INDONESIA’S SOUTHERN MOLUCCAS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Saumlaki airport on the small island of Yamdena in the Tanimbar archipelago, situated at the eastern edge of the Banda Sea. We will stay on the island for three nights.
In the afternoon we will have our first taste of the island’s endemic avifauna.
Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Days 2-3 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 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 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, although it takes persistence to set eyes on one. 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) Trillers 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 for Lesser Masked Owl. We should at least find Tanimbar Boobook, 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 Cuckooshrike, Tanimbar Oriole, Arafura Fantail, Ashy-bellied White-eye, the near-endemic Wallacean Whistler, Tanimbar Friarbird, 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 4 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 5-6 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 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 Cuckooshrike and Northern and Arafura Fantails.
Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 7 After some final birding on Kai Kecil we will fly 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 8 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.
Today 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, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Uniform Swiftlet, Lazuli Kingfisher, the Ambon form of the Seram Golden Bulbul (a potential split), Seram Drongo, Spectacled Monarch, Metallic Starling, and Ashy Flowerpecker.
Afterwards, we will 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: Day 9 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 hour’s drive from Namlea. Here we should find the pretty Black-tipped Monarch and Buru White-eye, along with other endemics like Buru Golden Bulbul, Buru Drongo, Buru (or Black-faced) Friarbird, and Buru Flowerpecker.
We should also find the restricted-range Amboyna Cuckoo-Dove, Superb Fruit Dove, Buru Green Pigeon, Buru (or Spectacled) Imperial Pigeon, Coconut Lorikeet, Red-cheeked Parrot, Moluccan Cuckoo, Pacific (or Australian) Koel, Lesser Coucal, Seram Swiftlet, 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 island), Black Sunbird, the regionally-endemic Black-breasted Sunbird 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.
Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Days 10-11 With four-wheel-drive vehicles at our disposal, we will explore 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, Buru Cuckooshrike, Buru Bush Warbler, Buru Leaf Warbler and the 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, the weird Moluccan King Parrot and the 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, 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, Purple 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, Australian Reed Warbler, Willie Wagtail, White-breasted Woodswallow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, and Black-faced and Chestnut Munias.
Indonesia’s Southern Moluccas: Day 12 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 13 After arriving at Ambon, 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 at Masohi, 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 14-15 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, backwards-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 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), Great Cuckoo-Dove, the minute Red-breasted Pygmy Parrot, Seram Leaf Warbler, the skulking Seram Bush Warbler 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, Common Paradise Kingfisher, Moluccan Cuckooshrike and Seram Golden Bulbul.
From our accommodation at Sawai, we will also visit the varied coastal habitats and small islands off the northern coast of Seram in search of Australian White Ibis, Great-billed Heron, Spotted Whistling Duck, Forsten’s Scrubfowl, 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 (or Black-bellied), Lesser Sand and Greater Sand Plovers, 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 16 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 17 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.