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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Indonesia: Sulawesi and Halmahera

2023 Narrative

With Indonesia known to have the most endemic birds of any country as well as ranking fourth in the number of bird species overall, there is no doubt that birding here is full of excitement. And the strangely shaped islands of Sulawesi and Halmahera are two of the most biodiverse landmasses in the archipelago of over 15,000 islands!

Makassar, Rammang Rammang, & Karaenta

After leaving Bali for our journey into lesser-known parts of Indonesia, our first stop was the city of Makassar, the largest city in Eastern Indonesia located in South Sulawesi. Our main aim was to see the localized endemic Black-ringed White-eye, which has a small range just to the west of this sprawling city. We soon found ourselves exploring the lovely and much quieter natural area, but very hot, Rammang Rammang Karst Reserve about an hour’s drive from the city. Before too long we were rewarded with some excellent sightings including the white-eye and other endemic birds such as Sulawesi Serpent-Eagle, Sulawesi Pygmy Woodpecker, and Sulawesi Babbler. A great start to our birding adventure! The next morning, we drove up into the jagged limestone karst reserve of Karaenta in hopes of more exciting finds. We weren’t disappointed with sightings of Yellow-billed Malkoha, Sulawesi Dwarf Hornbills, Ashy Woodpecker, and Green-backed Kingfisher all while we enjoyed our first of many picnic breakfasts.

Lore Lindu

From Makassar, we next flew to Palu, in Central Sulawesi, our jumping-off point for our next destination – Lore Lindu National Park. After a long drive, we arrived in the small village of Wuasa where we spent the next few nights as we explored this wonderfully birdy area. The area around Lake Tambing located in the park’s north is particularly good for birding and we spent many hours here with highlights including splendid Knobbed Hornbills, plentiful and noisy Yellow-cheeked Lorikeets, smart Cerulean and Pygmy Cuckooshrikes, Ivory-backed Woodswallows, Malias…and the list goes on. So many endemic birds, so much excitement. We spent a quite strenuous day climbing the famous Anaso Track, an old logging road that is now impassable to vehicles but fantastic for birding. We had two major targets (and some minor ones, too) here – the Hylocitrea, a seemingly unassuming bird that is now assigned to its own, unique family, and the fabulously named Diabolical Nightjar. We succeeded admirably in our quest and then some more, with additions to our ever-burgeoning list including White-eared Myza, Sulawesi Fantail, and Sulawesi Leaf Warbler, although a heard-only Spot-tailed Goshawk was somewhat annoying! Further explorations around Lake Tambing turned up a sighting of one of Sulawesi’s rarest birds, the Geomalia, that has recently and amazingly taken up residence in the campground. Who knows how much longer this bird will be gettable here, or anywhere for that matter, given its usual elusive nature.

Further afield, we successfully explored some agricultural areas where the extensive paddyfields are still home to many excellent birds, of special note being the ghost-like Australasian Grass Owl. We did exceptionally well for nightbirds during our stay in Wuasa with sightings not only of the grass owl, but of the superb Sulawesi Masked Owl, Speckled Boobook, Sulawesi Scops Owl, and best of all, the Cinnabar Boobook, first described as recently as 1999. On our return to Palu we made a brief stop for Savanna Nightjar, which we know from their roosting site in a hot and bare patch of overgrown scrub, Pale-headed Munias and Lemon-bellied White-eyes were an added bonus. Closer to town we explored some rice paddies where the ready-to-harvest seed heads were attracting big numbers of Streaked and Baya Weavers, and various species of munia.

Palu to Makassar to Manado

After making our seemingly endless journey north to Manado, we met our lovely driver Jonly, and Albert and Annie, and made our way to Kotomabagu, our home for the next three nights.

Dumoga Boné National Park

With great excitement, we set out to the fabulously named Bogani Nani Wartaboné National Park which is one of the last strongholds for the awesome Maleo, the world’s largest Megapode. We were even more excited when we were greeted by Max with the words “the Maleo is right here!” Even before our breakfast, we were marveling at point-blank views of this rare and remarkable bird, that builds its nests in the sandy geothermal soils of this area. But these weren’t the only birds we observed here, not by a long shot. Purple-winged Rollers, White-rumped Triller, Sulawesi Cicadabird, Pale-blue Monarch, and more, rounded out an excellent list. A morning on the Molibagu Road turned up some nice birds, the highlights being a group of migrating Chinese Goshawks and some very responsive Crimson Sunbirds.


