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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Indonesia: Java and Sumatra

2023 Narrative

Our Java and Sumatra tour of Indonesia this year was nothing short of brilliant! Thanks in large part to an excellent group, thank you everyone. Here’s a brief recap of our journey.

Muara Gembong

Muara Gembong is located at the delta of the Citarum River, on the Bay of Jakarta, about a two-hour drive from that city. We began our first birding foray with a fruitless search for one of Java’s rarest birds, the Javan White-eye. Despite our lack of success with this popular cagebird (which explains its rarity), we not only had a fun time exploring new ground, but we also added a handful of species that we were only to encounter here. A mix of paddyfields, mangroves and coastal scrub proved to be popular with a nice mix of waterbirds and small passerines. Here we had our first encounters with the gorgeous Small Blue Kingfisher, happily still very common, as well as White-browed Crakes, Purple Herons, Savanna Nightjars, Yellow Bittern and more. The best sighting of the morning was undoubtedly the unexpectedly excellent views of Ruddy-breasted Crakes as they happily foraged in the muddy roadside canals. After our first of many breakfasts in the fields, we continued on our way to the next destination for a complete change of pace. 

Kawah Putih

Kawah Putih translates literally as White Crater, a very apt name for the crater lake that has become a popular tourist destination for local Indonesians. Kawah Putih is one of two crater lakes to be found on Mount Patuha, a stratovolcano (a conical volcano built up by many strata of hardened lava and tephra or pyroclasts. They are characterized by a steep profile with a summit crater and periodic intervals of explosive eruptions and effusive eruptions. Yikes!) Our birding here was wildly successful and fun. How could it be otherwise – surrounded by beautiful forest, in cool mountain weather, with birds such as Javan Hawk-Eagle, Sunda Cuckooshrike, Pied and Trilling Shrike-Babblers, close up Pygmy Cupwings, Blue Nuthatch, Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch, and Javan Indigo Flycatchers. But the icing(s) on the cake were the Javan endemics – how about Javan Trogon, Javan Tesia, Pygmy Tit, Javan Grey-throated White-eye, and best of all, not one but two sightings of the elusive Javan Cochoa.

In fact, our birding here was so successful that we decided to cut short our stay by one night and move on to our next destination, where I knew the birding to be somewhat more challenging.

Gunung Gede & Cibodas

Mount Gede Pangrango National Park is a national park located near Jakarta in West Java; it is centred around two volcanoes—Mount Gede and Mount Pangrango and incorporates the world-renowned Cibodas Botanical Gardens. This important reserve is home to some of Java, and indeed Indonesia’s, greatest biodiversity. Our mission here was to see as many of the unique birds as our legs could handle – after all, the hike up this mountain is no walk in the park! (Figuratively, it literally IS a walk in the park). We spent a full day on the mountain, visiting the Cibeureum Waterfall, en route to Pos 2, which is about the halfway point to the summit, and stopping for a picnic lunch heroically brought up to us by our drivers. To say the birding was successful would be an understatement. We recorded over 40 species, which is impressive for Asian montane forests, and the list included some really special birds – Red-billed Malkoha, Flame-fronted Barbet, Rufous-tailed Fantail, Javan and Orange-spotted Bulbuls, Javan Tesia, White-bibbed Babbler, and White-flanked Sunbird. Of particular note were almost tame Javan Whistling-thrushes, and – the complete opposite – a truly infuriating Javan Shortwing that gave us two or three quick views, albeit it satisfying ones, after considerable effort!

The easier-to-handle trails in the botanic gardens were also rewarding, starting with early mornings views of the usually incredibly elusive Sunda Thrush, and followed by Yellow-throated Hanging-Parrots, Javan Banded Broadbill, Crescent-chested Babblers, and Lesser Shortwings, to name but a few. Departing Gunung Gede for our next destination, we were seen off by a very welcome Black Eagle as we began our long and bumpy journing to Halimun National Park. 

Halimun National Park

After a long and bumpy drive, we arrived at the entrance to the national park. Before reaching our accommodation at the park guesthouse, we decided to stop for what we assumed would be a futile search for the increasingly rare Spotted Crocias, a Javan endemic in the babbler family. After all, this bird hadn’t been seen by any of the previous birding groups to visit here in the last year, but we had to give it a red-hot go. As we explored the forest with eyes and ears out, Roman and I heard a call and to our amazement we realised it was the crocias! We pinpointed the area from which it was coming, and eagle-eyed Roman spotted the bird. As we scoped it with great excitement, to our amazement the single bird was joined by another and then another – and then there were six! Incredible!

