ULTIMATE SULAWESI & HALMAHERA, INDONESIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 1 Our Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera birding tour begins early this afternoon at Makassar airport in southeastern Sulawesi. From Makassar (also known as Ujung Pandang) we will drive to Malino for an overnight stay. Our first birds are likely to include House Swift, Pacific and Barn Swallows, and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 2 Today we will explore the Lompobattang range in search of the endemic Lompobattang Flycatcher and also the very localized Black-ringed White-eye, a species restricted to southern Sulawesi. In addition, the local form of the Sulawesi Leaf Warbler is sometimes split as Lompobattang Leaf Warbler. We will also have a first encounter with a number of more widespread Sulawesi birds. Afterwards we will return to Makassar for an overnight stay.
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.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 3 This morning we shall visit Karaenta Forest, a series of remnant forest patches on limestone outcrops, close to Makassar. Here we may encounter the endemic and newly-described Sulawesi Streaked (or Sulawesi Brown) Flycatcher. There is also a back-up opportunity for Black-ringed White-eye.
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.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Days 4-6 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 Caerulean 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.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 7 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 Tomohon for an overnight stay.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 8 This morning we will visit the slopes of Gunung Mahawu, which offers our best chances for the shy and poorly-known endemic Scaly-breasted Kingfisher and White-faced Cuckoo-Dove. After our search for these birds we will continue to the Dumoga-Bone National Park region for a three nights stay (we will spend one night at Kotamobagu outside the park and two nights inside).
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Days 9-10 Dumoga-Bone is primarily an area of lowland rainforest, although there is also some montane forest on the slopes of the surrounding mountains. Here clear rivers rush through the remaining rainforest which, as in most of the country, is under severe pressure from human exploitation!
Our main quest at Dumoga-Bone will be the rare and elusive Maleo, surely the strangest member of the megapode family. Maleos lay their eggs colonially in the ground in areas where the soil is heated volcanically. In this way the eggs can be left to incubate themselves completely unattended and the youngsters are able to fly strongly almost as soon as they come out of the egg! Unfortunately predation, especially by humans, takes a massive toll (almost all the nesting grounds are known to the local people). At Dumoga-Bone many of the eggs are taken to be reared in the safety of a hatchery, ensuring a considerably higher success rate than in the wild. Mercifully, in spite of the most recent bout of economic difficulties in Indonesia that led to such projects being temporarily closed down, making the future of this wonderful species highly precarious, numbers have bounced back and many birds now visit to lay their eggs.
There is a high degree of overlap between Dumoga-Bone and Tangkoko National Park, so we will have a first opportunity to see many of the species listed for that area. Additional forest species we may well see in Dumoga Bone National Park include the vocal Oberholser’s Fruit Dove and the canopy-loving Pied Cuckooshrike.
After dusk we have the chance to find Sulawesi Masked Owl and another chance for the rather cute Speckled Boobook.
Mammals are not conspicuous in Dumoga-Bone, but we may encounter Gorontalo Macaque.
In the open country around Dumoga Bone we should find a number of other species such as Great and Intermediate Egrets, Wandering Whistling Duck, Spotted Harrier, Buff-banded and Barred Rails, White-browed Crake and White-breasted Waterhen and if we are fortunate we will find Rufous Night Heron or Lesser Fish Eagle.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 11 After some final birding in the Dumoga-Bone area we will return to Kotamobagu for an overnight stay.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 12 This morning we will start early and explore some of the surviving montane forest in Gunung Ambang National Park. Here we should find the localized Matinan Flycatcher, an endemic species restricted to the montane forests of the Minahassa Peninsula (the north-eastern ‘arm’ of the Sulawesi ‘starfish’) and we also have another chance to encounter the beautiful but elusive Scaly-breasted Kingfisher. We also have a second chance for Cinnabar Boobook here and if we are really in luck we will come across the seldom-seen Sombre Pigeon. We may also find the distinctive local subspecies of Malia as well as a number of other montane species we should have already have observed. Afterwards we will drive back to Manado and then on to Tangkoko for a two nights stay
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 13 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.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 14 After spending much of the day at Tangkoko we will return to Manado for an overnight stay. The mangroves near our hotel will give us further chances for Great-billed Kingfisher, White-rumped Cuckooshrike and Sulawesi Triller.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 15 This morning we will take a short flight to the island of Morotai in the northern Moluccas, situated off the much larger island of Halmahera. This afternoon we will begin our exploration of Morotai, which is home to the endemic Dusky (or Morotai) Friarbird, a species which is now thought to be restricted to Morotai rather than occur on Halmahera or Bacan. The island also holds endemic forms of Ivory-breasted Pitta, Spangled Drongo, Paradise-crow and Cream-throated White-eye that some authorities already split as Morotai Pitta, Morotai Drongo, Morotai Paradise-crow and Morotai White-eye.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 16 After spending the morning on Morotai, we will cross by ferry to the town of Tobelo in northern Halmahera for an overnight stay. 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.
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.
This evening we will make an excursion to some volcanic black-sand beaches north of Tobelo. Our target species, the rare and seldom seen Moluccan Megapode (or Moluccan Scrubfowl), comes to the beaches at night to lay its eggs. Numbers coming each night fluctuate greatly and we will need some luck to see one of these globally threatened birds illuminated in the spotlight beam.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 17 This morning we will travel southwards to the remote settlements of Foli and Subaim for a two nights stay in each. This afternoon we will begin our exploration of the surroundings of Foli.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Days 18-20 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.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 21 After some final birding at Foli we will continue southwards to Sidangoli for an overnight stay.
From the forested slopes at Sidangoli we will have a magnificent view across to the smouldering cone of Ternate, surrounded by coral reefs amid a deep blue sea.
Ultimate Sulawesi & Halmahera: Day 22 There will be chance for some final birding around Sidangoli this morning before we take a boat across to the small island of Ternate, situated off the west coast of Halmahera, where the airport that serves most of Halmahera is situated.
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.
Our tour will end at Ternate airport around midday.
Obi: Day 1 Tonight we will travel by ferry from Ternate to the large but little-visited island of Obi, which lies in the central Moluccas to the south of Ternate.
Obi: Days 2-4 During our explorations on Obi, a very rarely birded part of Indonesia where we will stay for three nights, we will be concentrating on the four endemics currently recognized by at least one global authority, Moluccan (or Obi) Woodcock (a species known also from a single record from Bacan, to the southwest of Halmahera), Carunculated Fruit Dove, Obi Golden Bulbul and Cinnamon-breasted Whistler, all of which we should see as this is a good time of year for woodcock display-flighting on Obi.
In addition Obi has a series of distinctive forms that may be recognized as full species by the IOC and others in the future, including Obi (Cinnamon-bellied) Imperial Pigeon, Obi (Violet-necked) Lory, Obi (Red-cheeked) Parrot, Obi (Hair-crested) Drongo, Obi (Northern) Fantail, Obi (Mountain) Leaf Warbler, Obi (Dusky) Myzomela and Obi Paradise Crow. An extraordinary list and one that suggests that Obi’s extensive endemism may have failed to be recognised at the species level until now.
Obi: Day 5 After some final birding on Obi we will return by overnight ferry to Ternate.
Obi: Day 6 The tour ends this morning at Ternate.