Visit your favourite destinations
Western Europe
North America
Eastern Europe
South America
Middle East
East Indies

A Report from

Sumatra, August2001,

Pete Morris

This report was provided by Birdquest: Visit their Website

There are many spectacular birds lurking in the few remaining areas of forest which once covered this vast island, but Sumatra is not one of those destinations that gives up its birds easily! Our third visit to Sumatra proved to be every bit as challenging as our previous two (though thankfully with less rain!). It also proved to be every bit as successful with a 'big bag full of goodies' to gloat over after all of our effort!

After a long journey, via Singapore and then Jakarta we finally arrived in Bandar Lampung in southern Sumatra on the afternoon of day two, having seen virtually no birds! The following morning, an early breakfast and a two hour drive were required in order to reach Way Kambas early enough to begin the birding in ernest. Once again we avoided the dilapidated park accommodation at Way Kanan (inside the park) and chose to stay at a pleasant and comfortable lodge by the park entrance. Having dropped off our luggage here, we headed off down the entrance road to begin our exploration of the selectively logged lowland forest.

Our first day got us off to a wonderful start. First, a group of bizarre Dusky Broadbills stared down at us as they foraged through the mid canopy, and then came the unmistakable whistle of a Malaysian Rail-babbler. This highly-sought species had been notable by its absence on our previous two visits, so, with some excitement, we crept into the forest, found a vantage point, and began to whistle. Often this species takes a considerable time to respond and the group had been warned to expect a long battle! However luck was on our side as within just a few minutes, this mythical beast approached us and proceeded to walk around us in view. To make things better, he even started to call back whilst in sight, inflating the lilac-blue pouches on the side of his neck as he did! Magic stuff!! Our first day was also notable for the near audible sighs of relief when, by chance, I spotted two White-winged Ducks on a small forest pool as we were driving back at dusk. Great views were had by all and all of the infamous stories of wading waist-deep through leech-infested swamps with giant leeches suddenly became something to laugh and joke about rather than contemplate!! Amazingly enough, the male duck (a semi-albino individual - a common trait in the Sumatran population) was present each day and allowed us many excellent views.

As always, nightbirding was one of the main features of our time at Way Kambas and we spent every morning attempting to locate the exciting nocturnal denizens that inhabit the forest here. This once again proved to be highly rewarding with a series of fabulous close encounters. First, a rarely-seen Bonaparte's Nightjar was observed at length giving its weird calls and even landing on the branch it was supposed to! The next morning we watched an amazing Large Frogmouths staring down at us from the sub-canopy! This remarkable species has to be seen to be believed. Its eyes are situated centrally on the face, its bill sticking out one end and an ear tuft the other making it hard to work out which way it's facing!! The following morning we kicked off with a magical Bay Owl which posed for us in full view, clinging to a tree trunk in typical fashion. Further along the track we spotlighted a calling Sunda Frogmouth (albeit briefly) and were investigated by a superb Reddish Scops Owl. We even had time to fit in a fine Brown Hawk Owl that evening before bringing the Way Kambas nightbirding to a grand finale with a cute Gould's Frogmouth on our last morning. The latter individual took some tracking down but then even allowed me to photograph it with a standard lens from just a few metres whilst sat on Jürgen's shoulders!!

