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BEST OF SULAWESI & HALMAHERA, INDONESIA

Sunday 2nd August – Saturday 15th August 2020

Leaders: Dave Farrow and local bird guides

14 Days Group Size Limit 7
Monday 2nd August – Sunday 15th August 2021

Leaders: Dave Farrow and local bird guides

14 Days Group Size Limit 7

Birdquest’s Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera, Indonesia birding tours are the very best shorter Indonesia birding tours you can take. With more endemic birds than any other equivalent area in this sprawling island nation, our Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera, Indonesia birding tour offers a wonderful experience, with a rich bird list and an extraordinary number of specialities.

This is a special itinerary for those who want to see as many as possible of the exciting endemics of Sulawesi and Halmahera in a two-week time frame. Sulawesi is now an obligatory destination for those wanting to see all the world’s bird families as it is the home of the Hylocitrea or Yellow-flanked Whistler, which is now considered to be a monotypic family.

While Charles Darwin was formulating his theories on evolution by natural selection another pioneering but much less well known Victorian naturalist was independently developing similar concepts on the other side of the world. He was Alfred Russel Wallace and during his eight years exploration of the Malay Archipelago (most of which is now known as Indonesia) he became the first European to visit many of the islands in this vast region. His book of his travels, The Malay Archipelago, is one of the great travel classics and thousands of species of animals and plants were first described by Wallace himself or by others using his specimens. Wallace is best remembered, however, for first discovering that the fauna and flora of the western islands in the archipelago were essentially Malaysian while in the east they were primarily of Australasian origin.

Even more surprising was his discovery that a clear division exists in the centre of the archipelago and to this day this boundary between these two very different faunal regions, which are separated by just a short distance between Borneo and Sulawesi and by as little as a few kilometres of deep water between Bali and Lombok, is known as Wallace’s Line. During our journey we will be birding on the far side of Wallace’s Line and will be able to see for ourselves the extraordinary avifauna of ‘Wallacea’, which is so very different from that of mainland Southeast Asia and the adjacent Greater Sundas.

Until recently the magical islands of Indonesia were only visited by a few intrepid travellers and even today not too many visitors penetrate beyond Java and Bali. The very inaccessibility of much of Indonesia has led to the country being largely neglected by birdwatchers, yet Indonesia provides the adventurous with some of the richest ornithological experiences to be found anywhere in the world, for this is one of the most biologically diverse and endemic-rich areas on earth.

Our exciting Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera, Indonesia tour begins in earnest at Makassar in southern Sulawesi, an island formerly known as the Celebes and shaped rather like a four-legged starfish. During our time on this island of lofty mountains, cool mossy highland forests, misty lakes, fertile valleys with lush green rice paddies, and luxuriant lowland rainforests, we will visit two of Sulawesi’s finest forest reserves, Lore Lindu and Tangkoko, finding a large proportion of Sulawesi’s 70 or so endemic birds.

Beginning close to Makassar we will see our first exciting endemics, which should include the highly-localized and unusual Black-ringed White-eye and perhaps Sulawesi Streaked Flycatcher, as well as the splendid Sulawesi Dwarf Hornbill and the strange and highly-vocal Piping Crow.

We will travel next to the vast endemic-rich montane forests of Lore Lindu, where endemics will come thick and fast, often including Dwarf Sparrowhawk, Cinnabar Boobook, the brilliantly-named Satanic (or Diabolical) Nightjar, Red-eared Fruit-Dove, the amazing Knobbed Hornbill, the superb Purple-bearded Bee-eater, the strange Malia, Maroon-backed Whistler, the enigmatic Hylocitrea, the unique Sulawesi Thrush, superb Fiery-browed and Sulawesi Crested Mynas and many more! With luck, we’ll even find the elusive Geomalia.

