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Gunung Gede, Java, Indonesia, May 18-22, 2006,
Gunung Gede – Pangrangro National Park in western Java, Indonesia, is easily accessible from Jakarta and is reported to hold nearly all of Java’s endemic birds in its montane forests. Some of the species are easier to see in the Cibodas Botanical Gardens located at the base of the park than in the park itself. This report covers a short trip taken at the end of the rainy season.
Gunung Gede: Air Panas (hot springs) is the vent on the right side of the mountain)
There is only one main pathway on Gunung Gede so it is almost impossible to get lost. Most visitors follow the path to Ciberneum Waterfall, which is a group of three waterfalls at a point where the two mountains – Gunung Gede and Gunung Pangrango – meet. This path is well-maintained and can be incredibly busy on weekends, but it is also where many of the endemic birds can be found. The next stretch runs from the waterfall junction to Air Panas, or the “hot springs” (see the photo above). This is a more typical forest path, steeper but not particularly difficult. The final part extends from Air Panas to the simmering crater at the summit. This last part is reputed to be a very challenging hike/climb. Most people prefer to camp overnight at or near the summit to enjoy dawn at the summit, and also to break up the hike. However, it is possible to make the round-trip hike in a day. A trip to the summit is necessary to try for all of Gunung Gede’s specialty birds.
The town of Cibodas is at the base of Gunung Gede and has a few places to stay, including Freddy’s Homestay which is where many birders have stayed. We stayed there as well – Freddy knows birder’s routines well, knows what kinds of pack lunches and breakfasts are required and what crazy hours are kept, etc., and also has a multi-year logbook that is very useful for checking what others have seen at the same time of year in the past. We took a local taxi from Freddy’s to the gate of the golf course to save the walk before starting the walk into the park entrance. None of this is particularly well-marked but everyone knows where the park and golf course is, and most people speak a bit of English.
Our visit in late May should have been at the beginning of the dry season, but we had some rain daily and heavily one day; according to our local guide, Indra (one of Freddy’s sons), the rainy season seems to be lasting into mid-June in recent years. Cibodas is a popular weekend getaway for Jakarta and Bandung residents because of its cool mountain climate, so there are many lodges available. Indra is currently doing bird guiding, having assumed the duty from his older brother Eddy. A guide is not really necessary to find one’s way around as there is only one path up and down Gunung Gede, and the birding locations in the Botanical Gardens are easy to find as well. However, in tropical forest birding, being able to identify the bird calls is very useful and this is where we found a guide to be of most assistance.
We pre-arranged our transportation to Cibodas, but taxis from Jakarta Airport are available to Cibodas; fares appear to be in the range of 300,000 rupiah (approx 10,000 rupiah / USD), which is higher than in the past due to increased fuel costs. However, almost everything else in Indonesia is a bargain – for example, cost for a night at Freddy’s, including breakfast for two, was 75,000 rupiah. Admission fees to the parks and gardens was less than a dollar per day. Indra charged 400,000 per day as a guiding fee, plus 250,000 per nocturnal trip.
The hike up Gunung Gede is usually described in three parts. The first part is about 3 kilometers and leads to the waterfall junction, and then via a side track to the Ciberneum Waterfalls. The trail that is sometimes paved with stones, in other places is a good dirt path, and near the end of this stretch is a long boardwalk. This part can become very crowded because the standard tourist activity appears to be to make a round-trip hike to the waterfall with a picnic stop along the way. Normally this stretch is also where many of the birds can be seen, but when there are hundreds or even thousands of walkers on the trail, obviously the birdlife is scarce. The second part extends from the waterfall junction to the hot springs (Air Panas) and extends a further 2 kilometers from the junction. This is a more typical forest trail, moderately steep in some places but in good condition. We did not go quite as far as Air Panas. The final long stretch is 5 kilometers from Air Panas to the summit. We did not do this hike but it is usually described as being very difficult. There is an intermediate stop called the Rhino Hut between Air Panas and the summit. It is possible, even while birding, to make a trip to the summit and back in a day, but it would be a difficult trip. Normally, the key target birds at the higher locations are the Volcano Swiftlet (at the summit) and the Rufous Woodcock (usually reported near Air Panas just at dawn), but Indra told us that some others such as the Sunda Thrsuh and Sumatran Green Pigeon (reported at Blue Lake at the lower level in other trip reports) are altitudinal migrants found only at the higher levels in May. Because we did not go up, we cannot confirm this, but we can confirm we did not see a number of the expected birds at the lower levels.
