SUMATRA & JAVA, INDONESIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Sumatra & Java: Day 1 Our tour begins in the early afternoon at Padang airport (there are international connections into Padang from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta).
From Padang we will travel by road to a small village near Sungai Penuh. Although not a great distance, the roads in this remote area of Sumatra are not fast. The village of Keresek Tua will be our base for the next four nights. Situated right at the foot of Gunung Kerinci, only a tea plantation lies between us and the spectacular classic cone-shaped volcano.
Sumatra & Java: Days 2-4 The moss-clad forested slopes of Gunung Kerinci, the highest peak in Sumatra and thus in all of western Indonesia, offer some of the most challenging and exciting birding in South-East Asia. The whole area is so remote and unexplored that there are even recent reports of a new species of terrestrial ape living in the forest, known to the locals as ‘orang pendek’ (Indonesian for ‘short man’). Recent surveys have also shown that there is still a population of the endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros as well as Tigers in the extensive tracts of remaining forest, though the chances of us encountering either of these species are exceedingly slim!
It was here that Schneider’s Pitta was re-discovered as recently as 1988 and amongst the other enigmatic and little known species that occur are such gems as Salvadori’s Pheasant and Sumatran Cochoa.
From Keresek Tua we will travel daily through the tea plantations, where we may encounter species such as Black-shouldered Kite, Spotted Dove, Lesser Coucal, Long-tailed Shrike, Yellow-vented Bulbul and Scaly-breasted Munia, and into the montane forest beyond. There is a narrow though well-maintained trail which leads to the summit of the volcano. Although popular at the weekends, it is usually quiet during the week and we should have the trail mostly to ourselves.
At the forest edge we will search for the characterful endemic Sumatran Treepie and another Sundaic endemic, the Sunda Minivet (which has nearly all-red females). Many of the birds we shall be searching for are ground dwellers, and consequently difficult to see in the luxuriant undergrowth. We will hope to see the endemic Red-billed Partridge (which is sadly now very shy due to hunting pressure) and the endemic Rusty-breasted and Sumatran Wren-Babblers (the latter a rather ‘top-heavy’ looking species that has been split from Long-billed). Wren-babblers are a prominent feature here, with Pygmy and Eyebrowed also present.
Plenty of time at Kerinci is absolutely vital! With four full days and a morning we have a good chance of coming across two or three of the most difficult endemics, which are Schneider’s Pitta, Salvadori’s Pheasant, Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasant and the beautifully-coloured though incredibly rare Sumatran Cochoa.
The thrush family is well represented. As we walk along the trail we should encounter the endemic Shiny Whistling Thrush, which often seems inquisitive, and the shyer and more elusive Sumatran Whistling Thrush. Lesser Shortwings are replaced at higher altitudes by White-browed Shortwings, while Sunda Blue Robins (another Sundaic endemic) occasionally flick on to the path. The graceful Sumatran Trogon (another Sundaic endemic) should put in a few appearances, along with Fire-tufted Barbet (with its cicada-like song), Rufous-vented Niltava and the Sundaic-endemic Indigo Flycatcher.
We should frequently encounter bird parties. Blue Nuthatch, Mountain and Black-capped White-eyes (the latter a Sundaic endemic) and Sunda Warbler (another Sundaic endemic) will be regular constituents of the flocks, whilst larger birds may include Long-tailed Broadbill, Sunda Laughingthrush and occasionally Sunda Cuckoo-shrike (the latter two species also being endemic to the Greater Sundas).
We will also visit the forest at night when we will have a chance to look for the little-known Rajah’s Scops Owl (confined to the Greater Sundas), Salvadori’s Nightjar (endemic to Sumatra and Java) and the amazing-looking endemic Pale-headed (or Sumatran) Frogmouth, though as always they will be much easier to hear than see.
On one afternoon we will visit a nearby area of forest fragments, streams and waterfalls where we should find the elegant Sundaic-endemic Lesser Forktail as well as have a chance for the elusive Giant Swiftlet.
