Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Flores Clean-Up!

Returned to the forest this morning and well and truly nailed White-rumped kingfisher although didnt get any photos. In afternoon we drove back to Danau Rana Mese and saw Crested Dark-eye, Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo and further up in hills had Flores Jungle-flycatcher and a brief Pygmy Wren-babbler. We also got very close to Wallace’s and Flores Scops-owls without seeing them..

The following day we were treated to one of the best mornings of the tour so far as we arrived at the pass at Golo Lusang just before daybreak and began walking down the road. It was lovely as there were no noisy cars or mopeds beeping at us every five minutes like on our last visit. The dawn chorus was just beginning and as it became lighter White-browed Shortwing and Pygmy Wren-babbler began calling from the densely vegetated hillside. The cool mountain air was a refreshing change from the hot, sweaty lowlands we’d become accustomed to and pretty soon new birds were being found, beginning with a pair of Dark-backed Imperial-pigeons perched up nicely, and continuing the theme we also had a pair of Ruddy Cuckoo-doves fly across the road in front of us, followed by a cracking perched view of a Barred Cuckoo-dove

Barred Cuckoo-dove

As it got lighter still we began hearing the first Bare-throated Whistlers and what an amazing sound it made. After a bit of a search Brian P spotted our first one which flew up into a tall, dead tree and we were very privileged to be able to watch it sing, at leisure, through the scopes. The whole experience of seeing this amazing-looking bird with its bare throat patch and the incredible song made this the undoubted highlight of the tour so far. The sheer loudness of its song was awesome and enhanced by the curve of the hillside making an amphitheatre of noise emanating from this moss-encrusted ancient forest. In fact we saw several more birds throughout the morning, some singing, others feeding on the numerous berry bushes along the road. 

Bare-throated Whistler

There was also Blood-breasted Flowerpecker, Scale-crowned Honeyeater, Flores Leaf-warbler, Sunda Cuckoo, Chestnut-backed Thrush, Crested and Yellow-browed Dark-eyes and other previously seen species. It certainly was a lively morning but by 11am activity had died down dramatically so we returned to the hotel for a nice siesta. 

In the afternoon we visited a beautiful forest and walked along the road and although it was predictably quiet to begin with, our perseverance paid off with a few goodies. A Sunda Cuckoo flew by, whilst Royke spotted a Yellow-breasted Warbler feeding in the canopy of a roadside tree and its rufous head and golden yellow underparts literally shone. A Rufous-chested Flycatcher was a nice surprise, whilst Dark-backed Imperial-pigeon, Barred Cuckoo-dove, Metallic Pigeon and a few others were also seen. Once dusk settled and after a nice cup of tea we drove to another forest patch and found a rather cooperative Wallace’s Scops-owl that we spotlighted flying around us from one large tree to another and we had it perched twice, although not close, which was kind of neat in the binoculars. So a great end to a very good day....

Monday, 29 July 2013

Flores Tick-Fest

Another day and another early start for my intrepid group, and another crack at owling. Leaving the hotel at 4am saw us reach the forest in plenty of time and we took a little while before hearing a Moluccan Scops-owl which then took the best part of an hour to track down. Well it was almost light and the dawn chorus of White-rumped Kingfishers had already started, when Tracy noticed some movement overhead and there it was! Or rather a pair of Moluccan Scops-owls which were apparently going to roost. We’d already given it up, so this was a great way to start the day. 

Moluccan Scops-owl

Unfortunately the kingfisher didn’t play ball and turned out to be particularly unresponsive all day, and simply kept on calling from some impenetrable part of the forest where we couldn’t reach it. So we followed the trail a short distance and found a trio of endemics - Golden-rumped and Black-fronted Flowerpeckers, and a pair of obliging Thick-billed Dark-eyes. Then the forest began to resound to the sound of calling Elegant Pittas and as they call differently to the birds on Timor and also have a few plumage differences we made an effort to see them – well one or two without much effort. 

Elegant Pitta
The drivers brought our breakfast out to us which was very nice and then we set out on another walk. With the day warming up we found a nice viewpoint from which to scan the forested slopes of Gunung Pacan Deki for the sought-after Flores Hawk-eagle. During our vigil we had great views of Flame-breasted Sunbird and Black-fronted Flowerpecker, and Flores Crow before Derek spotted the biggie and we had prolonged views of a hawk-eagle soaring high over the valley before disappearing behind the trees. What a relief! 

Black-fronted Flowerpecker

Just up the hill was a fruiting tree and we had several Black-naped Fruit-doves here. So we left and walked slowly back to the cars, getting another Thick-billed Dark-eye, Black-naped Monarch, Striated Swallow, Wallacean Cuckooshrike and a few other things on the way before driving back to the hotel for a quick wash and then driving just down the road to the restaurant. We had a siesta afterwards which was very welcome after an early start before returning to the forest. It was predictably slow in the afternoon, although a flock of Flores Green-pigeons flew over and perched up just long enough to get cracking looks at them in the scope. Once dusk settled a pair of Mees’s Nightjars flew over the track and we heard at least six Moluccan Scops-owls before getting flight views of a Wallace’s Scops-owl that had been calling nearby. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Flores and the 5,000....

