Trip report: Sulawesi and Halmahera July-August 2013 by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods and Keith Barnes.

With its heady list of more than 250 endemics the “Wallacea” region of eastern Indonesia offers a rich hunting ground, even for the experienced world birder. This tour focused on two islands-Sulawesi and Halmahera-within this biological region, which was named after the famous explorer and biologist Alfred Russell Wallace, who first discovered this transition zone between the great avifaunal regions of Asia and Australasia; and designated an imaginary dividing line between these, (since referred to as the “Wallace Line”). These two Indonesian islands boast an extremely high number of endemic birds, with Sulawesi alone having over 80 endemics, and Halmahera offering around 30 more, meaning that participants on this tour can expect over 100 lifebirds! However, it is not merely their endemic status, which makes many of the birds on this tour so interesting; some phenomenal species occur on this tour, including arguably the most impressive of all the spectacular pittas, Ivory-breasted Pitta, and the dramatic Wallace’s Standardwing, along with a long list of good-looking kingfishers, and an impressive number of endemic nightbirds too. These species and groups were all well represented on this tour, which composed of a scouting trip for Tropical Birders Keith Barnes and Sam Woods, in preparation for custom tours shortly afterwards. Both Keith and Sam are highly experienced in both world and Asian birding, but still they both walked away with around 120 lifebirds from the trip, testament to the extraordinarily high level of endemism in the region. This included a remarkable 14 species of kingfisher, great views of the immaculate Ivory-breasted Pitta, and the theatrical displays of the Wallace’s Standardwing on Halmahera, as well as a heady haul of 14 nightbirds (8 endemic owls; 5 nightjars; and the odd Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar).

Being a “recce” the trip was a shortened version of the set departure, squeezed into a shorter space, and therefore less time was spent at some of the key sites. In spite of this, the trip was an undoubted success, with a good number of the target species seen, and even a surprise too, particularly in terms of getting views of the near-mythical Invisible Rail on Halmahera. Other standout birds included the fast-declining Moluccan Scrubfowl lit up by the spotlight on a black sandy beach at night, as it descended from a near forested mountain to lay its eggs in the warm volcanic sands; Maleo, a true oddity from the megapode family at Dumoga Bone; the robust Purple-bearded Bee-eater which graced a snag on the infamous Anaso Track in Lore Lindu; a remarkably easy duo of Purple Dollarbirds on Halmahera (they are not meant to be this way); and Sulawesi’s much-desired monotypic, endemic family, Hylocitrea, several individuals of which were seen during our ascent of the Anaso Track.

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