The Great Cuckoo-Dove occurs throughout the Moluccas. Photo: Susan Myers
The Moluccan islands of eastern Indonesia, known as Maluku in Indonesia, remain one of the world’s last great birding frontiers. This region encompasses innumerable small volcanic islands and coral reefs scattered through some of the deepest seas in the world. It lies at the crossroads of two continents, Asia and Australia, as well as two oceans, the Indian and the Pacific. As such, it has played a major role in our understanding of biogeography and evolution, thanks in large part to the groundbreaking work of Alfred Russel Wallace, one of the nineteenth century’s greatest intellectuals. His magnum opus, The Malay Archipelago, documents his experiences and thoughts during his time traveling the region.
On this special tour to a remote corner of the amazing Indonesian archipelago we’ll visit five islands: Ambon, Buru, Yamdena, Kai Kecil, and Seram. Using the small island of Ambon as a hub, we’ll travel by air and by ferry to the others. But we’ll have enough time on Ambon to find its one endemic, the Ambon White-eye, and we’ll also take time out to visit nearby Haruku Island to look for the elusive Moluccan Scrubfowl. Buru is the least visited of the islands on our itinerary, but it’s home to more than 20 endemics, and maybe more to come as several splits have been proposed. The tour then moves on to Yamdena, the main island of the endemic-rich Tanimbars. The island is ecologically different to the rest of the southern Moluccas, with a drier climate and much lower humidity. Much of the island is still actively being logged, but the endemic species can still be found in forest patches and degraded habitats close to the roads. Kai Kecil is the smaller of the two main islands of the Kai Archipelago but the easier of the two to access, and we’ll spend a couple of days here before moving on to Seram. Extensive forest still covers this long island, and the huge Manusela National Park lies along its mountainous spine. The majority of the island’s endemics can be found from the road that cuts through the park, and we’ll concentrate our efforts here. Bring your swimsuit—this tour offers opportunities for some of the best snorkeling in the world.
As is typical of Indonesia, each island is unique in its own way and so this tour promises excitement around every corner. The degree of endemism is astounding, and with at least 90 endemic birds, the Moluccas alone are considered a megadiverse region. The endemic bird fauna is dominated, but not restricted to, five groups: pigeons, parrots, monachs, honeyeaters, and white-eyes. But much remains unknown about the wildlife and wild places of these remote and exotic islands, and who knows what new discoveries we might make!
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Jakarta. Night in Jakarta.
Day 2: We’ll fly this morning from Jakarta to the small island of Ambon and then travel on to Buru by ferry. Ambon is the gateway to the islands of the Moluccas; it is relatively small but has the best infrastructure and is the center of business and administration. While we are on Ambon we’ll bird in a nearby forest for the island’s only endemic, the Ambon White-eye (timing for this may vary depending on ferry and flight schedules). Other possibilities here include a few endemics shared with the surrounding islands, such as Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, Ashy Flowerpecker, Moluccan Flycatcher, and Spectacled Monarch. Later we’ll take the overnight ferry from Ambon to Namlea on Buru Island. The ferry has private cabins with air conditioning.
Buru, one of the main islands of the Moluccas and the third largest after Halmahera and Seram, is about 81 miles from east to west and 56 miles from north to south. It’s nonvolcanic but mountainous, and Mount Kapalatmada, at about 8,000 feet, is the highest point. Primary forest still covers much of the island, especially in the highlands, but logging and land clearance for farmland has affected much of the lowlands. The attractive Danau (Lake) Rana is located in the center of the island at the cool altitude of 2,500 feet. Night on the ferry.
Day 3: We’ll pull into Namlea, Buru’s capital, early and drive about two hours along the north coast to our accommodation in Waspait, our home base during our exploration of the island. The accommodation is relatively comfortable by Buru standards and nicely located by the seaside. Brown Boobies, Lesser Frigatebirds, and Great Crested Terns are among the seabirds that can be seen along the shoreline outside our rooms. After lunch we’ll spend spend the afternoon getting our first endemics under our belts. We’ll search some nearby lowland forest for some our target birds, which include Black-tipped Monarch, Brown Cuckoo-Dove, Superb Fruit-Dove, Moluccan Cuckoo, Moustached Treeswift, Pale Cicadabird (a Moluccan endemic), White-naped Monarch, Slaty Flycatcher, Drab Whistler (endemic to the Moluccas and Sula), and the regional endemic Black-breasted Sunbird (a highly distinctive split from Olive-backed). Even widespread birds such as Golden-headed Cisticola, with its distinctive vocalizations, will be of interest, as many of these local races are potential splits. Night in Waspait.
Days 4–7: Very few birdwatchers have visited this lovely island, and around 20 endemics await us. During our explorations we’ll try to see as many of these as possible—birds such as Buru White-eye, Buru Drongo, Buru (or Black-faced) Friarbird, Buru Flowerpecker, Buru Golden Bulbul, Buru Green-Pigeon, Buru (or Spectacled) Imperial-Pigeon, Buru Mountain Pigeon, Wakolo Myzomela, and we have just a chance of seeing the rare endemic Blue-fronted Lorikeet, which had not been positively identified for many years, despite several surveys undertaken on Buru, until two birds were photographed in November 2014.
Using four-wheel drive vehicles, we’ll explore the very rough Wamlana logging road up to about 4,300 feet in elevation. Here we’ll search for Buru Cuckoo-shrike, Buru Bush-Warbler, Buru Leaf-Warbler, Tawny-backed Fantail, Buru Oriole, the more difficult Streak-breasted Jungle-Flycatcher (a regional endemic), the highly vocal Buru Racket-tail, Moluccan Red Lory (endemic to the southern Moluccas), and Red-breasted Pygmy-Parrot. We’ll also look for Buru Honeyeater and other more difficult targets such as Black-lored Parrot, the rare Buru Thrush, Madanga (formerly known as Rufous-throated Dark-eye). We’ll mostly be birding at the relatively cool elevations above 4,000 feet.
During our stay on Buru we’ll also explore remnant forest patches on Bara, to the west of Waspait. Recent observations here include the scarce Buru Green-Pigeon as well as Lesser Masked-Owl, Hantu Boobook (split from Moluccan Boobook), the widespread Moluccan Scops-Owl, Forsten’s Scrubfowl, and Blue-breasted Pitta.
Along the shoreline we’ll look for waterbirds, waders and Palearctic migrants such as wintering groups of White-throated Needletails as well as the more expected Barn Swallow, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Arctic Warbler, Gray’s Grasshopper-Warbler, and Grey-streaked Flycatcher. Nights in Waspait.
Day 8: After a last day of birding on Buru we’ll drive back to Namlea and take the overnight ferry back to Ambon. Night on the ferry.
Day 9: After our early morning arrival in Ambon we’ll transfer to the airport for a flight to Saumlaki on the island of Yamdena, one of the Tanimbar Islands. Night in Saumlaki.
Days 10–12: The Tanimbars are ecologically different from the rest of the southern Moluccas, with a drier climate and lower humidity. Nearly all of the Tanimbar endemics and regional endemic species can be seen on the main island of Yamdena, where we’ll spend the next three days. The island was originally covered in lowland and hill forest, but now of course logging and clearance has left a patchwork of farmland, plantations, secondary scrub, and remnant forest. During our birding on Yamdena we’ll concentrate on various roadside scrub patches along the main road out of Saumlaki. Many of the endemics are quite common, and our birding should be exciting, with endemics and specialities coming quick and fast. Tanimbar Corella, Blue-streaked Lory, White-browed Triller, and Tanimbar Starling should pose little problem, although some of the other endemics are not as common and require a little more effort. These include Tanimbar Boobook, Tanimbar Oriole, Long-tailed Fantail, Golden-bellied Flyrobin, Tanimbar Flycatcher, Slaty-backed Thrush, and Fawn-breasted Thrush, as well as White-tufted Honeyeater (a possible split from Scaly-breasted Honeyeater) and the near endemic Cinnamon-tailed Fantail. Loetoe Monarch and Tanimbar Bush-Warbler are more elusive denizens of the forest; the recently described bush-warbler is usually detected by its call and typically remains mostly hidden, giving just brief views as it dodges through the thick undergrowth. Nights in Saumlaki.
Day 13: Flying back to Ambon, we’ll connect with a flight to Tual on Kai Kecil. Night in Tual.
Day 14: We’ll explore Kai Kecil, a small island about 31 miles long and 12 miles wide, which is generally flat and very dry. The habitats here are dry forest and areas of scrub and grasslands. All the Kai Kecil endemics can be found relatively easily, and we’ll search forest patches for Kai Coucal, Kai Cuckoo-shrike, and Little Kai White-eye. Other species we’ll hope for include Yellow-capped Pygmy-Parrot, the endemic race of Southern Boobook, the endemic race of Island Leaf-Warbler (considered by many to be a split), Island Whistler, and Australian Figbird.
We’ll check out a coastal strip northeast of the village of Ohoililir, where we’ll bird a path that heads north through forest for about a mile and numerous side trails that head inland from this coastal track. Another trail will take us inland, climbing a ridge that then takes us through dry forest to search for Yellow-bellied White-eye, a small island specialist. Tanimbar Corella also occurs here, but its provenance is unknown. Southeast of Ohoililir another interesting track follows the coastline, starting at a large mudflat that may support numerous waders, depending on our timing. Further inland at an attractive freshwater lake we may find Little (Tricolored) Grebe, Spotted Whistling Duck, or Green Pygmy Goose, and the surrounding forest is rich in birds, including all the endemics of Kai Kecil. Night at the Kai Kecil Hotel.
Day 15: We’ll make an early start by speedboat to Kai Besar for our search for the Great Kai White-eye and ‘Kai’ Leaf-Warbler. We’ll spend the day birding along a forest path where the leaf-warbler can be found at elevations above 1,300 feet. In the afternoon we’ll return to Kai Kecil. Night in Tual.
Day 16: After some early morning birding to look for any targets we may have missed, we’ll fly to Ambon in the afternoon. This evening we’ll take a speedboat to the nearby Haruku Island to search for the enigmatic Moluccan Scrubfowl. Night in Ambon.
Day 17: This morning we’ll take the fast ferry to Masohi, the main town on Seram. From Masohi we’ll drive three to four hours to Sawai, birding en route as we travel through the Manusela National Park. Night in Sawai.
Days 18–20: We’ll spend three days exploring the wonderful Manusela National Park and its surroundings on Seram. During our stay we’ll visit a range of altitudes and habitats, from patches of lowland forest to swamp forests along the north coast of the island and lovely (as well as cooler!) montane forests. A relatively new road now dissects Seram north to south, allowing us to more easily drive up to the magnificent forests at 4,300 feet, where we’ll search for high-altitude specialities. Seram is a large island with a rich avifauna, including a suite of attractive endemics and near-endemics. Some of the very special birds are the distinctive Seram race of Long-tailed (Seram) Mountain-Pigeon, Seram Imperial-Pigeon, Red Lory, Blue-eared Lory, the rare Purple-naped Lory, Seram Swiftlet, Seram Honeyeater, Seram Myzomela, Seram Friarbird, Pale-gray Cuckoo-shrike, Seram Golden Bulbul, Cinnamon-chested Flycatcher, Seram Thrush (very, very difficult), Streaky-breasted Fantail, Seram White-eye, Rufescent and Gray-hooded Dark-eyes, and Seram Oriole. Back down in the lowlands, Lazuli Kingfisher and Long-crested Myna can often be spied perched high on exposed branches. There is a good selection of raptors here too, such as Rufous-necked Sparrowhawk, Meyer’s Goshawk, Pygmy Eagle, and Gurney’s Eagle. One of our main targets will be the globally-endangered and very lovely Salmon-crested or Seram Cockatoo. With luck we may also be able to find the remarkable Coconut Crab! Nights in Sawai.
Day 21: After some final birding on Seram we’ll return to Ambon on the afternoon ferry. Night in Ambon.
Day 22: In the afternoon we’ll fly back to Jakarta, where the tour concludes in time to connect with international flights home.
Updated: 23 November 2020