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.
After checking into our hotel in the capital, Waingapu, we’ll trave a short distance out of the city to the Yumbu Grasslands, the best site for the scarce and hightly local endemic Sumba Buttonquail. Here birds such as Indonesian Honeyeater, Australasian Bushlark, Zitting Cisticola, Brown Quail, and Zebra Finch are comment, and Australian Hobby is also a possibility, indicating our location on the border between the Asian and Australasian regions. Night in Waingapu.
Day 3: This morning we will travel further east of Yumbu, the permanent freshwater wetland so Kadumbul are oustanding for waders and waterfowl. Here we should encounter larger 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, Oriental Reed-Warbler, and Zebra Finch. Less common but always possible are Australian Pratincole and Oriental Plover. After lunch back in Waingapu we’ll drive straight to the charming village of Lewa, where we’ll begin our birding in the surrounding forest. Night in Lewa.
Day 4: 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 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. The park is another great place for a host of Sumba endemics and other specialties 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, Gray Tit (a recent split from Great Tit), and Common Kingfisher are all possible. Night in Lewa.
Day 6-7: This morning, we’ll drive back to Waingapu and then take the short but scenic flight over volcanic islands dotted in the turquoise tropical seas to Kupang in West Timor. From there we’ll take another short flight to remote Rote Island. After checking in to our hotel we’ll start our explorations of the island. Highlights here should include Rote Leaf Warbler, Rote Myzomela and Rote Boobook, which we’ll look for in the early evening. Some birds that are easier to find here than on neighboring Timor include Black Cuckoo-Dove and the jewel like Jonquil Parrot. Night in Rote.
Day 8: We’ll take a morning flight back to Kupang and after checking into our hotel, we’ll proceed to Bipolo Forest. 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 gorgeous 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-colored Munia and Timor Sparrow. Other possibilities at the neighboring 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 visit Camplong Forest today, west of Kupang. It’s 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 10: 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 11: 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, Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Pied Bushchat, and Long-tailed Shrike. Night in Soe.
Day 12: We’ll return to Kupang with stops at Camplong or Bipolo, depending on our ornithological needs. Night in Kupang.
Days 13: We’llfly 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 the remnant lowland forest of Kisol, an hour’s drive away on the south coast of the island. Along the way we’ll stop at Ranamese Lake, a small volcanic lake about an hour’s drive from Ruteng. At Kisol we’ll search for the superb White-rumped Kingfisher, 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. Night in Borong.
Day 14: Today we’ll drive about an hour from Borong to Pocondeki Hill, which contains exceptional forest. 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 Borong.
Day 15: If we have time we’ll return for some early morning birding in Kisol, before we drive back toward Ruteng in order to explore some new areas at a higher elevation and hence with a somewhat different avifauna. We’ll stop at Ranamese again - this wonderfully scenic area holds some splendid birds, including both endemic scops-owls. We’ll be on the lookout for Ruddy Cuckoo-Dove, 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.
After lunch in Ruteng we’ll visit Poco Ranaka, a steep mountain on the ridge to the south of Ruteng. We’ll drive as far as possible up the road and then walk downhill on a gentle grade. This is great birding in rich forest with views over the town of Ruteng and its surroundings. Some of the birds we might encounter include Bonelli’s Eagle, Green Junglefowl, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, 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. The astounding Bare-throated Whistler is happily common and extremely vocal here, and with luck we may find the endemic but rare Flores Hawk-Eagle. Night in Ruteng.
Days 16: This morning we’ll head to Golo Lusang for the impressive dawn chorus dominated by the remarkable vocalisations of the Bare-throated Whistlers. Birding along the road we should get some good looks at this amazing birds as well as Dark-backed Imperial Pigeons, Black-backed Fruit Doves and Barred Cuckoo-doves. With luck we’ll find the shy Flores Lorikeet as well as endemic Yellow-browed Dark-eye, Flores Leaf Warbler, Yellow-breasted Warbler, Pale-shouldered Cicadabird, Scaly-crowned Honeyeater, Mountain and Yellow-spectacled White-eye, and Golden-rumped Flowerpecker. Night in Ruteng.
Day 17: We’ll drive from Ruteng today to Pagal where we’ll again bird along a relatively quiet road through forested slopes in hopes of more Flores and Lesser Sundas endemics. This is a great place for the handsome White-rumped Kingfisher, which we’ll try to coax into view. This is also a good area for the very neat Chestnut-backed Thrush as well as our most hoped for target the scarce Wallace’s Hanging-parrot, which is attracted to the flowering Erythrina variegata trees that are quite common here. We’ll also be on the lookout for Crested Dark-eye, Black-fronted Flowerpecker and more widespread but nevertheless appealing species such as Small Minivets and the distinctive local form of Bonelli’s Eagle.Night in Ruteng.
Day 18: We’ll leave early this morning forPuar Lolo, a tiny patch at mid-elevation surrounding a telecom station, the best site for the shy and retiring Flores Monarch. After a picnic lunch we’ll hit the road again and drive to Labuan Bajo, gateway to Komodo Island.
Day 19: 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. On our way back, we’ll make a stop in a small cove where those who are interested can snorkel on one of the most spectacularly species-rich reefs in the world! Night in Labuan Bajo.
Day 20: 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 21: The tour concludes this morning in Denpasar, Bali.
This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS
Updated: 22 November 2017