclassified as a pipit rather than a white-eye!

Nocturnal excursions will give us a good chance of Hantu Boobook (formerly lumped with Halmahera Boobook as Moluccan Boobook), Lesser Masked Owl and Moluccan Scops Owl.

During our journeys on Buru, and when scanning offshore, we are also likely to see Lesser Frigatebird, Little Pied Cormorant, Little Grebe, Australasian Darter, Brown and Red-footed Boobies, Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns, urple Heron, Great, Little and Eastern Cattle Egrets, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Spotted Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, White-browed Crake, Buff-banded Rail, White-breasted Waterhen, Australian Swamphen, Common Sandpiper, Greater Crested Tern, Spotted Dove, Pacific Swallow, Eastern Yellow Wagtail (split from Yellow), Australian Reed-Warbler (split from Clamorous), Willie Wagtail, White-breasted Woodswallow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, and Black-faced and Chestnut Munias.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 5  After some final birding on Buru we will drive back to Namlea and return to Ambon on the overnight ferry.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 6  The small, volcanic island of Ambon is the political centre of the South Maluku (southern Moluccas), and the regional transport ‘hub’ for this region o0f Indonesia. It lies to the southwest of the much larger island of Seram, which itself is situated between the larger islands of Sulawesi and New Guinea, on the northern fringes of the rich Banda Sea. Based at one of the islands many hotels, we will explore some forest patches in search of Ambon’s only near-endemic, the unobtrusive Ambon White-eye. There are also many other species on offer, including Australasian Grebe, Variable Goshawk, Rufous-tailed Bush-Hen, Common Emerald Dove, Seram Imperial-Pigeon (split from Buru), Pied Imperial-Pigeon, Uniform Swiftlet, Lazuli Kingfisher, the local form of the Seram Golden Bulbul (a potential split), Seram Drongo (split from Spangled), Spectacled Monarch, Metallic Starling, and Ashy Flowerpecker.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 7  This morning we will catch a flight southeast across the Banda Sea to Saumlaki on the island of Yamdena in the Tanimbar archipelago for a three nights stay. In the afternoon we will have our first taste of the islands endemic fauna.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Days 8-9  The Tanimbar Islands form the easternmost group of the Lesser Sundas (Nusa Tenggara) and, from a zoogeographical standpoint, are not part of the Moluccas. At least 14 species of birds are endemic to the archipelago, and there are several other regional endemics.

In the past there have been violent clashes between logging companies and local villages 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 is probably one of the most wanted endemics in this part of Indonesia, and can still be found easily, although the two thrushes are much more striking and appealing. Diligent searching of the tracks and trails should reveal the presence of the Fawn-breasted Thrush, whilst the strikingly-patterned Slaty-backed Thrush prefers the subcanopy. The shy Tanimbar Megapode (or Tanimbar Scrubfowl) inhabits the dark forest interior and can often be heard duetting in the vicinity of its huge nest-mounds. The Tanimbar Bush-Warbler is yet another skulker that will need the right amount of careful coaxing before views may be obtained. This species was only described in 1987. Bird flocks often hold the endemic Cinnamon-tailed and Long-tailed Fantails, together with Broad-billed Flycatcher and the endemic Loetoe Monarch (split from White-naped). In the understorey we will encounter Tanimbar Flycatcher (split from Rufous-chested), while the brightly-coloured endemic Golden-bellied Flyrobin (or Golden-bellied Flycatcher) tends to sit in the open. Flowering trees often attract flocks of unobtrusive Tanimbar Starlings and gaudy, near-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 Bar-necked Cuckoo-Doves gather in fruiting trees, while the splendid Pied Bronze Cuckoo leads a quiet life hiding in the canopy. White-browed (or Tanimbar) Triller (split from Black-browed) often poses in the treetops and the dainty Rufous-sided Gerygone flits about in the mid-storey.

We will go out at night, armed with a spotlight to try again for Lesser Masked Owl, if we have not already seen it on Buru, and we should at least find Tanimbar Boobook (split from Moluccan), which is much more common.

