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Short notes on a visit to Flores and Komodo, Indonesia, November 99,
Tim Allwood, Olive Lodge, Stukeley Road, Huntingdon, Cambs, PE29 6HG
Tel: 01480 411718
During 1999 and 2000 I was resident in Indonesia and in Nov 99 I made a three-week trip with my partner Claire Stephenson to the island of Flores in the Lesser Sundas in order to see some of the endemic birds of the region.
Due to unrest in Indonesia over the last couple of years the number of visitors has declined markedly. There are however many areas that are perfectly safe to visit at the time of writing and the Lesser Sundas are one of these. The islands are still relatively unknown and there is a real potential to improve ornithological knowledge of the area.
Flores is not so easy to reach but it is easy to get around, very cheap and the people are friendly and helpful and notably restrained when compared to Javans.
The birding is wonderful and reasonably straightforward.
Malaria is present. Doxycycline is the current drug of choice and very cheap in Jakarta but can lead to nasty sunburn if you're not careful. I found an umbrella to be very useful as a sunshield. Otherwise no probs, apart from potential tidal-waves, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes....
The essential refs are Birding Indonesia by Paul Jepson and Birds of Wallacea by Coates and Bishop. Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali may also be of some limited use. Paul's guide has all the site directions you need and other invaluable info to boot.
I managed to get hold of a good tape from some birders who I met in Java but I dont know where it was from. If you're intending to visit drop me a line and i'll get a copy to you.
We caught a ferry from Surabaya in eastern Java, booked in advance in Jakarta. The booking process was incredibly difficult and it was impossible to secure a return ticket - not a problem as you can get back o.k but you'll have to sleep on deck as you'll not be able to get a cabin. We had a cabin on the way and it was very comfortable. The interior of the boats can be very cramped and i'm sure you'd rather sleep on deck after seeing and smelling the conditions. When embarking/disembarking wait until the Indonesians have finished as the melee can be pretty scary with fighting commonplace, such is the demand for a piece of prime floorspace etc.
The journey was excellent for birds and cetaceans and worth doing in its own right.
Otherwise It's probably easier to fly.
Its possible to hitch more or less everywhere and its polite to offer something such as cigarettes or a small amount of cash. Buses will pick you up from the side of the road and are very cheap. Bemos can be chartered for about Rp50,000 ($6) per half day if you like.
We concentrated on western Flores as this is where all the endems can be encountered and it also has most of the remaining forests. All the sites are well described in Paul Jepson's book so I won't go over the boring stuff here.
Labuanbajo: your probable point of arrival and a good base. Lots of cheap places to stay, notably the Gardena in the centre of town; great food and view and nice little cabins. The dirt track that leads to the New Bajo Beach Hotel south of town is a good spot for Elegant Pitta/Moluccan Scops Owl and after c.2kms it leads to a small wetland area that was very productive at the end of the dry season. The scrubby hills around town are also a good area to bird and hold the commoner species.
Road to Rareng: Get a lift from the road in town on a bemo or bus for c.10 km until you reach this junction on the north side of the road. Cost is minimal or even free if you get a friendly driver as I did. Simply alight here and walk up the road, birding as you go. I did come across one very vicious dog here so watch out! A good site for Green Junglefowl, Wallace's Hanging Parrot, Flores Crow and Great-billed Parrot among others. To return just walk back to the main road and wait for a lift.
Dolat: a couple of wetlands a few km south of 'bajo and best accessed by boat. The guys at the dive shop almost opposite the Gardena took us for about Rp25,000 each.
Puarola: A telecommunications station between 'bajo and Ruteng best known as the site for Flores Monarch. Catch any bus to Ruteng and get off at the entrance road. Bird this road (100 m long) and the trail into the forest at the top off the road. We found this area quiet for passerines but good for raptors. The monarch was very elusive and it took around 7-8 hrs to discover.