Other birds which we have a good chance of seeing whilst at Gunung Kerinci include Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Oriental Cuckoo, Sumatran Owlet (split from Collared), Greater Yellownape, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Grey-chinned Minivet, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Lesser Racket-tailed and Ashy Drongos, Orange-spotted Bulbul (a Sundaic endemic), Grey-throated and Golden Babblers, Chestnut-capped (or Spectacled) Laughingthrush, White-browed Shrike-Babbler, Long-tailed Sibia, Mountain Leaf Warbler, Little Pied Flycatcher, White-throated Fantail and Fire-breasted Flowerpecker.
Mammals other than squirrels and tree-shrews are not prominent here, though recent sightings have included Hog-badger and Clouded Leopard!
Sumatra & Java: Day 5 After some final birding on the lower slopes of Gunung Kerinci we shall drive the short distance to Sungai Penuh for a three nights stay. Along the way we will pass a number of paddyfields where we may encounter Purple Heron and Cattle, Intermediate and Little Egrets. Depending on when we leave Kerinci, there may be time for some initial exploration in the Sungai Penuh area.
Sumatra & Java: Days 6-7 The road between Sungai Penuh and Mauro Sako passes some excellent forest. The forest here is at a lower elevation than the areas we will have explored at Gunung Kerinci and here we should find four more endemic species which are not usually found higher up, namely Sumatran Drongo, Cream-striped, Sumatran and Spot-necked Bulbuls, and the beautiful Blue-masked and Sumatran Leafbirds.
With a persistence and a bit of luck we will encounter one or more of the rarer species found here such as Sumatran Green Pigeon (endemic to the Greater Sundas), the shy White-crowned Hornbill, the rare and little-known endemic Graceful Pitta (split from Garnet), the poorly-known Marbled Wren-Babbler, Rufous-chested and Rufous-browed Flycatchers, and the scarce and elusive White-tailed Flycatcher. We will also have another chance to look for the secretive Bronze-tailed Peacock Pheasant and there is even a slim chance of encountering Sumatran Ground Cuckoo in this area.
We may also encounter such species as Black and Blyth’s Hawk-Eagles, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Little Cuckoo-Dove, Green-billed Malkoha, White-bellied and Giant Swiftlets, Rhinoceros and Bushy-crested Hornbills, Black-browed and Gold-whiskered Barbets, Black Laughingthrush, Spot-necked Babbler, Brown Fulvetta, Hill Prinia, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Verditer and Grey-headed Flycatchers, Black-and-crimson Oriole, and Plain and Temminck’s Sunbirds.
On the lower slopes we will search for species more typical of lowland rainforest such as Banded Kingfisher, Red-bearded Bee-eater and Black-crested Bulbul (the distinctive race here has a red throat and is sometimes split as Ruby-throated Bulbul), while the roadside scrub holds the Sundaic-endemic Bar-winged Prinia and Hill Prinia. Other species we may see while exploring the Mauro Sako area include the spectacular but endangered Helmeted Hornbill (nowadays a rare bird), Wreathed Hornbill, Red-throated Barbet, Black-headed, Cinereous (split from Ashy), Grey-bellied and Streaked Bulbuls, the attractive Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Crested Jay, Horsfield’s Babbler, Spectacled Spiderhunter and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker.
Sumatra & Java: Day 8 This morning we will return to Mauro Sako to look for any species that we have not yet encountered. Afterwards we will drive to Padang for an overnight stay.
Sumatra & Java: Day 9 Today we return to Jakarta by air and then take a flight to Bandar Lampung, the capital of Lampung province in southern Sumatra. From here we shall proceed by road to Way Kambas National Park for a four nights stay. On the way, we will pass through many small rural settlements and paddyfields before we catch our first sight of the forest.
