Pale-headed Frogmouth, a scarce Sumatran endemic. Photo: Susan Myers
Indonesia is the largest archipelago of islands in the world and has more endemic bird species than any other country. Sumatra in particular has some of the most biodiverse forests on earth. Our tour to Indonesia offers the chance to see new and wonderful birds, as well as other great wildlife, and experience a vibrant and fascinating culture. Java is one of the most populous places on earth, but extensive areas of well-protected habitat remain and we’ll visit a selection of these reserves during our visit. Our main focus will be the fabulous Gunung Gede National Park, which encompasses the impressive volcanoes Gunung (Mount) Gede and Gunung Pangrango, both around 10,000 feet high. Rich montane forest spreads over the flanks of the two volcanoes and holds many of the most exciting Javan endemics. We’ll also visit the tranquil Cibodas Botanic Gardens, where another fine selection of endemics awaits us. Closer to Jakarta we’ll explore local coastal sites, including Muara Angke, a tiny remnant oasis of marshland of about 65 acres that’s well known as one of the few remaining sites for the rare Sunda Coucal. In the same area a few scattered pools often hold Javan Plovers, so we’ll search for them too. Lastly we’ll visit the attractive resort area of Carita, a lowland coastal site where we can find a handful of lowland Javan endemics and enjoy the sea air and beautiful vistas.
Sumatra is a huge island, over 600 miles long, and with more than 600 bird species it offers excellent birding opportunities. Our first destination, Way Kambas National Park, is a large area consisting of a mixture of lowland forest, open grassland, and peat swamp forest. This important park is one of the best in Asia for nightbirds, and we’ll make an effort to find as many as we can. It also protects more than 50 mammal species, the most important of which are Sumatran Rhinoceros, Sumatran Elephant, Malayan Tapir, and the incomparable Sumatran Tiger, which is sadly now very rare. We’ll trek into the swamp forest during the day in our quest to find the increasingly rare White-winged Duck, along with many more highlights that lie in store.
Kerinci-Seblat National Park lies in the middle of the Barisan Mountain Range and protects a large expanse of forest on the flanks of Gunung Kerinci, which at almost 12,500 feet is the highest mountain in Sumatra. This area is home to the remarkable Minangkabau people, devout Muslims and the world’s most populous matrilineal society. Three-quarters of Sumatra’s endemic birds have been recorded here, so naturally it is a very popular place with birders. The mixed flocks are often spectacular, and one of their most prominent birds is the stunning Blue Nuthatch.
After our time on Kerinci we’ll explore the Tapan Road, which passes through rich lower-elevation forest and offers us a chance to observe a very different suite of birds. We’ll bird at a leisurely pace along the road, where the enigmatic Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasant is always possible.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6 p.m. in the lobby of our Jakarta hotel. Night in Jakarta.
Day 2: We’ll visit areas north of Pamanukan and at various locations in Muara Gembong including Singkil, all sites that are around two hours from Jakarta and relatively easy to access. We’ll explore mangroves, fish ponds, and rice paddies in search of our first endemics and specialties, which may include the increasingly rare Milky Stork, Javan Plover, the endemic Sunda Coucal, Javan White-eye, and with luck Java Sparrow. Night in Jakarta.
Days 3–4: We’ll travel to Gunung Gede National Park, where our main objective will be the Javan highland endemics but also the outstanding forest and the spectacular volcanoes for which Indonesia is renowned. Habitats here range from lush submontane forest to alpine meadows. We’ll spend a bit of time on the lower flanks of the mountain in the Cibodas Botanic Gardens, which is best for a few endemics such as White-flanked Sunbird, Pygmy Tit, and Sunda Forktail, but we’ll mainly concentrate on the Gunung Gede trail. Almost all the Javan endemics can be found in this important national park, and by exploring the main trail we’ll almost certainly encounter mixed feeding flocks containing a number of our hoped-for species, including White-bibbed and Crescent-chested Babblers, Dark-throated White-eye, Orange-spotted Bulbul, and perhaps even Javan Trogon. There are as well some exciting ground-dwelling birds to seek out, such as the very cute Javan Tesia, Sunda Thrush, or the secretive Chestnut-bellied Partridge. Nights in Cibodas.
Days 5–6: We’ll leave Gunung Gede and travel the short distance to Halimun, a national park set at a slightly lower altitude and where the hill and submontane forests hold several species that aren’t found at other sites in western Java. White-breasted Babblers are fairly common, and mixed feeding flocks may hold the endemic White-bellied Fantail as well as Sunda Minivet, Grey-throated White-eye, Javan Sunbird, and Grey-cheeked and Sunda Bulbuls. Dark-backed Imperial-Pigeons can be heard calling from the forest canopy, where they often perch conspicuously on dead snags. Sumatran Green-Pigeon is found here, and Javan Hawk-Eagle can sometimes be seen soaring over the treetops. One of our main targets will be the much sought-after Spotted Crocias, an inconspicuous but rather glamorous canopy dweller that is found only in this small area of western Java. Nights in Halimun.
Day 7: We’ll travel to the seaside town of Carita, known for its pristine white beaches, turquoise tropical waters, and views of the legendary Krakatau (Krakatoa) volcano. We’ll bird in the remnant forests near the town, where the density of birds is low but we may nevertheless see some fine, localized endemics: Grey-cheeked Tit-Babbler, White-breasted Babbler, and Black-banded Barbet. We may also encounter Banded Kingfisher, Banded Broadbill, Banded Pitta, Bay Banded Cuckoo, and a few other non-Banded things. Nightbirds such as Sunda Scops Owl, Large-tailed Nightjar, and Javan Frogmouth are also possible. Night in Carita.
Day 8: We’ll have a full morning of birding in the forest patches around Carita. Few areas of intact lowland forest remain in Java, so extra time exploring these remnants around Carita will give us second chances at some of the increasingly scarce lowland specialists. After lunch we’ll return by vehicle on crowded roads to Jakarta in preparation for our flight to Bandar Lampung in the south of Sumatra tomorrow morning. Night in Jakarta.
Day 9: Depending on our flight schedule, we may have some time to bird at Muara Angke in the morning before we go to the airport for our short flight to Bandar Lampung. On arrival we’ll meet our driver and transfer to our accommodation near Way Kambas National Park. Our charming guesthouse is located just outside the park, so this afternoon we’ll get a start on our birding adventures soon after we check in. Night at Alam Way Kanan Guesthouse.
Days 10–12: Way Kambas National Park, a 320,000-acre lowland swamp forest island in a sea of humanity, is well known for its large mammals and lowland specialist bird species. Although partly degraded by logging, it is now well protected and offers refuge to a number of endangered species, including Sumatran Tiger, Javan Rhino, White-winged Duck, and Wrinkled Hornbill. Our main quarry here will be White-winged Duck and some nightbirds, and from a list of the latter we may be lucky enough to see Bonaparte’s Nightjar, Brown Hawk-Owl, and Gould’s Frogmouth.
We’ll bird the entrance road around Way Kanan Pos and the Look Trail, and in the evenings we’ll spotlight along the entrance road just a short way from our accommodation. The Look Trail is good for pheasants and partridges, and Banded Pitta is regularly seen here and on the main road. One morning we’ll travel by boat upstream from the park headquarters to Rawa Gajah (Elephant Swamp) and to the Alang Alang for White-winged Duck. Later we’ll continue birding along the entrance road before taking a boat trip downstream to Pertama Swamp and Kali Biru Pos. Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon is relatively common here, and we should find the stunning Small Blue Kingfisher. Nights at Alam Way Kanan Guesthouse.
Day 13: We’ll fly back to Jakarta from Bandar Lampung, continue by air to Padang in central Sumatra, and then drive from Padang to Kersik Tuo near Gunung Kerinci. Our drive will mostly be through the hilly terrain that typifies this part of Sumatra, traversing a mosaic of forest, farmland, and villages. We’ll make occasional stops for birding around Lake Kerinci and surrounding swamps and padis. Night in Kersik Tuo.
Days 14–16: Kerinci-Seblat, in the southern Barisan Ranges in Sumatra’s southwest, is Indonesia’s second-largest national park. With its large area and altitudinal range from lowlands up to the alpine areas at the summit of Gunung Kerinci, the park is exceptionally important for its protection of a wide range of habitat, including lowland dipterocarp forest, lakes and wetlands, montane and hill forests, and alpine woodlands. Biodiversity within the park is extraordinarily high with many endemics and a plethora of rare or restricted-range Sumatran birds, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, and plants. Botanically, Kerinci-Seblat National Park is said to be more than twice as rich as the Amazon Basin.
Most of the restricted-range birds occur in the hill forest along the Tapan Road and in the montane forest on the slopes of Gunung Kerinci and Gunung Tujuh. There are fifteen Sumatran endemics to be found within the boundaries of the park and a further six shared only with Java. A number of other important species are shared with peninsular Malaysia, Java, or Borneo, including the spectacular Fire-tufted Barbet, a monotypic genus confined to the upland forests of peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra, and delightfully common on Gunung Kerinci and along the Tapan Road.
On the slopes of Gunung Kerinci the diminutive ground-dwellers may distract us from our main task of searching for the endemics. Sunda Robin, Lesser Shortwing, and White-browed Shortwing are all common. The lower stretches of the forest appear to be wren-babbler heaven: the vocalizations of Pygmy, Eyebrowed, and Rusty-breasted Wren-Babblers provide a constant background symphony, while the fascinating Long-billed (otherwise found only in the Himalayas) is much more retiring. Blue Nuthatch is shared with Java and peninsular Malaysia, and is a major constituent of mixed flocks, whose other species include White-browed Shrike-Babbler, Grey-throated Babbler, and Golden Babbler. It seems that rainy days are good for the ground-dwelling species, while better weather brings out numerous mixed flocks and canopy-dwelling species. We’ll hope for a bit of both. Gunung Kerinci is also noted as a great site for some very scarce nightbirds—Pale-headed Frogmouth, Rajah Scops Owl, Barred Eagle Owl, and Salvadori’s Nightjar. Nights in Kersik Tuo.
Days 17–19: We’ll transfer to Sungai Penuh and spend the next three days birding along the Tapan Road, which allows us to access the midmontane and lower elevations of Kerinci-Seblat National Park. The area between the Bukit Tapan Pass (4900 feet) and the small village of Muara Sako lies within the national park and shelters some wonderful hill and lower montane forest. This is the best site for a number of Sumatran endemics as well as many more widespread and spectacular Sundaic species. Our best strategy is to walk along the road from the pass down to Muara Sako, which will take us a full day but we’ll be followed by our bus for those needing a break. Two of the specialties here are Graceful Pitta and Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasant, both of which are shy forest dwellers but with perseverance we have a chance. Nights in Sungai Penuh.
Day 20: We’ll spend the morning birding along the road, first on a trail near Bukit Tapan Resort and then along a particularly good stretch of road, trying to catch up with anything we may have missed. Later in the morning we’ll make the long drive back to Padang. Night in Padang.
Day 21: We’ll return to Jakarta from Padang, Sumatra’s third-largest city, for a last evening in the comfort of our beautiful hotel. If our flight schedule permits, we’ll enjoy some relaxed morning birding at forested sites on the outskirts of Padang, where we might find some widespread Southeast Asian species such as Coppersmith Barbet, Greater Green Leafbird, or Crimson Sunbird. Night in Jakarta.
Day 22: The tour concludes this morning in Jakarta.
Updated: 23 November 2020