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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Indonesia: The Lesser Sunda Islands

Sumba, Timor and Flores

2014 Narrative

In Brief: Despite rather hotter and drier conditions than normal we had a great tour in the Lesser Sundas this year. Highlights in this intriguing part of the world were many, as always, and included those wonderful Sumba Hornbills; gorgeous Cinnamon-banded Kingfishers, but one in particular with a tasty looking Draco lizard; sensational views of the very rare Flores Hawk-Eagle; the best looks ever of Olive-headed Lorikeets; a furtive Flores Monarch; a fabulous collection of white-eyes and dark-eyes – Yellow-spectacled, White-browed, Crested, Thick-billed and Spot-breasted; remarkably, all the Sumba flycatchers – Sumba, Sumba Brown, and Sumba Jungle; two wonderful endemic thrushes, Orange-banded and Chestnut-backed; a lovely collection of endemic flowerpeckers and sunbirds; as well as a bunch of fantastic Estrelids including the Five-colored Munia, Timor Sparrow and a very special bonus in the form of a little group of dazzling Tri-colored Parrotfinches. The main non-avian highlights had to wait until the last day of the tour! The much-anticipated Komodo Dragon was impressive but a bonus came in the form of beautiful tropical scenery and mind bogglingly colorful marine life. 

In Detail: We began our journey from Bali, flying over a multitude of islands to Waingapu on the island of Sumba, the first corner of the triangle that would make up our trip which would take us from here east to Timor and then north to Flores. I think it’s safe to say that everyone found out why they’d never heard of Waingapu before! It’s certainly a sleepy little town but at least there is one decent restaurant and cold beer. So after checking into our hotel and a tasty lunch we headed east out of town to Yumbu. Our main aim here was to see our first endemic, the very restricted range Sumba Buttonquail. It was a good omen for the tone of the tour when we found and had great views of a bird almost immediately (unlike in past years when I’ve spent long, hot hours looking for this shy grassland dweller). The next morning we drove to Lewa in the center of the island for a three-night stay. Our dwellings may have been very simple but our hosts were wonderful and the food delicious; on top of this the birding was great.

The birding was quite good with some nice endemics and others but the trails have become overgrown and it was a little quiet, perhaps due to the somewhat windy conditions. The best bird was one of the first - a terrific Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher with a Draco in its beak. We were able to watch him for some time and see the poor old dead lizard really well. By 10h30 everything was over so we headed to Lewa and settled into the home stay, had lunch and a break before heading to Manupeu in the afternoon where the birding was slow, not unexpected in the afternoons in this part of the world. The next morning we traveled to Lokuhuma,which is the site to look for the endemic Citron-crested Cockatoo. After a walk of about half a mile from the road we stationed ourselves on a hilltop overlooking an expanse of forest where the cockies are known to come to feed. We only had distant views of the cockatoo this morning but compensation came in the form of a pair of cooperative Sumba Hornbills, a fabulous Great-billed Parrot and a variety of other parrots and pigeons. Later and on the following days we explored the forests along the roadside through the national park and returned to both Km 51 and Lokuhuma catching up with the cockatoo (albeit still only distantly), a stunning Red-naped Fruit-Dove, all the endemic flycatchers, and many other fancy endemics while Elegant Pitta led us on a number of wild goose chases! As our time on Sumba came to an end we made our way back to the airport at Waingapu for our flight to Timor, but not before stopping at a small beach area to see the rather scarce Malaysian Plover.

On arrival in Kupang on Timor we started our birding at a nearby park, which provided a good introduction to this interesting island, standing at the crossroads between Asia and Australia, as it were. The next day we spent at Bipolo where we started birding along the road at first light. This is the best site on Timor by far and one of my favorites of the whole tour. We did really well with all the expected birds, most of them endemics, as well as a couple of pleasant surprises, most notably some Oriental Plovers and a small group of Tricolored Parrotfinches. We birded in the forest and then out in the rice paddies and fish ponds until about 11h00 by which time it was too hot to do much. We then returned for lunch at a Rumah Makan back on the main road. A true Indonesian experience enjoyed by most everyone! After lunch we went to look for pratincoles but only found more Oriental Plovers! Clearly these passage migrants were on their way south.

