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Sumatra and west Java, Indonesia
30th June 18th July 2013
Leader: James Eaton
Participants: Les Holliwell, Erkki Holopainen, Manfred and Petra Rank, and Tony and Celia Sawbridge
Red-billed Partridge, Mount Kerinci James Eaton / Birdtour Asia
A total of 333 species were recorded including 18 heard only on this successful three-week tour of Sumatra and west Java. We began the tour with a week in west Java in a whirlwind attempt to see as many of the islands array of endemics as possible. The coastal wetlands and forest produced a number of these endemics; White-capped Munia, Javan White-eye, Javan Banded Pitta, Black-banded Barbet, Javan Tit Babbler and a fabulously tame pair of roosting Javan Frogmouth. The mountains worked out nearly perfectly; firstly, camping on Mount Gede provided us with 6 Javan Cochoa including a family above our tents, our best-ever views of Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush, a co-operative pair of Javan Scops Owl and Javan Kingfisher being the most enjoyable sightings. This was followed by a couple of days inside Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park for Javan Trogon, White-chested Babbler, perched Javan Hawk Eagle and good numbers of Dark-backed Imperial Pigeons. Across the Sunda Straits, two days in the lowland forests at Way Kambas were fantastic, despite the cool, wet weather! White-winged Duck gave us a wonderful fly-by, circling around us when we thought our chances had passed. As well as seeing the usual array of Sundaic specialities including trogons, kingfishers, babblers and bulbuls the famous nightbirding at this site didnt disappoint Oriental Bay Owl,
2 Large Frogmouth, 3 Sunda Frogmouth, Goulds Frogmouth, Bonapartes and Malaysian Eared Nightjars and Brown Boobooks all gave fantastic views. Moving to the endemic-rich mountains, we did phenomenally well. In our first 24 hours on Mount Kerinci we scored with 3 Schneiders Pitta, singing Sumatran Cochoa, Sumatran Wren Babbler, Sumatran Frogmouth, Sumatran Trogon and both endemic whistling thrushes. After an enjoyable three days here we concentrated on the submontane and hill forests along the Tapan road. Graceful Pitta, the most noteworthy endemic here interrupted our lunch, allowing us views down to two metres of a pair, and the very same spot also held a pair of Marbled Wren Babbler giving the most outrageous views. Sumatran and Blue-masked Leafbird, four endemic bulbuls including the seldom-seen Ruby-throated and Sumatran Treepie highlighted among a huge number of species and birds along this fabulous road. As most of the group arrived the day before the tour, they took a boat trip out to Rambut Island, in the heavily polluted Jakarta Bay. Despite the smell and garbage the air was filled with Christmas Island Frigatebirds, here at their most important non-breeding congregation site, before reaching Rambut island. Rambut is a tiny island just out of the bay that is home to a huge number of water-birds finding safety here, and most pleasing were the large number of Milky Stork breeding this year apparently up to 70 (in some recent years none of bred). Once we were all together, James included, we headed east of Jakarta along the north Java coast which was one of the last known refuges of the presumed extinct Javan Lapwing. Though we were out of luck with the lapwing once again, the open rice-fields held a number of the increasingly rare White-capped Munia along with larger numbers of the declining Javan Munia. Small Blue Kingfishers greeted us while we had breakfast el-fresco. Moving towards a line of mangroves that border a nearby channel our main target took a little bit of time but eventually we located a perched Javan White-eye after having several sightings of birds flying overhead, along with huge numbers of Golden-bellied Gerygone and a pair of Olive-backed Tailorbird along with several Sunda Collared Doves. The nearby shrimp ponds held several pairs of Javan Plover and we even found a nest right next to the path its amazing how they survive breeding this way! Keen to move on we headed south, then west to the pinnacle of Javan birding Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park. This endemic-rich park does not let its endemics show easily, especially with the number of local trekkers heading up and down the mountain, but we did exceptionally well. With an hour of light available we quickly headed into the forest to find Javan Whistling Thrush and a confiding Javan Blue Robin (a proposed split from its Sumatran cousins with which are currently subsumed under Sunda Blue Robin, despite its strikingly different proportions and song).
Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush and Javan Kingfisher, Gunung Gede-Pangrango To maximise our time higher up the mountain in search of the trickier endemics we camped once again high up the mountain. Walking up pre-dawn we heard our first Javan Scops Owl, then as dawn approached a Javan Kingfisher was a surprise sound emanating from the forest. Rushing to a clearing we soon had it perched up on an open snag in the half-light, unfortunately all you could make out was the red bill! Pressing on, wanting to get as high as possible during the morning we ended up refinding the kingfisher but this time in much improved light, along with our first Orange-spotted Bulbuls. Unfortunately, even within an hour of light the hordes of noisy, littering, trekkers were already starting their ascent but the birds have long grown accustomed to this and rarely seem bothered. Our first feeding flock contained a party of neck-straining Spotted Crocias in the very tops of the trees, along with an eye-level Brown-throated Barbet our only one of trip. A family of Javan Gibbon passed quietly around us, with a mother and new-born coming particularly close. As we strolled on up, taking our time, we picked-off the more common endemics and specialities several male Pink-headed Fruit Doves were above the trail, White-browed Shortwings, Pygmy Wren Babblers were
both very tame as were numerous families of Snowy-browed Flycatcher and cute Javan Tesia, flocks contained Blue Nuthatch, White-flanked Sunbird, Trilling Shrike Babbler, Mountain Leaf Warbler, Sunda Warbler, Javan Fulvetta, diminutive Pygmy Tits, Javan Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Fantail and Javan Dark-eyes. Once we gained the appropriate altitude the first of the harder species turned up a pair of Javan Scimitar Babbler, a split from their smaller, more contrasting lowland cousin, Chestnut-backed. Then the distinctive rattling up ahead of us of the now very rare Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush, knowing how elusive and quick moving this species is we rushed on ahead, quickly locating several birds giving uncharacteristically great views as they fed in the mid-storey, though after a few minutes we became distracted by a pair of Javan Cochoa feeding just above the trail then a pair of rather more distant Pied Shrike Babbler, and all this before lunch! Eventually lunch arrived for us, though our hunger proved more important than the Mountain Serins calling overhead, a species we had all seen previously on Sulawesi. After tip-toeing across the Hot Springs we reached our campsite, with our trusted porters already having set up camp for us, and even providing us with a pair of Javan Cochoa, actively feeding their two fledged off-spring right above us for the rest of the afternoon though most of the time we were listening to them begging from the inside of our tents as it absolutely poured it down for the rest of the afternoon! With the rain stopping in time for night-birding we came across a Spotted Giant Flying Squirrel squealing above us, though as the forest was still raining we would have to return for scops owls the following morning Which we did, and after a short, tense wait suddenly a Javan Scops Owl appeared in the spotlight, typically perched just above the ground, and very, very close! Over the next hour we managed to spotlight this rarely-seen species on five occasions, orange eyes glowing brilliant! We spent the early morning attempting to gain some elevation, though with sore legs from the previous day we remained content with a gradual walk up (though some might say it was rather more than gradual!). Another pair of scimitar babbler was followed by our first Flame-fronted Barbet, another Pied Shrike Babbler and a small covey of Chestnut-bellied Partridge for some of us unfortunately our only sighting of the trip. The walk back down the mountain took most of the day, its a long way down with several stops for regular bird-waves, though as we had virtually cleaned-up the previous day we were largely improving the views of the same species, in particular a group of 10 Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush that fed quietly at the trail-side we reached our hotel just before the heavens opened once more. We started our final morning with a female Javan Frogmouth sat calling in the spotlight and once the light was upon us we located a group of boldly-marked White-bibbed Babblers by the trail, surely one of the finest Stachyris around. We then headed over to the botanical gardens quickly and as luck would have it, the tree we eventually parked under was flowering and playing host to over 40 Yellow-throated Hanging Parrots the reason we came here! After watching them zip in-and-out, and a pair of White-crowned Forktails by the road we had a short walk, picking up a few new species including a pair of Oriental White-eye feeding a young Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, our first of many Indigo Flycatchers, Blood-breasted Flowerpeckers and yet more Pygmy Tits. It was then time to brave the roads and the very slow traffic through endless villages until we reached the cobbled access road of Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park in the pouring rain in the late afternoon. Nothing else to report until dinner when a Javan Palm Civet was found feeding it their favourite tree by our accommodation this civet, a split from Smal