Trip report: Lesser Sundas (including Bali and East Java Extension) Aug-Sept. 2018 by Tropical Birding

Guided by Keith Barnes and Sam Woods. This was a set departure tour.
(Extension to Java and East Java guided by Keith Barnes only).

Indonesia boasts the highest number of endemic bird species of any nation, and anyone looking to get a good percentage of these will ultimately look to come to the distinctive Lesser Sundas region of the country, where over 80 endemic species are found (taxonomy dependent). It forms one of four distinctive subregions within Indonesia (the others being Sulawesi, the Greater Sundas and West Papua), and lies to the east of “Wallace’s Line” and so sits within Wallacea, an area where the avifaunas of the Orient transition to those of Australasia. This could be seen first-hand on the tour, with honeyeaters being more prominent on the eastern islands (revealing the Australasian influence), and woodpeckers only present on the western ones (displaying the closeness of them to the avifauna of the Oriental region). We birded five islands on the main tour, starting in Sumba, then moving east to Timor, before spending a short, (though very productive) time on the tiny island of Rote, before returning to Timor, then visiting Flores, and finally taking a day trip out to Komodo, where its famous dragons took center stage, upstaging birds for that day.

Before the main tour, a short, extension visited the islands of Java (concentrating on the eastern side), and Bali, where this very different, Sundaic region of Indonesia added a significant number of birds, and some Oriental groups not present on the main tour, like babblers, bulbuls, and nuthatches. Extension highlights included displaying Green Peafowl, a tame Javan Banded Pitta, an equally cooperative Blue Nuthatch, and Javan Hawk-Eagle, Black-banded, Little and Flame-fronted Barbets, Javan Frogmouth, Pink-headed Fruit-Dove, Javan and Small Blue (Cerulean) Kingfishers, Trilling and Pied Shrike-Babblers, Orange-spotted Bulbul, Bali Myna, and Black-winged Starling. 91 birds were added on this part, including about 40 endemics, bringing the trip total to 348 species.

On the main tour, endemics came thick-and-fast, as they dominate the avifauna of the Lesser Sundas, and therefore provided most of the highpoints. 257 species were recorded on the main tour, and over 80 endemics; (using the taxonomy adopted by the current field guide to the country). It is impossible to talk about this tour without mentioning nightbirds; we had good views of all 8 owls possible on the tour, with the observations of the normally difficult Flores and Wallace’s Scops-Owls being both unexpected, and much valued, during our productive time on the island of the former Portuguese colony of Flores.

On our first main island Sumba, the birding was relatively trouble-free, with much-wanted species like Sumba Hornbill, Sumba Green-Pigeon, Red-naped Fruit-Dove, and Cinnamon-banded Kingfishers all starring. Nightbirds also played their part on that island, with the diminutive Least (Little Sumba) Boobook being tracked down one evening, and the significantly larger (Great) Sumba Boobook found during an early morning outing. The small island of Rote provided its landmark species, the scarlet-headed Rote Myzomela, which had only one month earlier been formally recognized as a distinct species, while another, Southern (Rote) Boobook that was seen at night still awaits recognition.

Timor, as expected, provided the most challenging birding, but still yielded stellar endemics like the smart Black-banded Flycatcher, excellent views of the typically elusive Buff-banded Bushbird (Timor Thicketbird), as well as around a dozen Timor Sparrows heading to roost one evening. Few Indonesian islands come without endemic nightbirds, and Timor provided both a boobook and a nightjar of its own, although like many of the forms in the region they are still awaiting formal recognition as species. Moving on to our final large island, Flores, we were pleased to see plenty of forest intact, and had a much easier time with the birds too, with the stunning White-rumped (Glittering) Kingfisher seemingly attending every chorus, and was seen well several times too, and an Elegant Pitta behaved impeccably there, (unlike earlier on Sumba), and performed for all. One of the main targets in the forested hills of Kisol was the critically-endangered Flores Hawk-Eagle, which we had been prepared to wait substantial time for. However, we were very fortunate to have a single gleaming-white bird within 90 minutes of trying, which flew into a tree, and hopped up onto an open branch to be scoped by all, before flying overhead on its massive wings leaving us all stunned at these rare views. Other highlights on Flores included, two extended observations of male Wallace’s Hanging-Parrots actively foraging in flowering trees; several perched Flores Green-Pigeons, multiples of the very local Flores Monarch, 3 species of Heleia, regular Flores Minivets, the inconspicuous Chestnut-capped Thrush, and the incredible vocal repertoire and appearance of a male Bare-throated Whistler. Lastly, we made a side trip by boat to the island of Komodo, which provided a relaxed end to the tour, as well as super looks at the critically endangered Yellow-crested Cockatoo, which was arguably overshadowed by the island’s namesake dragons, the largest reptile on the planet…

Full Lesser Sundas (including Bali and East Java extension) 2018 report (10.5 MB; pdf format, low resolution version, lower quality images, faster download time)

Full Lesser Sundas (including Bali and East Java extension) 2018 report (21.8 MB; pdf format, high resolution version, higher quality images, slower download time)