Ruteng : Four hours give or take a puncture or two from 'bajo. Best place to stay is probably the Hotal Dahlia. There's a good restuarant a few doors up with mainly Chinese food. You could eat at one of the basic Padang places in town but they're not the best intro to this excellent food. There are several sites in the area; the hills to the south of town are excellent for many of the endemics. The forest here is being hacked to death and the trail described by Jepson has now been totally cleared, as has the north side of the mountain. There is already some quite bad erosion to be seen. Pong Toda is worth a half day but note that it is west, not east of Ruteng as in Jepson's book. The track that he mentions leading into Casuarina forest is a little tricky to find and a couple of hundred metres further than stated. This was the only place I saw Black-backed Fruit-dove.
Lake Ranamese is an excellent place, very picturesque and peaceful. We had all the Dark-eyes here as well as White-backed Kingfisher and Bare-throated Whistler.
Gunung Ranaka is another essential stop. The access road is now virtually impossible to pass. We cajoled our driver into reaching km 6 of 8 but it was such difficult going we'd have been better to walk. Good for Chestnut-backed Thrush but we had more luck with them south of Ruteng.
Komodo and Rinca: Well, you have to go and see the dragons don't you? Small islands, so not many species but quality rather than quantity. Komodo is probably the best place in the world now to catch up with Yellow crested Cockatoo and you should see Great-billed Heron in the vicinity. Our guide, who was a good birder despite not having any bins claimed Timor Black Pigeon occurs?
Other islands: There are several very small islands to visit for snorkelling etc which is absolutely fantastic here. Ask at the dive shop in 'bajo.
List of birds observed (follows Coates and Bishop 1997)
