Friday 7 August 2015

INDONESIA 2015: Sumba (August 3-7)

Background.  I had been wanting to visit the Lesser Sundas for many years but the opportunity never arose.  More than one I had tried to persuade Nick Preston to go but he always had other plans.  Then, while I was doing something else, he tagged visits to Sumba and Timor on to the back of a Sumatra trip (somewhere I had already been).  The following year he visited Flores after the South Moluccas (I can’t now remember what I was doing then).  Persuading Nick to revisit, even with him having missed Timor Sparrow, was now pretty much out of the question.  When Royke Mananta (,, who had very ably guided us through West Papua in 2013 (see, emailed to ask if I was interested in joining a Lesser Sundas trip he was putting on for Mike Coverdale and Andy Marshall I was very keen to find out more.  The timing was not great for me, and only allowed me to visit the three main islands (Sumba, Timor and Flores) before heading back.  They were going on to Komodo and Timor Leste, which would have been nice to visit too, as would spending some time on Bali, but I had to get back and do some work before going to France with Megan and then Brazil later in the autumn.
I quickly booked a Garuda flight to Bali where the trip would start and was then dismayed three weeks or so before departure when Raung, a volcano in East Java, became active and its ash cloud cancelled all flights into and out of Bali for several days.  With thousands of Australians stranded it made the UK national news …

1 August.  Megan dropped me at Shoreham-by-Sea station where I soon discovered that my pre-booked train to Gatwick had been cancelled due to staff shortages.  Not an ideal start but fortunately I had given myself plenty of time.  Check-in was efficient and we departed on time although were an hour late leaving Amsterdam due to long runway availability (needed for our 12 hour flight to Jakarta).  Six Swifts over Schiphol reminded me I would not be seeing any over the house when I got back home.

our Garuda Boeing 777 at Schipol
2 August.  We arrived in Jakarta at 12:05 having made up some of the delay.  A pleasant if long flight with Garuda living up to their ‘best economy airline’ tag.  My flight to Bali was late leaving Jakarta but given the recent disruption due to erupting Raung I was pleased to be going at all.  While waiting at Jakarta I saw Cattle Egret, Edible-nest and Linchi Swiftlets, White-bellied Wood-Swallow, Pacific Swallow and Sooty-headed Bulbuls.  I had a window seat and had excellent views of Raung as we gave it a wide berth before crossing to Bali where we were an hour late arriving.  My rucksack was pretty much the last to be unloaded and I left the airport to find Royke, Andy and Mike rather wondering if they had missed me.  Royke had the Ibis Kuta Hotel minibus waiting for us and we were soon settling in.
leaving Jakarta
the edge of Jakarta, Mauro Anke is down there somewhere
non-active Javan volcanos 

Ruang and its trailing ash cloud
we gave it a wide berth
before dog-legging to Bali
3 August.  We had breakfast and were taken back to the airport where we caught the Wings Air ATR-72 flight to Waingapu.  Birds seen on Bali before leaving were Spotted Dove, Linchi Swiftlet, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Blood-breasted Flowerpecker and Tree Sparrow.  At the airport I realised that I had left my OBC cap in the hotel, probably by their computer while sending an email home.  It was an interesting flight skirting Lombok and Sumbawa before crossing to Sumba.  Sumba looked very dry with only remnant forest patches in steep valleys.  We disturbed at least 7 Australian Pratincoles that had been on the runway when taxiing in.  Linus our driver was waiting at the airport with a 4WD and we were soon driving the two hours inland to Lewa where we arrived at the Hary homestay just after 2pm.  Each room had a photo of a Sumba endemic on the door and I took the Hornbill room with some trepidation as it was one of the harder endemic to find.  After a decent lunch we were driven a short distance back down the road to km 51 where we birded in a patch of dry forest about 20 minute walk from the road.  We crossed an area Royke had thought we might need wellingtons as it was usually muddy even in the dry season.  I’d decided to risk the trip without (partly due to a 10kg limit on hold baggage on the internal flights).  As it turned out it had been exceptionally dry and the ground was baked hard and cracked in places.  It was thought to be an El Nino effect and it had the down side of keeping the birds very quiet and unresponsive.  We stayed until after dark looking for nightbirds, finally tracking down a Little Sumba Hawk Owl after a couple of hours of effort.  Back at Lewa, under an amazingly clear sky with millions of stars in every field of view, we had another decent meal and an earlyish night.  My first day had produced six new birds – the bobook, Mees’s Nightjar, Sumba Green Pigeon, Pale-shouldered Cicadabird, Rusty-breasted Whistler and the excellent Yellow-spectacled White-eye.  Other good birds included Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Black-naped Fruit-Dove and Great-billed Parrot while we heard Elegant Pitta quite close by at dusk - it was not responsive.  Fortunately I was tired enough to get to sleep quite quickly.
Wings Air power, while in Indonesia a Trigana ATR-72 crashed in Papua
Sumba looked very dry and barren
with small forest patches in the steeper valleys
the island used to be covered with Sandalwood forests, until exploited by western colonialists
unloading at Waingapu
New rooms at the Hary Losmen.  I was in the Sumba Hornbill room and Andy the Sumba Boobook.  We both hoped we had not made a mistake selecting a room comemorating a bird we wouldn't see ... 
the Hary Losmen in Lewa was predominantly but not exclusively visited by birders.  An earlier group of Royke's provided the exception. 
the track at km 51
Sumba Green Pigeon.  All the Lesser Sunda green pigeons are in serious trouble
juvenile Brown Goshawk

a spotlighted Black-naped Fruit Dove

4 August.  We were up at 03:40 for a quick breakfast and left at 04:00 for a 15 minute drive to a roadside forest patch where we tried to see Sumba Bobook.  One eventually called in response to playback, came closer and crossed the road unseen despite a very bright moon.  Very frustrating.  We gave up at dawn and continued to the best area of forest at km 68 where we birded down the road for three kms until noon.  Green Junglefowl were calling all around us when we arrived but before we really had chance to try for them our attention switched to calling Sumba Hornbills in the valley below.  Despite this hectic start it was to be very slow birding although we slowly accumulated some nice birds.  The best were a photogenic Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Sumba Hornbills (I could return to my room head held high!), a distant Red-naped Fruit Dove, Sumba Myzomela and Apricot-breasted Sunbird although only hearing Elegant Pitta again added to the frustration.  We returned to Lewa for lunch and after a two hour break while it was too hot for anything to be active we returned to km 68-71 for the rest of the day.  It remained slow going until late afternoon when we had good views of Elegant Pitta and a Chestnut-backed Thrush appeared somewhat briefly in a fruiting tree.  We stayed out until 20:45 failing to see Sumba Bobook again with only intermittent distant calling heard.  Another amazingly clear sky, full of unrecognisable constellations and Orion, on his side and just above the horizon.  The stars were so bright it made even Orion hard to recognise at first.
by the road at km 69

female Sumba Hornbill playing hide and seek
she eventually gave a decent view
the male wasn't much more obliging
smart birds
a responsive Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, one of our few 'playback' successes
so much so that I got rather carried away photographing it

a superb bird and one of my main targets
Elegant Pitta, honest.  The bird I most wanted to see and I was not disappointed (other than in the images of it!). 1/10th second exposure at ISO 1600 - light was poor.  It shows the bright red belly patch, limited amount of black on the throat and, with some imagination, uniform yellow supercillium expected of the race maria 

5 August.  We had a comparative lie in and left at 05:00 to drive to km 70 where a big hole in a tree was thought to be an owl roost site.  No response was elicited, as we were coming to expect.  We drove on to Watumbela at about km 92 where we walked up through a Eucalyptus plantation and across a grassy hillside to overlook a wooded valley.  At least twenty-two Citron-crested Cockatoos were seen in the valley, some appeared to have just left the roost while others were engaged in acrobatic displays.  None were close but we all had good views through Andy’s telescope.  We also saw Marigold Lorikeet, another Great-billed Parrot and an even more distant Red-naped Fruit Dove and the rather drab Indonesian Honeyeater.  We returned to km 69-71 but it was very quiet and we were back in Lewa for lunch at 12.  We left at 15:00 and spent the afternoon on the trail at km 51 which we had visited when we first arrived.  We soon saw a superb Sunda Flycatcher, one of our remaining targets, although I missed the initial sighting and had to sweat for 15 minutes for it to reappear.  We saw Wallacean Cuckoo-Shrike (a much paler race on Sumba with an almost white rump) and Short-toed Eagle and heard Elegant Pitta.  An owling session to 20:00 produced a perched Mees’s Nightjar and we heard a very distant Little Sumba Hawk Owl.  No Sumba Bobooks at all and only one owling session left.  Andy was close to ripping down the picture on his door!

walking through grassland near the cockatoo viewpoint
back on the trail at km 51
Short-toed Eagle

Black-naped Oriole taking flight
Wallacean Cuckoo-Shrike
the Sumba race is very pale

6 August.  We had breakfast at 03:30 and left at 04:00 driving to the first forest patch (km 64?).  After what seemed like a long wait a Sumba Boobook eventually responded, came closer and finally gave decent views in a tree by the road.  Walking back to the vehicle we then heard a Little Sumba Hawk Owl and in response to tape it and its mate performed in a tree by the road.  At one stage one was sitting above the other on consecutive branches.  We drove on to km 69 for dawn but couldn’t entice a Green Junglefowl into view.  It made me feel better about not really trying on our first morning but was still rather disappointing.  We retraced our steps back to km 51, the best site for our last remaining forest endemic - Sumba Brown Flycatcher.  We arrived at 06:40 and soon found a pair of flycatchers and also saw a closer Red-naped Fruit Dive, another Sumba Green Pigeon, Elegant Pitta (my best views to date), Wallacean Cuckoo-Shrike, a white male Asian Paradise Flycatcher and another of the Sumba race of Russet-backed Jungle Flycatcher.  After three hours we left and returned to Lewa for an early lunch (at 10:30, although we had been up for 7 hours by then).  We drove to the coast to the north of Waigapu airport and soon flushed several Sumba Buttonquail from an area of short grassland on a plateau above the road.  We did not manage to see any on the ground but had decent flight views.  We continued on to a nearby lake seeing a few waterbirds including Wandering Whistling Duck, White-browed Crake, Malaysian Plover and Australian Pratincole.  We stopped at some mangroves on the way back seeing Pacific Reef Heron and some distant Crested Terns offshore.  We returned to Waingapu and checked into the Merlyn Hotel where I discovered I had left my jumper on my bed at Lewa.  Although it had only cost £3.50 in a charity shop before I came away I had become quite attached to it.  Birding was great but I wasn’t doing at all well in looking after my gear.  My excuse was it was a red jumper and I had been given a red blanket as it had been a bit colds at night.  They had become entwined and I had not noticed.  Pretty lame excuse really.

Sumba Green Pigeon
Brown Goshawk
Brahminy Kite
forest near km 51
short grassland at Yumbu, habitat for Sumba Buttonquail
me at Yumbu, improvised headgear having carelessly left my OBC cap in Bali (photo Mike Coverdale)
Mr Gumby 'my brain hurts' 
mangroves near Yumbu
Wood Sandpiper
Pacific Black Ducks

Pacific Black Duck with two Wandering Whistlers
Waingapu skyline with high peaked rooves of 'ancestral houses'.  Those without are 'bald houses'.
view from the hotel
7 August.  We were woken by a 04:00 call to prayers, the hotel being rather too close to the local mosque for our comfort.  It continued until after 05:00 and negated the need for a wake-up call for breakfast at 05:15.  We were at the airport at 06:15 and our 07:15 Wings Air flight to Kupang on Timor was on time.

sunrise approaching
Waingapu rooves and satellite dishes

loading the car for the last time outside the Merlyn Hotel
Waingapu airport terminal with its handy endemic bird checklist
one last check to see we had not missed anything - Apricot-breasted Sunbird, Sumba Buttonquail, Sumba Hornbill, Sumba Green Pigeon, Sumba Boobook, Little Sumba Bobook, Sumba flycatcher, Red-naped Fruit Dove, Sumba Myzomela and Sumba Brown Flycatcher - we hadn't.  Unfortunately seeing the endemics on Timor and Flores would prove to be altogether much more difficult.
leaving Waingapu for Timor, Royke with his one piece of hand-baggage

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