At Tangkoko, which will be the finale for Sulawesi, we will explore the wonderful forests where, among many other new birds, Yellow-breasted Racquet-tail, Ochre-bellied Boobook, Purple-winged Roller, Great-billed, Green-backed, Lilac and Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfishers, Sulawesi Pitt and the splendid Red-backed Thrush will be high on our want lists. We will also enjoy the weird Spectral Tarsiers and Crested Black Macaques.

The last part of our Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera, Indonesia tour will bring us to Halmahera, the largest island of the Moluccas, the fabled ‘Spice Islands’. Situated between Sulawesi and Irian Jaya (the Indonesian part of New Guinea), Halmahera has a much greater Australasian element in its avifauna than Sulawesi and an equally rich selection of endemics, including the famous Standardwing (or Wallace’s Standardwing), one of the most exotic of the birds of paradise. We will even be able to watch this fabulous bird at a display site, as well as seeing a host of other little known birds, including the stunning Ivory-breasted Pitta, the weird Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar, Dusky Megapode, Sombre Kingfisher and a colourful collection of pigeons (including Blue-capped, Scarlet-breasted and Grey-headed Fruit-Doves) and parrots (including Chattering and Violet-necked Lorys, Great-billed Parrot and White Cockatoo), as well as many more.

By the end of the tour, we shall all be reluctant to leave these wonderful, far away islands behind us.

Birdquest has operated Indonesia birding tours, including both Sulawesi birding tours and Halmahera birding tours, since 1990.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels used are of good or medium standard. In several locations, we will stay in simple or sometimes basic guesthouses (sometimes with shared bathroom facilities). Road transport is by small coach, minibus/passenger van or cars. Roads are variable in quality.

Walking: The walking effort during our Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera tour is mostly easy to moderate, but there will be at least one harder day in Lore Lindu (where a two or three hour walk is now required to reach some of the birding areas owing to the road no longer being passable to vehicles).

Climate: Most days in the lowlands will be hot, dry and sunny, but overcast conditions are fairly frequent and some rain, heavy at times, can be expected. In montane areas it will range from very cool to warm. The humidity is often rather high.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera 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: Makassar-Palu, Palu-Manado and Manado-Ternate.

Deposit: £420, $550, €480.

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


2020: £3840, $4990, €4440. Makassar/Ternate.
2021: provisional £3840, $4990, €4440. Makassar/Ternate.

Single Supplement: 2020: £270, $360, €320.
Single Supplement: 2021: £270, $360, €320.

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.

Some of the smaller guesthouses have limited rooms. Anyone having to share unexpectedly at any of these will receive an appropriate refund.

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.

BEST OF SULAWESI & HALMAHERA, INDONESIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 1  The tour begins this afternoon at Makassar (also known as Ujung Pandang) in southeastern Sulawesi, where we will spend the night. Our first birds are likely to include House Swift, Pacific and Barn Swallows, and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

In open areas near Makassar, we will find a number of open country species including Yellow-vented Bulbul, White-shouldered Triller, Pied Bushchat and Zitting Cisticola. Overhead, Uniform and Glossy Swiftlets are likely to be present.

We may also have time while in the Makassar area to explore an area of fishponds and wet paddies. This productive area often holds large numbers of wetland species, including Javan Pond Heron, Little Egret, Eastern Cattle Egret, Sunda Teal and a variety of shorebirds. Pied (or White-headed) Stilts are often common and a number of more interesting species, such as Terek and Marsh Sandpipers and Red-necked and Long-toed Stints, can often be found among the more common Pacific Golden and Little Ringed Plovers, Eurasian Whimbrels, Common Redshanks, Common Greenshanks, and Wood, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, whilst drier areas sometimes attract Australian Pratincoles. We will also be on the lookout for scarcer species such as Greater Sand Plover, Grey-tailed Tattler, Far Eastern Curlew and Great Knot. Recently we have encountered Javan Plovers and it appears that a hitherto unknown population of this species breeds in this part of Sulawesi. If we are able to be present at dusk we may see Savanna Nightjar, which is relatively common in the area.

Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 2  This morning we shall visit Karaenta Forest, a series of remnant forest patches on limestone outcrops, close to Makassar. Here we may encounter the very localized Black-ringed White-eye, a species restricted to southern Sulawesi, and the endemic and newly-described Sulawesi Streaked (or Sulawesi Brown) Flycatcher.

A number of other Sulawesi endemics also occur here. In particular we will be keeping a keen eye out for the stunning Sulawesi Hornbill, a species that can be hard to come by elsewhere. Sulawesi Babblers (one of the very few babblers to be found east of Wallace’s Line) will be singing from the undergrowth, noisy Hair-crested Drongos call from the roadside (the distinctive form here has white eyes and is sometimes split as White-eyed Spangled Drongo) and the canopy is home to the semi-nocturnal Blue-backed Parrot, White-necked Myna (of the southern Sulawesi form), Grey-sided and Yellow-sided Flowerpeckers, and Black Sunbirds while Grey-rumped Tree Swifts patrol above the forest. We should also see our first Piping Crows, which have some of the most amazing vocalizations of any corvid.

This afternoon we take a flight to Palu in western Sulawesi, from where we will drive to Lore Lindu National Park for a four nights stay.

Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera: Days 3-5  Lore Lindu is the largest and finest of Sulawesi’s national parks. Much of this magnificent reserve comprises high, rugged mountains, many of which are still densely covered with montane forest, but lowland habitats are also represented. It is the wide range of altitudes within the park and the diversity of habitats which make Lore Lindu so rich in birds and a large number of Sulawesi’s endemic species can be seen here. Sadly, however, large numbers of people have settled in the park in recent years, and as a consequence, much of the forest on the lower slopes has been cleared and the outlook for this magnificent area (or at least the more accessible portions) does not look rosy! The forest on the upper slopes is still mostly intact, and on the slopes of Gunung Rorekatimbu (2509m), the highest peak in the park, we will search for a number of upper montane specialities amidst forest which at the highest levels is dominated by a variety of conifers. Lower down we will find mid-montane forest with trees up to 40m tall and a quite different selection of birds. At the lowest altitudes, there is still some lowland rainforest, although inevitably it is these areas which have been most disturbed by logging and by recent settlement and its associated slash and burn. The lower valleys are largely cultivated and provide a pleasantly tranquil setting as we look for a number of open country species. By exploring these different habitats we will ensure that we see a wide range of species during our stay.

In densely forested areas, the forest edges are often the most productive, especially in the early morning, and we shall take full advantage of the dirt roads and logging trails through the forest. Barred (or Sulawesi) Honey Buzzards and very similar-looking Sulawesi Hawk-Eagles sweep low over the forest, noisy, acrobatic flocks of Golden-mantled Racquet-tails fly swiftly over the canopy and Purple Needletails soar high above us.

One of our prime targets will be the magnificent Purple-bearded Bee-eater (surely one of the world’s most striking bee-eaters), a few pairs of which breed in banks formed when the logging roads were constructed. We will look for fruiting trees as these are the best places to find specialist fruit-eaters such as gorgeous Red-eared and Superb Fruit Doves, lethargic White-bellied and Grey-headed Imperial Pigeons, and Sultan’s Cuckoo-Dove. Flowering trees are favoured by a variety of flowerpeckers and honeyeaters, including the endemic Dark-eared and White-eared Myzas (or Lesser Sulawesi and Greater Sulawesi Honeyeaters). In the forest interior, we will peer into the thick undergrowth hoping to glimpse two of the park’s shyest inhabitants, Great Shortwing and Chestnut-backed Bush Warbler, two seldom-seen forest floor skulkers.

Mixed flocks at higher altitudes hold a selection of highly sought endemics, often led by the curious and noisy Malia (taxonomists first debated whether it was a babbler or a bulbul, but the most recent thinking is that it is a grassbird!). The secretive Sulawesi Thrush is sometimes found with the Malias, whilst Sulawesi Drongos, Pygmy and Cerulean Cuckooshrikes are never far away.

