Saturday, 22 August 2020

Flores, Indonesia Birding Trip Report

Here's a trip report from my birding on the island of Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia from 6-12th August 2020. I've been in Bali now for about 5 months during the global lockdown and Flores is just a short flight to the east across the Wallace Line so a prime locations to visit. 

This was my first travel or birding for that matter for 5 months with Covid-19 grinding everything to a halt. This pandemic has put a firm stop to all my tours (work) and personal birding trips for 2020 - so far I've had to postpone tours to Vietnam, Sulawesi, Halmahera, West Papua, and Australia (x4), plus personal trips to the US (x2), Brazil, and others... I can't really complain I guess, there's worst places to be stuck, and at least I've managed to remain relatively healthy so far. But I am gutted from a birding point of view as I was getting started on going for a year list of 4,000 this year!  

Once Indonesia opened up again for internal travel in early August I decided to take a brief trip to the west side of the island of Flores (*I've been in lockdown and social distancing for practically the whole past 5 months, Bali has opened up to tourists from the rest of the archipelago - meaning more people from the cities like Jakarta, Surabaya etc around so good reason to leave Bali for a weekend, did a covid test before going, continued social distancing practices, and wore masks and bathed in hand sanitizer etc so was as careful as possible*), my main target was Elegant Pitta to go with my pitta collection. 

Traveling in this new age of Covid-19 was a bit unnerving at times, typical disorganization - like make you stand 2 meters apart all round the airport, lots of health checks etc (good), then push all of you onto a bus like sardines to go get on the plane (not good!).

I'd only got a few days on the island, it was more of a holiday with a few work meetings thrown in rather than an outright full-on birding trip. I contacted a couple of friends who I know had visited recently, so thanks for the gen and sound files Jerry, Annie, and Matt, much appreciated. Flores was much hotter than Bali is at this time of year, and much drier too.  

I basically visited two sites - unfortunately Komodo Island was still closed to westerners... so that was off the cards immediately but I knew that before going. I'll have to go back for my dragon fix, it is only a 50 minute flight away I suppose so not too difficult. So, my birding was restricted to the coast at Labuan Bajo city (area around my hotel - some 1 hour morning walks in the grounds before breakfast and sitting by the pool in the late-afternoon) and about an hours drive inland near Puralolo (where I stayed a Mbeliling Mountain Ecolodge - a great change of scenery to the hot and dusty city). Spent about 2 hours on the trail at Puarlolo and then the rest off the time was sat on the balcony or in the gardens of the lodge. I ended up on 70 species which I thought was OK from a couple of brief birding sessions. Interesting to see lots of very distinctive sub-species of widespread birds so definitely lots of potential for several armchair ticks....

Straight away on my first morning I heard my main target and after the usual pitta-cat-and-mouse I managed to get onto the bird, just as the sun was coming over the ridge and of course out of all the places it could choose... you guessed it! Over the course of the few days we were at the coast I heard several of them and saw at least three individuals. Managed to get an ok photo (below) but it was quite tough given the acacia-like dense vegetation. I was more than satisfied with my views. This was the 18th species of pitta I've seen, 16 of these have been photographed (see the pitta photo bar on the right of the blog)

Elegant Pitta

I also picked up plenty of other interesting birds at the coast, with highlights including Barred Dove, Island Collared Dove, Barred Buttonquail, Tenggara Swiftlet, Collared Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Spotted Kestrel, Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker, White-shouldered Triller, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Rusty-breasted Whistler, Black-naped Monarch, Lemon-bellied White-eye, Yellow-ringed White-eye, Black-fronted Flowerpecker, Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Zebra Finch, Cinereous Tit, Olive-backed Sunbird, Pale-headed Munia, Five-colored Munia, Black-faced Munia and the stunning Flame-breasted Sunbird. Some photos below of a few of these.  

Barred Dove

Black-fronted Flowerpecker

Collared Kingfisher

Flame-breasted Sunbird

Golden-bellied Gerygone

Lemon-bellied White-eye

Rusty-breasted Whistler

Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker

Yellow-ringed White-eye

Up around the Puarlolo and Mbeliling Ecolodge area I found a different set of birds including some really great ones. The trail at Puarlolo was great, nice and easy walking and the grounds of the ecolodge were good also at times. Some of the highlights in this area included Flores Crow, Flores Monarch, Flores Hawk-Eagle, Black-naped Fruit Dove, Chestnut-capped Thrush, Chestnut-backed Thrush, Wallacean Drongo, Wallace's Scops Owl, Little (Flores) Minivet, Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher, Glittering Kingfisher, Russet-capped Tesia, Rufous-chested Flycatcher, Helmeted Friarbird, Golden-rumped Flowerpecker, Leaf Lorikeet, Red-cheeked Parrot, Ruddy Cuckoo-Dove, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Elegant Pitta, Bonelli's Eagle, and Black-naped Oriole. Again, a few photos below of some of these species.

Black-naped Oriole

Blue-tailed Bee-eater

Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher

Chestnut-backed Thrush

Chestnut-capped Thrush

Flores Crow

Flores Monarch (honest!)

Red-cheeked Parrot

Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker

Wallacean Drongo

It was an enjoying few days and looking forward to some more Lesser Sundas birding soon... keep tuned for more details.