Other species we may well encounter on Yamdena include Brahminy Kite, Bonelli’s Eagle (of the local form renschi, known as Rensch’s Eagle), the eye-catching Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Wallacean Cuckoo-Shrike, Tanimbar Oriole (split from Buru or Black-eared), Arafura Fantail, Ashy-bellied White-eye, the near-endemic Wallacean Whistler, Tanimbar Friarbird (split from Black-faced), Mistletoebird (here of a distinctive race that might be a future split), Scaly-breasted Honeyeater, the near-endemic Banda (or Black-breasted) Myzomela, Five-coloured Munia, and the gorgeous Tricoloured Parrotfinch. Along the coast we should find Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, Australian Pelican, White-bellied Sea-Eagle and Pacific Swallow.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 10  After some final birding on Yamdena we will fly northeastwards to Tual, on the island of Kai Kecil, for a three nights stay. In the afternoon we will begin our exploration of the island.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Days 11-12  Kai Kecil and Kai Besar (Little and Great Kai) are two small islands situated far to the southeast of Seram. They are the two largest pieces of land in the Kai archipelago and consist of raised coralline limestone. Large areas of forest on Kai Kecil have been cleared for the timber industry, and what remains is becoming increasingly difficult to access. Hilly Kai Besar on the other hand, is in a much more virginal state and is mostly forested. Fortunately, even in areas that have previously been cleared of forest, many of the special birds of the islands seem able to survive in patches of secondary forest and even scrub. One of the most obvious endemics is the entirely greenish-black Kai Coucal, which clambers clumsily about in any area of dense growth. The handsome, but rather shy White-tailed Monarch often joins the mixed species flocks, whilst Golden-bellied (or Little Kai) White-eyes travel about in family groups. The latter is endemic to Kai Kecil and lacks an obvious white eyering. At the other extreme, we will only be able to find the rather scarce Kai Boobook (split from Southern) if we have a lot of luck.

To find the Pearl-bellied (or Great Kai) White-eye, we will take a speedboat to Kai Besar. The white-eye is quite common and easily found, but the highly distinctive Kai Leaf-Warbler (plucked from the taxonomic dustbin that was once Island Leaf-Warbler) only occurs above 400m elevation, so seeing it will require an uphill walk along a forest trail.

Other species that we will be searching for on the Kai islands include Pacific Reef-Egret, Osprey, Pacific Baza, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, White-bibbed Fruit-Dove, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Barred Dove, the lovely Eclectus Parrot and tiny Yellow-capped Pygmy-Parrot, the antediluvian-looking Channel-billed Cuckoo, Common Dollarbird, Kai Cicadabird (a small island specialist which is restricted to the eastern Lesser Sundas and the southeastern Moluccas), Varied Triller, Greater Wallacean Drongo (formerly part of Wallacean), Island Monarch, Australasian (or Green) Figbird, and Grey-headed and Island Whistlers. There are also very distinctive and potentially ‘splitable’ forms of Wallacean Cuckoo-Shrike and Northern and Arafura Fantails.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 13  After some final birding on Kai Kecil we will fly back to Ambon for an overnight stay. This afternoon we will take a speedboat from the east coast of Ambon across to the neighbouring island of Haruku. This will be our opportunity to visit what is perhaps the largest Moluccan Scrubfowl breeding area in the world. The birds gather at night to lay their eggs in sandy openings amongst the coastal vegetation. The eggs are incubated by the warmth of the sun and from there, the fully independent young hatch. Many of the eggs are dug up by local people for food, but the colony seems to be very well managed.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 14  This morning we will travel by passenger ferry to Masohi, on the south coast of Seram. Seram is the largest island in the Moluccas (marginally larger than the well known island of Halmahera, situated further to the north). It is elongated and very mountainous, with its tallest peak, Gunung Binaia (3027m or 9932ft), being the highest mountain in the whole of the Moluccan Archipelago. A narrow coastal plain, where most of the population lives, surrounds the jagged limestone formations of the central mountain chain. Seram is still largely cloaked in fairly pristine rainforests, but recently the extraction of oil and timber has started on an industrial scale. An area of 1860 square kilometres (718 square miles) in the centre of Seram has been put aside as a protected area: Manusela National Park. The park covers altitudes between sea level and 2490m (8170ft) and contains a rich variety of habitats. Seram has at least 15 strictly endemic bird species and shares a number of Moluccan specialities with the nearby islands of Buru and Ambon, and the north and central Moluccan islands of Halmahera, Bacan and Obi. Upon arrival we will travel to the tiny village of Sawai, tucked away in a secluded cove on the north coast, for a three nights stay.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Days 15-16  As we explore the wonderful forest in and around Manusela National Park, one of our main targets will be the rare Salmon-crested (or Seram) Cockatoo, a species that has suffered immensely from excessive trapping for the thriving cagebird trade in Indonesia (even being trapped inside the park!), but can still quite easily be found in small numbers. This delicately pink-hued cockatoo with its bright pinkish-red, backward-curving crest is endemic to Seram, Ambon, Haruku and Saparua, but apparently only now survives on the former island.

