SUMATRA, INDONESIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Note: This is the 2024 itinerary. In 2022 Northern Sumatra (the Medan/Medan section) is an optional extension.
Sumatra: Day 1 Our tour begins around midday at Bandar Lampung airport. Bandar Lampung is the capital of Lampung province in southern Sumatra.
(If you arranging your own flights to and from the tour, but would find it more convenient if we were to supply the domestic flights in Indonesia, we will be pleased to do so on request.)
From Bandar Lampung 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: Days 2-4 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 the Red-crowned, Blue-eared, Coppersmith and Sooty Barbets, 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 that we may see include Crested Fireback and many babblers, including the strange Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler and Black-throated Babbler. If we are very lucky we will come across the colourful Crested Partridge with its punk-style crest.
Higher up, in the mid-canopy and canopy, there is plenty to look for. Among the more interesting species that 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 Oriental 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 Philentoma, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher and the elusive Grey-chested Jungle 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 nightbirds 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: Day 5 After some early morning birding at Way Kambas we will drive back to Bandar Lampung airport and catch a flight to Jakarta with an onward connection to the city of Padang, situated on the coast of western Sumatra, where we stay overnight.
Sumatra: Day 6 From Padang we will travel by fast ferry this morning to the island of Sipora in the Mentawai Islands, situated around 150km across the Mentawai straits off the west coast of Sumatra. We will be spending two nights on the island and will arrive in time for some initial exploration this afternoon.
Sumatra: Day 7 During our time in this little-known and seldom explored island we have an excellent chance of finding such endemics and near-endemics, Barusan Cuckoo-Dove (which also occurs in the Simeulue islands), Mentawai Malkoha, Mentawai Scops Owl and Mentawai Drongo.
In addition, there are another fifteen or more endemic subspecies (depending on taxonomy followed) including the distinctive sipora subspecies of the Crested Serpent Eagle, a potential split.
There are also a number of endemic mammals including three squirrels and five endemic primates: the Mentawai or Kloss Gibbon, Mentawai Macaque, Siberut Macaque, Mentawai Langur and Pig-tailed Langur. These are highly endangered due to logging and unsustainable hunting, but we will do our best to find some of them.
Sumatra: Day 8 After some final birding on Sipora we will head back to Padang by fast ferry and overnight there.
Sumatra: Day 9 From Padang, we will travel by road to the village of Kayu Aro, which will be our base for the next four nights. Although not a great distance, the roads in this remote area of Sumatra are not fast. Situated right at the foot of Gunung Kerinci, only a tea plantation lies between us and the spectacular classic cone-shaped volcano. This afternoon we will commence our exploration of Gunung Kerinci.
Sumatra: Days 10-12 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 rediscovered 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.
Initially, we will travel through the tea plantations, where we may encounter species such as Black-winged 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 that leads to the summit of the volcano.
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 a stay of this duration, 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 endemic 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. Additional Sundaic-endemics like the graceful Sumatran Trogon, Sunda Owlet and Indigo Flycatcher should put in an appearance, along with Fire-tufted Barbet (with its cicada-like song) and Rufous-vented Niltava.
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 and occasionally Sunda Cuckoo-shrike (the latter species being endemic to the Greater Sundas). If we are extremely lucky we will also encounter Sunda Laughingthrush (another Greater Sunda endemic).
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.
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, 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: Day 13 After a final morning on the 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: Days 14-15 The road between Sungai Penuh and Tapan via 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 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 Leafbird. Sumatran Leafbird has suffered from extensive trapping, so nowadays the chances of a sighting are slim.
With 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, 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, Lesser Forktail, 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 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. With a great deal of luck, we will come across the spectacular but endangered Helmeted Hornbill.
Sumatra: Day 16 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 airport and take a flight to Medan in northern Sumatra, where we will overnight.
Sumatra: Day 17 This morning we travel by air to Meulaboh in the remote northwestern province of Aceh, where we will stay for three nights. This afternoon we will go birding in the vicinity of Meulaboh.
Sumatra: Days 18-19 We will explore more remote areas around Meulaboh during our stay. Here we will make a particular effort to track down the increasingly rare (due to trapping for the bird trade) Sumatran (or Black-and-white) Laughingthrush and the recently-split Aceh Bulbul. We also have a good chance of finding the rare and shy Roll’s Hill Partridge.
Other Sumatran endemics possible here include the shy Sumatran Peacock-Pheasant, the elusive Salvadori’s Pheasant, the rare and little known Sumatran Woodpecker, the elusive Graceful Pitta, the attractive Blue-masked and Sumatran Leafbirds and the little-known Sumatran Babbler, plus the Sumatran form of the Collared Owlet.
