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Peter Ericsson | profile | all galleries >> Birds of Indonesia >> Indonesian tripreports! >> Sulawesi/Halmahera/Indonesia October 2013 tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Sulawesi/Halmahera/Indonesia October 2013

Sulawesi/Halmahera, Indonesia, 4-15th of October 2013

Participants: Kjetil Sjoelberg (photographer and camera shop owner from Norway), Eirik Groenningsaeter (wildlife photographe and guide from Norway), Marc Bulte (field biologist and photographer from Holland), D. Davison (avid birder from England) and Peter Ericsson

Trip length: 12 days in total though most of day 1 and day 12 meant traveling

The purpose for this trip was to target some of the special birds while trying to see as much as possible along with it but not killing ourselves in pursuit of every little thing. Time for photography and individual preference of time spent in the field was to be allowed.
Sulawesi and Halmahera is not for raking in a long list of ticks but much more for the deeper appreciation of the areas unique birdlife with its many endemic birds.

Lots of people would like to visit the Wallaceas but simply don’t have the time or the budget to do a full tour that normally stretches from 18-20 days. Thus I thought of coming up with an option of a 12 tour. My 1st trip was in 2009 and it was the same length of time. My 2nd trip was a full trip and the report is found here:

The best way to reach Manado in Northern Sulawesi is by Silk Air from Singapore. The flight leaves around 9 am so it might be necessary to stop over in Singapore one night.

Day 1.

I, Marc and Dominique flew from Singapore to Manado. Kjetil and Eirik arrived a day later.

We were greeted warmly upon arrival by our local agent and accompanied driver.

The comfortable bus we used for the trip took us slowly through the winding road in a hilly landscape towards Kotamobagu some 5 hours away. We did several stops along the way and caught up with a number of common birds which included 40 enigmatic and endemic Grosbeak Starling roosting in a dead tree. This bird is so attractive that it has made it on the cover of the Birds of Wallacea by Coates, Bishop and Gardener.

The ever present Uniform Swiftlet was another endemic we saw as well as the rather common Large Sulawesi Hanging Parrot.

In some green paddies we spotted many wetland birds which included good flight views of Sunda Teal. Other birds: Olive-backed Sunbird, Slender-billed Crow, Pacific Swallow, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Javan Pond-Heron, Wood Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Chestnut Munia, Scaly-breasted Munia, Paddyfield Pipit, White-breasted Wood Swallow, Whiskered Tern, Brahimy Kite, Sooty-headed Bulbul and Spotted Dove

The evening was spent in a comfortable air-conditioned room that even included Wi-Fi and swimming pool.

Day 2: Next morning we set out early enough to catch the first sunlight near Gunung Ambang at the village of Sinsingon. The area around the village is full of agricultural produce and the humble houses in the village sport genuine village life with playing children, fruits and veggies for sale, house wifes sweeping floors and farmers leaving for the fields.

Walking up G. Ambang is a bit tiring and it is best to wear either rubber boots or strong hiking boots.

It is often wet and slippery but the walk is rewarding as it brings about many montane species otherwise not seen on a tour that doesn’t include Lord Lindu in Central Sulawesi.

Some of the great birds seen on this walk were Purple-bearded Bee-eater, Purple Needletail, Isabelline Bush Hen, Sulawesi Crested Serpent Eagle, Black-fronted White-eye, Grey-sided, Red-crowned and Yellow-sided Flowerpeckers, Sulawesi Babbler, Citrine Flycatcher, Ornate Lorikeet, Sulawesi Leaf Warbler, Sulphur-bellied Whistler, Island Verditer, Malia, Matinan Flycatcher, Streak-headed Dark-eye, Rusty-flanked Fantail, Golden-mantled Racquet-tails and Lesser Sulawesi Honeyeater. We stayed on the mountain till late afternoon when we went for genuine Indonesian home cooked dinner at a local ranger’s house. After dinner we returned to Kotamobagu and our comfortable hotel.

Other common birds seen: Barred Rail, Pacific Swallow, Brahimy Kite, Black Kite, Yellow Wagtail, Olive-backed Sunbird, Lesser Coucal, Bay Coucal heard, Brown Cuckoo Dove, White-breasted Wood Swallow, Larger Sulawesi Hanging Parrot, Barn Swallow, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Zitting Cisticola, Chestnut Munia, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Mountain White-eye, White-bellied Imperial Pigeon heard, Spotted Dove and Eurasian Treesparrow

Day 3: We went for an early morning drive to Tambun to look for Maleo as the birds come to the hot water springs to lay their eggs in the soil. It took quite some time but eventually we all had good views of a pair of these totally unique megapodes. Before we managed to see the Maleo a very handsome Red-backed Thrush was spotted by Marc and not only did we get good views but also pictures of this very handsome zoothera.