Thursday May 18:
We arrived in Jakarta at noon and were picked up by Indra and arrived at Freddy’s by 3PM. We then walked up the Cibodas Botanical Gardens where we had brief and unsatisfactory views of Pygmy Tit (high in pine trres), Olive-backed Tailorbird (with the Pygmy Tits), and distant Yellow-throated Hanging Parrots. We had our first good views of Orange-fronted Bulbul and Javan Fulvetta, both of which were common in both the garden and park. At dusk, we searched for a perched scops-owl which is resident in the garden, but without success. However, as we were exiting the garden, the scops-owl flew right into Indra’s torch beam for a great and close flight view.
Friday May 19:
There had been overnight rain but the morning was partly clear as we had a 5:30 start in the park, and saw many birds alongside the lower track as given in the bird list at the end of the report. Pygmy Wren-babblers and Eye-browed Wren-babblers, normally secretive birds, were vocal and obvious. In one case, we almost mistook a Pygmy Wren-babbler for a frog because it was hopping right on the path! However, we did not see the sought-for Chestnut-bellied Partridge.
After lunch, we walked farther up the trail, locating two very active Javan Cochoas shortly before Air Panas. We continued to look for our other main target bird, Blue-tailed Trogon, up and down the trail, until dusk, when we ventured to the Ciberneum Waterfall. Here we had the very briefest glimpse of what Indra called out as the Salvadori’s Nightjar which is resident there. However, the bird simply shot from one side of the gorge near the third waterfall to the other, and disappeared. It never flew around. Others have reported being able to follow it in flight and even detect eye color; this was a bit of a disappointing “sighting”. As darkness fell, so did the rain; this made the walk back down the paved trail very slippery and treacherous.
Saturday May 20:
The day started out sunny but quickly became cloudy. This day Eddy joined us in place of Indra and we retraced our steps from yesterday. However, this day (Saturday) we were joined by many weekend tourists walking up to the waterfalls. In general, the groups were relatively quiet, but the large amount of traffic meant there was almost no bird activity on the trail to the waterfall junction throughout the morning. In the afternoon, we moved farther up the mountain, and about one kilometer above the junction Eddy spotted a Blue-tailed Trogon, which made the day’s birding a success; however, this was the only “new” bird of the day.
Sunday May 21:
This day we had four target birds and specific locations to see them: Lesser Forktail and Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch at the Botanical Gardens (plus possibly better looks at the Yellow-fronted Hanging Parrot), and Spotted Crocias and Sunda Bulbul along the lower level of the trail in the park. We arrived at the Botanical Gardens at 6AM and quickly saw several Lesser Forktails at the stream. This is a reliable location but the birds are skittish and need to be observed before visitors come to the park; at that point they retreat deeper into the park. But it was soon apparent that our visits to the parrotfinch locations were going to be a waste of time: by 7AM, crowds were filling the gardens, setting up large speakers and blasting out music at rock-concert volumes. We had to cover our ears because the volume was so loud. Any parrotfinch sighting was hopeless, so we moved to the park. The problem here was that the relatively quiet Saturday visitors were replaced on Sunday by larger and louder groups, some with “boom boxes”. There were at least 1000+ visitors to the park; I counted over 50 people walking by during one 10-minute span. Not surprisingly, there were no birds around. Then at 10AM, heavy rain began, and the rest of the day was a wash-out. We waited, but every slight break in the rain was followed by another downpour. This premature end to the birding left us with several “dips”, as noted below. The moral of the day’s story is, as others have reported: DO NOT GO TO THE PARK ON WEEKENDS, ESPECIALLY ON SUNDAY. Even the Botanical Garden is a complete waste of time due to the incredible noise level.
Bird List – not comprehensive, some of the common birds are not noted:
Crested Serpent-Eagle (Spilornis cheela) – several circling overhead, usually picked up first by their call.
Javan Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus bartelsi) – two gliding down the valley near Blue Lake – good views but none perched.
Yellow-throated Hanging-Parrot (Lorticulus pusillus) – distant green dots across the valley from the driveway at the Botanical Gardens. Indra neglected to bring his scope, which would have helped when they perched briefly. Of course this is typical frustrating hanging-parrot behavior.
Salvadori’s Nightjar (Caprimulgus pulchellus) – the briefest flashing fly-by at dusk near the third waterfall. Barely identifiable as a bird, much less as this species. Apparently it then flew to the very top of the ridge, where others have reported flight views, but incoming rain prevented any further viewing for us.
Collared Scops-owl (Otus angelinoe) – perched views of a juvenile and a flight view of an adult near the entrance to the park along the golf course border. This is the unusual “collarless” scops-owl which nonetheless apparently remains this species until further notice.
Cave Swiftlet (Collocalia linchi) – everywhere.