Endemics to Flores/Sumbawa in bold
1 Bulwer's Petrel 1 north of Komodo
2 Streaked Shearwater Small groups in Flores Sea
3 Wedge-tailed Shearwater Small groups in Flores Sea
4 Red-throated Little Grebe 2 Ranamese, 2 Dolat
5 Red-tailed Tropicbird 1 north of Sumbawa
6 Great Frigatebird 1 positive ID off 'bajo
7 Lesser Frigatebird Frequently encountered
8 Little Pied Cormorant 1 Ranamese, a few south of 'bajo
9 Red-footed Booby Frequently encountered in Flores Sea
10 Brown Booby Frequently encountered in Flores Sea
11 Abbotts'Booby 1 north of Flores appeared to be this sp.
12 Great-billed Heron c.6 between 'bajo and Rinca, 1 Komodo
13 Purple Heron A few around 'bajo and Dolat
14 Intermediate Egret A few around 'bajo and Dolat
15 White-faced Heron 1 Dolat
16 Little Egret Frequently encountered
17 Pacific Reef Egret Common around islands
18 Cattle Egret Max. 50 near Dolat
19 Javan Pond-Heron 2 near Dolat
20 Little Heron A few here and there
21 Rufous Night Heron 3 ads and 2 imms at Dolat; only a couple of previous recs and none of breeding
22 Cinnamon Bittern 1 flushed near Dolat
23 Woolly-necked Stork 2 near Dolat
24 Oriental Honey-buzzard 11 in off the sea from west
25 Black-winged Kite 2 south of 'bajo
26 Brahminy Kite Several encountered
27 White-bellied Sea-Eagle 7 around Rinca, 2 Komodo
28 Chinese Goshawk A pair at Puarolo (first island rec?)
29 Variable Goshawk A few; Rareng road, Komodo
30 Brown Goshawk Poss 1 at Ranamese
31 Japanese Sparrowhawk 2 south of 'bajo, 1 road to Rareng
32 Bonelli's Eagle 1 near Ruteng
33 Rufous-bellied Eagle 2 at Puarolo
34 Changeable Hawk-eagle 1 stunner at c,2200 m on Gunung Ranaka
35 Spotted Kestrel Scaterred individuals, 1 Rinca
36 Wandering Whistling Duck c.400 south of 'bajo, 100 Dolat
37 Lesser Whistling Duck c.200 south of 'bajo, 50 Dolat
38 Sunda Teal c.20 south of 'bajo, 20 Dolat
39 Pacific Black Duck c.20 south of 'bajo, 30 Dolat
40 Orange-footed Scrubfowl A few Komodo
41 Green Junglefowl c.6 Komodo, 4 Road to Rareng
42 Buff-banded Rail 1 south of 'bajo
43 White-browed Crake 1 south of 'bajo
44 White-breasted Waterhen Few Ranamese
45 Common Moorhen Few Ranamese, few south of 'bajo
46 Black-winged Stilt 9 south of 'bajo (sub. sp. Leoucocephalus)
47 Pacific Golden Plover 2 south of 'bajo
48 Kentish (Javan) Plover 9 south of 'bajo (first island rec)
49 Greater Sand-Plover 2 south of 'bajo
50 Whimbrel 4 Sumbawa, 1 Rinca
51 Common Redshank Few south of 'bajo
52 Common Greenshank Few south of 'bajo
53 Marsh Sandpiper up to 15 south of 'bajo on two days (second island rec?)
54 Wood Sandpiper Several south of 'bajo
55 Red-necked Stint 2 south of 'bajo
56 Broad-billed Sandpiper 1 south of 'bajo (first island rec)
57 Red-necked Phalarope 1000s recorded at sea/between islands
58 Pomarine Jaeger 1 north of Lombok, 1 north of Komodo
59 Whiskered Tern Few north of Lombok and Bali
60 White-winged Black Tern Only 1 positive ID near Surabaya
61 Gull-billed Tern Few north of Lombok and Bali
62 Sterna .sp 3 north of Bali (Common/Roseate)
63 Black-naped Tern Numerous at sea and on islets
64 Sooty Tern 2 north of Komodo
65 Greater Crested Tern Common offshore
66 Lesser Crested Tern Several at sea between 'bajo and Komodo
67 Brown Noddy 1 between 'bajo and Komodo
68 White-throated Pigeon 1 on Komodo (first island record)
69 Island Collared Dove A few Komodo
70 Spotted Dove Common Flores, also Rinca and Komodo
71 Ruddy Cuckoo-dove Several Ranamese
72 Barred Dove Common Flores, also Rinca and Komodo
73 Black-backed Fruit-dove 3 Pong Toda
74 Black-naped Fruit-dove Several on road to Rareng
75 Green Imperial Pigeon Several on road to Rareng, also Komodo
76 Rainbow Lorikeet Several around Ruteng
77 Yellow-crested Cockatoo c.15 on Komodo - all small groups
78 Great-billed Parrot c.18 on Road to Rareng - low elevation
79 Rusty-breasted Cuckoo 1 prob imm above Ruteng
80 Oriental Cuckoo Common in montane forest
81 Common Koel Common by voice - don't sound like the Australian subspecies
82 Lesser Coucal Few seen on road to Rareng