An obliging Green-backed Kingfisher kept all the cameras busy for some time as did the colorful Yellow-billed Malkoha. The Collared Myna which also is on the cover of the fieldguide showed a few times which was something everyone was hoping for. We also saw Pale-blue Monarch, Sulawesi Hawk Eagle, Sulawesi Triller and Sulawesi Black Pigeon. Other more common birds this morning: Grey-rumped Tree Swift, Grey-sided FP, Greater Sulawesi Hanging Parrot, Japanese Sparrowhawks, White-breasted Woodswallows and Brown Cuckoo Dove.

After that followed a drive to Doloduo where we checked in to a homestay. In the afternoon we birded at Toraout which included our first owling session.

It didn’t take long to catch up with what must be one of the most photographed owls on the planet: Speckled Boobok on its day roost. We crossed the river, walked through the forest to a clearing on the other side. Along the way there were Ornate Lorikeets and Yellow-breasted Raquet-tails in the canopy, by the clearing we had great scope views of a Purple Roller, our first Red-knobbed Hornbills, a pair of Blue-breasted Quails and Grey–cheeked Green Pigeons.

The owling gave close views of Sulawesi Scops Owl as well as Sulawesi Masked Owl.

Other birds seen en route: Black-winged Stilt, Cattle Egret, Cinnamon Bittern, Chestnut Munia, Spotted Harrier, Spotted Kestrel, Wandering Tree Ducks, Common Kingfisher.
Day 4: It is a very long drive to Tangkoko from Doloduo but we managed some solid roadside birding in the morning at Tapak Kolintang before we started our journey and we also stopped briefly by some wetlands en route.

Our 1st Ivory-backed Wood Swallows appeared! What nice Wood Swallows they are!

The islands of Wallacea are full of various elegantly decorated fruit doves often hard to see. This morning we caught up with Black-naped and Maroon-chinned Fruit Doves. We also saw our 1st Sulawesi Dwarf Hornbills, Black Sunbird and Ashy Woodpecker. It was quite a birdy day after all and in spite of the traffic along the road we saw a good number of birds:

White-breasted Wood Swallow, Pacific Swift, Eurasian Treesparrow, Grey-sided FP, Crimson Sunbird, Brown-throated Sunbird, Grosbeak Starling, Sulawesi Triller, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon, Sulawesi Black Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Black Eagle, Red-knobbed Hornbill, Greater Hanging Parrot, Sulawesi Crested Serpent Eagle, Sulawesi Hawk Eagle, Brahimy Kite, Slender-billed Crow, Cattle Egret, Grey-streaked FC, White-collared Myna, Uniform Swiftlet, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Sunda Teal, Dusky Moorhen, Common Moorhen, Yellow Bittern, Javan Pond Heron, Purple Heron, Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, Barred Rail, Moluccan Swiftlet and Black-faced Munia.

We arrived late at Tangkoko ready for some sleep and looking forward to the big highlight on Sulawesi!

Day 05: Tangkoko Nature Reserve may not need much of an introduction. A volcano right next to the sea with black sand covered beaches has also given rise to a prime forest that is full of exciting wildlife. The next couple of days we went in search, and also found most of what we wanted.

Kjetil and Eirik took some extra time to photograph the Crested Black Macaques and the Spectral Tarsiers. Marc played around with his macro lens and Dom continued his birding quest. But we all first made sure to lay our eyes on Red-bellied Pitta, Ochre-bellied Booboks, Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfisher, Liliac Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher and Minahassa Masked Owl. We had the help of the ever so spirited Samuel at Tangkoko.

Other birds: Sulawesi Babbler, Blue-backed Parrot, Yellow-billed Malkoa, Ashy WP, Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeon, Isabelline Bush Hen, Tabon Scrubfowl, Red-backed Thrush, Uniform Swiftlet, Sulawesi Scops Owl, Olive-backed Sunbird, Sulawesi Babbler, Bay Coucal, Black-billed Koel, Rainbow Bee-eater heard, Great Eared Nightjar heard.

