Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Bali, 1st-16th April 2010,
When we found that two years of intensive loyalty to Tesco had earned us enough Clubcard points for a long-distance Virgin holiday, Sarah and I decided to go to Bali, a new destination for us both. Our Virgin package included a four-day tour of the island, six nights in Ubud and five nights by the sea at Sanur. Thanks to Tesco the package was virtually free to us, although we ended up spending more than expected because of the Icelandic volcano.
With Virgin holidays you can choose from a range of hotels, and can add on extras such as an island tour; they arrange all the transfers to and from hotels. We did a four-day tour first, which went round the eastern half of the island from Ubud to Candi Dasa, Besakih, Lovina and then back to Ubud for six nights, followed by five nights in Sanur. The tour and all the transfers were by provided Pacific World.
The weather was warm to hot throughout, and fairly humid, but never unbearable – probably less than 30 degrees maximum, and much cooler in the mountains. Despite being densely populated, Bali is a beautiful island with a good mix of habitats.
It wasn’t an intensive birding trip; Sarah and I mainly wanted to see the sights and learn about the culture. Having said that, I was pleased to see over 80 species in Bali - and 56 in our unscheduled Thailand extension. McKinnon and Phillips’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali was excellent but I was glad I had narrowed down the species I could expect to see before setting off. In the report below birds in bold type were new species to me.
We flew with Thai Airways from Heathrow via Bangkok. While waiting for our connection at Bangkok I noticed about 20 red-rumped swallows flying around outside the airport building – perhaps they breed there?
Arriving in Bali we were met at Denpasar airport by our tour guide, Ketut, and taken to the Tjampuan Hotel in Ubud. This hotel is on a hillside above a ravine and our bungalow looked into the canopy forest above the river. White-bellied swiftlets flitted constantly overhead, sometimes diving into the foliage to collect nest material. A flock of grey-cheeked green-pigeons and spotted doves fed in a fruiting fig tree.
The first day of our tour was around Ubud. We saw the wonderful barong dance in Batubalan, visited various villages where they make silverwork, woodwork, and paintings, visited the royal palace in Ubud and bought souvenirs in the Ubud market.
Craftsmen at work making wooden carvings. Balinese people always find something to laugh about – hope it wasn’t us!
During the day we saw plenty of spotted doves, yellow-vented bulbuls, scaly-breasted munias, olive-backed sunbirds and white-bellied swiftlets wherever we went. These species are common everywhere and it was helpful to get familiar with them.
Our tour took us up into the mountains above Ubud. At the top we looked from the edge of the crater at Lake Batur and the live volcano Mt Batur. It was a sunny day, the air was cool and fresh and the trees were filled with bird calls, but they would have to wait for another day. Our destination was Besakih temple, the mother temple of Bali, which every Hindu in Bali visits to make offerings during the annual temple festival.
Hordes of people in traditional dress taking their offerings to Besakih temple
Seeing Besakih at the height of the festival was a real highlight. Afterwards Ketut took us to the beautiful Tirta Gangga water palace before arriving at the Puri Bagus hotel in Candi Dasa. In the grounds I had my first good views of a bar-winged prinia, and a collared kingfisher was on rocks offshore at low tide.
An early morning walk round the hotel grounds and surrounding area was pleasant enough, though unfruitful for birds. We set off down the south coast to do more sightseeing. A temple overlooking the sea built around a bat cave was thronged with people for another temple festival. The splendid old royal palace of Klungkung with its ancient court of justice had striated swallows in its water gardens.
A long drive back north again over the mountains through Kintamani brought us to the Puri Bagus hotel in Lovina. The grounds here were pretty good for birds: streaked weavers nested in the palm trees with scaly-breasted and white-headed munias. Bar-winged prinias gave very good views and a pied fantail showed off in front of our window. Overhead edible-nest swiftlets flitted back and forth above the treetops.
The next morning I had a look at the rice fields behind the hotel, which were lively with little birds: 20 Javan munias and 100 scaly-breasted. Golden-headed cisticolas sang from roadside wires, and I caught a glimpse of a male olive-backed tailorbird.
Our tour continued to the Brahma Vihara Arama Buddhist temple, well worth seeing, and the nearby hot springs before climbing into the hills again. Overlooking the flooded Pupuan rice fields we saw our first egrets – probably cattle - and a Javan pond heron plus more edible-nest swiftlets. We then made a very steep ascent to the ‘twin lakes’: Lake Tambigan and Lake Buyan. At the viewpoint Ketut found me an oriental white-eye and a coppersmith barbet (of the race rosea with a red throat and crown).
It was raining when we arrived at the Maya Ubud hotel and on first impression the grounds seemed rather lacking in birds, apart from the inevitable quintet of spotted dove, scaly-breasted munia, yellow-vented bulbul, olive-backed sunbird and white-bellied swiftlet. This feeling was reinforced when they sprayed the hotel grounds with insecticide, which they do every week. To make matters worse, I dropped my binoculars and put them out of alignment.
However, the half-landing at the end of our corridor overlooked flooded rice fields which had little and cattle egrets, Javan pond herons and brilliant Javan kingfishers. These were always to be seen on wires over the paddies, sometimes close to the hotel. We often heard their raucous calls from our room.
We took the hotel shuttle bus to Ubud (half a mile) and walked to the monkey forest. No birds there, but the temple and carvings nearby were worth seeing. A hot walk back to Ubud was rewarded with lunch at the Café Lotus – a wonderful oasis of calm and coolness, with tables overlooking lotus ponds and a temple.
Walking into the rice paddies next to the hotel didn’t get us any closer to the birds, but we did manage decent views of a couple of Pacific swallows along with scaly-breasted and Javan munias. We were uncomfortably aware of the contrast between the poverty of the people living and working in the rice fields and the affluence of the hotel guests. Trying to convince ourselves that we were doing our bit by bringing our money into the economy, we shrank back to the hotel for our free afternoon tea and cakes.
Little (left) and cattle egrets. Our hotel overlooked these rice paddies.
A car and driver picked us up in the morning, as arranged. We headed north back up the mountain to Bedugul Botanic Gardens. It rained much of the time we were there and the birds all seemed to be high in the treetops. Nevertheless we saw several Indonesian honeyeaters in the gardens and some great tits (black and white here, virtually devoid of yellow). In the forest trail we managed to identify Javan grey-throated white-eye and mountain white-eye among a feeding flock high in the canopy, but little else. In hindsight, we may have done better to spend more time in the gardens themselves rather than the forest trail.
Ulun Danu temple and Lake Beratan
A short drive away, Ulun Danu temple beside Lake Beratan was stunning – the sun came out as we arrived to light up the forest-clad hillsides beside this pretty temple. We persuaded the driver to find a way to the lake edge on the north side of the lake. As we approached the reed-fringed marshy edge two Swinhoe’s snipe flew up, followed by two yellow bitterns, one of which paraded in front of us for a while. In the marshes were Javan pond-herons, black-crowned night-herons, a white-breasted waterhen, a couple of moorhens and a long-tailed shrike.
We took the hotel shuttle bus to Ubud again and walked into the rice fields above the Campuan Bridge. It was a pleasant walk through the rice fields, with a drink at the Sari Organic restaurant. We stopped at Murni’s warung for lunch, which overlooks the river valley, where we saw a scarlet-headed flowerpecker.
Back at the hotel we lazed by the swimming pool and watched the rice fields. Two large flocks of wood sandpipers flew over - about 135 birds - a family of white-breasted waterhens stalked through the reeds and a pintail snipe dived into the marsh.
We had booked to go on the Bali Bird Walk (www.balibirdwalk.com) and we met our guide Su by the Campuan Bridge. The route started in the same rice fields as the day before, and then continued into canopy forest. We saw striated swallows, little swifts, Javan kingfishers, a pied bushchat, a brown-throated sunbird, and a ruddy breasted crake.
By the canopy forest over the river Su pointed out the song of a fulvous-chested jungle-flycatcher, and we heard a grey-cheeked bulbul. Su was knowledgeable and keen-eyed, with irresistible enthusiasm for birds, butterflies, wildlife and conservation generally. She pointed out 24 species of butterfly for us, mostly from brief flight views. Over lunch she showed us Victor Mason’s book on the butterflies of Bali and helped us work out which ones we had seen.
Su suggested there might be more to see around Maya Ubud hotel than I’d appreciated, and sure enough I found some birds near the hotel entrance: common iora, grey-cheeked green-pigeon, and brown-headed sunbird, and I heard a fulvous-chested jungle-flycatcher, having learned the song the previous day. By the infinity pool these were outclassed when we walked down to the river: a white-crowned forktail flew past us, landing in full view on a boulder upstream. A male emerald dove flew back and forth over the river carrying nest-building material and a strange drongo-like bird at the top of a tall tree, singing a series of rising whistles, turned out to be a drongo cuckoo.
The perfect pool: white-crowned forktail and emerald dove below; drongo cuckoo above
After a morning stroll round the grounds (in which Sarah saw a greater coucal from the path - I was looking the other way!) we transferred to Sanur. Ketut turned up again to do the transfer and on the way we drew up a plan for a half-day outing to the southern peninsula.
The hotel grounds at the Bali Hyatt were quite extensive and looked promising for birds. As dusk fell we watched fruit bats fly out of the trees outside our room, followed by noisy savannah nightjars, which we could hear at night above the air conditioning.
An early morning walk round the hotel grounds provided some good birds: sooty-headed bulbuls, black drongos, white-breasted woodswallows, and a long-tailed shrike singing noisily. On subsequent morning walks in the grounds I also saw pink-necked green-pigeons, pied fantails, brown-headed and olive-backed sunbirds, black-naped oriole, common iora and coppersmith barbet. A few barn swallows flicked about over the beach and beyond the offshore reef a few large terns (presumably crested) were always fishing.
After breakfast we walked south along the beach as far as the mangroves at the mouth of the canal. A small blue kingfisher darted across the canal, then perched obligingly on a stump. The mangrove forest was lively with pied fantails and brown-headed sunbirds everywhere. In dry ground near the bridge was a white-shouldered triller.
As we walked back up the beach I noticed four frigatebirds out beyond the reef, which must have been lesser. As the tide fell the offshore reef became exposed and a great egret strode about, with a couple of purple herons, their ludicrously long, straight necks held up at a rakish angle – very different from their secretive reed-bed lifestyle in Europe.
Ketut picked us up and we drove south, past Nusa Dua, to Tanjung Benoa, where we boarded a boat to Turtle Island. This turned out to be an expensive boat ride to a turtle farm, where you can hold the turtles and pet an iguana, a brahminy kite (‘eagle’), a pair of wreathed hornbills and a python. It was good fun although not what we were really after. Returning to the boat, a distant flock of waders lined the beach, but the boat captain hurried us away before I could get a decent look at them.
Next stop was Garuda Wisnu Park (‘GWK’) where a huge sculpture of Wisnu flying on the back of the eagle-god Garuda is under construction. At present you can only see the torso of Wisnu and the head of Garuda, but these are colossal. When finished it will be taller than the statue of liberty. Javan mynas nested in the limestone pillars.
Then on to Ulu Watu, a clifftop temple on the south western tip of the island. I had read you could see seabirds here but it was a hot afternoon and the only birds on the move over the sea were a couple of pacific reef egrets. We did see several dolphins, and overhead a large group of little swifts chattered noisily.
Following the clifftop round to the south west brought us into some pasture land, which was alive with birds. Ketut knew the common Bali birds and was keen to learn more. In a few short minutes, sharing my broken binoculars, we saw black-winged starling, chestnut-headed bee-eater, Javan myna, collared kingfisher, black drongo, long-tailed shrike and white-shouldered triller.
As dusk neared we took our seats for the Kecak dance, performed in a clifftop amphitheatre – not to be missed! Instead of a gamelan orchestra, the music comes from the men – a kind of percussive chant.
In the afternoon I walked south again from the hotel to the mangroves. It was low tide when I got there and although it was hot, the birds were active. Poking about amongst the masses of plastic in the estuary mud were redshanks, common sandpipers, white-breasted waterhens, a greenshank and a Sunda teal. Small blue and collared kingfishers sparkled against a backcloth of bright plastic flotsam. Despite the filth the area was alive with crabs and molluscs.
In the mangroves I managed to get a good look at some golden-bellied gerygones, and watched a fulvous-breasted woodpecker. Walking back to the hotel I watched a family of newly fledged olive-backed tailorbirds. Back at the hotel, 5 great egrets and 7 purple herons were on the exposed coral reef at low tide.
A free shuttle bus runs between the Bali Hyatt Sanur and the Bali Grand Hyatt, in the newer resort of Nusa Dua, so we took it. At first we were rather envious. The hotel grounds were Disneyesque and the beach was splendid – clean white sand, and a cool, refreshing breeze off the ocean. A brown booby flew through the bay and in the grounds were collared kingfishers, sooty-headed bulbuls, white-breasted waterhens, little egrets, a pacific reef egret and a Javan pond heron. But there were few trees, very little shade, and the restaurant prices very expensive, so we happily took the bus back, our curiosity satisfied.
Collared kingfisher in the grounds of the Bali Grand Hyatt hotel, Nusa Dua
On our last morning I had a pre-breakfast walk round the grounds as usual, this time determined to get to grips with some of the mystery birds I had heard singing. My persistence was rewarded with a plaintive cuckoo singing from the top of a distant tree. I never did manage to pin down the mangrove whistler I’m sure I kept hearing in the grounds every day.
The previous night, as we packed our suitcases, we turned on the television to see a thick plume of ash rising from a volcano in Iceland. A vulcanologist explained the eruption could last for a long time and that the weather forecast was set for the ash to blow direct to northern Europe for the next four days. We knew straight away our return home, and to our jobs, would be delayed.
Ketut took us to Denpasar airport and made sure our flight to Bangkok took off. He looked after us exceptionally well and was a good guide and friend.
We ended up staying in Bangkok for 11 nights before eventually boarding a Thai Airways flight back to Heathrow. This unscheduled extra stay in Bangkok was a nuisance and a worry – while we were there people died in the tension between the red-shirted protesters and the government. But it was not without its compensations – including birds, 56 species in all. I have written the Bangkok stay as a separate trip report.
We loved Bali – it is a beautiful island with fascinating and wonderful cultural traditions, and the people are among the friendliest we have met anywhere. This was not our usual kind of holiday: we did not have a car and had limited options of where to stay – but having said that, we liked our hotels (the Maya Ubud is very luxurious) and went to all the places we really wanted to see. As it was largely paid for by Tesco Clubcard it was exceptionally good value.
Bali is not much visited by serious birdwatchers, as it only has one endemic (Bali myna), which is virtually impossible to see in the wild. It is a densely populated island and there is little forest left, apart from Bali Barat national park in the west, which was too far away for us to visit easily. But there are plenty of beautiful and exciting birds in Bali and it is easy to combine decent birding with sightseeing and relaxing. As it was my first visit to Indonesia I notched up a good number of new species – 31 world lifers, from 80 species recorded.
Geoff Upton, Southern England - November 2010