83 Moluccan Scops-ow l 1 spotlighted south of 'bajo ,several heard
84 Large-tailed Nightjar 1 above 'bajo
85 Edible-nest Swiftlet Common
86 Glossy Swiftlet Common
87 Fork-tailed Swift 4 Komodo (first island record)
88 White-rumped Kingfisher 1 Ranamese
89 Stork-billed Kingfisher 1 Dolat
90 Collared Kingfisher Common around the coast
91 Blue-tailed Bee-eater Common around the coast
92 Common Dollarbird 4 road to Rareng
93 Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker A few here and there
94 Elegant Pitta Many heard, 2 seen south of 'bajo. Almost crepuscular in behaviour.
95 Australasian Bushlark Komodo, also near Dolat
96 Barn Swallow Common
97 Pacific Swallow Common
98 Striated Swallow Several encountered
99 Grey Wagtail 1 at c.2000 m on Gunung Ranaka
100 Richards Pipit A few on Rinca
101 Wallacean Cuckoo-Shrike 4 on Rinca
102 Pale-shouldered Cicadabird 4 Pong Toda, 5 Ranamese
103 White-shouldered Triller 1 Sumbawa
104 Little Minivet Several Pong Toda, road to Rareng
105 Wallacean Drongo Common
106 Black-naped Oriole Common
107 Flores Crow 5 seen, others heard, road to Rareng
108 Large-billed Crow 4 south of 'bajo
109 Great Tit Several
110 Pygmy Wren-Babbler common in montane areas
111 White-browed Shortwing Only heard high on Gunung Ranaka
112 Chestnut-capped Thrush Only 3 seen in a cage in 'bajo
113 Chestnut-backed Thrush 1 on Gunung Ranaka, 3 in cages in Ruteng
114 Flyeater Common in coastal areas
115 Mountain Tailorbird Common in coastal areas
116 Arctic Warbler Just a single, road to Rareng
117 Timor Leaf-Warbler Common in montane areas
118 Russet-capped Tesia Common
119 Yellow-breasted Warbler Several in montane areas
120 Golden-headed Cisticola Many around Pong Toda
121 Zitting Cisticola Common
122 Little Pied Flycatcher 2 Ranamese
123 Black-naped Monarch Several
124 Asian Paradise Flycatcher 1 road to Rareng
125 Flores Monarch 2 Puarolo telecom station
126 Brown-capped Fantail Common in montane areas
127 Common Golden Whistler Several, especially at Puarolo
128 Bare-throated Whistler Common south of Ruteng, also Ranamese
129 White-breasted Wood-swallow Several around 'bajo and Rinca
130 Hill Myna 4 road to Rareng, common in cages
131 Helmeted Friarbird Common, also on Komodo
132 Scaly-crowned Honeyeater Common in montane areas
133 Brown-throated Sunbird A few
134 Olive-backed Sunbird A few
135 Flame-breasted Sunbird Common
136 Golden-rumped Flowerpecker 1 road to Rareng
137 Black-fronted Flowerpecker Common
138 Blood-breasted Flowerpecker 1 Gunung Ranaka
139 Oriental White-eye Several
140 Mountain White-eye Common at Ranamese with above sp.
141 Yellow-spectacled White-eye Common in lowlands
142 Lemon-bellied White-eye Common around 'bajo and Komodo
143 Yellow-browed Dark-eye Several in montane areas
144 Crested Dark-eye Only at Ranamese c.6
145 Thick-billed Dark-eye 1 south of Ruteng, 1 Ranamese and 1 at Puarolo
146 Tree Sparrow Common
147 Zebra Finch Many on Komodo
148 Black-faced Munia Common in lowlands
149 Scaly-breasted Munia Lots above Ruteng/Pong Toda
150 Five Coloured Munia 1 above Ruteng
151 Possible Red Avadavat Above Ruteng
1 Brydes Whale 2 very close to shore near Java
2 Sperm Whale 1 north of Bali
3 Dolphin spp 1000s
4 False Killer Whale 3 thought to be this sp north of Komodo
5 Minke Whale 1 thought to be this sp north of Lombok
Wallace's Hanging Parrot: I didn't get a sniff of these on the road to Rareng where they have been observed. Richard Grimmett did encounter some shortly afterwards. This was my big miss.
Flores Green Pigeon: Very rarely observed lowland species usually recorded from lowland sites east of Ruteng. See Kukila (1998/99)
Flores Scops Owl: Virtually unknown; 3 specimens from the 19th Century and I think there is a recent record too?.
Wallace's Scops Owl: Can be recorded on the road to Rareng but I didn't get out there at night
Russet-backed Jungle-Flycatcher: The only bird I missed that I could really have expected to see. Supposed to be reasonably common around Ranamese.