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Sunbird – Itinerary

2014 tour price £3,540

  • Plus flights estimated at : £900
  • Single Room Supplement : £360

Indonesia: The Lesser Sunda Islands

Friday 24 August to Wednesday 12 September 2018*
with Susan Myers as leader

*In-country dates

Maximum group size: 8 with 1 leader

One of the more memorable moments of the tour is likely to be an encounter with a Komodo Dragon. Photo: Susan Myers

The islands of Nusa Tenggara, or the Lesser Sundas, stretch across the Java Sea north of Australia, between the islands of New Guinea and Bali. They are part of a unique region known to birders as Wallacea, which contains a distinctive fauna representing a mix of Asian and Australian species. The tropical dry climate has given rise to vegetation that is strikingly different from the rest of the Indonesian archipelago. More than 70 endemic bird species live in the seasonally dry monsoon forests and savanna woodlands, and new species are still being discovered. 

The region is not heavily visited by Western tourists, but accommodations range from simple to excellent, and the birding is comfortable on mostly quiet roads and wide, flat trails with a handful of more strenuous walks. The pace of life in the Lesser Sundas is relatively slow, and the locals are laid-back and friendly.

Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Denpasar, Bali. Night in Jimbaran Heights, Bali.  

Day 2: This morning we’ll fly past steaming volcanoes and a myriad of emerald green islands set in turquoise seas to the dry and sparsely populated island of Sumba. Each island in Indonesia is home to unique cultures and languages, and Sumba is no different: the various Sumbanese tribes are famous for their daring horseback riding and their unusual style of fabric design known as ikat. Sumba residents are mainly Dutch Calvinists or Roman Catholics, but underlying those traditions is a strong adherence to the age-old animistic practice known as Marapu, represented throughout the island in the form of beautiful architecture, complex ceremonies, and megalithic tombs.

In terms of avifauna, Sumba has a low diversity of birds but an extraordinary distinctiveness arising from the mixture of Asian and Australasian influences. Most of the forests here are deciduous monsoon forests — in other words, low and open with a warm but dry climate.

From the airport in the capital, Waingapu, we’ll drive the short distance out of Waingapu to the Yumbu Grasslands, the best site for the scarce and highly local endemic Sumba Buttonquail. Here birds such as Indonesian Honeyeater, Australasian Bushlark, Zitting Cisticola, Brown Quail, and Zebra Finch are common, and Australian Hobby is also a possibility, indicating our location on the border between the Asian and Australasian regions.

Farther east of Yumbu, the permanent freshwater wetlands of Kadumbul are outstanding for waders and waterfowl. Here we should encounter large numbers of Black and Little Pied Cormorants, Purple Heron, Great and Intermediate Egrets, Wandering Whistling-Duck, the endemic Sunda Teal, Purple Swamphen, Great Crested, Whiskered, and White-winged Terns, and Oriental Reed-Warbler. Less common but always possible are Australian Pratincole and Oriental Plover. Night in Waingapu.

Day 3: This morning we’ll drive to the charming village of Lewa, where we’ll begin our birding in the surrounding forests. We’ll spend most of the day near Lewa in a remnant patch of forest that is terrific for endemics such as Red-naped Fruit-Dove, Sumba Hornbill, Marigold Lorikeet, Sumba Myzomela, and Sumba Jungle-Flycatcher, as well as more widespread regional endemics - Blood-breasted Flowerpecker, Apricot-breasted Sunbird, Lesser Wallacean Drongo, the simply gorgeous Chestnut-backed Thrush, and the incomparable Elegant Pitta. We could also encounter Variable Goshawk, Black-naped Fruit-Dove, Australian Koel, Red-cheeked Parrot, Great-billed Parrot, Blue-tailed and Rainbow Bee-eaters, Arafura Fantail, and Black-naped Oriole. Golden Whistler is an extremely interesting species in the Lesser Sundas, with highly variable forms (species?) on all three islands: Sumba fulviventris, Timor calliope, and Flores fulvotincta. In the evening we’ll look for the endemic Mees’s Nightjar, known for its distinctive calls. We’ll also make an effort to find the fascinating and endemic Little Sumba Boobook and Sumba Hawk-Owl. Night in Lewa.

Day 4-5: Manupeu Tanadaru National Park lies about seven kilometers west of Lewa. This newly established park protects some excellent forest, especially along the river near the village of Padiratana. We’ll spend the morning scouting for birds from a hilltop about 2 km walk from the main road. Here we’ll hope for Citron-crested Cockatoo or Sumba Hornibill, amongst others, to make an appearance as they search for fruiting trees in the area. The park is another great place for a host of Sumba endemics and other specialities including Sumba Flycatcher, Sumba Green-Pigeon, Sumba Cuckoo-shrike (Pale-shouldered Cicadabird), and Sumba Brown Flycatcher. Small flocks of Sumba (Rainbow) Lorikeets are often seen flying along the river, and more widespread species such as Brown Goshawk (rare in Asia), Spotted Kestrel, Emerald Dove, Barred Dove, Cinereous Tit (a recent split from Great Tit), and Common Kingfisher are all possible. Nights in Lewa.

Day 6: After a final early morning’s birding around Lewa, we’ll return to Waingapu for our mid morning flight to Kupang. Along the way we’ll drop into a beach area in hopes of spotting Malaysian Plover before continuing to the airport. We’ll then take the short but scenic flight over volcanic islands dotted in through turquoise tropical seas to Kupang in West Timor. After checking into our hotel, if we have time, we’ll make an introductory visit to a nearby forest park. Night in Kupang.

Day 7: Camplong Forest, west of Kupang, is a busy area but the birding is superb. This mid-elevation forest around a village holds birds such as Marigold Lorikeet, Timor Bushchat, Plain Gerygone, Black-breasted Myzomela, Timor Leaf-Warbler, and Northern Fantail. Small flocks of the babbler-like Timor (Spot-breasted) Dark-eye move through the midstorey, and we’ll make a particular effort for the unusual endemic Buff-banded Bushbird with its distinctive loud call. In the evening we’ll look for the endemic Streaked (Timor) Boobook. Night in Kupang.

Day 8: Bipolo Forest, near the village of Bipolo, has some of the best birding in the region. The road along the eastern edge of the forest leads to rice paddies and ends at shrimp ponds that are ideal for a range of open-country and wading birds. We’ll bird along the road and on some easy, flat trails in search of Yellow-crested Cockatoo, the increasingly scarce Olive-shouldered Parrot, the beautiful Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher (sure to be a trip highlight), the equally stunning Orange-banded Thrush, Timor Blue-Flycatcher, and the fascinating Timor Stubtail. This area simply abounds with birds, including Black-backed Fruit-Dove, Slaty Cuckoo-Dove, Fawn-breasted Whistler, White-shouldered Triller, Streak-breasted and Yellow-eared Honeyeaters, Timor Friarbird, Timor (Olive-brown) Oriole, Timor (Green) Figbird, Greater Wallacean Drongo, Flame-breasted Sunbird, Thick-billed Flowerpecker (the distinctive subspecies here might be a future split), Red-chested Flowerpecker, and Ashy-bellied White-eye.

In the nearby rice paddies, or sawah, there is more excellent birding, and our efforts here could yield Lesser Coucal, Barred Buttonquail, Tree Martin, Golden-headed Cisticola, Black-faced Munia, Nutmeg Mannikin, and the highly sought-after Five-coloured Munia and Timor Sparrow. Other possibilities at the neighbouring shrimp farms include White-faced Heron, White-headed Stilt, Red-capped Plover, Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers, and Gull-billed Tern. Night in Kupang.

Day 9: We’ll leave early for the town of Soe at the base of Gunung Mutis, the highest mountain in Timor. En route we’ll bird some more around Kupang and stop at Oelnasi, a small area of monsoon forest and a great place for Timor Black Pigeon and Bar-necked Cuckoo-Dove. There is also a chance for Black-banded Flycatcher, Timor Sparrow, Black-banded Fruit-Dove, and Timor Bushchat. Night in Soe.

Day 10: The forests of Gunung Mutis, dominated by native Eucalyptus trees, are well worth a full day of birding. The road from Soe is rough, but the mountain is misty and cool and its beautiful forest holds some real treats, such as Metallic Pigeon, the rare Timor and Pink-headed Imperial-Pigeons, Olive-headed Lorikeet and the rather difficult Iris Lorikeet, Tricolored Parrotfinch, and the very distinctive form of Pygmy Wren-Babbler, which is surely an endemic species. We may also encounter Red Junglefowl, Oriental Pipit, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Pied Bushchat, and Long-tailed Shrike. Night in Soe.

Day 11: We’ll return to Kupang today but not before making another visit to Oelnasi or Bipolo, depending on our ornithological needs. Night in Kupang.

Days 12–13: We’ll fly this morning to Ruteng on the island of Flores. Most of the 1.5 million Floresians (speaking at least eight unique languages!) are Catholics as a result of the influence of Portuguese missionaries and traders in the 16th century. In fact, Flores means ‘flowers’ in Portuguese and gives some indication of the beauty of this island.

From the airport we’ll head straight to Ranamese Lake, small volcanic lake about an hour’s drive from Ruteng. It’s wonderfully scenic with some splendid birds, including Sunda Cuckoo, Wallacean Cuckoo-shrike, Flores Minivet, the distinctive subspecies of Mountain Tailorbird, Flores Leaf-Warbler, Brown-capped Fantail, Oriental White-eye (yellow-bellied form), Yellow-spectacled White-eye, and Golden-rumped Flowerpecker. On the lake itself, Pacific Black Duck should be common, but one of our main targets will be the fascinating and cute but skulking Russet-capped Tesia.

Before lunch time we’ll leave for the remnant lowland forest of Kisol, an hour’s drive away on the south coast of the island. Here we’ll search for Flores Lorikeet, the curious Flores Crow, Flores (Thick-billed) Dark-eye, and the elusive Chestnut-capped Thrush — a beautiful Zoothera. This is also a great place to try for Wallacean and Moluccan Scops-Owls. Nights in Kisol. 

Day 14: After some early morning birding in Kisol, we’ll drive back toward Ruteng in order to explore some new areas at a higher elevation and hence with a somewhat different avifauna. In the afternoon we’ll visit Golo Lusang a forest reserve on the other side of Ruteng, where we’ll drive and then walk downhill on a gentle gradient. This is great birding in rich forest with views over distant mountains and surroundings down to the sea. Some of the birds we might encounter include Bonelli’s Eagle, Dark-backed Imperial-Pigeon, Fork-tailed Swift, Flores Jungle-Flycatcher, Pygmy Wren-Babbler, Black-fronted Flowerpecker, White-browed Dark-eye, Sunda (Scaly-crowned) Honeyeater, Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch, and Yellow-breasted Warbler. Night in Ruteng.

Day 15: Today we’ll spend a full day at Golo Lusang where our main aim will be to see the astounding Bare-throated Whistler is happily common and extremely vocal here but only in the mornings, and with luck we may find the endemic but rare Flores Hawk-Eagle. Night in Ruteng.

Day 16: This morning we’ll visit Pagal for some more roadside birding. This can be an excellent area for the superb White-rumped Kingfisher, amongst others. In the afternoon we’ll head back to Golo Lusang and in the evening we’ll search for the elusive Flores and Wallace’s Scops-Owls. Nights in Ruteng.

Day 17: We’ll drive from Ruteng to Labuan Bajo, birding en route. Puar Lolo is a tiny forest patch at mid-elevation surrounding a telecom station, the best site for the shy and retiring Flores Monarch. A level track gives good access to the forest, and we’ll also be on the hunt for Flores (Rainbow) Lorikeet, Rufous-chested Flycatcher, and Crested Dark-eye. Later we’ll make a short detour up the Pocowanka Road, which is a last stronghold for the diminutive Wallace’s Hanging-Parrot. Night in Labuan Bajo.

Day 18: The fabled home of the Komodo Dragon is a spectacular three-hour boat ride from Labuan Bajo. We’ll have a great chance of seeing these amazing creatures and, as well, a healthy population of Yellow-crested Cockatoos, now highly endangered due to the cage bird industry. We may also find Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Great-billed Heron, Pacific Reef-Heron, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Beach Thick-knee, Lesser Crested and Bridled Terns, Green Junglefowl, and Green Imperial-Pigeon. Collared and Sacred Kingfishers are common, and this is a great place to observe the extraordinary Orange-footed Scrubfowl at work on its mound. Night in Labuan Bajo.

Day 19: Depending on the time of our flight back to Denpasar, we may do some more birding along the Pocowanka Road or finish off our tour watching waders at some mudflats in Bali, where Javan Plover is always a possibility. We’ll have our farewell dinner tonight in the delightful surroundings of our hotel. Night in Jimbaran Heights, Bali.

Day 20: The tour concludes this morning in Denpasar, Bali.


Updated: 05 December 2014