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Flores and Timor August 2013

Bali, Flores, Timor 14th-27th of Aug 2013

By Peter Ericsson

During the dry season of July to October is a good time to visit the Wallacean region of Indonesia.

I have visited Borneo (Greater Sundas) several times and also been to Sulawesi and Halmahera twice so this time I felt it would be best to visit part of the Lesser Sundas. The question was: What strategy do I use? The rushed and sometimes frantic pace of a high end birding tour that so often leave the participants exhausted and frustrated over the one that got away! Or a more leisurely approach that would allow for sufficient rest and comforts? For me the answer was obvious. The slower pace definitely brings me more joy.

I found some like minded folks that also had their sights set on the region and a plan was conceived.



Day 1. Bangkok-Bali



I met up with Stijn de Win at Don Muang for an early flight to Bali with Airasia.

At Denpasar we were met by staff from our pre booked hotel.

The hotel was near the airport, had spacious modern air-conditioned rooms, a nice swimming pool and a buffet breakfast. At 55$US it was well worth the money. Free pick-ups and drop-offs to the airport included.

After some Mee Goreng (fried noodles) we took a taxi to Ulu Watu which is a well known tourist destination with a Hindu temple located next to some very impressive cliffs.

This is a known site to look for White-tailed Tropicbirds. Never having seen a tropic bird I had a strong desire to do so. Sure enough, about an hour after scanning the vast ocean in front of us a white bird appeared against the horizon. As it came closer it became obvious what it was! A White-tailed Tropicbird! What a great looking bird! The bird flew around for several minutes before we lost sight of it.

The vegetation next to the cliffs didnít have much of interest and we went back to the hotel where we met up with Rick Franks from Australia and his friend Colin Luft from NZ.



Day 2 Bali Ė Labuan Bajo, Flores.



The flight in the early morning went well. The airport at Labuan Bajo was very small but the landing strip long enough to handle commercial aircrafts.

Once we got our luggage someone approached us offering a vehicle. This guy turned out to be a real fix-it man. We hadnít booked any hotel so started driving around in search of one. It soon became clear that the cheaper ones were not what we wanted. In the end we found a 1 year old resort outside of town located right at Bajo beach.

Rooms were again excellent and breakfast was included. The grounds had flowering trees and bushes as well as neatly kept lawns.

Labuan Bajo seemed to be a little too big for itself. The basic structure of a fishing village being invaded by Komodo dragon seekers and diving enthusiasts has pushed the local tourism industry too rapidly and thus the infra structure is struggling to keep the pace.

Our fix-it man offered us a speed boat to Komodo Island some 50 km away at 6-800$US. This seemed over priced and we started to look around for other options. It soon became clear though that these prices were pretty much standard. The other option was to hire a slow boat (4 hours) and sleep over night on the boat.

After much deliberation we booked a speed boat for 550$US.



On the resort grounds some Zebra Finches were busy feeding on the lawn. It was very nice to see these common cage birds in a natural setting.

Our first endemic lifer was soon seen, a stunning male Flame-breasted Sunbird.

This was soon followed by the Black-breasted Flowerpecker, another common bird on Flores.

As it was, the Sunbird and the Flowerpecker were to become daily companions on Flores.

It was quite hot in Labuang Bajo but a rather dry heat. Down at the beach it was low tide so we went for a walk. I almost immediately spotted a majestic Great-billed Heron. Excitedly I started approaching it while firing away with my camera. Got some shots I was quite happy with.

In the distance a small group of Australian Pelicans could be seen, impressing on me my geographical whereabouts.

Suddenly a pair of Great Thick-knees appeared flying along the beach to land not far from us. What a treat!

It had been a great start to our Lesser Sundas adventure.



Day 3. Komodo Island



The drive with the high speed boat took a little over an hour.

We passed several brown and scorched looking hilly islands before we alighted on Komodo...

Next to the beach head at Komodo the vegetation was greener and already from the boat could we spot several Yellow-crested Cockatoos, my main motivator for visiting the place.

Before we could pursue the birds we were summoned to the office to pay park and camera fees and mandatory local guide. About 10$US/each.

There were some trails behind visitor center so we set off in search of dragons and Cockatoos.

It didnít take very long to locate the noisy endangered Cockatoos that thrive on the island. Loud and conspicuous they are.

Another bird family I haven't connected with since visiting Australia is the Honeyeaters.

Helmeted Friar was common on Komodo and later on all the sites we visited on Flores.

There were plenty of Lemon-bellied White-eyes and a few Yellow-spectacled (lifer) around.

Cinereous Tit was common as was the Wallacean Drongo and Golden Whistler.
On the forest floor we spotted both Green Junglefowls and Orange-footed Scrup Fowls.

We did see a pair of dragons. They are actually monitor lizards and not much larger then what I am used to from Thailand.