Liquid fluty calls betray the presence of the rather dull-coloured Seram Oriole, which looks remarkably similar to Seram Friarbird (even several of their calls are indistinguishable). This striking visual and vocal mimicry of orioles and friarbirds occurs on a number of islands in the Moluccas, the eastern Lesser Sundas and also in New Guinea. One of the more conspicuous birds of the forest and a member of the mixed-species foraging flocks is the lovely endemic Streak-breasted Fantail. Bizarre-looking Long-crested Mynas often perch on high exposed branches along the forest edge. These conspicuous and noisy fruit eaters, with their amazing laterally-compressed, filamentous crests are also endemic to Seram. It is always a good idea to spend a bit of time at fruiting trees as Seram Imperial Pigeon (split from Buru or Spectacled), and the spectacular Blyth’s Hornbills can easily be found there. The arresting Red Lory is still common despite trapping for the evil cagebird trade, and we will also find numerous Coconut Lorikeets, and the fetching Moluccan King-Parrot. Red-flanked Lorikeet is rather scarce but we should find a few.

With the construction of the Trans-Seram Highway we can now search for almost all of the highland specialities without the need for a trek. The highest pass on the road is situated at about 1270m and gives us easy access to the lower montane and submontane forest zones within the national park. Ericaceous shrubs and trees are a major component of  the forest at these altitudes and, when they are flowering, attract the subtly-plumaged endemic Seram Honeyeater, Drab Myzomela and the bright Wakolo Myzomela. Rufescent Darkeye is an aberrant endemic white-eye that is so distinctive that it has been placed in its own genus (Tephrozosterops), while endemic Grey-hooded White-eyes show a peculiar white front and forage in the canopy. Flocks of Seram Mountain-Pigeons (split from Long-tailed) fly across the clearings and open areas. The near-endemic Purple-naped Lory is very rare in this region of the island (partly due to intensive trapping), so we will need a fair amount of luck if we are to observe this lovely parrot. Even rarer, is Blue-eared Lory, which can sometimes be found at the highest point on the road.

Other highland species that we will be on the lookout for include Rufous-necked Sparrowhawk (a little-known Moluccan endemic), Black Eagle, the enigmatic Pygmy Eagle (the World’s smallest eagle, which was recently split from Little), Great Cuckoo-Dove, the minute Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrot, Seram Leaf-Warbler (split from Island), the skulking Seram Bush-Warbler (split from Chestnut-backed), and Turquoise (or Island Verditer) Flycatcher; while in the lowlands, we will also be seeking-out Hantu Boobook (a different form from that on Buru, which may represent a different species), the scarce Moluccan Dwarf Kingfisher (split from Variable Dwarf), Common Paradise-Kingfisher, Moluccan Cuckooshrike, and Seram Golden Bulbul.

From our accommodation at Sawai, we will also visit the varied coastal habitats and small offshore islands of the north Seram coast, in search of Australian White Ibis, Great-billed Heron, Spotted Whistling-Duck, Forsten’s Scrubfowl (split from Orange-footed), Little Kingfisher, and the little-known restricted-range Olive Honeyeater. There may also be a good range of wintering and migrating shorebirds, such as Grey, Lesser Sand and Greater Sand Plovers, Eurasian Whimbrel, Far Eastern Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Terek Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, and Red-necked Stint. With luck we will encounter the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern, a species we have seen here on some previous visits.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 17  After some final birding at Manusela National Park, we will travel to Piru in western Seram for an overnight stay.

Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 18  Early this morning we will take a boat across to the neighbouring island of Boano in order to see the endemic Boano Monarch. Later, after some birding around Piru, we will travel to Kairatu, and catch the afternoon ferry to Ambon where our tour ends.

INDONESIA'S SOUTHERN MOLUCCAS TOUR REPORT 2016

by Craig Robson

View Report

INDONESIA'S SOUTHERN MOLUCCAS TOUR REPORT 2014

by Craig Robson

View Report

Other remote area Asia birding tours by Birdquest include: