Thursday, 7 July 2005

INDONESIA 2005: Gunung Kerinci (26 June to 7 July)

This blog is the first of three recounting a budget trip to Sumatra and West Java in June/July 2005 with Jon Hornbuckle, Janos Olah, Attila Simay and Barry Wright. It is dedicated to the memory of Jon Hornbuckle who put the group together and organised the trip. 

IntroductionJon and Janos were keen to visit Sumatra and soon recruited me, Attila Simay and Barry. The main sites we visited were Gunung Kerinci and Way Kambas in Sumatra and Carita and Gunung Gede in West Java although being unsure how long it might take to see some key species we decided to leave the itinerary to evolve as the trip progressed. This blog is mostly illustrated with Jon's photos, a few of the birds were taken by Barry and Janos and some poor-quality digitised prints of views are mine. Jon produced a report of the trip which has been very helpful in jogging my memory and filling in many shortcomings in my notes. § denotes a new bird for me at the time, I saw about 40.

25 June. I left Heathrow at mid-day flying to Padang via Kuala Lumpur with Garuda.

26 June. I met Janos and Attila in KL, they'd flown overnight with Malaysian from Hungary. We continued on to Padang in Sumatra arriving mid-morning, five hours before Jon and Barry who were coming via Singapore. While waiting we negotiated a daily hire rate for a taxi to take us to Gunung Kerinci and run us around for a week or so before returning to Padang. Jon and Barry arrived at about 16:00 and were happy with the taxi arrangement so we soon departed. It was just over five hours drive to reached Pak Subandi’s losmen (guesthouse) at Kersik Tuo, more than half in the dark. The homestead was locked-up for the night but we eventually made our presence known and were given three rooms. Birds seen on the journey included Cinnamon Bittern, Long-tailed Shrike, 20 Tree Sparrows and a White-headed Munia.

27June. We were up at 05:00 and driven up a track through tea plantations to the start of the main trail at the ‘archway’, arriving soon after dawn. This used to be the forest edge but is no more. We walked through fields for 10-15 minutes before entering the forest at about 1800m. We spent most of the day on the trail up as far as the Burnt Tree above the Camp Cochoa clearing. The trail was narrow and not suitable for a group of five as any birds on it would be flushed by the leader. For much of the first morning we stuck together, or within earshot, to accustom ourselves to the trail but after that spent a lot of time birding the trail and a few offshoots on our own. The trail started fairly flat through dense secondary growth as far as the Base Camp Shelter where it started to climb more steeply, soon becoming steep or very steep and I took it slowly. Above Base Camp the landmarks were Camp Cochoa, the Burnt Tree and at 2400m the First Shelter (also known as Pos 1). Gunung Kerici is an active volcano, typically conical in outlook and rises to 3800m. During our stay we didn’t venture much higher than Pos 1. I saw Barred Cuckoo-Dove, male Pink-headed Fruit-Dove, 2 juvenile Oriental Cuckoos being fed by Mountain Leaf Warblers (of which I saw 10), 2 Collared Owlets, 2 Wreathed Hornbills, 5 Fire-tufted Barbets, Maroon Woodpecker, 2 Sunda Minivets, Mountain Tailorbird, 5 Sunda Warblers, 2 Rusty-breasted Wren-Babblers §, 4 Golden, 10 Grey-throated and 2 Spot-necked Babblers, 6 Long-tailed Sibias, Black-capped White-eye, Blue Nuthatch, 4 Shiny Whistling Thrushes §, 2 male White-browed Shortwings and 3 Snowy-browed, 3 Indigo and 3 Grey-headed Flycatchers. In the evening Pak Subandi took us to his stake-out for Pale-headed Frogmouth near the forest edge but we only heard it, along with Mountain Scops Owl, probably Barred Eagle Owl and a distant Salvadori’s Nightjar.

our first view of Gunung Kerinci

Pink-headed Fruit-Dove on Gunung Kerinci (photo: Barry Wright)
Fire-tufted Barbet on Kerinci (photo: Barry Wright)
Kerinci in clouds
L-R: Barry, Attila and Janos leaving Kerinci
28June. Another day on the main trail, I went a little higher than yesterday reaching Pos 1. Different birds and the better repeats I saw were Black Eagle, Oriental Cuckoo, a superb Sumatran Trogon §, Black-browed Barbet, 2 Grey-chinned Minivets, 4 White-throated Fantails, 3 Orange-spotted Bulbuls, 3 Sunda Bush Warblers, 4 Sunda Warblers, a Long-billed § and 6 Rusty-breasted Wren-Babblers, 2 White-browed Shrike-Babblers, 6 Long-tailed Sibias, Blue Nuthatch, a Chestnut-winged § and 4 Shiny Whistling Thrushes, Lesser Shortwing, male Sunda Blue Robin, 5 Snowy-browed Flycatchers and a Rufous-vented Niltava. I heard Large Hawk Cuckoo and again we only heard Pale-headed Frogmouth with Pak Subandi.

Sumatran Trogon on Kerinci (photo: Barry Wright)
one of the better members of a smart family (photo: Barry Wright)
29 June. I concentrated on the lower slopes of Mount Kerinchi, venturing no higher than Air Minim (Indonesian for drinking water) on the mainly dry river-bed reached on a offshoot below Camp Cochoa. Not only was it less effort avoiding the steeper climbs but it was also be best area for Schneider’s Pitta although none of us had heard or seen one during the previous two days. There was a big, steep sided ravine near the Base Camp Shelter which I hoped might be a good place for a pitta to be feeding. Also being wider than the trail it might be possible to scan along it and see something without disturbing it. Good plan I thought until I tried to climb down into it, lost my footing on a loose branch and fell 2m to the bottom landing on my back. No damage done, although an impressive bruise, but it took me over half an hour to find somewhere that I could climb out, and that was a bit of a scramble. Needless to say I didn’t see anything in it. My best sighting was a male Salvadori’s Pheasant § on the main trail. I’d been leaving biscuit crumbs in places along the trail where we might have a chance of seeing a pheasant or partridge if one was feeding on them but I only ever saw squirrels. In an area where I’d left no biscuits I turned a corner and there was a male Salvadori’s Pheasant § walking ahead of me. I froze and had reasonable views as it walked off the trail and into the forest. Other better birds seen were 6 Sunda Warblers, Rusty-breasted, 3 Eye-browed and a Pygmy Wren-Babbler, 3 Chestnut-capped Lauhingthrushes, 3 Blue Nuthatches, 3 Shiny Whistling Thrushes, 3 Lesser Shortwings, the same male Sunda Blue Robin and 2 Snowy-browed Flycatchers. With no sight or sound of our two main targets, Schneider’s Pitta and Sumatran Cochoa, between us we decided on a change of scenery and an early start the following morning. Because of this we gave the elusive frogmouth a miss.
superb forest on Gunung Kerinci
farmlands on the lower slopes of Kerinci

30 June. We were up at 04:00 and drove to Tapan Road, arriving at the pass at km 19 at 06:30. Most of the day was spent birding along the forested road from km 21-27. Highlights were a superb Graceful Pitta § seen well in a ravine at km 24 and, eventually, Ferruginous Partridge § and 2 Marbled Wren-Babblers § on the steep banks at km 26. The Wren-Babblers were a pair which at one time were singing together on a horizontal branch. The male then gently preened the female before hopping over her, amazing. Other birds seen included 2 Blyth’s Hawk Eagles, 6 Little Cuckoo-Doves, Sumatran Green Pigeon §, Green-billed Malkoha, 5 Waterfall Swiftlets, 2 Whiskered Tree-Swifts, 2 Rhinocerous and 3 Wreathed Hornbills, Lesser Yellownape, Buff-necked Woodpecker, Black & Crimson Oriole, Sumatran Drongo §, Sumatran Treepie §, 7 Cream-striped §, a Spot-breasted § and an Ochraceous Bulbul, Horsfield’s Babbler, Chestnut-capped Lauhingthrushes, 5 Sunda Forktails §, Grey-chested Jungle-Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Flycatcher, 6 Blue-masked §, and 3 Golden-fronted Leafbirds, male Orange-bellied Flowerpecker and male Temminck’s Sunbird. We also heard Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasant but it wasn’t close. It seemed a long drive back to Kersik Tuo although we had a couple of roadside stops on the return – few brds but nice views of Kerinci. We’d had a great day and a welcome break from the trails at Kerinci.

Barry birding the Tapan Road

Attila, Jon and a truck load of passing locals on the Tapan road 
Janos with some of them (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Jon enjoying interacting with the young ladies ...
bye (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
forest on the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
it looked surprisingly extensive (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
01 July. We were back on Kerinci at dawn in our continuing quest to see Schneider’s Pitta. Most of the time we split up, our logic being that a non-vocal terrestrial species was most likely to be seen on the trail and only by whoever was in front. We birded up to above Pos 1 at different paces, regularly meeting up to exchange lack of news. It was hard going with little to show for our efforts and no pittas for anyone. Jon stayed up while the rest of us started to head down. I saw a male Pink-headed Fruit-Dove, 3 Sunda Bush Warblers, 2 Sunda Warblers, 3 Long-tailed Sibias, 4 Shiny Whistling Thrushes, 4 White-browed Shortwings, 5 Snowy-browed Flycatchers and 2 Rufous-vented Niltavas. I was returning with Barry when I stopped to look for something trivial. Barry continued and I decided to wait for a few minutes before following. At 16:05 as I turned a corner a female Schneider’s Pitta § hopped onto the trail about 8m in front of me. It hopped once, stood looking at me for two seconds then hopped again into the vegetation and out of view. Seeing it made me amazingly happy (and relieved) despite the brevity of the view and I immediately did a little jig for joy in the middle of the track. Probably as much with relief as anything as I still very much wanted better views and to see a male. Although I’d not had time to raise my binoculars the bird had been close enough for me to note its bright orange-brown head with a black line from its bill through the eye and down behind the ear coverts. Its back being browner and underparts paler, especially its throat. Returning to the Base Camp Shelter it was difficult telling Barry I’d seen the pitta less than 10 minutes after he’d gone on, but he took it very well. On their way down, ahead of us, Janos and Attila had heard a Schneider’s Pitta near the waterfall (a bit lower than where I’d seen mine). Jon was last back having heard a Sumatran Cochoa calling high in a tree for a couple of minutes above the Burnt Tree but a frustrating hour looking in the canopy there failed to produce sight or further sound of it. At dusk we tried for Salvadori’s Nightjar along the forest edge without success, we didn’t even hear one. We moved on to the nearby stream-bed by torchlight where we first spotlighted a Barred Eagle Owl § then had superb views of the Pale-headed Frogmouth §. I slept really well.
the Pale-headed Frogmouth on Kerinci was not easy to find but well worth the effort when we finally did (photo: Janos Olah)
Pale-headed Frogmouth at Kerinci (photo: Janos Olah)
02 July. Another tough day on Kerinchi with no further pitta sightings for anyone and no new birds either. An earlier start, we went to the waterfall area where Janos and Attila had heard their pitta but nothing. We continued up to the Burnt Tree spending time unsuccessfully looking for Jon’s cochoa. Between heavy showers I saw Sunda Bush Warbler, 4 Sunda Warblers, 2 Rusty-breasted and 3 Pygmy Wren-Babblers, 4 Long-tailed Sibias, 2 Blue Nuthatches, 2 Shiny Whistling Thrushes, superb Lesser and male White-browed Shortwings, 2 female Sunda Robins and 3 Snowy-browed Flycatchers. At dusk a Schneider’s Pitta called briefly near the Base Camp Shelter and we also heard Pale-headed Frogmouth, while during the day I’d heard a Wreathed Hornbill’s wingbeats and secretive Long-billed Wren-Babbler. Jon had better luck seeing a close pair of Salvadori’s Pheasants with a juvenile in the river-bed, the day’s best sighting, and higher up taping in a Sumatran Trogon. In the evening we were visited at Pak Subandi’s guest house by a couple of policemen who wanted to know what we were doing. Word had obviously got around. They were moderately friendly to us about it but seemed a bit harsher with Pak. They wanted to take our passports to photocopy in town and I had a rather foolish argument about it, worried I’d never see my passport again. Surprisingly in hindsight the policeman accepted my suggestion (demand?) that he leave his identity card with me as surety for our passports and returned with them half an hour later. Nice not to spend the night in clink and slept well again.
Sumatran Trogon (photo: Jon Hornbuckle), one Jon saw while on his own
Sumatran Trogon on Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