Once we had discovered how to counter the leeches (!) we also had some fantastic diurnal experiences. Colourful inhabitants included some fantastic Banded Pittas and a surprise Hooded Pitta, a glowing Red-bearded Bee-eater, Scarlet-rumped, Red-naped and (briefly) Diard's Trogons, multi-coloured Red-crowned Barbets, gorgeous Banded and Black-and-yellow Broadbills, striking Banded Kingfishers and two superb Rufous-collared Kingfishers. Riverside birding produced Lesser Adjutants, a single Storm's Stork, two Lesser Fishing Eagles, colourful Blue-eared and Stork-billed Kingfishers, a pair of fantastic Black & Red Broadbills, subtle White-breasted Babblers and a shining-blue male Malaysian Blue Flycatcher. Our visits to the open, largely dry swamps provided us with some great opportunities to study the scarce Cinnamon-headed Pigeon and also brought us sightings of Black and Great Hornbills. On one afternoon a small group of Bushy-crested Hornbills made there way through the clearing at Way Kanan followed by a huge gang of Dusky Broadbills, some of which perched on the TV mast! We also fared exceptionally well for woodpeckers this year with no less than twelve species ranging from the tiny Rufous Piculet to the imposing White-bellied Woodpecker. Two scarce species were also seen very well, the colourful Orange-backed Woodpecker and the seldom-seen Olive-backed Woodpecker. Chestnut-rumped and Black-throated Babblers and several bizarre-sounding Fluffy-backed Tit-Babblers were the highlights from a good number of babbler species and other goodies included subtle Grey-chested Jungle-Flycatchers, a Thick-billed Spiderhunter singing at close range, a couple of vivid Red-throated Sunbirds, some vocally entertaining, though elusive, Black Magpies, Blue-rumped Parrots and acrobatic Blue-crowned Hanging Parrots, a good variety of cuckoos, malkohas and bulbuls, and an exciting, though brief, encounter with a Jerdon's Baza. We were also entertained daily by the stunning Crested Firebacks that were always there to greet us as we headed back to base each evening, even perching in trees just above us! We also notched up a few mammals including Silvered Leaf Monkeys and Long-tailed Macaques, listened to the fantastic songs of Siamangs and Agile Gibbons and watched a Masked Palm Civet sleeping in the canopy.

Due to National Independence Day, we had decided to visit the sub-montane areas near Sungai Penuh before Gunung Kerinci, in order to avoid the hundreds of climbers on the mountain during the holiday period. Consequently, we headed off down the coast from Padang, logging a Pacific Reef Egret as we went, and dodged some processions in Tapan! This year, having changed the programme slightly, we had more time to explore the productive road between Sungai Penuh and Mauro Sako. This proved to be a rewarding change ornithologically and avoided the horrendous climb at Liwa (What, no leech wade and no climb at Liwa? We had it easy think the previous Birdquest Sumatra clients!!). During our two whole days and two half days, we were primarily focussing on Sumatran and sunda endemics. Pride of place once again went to the splendid Graceful Pitta. Although shy and elusive, we all got some great looks and as an added bonus, enjoyed a splendid male Sumatran Peacock Pheasant while we were looking! Strange Sumatran Drongos showed well, smart Blue-tailed Trogons obliged, Cream-striped, Spot-necked and Sunda Bulbuls were picked off with relative ease, Sunda Forktails graced the road, Sumatran Green Pigeons flashed by on a number of occasions, Sumatran Treepies joined many a mixed flock and, after plenty of searching, we located a fine pair of Blue-masked Leafbirds in a flowering tree. We also had an excellent supporting cast of non-endemics. Hornbills were prominent and we had great views of Rhinoceros, Wreathed and Bushy-cresteds. However, pride of place went to the brief view of a male White-crowned Hornbill that flew below us and to the excellent Helmeted Hornbills on our last morning. Another unusual encounter was with a male White-tailed Flycatcher whilst much-hoped for and admired was a brilliant Marbled Wren-babbler. Other highlights along this birdy road included splendid Red-headed Trogons, colourful Fire-tufted and Black-browed Barbets, Long-tailed Broadbills and Crested Jays and smart Grey-headed Babblers whilst fruiting and flowering trees held a good variety of bulbuls, leafbirds sunbirds and flowerpeckers including attractive Grey-bellied and Scaly-breasted Bulbuls, Plain and colourful Temminck's Sunbirds and Yellow-vented Flowerpecker. Noisy mixed flocks held Chestnut-capped, and occasional Black, Laughingthrushes, Sunda Cuckoo-shrikes and Black-and-crimson Orioles and roadside trees held diminutive Chestnut-crowned and Yellow-bellied Warblers.

It was then time to head for Keresek Tua and the imposing volcano of Gunung Kerinci, situated in the heart of the Kerinci-Seblat National Park, the Mecca for Sumatran endemics. On our first afternoon we decided to visit the attractive Letter W waterfall where we soon located the mega-distinctive Chestnut-winged Whistling-Thrush and, at dusk, watched good numbers of Giant Swiftlets coming in.

Birding at Kerinci is always a challenge! The narrow, twisting trail, lush undergrowth, high canopy and, at times, steep slopes, coupled with a selection of exceedingly shy, rare and elusive species, do not make for a tour leader's dream destination!! The rewards are great however and the more effort one puts in, the more birds one sees. Reading the log book that first evening, it soon became apparent how difficult some of those birds are as we read stories of birders "failing to find 'the pitta' after twelve days and leaving distraught" and many similar tales!

During the three and a half days we spent working the forest from the forest edge (now at c1750m and sadly rising) to (on one occasion, two for some!) 2500m brought us a majority of the endemics and specialities we were seeking. Most memorable and remarkable were our excellent encounters with the truly amazing Pale-headed Frogmouth. This remarkable bird actually looks more like an alien than an alien does - no one could have invented a stranger looking beast!! As soon as we clapped eyes on our first one it was obvious that, on a trip packed with memorable nightbirds, this would be the trip favourite! The rest of our nightbirding was less successful and although we heard and glimpsed Rajah's Scops Owl on a number of occasions, we never achieved the views we hoped for. Wren-babblers were a feature of the lower slopes and we enjoyed great views of the endemic Rusty-breasted as well as the charismatic Pygmy and Eye-browed Wren-babblers. White-browed and Lesser Shortwings appeared from the undergrowth, occasional Sunda Blue Robins and Shiny Whistling Thrushes hopped along the trail and mixed flocks included numerous Grey-chinned and Sunda Minivets, White-browed Shrike-babblers, Long-tailed Sibias, Mountain Leaf and Sunda Warblers, Mountain Tailorbirds, Indigo Flycatchers and Black-capped White-eyes. Flocks at mid-altitudes held shy Sunda Laughingthrushes and Green Magpies (both species are heavily trapped for the cagebird industry) while we got even better views of Blue-tailed Trogons. As elusive as ever, Schneider's Pitta gave us a real run-around, and although we saw three different individuals and heard others, they were always hard work and did not show well to everyone. Those venturing to higher altitudes were rewarded with smart Pink-headed Fruit-Doves, Orange-spotted Bulbul and Wedge-tailed Pigeon and, on one occasion, we all got excellent views of the vocally distinct endemic form of Collared Owlet (much to the annoyance of the local passerines). A male Rufous-vented Niltava was a nice reward on one of our failed pitta attempts and, although the endemic cochoa and partridge eluded us, and the Long-billed Wren-babbler was only heard, we did get a grand finale from a fabulous family of Salvadori's Pheasants which showed at close range in their roost tree, even enabling us to see the yellow orbital ring set against the scarlet facial skin! This enabled us to leave Kerinci in buoyant mood, looking forward to luxuries, such as hot water, which awaited us at our hotel in Padang!

And that should have been it, but, as we did last year, having arrived back at Jakarta we had time for a quick dash to Muara Angke, albeit in the heat of the day! We may have got hot and sweaty prior to our flight home but everyone was pleased as new birds again came thick and fast. Sunda Teals flew by, several Javan Plovers were seen extremely well, Small Blue and Sacred Kingfishers showed well, Sunda and Fulvous-breasted Woodpeckers eventually obliged, gorgeous Savanna Nightjars showed in broad daylight and Barred Buttonquails exploded from under our feet. It was an excellent way to round off an exciting tour and we headed for home (or to the next tour or wherever!!) tired but happy with our achievements.

This report was provided by Birdquest: Visit their Website

Why not send us a report, or an update to one of your current reports?