Day 6: Tangkoko Birding at Tangkoko Nature Reserve in the morning and in the afternoon birding by boat at the Mangrove. This was the 3rd time I have visited the mangroves. I enjoy it just as much each time. It is so much fun to hunt down the Great-billed Kingfishers that dwell in there. The birds didn’t disappoint and eventually showed very well.

I also enjoyed the close looks we had of Grey-tailed Tattler with the help of our boat. A slower paced afternoon and a nice break from intense forest birding.

Other birds: Pacific Reef Egret, Common Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Pink-necked Pigeons, Golden-bellied Gerygone heard, Olive=backed Sunbird, Little Heron, Common Kingfisher, huge flock of roosting Pied Imperial Pigeons, Common Tern and White-bellied Sea Eagle.

Day 7: I had allocated a fair bit of time to Tangkoko as many on the tour wanted to work on photography. The morning took us up to Temboan hill from where we had views over the forest canopy with the volcano in the background. We saw many nice birds but didn’t get close to perching birds. New birds for the trip were: Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeons, White-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Grey-headed Imperial Pigeons, Eclectus Parrots (a pair most certainly escaped birds) and Chinese Sparrowhawk.
The afternoon was left for everyone’s personal choice of birding.

Other birds: Green Imperial Pigeon, Black-billed Koel, Bay Coucal heard, Black-naped Fruit Dove, Grey-cheeked Pigeon, Black Sulawesi Pigeon, Large Sulawesi Hanging Parrot, rey-rumped Treeswift, Uniform Swiftlet, Moluccan Swiftlet, Ornate Lorikeet, Golden-naped Raquet-tail, Red-knobbed Hornbill, Sulawesi Dwarf Hornbill, Grey-sided FP, Yellow-sided FP, Grosbeak Starlings, Pale blue Monarch, Chinese Sparrowhawk, Black-fronted White-eye, Sulawesi Crested Serpent Eagle, Sooty-headed Bulbul.

Day 8: Back to Manado for our morning flight to Halmahera. This rather short flight, 40 minutes, takes you into a totally new world of avifauna. It is just amazing to see a whole new set of species all over.

I always feel so excited to spot the volcanic island where the capitol of Halmahera is situated: Ternate. A busy town with a place in history as the center of spice trade in the Moluccas, also known as the Spice-islands. A short taxi ride through Ternate and on to the waiting speed boat for another 40 minutes on open seas to Sidangoli in the mainland of Halmahera followed.

Who hasn’t heard of Willie Wagtail a common garden bird in Australia? Well, this friendly little bird is also on Halmahera and we even spotted one driving through Ternate.

The crossing went well with a few quick sightings of Red-necked Phalaropes. Right next to the mangroves we anchored the boat and with the help of play back drew out the enigmatic Beach Kingfisher. Such a wonderful kingfisher! Big size and happy to perform as it flew from perch to perch. Then we settled in our rooms, had lunch, rested a bit and went out for the afternoon to the nearby hilly landscape at Kali Batu Putih.

We stayed out into the evening looking for owls as well. Here is a list of what we saw:

White-cheeked Monarch, Common Paradise KF – heard, Sombre KF, Ivory-breasted Pitta – heard, Blue-naped Fruit Dove, Golden Babbler, Blyth's Hornbill, Eclectus Parrot, Olive-backed Sunbird, Moluccan Scops Owl, Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar, Moluccan Boobok - heard, White-winged Terns, Goliath Coucal – heard, Dusky Scrupfowl, Lesser Coucal and Pacific Swallow.

Day 9: Sidangoli Birding in the morning and in the afternoon at Kali Batu Putih and Km 12

Today we continued our general birding in areas fairly close to Sidangoli. Birding was pretty slow but steady and since most things were new there was always something to look for.

At Km12 we connected with the following: White Cockatoo, Red-cheeked Parrot, Olive-backed Sunbird, Rufus-bellied Triller, Drab Whistler, Black-chinned Whistler, Halmahera Cuckoo Shrike , White-streaked Friarbird, Gurney's Eagle, Brahimy Kite, Pacific Baza, Eclectus Parrot, Willie Wagtail, Glossy Swiftlet, Moluccan Swiftlet, Barn swallow, Goliath Coucal – heard, Cream-throated White-eye, Dusky-brown Oriole, Blyth's Hornbill, Long-billed Crow, Paradise Crow – heard and Moluccan Hanging Parakeet.