03 July. We birded up to the Burnt Tree, Jon racing ahead and doing it in 30 minutes, me more leisurely stopping to unsuccessfully look at the pitta spots on the way. Above the Burnt Tree Jon called in a Red-billed Partridge which came quite close but we still could not see it. No luck with the cochoa either which wasn’t heard. Jon and Barry went back down to the Base Camp Shelter area where Jon put up a mist net and had a successful trapping session. I was having what seemed a typical day on Kerinci seeing Sunda Bush Warbler, 3 Sunda Warblers, 2 Rusty-breasted and 3 Pygmy Wren-Babblers, 4 Long-tailed Sibias, 2 Blue Nuthatches, 2 Shiny Whistling Thrushes, superb Lesser and male White-browed Shortwings, 2 female Sunda Robins and 3 Snowy-browed Flycatchers. We gathered back at the Base Camp Shelter, the day’s best sighting again being Salvadori’s Pheasant with Barry and Jon seeing a male. At about 17:00 everything changed as a Schneider’s Pitta started calling between the shelter and the ravine and responded briefly to play-back. It hopped across the path near the ravine edge and followed it moving rapidly downhill. I saw little more than movement until it perched low in the fork of a tree on the edge of the ravine at about 17:15 and sat there in full view through binoculars for 5 seconds. An amazing male. It quickly slipped away and called from further up. Jon, Barry and I returned to the Base Camp Shelter on cloud nine. Janos and Attila tried to follow it, at this point I don’t think Attila had seen it particularly well. They couldn’t relocate it and offered to take down Jon’s net on the way back. We waited and a couple of minutes later heard some excited shouting in Hungarian. We rushed over unsure what to expect. They’d flushed the pitta which was presumably going to roost into Jon’s net and were extracting it. Amazing to see it in the hand, Jon put it in a bag which I held carefully while they took the net down and went to collect cameras. A couple of shots in the hand then Janos placed it on a rock where it sat for a few minutes in torchlight before we left it. As we walked back to the vehicle in the dark we heard a distant Pale-headed Frogmouth and happily ignored it. Back at Tersik Tua we celebrated, most with a few drinks. With amazing pitta views firmly in the bag, or out of it, we decided to give the Tapan Road a second visit as having heard one there it seemed a better bet for Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasant than the main trail on Kerinci where they’d been seriously hunted out. We also asked Pak Subandi if he could phone the airline in Padang and see if he could book us on a flight to Jakarta in three or four days time as having all seen the pitta felt we couldn’t justify longer than that for the few remaining species.
on the main trail at Kerinci
Golden Babbler, I saw up to 10 each day on Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
White-throated Fantail, I saw 4-6 most days on Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Mountain Leaf Warbler, I saw 4-6 most days on Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Sunda Warbler, stunning bird, I saw 2-6 each day on Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Snowy-browed Flycatcher, a superb species, I saw up to 5 each day on Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle), 
Lesser Shortwing (photo: Jon Hornbuckle), I saw 5 on Kerinci
male Schneider's Pitta on Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
male Schneider's Pitta on Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle), an absolutely stunning bird
male Schneider's Pitta on Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
male Schneider's Pitta on Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle), a clear bird of the trip 
male Schneider's Pitta on Kerinci (photo: Janos Olah). Nice to see it out of the hand, both before and after it was caught 
04 July. We were up at 04:00 and drove back to the Tapan Road for dawn. We tried for Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasant but only heard one on a steep inaccessible hillside. We concentrated on the road from km 27-37 seeing lots of birds, several being new for the trip. Best were parties of 12 and 7 superb Long-tailed Broadbills, both groups including adults feeding juveniles. I also saw Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, 2 Gold-whiskered Barbets, 4 Sumatran and a Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, 11 Sumatran Treepies, 2 Lesser Cuckoo-Shrikes, 2 Greater Green, 3 Blue-winged and 2 Blue-masked Leafbirds, 2 Fairy Bluebirds, Cream-striped, Spot-necked, Black-headed, 6 Scaly-breasted, 2 Grey-bellied, Puff-backed and 2 Hairy-backed Bulbuls, a superb Pygmy Wren-Babbler, 4 Black and 8 Chestnut-capped Laughingthrushes, 3 Long-tailed Sibias, a Sunda Forktail, 3 male Temminck’s Sunbirds and 2 Grey-breasted Spiderhunters. We left at 16.00, hoping to spot a Peacock-Pheasant feeding on the road but no joy, no real surprise there but it happens sometimes. Back at Tersik Tua Pak Subandi had been unable to book us on a flight.