Next day was spent at Camplong where we arrived in good time and started to look for the Timor Stubtail amongst others. We found that soon enough but the Black-banded Flycatcher took forever and we didn’t find that until just before lunch. But we found it! A miracle in itself… Lunch was at the same place, Masakan Jawa,  which means Javan Food, nothing fancy but tasty enough. After lunch we went to the Weird Forest again, and this time found the Olive-winged Parrot. We stayed late and looked for the owl unsuccessfully.

Our next destination was further east on the island to Oelnasi and Gunung Mutis with a stop en route at a shorebirding site where we picked up some interesting birds including Sunda Teal, Gull-billed Tern and Far Eastern Curlew. Our birding time at Oelnasi was very successful and we caught up with a number of species we’d managed to miss thus far including the to-date elusive Timor Boobook. Gunung Mutis was rather slow going as always but we did find a few of the higher altitude birds including the Timor Leaf-Warbler, Island Thrush and the distinctive subspecies of Pygmy Wren-Babbler, which should surely be split sometime soon. The highlight of the day on Mutis I think though was our visit with the Kepala Desa or Village Head, Mateus and his family. It is fascinating to see the traditional house where they live and the indigenous culture; we thoroughly enjoyed their wonderful hospitality.

From Timor we headed next to Ruteng on the island of Flores. This charming little city is located at a higher altitude and the cool weather, not to mention greenery, came as a welcome change. But we headed out almost immediately to lower elevations and back to the heat in Kisol, where we birded for the next couple of days. Again it was hotter than usual so it was very quiet at times but we did very well overall here with many great sightings including Flores Crow, with its odd baby-like calls, incredible low flyover views of Flores Hawk-Eagle, the newly split Mee’s Nightjar, a colorful Elegant Pitta for a lucky few, amongst others. From Kisol we relocated back to Ruteng where we were well positioned to explore the higher altitude areas of this lovely island. We concentrated on two sites – Golo Lusang and Pagal. The former was particularly pleasant and rewarding with cool weather, lovely views and great birding. The main highlight here was the outstanding Bare-throated Whistler, with its remarkable vocalisations this bird has real charisma and never disappoints. One of the Lesser Sundas most attractive birds is the striking White-rumped Kingfisher. Its yapping vocalisations are often heard but it is surprisingly elusive and it did just that, remained elusive, for days and days until we were at the point of despair. We persisted however and at last caught up with it, thanks to some very sharp work by our excellent drivers! What a beauty!

Taking leave of Ruteng and the highlands we turned westward towards Komodo. En route we stopped in a pretty valley of rice paddies to admire Woolly-necked Storks and Watercock before taking another birding break at a little area called Puarlolo, famous for its small population of the elusive Flores Monarch. Our luck continued as we soon tracked down a relatively cooperative bird and everyone managed to get on to him, at the same time as an Elegant Pitta turned up and showed himself to those who had previously missed it. Karma was on our side! It ran out at our next stop sadly, with no sign of the Wallace’s Hanging Parrot apart from a ridiculously fast flyover glimpse.

Our last destination, the legendary island of Komodo with its famous Dragons, lived up to expectations again this year. In fact, this was one of the best trips I’ve personally done to the island. In short time we had seen all our target birds and seen them exceptionally well. With super views of Green Junglefowl, Yellow-crested Cockatoo, Island Collared-Dove, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, and of course Komodo Dragons who could ask for more?! Some of us finished off our outing with some snorkeling at a nearby cove where we marveled at the incredible colors and exotic wildlife that included a Broadclub Cuttlefish, two sparkling white Egg Cowries with their jet black mantles, at least five species of Anemone (Clown) Fish and a plethora of amazing soft and hard corals.

All in all a great trip, I venture to say with many memorable birding and cultural moments. Our visit was greatly enhanced by the wonderful hospitality of the Indonesian people and the assistance of our crew.  Many thanks to you all for joining me in the Lesser Sundas!

Susan Myers 2014

Updated: December 2014