Sunday, March 29, 2015

Indonesia 4: Sumatra

The final leg of the trip was on the island of Sumatra:

I started with Bukit Lawang, a very touristy village on the boundaries of Gunung Leuser NP. The only way into the jungle of the National Park was to go with a guide, so I joined a group for a day of 'jungle trekking'.  Mammals were the stars here, with Thomas's and Silver Leaf Monkeys, White-handed Gibbon and of course Orangutan all giving super views.
White-handed Gibbon
 The experience of watching the Orangutans was tempered somewhat by the knowledge that some were 'semi-wild' having been released into the NP having been made homeless or orphaned elsewhere in Indonesia, but nonetheless it really was a privilege to look into the eyes of such close cousins.




 While having lunch, a male Great Argus Pheasant stepped into a clearing and started picking up scraps left by previous groups. Although I had seen plenty of pictures, I wasn't quite prepared for how incredible this bird was, with its long, wavy tail like some sort of tropical fish, and enormous secondaries covered with eye-spots, crazy. This photo was taken with my phone!

Great Argus Pheasant

Thomas's Leaf Monkey


Before flying out from Padang I spent a few days at Samosir Island and Bukitinggi. Samosir has lost most of its forest, and a small wetland at Amarita provided the best birding, and was pretty much the only freshwater wetland I visited all trip. As soon as I stepped off the road into the paddies, a Watercock flew up, which was a a very unexpected lifer. Pallas's Grasshopper and Oriental Reed Warblers were more predictable and showed well after pishing til I was blue in the face.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler
A group of feral dogs roaming the marsh saved me the hassle of getting my feet wet by flushing up Painted and Pintail Snipe and Ruddy-breasted Crake, and White-headed Munia and Baya Weavers were bombing around all over the show.
Painted Snipe
On one day I took the boat from Samosir back to the mainland and a short bus ride down the highway to Taman Eden 100, a nice patch of protected forest. As seems to be standard procedure for rainforest birding, I went ages without seeing a thing, and then suddenly hit a feeding flock containing class birds like Long-tailed Broadbill, Blue Nuthatch, Fire-tufted barbet, Speckled Piculet, Golden Babbler and Black and Crimson Oriole.

At Bukitinggi I had a look around the Rafflesia Flower reserve at Batang Palupuh. Sadly, no flowers were in bloom, but Sumatran Green Pigeon, Blyth's Hawk Eagle, Black and Yellow Broadbill, Blue-winged Leafbird and Black-browed Barbet made the trip worthwhile. Amazingly, after watching the barbet feeding high in a fruiting tree for a few minutes, I turned around and almost stepped on a Sumatran Peacock Pheasant on the path behind me!! I really hadn't expected to come anywhere near this tricky endemic and was almost as surprised as the bird, which quickly hopped into the thick vegetation and disappeared from view.

Sumatran Green Pigeon

Tiger Shrike

Blyth's Hawk Eagle


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Indonesia 3: Java

Apart from a frustratingly distant Tropbicbird, the crossing to Java was completely uneventful, and after a short bus ride I reached Baluran National Park where I stayed 2 nights. The HQ and accommodation are located 15km into the park form the entrance, a cheap motorbike taxi ride away, and I saw Green Junglefowl and Green Peafowl while hanging on for dear life. Exploring on foot the undisputed highlight was a stunning male Javan Banded Pitta in the small patch of 'rainforest' along the main track, giving its soft 'churrr' call while bouncing through the leaf litter. 
Black-backed Kingfisher

Butterflies

Black-winged Starling

Crested Serpent Eagle

Crimson-winged Woodpecker

Green Junglefowl

There's a joke here somewhere

Green Peafowl

Grey-rumped Treeswift

Small Blue Kingfisher

Wooly-necked Stork
After Baluran I packed the binoculars away for a trip up to Gunung Bromo, an active Volcano. Birds were almost completely absent here, save for a few singing Javan Bush Warblers, one of which was coaxed out briefly, and Paddyfield Pipits which were strangely abundant. The scenery and atmosphere more than made up for this though.



Monday, March 23, 2015

Indonesia 2: Bali

From Flores I flew to Bali where the main area I wanted to check out was the highlands around Bedugul. The easiest site to visit was the Botanical Gardens there, an overly manicured National Trust style gardens, but surrounded by good quality mossy forests, with plenty of trails to explore.
New birds were plentiful, with Flame-fronted Barbet, Lesser Shortwing, Yellow-throated Hanging Parrot, Crescent-chested Babbler and Blood-breasted Flowerpecker, plus those photographed below being the stars.
Indonesian Honeyeater
Javan Whistling Thrush
Long-tailed Shrike
Siberian Thrush
Treeshrew?
Sunda Warbler

The south of the island, where most of the tourist infrastructure lies is a bit lacking in forest cover and coastal birding is the order of the day. A visit to the lagoons at Pulau Serangan was a bit of a distaster as I foolishly went on a weekend, when half of Bali and their families were there picnicing and fishing. This did mean though that I was able to slip past the check-point un-noticed in the crowds and take my camera onto the island, which is usually frowned upon.
Though I may have visited on the wrong day, I managed to time it right with the tide, and found a causeway with roosting waders and other bits and bobs flying low overhead as they were pushed off a lagoon by the rising tide



Assorted Sandplovers

Sunda Teal
Malaysian Plover
Beach Thick-knee
Gull-billed Tern

I then took a bus to Gilimanuk at the far west of the island, the departure point for ferries to Java.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Indonesia 1: Flores

I've just returned from a brilliant month-long trip to Indonesia, a short trip by my standards, and definitely not enough to do justice to such a diverse and fascinating country. I had originally planned a fairly hardcore world-listing trip, 2 weeks each on Borneo and Sumatra at the key birding sites trying to mop up endemics, but an incredible opportunity for some more general guiding in the region next year came up (more on that story later) requiring me to spend some time getting to know a broader range of sites, so I hastily re-arranged my plans. Starting on the island of Flores I worked my way westwards to Sumatra at the other end of the country, via Bali and East Java (and missing out some enormous sections in-between).
Mostly being in rainforest, birding was difficult enough but itself and so I only came away with a few photos, almost all of which are of dubious quality, but i'll share a few on here over the next week or so. I went to fairly well known birding spots, all of which are covered by excellent reports of much more in-depth birding trips so i'll spare the gory details here...

On Flores I visited a couple of forested mountains; Puaralolo, near Labuan Bajo, where Flores Monarch, the main target was eventually seen down a narrow track behind a small building that appeared to be some sort of abandoned ranger station. Flores White-eye, Wallacean Drongo and Brown-capped Fantail were other good endemics. The town of Ruteng, c4hours to the East is a good base for other montane forest sites, the only one I got to was the pass at Golo Lusang. Highlight here was the dawn chorus from Bare-throated Whistler, like a Nightingale on steroids! Flores Minivet and Scaly-crowned Honeyeater were common here too.



Brown-capped Fantail

Flores White-eye
Flores Minivet

Wallacean Drongo

Flores Monarch

Scaly-crowned Honeyeater

Mountain White-eye

The main reason for visiting Flores though was for a trip into the legendary Komodo National Park. I took a boat out to Rinca Island, where the Komodo Dragons were loafing around, full of attitude. A couple of snorkelling stops on the ride back were mind-blowing, with pristine coral teeming with a bewildering variety of fish just a few metres off the beaches, birding took a backseat here.


Komodo Dragon


Orange-footed Scrubfowl



A short flight over Wallac'es Line took me to Bali, with its contrasting worlds of superclubs and cloud forest...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ethiopia


I spent the last fortnight of November on a family holiday in Ethiopia, here's a few photos:

The main purpose for the trip was to trek in the Bale Mountains, a lush, green plateau that defies all expectations of Ethiopia. Highlight here was the Ethiopian Wolf, of which we saw 4, giving great views and completely unconcerned by our presence. The birding here was fantastic too, particularly for raptors. Small burrowing mammals are incredibly common and so are their predators, with Lanner Falcons, Steppe Eagles and Augur Buzzards pretty much constantly on show. Being a bit of a Crane fan, I was delighted to see a pair of Wattled Crane feeding distantly on the shores of a small lake, nearly 4000m above sea level. 
On the way to and from the mountains we stopped at Lake Ziway, in the Rift Valley. The main jetty was one of the most absurd birding experiences of my life, with ranks of Marabou Storks, Hammerkops and White Pelicans waiting to be fed by hand, while White-winged Terns swooped in for leftovers. A boat trip out on the lake got us up close to a Hippopotamus and an island covered in nesting African Darters, African Spoonbills and Black-headed Herons.
We then spent a few days at the resort town of Debre Zeyit, with its string of crater lakes, and then Ambo, for some hiking at the nearby Mount Wenchi.
African Paradise Flycatcher

Augur Buzzard
Bale Mountains campsite

African Wood Owl

Blue-winged Goose
Easy birding at Ziway

Abyssinian Catbird

Moorland Chat

Wattled Crane

Erlanger's Lark

Goliath Heron

Hippo

Hippo

Warthog

Rock Hyrax

Isabelline Wheatear

Malachite Kingfisher

Mountain Wagtail

Mountain Nyala

Pallid Harrier

Pied Wheatear

Rougets Rail

Rupells Vulture

Common Redstart (samamiscus)

Silvery-cheeked Hornbill

African Spoonbill


Steppe Eagle

African Stonechat

Verraux's Eagle (and Chough)

Verraux's Eagle

White-cheeked Turaco

Ethiopian Wolf

Red-throated Wryneck
At the end of the holiday I managed to squeeze in a day trip to the grasslands of Awash NP, a must-visit site about 4 hours East of Addis Ababa. The park seems to have a strict policy preventing exploration on foot so I was limited to a few hours on a 'game drive' around the Oryx Plains, and a short stroll with an armed guide around the Awash Falls lodge and nearby campsite.

African Harrier Hawk

Bateleur

Northern Carmine Bee-eater

Long Crested Eagle

Namaqua Dove

Northern White-crowned Shrike

Besia Oryx 
Rosy-patched Bush Shrike

Tawny Eagle