lower elevations of the Tapan Road
one of 19 Long-tailed Broadbills seen in two groups on the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
all broadbills are brilliant but Long-tailed is one of the best (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Long-tailed Broadbills seen on the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker on the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Sumatran Treepies on the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
another Sumatran Treepie on the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle), we saw flocks of 2 and 9 
Whiskered Tree-Swift on the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Whiskered Tree-Swift enjoying a shower on the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Blue Triangle on the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
male Temminck's Sunbird on the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
another male Temminck's Sunbird on the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle), I liked the narrow violet stripes on its head
high on the Tapan Road
leaving the Tapan Road (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
me on the Tapan Road
back in the Sungai Penuh valley
the road to Kersik Tuo (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Kerinci dominating the sky-line when not hidden by clouds (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
(photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
bad weather coming (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
paddyfields (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
(photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
tea plantations (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
they appeared to be birdless (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)

cloudless Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
me in a tea plantation
fires along the tree-line on Krinci
05 July. It was our last attempt for Sumatran Cochoa and Red-billed Partridge on Kerinci and we headed up to the Burnt Tree together. A pair of roosting Salvadori’s Pheasants were disturbed near the Base Camp Shelter, the male being just a shape flying off for me but I did see the female. Janos who was leading then flushed a female Schneider’s Pitta from the trail more or less where I’d seen it five days earlier. Above the Burnt Tree we heard Red-billed Partridge but it wasn’t close and didn’t respond. Of the cochoa there was no sight or sound. I saw Collared Owlet, an adult and juvenile Sumatran Trogon, 4 Sunda Warblers, Rusty-breasted Wren-Babbler, 2 Chestnut-capped Laughingthrushes, 2 Shiny Whistling Thrushes, 5 Long-tailed Sibias, 10 Blue Nuthatches, 3 White-browed Shortwings and 2 Snowy-browed Flycatchers. Nice birds but we all felt it was about time to leave Kerinci, it had done us proud despite it not being a clean-up. At 15:00 we left for the Letter W Waterfall, a short drive from Tersik Tua. The waterfall was impressive but the only notable birds seen were 2 Chestnut-winged Whistling Thrushes and 2 Waterfall Swifts. Singapore birder James Heng was staying at the losmen – the first birder we’d seen. A few days later he had a very scary encounter with a Sumatran Tiger while birding alone on the Tapan Road. We’d decided not to risk returning to Padang in the hope of getting on a flight to Jakarta as it seemed unlikely we’d all be able to do so and didn’t want to split up and end up hanging around different airports. Our driver was reluctant to embark on the two-day journey to Way Kambas as he’d already been away from home for 10 days and it would be 14 by the time he returned. Fortunately Pak Subandi was able to arranged for another vehicle to come from Padang early the following morning to drive us to Way Kambas.
Collared Owlet on Gunung Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
the main trail on Gunung Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
the next generation of farmers on Gunung Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
lower slopes of Gunung Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
rush hour on Gunung Kerinci (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Jon and Barry at Letter W Waterfall
forest at Letter W Waterfall (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
it was mostly cleared downstream (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Letter W Waterfall
06 July. Our vehicle arrived at 07:10 and drove us 550km on the generally not very good Trans-Sumatra Highway to Lahat, arriving at 22:45 where we stayed in Hotel Cendrawash. We had a puncture on the way and saw few birds, just 16 for me including 3 Pacific Black Duck, Black-shouldered Kite, Black and Changeable Hawk Eagle and Bar-winged Prinia. A long, uncomfortable day.
Tersik Tuo to Lahat (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Tersik Tuo to Lahat (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Tersik Tuo to Lahat (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Tersik Tuo to Lahat (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
cars queuing for petrol halfway to Lahat (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
bikes queuing for petrol on the other side of the garage halfway to Lahat (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
07 July. We left Lahat at 08:00 after the punctured tyre was repaired. There were long queues at petrol stations due to fuel shortages keeping our anxiety levels high although we managed to find it when we needed to. Our driver was less successful in finding the turn-off to Way Kambas, not helped by it now being dark. He eventually did, reaching the village at 20:00. That was as far as we could go, the rangers not allowing us to go on to the resthouse in the reserve at Way Kanan as not expecting us, there was no one there and it was too late to change that. We stayed at a decent nearby lodge. We’d been driven another 440km today. Maybe a 1000km drive on poor roads over two days is not the ideal way to travel from Gunung Kerinci to Way Kambas but alternatives are little better. We were advised the best was probably a very early start from Kerinci, drive 6 hours to Padang, fly to Jakarta, then fly the same evening (if lucky) to Bandar Lampung (no direct flights from Padang) where it is 2-3hrs by taxi to Way Kambas. I saw just 8 species including a Woolly-necked Stork and another Bar-winged Prinia.
Lahat to Way Kambas (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)
Lahat to Way Kambas (photo: Jon Hornbuckle)

[blogged May 2020, in memory of Jon Hornbuckle]

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