Parties of smaller birds often include Blue-fronted, Little Pied and Turquoise Flycatchers, Citrine Canary-flycatcher, Sulawesi Leaf Warbler, Rusty-bellied Fantail, Sulphur-vented (or Yellow-vented) Whistler, Crimson-crowned Flowerpecker, Mountain and Streak-headed White-eyes, and the secretive Blue-faced Parrotfinch.

A major Sulawesi speciality, the enigmatic Hylocitrea (formerly known as Yellow-flanked Whistler, but now treated as a monotypic family and therefore a must-see bird for the family collectors!), also occurs in these bird parties.

Other species we will seek in the higher reaches of the park include the feisty Dwarf (or Small) Sparrowhawk, gaudy Ornate and Citrine (or Yellow-and-green) Lorikeets, the striking Ivory-backed Woodswallow, Sulawesi Blue and White-browed Flycatchers, Sulawesi Myzomela, the delightful Fiery-browed Myna and the flighty Mountain Serin (the distinctive and undescribed form here has a bright orange rump).

At lower altitudes, we shall search the remaining forest patches for a number of submontane endemics and specialities including the seldom-seen Jerdon’s Baza, Sulawesi Serpent Eagle, Black and Rufous-bellied Eagles, Sulawesi Cicadabird, White-rumped (or Sulawesi) Triller, Short-tailed Starling, Sulawesi Crested (or Short-crested) Myna and Lemon-bellied White-eye.

Amongst the many other species we may see during our time in the park are Spot-tailed Sparrowhawk, Spotted Kestrel, Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, Sulawesi Swiftlet and Sulawesi Pygmy Woodpecker.

At night we will have our first chance to look for Sulawesi Scops Owl, Speckled Boobook and the rare and little known Cinnabar Boobook. We may well find the uncommon and poorly known Satanic (or Diabolical) Nightjar at its day roost.

With luck, we will encounter one or more of the park’s rarer inhabitants such as Sulawesi Ground Dove, Sulawesi Hawk-Cuckoo, the terrestrial Geomalia or Maroon-backed Whistler.

Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 6  After some final birding in Lore Lindu National Park we will return to Palu. As we drive through the Palu Valley we will stop to check through the flocks of Chestnut and Scaly-breasted Munias for the localized Black-faced and Pale-headed Munias, and we may well see Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

From Palu, we will take a flight to Manado, a town situated on the long, snaking tentacle that forms the northern extremity of the strangely-shaped island of Sulawesi, and then drive to Tangkoko for a three nights stay.

Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera: Days 7-8  Tangkoko National Park has fared rather better than many of Sulawesi’s lowland forests and much remains intact. Here, we will spend much of our time exploring the excellent trails through the extensive forest in pursuit of a number of specialities. High on our want list will be a series of gorgeous kingfishers. Green-backed Kingfisher can often be detected shortly before dawn by its siren-like whistles, the rather odd-looking Lilac (or Lilac-cheeked) Kingfisher sits sedately in the mid-storey whilst the tiny Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfisher often sits motionless in the understorey. With luck, we will also come across both the attractive Ruddy Kingfisher and the aptly-named Great-billed Kingfisher.

Tangkoko has much more to offer than its kingfishers though. A number of other Sulawesi endemics also occur and our two days here will provide an excellent chance to catch up with any of Sulawesi’s magical avifauna that we are still looking for.

Additional endemics and specialities that we may well encounter in the forested areas include Sulawesi Black Pigeon, the beautiful Black-naped Fruit Dove, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon (of the rusty-naped, paulina form), Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeons, Yellow-breasted Racquet-tail (an excellent vocalist), Great (or Large Sulawesi) Hanging Parrot, Black-billed Koel and Bay Coucal (both are far easier to hear than see!), the colourful Yellow-billed Malkoha and equally attractive Purple-winged Roller, the magnificent Knobbed Hornbill, the impressive Ashy Woodpecker, Pale Blue Monarch and Grosbeak Starling (an incredible-looking species, with waxy red feathers on its rump, that nests in large colonies in dead trees in tower-block fashion!).