More interesting was the close views of several Barred Doves feeding on the ground by the park buildings. The flesh around the eye and heavy barring sets them apart from the very common Zebra Dove.

In general Komodo was quite birdy in the early morning and for those that haven't experienced huge lizzards elsewhere I am sure it would be an extra ordinary experience. I quite liked the place though I wouldn't go there on my own (paying 500US$ and up). Sharing with some friends made it all the more achievable and I walked away with some good birding as well.

Midday we started our way back to Labuan Bajo. A stop for snorkeling was to follow. Needless to say, another world of magic revealed itself to us.

Several Lesser Frigate birds flew over our boat and we made sure to slow down for some pix.

Over the port a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles majestically exercised their wings.

Then a stop at the super market for some cold drinks. Bintang and Anker are the best lagers available but also Guinness and Anker Stout provided some good options.

Dinner at the hotel watching the tropical sun set.



Day 4. Pukawanka road - Telekom tower, Paurlolo


The hotel brought breakfast to the room which included some lovely Indonesian coffee.

Through our fix-it man we had also hired a car for the time on Flores. 100$US/day inclusive of fuel and driver. Not bad when divided by 4. The Toyota Avanza was a bit small for 3 in the back seat but fully functional and did the job.

It only took half an hour to get to our birding spot. Looked perfect for Pittas and sure enough it didn't take long before some Elegant Pittas started calling.

Eventually the birds showed well, though they kept their distance. This was one of my main target birds as it has such a restricted range and became my 17th pitta seen.

Next on the target list was White-rumped Kingfisher that I had read could be tricky.

Soon we started hearing a pair with one bird on each side of the road. It took a lot of persistence but finally it showed well and even allowed for some picture taking.

This is a stunning forest dwelling kingfisher and one of the top birds of the trip.

Another endemic bird came in view: Flores Crow! It was funny to observe its crunching forward motion as it belted out its 'crooooow'.

We also had our first obs of Pygmy Sunda Woodpecker and Red-cheeked Parrot, both of which we'd encounter several times on the trip.

Back to town for lunch and a little rest before a 45 minutes drive to the Telekom tower on higher ground.

Not many birds seen from the roadside of the tower but stepping inside of the forest soon proved productive. This area is a stronghold for Flores Monarch, an endemic to Western Flores. The bird has a distinct call and readily responded to playback. A great looking Monarch at that!

In the under growth our first Russet-capped Tesia moved about. Tesias are such charismatic little birds and now I have seen 4 out of the world's 5 species.

Many of the White-eyes and Dark-eyes on Flores have beautiful, melodious songs.

I didn't know what was singing so after recording the song and playing it a Thick-billed Dark-eye showed up. I was surprised at the richness of the song. The bird was also quite chunky and behaved very differently from regular White-eyes. I enjoyed this bird a lot.



Day 5.



Checking our planned itinerary showed that we had plenty of time allowed for Flores.

Colin and Rick opted to revisit Pukawanka road while Stijn and myself decided to have a lazy day at the resort.

After all it was supposed to be holiday!

In the afternoon we did a walk nearby and some general birding. Perhaps the most surprising bird was a Stork-billed Kingfisher.

We again had dinner at a nice restaurant a little up the hill. Here we had great views of Labuan Bajo and its scenic harbor. .





Day 6. Telekom Tower - Ruteng - Ranamase lake



Early start at the Telekom Tower where I saw my first Crested White-eye. A pair of Rusty-breasted Cuckoos were also new for the trip. We again saw Flores Monarch and other birds from the day before.

The Trans-Flores highway is no more than a narrow but paved 2 lane road that winds its way through the many rugged mountains of the island. Half way to our destination of Ruteng 4 hours drive from Labuan Bajo, we entered into a plain full of rice paddies.

I was suddenly jerked out of my drowsiness when I spotted a Wooly-necked Stork. The car came to an abrupt halt as we scrambled for our cameras. I have never birded within the birdís main distribution range so it was most pleasing to stumble across it in such an unexpected fashion.

Not many other birds were seen on route but we did see a Short-toed Snake Eagle in a field. As it lifted from the ground a snake was seen dangling in its talons. It flew off to some trees where it started to feast.

Ruteng was a lot bigger then Labuan Bajo though definitely not on the regular tourist's route.

We settled in a basic hotel. Were told fan and air-con wasn't needed. This proved to be true as the night temperatures dropped considerably. On the hotel grounds were several Mountain White-eyes.

The afternoon gave us an opportunity to visit Ranamase Lake about 40 min away.

Not much of interest in the lake besides several Pacific Black Ducks and Little Grebes.

Away from the lake I came across my first feeding flock. Flores Minivet and Russet-backed Jungle Flycatcher were lifers. A Wallacean Drongo and a Sunda Pygmy WP were also in the same tree.