We will be staying at a pleasant lodge at the edge of the national park, and as we drive inside we will stop en route in the degraded secondary forest to look for a few species we will not find in the forest proper, such as Red Junglefowl. As we leave the degraded areas behind us, we will continue a few kilometres through the forest to the Way Kanan sub-station, situated adjacent to the river of the same name, which will be our ‘birding base’ while we visit the park. This afternoon we will have our first opportunity to explore the bird-rich forest around Way Kanan.
Sumatra & Java: Days 10-12 Way Kambas National Park contains some of the best and most easily accessible lowland rainforest in Sumatra and indeed all Indonesia. Although most of the area has been selectively logged in the past, the forest has recovered well and continues to host some of South-East Asia’s more elusive species.
During our stay here we will explore the forest around Way Kanan. A clearing at the Way Kanan river is a particularly good vantage point. Blue-crowned Hanging and Blue-rumped Parrots frequently zip overhead and we will keep a lookout for Lesser Adjutant and Storm’s Stork, as well as hornbills (including the rare Wrinkled). There are sometimes fruiting trees around the clearing and if we are fortunate enough to find any we will have the opportunity to watch barbets, including the dazzling Red-crowned, Blue-eared, Coppersmith and Brown, and pigeons including Cinnamon-headed, Little and Thick-billed Green Pigeons, and Green Imperial Pigeon.
As we move into the rainforest we will be surrounded by the sounds of bird song and cicadas, and we are likely to be greeted by the comical wailing of the resident Agile and Siamang Gibbons. Mammals are a prominent feature of the forest; tree-shrews and squirrels frequently dart across the trails, troops of macaques and wild pigs roam through the forest and langurs bound through the trees. We are also likely to encounter Siamangs here. These stocky and charismatic all-black gibbons are often seen swinging acrobatically through the foliage, advertising themselves by their varied song – a mixture of resonant booming notes and at times almost human-like cries. Way Kambas is famous for its surviving population of Asiatic Elephants and Tigers, but although we may hear elephants trumpeting in the distance, we would be very lucky to see either species.
As we walk quietly through the forest we have a good chance of finding a Malayan Banded Pitta – this electrically coloured gem somehow becomes almost invisible in its forest environment. Other skulkers we may see include the colourful Crested Partridge (with its punk-like crest), Crested Fireback and many babblers, including the strange Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler and Black-throated Babbler. If we are really lucky we will encounter the elusive Malaysian Rail-Babbler.
Higher up, in the mid-canopy and canopy, there is plenty to look for. Among the more interesting species we may see are Red-billed, Chestnut-breasted, Black-bellied, Chestnut-bellied and Raffles’s Malkohas, Scarlet-rumped, Red-naped and the beautiful Diard’s Trogons, Banded, Rufous-collared and Rufous-backed Dwarf Kingfishers, Banded, Black-and-yellow, Dusky and Green Broadbills, Fiery Minivet and Rufous-tailed Shama. Woodpeckers are also a prominent feature of the park, ranging from the diminutive Rufous Piculet to the giant White-bellied Woodpecker, and also including Common Goldenback, Rufous, Checker-throated, Crimson-winged, Buff-necked, Grey-and-buff, Maroon and Sunda Woodpeckers, whilst flycatchers include Pied Fantail, Black-naped Monarch, Rufous-winged Flycatcher, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and the elusive Grey-chested Flycatcher.
We will also spend time exploring the swamps and open forest along the Way Kanan river. We shall explore up-river, either travelling in small dug-out canoes, if conditions allow, or on foot to a larger swamp. Our main goal here is the endangered and elusive White-winged Duck, which still survives in small numbers. It is thought the birds are mainly nocturnal, raiding the adjacent paddyfields under cover of darkness to feed. Strangely, many of the individuals at Way Kambas are partly albino.
Other birds we may see close to the river include Lesser and Grey-headed Fish Eagles, the bizarrely-shaped Silver-rumped Swift, Blue-eared and Stork-billed Kingfishers, Pink-necked and Cinnamon Green Pigeons (the latter a surprisingly difficult species to catch up with anywhere else), Black-and-red Broadbill (with its amazing two-tone bill), Malaysian Blue Flycatcher and White-chested Babbler, and with luck we will find an Oriental Darter or a Jerdon’s Baza.