Another early start (and I won’t tell you what time..!) saw us on the 6.20am flight to Ruteng on the lovely island of Flores. On approach over the mountains we could see the short runway and we certainly hit the runway with a loud bang when we touched down! However, we were met upon arrival by our trusty ground crew and a convoy of four cars and were soon heading up to the pass at Golo Lusang in search of our first island endemics. The scenery was very nice with forest cloaked mountains all around but some low cloud and rain dampened the bird activity and our enthusiasm at the same time. In fact it was very slow going with brief views of several birds and everything seemed to be extremely shy, a direct reflection on the hunting culture that was apparent here with guys driving past us on mopeds with guns over their backs. We walked down the road a few kilometres and eventually things improved as the weather cleared and we saw Yellow-browed Dark-eye and Brown-capped Fantail – the commonest endemics here. 

Rusty-capped Tesia

A loud, jumbly call off to our left proved to be a Rusty-capped Tesia which showed amazingly well on numerous occasions and we all got great views of it. A little further down amongst the moss-cloaked roadside trees we had a Flores Leaf-warbler flitting above us in the canopy of a large tree. Then a Scaly-crowned Honeyeater showed well and shortly after a male Flores Minivet appeared – my 5,000th species. Woohoo..!!! After handshakes all round we hopped into the cars and returned to Ruteng for a leisurely lunch. 

Afterwards we set off to Danau Rana Mese and walked down to the lake where a flock of Pacific Black Ducks were loafing on the far side, and also on the lake was a Coot and a Tricoloured Grebe (an IOC split from Little Grebe). In the surrounding area we had another showy tesia, Golden Whistler, Sunda Woodpecker and Christian found yet another Pale-shouldered Cicadabird. A calling White-rumped Kingfisher failed to respond and would have to wait for another day, so we drove off to a new ‘hotel’ near Kisol for a two-night stay.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Back to Timor

Left the homestay at 5.30am which was a little bit of a lie in after our early finish last night – and much appreciated. Headed off to the coast near Waingapu, stopping to flush a few Brown Quail along the way in a roadside field. After a bit of phaffing around the town for fuel we quickly got Broad-billed Monarch in the mangroves before reaching the Yumba wetlands and had an hour to find a few goodies before our morning flight back to Timor. Yes our crazy schedule, thanks to the local airlines has really cocked up our time on Timor, means that we have lost a day there and thus a few endemics. Not a happy chappy this evening! Anyway, around the pools we had several Javan Plovers, Australasian Swamphens, some close Australian Pratincoles, and some Wandering Whistling-ducks, whilst a perched Lesser Fish-eagle was a surprise. 

Australian Pratincole

Leaving here it was just a short drive to the airport and our flight took off on time and after an hours flight we touched down in Timor - once again. The luggage arrived in double-quick time and we set off back to Bipolo Forest, but this time drove out into the ricefields. Several new birds were found quickly, including Barred Dove, Black-faced Woodswallow, White-faced Heron, and a flyby Australian Pelican. Our search for Timor Sparrow only resulted in a couple of the group seeing it, but Five-coloured Munia, Blue-breasted Quail, Black-winged Kite, Spotted Kestrel and a bunch of other birds were seen to make it quite a profitable session. Once again we ended up at a lovely hotel and had a wonderful meal and cold beers – so lovely to have a hot shower after 3 nights of cold bucket washes at the homestay in Sumba. 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sumba Day 3

Another early departure this morning as we had to try and claw back Sumba Boobook having missed it on our previous two attempts. So you can imagine what a relief it was to have a bird calling back at us form a bare branch of a huge roadside tree within minutes of firing up the ipod. Shame I didn’t have the camera with me!! A quick try for Mees’s Nightjar once again drew a blank so we then drove some two hours to another patch of forest, parked the cars up and walked across some fields to a small hill where we stood for a coupe of hours scanning the forest edge. We had a nice view of several forested ridges with huge trees that looked particularly inviting for hornbills, but initially there was no sign of them. Instead we enjoyed great scope views of Eclectus Parrots, plenty of Great-billed Parrots, Green Imperial-pigeons, Wallacean Cuckooshrike, Black-faced Mynas, Rusty-breasted Cuckoo and others. 

Sumba Hornbill

After some time Tracy and Chris both had brief views of a Sumba Hornbill in the distance, but it was an anxious wait for the rest of us until four more were seen flying into a huge tree. After the initial frantic directions everyone had nice scope views, but we needn’t have worried as a pair flew up onto the ridge in front of us and flew across the clear blue sky into another bare tree where they gave stonking views. Amazing! 

Spotted Harrier

So elated with this we decided to leave and walk to the vehicles, getting superb views of this Spotted Harrier along the way. On the way back to the homestay we had brief views of the ever-elusive Sumba Flycatcher and quite a few Indonesian Honeyeaters at another spot. After lunch and a siesta we headed along the road and birded the same patch of forest as yesterday, trying really hard to find a stationary Sumba Flycatcher, but we only ended up hearing two birds at different locations and neither responded to the ipod or a recording of their call. The birding was generally slow but we spent ages sat down at the top of a slope inside the forest listening to Chestnut-backed Thrush singing below us and waiting for that damn flycatcher to show. A few Golden Whistlers, Spectacled Monarch, a Pale-shouldered Cicadabird for Christian, and an Orange-footed Scrubfowl for Brian were also seen here. The forest resounded to the songs of Elegant Pittas as we walked along the road, a quite amazing experience although we couldn’t locate a perched bird as the light began to fade way too quickly for our liking! Then we drove to a new spot at dusk and within minutes of walking found ourselves being circled by a pair of the endemic Mees’s Nightjar (at last!) and they performed absolutely brilliantly for us, and it wasn’t even dark yet. So we had the bonus of an early return to the homestay, an early dinner and several extra hours sleep before our departure to Waingapu tomorrow.