We found a restaurant with Wifi and decent food.

Eating in Indonesia is very different from Thailand where food is available everywhere, abundant and affordable. In Indonesia the public eat at home a lot more and I figure with a lower turnover of customers prices are pushed relatively high.

There are basically two types of restaurants. The one where all the food is cooked in the morning and kept in a glass cabinet with a net cover throughout the day. This food is quite tasty and authentic but possibly more subject to bacteria.

The other type of eatery is using menu. The menu is typically the same everywhere and to me with little imagination. I stuck with my Mee Goreng for the most as I found the food to be too bland. A good word to know is 'sambal' which means chili in Indonesian. There is the commercially mass produced chili sauce which also is sweetened. Much better choice is to ask for fresh chilies that are often served as a paste.



Day 7. Gulo Lusang - Kisol



Not far away from Ruteng is a high altitude pass by the name of Gulo Lusang. Literature tells explicitly of the wonderful song of the Bare-throated Whistler that rings out over the tree covered hill slopes. The weather was very pleasant and some of us even put on a sweater. As we arrived the Whistler was already singing away from an exposed perch. Perhaps it should be nicknamed the Nightingale of Flores?

Birding along the road was pretty good with a lot of birds singing. Our first Flores Leaf Warblers started showing (a split from Timor Leaf Warbler). A Metallic Pigeon flew by.

Scaly-crowned Honeyeaters showed well while feeding on red flowers. The endemic Golden-rumped Flowerpecker was another good one.

Yellow -breasted Warblers, Short-tailed Starlings, Pied Flycatcher and Ruddy Cuckoo Doves were all new for the trip.

Back to Ruteng for lunch and Wifi. A 2 hour drive to the lowlands of Kisol followed.

Birding in Kisol (much degraded area) in the afternoon was very poor with no new species seen.

The catholic seminary said they would need a week advance notice so we instead found lodging in a little town 15 minutes away.



Day 8. Kisol Ė Poko Ranaka



The morning at Kisol was a little better but only one new bird for the trip: Pale-shouldered Cicada bird. I had great views of a pair of Jungle FC and saw White-rumped Kingfisher again. Elegant Pitta was calling.

This is the area where tour companies patiently sit in wait for the Flores Hawk Eagle. One report stated: "we waited on the hill side for 7 hours and were finally rewarded with views of this magnificent Eagle'. Well, the prospects of such a long wait for a bird that pretty much looks like a Changeable Hawk Eagle wasn't how we wanted to spend our time so we went back to Ruteng.

Poko Ranaka is a mountain next to Ruteng. A small road goes up to the top and for a change there is absolutely no traffic.

The mountain looks very promising but as usual birding in the afternoon was on the slow side, still I was very happy to connect with a pair of Bonelli's Eagles.


Day 9. Poko Ranaka


Poko Ranka was very windy this morning.

Black-banded Fruit Dove was commonly heard but I had to settle with flight views.

It was a little surprising to see Green Junglefowl and Barred Buttonquails up here and I did my best to turn them into something else.

A pair of White-bellied Wood Swallows were new trip birds. I finally managed to see Yellow-browed White-eyes, a bird everyone else already had seen.

Stijn and Rick walked almost to the top where they saw a Sunda Coocoo.

We decided to take the afternoon off for personal time as we got ourselves ready for the next day's flight to Timor.

Flores had been a great experience and by pacing ourselves we did not get frustrated over the relatively short bird list but rather took time to learn and enjoy each species for its own individual character.



Day 10. Timor - Bisol



The propel plane from Ruteng was delayed by almost two hours.
After takeoff we soon found ourselves viewing the rugged mountains of Flores from above as we headed out over open seas.

I must admit I had little knowledge of what Timor would be like. The airport was quite large and the roads a lot larger then on Flores. We even passed a Hypermart on our way to the hotel. Again we were back into a better hotel with hot water and Wifi.

A little over an hourís drive from Kupang lies a very birdy place by the name of Bipol.

A busy road dissects the 1.5 x 1km forested area where it seems many birds have found a haven.

It was so birdy that afternoon that I almost thought I was back in Thailand! Ha!

First of all several Indonesian Honeyeaters were feeding in someone's garden. This is a split from Brown Honeyeater found in Australia. Old familiar friend Sooty-headed Bulbuls were easy to spot. How come they have made it here?

It was 3 o'clock and hot. In the dried out river bed there was a little pool of water. Incredibly, a pair of Timor Sparrows came in for a drink. It had taken us 5 minutes to see this sought after bird.

Rainbow Bee-eaters were snatching insects in the air.

The lifers kept coming. The best one was the Orange-sided Thrush, a zoothera with a beautiful song. Fawn-breasted Whistler was next. Hard to separate from female Golden Whistler but has a distinct song.

Plain Gerygone has a lovely song and was common. Green Figbird showed a couple of times. Our first Striped Honeyeaters came in view. A single Broad-billed Monarch, Ashy-bellied White-eyes and Black-chested Honeyeater were other new birds.

Rose-crowned Fruit Doves seemed to inhabit every tall tree but were hard to see.

I ended up with an incredible 11 lifers this afternoon!



Day 11. Bisol Ė Soe (Ole Nasi)



The morning saw us back at Bisol at dawn. Many repeats of the previous afternoon but still kept adding lifers: Timor Friarbird, our only Tricolared Parrotfinch for the trip, Blood-breasted Flowerpecker and in the nearby fields Clamorous Reed Warbler.

In the fields we also saw a few Australian Pratincoles as well as White-headed Stilts.

A single Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike flew over the prawn ponds. Some very pale looking Tree Martins hawked insects over the ponds.

5 colored Munias are supposedly common in the fields at Bisol but we never even had a sniff.
After lunch we continued driving for a couple of hours and ended up in the town of Soe. Though the town wasnít as high up as Ruteng again the temperatures dropped to very pleasant levels in the evening and not even a fan was needed.

In the afternoon we visited Ole Nasi a short drive from Soe. Several potential birds here but for us it was our first real chance for the Buff-banded Thicketbird. A very conspicuous call quickly revealed there were several birds in the forest. It proved extremely difficult to get any good views of these birds as they truly loved to remain in the thickets. Fleeting glimpses was all we would get but the encounter itself was tremendous as the bird kept singing and circling us.

While working the Thicketbird a Timor Stubtail randomly came in full view! It turned out to be our only one for the trip!

Another much wanted endemic was the White-bellied Chat, a saxicola with a preference to forest.
Several birds were around and would often sing from exposed branches. We got many prolonged views of this excellent species.

Day 12. Ole Nasi Ė Cumplong

The morning at Ole Nasi pretty much continued where we left off.

There were the regular Golden and Fawn-breasted Whistlers around. Thicketbirds were singing, Timor Blue Flycatcher showed well, another endemic repeat from Bipolo.

The main bird we worked this morning was the endemic Olive-brown Oriole.
The bird kept flying across the large clearing to settle hidden in tall trees while singing in typical Oriole style. It proved not possible to get any perched views.

We had hoped for Parrots and Lorikeets at this site but never even heard one.

The afternoon saw us at Cumplong, a lot closer to Kupang. Here a dirt road with lovely trees on both sides led to a village. The regular common birds of Timor were present. After about 1 km a trail branches off to the left up a little hill. Following this trail gave us chance for some birds still on our wanted list. The main bird in question was Black-banded Flycatcher. We did find one and it responded to playback but simply never showed.

On the way back we spotted a pair of Timor Sparrows high in a tree. It was rather unexpected and special to see these enigmatic birds for the 2nd time.

Night back at Kupang.

Day 13. Cumplong Ė Bali

Our last bit of birding on Timor was a revisit to Cumplong. This morning the flycatcher also didnít show but instead we had our first good views of the endemic Spot-breasted Dark-eye (Heleia).
Timor had a different feel to it from Flores. Somehow felt more modernized and open.

The flight back to Bali with Garuda Air went well. Back to the same hotel for another night and a relaxed swim in the pool.

We dined together and all agreed it had been a good trip. We all felt there would be reasons to go back to these two islands with their humble people, great birding and unique landscape.

Day 14.

I had a good rest, got up early and went for a swim. Then did a short walk in search of the Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker. It didnít take long to locate one in some tall trees in front of a military compound near the hotel. My 45th lifer for the trip!

Then back for a sumptuous buffet breakfast and a last cup of Indonesian coffee before I left to the airport for my flight at noon.

It has been some very good days of birding, friendship, and leisure. We purposely left out Gunung Mutis on Timor and the island of Sumba on this trip but I have a feeling I will be back!

Birds photographed are uploaded here: http://www.pbase.com/peterericsson/flores_and_timor_2013

There are 3 places left on our 2015 tour:
http://www.birding2asia.com/tours/LesserSundas.html





ē :
Ulu Watu, Bali
Ulu Watu, Bali
sunset
sunset
Our resort
Our resort
Dried out vegetation
Dried out vegetation
The dragon and I!
The dragon and I!
Wild Boar
Wild Boar
Timor Deer
Timor Deer
Komodo Dragon
Komodo Dragon
Labuan Bajo
Labuan Bajo
Guess who?
Guess who?
Stijn  and Rick
Stijn and Rick
Rugged mountains
Rugged mountains
Terrace paddies
Terrace paddies
Peter, Rick, driver, Colin, Stijn
Peter, Rick, driver, Colin, Stijn
Mee Goreng
Mee Goreng
IMG_7425.jpg
IMG_7425.jpg
Hotel Pool
Hotel Pool