The montane and submontane forests will be birdy and we will encounter a large number of other species. Some of the more interesting species we may encounter include the sneaky Ferruginous Partridge, Black-thighed Falconet, Little Cuckoo-Dove, Silver-rumped Swift, Wreathed, Oriental Pied, Rhinoceros, Great and Helmeted Hornbills, Orange-backed Woodpecker, Red-headed Trogon, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Ruby-throated Bulbul, Sunda and Chestnut-capped Laughingthrushes, the attractive Chestnut-naped Forktail, Large Niltava, Blue Nuthatch and Spectacled and Grey-breasted Spiderhunters, to name but a few.
Sumatra: Day 20 After some final birding in the Meulaboh region we return by air to Medan for an overnight stay.
Sumatra: Day 21 From Medan we will take a flight to the remote Simeulue Islands group off the west coast of Sumatra, which lie around 140km (85 miles) offshore. We will spend two nights on Simeulue, arriving in time for some initial exploration.
Sumatra: Day 22 Our main targets in the Simeulue islands will be an endemic owl, the poorly-known Simeulue Scops Owl, and the endemic Simeulue Parrot, and we have an excellent chance of tracking down these little-known birds. We should also see the distinctive (and sometimes split) Simeulue Serpent Eagle, and we have a realistic chance of finding the rare Silvery Woodpigeon, which was only rediscovered here in 2010.
We will also see a selection of more common and widespread species, including a few endemic island forms that may be split in the future.
Sumatra: Day 23 After some final birding on Simeulue, we will return by air to Medan where the extension ends this afternoon.
(There are flight connections from Medan to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. If you are arranging your international flight tickets in connection with the tour, we can arrange local flight tickets for you on request.)
SUMATRAN GROUND CUCKOO PRE-TOUR EXTENSION
Sumatran Ground Cuckoo: Day 1 The extension begins this morning at Bandar Lampung airport in southern Sumatra. From there we will drive northwestwards to the town of Liwa for an overnight stay.
Sumatran Ground Cuckoo: Day 2 This morning we hike into the remote forest of Way Titias in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, where we will camp for two nights. The hike takes about four hours, with a few stops along the way, and takes us first through rolling coffee plantations, then down into a small stream bed which we will follow for a few kilometres before climbing up into primary forest.
On the way, we will be looking for two special birds of the forest edge and secondary scrub amongst the paddyfields; the little-known endemic Buettikofer’s Babbler and White-capped Munia (a species thought to be endemic to Java until it was discovered here in southern Sumatra). Other species of this habitat include Ruby-throated Bulbul and Baya Weaver. We will commence our explorations at Way Titias this afternoon.
Sumatran Ground Cuckoo: Day 3 Way Titias is one of those areas of accessible foothill forest where the steepness of the terrain has preserved the habitat from clearance for agriculture. Fortunately, once inside this beautiful primary rainforest, the trails are reasonably good and pleasant to bird from. Here, we will surely hear the far-carrying all of the elusive endemic Sumatran Ground-Cuckoo, a species that was lost for a century before being rediscovered here in 2007! This is surely one of Southeast Asia’s rarest and most sought-after birds, but seeing (as opposed to hearing) this remarkable creature certainly requires some luck as well as persistence.
There are plenty of other birds in this forest and amongst these, we have a good chance of finding a number that are not usually seen on the main tour, including Blue-banded Kingfisher, Chestnut-naped Forktail, Spotted Fantail, Fulvous-chested Jungle-Flycatcher, Maroon-breasted Philentoma and Yellow-eared Spiderhunter. The scarce Sumatran Trogon is surprisingly common in the forest around our camp and it is a delight to see such a bird on a regular basis. We also have extra chances here for some difficult-to-see species such as Sumatran Partridge, Ferruginous Partridge, Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasant, Salvadori’s Pheasant, Graceful Pitta and Blue-masked Leafbird.
Sumatran Ground Cuckoo: Day 4 After a last morning at Way Titias we will return to Liwa for an overnight stay.
Sumatran Ground Cuckoo: Day 5 This morning we will return to Bandar Lampung and meet up with those arriving for the main tour.
ENGGANO ISLAND EXTENSION
Enggano: Day 1 Today we take a flight from Bengkulu to Enggano Island, where we will spend three nights. We may have our first chance to explore the island this afternoon.
Enggano: Days 2-3 The island of Enggano lies approximately 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of the Sumatran mainland and is about 35 kilometres (22 miles) long and about 16 kilometres (10 miles) wide. This Indian Ocean island has an area of roughly 500 square kilometres, yet the highest point is only 281m (922ft) above sea level. This rarely visited place has several types of forest habitat, some of which are still intact.
Our prime targets here will be the four widely recognized endemics; Enggano Cuckoo-Dove, Enggano Scops Owl, Enggano Thrush and Enggano Hill Myna.
In addition, the local endemic forms of the Green Imperial Pigeon, Long-tailed Parakeet and Swinhoe’s White-eye are occasionally split as Enggano Imperial Pigeon, Enggano Parakeet and Enggano White-eye.
Enggano: Day 4 After some final birding on Enggano we will catch a flight back to Bengkulu.