Trip report: Sulawesi and Halmahera Sept 2013 by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods. This was a custom tour.

Above all the goal of this trip was to see Hylocitrea, a monotypic, endemic, bird family confined to the mountains of Sulawesi. This was the whole reason-d’être for the trip for John and Karen. And so we were mighty relieved to get the bird, and get it well, on our first afternoon along Lore Lindu’s Anaso Track during the first few days. A good number of endemics were recorded as expected-120 ENDEMICS in total (117 seen) on the tour, which yielded the expected 120+ lifers for the two very well-traveled, post-6,600 listers, who put this trip together. Among the long list of 21 raptor species recorded were all four of the endemic accipiters on Sulawesi, a rare group to complete on one trip.

We saw all of the tour’s “signature birds”, such as Purple-bearded Bee-eater, which was seen without any fuss along the Anaso Track during our ascent; Diabolical (Satanic) Nightjars were found at two different roosting sites, (even though neither of these were at the usually most reliable roosting site), with one confiding pair being very popular indeed as it led to not only great views but great photos of them in Lore Lindu; arguably the world’s best pitta, Ivory-breasted Pitta, was seen well several times on Halmahera; and the Wallace’s Standardwings, now visited from the comfort of a luxury dive resort, and with minimal physical effort required to reach the lek site, were seen up close and very well doing what birds-of-paradise do best: displaying; Lilac-cheeked Kingfisher initially gave us the run around in Tangkoko, before Samuel’s keen eyesight put us out of our misery, when he found a quietly perched bird a short time before lunch on our last day, which headlines a star-studded cast of 15 kingfisher species seen on the tour (in the end we found two more after then!); and a contender for the world’s most handsome thrush, Red-backed Thrush was stalked as it foraged on the forest floor in Tangkoko; some very close, and long looks, at the tricky Pygmy Hanging-Parrot proved very popular all round too.

And, of course, it would be a crime not to mention the superb looks we had at a Maleo heading to roost in the trees late one afternoon, which gave such long looks in that beautiful afternoon light which only served to intensify the rose-pink wash on the belly. Other popular, and significant moments, of the tour, included encountering two of the rarest rails in the region: on Halmahera an Invisible Rail was seen extremely close, after wading into a Sago swamp; and on Sulawesi the rare Blue-faced Rail had taken up temporary residence along the footpath at Tambun, allowing remarkable and regular views during our visit! Of course, one of the other great appeals of this tour are the myriad of nightbirds readily available, which we enjoyed immensely; from the recently described Cinnabar Hawk-Owl (Boobook) at Lore Lindu, to impressive day-roosting Ochre-bellied Hawk-Owl (Boobook) and Sulawesi Scops-Owls in Tangkoko. On top of that this tour is great for mammal-lovers and listers, providing chances to catch up with a small, though highly desired, group of endemic mammals from the region.

We did very well mammal-wise on this tour, picking up four endemic macaques (we actually walked among a large troop of Celebes Crested Macaques in Tangkoko; and saw Moor Macaque on our first day in South Sulawesi; picking up Tonkean Macaque in Lore Lindu in Central Sulawesi and the most rarely-seen of the quartet, Gorontalo Macaque along the Molibagu Road in North Sulawesi). Tangkoko proved itself, once again, as a must for mammal-listers, with the aforementioned habituated troop of some FORTY or so Celebes Crested Macaques there, accompanied by a magical sighting of a group of five Spectral Tarsiers, which included the photogenic moment of four of these pint-sized primates all lined up in a row on rainforest tree buttress. On top of that Tangkoko also gave us a great encounter with a Bear Cuscus later that same morning too.

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