Blue-tailed Trogon (Harpactes reinwardii) – one male seen well about one km above the waterfall junction, perched motionless 50 meters into the forest. Could easily have been passed by. It made no call and no other birds responded to tapes at other times.
Brown-throated Barbet (Megalaima corvine) – at Blue Lake.
Orange-fronted Barbet (Megalaima armillaris) – seen a few times along the lower trail.
Sunda Minivet (Pericrocotus miniatus) – several seen about one km above the waterfall junction, and again near the waterfall junction the following day.
Crimson-winged Woodpecker (Picus puniceus) – two near the boardwalk.
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike (Hemipus hirundinaceus) – common at lower levels.
Sunda Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina larvata) - two along the boardwalk.
Orange-spotted Bulbul ((Pycnonotus bimaculatus) – seen well at the Botanical Gardens.
Pygmy Tit (Psaltria exilis) – at the Botanical Gardens in pine trees, but difficult to see well.
Blue Nuthatch (Sitta azurea) – common.
Horsfield’s Babbler (Malacocincla sepiarium) – common along lower trail.
Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babbler (Pomatorhinus montanus) – several along lower trail.
Eyebrowed Wren-babbler (Napothera epilepidota) – common and conspicuous along lower trail.
Pygmy Wren-babbler (Pnoepyga pusilla) – common and conspicuous along lower trail.
White-bibbed Babbler (Stachyris thoracica) – along lower trail, tricky to see but great-looking.
Crescent-chested Babbler (Stachyris melanothorax) – another great-looking skulker.
Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush (Garrulax rufifrons) – heard a lot above the waterfall junction, but only seen well once in a group. Normal laughingthrush behavior.
Javan Fulvetta (Alcippe pyrrhoptera) – common in all habitats.
Sunda Blue Robin (Cinclidium Diana) – common along lower trail.
Lesser Forktail (Enicurus velatus) – along stream at Botanical Garden at dawn.
Javan Cochoa (Cochoa azurea) – a pair about two km above waterfall junction, more active than expected and also more brightly plumaged than expected.
Sunda Whistling-thrush (Myiophoneus glaucinus) – in same area as Javan Cochoa, offering nice plumage contrast.
Sunda Warbler (Seicercus grammiceps) – common but nonetheless a stunner.
Mountain Leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus trivirgatus) – common.
Olive-backed Tailorbird (Orthotomus cuculatus) – mixed with Pygmy Tits at Botanical Gardens and just as tricky to see.
Bar-winged Prinia (Prinia familiaris) – common at Botanical Gardens.
Javan Tesia (Tesia superciliiaris) – only saw them one day along lower trail, but on that day they were conspicuous and noisy and very tape-responsive.
Indigo Flycatcher (Eumyias indigo) – common.
Snowy-browed Flycatcher (Ficedula hyperythra) – common.
Little Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula westermanni) – common.
Rufous-tailed Fantail (Rhipidura phoenicura) – relatively common along lower trail.
White-flanked Sunbird (Aethopyga eximia) – only females common; only one brightly-plumaged male seen, at Blue Lake.
Javan Grey-throated White-eye (Lophozosterops javanicus) – common.
Among the birds we hoped to see that we missed were:
Spotted Crocias (Crocias albonotatus): usually seen in mixed flocks, high in the canopy. A good viewpoint is the boardwalk. We never really saw any good flocks so our chances were low.
Sunda Bulbul (Iole virescens): should have been relatively common. It is another canopy bird that joins in flocks. For both the bulbul and crocias, the rain and crowds did not help
Chestnut-bellied Partridge (Arborophilia javanica): Indra saw one along the trail above the waterfall but he was well ahead of us and it flushed before we arrived. He also saw a Sunda Bulbuls that moved before we arrived. If you go to Gunung Gede and hire Indra, remind him to stay close to you as he tended to move ahead of us.
Pink-headed Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus porphyeus): has been reported around Blue Lake, but in the absence of any fruiting trees we did not even hear one.
Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch (Erythrura hyperythra): there are several locations in Cibodas Botanical Gardens, but the key is to locate flowering bamboo. The area near the waterfall is supposed to be reliable, as is a stretch closer to the lodge.
Sunda Thrush (Zoothera andromedae): others had reported in the logbook at Freddy’s that they had seen this bird at the very beginning of the lower trail in May and June of previous years, but Indra said it was only at the summit at this time of year. In any case, we did not see any.
Waterfall Swift (Hydrochous gigas): Indra said this is now rarely seen.
Freddy’s Homestay: tel: 62-263-515-473
Indra’s mobile: 62-813-154-34143
Indra’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jakarta Airport Hotel: tel: 62-21-559-0008
Tim Allwood, overview of several trips:
May 2005 report: