Indonesia Highlights: Bali Extension Sep 09—16, 2016

Posted by Dion Hobcroft


Dion Hobcroft

Dion Hobcroft has been working for VENT since 2001. He has led many tours (more than 170) to Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Bhutan, Indonesia, India, China, Southwest ...

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“The islands of Bali and Lombock, situated at the eastern end of Java, are particularly interesting. They are the only islands of the whole Archipelago in which the Hindu religion still maintains itself- and they form the extreme points of the two great zoological divisions of the eastern hemisphere, for although so similar in external appearance and in all physical features, they differ greatly in their natural productions.” Alfred Russel Wallace, 1869.

Green Junglefowl

Green Junglefowl— Photo: Dion Hobcroft


Arriving into Denpasar, it was remarkably busy after our time in Flores. We started our birding in the airport carpark with a pair of the now rare Javan Myna nesting in a phone pole! The drive out of town was the usual riotous visual display of decorations, statues, temples, lanterns, and colorful tropical garden flower displays. This is a lively streetscape compared to those in the drab west! We could not stop for a Javan Kingfisher on the busy highway, but at lunch a female Barred Buttonquail was spotted from the balcony. By contrast, arriving in mountainous Bedugul we found a deliciously cool climate and a lot of peace and quiet. In the afternoon we stretched our legs and were soon amongst some quite good birds. Little Cuckoo-Dove, Flame-fronted Barbet, Yellow-throated Hanging-Parrot, Gray-cheeked Green-Pigeon, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Little Pied Flycatcher, Scarlet Minivet, Short-tailed Starling, Javan Gray-throated White-eye, and White-bellied Sea-Eagle were all on display.

Dark-backed Imperial-Pigeon

Dark-backed Imperial-Pigeon— Photo: Dion Hobcroft










A relaxing breakfast found us placed in the Bedugul Botanic Gardens that are a pure delight. We concentrated on the more remote sections and had a good run with the birds. Amongst the highlights were Golden Whistler, Crescent-chested Babbler, Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Mountain Warbler, a very cute Blood-breasted Flowerpecker, Lesser Shortwing, Javan Munia, Indonesian Honeyeater, and a pair of Greater Racket-tailed Drongos. A Gray-cheeked Bulbul was a good sighting, but the Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babblers were desperately shy. After lunch overlooking Lake Bratan we had a good siesta before once again strolling along the forest edge of the hotel. We had good fortune with the handsome Dark-backed Imperial-Pigeon, a species that is typically very difficult to get a good view of. Ruddy Cuckoo-Dove was also well-behaved and gave great looks. It was encouraging to see that the sea-eagles had fledged two chicks. I had planned to go night birding, as I had staked out calling Javan Owlet and Large-tailed Nightjar, but it tipped down with rain so we would have to try our luck the next morning.

Bali Myna

Bali Myna— Photo: Dion Hobcroft


Before sunrise we had the Large-tailed Nightjar sailing over and around us for some lovely views. Most folks had drifted off to breakfast when the Javan Owlet began to call. A couple of us followed the calls into the forest where it was briefly sighted but ever so shy. We returned to the Botanic Garden to take care of some unfinished business, and this time the Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babblers (possibly soon to be split as Javan Scimitar-Babbler) performed well as a trio unconcernedly searched vine tangles. The heavy overnight rain made for hungry birds, and many species were more active than the previous visit. Fulvous-chested Jungle-Flycatcher, Sunda Warbler, Javan Whistling-Thrush, and yet another Dark-backed Imperial-Pigeon were all seen well. A major surprise and definitely a rarity for Bali was a lovely Forest Wagtail that we watched for 10 minutes as it fed on the side of the path. This followed a Gray Wagtail seen earlier— migration was on! We bade farewell to Bedugul and headed west to the drier monsoonal woodlands of the lovely Bali Barat National Park. En route we stopped for a Javan Kingfisher that was very well-behaved; it is a superb bird. Once settled into our luxury hotel, we headed out to a nearby salt farm. Returning migrant shorebirds included a few Red-necked and Long-toed stints plus a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Our main target here was the endemic Javan Plover, and we found about ten of these beautiful small dotterels. We then explored nearby protected woodlands that held numerous Green Junglefowl, Lineated and Coppersmith barbets, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Common Iora, and White-shouldered Triller. We also found a colorful giant Tokay Gecko.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters

Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters— Photo: Dion Hobcroft


This would be the day we would search for the most enigmatic bird of the Bali trip: the spectacular and critically endangered Bali Myna. This showy, crested, snow-white, blue-faced Sturnid has been subject to a long recovery program that has been beset with problems. Hopefully now it is beginning to turn the corner, but in our efforts we observed only two pairs, one of which was exceedingly shy. We did enjoy fantastic views of one pair of adults building a nest in a palm hollow. They would perch and display quite frequently in clear scope view, sparring with a pair of Javan Mynas that also had their hopes set on nesting here. We watched them pumping their crests and lifting upwards in an exaggerated display posture. It was neat. It was a bird-rich site with plenty of pigeons including Island Collared-Dove, numerous Pink-necked Green-Pigeons, and quite a few of the localized and scarce Orange-breasted Green-Pigeon. There was constant activity with other species sighted including Lesser Coucal, Savanna Nightjar, Dollarbird, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Javan Cuckooshrike, Black-naped Oriole, Ashy Drongo, Malaysian Pied-Fantail, Lemon-bellied White-eye, Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker, and Brown-throated Sunbird.  After a good break and a bit of luxury we were once again in the forest, this time in some riparian rainforest. We had only just started searching when a beautiful Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher was located. We watched it fly to the ground, seize a gecko, and then proceed to pulverize and swallow the hapless lizard. A Mangrove Whistler, a pair of Laced Woodpeckers, Fulvous-chested Jungle-Flycatcher, and the white-eyed Hair-crested Drongo of this district were all sighted. A giant fruiting fig was full of Black Leaf-Monkeys and Gray-cheeked Green-Pigeons, while a Barking Deer was disturbed underneath it. A pair of Oriental Pied Hornbills was a bonus sighting; it was encouraging to see these large frugivores hanging on in this location. In the late afternoon we moved to a forest edge site to try our luck with the rare and endangered Black-winged Starling. We had no luck with this elusive bird, but had two other excellent sightings. The first was an unexpected flock of seven Red-breasted Parakeets, a real rarity now (like the hornbills) in Java and Bali. Also of note, in fact a new bird for our local guide Bardi, was a Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo I noticed and managed to bring back in with playback. This species is a scarce winter migrant in eastern Indonesia from Australia. It gave several good views. There were a lot of birds moving around including good numbers of Island Collared-Doves, a few migrant Pacific Swifts, and low-feeding Gray-rumped Treeswifts.

Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher

Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher— Photo: Dion Hobcroft


The next morning we were back on the case of the Black-winged Starling, but again they proved impossible to locate. We did have some excellent birds however, including a large flock of Small Minivets, a beautiful pair of Black-thighed Falconets perched, and great views of both the Racket-tailed Treepie and the drab Plain Flowerpecker. At breakfast we had very close views of a Crested Serpent-Eagle and a Changeable Hawk-Eagle. A pair of Gray-rumped Treeswifts was scoped feeding a large chick, and we watched a tree snake (Dendrelaphis) moving about. At lunch we had a stroke of luck when a party of the scarce endemic White-headed Munia were seen in the hotel gardens. We spent an hour scanning Gilimanuk Bay at low tide where the hoped for Lesser Adjutant (six in total) were scoped feeding on the mudflats. We watched a Great-billed Heron seize and swallow a couple of fair-sized fish, and a collection of shorebirds and terns turned up Whimbrel, Black-bellied Plovers in breeding plumage, Little Tern, Black-naped Tern, and a couple of hundred Great Crested Terns. Back to the starling, and this time we heard it calling. We were getting closer. Then we had two perched sightings, but again being highly wary of people they quickly vanished as I was setting the scope. Right on dusk I found one perched, and this time almost the entire group were able to get onto it before it fled the scene. They were proving tough on this tour! We also had a timid pair of Bali Mynas and a lovely scope view of a flock of Orange-breasted Green-Pigeons.

Black-thighed Falconet

Black-thighed Falconet— Photo: Dion Hobcroft









We had one last morning, and this time all the participants saw the rare Black-winged Starling. Phew! We watched a Greater Coucal hunting; it seemed to be after insects flushed by a squirrel, or perhaps even the squirrel itself—quite bizarre. We had one last endemic to track down, the Bar-winged Prinia, which amazingly had eluded us in Java, mostly because we were birding in the forests. We found just one bird feeding along the edge of the mangroves, and it gave a lovely view right down to its bubblegum-pink legs. We drove to Denpasar meeting a large thunderstorm along the way. We had one happy moment for one participant who managed to miss the White-headed Munia the previous day. A quick stop in a rice field rectified the dip and order was restored! It had been a great tour. All up we had recorded 119 species on Bali and added an extra 50 species to our total Indonesian trip list. I would like to thank Roman, Bardi, Bonang, Andre, and Don for all the help with making this tour so smooth and successful.