We should also come across a few of the more difficult species such as the shy Philippine (or Tabon) Scrubfowl, the colourful Sulawesi Pitta, the splendid Red-backed Thrush and Pygmy (or Small Sulawesi) Hanging Parrot.

The coastal scrub and grasslands at Tangkoko are excellent for two more endemics, namely the shy Isabelline Bush-hen and White-rumped Cuckooshrike (both of which are endemic to the Sulawesi region).

At dusk, we should see the huge, harrier-like Great Eared Nightjar floating over the forest and we should also be able to find the endemic Sulawesi Nightjar. We will also have more opportunities to look for Sulawesi Scops Owl and Ochre-bellied Boobook should we need them.

Tangkoko is also an interesting place for mammals, with the great-ape-like Crested Black Macaque, Bear Cuscus and the diminutive Spectral Tarsier likely to be seen during our visit.

More widespread species we are likely to encounter in forest or grassland habitats include the elusive Stephan’s Dove, Lesser Coucal, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Black-naped Oriole, Slender-billed Crow (the local form is sometimes split as Sulawesi Crow), Flyeater, White-breasted Woodswallow, Plain-throated (or Brown-throated) and Olive-backed Sunbirds, and Black-crowned White-eye.

Along the coast, or during our boat trip, we may well encounter Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Pacific Reef Egret, Striated (or Little) Heron, Brahminy Kite, the huge White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Common, Black-naped, White-winged and Little Terns, Pink-necked Green Pigeon and Collared, Sacred and Common Kingfishers.

Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 9  After some final birding at Tangkoko we will return to Manado for an overnight stay.

Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 10  In the morning we will take a flight to the small island of Ternate, situated off the west coast of Halmahera in Indonesia’s northern Moluccas. The island is little more than a huge smoking volcano rising to over 1700m. The perfectly-shaped cone, which last erupted in 1987, is one of a chain of small volcanoes which guard the western approaches to Halmahera. Ternate was formerly of vital importance as one of the world’s few sources of cloves, but today it is a little-visited backwater with only the crumbling remains of its colonial past as a reminder of its one-time significance. It does, however, host the only major airport and inter-island ferry terminus in the area.

On arrival at Ternate, we will make the short boat crossing to Halmahera. During the crossing, we will be looking out for Bulwer’s Petrel and both Bridled and Greater Crested Terns. There are also possibilities for Brown and Red-footed Boobies, Long-tailed Skua, Aleutian Tern, Spinner Dolphin and Short-finned Pilot Whale.

From the town of Sidangoli, we will have a magnificent view across to the smouldering cone of Ternate, surrounded by coral reefs amid a deep blue sea.

Halmahera is by far the largest island of the Moluccan archipelago (now known as Maluku) with a contorted shape not unlike a small version of Sulawesi. The Moluccas are famed as the ‘Spice Islands’ and in the 15th and 16th centuries completely dominated the world trade in cloves, nutmeg and mace. Halmahera consists largely of a series of hills that were, until recently, clothed in relatively undisturbed rainforest. Pressure on the land here is becoming intense and many of the island’s fantastic endemics are now threatened by forest clearance. The local population is concentrated on the coastal plains where coconut and sago palm plantations are interspersed with areas of grassland and scrub.

Halmahera lies further to the east of Wallace’s Line than Sulawesi and consequently its avifauna contains a higher proportion of Australasian elements. Few birdwatchers have visited Halmahera, yet some of the world’s rarest and least known birds occur here, including many endemics.

We will be spending four nights on this interesting island, with a night at Subaim followed by two at Foli and one at Sidangoli.

Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera: Days 11-13  The forests in the Subaim and Foli areas have been logged fairly recently, yet these areas are still remarkably rich in birdlife, with some areas still barely touched by timber extraction. Needless to say, our access to the forest has been facilitated by the construction of logging roads, and it is from these that we will explore the area.

The magnificent and rare Standardwing (or Wallace’s Standardwing) was made famous by David Attenborough’s birds of paradise film, and we will visit one of its display trees. This extraordinary bird of paradise only occurs on Halmahera and neighbouring Bacan and was for many years thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in the 1980s, and this is indeed our prime reason for visiting this area. As we wait under the tree at dawn, we will first hear the loud display calls as the first glimmers of light appear through the canopy. As the sun rises, the activity rapidly increases and gradually our monotone surroundings will gain colour as flashes of glistening green breast-shields and orange legs will be seen. Before we know it, we will be engrossed in the spectacular display going on just a few metres above us. Males, with white standards sticking out in all directions, call loudly and suddenly leap into the air before parachuting back down to their perch in the hope of attracting a rather drab female. When one appears, she causes a near riot as rival males tussle over the ultimate prize! This is what we will all have been waiting for and none of us will be disappointed!

There are still good numbers of pigeons and parrots here, and we will likely see Blue-capped, Scarlet-breasted and Grey-headed Fruit-Doves, Spectacled, Cinnamon-bellied and Pied Imperial Pigeons, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Chattering Lory (declining owing to trapping), Moluccan Hanging Parrot, Great-billed Parrot, White Cockatoo (still fairly common in spite of ongoing clearance), Violet-necked Lory, Moluccan King Parrot and both Red-cheeked and Eclectus Parrots. We will also be eager to see the stunning Ivory-breasted Pitta (the aptly named Pitta maxima!). Its wolf-whistle-like calls will echo around the forest and before too long we should be able to track down this most impressive species.

We should also find Pacific Baza, Grey-throated Goshawk, the impressive Gurney’s Eagle, Pygmy Eagle, the secretive Dusky Megapode, Brush Cuckoo, the huge Goliath Coucal, Moustached Tree Swift, Sombre, Beach, Azure, Blue-and-white and Moluccan Dwarf Kingfishers, the attractive Common Paradise Kingfisher, Oriental Dollarbird, the huge Blyth’s Hornbill, Moluccan, Halmahera and White-bellied Cuckooshrikes, Common Cicadabird, Rufous-bellied Triller, Northern Golden Bulbul, Island Leaf Warbler (the local form may well be split in future as Halmahera Leaf Warbler), Slaty and Shining Flycatchers, the delightful White-naped and Moluccan Monarchs, Willie Wagtail, Black-chinned Whistler, the aptly-named Drab Whistler, Halmahera Flowerpecker, the perky Halmahera White-eye, Spangled Drongo, Dusky-brown Oriole, Long-billed Crow, Paradise Crow (which is not a crow but a rather unimpressive bird of paradise!), Moluccan and Metallic Starlings, and White-streaked Friarbird.

With luck, we will also find one or two of the rarer species, such as Moluccan Goshawk, Great Cuckoo-Dove, Nicobar Pigeon, Azure (or Purple) Dollarbird or even Invisible Rail.

In the evenings we will look for Halmahera’s impressive selection of nightbirds. Nightbirding here is exciting and we have a great chance of finding Moluccan Scops Owl, Halmahera Boobook, Large-tailed Nightjar and the weird and elusive Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar. Barking Owl is a possibility too.

Best of Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 14  Today we will travel by road and boat back to Ternate, where our tour ends at Ternate airport around midday.

BEST OF SULAWESI & HALMAHERA, INDONESIA TOUR REPORT 2018

by Mark Van Beirs

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BEST OF SULAWESI & HALMAHERA, INDONESIA TOUR REPORT 2017

by Craig Robson

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Other shorter Southeast Asia and surrounding region birding tours by Birdquest include: