Monday, 2 September 2019

BORNEO 2019: Jakarta & Sungai Wain (29 August-2 September)

Wednesday 28 August (continued). We arrived in Jakarta on time and proceeded to the Sriwijaya desks. Our flight wasn't listed on the departure board rather confirming the e-mail Paul had received of its cancellation. The staff at the counter were very helpful and one of the managers was called and offered us a choice of an evening flight with another airline or a night in a hotel and the rescheduled flight to Balikpapan at 06:25 the following morning. Paul had not heard from Pak Agusdin at Sungai Wain for several months and not being sure that they were expecting us we felt a late evening arrival might not be ideal. Staying the night in Jakarta gave us an afternoon to look for Milky Stork which would be new for Paul so we decided to go for that option, Nick persuading them to throw in a free dinner too. A shuttle bus took us to the hotel from where we took a taxi to Maura Angke. After failing to find a boat for hire we walked around to the reserve entrance, paid a minimal entrance fee and were directed to the end of the boardwalk. From here 5 distant Milky Storks were feeding on the edge of the mangroves. Other birds seen included 30 Sunda Teal, 5 Orange-breasted Green Pigeons, 100+ Whiskered Terns, a selection of herons, 2 Collared Kingfishers, 2 Oriental Darters, 2 Small Minivets and 2 Sunda Pied Fantails. We soon found a taxi to return us to the hotel where much to our disappointment, the free dinner was a very ordinary Nasi Goreng.
Milky Storks at Maura Angke

Whiskered Terns at Maura Angke
Thursday 29 August. We caught the 04:00 shuttle bus to the airport and checked in on our Swirijaya flight to Balikpapan. We arrived on time at 09:25 local time (an hour ahead of Java) at a massive modern but not very busy airport. The first taxi we approached knew where Sungai Wain was and we were on our way. We arrived at the headquarters at about 11:00 and soon found Pak Agusdin who quickly arranged things for our visit. First a cup of tea, then preparing rooms in the nearby homestay, a boxed meal and a guide for 15:00, it being considered too hot to go out any sooner. The forest was incredibly dry (unfortunately for us) and he had been too busy recently to reply to Paul's communications due to concerns over forest fires. Our first guide Pak Cordi took us around some secondary forest and along the edge of the reservoir. When queried said he'd forgotten the key to access the reserve and we returned to the headquarters having seen nothing. A younger guide Pak Imran took over and with the necessary key led us into the forest. It wasn't much better with Black Eagle and 2 Yellow-bellied Bulbuls all we saw until dark. We slowly waked back through the forest trying for nightbirds and after some effort taped in a Large Frogmouth although it remained too high for photography. We were back at HQ at 20:00 where we were given another box meal. After eating we spent half an hour trying for a Sunda Frogmouth that was calling from a little way down the road but refused to show.

Friday 30 August. Today seemed to sum up Sungai Wain, at least during a hot August. We looked unsuccessfully for Sunda Frogmouth from 04:40-05:10, had a box breakfast then spent all day birding in the forest with experienced guide Pak Iman and returned at 18:10 by which time I had seen just ten species. After a box dinner we returned into the forest from 19:30-20:50 looking for nightbirds and seeing none, not helped towards the end by the battery on Paul's speaker dying when a Bornean Wood Owl started to respond and me not having a spare. During the morning we heard a distant Bornean Ground Cuckoo in an area Iman knew they frequented but it did not respond to playback. Later in another area he knew one did respond. Paul put his speaker some distance away and we crouched down hoping it might come in without seeing us. No chance, I saw a movement appearing in a small gap off to our right that looked about the right size but raising my bins it had vanished. We tried hiding behind a tree a bit further down the trail in the hope of pulling it across a more open area but with no success. We tried hiding by the trail at the extent of blue-tooth range and hopefully scanned the trail beyond. We then heard the bird call again and not being able to determine its direction Nick indicated that it was somewhere behind us. Looking down the trail we were facing the wrong way and about the only other place I could see the ground was along narrow strip in the vegetation level with us. The Bornean Ground Cuckoo suddenly appeared side on for an instant half way down the strip then ran roadrunner like directly away and out of site. Paul had been watching the strip too and we didn't have a bad view through binoculars but unfortunately Nick was unsighted. The bird was incredibly wary as both Paul and I already had our binoculars raised when it appeared but it still clocked us and shot off. We kept trying but to no avail. Several attempts during the day to see Bornean Peacock Pheasant either at display areas or by walking narrow ridge trails also failed although Paul heard one in the distance. My other sightings were 100+ Edible-nest Swiftlets, 2 superb Brown-backed Needletails and a Pacific Swallow over the reservoir, Buff-necked Woodpecker, a flight view of a Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, 4 Chestnut-winged, a Sooty-capped and 2 Ferruginous Babblers.

box lunch at the second 'camp' at Sungai Wain
Nick taking first watch at a Bornean Peacock-Pheasant display area, unfortunately they mainly visit in the spring.
Saturday 31 August. We looked for Sunda Frogmouth from 04:45 but didn't even hear one. Pak Iman took us into the forest again at 05:10 and we birded there until 15:30. With Nick not having seen the ground cuckoo we still had two main targets and tried first for Bornean Peacock-Pheasant at the display area behind camp one. We heard one distantly but it came no closer and had stopped responding by the time we moved in. We tried another area with no success and continued to yesterday's Bornean Ground Cuckoo site where nothing was calling although by now it was gone 11:00. We slowly walked back, tried the peacock-pheasant area again and Iman's original ground cuckoo site seeing little. A pair of Diard's Trogons had been the highlight and I had also seen Black Magpie, a juvenile Rufous-tailed Shama, 2 Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, a Bold-striped and 2 Fluffy-backed Tit-Babblers, Rufous-crownedSooty-capped and 3 Chestnut-winged Babblers and 2 Hill Mynas. Back at the homestay Paul packed his gear and just before 17:00 the taxi driver who'd brought us from Balikpapan arrived to take him back. Nick and I had two more days but given how quiet the forest was half of me wished I was going home like Paul. Nick and I went back into the secondary forest for the last hour of the day and saw Blue-eared Kingfisher and as the light was going one of three calling Hooded Pittas responded to playback by flying into a tree above us. After another box dinner Nick and I walked a short way down the road and encouraged a Sunda Frogmouth to fly across the road almost above my head, Nick seeing it perched briefly too.
Diard's Trogon at Sungai Wain

Sunday 01 September. Nick and I were out at 04:30 looking for Sunda Frogmouth but only heard it distantly. We left HQ with Pak Iman at 05:00 and headed straight up to area where Paul and I had seen the ground cuckoo reaching it by 07:00. Nothing was happening and we continued to an area Iman knew beyond camp two where we heard a distant Bornean Ground Cuckoo calling once or twice. We stayed in the area for 2.5 hours but heard nothing further although a Garnet Pitta provided a very welcome distraction. We returned to camp one and the peacock-pheasant display area for two hours before lunch drawing a complete blank, although I found it very hard to stay awake and according to Nick dozed off for half of it. I'd opted out of a box lunch unable to face rice more than once a day. The enclosed plastic bag of vegetables in hot liquid to go with it did little for me and had some biscuits before we returned for another hour's fruitless vigil for a peacock-pheasant. Iman slowly led us out by a different route through a damper area with several small streams and  lots of evidence of wild pigs. This he said was a good area for Bornean Ground Cuckoo and it was easy to believe it. We heard one distantly and moved along the trail to be level with it and tried playback, although I didn't have bluetooth. It seemed to come a bit closer but maybe saw us as it then sounded as if it was retreating before falling silent. Very frustrating. Other than the pitta sightings if the forest were a Rufous Piculet, 2 Buff-necked Woodpeckers, female Rufous-winged Philentoma, 2 Yellow-bellied Bulbuls, Chestnut-winged, Chestnut-rumped and 2 Sooty-capped Babblers and 3 Fluffy-backed Tit-Babblers. Not a lot for 12 hours in the field as we were back at HQ soon after 17:00, me feeling very tired and thirsty - a litre of water not being enough for a whole day in the field. There was no sight or sound of the Sunda Frogmouth after dinner.
Garnet Pitta at Sungai Wain

I'd hoped to see Garnet Pitta in Borneo having only seen them in West Malaysia and not since 1987. It did not disappoint
Monday 02 September. We were out at 04:30 hearing Sunda Frogmouth once. We'd tried eight times to see it but the best I'd managed was a flight view, thankfully it wasn't new. nick for whom it was saw it perched briefly. Fortunately the trip's other frogmouths were more obliging. We entered the forest with Pak Iman at 05:30 and walked straight to yesterday's damp, pig turned-over ground cuckoo area. Coming out we'd crossed the river that flowed into the reservoir on a one log bridge with a flimsy branch rail, something we were not looking forward to doing again in the dark but it was OK. We reached the site as it was getting light and heard a Bornean Ground Cuckoo but it stopped calling when we went in a short distance. Perhaps it had seen us. We continued on to the peacock-pheasant area but had no luck there. Next to where Paul and I had seen the ground cuckoo using Iman's phone and bluetooth speaker we set up just off the path. The speaker was just out of bluetooth range from where Nick and I were sitting so Iman hid himself a bit closer and on the other side of the trail. The bird called and after a while Nick and Iman saw it appear on the edge of the trail by the speaker and run off. It was my turn to be unsighted, concentrating on the trail beyond the speaker. Disappointing to miss it although Nick's views had effectively been of it running away. A far from easy bird but at least we'd now all seen it. We had better views of the Garnet Pitta, returned to camp one for lunch and tried the original and a new peacock-pheasant site with the expected result. We were back at the homestay soon after 15:00, me having seen just eight birds in the forest - Buff-necked WoodpeckerGarnet Pitta, 2 Chestnut-winged, a Chestnut-rumped and 2 Ferruginous Babblers and a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo - less than one per hour. We packed up and our cheerful taxi driver arrived to take us back to Balikpapan. We thanked Pak Agusdin for arranging all aspects of our visit and Pak Iman for guiding us around the forest and left. Our hotel which I'd thought was on the seafront at Balikpapan, and imagined had a sandy beach, was in the Balikpapan Super Block. We found the seafront but it was as far from my imagination as possible - a muddy foreshore covered in plastic waste. Nothing was seen out to sea other than several enormous barges loaded, I assume, with enormous piles of coal. In the super block we found a pizza and my first ice cream since being in Borneo. I was clearly ready to go home.
Garnet Pitta at Sungai Wain
did I really look that srange?

boardwalk into the forest

the homestay's rather creepy front door
Tuesday 03 September. We caught a taxi to Balikpapan Airport and our Citilink flight to Bali was on time. A Cattle Egret on the runway was the only bird seen before departing. In Bali I saw 2 Spotted Doves and 40 House Swifts before we flew to Doha and then early the next morning back to Gatwick. I was home Wednesday lunchtime and Megan and I went to France on Saturday.

We'd gone to Borneo knowing that August probably wasn't the best time to visit - my two and Nick's three previous trips had been at this time and we'd found them hard work. With few targets we almost got away with it but came up short on Bornean Peacock-Pheasant. I've not seen everything occurring in Borneo but the peacock-pheasant is about the only Bornean species I'd return for and with Sungai Wain being so easy to access from Balikpapan I might consider adding a return visit to some, as yet unplanned, future Indonesian trip, provided it was not in August.

I'd like to thank Nick, Paul and Lori for being excellent companions and helping someone (me) not as sharp as they were to get onto some of the trickier birds, although I surprisingly held my own with the pittas which was pleasing. Paul arranged the main part of the trip which ran very smoothly and even the delayed flight probably worked to our advantage. He was brilliant on calls too, as exemplified by the first Hose's Broadbill. Thanks for inviting us along. Nick arranged his and my pre-trip visit to Bali where we saw most of what I'd hoped to, and all that was probably realistically possible given how badly many species have been hit by the cagebird trade. Lori was only able to join us in Sarawak but was great company there. Many people helped us throughout and I'd particularly like to thank Made Surya ( who guided Nick and me in Bali, Isak and Wendy at the Tropical Jungle Hideout and Pak Agusdin and Pak Iman at Sungai Wain.

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