Skip to navigation, or go to main content.

WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Indonesia: Java and Sumatra

2015 Narrative

Despite some difficult weather, amongst other things, this was a successful tour in terms of seeing a great range of the endemic and special birds of these fascinating islands. Despite the fact that Java and Sumatra are two of the most densely populated places on earth, there remain some large tracts of forest both in the lowlands and the mountains. Although these areas receive differing levels of protection, we were able to enjoy a great variety of birds and other wildlife.

JAVA - Gunung Gede

After a short, only partly successful trip to the mangroves of Pamunakan (yielding Small Blue Kingfisher at least!), we headed to the hills, namely Gede, a volcano not far from Jakarta. Despite the relatively short distance the drive is a long one due to the incredible traffic in western Java. We spent two full days here exploring the slopes and the botanic gardens of this interesting area. This year being an El Niño year, Indonesia is experiencing a drought and even in this lush area of rainforest it’s apparent that the drought is affecting the wildlife. Even so our hard work paid off and we recorded a very nice list of birds. Highlights included two sightings of the rare endemic Javan Hawk-Eagle; a number of the endemic Flame-fronted Barbet; another Javan endemic, the Yellow-throated Hanging-Parrot; tiny Pygmy Tits put in a brief but satisfying appearance; and – always a favorite – the tiny but charismatic Javan Tesia, which teased us at first but then seemed to pop up everywhere. Another favorite here was the handsome White-bibbed Babbler, noisy but difficult to see; with some patience we were all able to enjoy good looks. Another endemic was the Crescent-chested Babbler, which showed well.

JAVA - Halimun

Next we made a very long drive to an area of forest further west. Despite being forewarned we were surprised at how little bird activity there was here. Whether this was due to the drought or to other factors such as poaching, it’s hard to tell. We did our best but decided to cut short our stay by one night and headed to the coast, our next destination. Even so we did record some good birds here such as Javan Kingfisher, Red-bearded Bee-eater and Spotted Crocias, although this last was not seen by all.

JAVA - Carita

Back down in the lowlands and back to the warm weather, we spent a couple of days here exploring the lowland rainforest with great success. I think it’s safe to say a favorite bird here was the stunning Javan Banded Pitta. Other highlights included the endemic and very attractive Black-banded Barbet; yet another endemic, the Grey-cheeked Tit-Babbler showed well, too;

On our return to Jakarta we took a one-hour boat trip over to Pulau Rambut (Hair Island). Our main target here was the globally threatened Milky Stork and a pair showed up on cue, only to disappear almost as quickly. Everyone got a great look however, so cheers all around! An added bonus was a total of 14 Christmas Frigatebirds, allowing excellent studies as they perched on various fishing platforms scattered around the bay.

SUMATRA - Way Kambas

Despite the heat, I think it is fair to say that this was everybody’s favorite destination of the trip. We were fortunate here in this excellent national park to have the expertise of one of the best local birders I know. We worked hard with lots of early mornings but it was well worth the effort. The list of birds here was quite impressive!

Over our four day stay we followed much the same pattern of birding every day with early-morning starts and midday breaks, with some more leisurely birding in the afternoons and evenings. This national park is considered by many to be the best site in all of Asia for night birding. So we took full advantage of this and made an effort to see as many of them as possible, with good success. Some of the best sightings included the diminutive Reddish Scops Owl, Sunda Scops Owl, a cooperative and behemoth Large Frogmouth, and a fabulous Bonaparte’s Nightjar – fabulous both for its rarity and its bizarre vocalisations.

The day birding was also excellent with highlights such as a great flight view of a much hoped for Storm’s Stork; a calling and cooperative Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo prompted some lively taxonomic debate; a bunch of malkohas showed well including the hoped-for Red-billed; we did very well with trogons here with sightings of Red-naped, Scarlet-rumped and Diard’s. A total of five species of broadbill were seen – Green, Black-and-red, Banded, Black-and-yellow and Dusky. While it won’t win any prizes for its beauty a definite highlight for its scarcity was the rarely recorded Sumatran Babbler, seen (or rather glimpsed albeit maybe a hundred times!) near the park entrance. There were also many non-bird highlights, amongst them the incredible Siamang, the world’s largest, and surely the world’s most vocal, gibbon.

SUMATRA - Kerinci

Taking our leave of this wonderful forest, we flew back to Jakarta then on to Padang in Central Sumatra. Leaving the bustling city, we took the long drive to Indonesia’s highest volcano, Gunung Kerinci. From our simple accommodations we traveled the short distance to the forest for a couple of day’s exploration. We spent our first day here in the lower reaches of the forest, which was quite successful but then the crowds started to arrive. It seems that hiking up the mountain over the national day weekend has become a new trend, sadly for us. So our second day met with limited success despite an amazing start with a family of Salvadori’s Pheasants in the streambed near the entrance to the park. With not much prospect of things improving we decided to take our leave of this site a little early, too. One of the highlights here was a seemingly tame Red-billed Partridge, a normally rare and shy denizen of the deep forest that followed us around all morning. It was almost comical! We also found, thanks to Dui’s local knowledge and expertise, a total of three roosting and remarkable Short-tailed Frogmouths – another excellent Sumatran endemic. The gorgeous Sumatran Trogon, showed well and was seen on multiple occasions; the improbably Fire-tufted Barbet gave us our first looks – what a weird looking bird. Mixed flocks were plentiful, nearly all of them containing the gem like Blue Nuthatch, surely the best looking of this delightful group. The characterful Rusty-breasted Wren-Babbler provided some entertainment as they popped up and down on logs on the forest floor. An all too brief Sumatran Cochoa was seen by some but sadly couldn’t be relocated despite our best efforts.

SUMATRA - Tapan Road

The Tapan Road is justifiably famous as a superb birding site. This reputation was only enhanced recently when some friends of mine saw and photographed an amazing Sumatran Tiger right on the side of the road. Although we tried our best, we weren’t able to repeat the performance! Of course, we enjoyed some excellent birding, despite some annoying traffic and dust. The road is quite long and starts at high-altitude descending down to the lowlands, so we were able to cover a number of different elevations thereby encountering an excellent range of bird life.

After much searching we got great views of the endemic Green-spectacled Pigeon; a stunning Red-headed Trogon was an added bonus; lower down we found some Grey-bellied Bulbuls showing off. This bird is hard to find elsewhere so was greeted with much enthusiasm. We also had our best looks at the gorgeous Sunda Forktail here, both males and females showed well.

One afternoon as we took a leisurely lunch by a bridge we heard shouts of “kingfisher” and rushed over to find a perched Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher, undoubtedly one of the best finds of the trip! Further down the road we recorded three species of hornbill – Rhinoceros, Bushy-crested and Wreathed. Barbets are very well represented here and we were able to list Brown, Gold-whiskered, Black-browed, and Blue-eared. And there were Sumatran Treepies galore!

After three days of birding along the road we racked up an outstanding list of birds and wrapped up our visit to this unique part of the world. Our only hope is that Indonesia can overcome its many and varied problems in relation to its wild places and these unique creatures and forests can exist in peace.     

Susan Myers 2015

Created: 27 October 2015