Trip report: Sulawesi and Halmahera Aug-Sept. 2019 by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods. This was a CUSTOM TOUR, with the same itinerary as our recent scheduled tours.

The first two thirds of the tour were spent on the island of Sulawesi, a subregion of Indonesia that can boast some of the highest levels of endemism in Asia. This was illustrated well with our personal list of 80 endemic birds species accumulated during this spell, including some of the most highly sought-after ones in Asia, like Geomalia (photo page 3), Hylocitrea (a family endemic to the Sulawesi highlands), and a wonderful set of kingfishers including the slippery Scaly-breasted Kingfisher, which almost remained out of our grasp to near the very end (by which time, two different ones had been seen), Green-backed (photo above), Black-headed Kingfishers, Sulawesi Dwarf (photo page 20), and the well titled Great-billed Kingfisher (photo page 13). Other standouts included, the striking Red-backed (Rusty-backed) Thrush (page 1), the unique Maleo (photo page 4), the beautiful Purple-bearded Bee-eater, (photo page 9), and a very unexpected extended performance from the rarely encountered Sulawesi (Hawk) Cuckoo (photo page 17). It would be remiss of me not to mention the handful of mammals seen too, for they were every bit as popular as some of these birds. The islands cannot lay claim to a large mammal list, but it can be justifiably argued that they do have a fascinating set; Gurskey’s (Spectral) Tarsier (photo page 15) gripping the edge of a stranger fig tree, a Sulawesi Bear-Cuscus (photo page 12) glaring at us from just above eye level, an Ornate Cuscus (photo page 26) just before an owlet-nightjar (photo page 27) on Halmahera, and walking among one of the habituated troops of wild Celebes Crested Macaques (photo page 16) were all mammalian highlights.

Nightbirding is always a major feature of this tour, with so many endemic nocturnal species on offer. We were very fortunate to record every possible owl species on Sulawesi, (7 owls seen, including 5 at Lore Lindu alone). Among the night birds, were the rare Minahassa Masked Owl (photo page 13) at a daytime roost inside a large strangler fig in Tangkoko, which required us to enter inside the tree to see it; a pair of daytime Satanic (Diabolical) Nightjars (photo page 7) along the infamous Anaso Track were also crowd pleasers, as was the bizarre Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar on Halmahera. The tour started in forested limestone hills of South Sulawesi, then switched to the endemic-rich highlands of Central Sulawesi, before continuing into the lowlands on the Minahassa Peninsula of North Sulawesi, then finishing our birding on the island of Halmahera, one of the fabled “Spice Islands”, the origin of cloves. The latter section added yet more species, including more than 40 Moluccan specialties among them, bringing the total to over 130 regional endemics, and more than 100 lifers to all who came. 4 more kingfishers, and 4 more nightbirds were added on Halmahera too. 280 bird species were recorded.

TOP FIVE BIRDS OF THE TOUR (SULAWESI and HALMAHERA):

1 GeomaliaLore Lindu (Danau Tambing), SULAWESI
2 Standardwing Bird-of-Paradise (Wallace’s Standarwing) Weda, HALMAHERA
3=Red-backed (Rusty-backed) ThrushTangkoko, SULAWESI
3=Maleo Tambun, Dumoga-Bone SULAWESI
3=Minahassa Masked-Owl (daytime) Tangkoko, SULAWESI
3=Invisible (Drummer) Rail Weda, HALMAHERA

Full Sulawesi and Halmahera 2019 report in PDF format.(HIGH RES version 25.7 MB)

Full Sulawesi and Halmahera 2019 report in PDF format. (LOW RES version 10.5 MB)