Way Kambas is an excellent locality for nocturnal species. During our pre-dawn forays into the forest we may see, amongst others, Reddish Scops Owl, Brown Hawk Owl, Brown Wood Owl and the stunning Oriental Bay Owl as well as Gould’s, Sunda and even Large Frogmouths, though all of these can be frustratingly difficult to spot amongst the dense foliage. In addition, Malaysian Eared Nightjars are often a prominent feature around the clearing at dawn and dusk, and we have a good chance of seeing the rare and little known Sundaic-endemic Bonaparte’s Nightjar.
Other species we may well see at Way Kambas during our stay include White-bellied Sea Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Black-thighed Falconet, Emerald Dove, Zebra Dove, Banded Bay, Rusty-breasted, Plaintive, Violet and Drongo Cuckoos, Greater Coucal, Asian Palm Swift, Whiskered Treeswift, White-throated Kingfisher, Dollarbird, Black Hornbill, Scarlet Minivet, Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Green Iora, Greater Green, Lesser Green and Blue-winged Leafbirds, Olive-winged, Cream-vented, Red-eyed, Spectacled, Hairy-backed, Yellow-bellied and Buff-vented Bulbuls, Bronzed and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Dark-throated Oriole, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Slender-billed Crow, Black Magpie, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Black-capped, Short-tailed, Ferruginous, Sooty-capped, Scaly-crowned, Rufous-crowned, Moustached, Chestnut-rumped and Chestnut-winged Babblers, Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babbler, Striped Tit-Babbler, Oriental Magpie-Robin, White-rumped Shama, White-crowned Forktail, Flyeater, Ashy and Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds, Yellow-bellied Prinia, White-breasted Wood-Swallow, Hill Myna, Plain, Purple-naped, Ruby-cheeked and Crimson Sunbirds, Little Spiderhunter, Crimson-breasted, Yellow-breasted and Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers, White-bellied Munia and, with luck, the Sundaic-endemic Javan Munia.
Sumatra & Java: Day 13 After some early morning birding at Way Kambas we will drive back to Bandar Lampung airport and catch a flight to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. From there we will travel inland to Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, the most famous of the few natural forested areas remaining in western Java, for a four nights stay. (We will spend three nights in total at the Cibodas Botanical Gardens and one night camping on Gunung Gede.)
Sumatra & Java: Days 14-15 Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park is a tribute to the Indonesian conservation effort, especially in view of the overwhelming human population pressures to which Java and indeed much of Indonesia are exposed. This magnificent reserve harbours virtually all of Java’s endemic birds and most are seen here regularly.
Even to those without an interest in natural history, the beauty and richness of Java’s montane forests are apparent from the moment one enters them. Starting at 1400m we will follow a well-laid trail which winds upwards through the forest to the summit of the Gunung Gede-Pangrango volcanic massif. Fortunately it is not necessary to climb to the top in order to see Java’s montane specialities and we will concentrate mostly on the lower to middle sections, spending one night camping on the mountain so we can explore the higher areas at the best time of day.
Typically the forest can appear lifeless one moment and the next resound with a cacophony of sound and activity as a mixed species flock sweeps across our path. Led invariably by the ubiquitous endemic Javan Fulvetta, an overwhelming mass of little birds rushes by. Characteristic species in these flocks include Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, the tiny endemic Pygmy Tit, Blue Nuthatch, Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babbler, the endemic Spotted Crocias (not as easy here as at Gunung Halimun), the endemic Pied (split from White-browed) Shrike-Babbler, Trilling (or Chestnut-fronted) Shrike-Babbler, Sunda Warbler, Mountain Leaf Warbler, Indigo Flycatcher, the endemic Rufous-tailed Fantail, the endemic Mees’s (or Javan Grey-throated) White-eye and the exquisite endemic White-flanked (or Kuhl’s) Sunbird.