Kali Batu Putih

Cream-throated White-eye, Common Cicadabird, Dusky brown Oriole, Paradise Crow, Shiny FC, Spectacled Monarch, Chattering Lory, Brahimy Kite, Gurney's Eagle, Cinnamon-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Blue-capped Fruit Dove, Ivory-breasted Pitta heard and White-streaked Friarbird.

Day 10: Birding again at Kali Batu Putih in the morning, and in the afternoon continued to Binagara village. Overnight at a simple place at Binagara village getting ready for Wallaces’s Standardwing in the early morning.

Another great set of birds including wonderful views of Common Paradise Kingfisher, Spectacled Monarch, Slaty Flycatcher, Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler and Goliath Coucal. The latter a bird one simply has to see with its huge size and enticing song. Plenty of Papuan (Blyth’s) Hornbill is an inspiration to see.

Here is the day list of the rest: Long-billed Crow, Metallic Starling, Red-cheeked Parrot, Olive-backed Sunbird, Black Sunbird, Golden Bulbul, Pacific Baza, Brahimy Kite, Red-flanked Lorikeet, Dollarbird, Spangled Drongo, Common Cicadabird, Rufus-bellied Triller, White Cockatoo, Brown Cuckoo Dove, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret and Marsh Sandpiper.

In the late afternoon we visited a National Park where we managed to track down one of several calling Ivory-breasted Pittas. This is of course one of the MEGA birds of this trip and everyone was very relieved to have seen it. It took us quite some time to work this bird and we paid little attention to other birds.

Back out of the forest we looked up to see half a dozen of Moustached Treeswifts in the air. This Swift is simply gigantic. What a bird!
Other birds: Spangled Drongo, Dusky Scrubfowl, Moustached Treeswift, Eclectus Parrot

Day 11: So finally the time had come for the number 1 reason people visit Halmahera. There are now 3 different leks around the island that can be visited and this one is apparently the least visited. We set out very early for the 1 and half hour long walk crossing several streams. When we finally arrived the birds were already performing. Still, we got to enjoy Wallaces’s Standardwing Bird of Paradise for atleast an hour. It was monumental for most of the folks in the group.

The walk back out gave us close views of White Cockatoos and our first Chattering Lory as well as Violet-necked Lory.

Marc managed to spot a single Nicobar Pigeon flying off from a stream bed.

More birds seen: Shiny Flycatcher, Spectacled Monarch, Black-chinned Whistler, Blyth's Hornbill, Dusky Scrubfowl

Back closer to Sidangoli we did another stop and successfully laid eyes on our last Kingfisher, the Blue-white.

Again we stayed out till dark and this time the Moluccan Boobok showed for some of us that defied the thick bushes and ventured off the road. Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar also posed on a branch for a long time.

More seen: Gurney's Eagle, Red-cheeked Parrot, Moluccan Cuckoo Shrike, Large-tailed Nightjar, Lesser Coucal, Uniform Swiftlet

Day 12: No time for birding this morning but it was still hard for some of us to put away the bins.
In the early morning hours we saw a few things by the mangroves and along the crossing to Ternate:

Eurasian Treesparrow, Red-necked Phalarope (20 birds), Moustached Treeswift, Pied Cormorant, Eclectus Parrot, Willie Wagtail, Lesser Frigatebirds (most likely this sp), Intermediate Egret, Whimbrel, Grey-tailed Tattler.

Back at Manado it was time for Marc and myself to board a plane to Singapore while the others went back to Tangkoko for another night.

Images of birds:

Marc Bulte:
It was a great trip with 129 lifers for me, many awesome and unique endemics and some very nice photographic opportunities, especially in Tangkoko. The trip was perfectly guided and organized and the food was amazing.

Kjetil: Fantastic trip. And it all went so smooth!

Eirik: Yes o'yes - almost a religious experience when finally I have added my very first bird of pardise to my list. About 8 Standardwing bird of paradise displaying in the tree tops were amazing to see. Thanks to Peter Ericsson and Theo for excellent guiding at Halmahera, Indonesia

Peter: Thanks everyone for making it so enjoyable!

Good food!
Good food!
Gunung Ambung
Gunung Ambung
River crossing at Toraout
River crossing at Toraout
The team
The team
Theo and Max's son at Tumbun
Theo and Max's son at Tumbun
Marc Bulte
Marc Bulte
Eirik Groenningsaeter
Eirik Groenningsaeter
Kjetil Sjoelberg
Kjetil Sjoelberg
Crested Black Macaques
Crested Black Macaques
Spectral Tarsier
Spectral Tarsier
Off to the mangroves!
Off to the mangroves!