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Indonesia: Sulawesi & Halmahera - Birding Tour

Tour Overview:

Sulawesi and Halmahera are located in eastern Indonesia, and sit within the biogeographical region of Wallacea, so named, after the great naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace. In his long visit to the region he recognized the distinct changes in fauna between western and eastern Indonesia, and marked an invisible line separating Bali to the west from Lombok to the east (later referred to as “the Wallace Line”), which serves to illustrate the change from Asian biota to the west, and Australasian fauna to the east. This has since been expanded to recognize a general zone of transition between these two great biogeographical zones of Asia and Australasia-Wallacea. Long periods of geographical isolation have left this region loaded with endemics, with some 90 or more found on Sulawesi (taxonomy dependent), and more than 40 regional endemics found on the “Spice Island” of Halmahera, (part of a rich group of islands which were the subject of war and conflict between colonial powers such as Portugal and the British Empire during the 17th Century, when native spices such as nutmeg, mace and cloves were more valuable than gold). Halmahera alone offers up 2 more pittas, 2 birds-of-paradise, 3 more multicolored fruit-doves, up to 3 more owls, another nightjar, an owlet-nightjar, 4-5 more kingfishers, and up to 8 more parrots that cannot be seen on the first part in Sulawesi! For many, this “side trip” to Halmahera is the highlight of the tour. This all adds up to ensures that any first time visitor to the region will leave with over 100 life birds, with some spectacular species such as Purple-bearded Bee-eater, Ivory-breasted Pitta, Wallace’s Standardwing and Sulawesi Lilac Kingfisher likely to be among them.

Upcoming Departures:


20 July - 9 August (Price: TBA)

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Detailed Itinerary

Other Tour Details:

Length: 21 Days

Starting City: Makassar (Sulawesi)

Ending City: Manado (Sulawesi)

Pace: Intense

Physical Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult

Focus: Birding

Group size: 9 +1  leader +1 local guide 


Day 1: Arrival in Makassar; transfer to Malino

After meeting in the early afternoon, we will drive to Malino for a single night.

(Many people may prefer to arrive in Makassar the night before, to recover from the long flight; if you need us to help booking a night in our Makassar hotel for the night before this, please let us know).


Day 2: Lompobattang Mountains

On this day we will seek out some very local endemics, namely Lompobattang Flycatcher, and this will also be our first shot at Hylocitrea for the tour too, a much-wanted family endemic to the island. Other birds we could find include the local form of Red-eared Fruit-Dove and endemic Lompobattang Leaf Warbler. We will head back to Makassar in the afternoon.


Day 3: Karaenta to Lore Lindu NP

The first (of many) early rises, will see us travel up into the forested limestone hills north of the city. Karaenta Nature Reserve provides a beautiful setting for the first of many endemics. In particular, this area offers the highly local Black-ringed White-eye, an endemic that is confined to South Sulawesi. This forest also holds Sulawesi Dwarf Hornbill, Piping Crow, and the recently described Sulawesi Brown Flycatcher. The area also holds an endemic mammal too in the form of the Moor Macaque. After a few hours, we will return to Makassar and take a flight to Palu in Central Sulawesi. From Palu we will head to Wuasa, our base for exploring the montane forests of Lore Lindu National Park in the coming days. The first of four nights will be spent in a simple guesthouse in Wuasa, close to the park.


Days 4-6: Lore Lindu NP

We will have plenty of time to bird the rich forests of Lore Lindu, which offer a range of elevations, and therefore, species. Some of our birding will center around Lake Tambing, where Piping Crows may come to call from dead snags around the edge of the lake in the early mornings; mobile flocks of fantastic Fiery-browed Mynas come down to rest in the trees regularly; feeding flocks move through the canopy holding Pygmy and Cerulean Cuckooshrikes, Rusty-flanked Fantail, Sulawesi Leaf-Warbler, and the very odd Malia; while the understory is home to two of the most difficult birds in the area, the shy Great Shortwing, and the reclusive Maroon-backed Whistler. Other possibilities in this area include Superb Fruit-Dove, flocks of Yellow-and-green Lorikeets, and the noisy flocks of Finch-billed Mynas. On one of the days we will make the climb up the infamous Anaso Track, which allows access to higher altitudes, and the possibility of Sulawesi’s sole endemic bird family, Hylocitrea; the rare and strange Geomalia (recently found to be an odd zoothera thrush); along with Red-eared Fruit-Dove, Maroon-backed Whistler, White-eared Myza, and Streak-headed Dark-eye. This hike will also give us a chance at the rare Sombre Pigeon, and will bring us to the favored area of the robust Purple-bearded Bee-eater, one of Sulawesi’s flagship species. There is also often the chance to find Diabolical (Satanic) Nightjars roosting during the day at regular stakeouts along there. On at least one of the mornings we will venture out super early to try for other endemic nightbirds, specifically to search for Cinnabar Boobook. This will also enable us to visit an area at dawn when shy forest birds such as Sulawesi Thrush and Blue-fronted Flycatcher may be more easier to find. Some time will also be spent around the Sedoa Valley, which offers the best raptor watching opportunities in the park, with Sulawesi Serpent-Eagle, Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle, and Black and Rufous-bellied Eagles all occurring.


Day 7: Lore Lindu to Palu

After some final time in the park during the early hours of the morning, we shall pack up and head for Palu, checking a site for White-shouldered Triller, day roosting Savanna Nightjars, and Pale-headed Munia, and the rare Red-backed Buttonquail on the way there. A single night will be spent in a city hotel in Palu.


Day 8: Palu to Kotomobagu

In the morning we will fly from Palu to Manado, (via Makassar) in North Sulawesi, and take the drive out to Kotomobagu.  This will be largely a travel day.


Days 9-10: Dumoga-Bone
Two days will be spent in the lowland forests within this sprawling national park, visiting three main areas of forest within the park-Tambun (the famed Maleo breeding site), Toraut, and the Molibagu Road. On at least one day we will drive out to Tambun, for the otherworldly Maleo, an odd megapode, which lays its eggs in the warm volcanic soils in the park. With luck, we shall see some pink-flushed adults digging in the clearing in preparation to lay their eggs; and on some days it is possible to help with the release of chicks back into the wild. After spending some time searching for Maleos, we will walk in this small forest patch, searching for a local endemic, Maroon-chinned Fruit-Dove and perhaps get further chances at Sulawesi Pitta, if needed. Mixed flocks within the forest might also yield Yellow-billed Malkoha, the strange white-eyed race of Hair-crested Drongo (a surefire split?!), Black-billed Koel and Bay Coucal. These forests also hold White-faced Cuckoo-Dove.  In the late morning we will move onto another area of the park checking the roadside paddies and wet areas for Barred and Buff-banded Rails, and Wandering Whistling-Ducks on the way. After lunch at a nearby guesthouse, we will move on to Toraut, another forested section of the park, where we hope to find the regularly roosting Speckled Boobook within the park buildings and pick up Pied Cuckooshrike during an afternoon forest walk, or Sulawesi Dwarf-Kingfisher, of we have missed it at Tangkoko. The plan for the second of these days will largely be governed by what is seen on the first day, but will probably include some roadside birding along the Molibagu Road, which is good for the endemic Ivory-backed Woodswallow, and is great for mynas, with Finch-billed, White-vented and Sulawesi (Crested) Mynas all occurring; it is arguably the best site for the latter, scarce species. It can also be a good spot to search for raptors like Barred (Sulawesi) Honey-Buzzard and the scarce Sulawesi Sparrowhawk. The two nights will again be spent in Kotamobagu.


Day 11: Gunung Ambang to Manado
The earliest rise of the tour is in order on this day in order to get ourselves in position on the lower slopes of Gunung Ambang for the chance at two very special birds: Before dawn the Cinnabar Boobook (only described to science, from this mountain, as recently as 1999), and post-dawn Scaly-breasted Kingfisher, the toughest of the many kingfishers on offer on this tour. The traveling time to get there, and the need to hike up to the nown areas for them necessitates a very early start. After dawn, our focus will turn to tracking down the inconspicuous and very local Matinan Flycatcher, which is currently only known from four locations, all in North Sulawesi, with this being the only currently accessible one. In the afternoon we will drive back east to Manado for the night at a comfortable hotel.


Day 12: Sulawesi to Halmahera

In the morning we will take a flight out of Manado to Kao on northern Halmahera. Once we arrive there, we will drive a few hours to Tobelo, our base for the first night on Halmahera. We will take an early dinner and make the journey to a nearby beach. A short boat ride will take us to a deserted beach, where the black volcanic sands provide the ideal breeding situation for the Moluccan Scrubfowl, a megapode which flies down from a nearby, forested volcano, to lays its eggs within the warm sands on most nights. This could be the longest night of the tour as we spend a long night waiting for the arrival of the birds, which may be one of the highlights of the entire tour. The beach also often holds Large-tailed Nightjar, while the coconut palms are home to the Moluccan Scops-Owl.


Day 13: Tobelo to Subaim

After a lie in, following the exertions of the “scrubfowl safari” the night before, we will make our way south to another entirely different area on Halmahera, which is sure to provide some of the best moments of the tour yet. En-route to our next lodging, which will be our base for the rest of our time on Halmahera, we will search for our first Moluccan specialties birds like Rufous-bellied Triller and Blue-and-white Kingfisher. The next four nights will be spent in a simple guesthouse in Subaim, within a few hour’s drive of all the birding sites.


Days 14-16: Halmahera
Over the coming three days we will search for some of Halmahera’s standout birds, not least among them will be the Wallace’s Standardwing. As dawn approaches the flapping of wings will be heard, and then the ugly squawking of the excited males will penetrated the gloom, before full light reveals the full splendor of the male birds, with their green “cravats” raised, and delicate white display plumes vibrating during their energetic rainforest dances, which occur daily to draw in that ever-elusive female. As well as this highly sort-after species, we will also be on the lookout for the immaculate Ivory-breasted Pitta, one of the only species that could even outshine the standardwing on this leg! Other endemics and specialties in the area include Moluccan Pitta, Scarlet-breasted Fruit-Dove, White-naped Monarch, Sombre Kingfisher, Spectacled and Cinnamon-bellied Imperial Pigeons, Paradise Crow (actually a subdued bird-of-paradise), Goliath Coucal, and the near mythical Invisible (Drummer) Rail (which would require some extraordinary fortune to see it). Other great birds there include the stunning Black-chinned Whistler, Chattering and Violet-necked Lories, and Great Cuckoo-Dove. After four full days in this area we should amass a fair number of the many endemics on offer, which could also include some nightbirds, as all three endemic species occur near the resort: Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar, Halmahera Boobook, and Moluccan Scops-Owl, as well as Barking Owl. We will be based in Subaim for three nights, and visit both Subaim and Foli over these days. On the night of day 16 we will transfer to the island of Ternate, to a modern hotel for the night.


Day 17: Ternate to Manado and Tangkoko

In the morning we will fly to Manado and drive a few hours on to Tangkoko. We should arrive by lunchtime, with plenty of time to start exploring Tangkoko in the afternoon and make our first forays for nightbirds in the area.


Days 18-19: Tangkoko
This reserve on the eastern tip of the Minahassa Peninsula, is one of Sulawesi’s flagship parks, the excellent lowland jungle and mangrove forest providing superb birding, and great mammal-watching opportunities. The reserve is especially famous for kingfishers, and with the assistance of the skilled local park guides, we will be search for Sulawesi Dwarf, Sulawesi Lilac, Green-backed, Great-billed, and Ruddy Kingfishers while on site. The wonderfully open nature of the forest provides excellent chances to find, and see well, a number of other normally tricky forest species too, such as the recently split Sulawesi Pitta (from Red-bellied), and the handsome Rusty-backed Thrush.  The endemic Ochre-bellied Boobook can sometimes be found at daytime stakeouts too. Our time in the area will be mixed between trail walking through the forest, which may see walk among one of the large habituated groups of Celebes Crested Macaques; taking a boat ride through the mangroves for kingfishers and the endemic White-rumped Cuckooshrike; and watching for canopy species from a scenic lookout, which can yield a huge variety of endemics, from Sulawesi and Pygmy Hanging-parrots to Sulawesi Dwarf-Hornbills and Purple-winged Rollers, and Ornate Lorikeets. Both nights will be spent in a simple lodge just outside the park, which will provide excellent, and large, meals throughout our stay.


Day 20: Tangkoko to Manado
After some final time around Tangkoko we return to Manado in the afternoon for a final night of the tour.


Day 21: Gunung Mahawu to Manado for departure

We will take a morning trip out to nearby Gunung Mahawu for the tricky Scaly-breasted Kingfisher. It is particularly difficult, as it calls right around dawn, and rarely for long after, and so we will ensure we are on site pre-dawn, when the calls may help us to track it down. This site also offers a good chance of the endemic Crimson-crowned Flowerpecker, which occurs with a wealth of other endemic nectar feeders at the site, which also includes Yellow-sided and Gray-sided Flowerpeckers and Sulawesi Myzomela. After a few hours on site, and repacking at our hotel, we will return to Manado in order to take flights out in the evening. If people need an extra night in Manado before onward flights that is also possible too.

Trip Considerations

CLIMATE: Hot and humid for much of Sulawesi and Halmahera, with a chance of heavy, tropical, downpours at any time. Cool in the mountains in Lore Lindu and Gunung Ambang, where rain is expected.

DIFFICULTY: Moderate to difficult, a fair amount of walking is required. There are three, optional, strenuous walks on the tour in Sulawesi (at Gunung Ambang and for the up to two visits to the Anaso Track in Lore Lindu). The walking in Halmahera is not difficult anywhere. The toughest aspect of this trip are the very long days, made longer by the pursuit of the many endemic nightbirds available on this tour (10% of the endemics are nightbirds). Many of these are usually, with effort, seen, by taking long days in the field.


ACCOMMODATION: At all sites we use the best accommodations in the areas. In the cities of Makassar, Palu, Kotomobagu, Tomohon, Manado, and Ternate, good large modern business style hotels are used with private en-suite bathrooms, 24-hour electricity, full time hot water, air-conditioning and Wi-fi Internet. There are 7 nights of the tour that use simple accommodations. The nights of days 3-6 at Lore Lindu will be spent at a simple guesthouse, with no running hot water, but with 24-hour electricity, and en-suite bathrooms, and good food. A flask of hot water is provided each night to mix with the cold water in tour room to provide you wish something to bathe in. On Halmahera, the nights of days 13-15, we will be staying in a guesthouse with electricity, but no hot water or Internet, but with air-con. Internet is only usually reliably available in Makassar, Palu, Kotamobagu, Ternate, Manado and Tomohon. 


PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, with a focus on getting as many birds as possible, although casual photographers in the group are likely to find the habituated Sulawesi Crested Macaques and Spectral Tarsiers, roosting owls, kingfishers and other staked out birds at Tangkoko in particular good subjects for photography. Elsewhere photography is much more limited. There are no feeders at any sites on this tour. In general, this is one of the better tours in the region for photography (e.g. in comparison to Borneo, Thailand etc.)

Other Information

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Visas on arrival in Indonesia can be obtained for tourists from the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and most European countries for stays of under 30 days. There is a fee for this, payable in cash. Travel requirements are subject change; we recommend double-checking entry requirements six weeks prior to the tour, or ask our office staff for help.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 through to night of day 20; meals from dinner on day 1 through to lunch on day 21; one-way air ticket from Makassar to Palu on day 3, one-way air ticket from Palu to Manado (via Makassar) on day 8; one way air ticket from Manado to Halmahera on day 12; one way air ticket from Ternate to Manado on day 17; safe drinking water throughout; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the afternoon of day 21; local guides at Karaenta, Lore Lindu, Tangkoko, Dumoga-Bone, Gunung Ambang in Sulawesi and Galela on Halmahera; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they are on the same flight); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary; one night search – including boat transport – for Moluccan Scrubfowl on the night of day 12 on Halmahera; one private mangrove boat trip on one afternoon/morning at Tangkoko; private speedboat between Halmahera and Ternate on afternoon of day 16; entrance fees to all birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for optional luggage porters in city hotels in Makassar, Palu, Manado, and Ternate; international flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; visa fees (payable on arrival in Indonesia); excess baggage fees on domestic flights; departure tax when leaving Indonesia; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

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