If we locate a fruiting tree we may find a gathering of frugivores such as the endemic Flame-fronted (or Orange-fronted) and Brown-throated Barbets, and Orange-spotted and Sunda Bulbuls. The open parts of the trail attract the endemic Javan Whistling Thrush, Sunda (or Sunda Blue) Robin and Snowy-browed Flycatcher, while the endemic Chestnut-bellied Partridge sometimes scratches about in the leaf litter at the trail margin.
Needless to say the forest floor and understorey provides a home for many of the most sought-after species, and we should see Eyebrowed and Pygmy Wren-Babblers, the superb White-bibbed and smart endemic Crescent-chested (or Pearl-cheeked) Babblers, Lesser and White-browed Shortwings, and the cheeky endemic Javan Tesia, perhaps the most obliging member of its genus.
Paying attention to what is happening above us should result in at least one sighting of the endemic Javan Hawk-Eagle, and there is a slim chance of seeing the rare Giant (or Waterfall) Swiftlet.
As dusk gathers, we will hope to spot a resting Salvadori’s Nightjar, while other nightbirding sorties will target the elusive endemic Javan Scops Owl, as well as the commoner Sunda Scops Owl (split from Collared), Javan Frogmouth and the endemic Javan (or Javan Barred) Owlet.
We should also see at least one or two of the park’s rarest or most secretive inhabitants, which include Rufous (or Dusky) Woodcock, the colourful but inconspicuous endemic Javan Trogon, the endemic and endangered Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush, the sultry, fruit-loving endemic Javan Cochoa, Sunda Thrush and Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch. Fire-tufted Barbet, a species previously thought to only occur in the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, has also been seen on recent tours.
Amongst the many other birds we may well see in this splensdid part of Indonesia are Sunda (split from Oriental) and Rusty-breasted Cuckoos, Orange-backed Woodpecker, Banded Broadbill, Sunda and Lesser Cuckooshrikes, Ashy Drongo, Horsfield’s Babbler, Sunda (or Lesser) and Southern White-crowned Forktails, Mountain and Olive-backed Tailorbirds, Little Pied Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Streaky-breasted Spiderhunter (split from Grey-breasted), Blood-breasted Flowerpecker and Oriental White-eye.
In addition to a number of squirrels and treeshrews, we also have a good chance of seeing the endemic Grizzled Leaf Monkey and Javan Langur, as well as Javan Ferret-Badger and Sunda Stink Badger.
Sumatra & Java: Day 16 After some final birding at Gunung Gede we will travel west to Gunung Halimun National Park for a two nights stay. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Sumatra & Java: Day 17 Although the forests of the Gunung Halimun massif are the largest tract of true rainforest now remaining on Java, the area’s particular importance for wildlife protection was only acknowledged as recently as 1992, when the national park was established by Indonesia’s government. The wide altitudinal range (600-1927m) contributes to the great diversity of habitats and birdlife. In contrast to Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, the 40,000 hectares of Gunung Halimun National Park, which includes seven peaks above 1450m elevation, have been comparatively little researched; the still strong conviction that the mountains are haunted meant that early researchers found it very difficult to employ guides here!
Neatly situated inside the forest is a research station with accommodation for visitors, accessed by a rough unsurfaced road. This track enters one of Java’s few remaining intact tracts of lowland broadleaved evergreen rainforest some 6 kilometres before the research station, and this is where we will enjoy our first taste of the quite superb avifauna of this hidden gem of a national park.
In the early mornings and evenings, Dark-backed Imperial Pigeons can be heard booming from the tree-tops, and we have a good chance of seeing Sumatran Green-Pigeons perched high on exposed branches or zooming overhead. Javan Hawk-Eagle occurs here also, and we will try and spot one soaring over the canopy. Groups of the endemic Volcano Swiftlet and of Brown-backed Needletail can sometimes be encountered.