Further explorations of this beautiful and little-known area were rewarded with many exciting finds, including our only Sumatran Green Pigeon, Blue Whistling-Thrush, White-bibbed Babbler (that was a merry chase!), Javan Leafbird, Crimson-winged Woodpecker, and colorful Sunda Minivets. In the nearby tea plantations, we found plentiful Long-tailed Shrikes, Grey-rumped Treeswifts, Striated Grassbird, Javan Kingfisher, and a single Brown-backed Needletail.


Our stay at our last Javan birding destination, Carita was short but sweet. An afternoon and a morning visit added some excellent birds to our list. A short stay in a hide was fantastic with incredible close views of the stunning Javan Banded-Pitta, as well as the newly split Javan Black-capped Babbler. Later we encountered more excitement in the form of Yellow-eared Barbet, Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Temminck’s Babbler, and Small Minivets. Notably, we had two excellent nightbirds - Brown Boobook and a pair of simply adorable Javan Frogmouths.

On our way back to Jakarta, in preparation for our flight to Padang the following day we were able to fit in a boat trip at Muara Angke Reserve located smack in the middle of Jakarta. This seemingly uninspiring little patch of mangrove forest and mudflats is famous for its healthy population of one of the world’s rarest waterbirds, the Milky Stork. We were lucky enough to see seven of these wonderful birds as well as Lesser Whistling Duck, Sunda Teal, Pied Stilt, Bar-winged Prinia, and more.

Gunung Kerinci
Thanks to a long flight delay out of Jakarta, we weren’t able to do any birding only our long drive from Padang to Kersik Tua, the jumping-off point for Mount Kerinci. The following few of days made up for that shortfall in every possible way.

After meeting our drivers, then a memorable Nasi Padang lunch, and lastly a quick stop at a beautifully preserved traditional Minangkabau palace, we traveled to our next birding destination.

We had two amazing days of birding on the slopes of Mount Kerinci, a 3,085m active volcano that is the highest peak in Indonesia. The forests that cloak the slopes of the mountain are rich in biodiversity and the local rangers and birders have set up an excellent hide that attracts some truly wonderful birds. Large Niltavas and Shiny Whistling-Thrushes were the most common visitors as we waited for moments of great excitement in the form of Bronze-tailed Peacock-Pheasants, Salvadori’s Pheasants, Schneider’s Pittas, Rusty-breasted Wren-Babblers and Red-billed Partridges. At one stage a Sumatran Trogon even showed up, and later we were shown a stunning Sumatran Frogmouth at its roosting site.

Danau Kaco

It was with great excitement that I learnt of a new site for one of the world’s most elusive birds – the Sumatran Ground-Cuckoo. So, at the last minute we added a visit to Lake Kaco to our itinerary. Our first visit was, well, we could only say, a failure. Quite disappointing as this was the most wanted bird of the trip for many of us, myself included. But not to be deterred we collectively decided to try, try, try again – and this time SUCCESS! Our patience really paid off as did Dwi’s hard work. The excitement was great as we approached the area where they’d been heard and as we hunched down in the forest a pair of these magnificent ground-dwellers appeared and put on an amazing show for us. What a bird!

Tapan Road

Moving on to another new town, we used Sungai Penuh as our jumping off point to a different part of the Kerinci-Seblat National Park. At a slightly lower altitude, essentially the foothills, we encountered a new and different suite of endemic birds here as well as more widespread Southeast Asian species. Another strategically placed feeding station was excellent for some otherwise almost impossible to see birds, namely Graceful Pitta and Marbled Wren-Babbler. Added bonuses as we birded from the roadside included Rhinoceros Hornbill, Green-billed Malkoha, Fire-tufted, Gold-whiskered and Black-browed Barbets, Black-and-crimson Oriole, and Cream-striped Bulbul.

Way Kambas

Our final destination, via a circuitous route through Jakarta and Bandar Lampung from Padang, was the lowlands – namely Way Kambas National Park in southern Sumatra. The invisible powers that be had very unfortunately decided to close the park to visitors, so we had to be content with birding around the edges. Fortunately, this turned out to be quite worthwhile with birds such as Sumatran Babbler, Red-crowned Barbet, Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher, Black-bellied Malkoha, to mention only a few.

A trio of nightjars was fun – Malaysian Eared, Large-tailed and Savanna Nightjars all circling around together in an open field at dusk in company with Blue-throated and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters.

An afternoon boat trip on the Pegadungan River was fun and birdy. Stork-billed Kingfishers and Black-thighed Falconets were two of the many highlights, as was the beautiful fiery sunset.

And that’s a wrap! The birds, the food, the friends conspired to make this a truly memorable trip in this remarkable part of the world. So many of my Indonesian friends smoothed the way for us with their consistently good-humored assistance and bird spotting.


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