We next flew from Manado to the island city of Ternate. Although its name has somewhat faded into obscurity, this bright and bustling city was once one of the richest in the world when it was the largest producer of cloves in the 1500s, and trade with Portugal and Spain was at its peak. Today it is the biggest city in the North Molucca Province and the gateway to the much larger island of Halmahera to its east. But we soon headed to the dock to board our speedboat and crossed the Ternate Strait to Sofifi, the quiet capital of the province. Our next destination was Roji’s Place located within the Aketajawe National Park. We birded here for a full morning, the most exciting sighting by far being the simply stunning Ivory-breasted Pitta, the largest pitta in the world as attested by its scientific name Pitta maxima. With several other regional endemics now on the list, we next made our way to the remote town of Subaim, where we planned to spend the next few nights. At Foli we enjoyed a fantastic morning that began with an adventurous 4WD ride up the steep and rocky mountain to the trailhead for our quest to see the dawn lekking of the Wallace’s Standardwing, surely the world’s strangest bird-of-paradise. The whole area was very rewarding for other birds, too with sightings of Cinnamon-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Blyth’s Hornbill, Blue-and-white Kingfisher, Moluccan Eclectus, Violet-necked Lory, and more. The nearby Uni Uni Road proved to be equally exciting bird-wise, with Moluccan Goshawk, Moluccan King Parrot, Halmahera Paradise-crow, and White-streaked Friarbird being standout highlights. Without a doubt, the incredible Scarlet-breasted Fruit-Dove was the most exciting find here, though.

Making our way back to Ternate via Sidangoli along the island’s west coast, we stopped for some more birding at various locations. We added some more great birds to our list, including the secretive Sombre Kingfisher, Goliath Coucal (which well and truly lives up to its name), Moluccan Hanging-Parrot, handsome Beach Kingfishers, the dainty Moluccan Flycatcher, Azure Roller, Moluccan Starling, and Halmahera Flowerpecker. On our boat trip back to Ternate, despite the difficulty of birding from these very enclosed fast boats, we had some glimpses of Red-necked Phalaropes and a big pod of gorgeous and playful Spinner Dolphins.


Tangkoko National Park is truly a birding paradise. During our stay here, we had a productive boat trip on the mangrove river in the north of the park, where success came quickly in the form of the impressive Great-billed Kingfisher and the scarce White-rumped Cuckooshrike. Multiple visits to the Tangkoko Lookout, a roadside pullout overlooking a large expanse of wonderful forest, paid off with several exceptional species of pigeons such as White-faced Cuckoo-Dove, White-bellied Imperial-Pigeon, and Silver-tipped Imperial-Pigeon, as well as diverse parrots, raptors, and mynas. Explorations of the park, with the help of the incredibly knowledgeable local rangers, were equally fruitful. One of the most fascinating highlights of the non-avian species was the exceptionally adorable Gorsky’s Spectral Tarsier, a nocturnal primate that has a propensity for concealing itself in the crevices of the numerous strangler figs scattered throughout the forest.

During our visit to Sulawesi and Halmahera, we were amazed by the variety of kingfishers that we encountered, especially here in Tangkoko. We were fortunate enough to spot a remarkable five different species of kingfishers during our stay. In addition to this, we also observed many other remarkable bird species such as the White-faced Cuckoo-Dove, Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle, Ochre-bellied Boobook, Azure-rumped Parrot, Rusty-backed Thrush, and White-necked Myna. Overall, it was an incredible experience with a diverse range of bird species to admire.


During our last expedition to the chilly, high-altitude mountains near Manado, we set ourselves the challenge of finding the last and most elusive of the endemic kingfishers. It proved to be a tough task, as the bird didn’t make it easy for us to navigate through the dense, rooty forest. However, thanks to Bobby’s tireless efforts, we finally succeeded in locating it and everyone was able to enjoy amazing views of the bird. With this discovery, our total count of kingfisher species reached an incredible thirteen.

Our other main goal during our visit was to observe the stunning Sulawesi Pitta, a bird with vibrant red and blue colors that frequently visit a feeding station maintained by Epi and his brother, two local bird watchers who work to ensure the protection of this endemic species. The presence of international bird watchers like us not only provides financial support but also helps to increase visibility and awareness for these conservation efforts. This is true for many of the places we visit on our tours.

Sadly, this brought us to the end of our journey through some of the most exciting birding areas of Indonesia. Epi made sure to give us a memorable send-off, dressed in traditional Minahasa attire that is worn by warriors or waranei who take part in the Kabasaran martial arts and war dance. I’d be scared!

I wanted to express my sincere gratitude to all of you for such a productive and enjoyable birding trip around these fascinating islands.

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