Periodically, as we walk, we will encounter large bird-waves which here often contain several species that are now very hard to find elsewhere in Java, notably the threatened endemic White-breasted Babbler, the endemic White-bellied Fantail and the scintillating endemic Javan Sunbird. Additionally, Sunda Minivet and the garrulous Spotted Crocias are usually much easier to see here than at Gunung Gede.
A network of trails leading from the research station will take us deep inside untouched primary forest, where we can search for some of the park’s more secretive specialities, such as Javan and Orange-breasted Trogons. In the evening we will look for nightbirds including the endemic Javan Scops Owl, Javan Owlet and the bizarre-looking Javan Frogmouth.
Other species that we will be on the lookout for are Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Brown-backed Needletail, Rufous Piculet, Checker-throated Woodpecker, Malaysian Cuckooshrike, Blue-winged Leafbird, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, Pygmy Bushtit (or Pygmy Tit), Blue Whistling Thrush, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Little and Streaky-breasted Spiderhunters, and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, as well as the odd catch-up that we may have missed at Gunung Gede-Pangrango. There is even an outside chance of Javan Cochoa and Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush.
There is a healthy population of the endangered Javan Gibbon in the park and their evocative cries can easily be heard emanating from the forested ridges above the research station. We have a good chance of seeing the species.
Sumatra & Java: Day 18 After some final birding at Gunung Halimun we will head for Carita on the northwestern coastline of Java for an overnight stay. We will have another chance for Javan Frogmouth here.
Sumatra & Java: Day 19 At Carita a small area of dry monsoonal woodland holds a number of Javan lowland endemics and near-endemics, including the gorgeous Javan Banded Pitta, Black-banded Barbet, Yellow-eared Barbet and Grey-cheeked Tit-babbler. We also have another chance for Javan Barred Owlet and will be on the lookout for such interesting species as Black-naped Fruit Dove, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon, Banded Kingfisher, Black-capped Babbler and Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher. Later in the day we will return to Jakarta for a two nights stay.
Sumatra & Java: Day 20 Early this morning we will visit a small and diminishing wetland reserve on the outskirts of Jakarta. Amongst the scrub, swamp, mangroves and open pools we shall look for a number of interesting species. High on our ‘most wanted’ list will be the rare and endangered endemic Javan (or Sunda) Coucal, which can sometimes be found lurking in the undergrowth. We also have a chance for the threatened Black-winged Myna here, but we would need considerable luck.
Other species we may well encounter include Little Black Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Javan Pond, Black-crowned Night and Purple Herons, Little and Great Egrets, Sunda Teal, Black-backed Swamphen, Ruddy-breasted and White-browed Crakes, Whiskered Tern, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Cave Swiftlet, Collared Kingfisher, Sunda Woodpecker, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Long-tailed Shrike, Racket-tailed Treepie, Pied Bushchat, Pied Fantail, Bar-winged and Plain Prinias, Javan Myna, Plain-throated Sunbird and Javan Munia.
We will also visit Pamanukan, situated on the coast east of Jakarta, where we will have a good chance of finding two rare specialities of Indonesia (both of which are near-endemic to Java); Javan White-eye and White-capped Munia, as well as Javan Plover (split from Kentish).
Sumatra & Java: Day 21 This morning we will take a boat trip out to Pulau Rambut, a small island in the Java Sea off Jakarta which is home to the last significant colony of large waterbirds in the region. During the boat journey, or around the island itself, we have a good chance of encountering both Christmas and Lesser Frigatebirds and both Greater Crested and Lesser Crested Terns. White-bellied Sea Eagles are regular in this area as well. Once we reach the island, we will be hoping to find the rare and increasingly elusive Milky Stork. Although not by any means certain, we have a reasonable chance, as a few pairs breed in the large heronry and commute to the mainland to feed.
Other species we may well find here include Little Black Cormorant, Black-headed and Glossy Ibises, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Asian Koel, Hair-crested Drongo, Black-naped Oriole, Oriental Magpie Robin and White-breasted Woodswallow.
Our tour ends this afternoon at Jakarta airport.