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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Indonesia: Sulawesi and Halmahera

2019 Narrative

As always, our tour this year to this little-known part of Indonesia was exciting, fascinating and fun. Our birding was excellent with some really serendipitous finds.

We started our trip somewhat prematurely with a morning of unscheduled birding in Bali, with two main targets – the increasingly rare Black-winged Starling and the gem-like Small Blue Kingfisher, both pleasant additions to our travels.

The tour officially began with our departure from Bali and arrival in the historic city of Makassar. We made our way inland to Karaenta where we met the first of our excellent local contacts, Agus, and then went in search of our main quarry here the localized endemic Black-ringed White-eye. We found it easily along with a few other very nice endemics to kick off our birding on Sulawesi.

Heading back to Makassar we then flew north to Palu, where the evidence of the major earthquake of two years ago was still painfully apparent. We headed inland where our sojourn in this fascinating part of the world began in earnest at Lore Lindu National Park in the center of the island of Sulawesi. The park is very large at 217,000 hectares but access is limited so our activities focused on the forest around Lake Tambing and the Anaso Track as well as the roadside forests. Some of our more notable sightings included close views of the evocatively named Diabolical or Satanic (take your pick!) Nightjar, lots and lots of exotic Yellow-and-green Lorikeets, long looks at a stunning pair of Purple-bearded Bee-eaters as they worked a favorite site, impressive Cerulean Cuckooshrikes as well as their diminutive cousins, the Pygmy Cuckooshrike, and flitting Rusty-flanked Fantails, to name a few. A suite of attractive flycatchers kept us entertained – migrant Grey-streaked Flycatchers, cute Little Pied Flycatchers, Turquoise Flycatchers, Sulawesi Blue-Flycatchers and Blue-fronted Flycatchers, as well as Citrine Canary-Flycatchers, all put in multiple appearances. The real highlight was the amazing appearance of Geomalias right out in the open, foraging in the mud on the forest trails around Lake Tambing. Until this year this bird has been next to impossible to see so to say we were ecstatic would be an understatement!

Returning overland again to Palu we then flew north to Manado and then on to the town of Kotamobagu where we based ourselves for explorations of the fabulously monikered Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park. With Max the Ranger’s help we explored the area. There’s a small conservation area on the edge of the park where the amazing Maleo, one of Indonesia’s most interesting endemics, has a haven from egg collectors and forest clearance. The birds were unexpectedly scarce, but we did find some free-range chicks and subadults doing their thing, as well as a number of other outstanding endemics, the highlight of which was arguably the Maroon-chinned Fruit-Dove.

Taking our leave of this wonderful area, we next flew to Halmahera an hour’s flight to our east. There are a host of exciting endemics on Halmahera and we connected with many of them. Of course, the standout amongst all of them was, without doubt, the incredible Wallace’s Standardwing. An even earlier than usual departure had us waiting at the known lekking site at first light and we delighted in watching a collection of three males performing for the ladies. What an amazing sight! And as most commented, the books don’t do anything close to depicting how wonderful this bird is. During our stay we birded along relatively quiet roads enjoying some fabulous sightings of an array of spectacular birds; birds such as spectacular Blyth’s Hornbills with their impressive wing beats, colorful Grey-headed Fruit-Doves, pretty little Rufous-bellied Trillers, and appropriately named Goliath Coucals. We did really well with the nightbirds here, too – a great look at Moluccan Owlet-nightjar was very exciting, as were a handsome pair of Moluccan Hawk-Owls. After a bit of work, our search for the often-elusive Ivory-breasted Pitta was gratifyingly successful, too. This appropriately named Pitta maxima is, just as the name says, huge but also very beautiful. Another pitta, the Moluccan Red-bellied Pitta, was also amazing.

Our next destination was to the cool mountain airs of Tomohon – an excellent day of birding with the major prize being a very neat Scaly-breasted Kingfisher. This bird signaled one of the first on our list of very exciting east Indonesian kingfishers, and given it is one of the hardest of them to find it was cause for celebration! Moving on from Tomohon we ventured further east to my personal favorite place on this tour, Tangkoko Nature Reserve. This little gem of a place is just full of fantastic wildlife and, thanks in large part to foreign visitors, it’s well protected with a great deal of involvement of the local communities. With the help of our expert guides, Mensur and Bobby – there are some very knowledgeable local naturalists here - we enjoyed a couple of outstanding, albeit very hot, days in the reserve. There literally was never a dull moment as we compiled a remarkable list of exciting endemics including Knobbed Hornbill, Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfisher, Spot-tailed Goshawk, Lilac-cheeked Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Malkoha, Rusty-backed Thrush, Ochre-bellied Boobook, the list goes on…. We also found some very cool mammals such as Sulawesi Crested Black Macaque, Gursky’s Tarsier and Bear Cuscus.


Susan Myers
November 2019

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